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  • Following instructions
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  • Avoiding and procrastinating

Why kids have trouble following a routine or schedule

By Gretchen Vierstra, MA

Kids’ days are full of routines. But for many, following a routine or schedule is difficult. Sticking to a routine or schedule involves many skills — it’s harder than it seems.

There are lots of reasons kids don’t stick to daily routines and schedules. Often, it’s a once-in-a-while thing that’s not an issue. Kids get sidetracked, are preoccupied, or just don’t feel like doing it.

For some kids, though, not following routines is a regular problem. Trouble with organization, keeping track of time, and paying attention are a few reasons kids struggle with routines. These skills are part of a larger group of thinking skills known as

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Skills needed to follow a routine or schedule

Following a routine or sticking to a schedule requires many executive function skills. Some kids have trouble with one or more of these skills. They may struggle with:

  • Keeping track of time

  • Organization and planning

  • Remembering the steps

  • Stopping what they’re doing and switching gears 

  • Staying on task and not getting distracted

  • Paying attention to rules

Many kids have trouble with these skills, especially kids with . Some kids also need more time to take in information and act on it.

Learn more about:

Examples of trouble following routines

When kids have trouble following a routine or schedule, the result is often easy to see: Kids aren’t ready on time or they’ve missed key steps. At home, kids might race out the door with unbrushed teeth. At school, they might line up for the end of the day without their homework packed. 

Keep an eye on what happens when kids miss one or multiple parts of a routine. If you look more closely, you may notice other behaviors that lead up to it.

For example, what happens when it’s time for kids to unpack their backpack? Are all of the items out? Are any of them? If not, what are kids doing instead of unpacking? 

As for the daily schedule, what exactly do kids do instead of what’s scheduled? Do they routinely forget about band practice, but not basketball practice?

When kids truly struggle with routines and schedules, it looks like a bunch of missing pieces, not just one or two.

Parents and caregivers: If you start to notice patterns related to your child’s trouble with routines or schedules, talk to people who know and spend time with your child. They can share what they’ve noticed and give you a fuller picture. 

Educators: If kids are having trouble following routines or schedules, use this teacher guide for talking with parents about difficult topics.  

Next steps

Knowing what’s causing kids to not follow routines or schedules lets you know what might help. So the first thing to do is keep observing. Then share your notes on what you’re seeing. Families, educators, and health care professionals can work together to understand what’s happening. 

In the meantime, there are ways to help at home and at school.

Parents and caregivers: Try using printable contracts to help you and your child stay on the same page when it comes to household rules and routines. 

Educators: Help kids follow routines and schedules by using positive behavior strategies. Here are a few to try: 

Related topics

  • Following instructions
  • Signs and symptoms
  • Avoiding and procrastinating

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