At a glance
When kids don’t follow a routine or schedule, it’s frustrating.
New routines can be hard for kids to get used to.
When kids help create routines, they’re more likely to follow them.
For many kids, having a daily routine is reassuring. They know what to do and when to do it. They get used to that routine. But some kids won’t follow a routine or schedule, particularly if it’s new. That can be stressful, especially when you’re counting on that routine to help keep everyone on track and the day running smoothly.
If your child resists following a routine, here are five tips to try.
1. Let your child help make the routine.
Kids like to be part of the decision-making process. When they have choices and a say in what’s part of their routine, it’s harder for them to refuse to do it. It also builds confidence. They feel like they can do what they need to do without your help — or with just a little help.
2. Be realistic about time and priorities.
Sometimes kids don’t follow a routine because it’s too stressful to get it done in the set time frame. Do a run-through to see exactly how long it takes. If you need your child to get dressed, eat breakfast, pack up, and get out the door in the morning, try it on a day when you aren’t in a rush. If it takes 10 minutes longer than you planned for, go back and adjust it.
Be sure to prioritize what’s important. It all feels important. But if you and your child are fighting every night about doing the dishes right after dinner, maybe they can be done a little later or first thing in the morning. Postponing the “extras” can cut back on stress and bad feelings.
3. Be clear when you explain the routine.
Sometimes when kids don’t follow a routine, it’s because they don’t understand it or know how to tackle it. Be clear in setting out the order of what needs to happen and at what time. Then, go over each part of the routine and explain exactly what’s expected for each task. Be specific when you give directions. Instead of “You need to vacuum today,” try “Today, please vacuum your room and the hallway.”
4. Put the routine in writing.
How often do you make yourself a to-do list so you won’t forget what you need to do? Kids need those reminders, too. Write out routines and post them where they make sense. (For example, you could post the morning routine on the bathroom mirror.)
Just make sure to chunk the tasks into three to five items at a time. Any more than that can be overwhelming. For younger kids, you can also pair written items with picture schedules to help them see the task in action.
5. Know that kids need support to learn routines.
It takes time to learn and get used to new routines. Don’t expect to see a change right away. Instead, keep an eye out for small improvements. Keep giving gentle out-loud reminders and pointing out the written schedule. If your child is having trouble, it’s OK to help. And remember to praise the effort, not just the end result. Trying to follow a routine is much better than just not following it at all.
Find out why kids have trouble following a routine or schedule.
Be realistic about what can be done in a certain amount of time.
Be specific when you explain a schedule or routine.
Giving written, verbal, and picture support helps kids learn routines.
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About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.