Routines are fragile things. Switch up the structure of your day because of a trip, school break, or daylight saving time, and your family can veer off course.
True, it’s good for kids to learn to go with the flow. But “we all thrive on predictability and routine,” says Jeanette Sawyer Cohen, PhD, a clinical psychologist and child development consultant in New York City. “Knowing what to expect helps us feel safe and secure.”
Plus, when your kids stick to a routine, they’re more likely to eat wisely and sleep soundly -- healthy choices that you'll want to become lifelong habits.
How can you get your family back on a schedule? Focus on a few key moments in every day to make healthy choices.
Start With Bedtime
The first piece of the puzzle is the last part of your day. “Sleep affects our ability to concentrate, helps us avoid mistakes, and keeps our immune system in top shape,” explains Susan Newman, PhD, a social psychologist in Sergeantsville, NJ, and author of Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day.
Start slowly by getting kids to bed 10 minutes earlier each night until you reach their ideal bedtime. Younger kids can make a chart that lets them track their progress. Older kids may be more likely to cooperate if you set an example and stick to an early bedtime for yourself.
You might describe how you didn’t do well at work one day because you stayed up too late the night before, Newman suggests. Then, “announce that you’re going to bed early too so you don’t have another terrible, awful day.”
Put Family Mealtime on the Schedule
As often as you can, get your family to sit down for meals together. With hectic work schedules and after-school events, sticking to the same mealtime can be a challenge. Still, find a way to label your dinner routines -- even if it changes day by day, Cohen suggests.
For instance, maybe the days your kids have soccer and will eat dinner earlier than usual are “sandwich days.” The evenings you work late are “babysitter days,” and nights you’re all together are “family dinner nights.” “Naming these different experiences makes the variety feel more routine,” Cohen says.