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Why Kids Have Trouble Following a Routine or Schedule

By The Understood Team

At a Glance

  • Following a routine or schedule is difficult for lots of kids.

  • Sticking to a schedule involves many skills—it’s harder than it seems.

  • Keep an eye on what happens when your child misses one or multiple parts of a routine.

Your child has a bedtime routine that rarely changes. Put toys away, put on pajamas, wash up, get into bed. There are routines for morning and for after school. You’ve even made weekday schedules for your child to follow.

But for some reason, your child doesn’t follow any of it. Why does your child do this? It only leads to nagging, arguing, and frustration.

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

For some kids, not following routines is a regular problem. If you’ve noticed this with your child, you may wonder what it means. Learn more about what can cause trouble with routines and schedules.

What Trouble Following a Routine Looks Like

The result is easy to see: Your child isn’t ready for bed or for school, or has missed key steps in the routine. (How often does your child race out the door with unbrushed teeth?) Or maybe your child doesn’t get started on homework until it’s almost bedtime.

If you look more closely, you may notice other behaviors that lead up to it. For example, what happens when your child is supposed to put out clothes for the morning? Are all the items out? Are any of them? When it’s time to wash up, does your child even walk into the bathroom?

As for the daily schedule, what exactly does your child do instead of sitting down for homework time? Does your child routinely forget about band practice, but not basketball practice?

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

Why Kids Have Trouble Following a Routine or Schedule

Following a routine or sticking to a schedule may seem simple. But they actually require many skills. Some kids have trouble with one or more of these skills. They may struggle with:

These skills are part of a larger group of thinking skills known as executive function. Many kids have trouble with these skills, especially kids with ADHD. Some kids also need more time to take in information and act on it.

How You Can Help

Knowing what’s causing your child to not follow routines or schedules lets you know where to go from here, and what might help. So, the first thing to do is keep observing your child. Take notes on what you’re seeing.

As you start to see patterns, talk to people who know and spend time with your child, like teachers and caregivers. They can share what they’ve noticed and give you a fuller picture.

Also, talk with your child’s doctor or other professionals who provide health care. They can help you make sense of what’s happening.

In the meantime, here are ways you can help at home.

  • Create a visual planner or picture schedule and place it where your child can easily see it. Have your child mark off what’s been done. You can use bedtime checklists, too.

  • Discover printable “contracts” to help you and your child stay on the same page when it comes to household rules.

  • Get tips for giving praise that will build self-esteem and help your child stay motivated to try to follow routines and schedules.

Key Takeaways

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

  • Trouble with organization, keeping track of time, and paying attention are a few reasons kids struggle with routines.

  • Look for patterns in your child’s behavior, and talk with others about what they’re seeing.

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About the Author

About the Author

The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers, editors, and community moderators. Many of them learn and think differently, or have kids who do.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Ellen Braaten, PhD is the director of LEAP and co-director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, both at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom