Chore boards, family hugs and other adventures in trying to build routine
I know (I know, I know, I know) how important routine is. But it’s sooooo hard for me. And it’s been a murky and ugly transition from leading a life of spontaneity and doing-what-we-want-when-we-want to having some semblance of structure for our family. Changing baby’s diaper and putting said baby down four seconds later in his crib seems easier than a bath, announcing quiet time, gentle massage, reading 12 books, putting on pajamas, singing the bedtime song, kisses for everyone here, hugs for everyone there, cuddles and into the crib (I feel like I’m quoting at least a hundred Parenting Help books so I don’t even know which one to reference).
But sometimes no routine is not easier (slap face). And sometimes it really needs to be customized to your kids (who may have outrageously different personalities). Our oldest needs his sleep. He can go from sweet and awesome to venomous terror in the blink of an eye if he misses it. “I’m never cranky Mom and I’ll never be your friend!” he spit at me this morning after a later bedtime – eyebrows furrowed, arms crossed, feet stomping. Our youngest is easy-going on sleep but needs mental preparation for transitions like getting dropped at daycare, changing activities and waking up. So he needs buffer time in his routine.
With a lot of trial and error, we’ve established some structure. Some of it just naturally fell into place. Each morning the kids wake us up almost always earlier than we would like to be joining the conscious world. I get them dressed and “clean” them up (read: futile attempts to make them look presentable), then my husband takes over to cook and feed them a stellar breakfast, do dishes, get shoes on feet, wrestle coats onto bodies, apply hats to heads, walk to car (a seven-minute undertaking) and strap our routine-loving lads into their seats to drop them at preschool. We didn’t really plan this routine but we’re sticking to it. Or at least I am because as you can tell, I’ve got it pretty easy in the mornings. My favourite part of the routine is when we share a Family Hug to say goodbye…. picture a group hug but with a way cuter name.
Other routines we’ve had to be more intentional about. At a mature three, Porter happily agreed he was ready to contribute more. Turns out there aren’t a lot of job openings for preschoolers, so instead we built a Chore Board together. We chose five activities he had to do daily – each one earned a sticker and getting all five chores in a day meant a quarter in his duck-bank (it would be such a misnomer to call it a piggybank). His chores are to make his bed, brush his teeth, clear his plate, put away his shoes and coat, and clean up toys before bed. Some days are better than others but the habits and expectations are starting to be there.
Here are some tips I have learned from our challenges in routine-building:
- Really pay attention to what routines help or hinder your kids and customize. All those books you read have really good ideas but only you can sort out how to apply them in your family.
- Be committed to your kids’ responsibilities in the routine. It’s almost always easier and faster to do something yourself than have your kid do it. But they will get quicker and better at it and eventually it will be useful. In like, ten years, I think…. we haven’t gotten there yet.
- Allow for some flexibility. Porter sometimes declines to do a chore and that is okay. Or if he misses something because we are late to get home, that’s okay too. Or if Mom forgets to print new days for the Chore Board, that’s okay too. We’re all trying our best.
- Change it up! Oh, right, that doesn’t sound congruent with routine. But still, adjusting routines that you outgrow or introducing new elements can revive enthusiasm for your routine. The day we upgraded from sparkly shapes to Spiderman stickers was a day of crazy-intense motivation for Porter.
Lastly, I’ve grown to understand a routine is more than just getting teeth brushed and toys cleaned up. It’s about building stability, having more good days than bad, and removing stress for your kids around expectations. Then you can all focus on important things like playing, learning, exploring and Family Hugs.
Written by: Melissa Sawatzky