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Routines

Air Date: 07/05/11 Cheryl can be reached at 775-331-6723 or at cheryl.erwin@sbcglobal.net   Most parents know the drill. You look at the clock, realize it's past your child's bedtime, and call to said child (who is usually in front of the TV or playing a video game), "Bedtime!" And nothing happens-at least, not immediately. Eventually, you actually walk to wherever your child is, repeat the word "bedtime", and begin the process of actually getting that child into his or her bed. This usually entails some magic combination of washing, tooth-brushing, pajama application, book-reading, story-telling, back-scratching, kissing, glasses of water, trips to the toilet, and hugs before the light goes out-and even then, your child may pop out of bed several times before the process is complete. In some homes, bedtime is a two-hour process and at the end of it, the parents are far more exhausted than children!             Mornings sometimes aren't much easier. Bodies must be urged out of bed; clothes must be selected and put on, breakfast eaten and cleared away, lunch figured out, homework and books assembled, and all necessary equipment (not to mention the child) buckled into the car.             All of these tasks may involve disagreement, foot-dragging, and tears, and more than one family has begun or ended the day with conflict and anger.  There is one parenting tool that sometimes works real magic in family life-and that tool is the use of routines.             Routines allow adults and children alike to know what comes next and to have a plan. Routines reduce bickering and arguing, and can even allow kids a voice in how their daily lives work. By the way, early childhood educators and care providers have known this for a long time, which is why good childcare programs almost always have a daily routine, which they follow to the letter.             Here's how it works. Let's take a simple bedtime routine. Step one is deciding when you will begin. It is astonishing to me how many of the children I meet have no consistent bedtime. Their evenings depend entirely on sporting events, practices, gymnastics, and homework assignments. Many children just fall asleep on the floor in front of the television-which has been shown to disrupt children's sleep patterns, by the way. Young children may need as much as 10 hours of sleep, so it makes sense to look at when you must drag your kids out of bed and work backwards from there. If you allow about half an hour for your bedtime routine, you'll have a pretty good idea of when you should start the process-and consistency really does matter.             It's important to invite your child to help you create your routine. (And yes, if you have more than one child, you'll probably have to create separate routines.) If you do it, the routine may become just another thing for your child to resist. But if it's his routine, he's more likely to follow it-and to be happy about it.             Let's say you and your child decide you'll start with bath time and tooth-brushing. You might follow that with pajamas, reading two books, singing a song, saying prayers, and then giving a good night hug. When the last step has been completed, that's it: the light goes out and it's now bedtime. It helps to make a routine chart. This isn't a sticker or reward chart, by the way-it's just a map. You list the tasks in order, and you can decorate the chart with stickers, pictures, or photos of your child doing each step-which is helpful if your little one can't read yet. Once the routine is set, follow it-in order, every time. If your child gets distracted, simply ask, "what's next on your chart?" Most kids run to look-which means the chart becomes the boss and a great deal of arguing is eliminated.             I have to admit I have no idea why routine charts are such effective parenting tools-but they are. You can have a chart for bedtime, and another one for the morning routine. You'll probably find that some morning tasks work better as part of the evening routine, like gathering books or making a lunch. You can change the routine as your child grows, or as your needs shift, but having a chart posted in a place where your child can easily see it may smooth out many of the daily wrinkles in family life.             No one is perfectly consistent, but because young children learn best by repetition and consistency, routines are marvelous teaching tools. Grab some markers and a poster board, ask your child to help, and see what happens. For KUNR, this is Cheryl Erwin.