Structure, routines, and chain of events are very important components of your family survival kit. They help to minimize stress, create order and promote harmony. Children need structure and want it. It helps make life predictable, secure and safe. Such small ingredients make big contributions to good family life. Start off very small. Slowly build. Give lots of encouragement rather than nagging. Create habits. Enjoy the rewards.

There are plenty of ideas on the topic.  Here are some ideas to get you started:

Morning Routine: Spell out what you expect and put it in order, like a chain of events. For example: Get dressed. Make your bed. (Any effort they make to straighten their bedspread should be praised) Wash face. Comb hair. Eat breakfast. Brush teeth. (When our kids were young we posted a sheet of paper in their bedroom by the light switch. Before they could read, we used simple hand-drawn pictures to show the steps.)

Mealtimes: Meals need to be at predictable times and not fluctuate regularly. Same with snacks. It is important that kids know the difference. Snacks are small portions of food offered at set times, not just anytime and not on demand. Snacks should ease hunger but not take it totally away. Kids need to be able to eat well at meal time. You make it clear there is no munching in between and kids will eat better at meal time. In our house the schedule for food is 8:00 breakfast; 10:30 snack; 12:30 lunch; 4:00 after-school snack; 6:00 supper. Kids are called for meals. All playtime, TV, telephone and computer time stops when mom announces mealtime. We pray a grace before meals. We serve the food. Everyone eats. Kitchen chores are done. Then we continue with other activities.

Nap time: Even little toddlers need to have a routine so that the same chain of events happens each day. It helps them to get into a rhythm for going to bed and they put up much less fuss. One example may be eating something, changing a diaper, getting a bottle, singing a particular song to the child while you carry them, putting them in their room, closing the curtains, putting on the radio to drown out other sounds, blessing the child, saying night-night and closing the door. Whatever you choose, repeating always the same thing helps them to prepare to go to bed and realize it’s time to sleep. As they get older you slowly shorten the nap time and get rid of it by structuring more active events in its place.

Your day: When kids are home all day long they need to have a sense of how the day goes. You need to set the structure for what will work best for you to achieve all your responsibilities. Have a weekly plan for outings, groceries, laundry, housecleaning etc. Try to do them at set times of the day, set days of the week. Kids will get to know your routines and be able to adjust better to them. Include them as often as you can, even if they are only playing a short distance from your task and you talk once in a while with them. It is good for them to see you work, work well and work cheerfully.

After school: Kids come home exhausted from a long day at school. They are hungry, tired and worn out. Teach them to come home, put away their stuff, give you a big hug and sit down for a snack in the kitchen. Prepare a good healthy snack in advance – something to eat and drink. Take a moment and chat with them. Realize they need some downtime. Take out some toys or games they can play. The child giving the most trouble and play a game/puzzle/hangman etc. just with you while the others disappear for some fun. You can do homework at a set time before or after supper. Decide what is best for you and them. If you have the same routine every day, it makes it easier for them to co-operate because they know what’s coming.

Bedtime: Have a chain of events that happens each day. When you begin the chain the rest falls into place naturally without a lot of “I don’t want to go to bed!” An example for maybe a Grade 1 child: listen to Mom/Dad read a story, get changed, put away clothes, brush teeth, put out clothes for tomorrow, say night prayers, sing a special song, hugs, kisses, good night.

Homework time: Same time, same location each day– a quiet spot with all necessary materials accessible and nearby. Can be a bedroom desk, kitchen table, dining room table, coffee table. Each child needs a spot to go. Young children need a parent to help them or an older sibling. Decide who takes whom. Set the same time each day and follow through for being available, coming together and doing it. Same goes for piano practicing.

Screen time: Television, smartphone, IPad and computer time needs to be monitored, scheduled and predictable. You avoid kids always asking for screen time if you have set days and times for them. For example, in my home,  we have Friday  movie nights because we can make them begin and end when we want to.  Kids look forward to them, appreciate them and it becomes a big pajama party with popcorn and blankets. Computer games can be addictive. Kids enjoy them and have to learn to restrain their time. When our family had young children, we agreed upon 15 minutes of computers each on Wednesday nights after everyone’s homework was completed and ½ hour each on Saturdays, only after everyone finished their house chores. They all knew there was no other computer time. This made their time well-appreciated and spent. They also knew that if they misbehaved by hurting one of their siblings, they lost their computers. They could  regain half by treating their sibling with kindness over a specific period of time.

Family time: Kids love to do things with members of the family. They enjoy activities that repeat themselves, such as getting to play with dad for half an hour after supper; listening to mom/dad read out loud before bedtime; going for family walks, bike rides or playing sports together; a games night; Saturday work projects around the house; Sunday outings; family meals; prayer time etc. Although often chaotic and hardly ever perfect, these scheduled and repetitive family times give a real feeling of joy, togetherness, and security to kids. So many great memories are forged during many simple activities.

Time for my husband – Kids need to learn that next to God, dad is #1 in your life. They should see you two spend time together, holding hands together, sharing the news of the day together, while they are awake. It may take only 10 minutes after the kids have left the dinner table, or later in the living room over a cup of tea. Kids need to respect your time together with minimal interruption. It will take them some time to get used to, but will really help them see how much you love each other. This will add greatly to their peace, security, and joy.

Time for God: Kids should see that God is not just on your lips but part of your life. Taking regular time to deepen your faith through prayer, spiritual reading, going to Church etc. is an example to your kids that lasts a lifetime. Look for ways to put structure and routines into helping you deepen your spiritual life more positively.

For example: Getting out the door more easily Sunday morning:

  • Have kids take their baths/shower and lay out their clothes the night before.
  • Set the breakfast table the night before and plan a very simple breakfast. For us, it’s always a cereal morning.
  • Pair up your children so that one older child is responsible for one younger child– whether to help them dress, brush their hair, or put their shoes and jackets on.
  • Have a little bag for church always ready in your closet with books your toddlers can look at and a quiet toy to play with. Rotate the contents from time to time so that they are always eager to spend time looking at them.
  • Share the load with your husband. Start him with one task that eases the family process. He may not always see what needs to be done and gently engaging him is beneficial.  It will greatly add to your calm and help you be team players.

Pre-planning, delegating, and staying within a time frame will help alleviate a lot of headaches. Kids will develop routine habits and eventually everyone gets moving sooner and happier than they did before. Just remember to smile, say a prayer and know God is blessing you. He is so happy with your efforts, even if rarely perfect.

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