How to Make a Family Routine That Works
Rhythm and routine are what makes it possible to work at home when I have three young kids, they are what reduce temper tantrums and increases the fun activities we do together. Learn how to make a family routine that you can actually stick to.
It’s much easier to enjoy our kids and to be a happy family if we have certain habits in place.
A Big Myth About Routines
Myth: You Need a Great Routine for Your Whole Day.
A routine can be made of lots of little routines that work over time. The truth is it will likely evolve. You can lay out a general framework for your day, but don’t get so wrapped up in the details that it makes it impossible to be flexible.
I used to get WAY too detailed about what I wanted to get done and WHEN. It never worked. When we strayed from the routine, I got overwhelmed and just threw it all out. I thought routines were for moms more organized than me, but without them I couldn’t get anything done. I was floundering with a horribly messy house, grumpy kids and grumpy me. I felt guilty because I knew my kids needed some structure, but holding that structure seemed out of my grasp.
Something had to change and I knew it came back to routines.
After a year of homeschooling and being forced to figure it out or give it up, I finally found ways to make routines that really work for our family. I had to start small and build. Once I got one thing pegged down, it became easier to figure out the rest of the day.
I started seeing routines as a way to keep my sanity on long days. I also started seeing routines as a way to be sure I and connect with my kids every day. I began putting routines into place that supported what was most important to me.
Best of all, when I started small with my routines, right away I was able to start doing some of the things I always wanted to do with my kids, but never found the time for before.
How to Make Family Routines that Work
When you’re home all day with kids a good routine makes the difference between happiness and tears. When your kids are at school all day and you pick them up when you get off work, a good routine makes the difference between screaming and connection.
Routines give you a framework, a shape for your day. The kids get used to them so you have less fighting, and routines give you something to fall back on when you’re totally exhausted. With a routine that really works, you can make sure the things that need to be done, and the things that are most important to you, are happening.
I thought routines were for moms more organized than me, but without them I couldn’t get anything done.
The Big Routines are Built Out of Little Routines
It’s much easier to make a daily routine if you’ve got a few smooth spots in your day. Make a few smaller routines and build around them. Instead of looking at your whole day lets look at some little pieces and smooth them out.
Start Making Your Daily Routines:
- Think about the hardest part of your day – that’s where you need a routine first. Don’t worry about the rest, just make a little routine for that part of your day.
- Start with only the essentials – What are the MUST DO tasks? Cut it down to the bare minimum for building your routine. One you get the essentials down you’ll be able to add on more if you like.
- Consider if there is a more helpful order to do things in. (Don’t worry if you don’t know, we’re just experimenting here). For instance: my kids are ready to go if they get dressed before breakfast, but it seems to drag on forever if we wait until after they eat.
- Write down a routine. This is key because when things start to go haywire and you’re really tired, you’ll want that cheat sheet to tell you what to do next.
- Give it a try. Expect the first few days to go badly. Keep looking at your routine and trying to get back on track. Think of it as making gestures rather than a perfectly executed plan. After a week or so you’ll know where you need to adjust or change things. If things are going well you can add onto your routine.
- Protect against perfectionism! Set a reminder for yourself to reassess the routine in a week or two. This is to remind you you can make changes or refine your systems, you’re not failing if the first try doesn’t work, you’re figuring out what might work better.
The keys in making a routine are to start small, repeat long enough to start seeing patterns, and readjust as needed. Try for getting the basic shape of your routine in place first, then add more if you like. Some days (most days?) it won’t happen just like you planned. No worries – you can try again. I do best when I think of a routine as a sketch of how things will go and then I fill out the details depending on the events of the day.
Want more help on how to make family routines that work? Here some routine examples that we implemented.
- Make a kid-friendly cleaning routine
- Find a great alarm clock for your kids so they can start the day with independence
- Join the Parenting Secret Mission Society and get help from fellow “agents” on this mission!
How are your routines going? Do you have a rough spot in your day that you think would benefit from a good routine? Let us know in the comments and maybe we can help out!
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From my three years parenting experience I can say that children need structures and routines. But the question remained how.
Will definitely try your tips. Thanx.
Thank you so much for your article. I’ve been procrastinating and fearful of putting any more routines in place because of the family members in my house….
Those mostly include my husband 🙁 He has his own issues with motivation and excitement at times. SO that makes establishing routines for a household of 2 girls live with us – Wild 2-year-old and an emotional forgetful 14-year-old…..
My husband and I work full (sometimes more) time, and we have opposite schedules. That alone makes things harder, but when he is around he NEVER follows any routines. Especially for our highly energetic 2year old. He will agree that she needs to be in bed earlier, but then I’ll come home and it will be an hour past her bedtime and the laundry (that I put in in the morning) hasn’t been put in the dryer. That plus a million other things that were supposed to happen. Then when my 14-year-old doesn’t do what she’s supposed to, it sounds ridiculous when he tries to have a responsibility talk with her.
Can you please send me a “Husbands – Routines and ……. – Survival Kit?” 🙂
Anyone else have any tips?!!
Wow, thanks for whole content! Great article, have to create a routine that really works for me 🙂
ACK!!! I have raised 3 kids, one with Down Syndrome and taught Special Ed. I like your schedule plan, but you – and most young moms – do not expect young children to do activities that contribute to running a home. If you have a 5 year old, he should be doing real jobs, alone, which are part of the routine. Like, set table using a template place mat, putting silverware away from dishwasher (if you put dishes and glasses down on a pantry shelf he can put away those too. He can be folding all the washcloths, dishtowels, sorting socks, and putting his own clothes away (label drawers with pictures). I teach kids with developmental disabilities. If I can expect a 5 year old with Autism or Down syndrome to to these family jobs, your child can as well. The trick is to TEACH these skills and then have this be their family responsibility, and you do your part (folding, cooking meal etc) right along side them. When small children can contribute to running a family home, they treat the home better, appreciate what others do (because you appreciate what they do with a ‘thank you’.) A 5 year old can certainly pull a comforter up on his bed and put the pillow at the top, wipe out a sink, pick up toys, and put things back in the right place. Heck, a 2 year old can and will do some of this because it is fun to do things with a parent! Just set the stage so they are successful, be matter of fac that everyone is part of the family and therefor has responsibilities. Your life will be easier and your child will feel proud and a contributor in the family.
Thanks Diane – you’re right, as we involve our kids in contributing to the house more it’s better for all of us 🙂
I wonder how others incorporate outings into the routine? I feel like if I could just have a quiet day at home we could follow a routine, but it seems that we’re always off to a park, a playdate, a doctor’s appointment, the grocery store, etc and the errands throw off efforts toward more rhythm in the day.
I have a 3.5 year old and it seems the closest I can keep to a routine is eating our meals at home, and having a quiet time after lunch. Everything else is very loose, and I think my daughter could benefit from more predictability in her day. I, on the other hand, go a little bonkers if we stay home all day every day.
This is a great question which I think will be evolving into a post. For now I’ll say that I have had the same problem. Hat’s working for me is to be thinking about our energy at various times during the day. I have usual long periods of time where the kids are just playing, but when I need to get errands done, I use that playtime part of the day. So if your routine is have lunch, read a story, take a nap – those don’t translate too well to going and doing errands instead, but if it’s usually playtime after nap time, that would be a good possible time for errands or outings.
Thanks for your thoughts! I definitely do limit errands to mid-morning or mid-afternoon, but seem to find the week gets taken over by errands and we never just have an “ordinary” day. I’ve thought about assigning some days of the week as “at home” days but that rigidity never seems to stick for me. Looking forward to reading your other thoughts on the topic!
Hi, I just wanted to share my experience since it seems very similar to yours. My husband and I worked (still work) from our home, had a ton of errands, received visitors, stayed up late, travelled and had absolutely no routine at all. We barely were home except to sleep and sometimes not even then…our little boy was right there with us, from day one, and he enjoyed the activities as a baby and toddler. I always felt that he was a little wild child because we didnt have a stable routine or even worried about that because we knew we were giving him a different education full of love and adventure by being with us every minute of the day. But now my son is 4 yrs. and he just started pre school which automatically gave us a routine…get up early, get dressed, eat breakfast, go to school for a few hours, come home, play while mommy makes lunch, eat, nap, play, bathe, play and night night. Suddenly, our whole little family has been thrown into a routine due to pre school! Its funny, but we were all ready for it and I use the time he is in school to do all those errands downtown, chores, any meetings or even just watch a movie that isnt a cartoon! I think what I wanted to share is enjoy the time you have now, it may be a good thing, the routine does come and its so wonderful but I find that the time my son and I spent running around together chaotically really made him an alert and knowledgeable little boy full of self confidence…and, we had fun! As long as you are enjoying your experience, embrace the chaos in a positive way and your child will too…when the routine comes, like the author says, the routine that is right for you, then it will also be easy to embrace for all the family. Best wishes!
Francisca U. Barry
while i’ve always known the importance of routine for many aspects of the day, just recently has it become so apparent to me. we’re creating some soft routines for our whole day, allowing flexibility here and there, and i can’t say enough wonderful things about it.
1) Thank you for this series. Found you via Pinterest and signed up for the newsletter. Routines work great for us, when I use them. I want so much to be a great mom but so many things get it the way, including my expectations. Thank you for sharing that your 5yo chores are hanging out while you do laundry. I often “beat myself up” that I don’t have my 3.5YO contributing more to housework or chores. I have been helping him learn to clean up after himself, so I guess thats a start.
2) I have been dealing with health concerns since the birth of my 2yo and there are days when I have zero energy. I can get out of bed and feed them but we may never make it out of PJs with out my husbands help. I could really use some ideas for fall backs on those days.
Thanks Molly, glad to have you here 🙂 I’m not sure if this post will help, but it’s one I wrote during an extremely exhausting time and I go back to it when I need ideas for how to stay afloat when I’m really tired: http://bouncebackparenting.com/connection-points-when-youre-exhausted/
I have found routines to be extremely helpful in our homelife (and homeschooling adventure). I have found that after I have certian routines then I can add things to them and make them a habit as well. For instance we have a routine that after breakfast we start our school day with with some singing, Bible memory work and reading aloud. When I decided I wanted to add more Bible reading to our day (more than just once a day) we easily added that to our morning routine too. When I found some stretching routines that would be good for us we just added them in there as well. Since that “school opening time” was already a routine adding something to it was easy. The same has been true with other routines in our day.
I love the simplicity this brings to our home!
I’ve been working on our daily routine. I thrive on a schedule and think my 7yo DS does, too. I homeschool so we definitely need some structure to our day to make sure we get done what we HAVE to get done. But I also have two younger children at home. Now I’m wondering if I need to keep my long detailed schedule/routine to myself and develop a simpler one similar to your picture above for my children. It’s more work for me but my children might respond better if it isn’t so crowded. Thanks!
I’m interested in candles being lit as part of lunchtime. Explanation? Not critical, just curious.
Lol, nothing more to it, just a way to make it an “event” rather than a mess. My kids happen to respond well to a candle being lit. They think it’s cool, you know? And it helps *begin* lunch.
Thanks for this. evenings are a bit of a nightmare for us at the moment and “lack of routine” is a possible factor that keeps popping into my head with big flashing lights and noises. I feel stuck in a bit of a vicious circle of being unable to create a routine when my little one is hyper/ready to settle at often random times (currently increasingly later times), and being aware that I need to create a better routine. He’s 15 months and still nurses to sleep, sometimes just won’t sit and engage in a story/respond to efforts to create calm environment.
I love your lunchtime routine – will remember that for the future! 🙂
I know how you feel Mo. I too had a rambunctious little boy I tried starting it earlier, reading books, and the like. I read once that make the play time bed time routine. I also realized my little guy wasn’t getting enough activity time to run out his energy. Think about making sure he’s worn our by plenty of play. Sometimes it’s just a matter of music and dance to work that little body to sleep! Sweet dreams!
I have good routines for the morning, lunchtime and bathtime but would welcome any ideas for late afternoon and teatime from 4-6. Usually at this time my 22 month old and I are tired ( I’m pregnant) and less focussed and time can drag but I think a routine would help me to connect and make this a fun part to the day!
I would suggest separating out a set of activities that have the qualities you’re looking for for those afternoon hours as a fall-back. My set includes quiet activities that they have to do with me – games, puzzles, simple craft sets, workbooks – and some activities that just keep them busy and seem special – stickers, new coloring pages, etc. I keep these items all in the same place and let them pick something. So the routine becomes that they get to pick something to do together. That’s my fall-back if I don’t have the energy for anything else. You can decide on your ideal activities – sensory bin, computer games, or baking together are other sorts of ideas. Most importantly, those are the hours I give myself permission not to be “productive.” I make sure I have a cup of tea :). Except for dinner, I don’t assume anything will “get done.” It really takes the stress off and helps us enjoy that time together. If something extra does get done during the late afternoon, it’s a bonus :). I pick up “productivity” and housework after dinner…
Cathy @ Nurturestore
I love the idea of reading a story while they finish eating – that’ll work really well with my 6yr old.
This is something we have been working on the past few months, and we still need some work. Childminding a 2yo from 830-230 and home educating an almost 5yo, and his little sister, 22.5, takes some doing. We have our routines in the morning with free play, out for a walk, or games and songs, lunch and tidying up, but by the time she goes home the rest of us are tired and cranky and not much gets accomplished in the afternoons. I’ll be watching with interest on this one. Thanks for sharing on KBN. Happy New Year!
I love the idea of routines and thrive in them, myself, but my husband is the epitome of high energy, spontaneous, no routine. I think he would even do well with a routine, but he just doesn’t think of functioning that way. We both work out of the home, so this becomes a bigger issue. Has anyone else run into this dynamic? Any suggestions for bringing the spouse along?
My husband sounds just like yours. It took 6 months of asking but he finally read “Simplicity Parenting” https://www.amazon.com/Simplicity-Parenting-Extraordinary-Calmer-Happier/dp/0345507983/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1357593417&sr=8-1&keywords=simplicity+parenting
Now, even if he isn’t great on initiating routines, he sees how important they are and doesn’t undermine them. The book is written by a man and that seemed to make it easier for him to read. I know, I know.
Thanks Molly! I’ll definitely look at that book. It sounds perfect :). We’re on vacation now, so I’ve spent quite a bit of time getting him used to the idea of a routine when we get home… fingers crossed!
This post is such a great resource for parents. Thanks for posting!
Amen! I am a huge believer in routines and like you we have a flow to our day where things happen in a certain sequence but I am not very detailed about it. Establishing a routine is one of the keys to helping our new kids feel safe too. And I believe it is why I rarely get arguments anymore over bedtime, dinner time, homework time, bath time. Etc. They know it is going to happen no matter what. 🙂
Cerys @ Rainy Day Mum
I started off with a “phobia” to routines. I wanted to be childled do what they want but quickly realised that we need structure – plus the teacher in me was at a loss without the structure to my day. I still don’t call it a routine I’ve adapted the Waldorf word of a Rhythm, things happen with a ebb and flow to the days in the same order for certain things but at different times to allow for spontaneous events to happen, it does make it easier for us. It took me around 2 years to work this out and if we stick to the rhythm the days are peaceful and flow better as soon as we deviate things go wrong and I get stressed. Interesting we have week day rhythms and then days with my husband at home have a different rhythm but that seems to work for all as well.