One of the first lessons I learned as a parent was how important routines are for kids. Children like to know what to expect and when. Keeping their days structured means fewer surprises, which can trigger behavioral problems, especially if your child tends to be difficult.
So what does structure look like? During the week, it means going to bed at the same time every night after following a bedtime routine. This can be simple or elaborate but usually includes getting things ready for school the next day, bathing and brushing teeth, and then some snuggling time with Mom or Dad, perhaps reading a story or chatting about what the next day will bring.
But what do you do on those nights where everything goes wrong? Your darling son or daughter can’t separate himself or herself from the TV or video game and doesn’t want to pick out clothes for the next day or take a bath. You’re tired from a busy day at work, and the last thing you want to deal with is an uncooperative child.
So what do you do? Lose your temper and act like a child yourself? Or take some deep breaths and figure out a way to encourage your little darling in a calm, matter-of-fact manner to do the tasks he or she needs to do. Sometimes it’s hard to be the adult, especially when we are dealing with grown-up problems like paying bills, keeping the fridge stocked, and cutting the grass.
But your kids are learning from you every second of their precious lives. This means that if you want them to develop good habits, you have to model those good behaviors. All. The. Time.
This brings us back to having routines and building structure into your family life. Make a schedule for what kids need to accomplish after school. Remind them that if they finish their homework and chores quickly, they can have more time to chat with friends or watch their favorite shows on TV. Try to plan a wind-down activity before bed, a segue to their bedtime routine. Maybe it’s coloring together or playing with Legos. The key is you’re interacting with your kids and building bonds.
This month’s cover story is about such moments for both kids and parents. Life’s busy, but we can slow things down, just by being present. One of my favorite stories was when I was manning a booth during a family expo at a shopping mall, passing out copies of Tidewater Family Plus, and offering coloring sheets and markers. A dad stopped by with his little girl, who immediately sat down and started coloring. He and I chatted a bit, and after a while, he commented, “I can’t believe how focused she is. Usually she won’t sit still, and now she’s completely content to sit there and color!”
Simple activities, including playing with blocks, baking cookies, and climbing trees, bring us back to the present. In the process, the fears and anxieties that continually cloud our brains fade away.
This works for adults, too. When I’m writing or cooking, for example, I am completely immersed in what I’m doing. It’s impossible to worry or ruminate over something I should or shouldn’t have said or done while I’m occupied with a task. And I always feel calmer after I lose myself in an activity. (And by the way, scrolling on your phone isn’t what I’m talking about!)
This month make sure to spend time with your kids enjoying nature and the outdoors. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, bake cookies or color. Put away all your devices and be present with your children. We all know how fast they grow up, but you know how to slow things down, remember?