Children thrive when they are provided with a predictable, structured environment. Routines provide a sense of safety and security, as well as foster healthy emotional and physical development. Here are some healthy routines to consider:
- Provide regular bedtimes and mealtimes
- Engage in predictable activities before lights out at night, such as reading a book or taking a bath
- Set morning routines that include breakfast and getting dressed
- Put aside regular time for play with parents or caregivers
- Organize a weekly family activity
- Have predictable nap and quiet times
- Take regular outside walks and time for physical activities
- Set aside time each day just to talk with your child
What does science tell us about routines and healthy child development?
Bedtime – Consistent bedtimes and regular activities before bed such as a bath routine, reading a book or cuddling with caregivers provide the foundation for sleep health across the lifespan. During the first years of life, consistent bedtimes and routines before bed are associated with reduced nighttime waking and longer duration of nighttime sleeping. Establishing regularity in bedtime and routines during in infancy and toddlerhood is associated with better sleep and fewer sleep problems throughout childhood and into adolescence.
Mealtime – Shared family meals are an important tool for promoting good child health. More frequent family meals are associated with a range of positive outcomes including higher fruit and vegetable intake, lower risk of obesity and reduced risk for eating disorders.
Social, Cognitive and Emotional Development – Providing children with a predictable home environment has long-lasting positive effects on social and emotional development. For example, children growing up in households with more routines develop better self-control, manage their emotions more effectively and are at reduced risk for later mental health disorders. Providing children with a more structured environment is also associated with enhanced language development, a more successful transition to school and higher levels of academic achievement.
Brain Development – It is becoming increasingly clear that predictability in the early environment plays a crucial role in early brain development. We now know that predictable signals from caregivers and the household help to shape brain circuits important for cognitive development and emotional well-being.
Protection from Stress – While a predictable home environment provides an essential foundation for development in any context, it may be particularly important in times of stress or challenge. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, children whose families maintained more routines were much less likely to exhibit behavioral and mental health problems. Routines are an important tool caregivers can use when during difficult times and when the family unit is under extra stress.
When can I start creating structure and providing routines for my child?
No time is too early! Children can benefit beginning in infancy with routines centered around feeding, playtime and sleep.