Tips for setting up family routines

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Family routines can help young children, school age and older children with disability in everyday life by giving them a sense of predictability and responsibility.

Key points:

  • Routines in family life can be an important tool for supporting your child with disability
  • Setting up routines takes some initial effort but with a little planning you can establish healthy habits
  • While there is no right way to do it, any routines you have need to work for your family

There are no rules about what you should include in your daily routines, however, this article outlines some suggestions for what you might like to include within your family routine.

Every family situation is different, just as every child with disability is different, so the most important thing is that your routine works for your child and your family.

Why are routines important?

Family routines have a range of benefits for children and can make daily family life easier.

The benefits of family routines for children include:

  • Creating an organised and predictable home environment, so children feel safe and secure and have reduced stress
  • Developing a sense of responsibility
  • Developing basic skills for independence, such as time management or practical skills like cooking
  • Establishing healthy habits such as brushing teeth, taking medication regularly and regular hygiene
  • Establishing good sleep routines for healthier sleep

A set calendar, whether it is by day, week or month, can ensure everyone knows what is next and keeps the whole family organised.

What should a routine include?

You can start by writing down what a typical day looks like for you, your child and any other family members.

For example, if you work, your child has school or kindergarten, any after-school activities, meals and daily tasks like showering.

You could expand this to what a typical week looks like to include scheduled playgroups, sports or hobbies and visits with your child’s grandparents, which may not happen every day.

If you have pets you can include them, such as daily feeding, taking the dog for a walk or cleaning the turtle’s aquarium.

An itemised list of the household tasks, including cooking, cleaning and doing the laundry, can be split between the members of your household who are old enough to learn or undertake these activities.

It is important to fit space into your routine to spend time with your family, such as reading a story before bed, family meals, games nights or playing in the backyard with a ball or other sports equipment.

Scheduling time for free play, relaxation and creative activities is important too, and as long as this time is set aside you don’t have to plan exactly what will happen.

Creating a family routine

Your routine doesn’t have to set out the whole day, you could have a basic morning routine to cover the part of the day when your children gets up to when you drop them at kindergarten or school, and a bedtime routine to cover what happens after dinner.

Or, a weekly routine that shows where everyone is at each time may be more beneficial for your family to keep track of any therapy appointments, group activities, work, what needs to happen after your child gets home from school, and tasks like food shopping.

There are also many different ways you can set out your routine and children with disability may benefit from different cues related to the family routine.

For example, social stories could be a good way for your child to learn the steps of a chore or personal hygiene task. These are short books made with pictures and easy to read words explaining the task or situation and could be used to help children to learn about washing their hands, packing their school bag or even social skills like taking turns speaking while having a family meal.

Your child might learn from other cues, such as you reminding them verbally to clear the table or by looking at a daily schedule on a whiteboard on the fridge.

The daily schedule could also include pictures as visual prompts for tasks, such as a dog picture as a reminder to feed your pets or a picture of a pencil as a reminder to do homework.

If it helps your child to remember to do each of the activities, you could also try a checklist approach where they can cross off things once done.

Other people can help with your routines too, such as early intervention professionals who know your child and family or your regular General Practitioner (GP).

They might be able to suggest the best cues to help your child learn routines, what you could add to your routine to help your child learn a new skill, or ways for other family members to support the learning of your child in everyday life.

Tips for changing your routine

Although you may have an ongoing routine for days on end, there will be times when not everything goes according to plan or your situation changes and the routine no longer fits.

Remember that even a set routine can be flexible. For example, if your child hasn’t slept well and they need an additional rest time or nap the next day you can factor this in, or if your child has no school because of the holiday break the routine may need to change a little to factor in holiday activities.

After changing the routine or having a break, you may need to re-introduce parts of the routine that you need gradually – such as an earlier bedtime needed during the school term.

When reviewing your routine, you can talk together as a family about how the routines are going and ask your child or children whether there is something they think is not working.

Don’t be afraid to ask them how they think the routine could be fixed as well, because this builds independence and problem-solving skills.

For any big events or expected changes, plan ahead. For example, if you know the school holidays are coming up, your child is having surgery or another major assessment, or your child will be starting kindergarten or high school, you should have routines or plans in place around these big events before they happen.

This planning will tell your child what to expect from the change and help them to cope.

In what ways do you provide structure in your child’s family life? Tell us in the comments below.

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