Why Routines and Structure Are Important for Kids

stressed teen standing under clock

Jackie Kennedy once said, "The only routine with me is no routine at all."

With or without structured schedules, most people have natural rhythms to their time. While raising children, the benefits of routine can be crucial to their well-being. Healthy routines and balanced structure help children build self-discipline, cooperation, responsibility, and can help eliminate child anxiety.

Why Routines and Structure?

The world is big and unknown for youngsters. When kids have predictable rhythms, it gives them a sense of security and independence. Boundaries and habits form naturally based on the existence or non-existence of structure. Even simple measures, such as bedtime or morning expectations, can help build helpful habits. Brushing teeth and hair, chores, and time management are all natural benefits of basic routines. These small, basic routines establish behavior patterns and aid in household expectations. In addition, broader routines in specific traditions, such as Saturday family movie nights or Sunday church, help to strengthen relationships by bringing the comfort of dependability to a child's life.

child looking in bathroom mirror

The difference between organized and disorganized environments for kids, according to some experts, can be significant. "The everyday steps that we teach our children at a young age can serve as building blocks for the rest of their lives," explains Ari Novick, Ph.D. in an article on examiner.com. In contrast, Novick says, "children who come from houses that are disorganized don't learn the habits they need to succeed in life. If there is no set time to do homework, it might get overlooked; if there is no place to put the laundry, it might end up not getting washed," etc.

Flexibility is important as well. Over structuring can also lead to anxiety, distracted attention abilities and lack of creativity. There is a crucial difference between a balanced routine and crowded scheduling. Most experts agree that American children today are extremely overscheduled. There are countless books and studies which explain the damage of the hurried child. According to CBS news, in 2014, another new study reconfirmed the belief that too many structured activities could be harmful. "The more time kids had in less structured activities, the more self-directed they were and, also, the reverse was true: The more time they spent in structured activities, the less able they were to use executive functions," study author Yuko Munakata, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado, Boulder, stated in the article.

Where Is the Balance?

The key is remembering that routines and rhythms are healthy and essential to developing independence and cooperation while overscheduling and strict structuring can hinder that development. Consistency builds confidence and eliminates power struggles and stress. A hyper-burdened, busy schedule, on the other hand, actually creates stress and struggle. Find the middle ground and know that healthy rhythms don't have to be rushed or chaotic.

If you need to establish some healthy routines for your kids, start small and keep it simple. Bedtime routines are often a battle to maintain, but once they are established, they pay off. When kids know what to expect, it takes the struggle out of the equation. Pick 3-4 things that happen within the hour before sleep. For example, teeth brush, wash-up, pajama, and book time. Then be consistent. Every night. If your kids are not accustomed to consistent routines, it may take a week or two before they adjust. Families can also consider picking one day each week to consistently practice a fun tradition, outing, or church service. These types of expectant events build trust and security within a family.

stressed out mom getting kids ready for school

Alternatively, if your family could benefit from a little less strict of a schedule and you need to incorporate some space and flexibility, again, the key is gradual changes. A child who has every minute planned out for them cannot be expected to suddenly transition to zero limits. Look at your calendar, where can you carve out some much-needed unstructured time to rest? Where can you simplify? Once you have, remember that it takes time for children to develop the natural ability to create their own interests, and, it takes the gift of unstructured opportunity to do so.

How do you know if your kids are getting a stable balance of structure? Evaluate whether you are practicing healthy routines for your family by the behavior of your kids. Not enough structure leaves your children ungrounded, aimless, and unmotivated. Too much structure can manifest itself in lack of attention abilities, exhaustion, and the absence of creative reasoning. Children need to be challenged, learn responsibility, and have healthy boundaries set, while also being allowed the freedom to absorb, explore, and create. The best parents try their best to find unrushed rhythms that allow their kids to flourish with both.