Low-stress parenting 3: Routine

Posted: July 10, 2013 by J in General, Pastoral issues

So you’re getting good at noticing stress in your family, and you’re having a go at defining your expectations. How can you make this self-definition easier and more effective, so that the family stress-levels keep coming down?

Consider this principle:

The more predictable the expectations are, the more powerfully they function to lower family stress levels.

The weakest expectations are the ones you just mentioned today. Who knows – maybe you’ll change them tomorrow. That’s a fairly stressful situation for the family. But the expectations that are well-worn, that rarely need to be discussed because everyone is so used to them: those ones are truly powerful and comforting.

We can call those super-stable expectations routines.

Do you have any routines in your family? I’ll bet you do.

God treats his children in this way, and it is a great kindness to us. Israel’s law was supposed to guide national life long-term. Now we connect with God through the ministry of Jesus his son, and the arrangements are similarly stable:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever          Hebrew 13:8

That’s good news for us. No worries about the deal changing on us, we can trust in Jesus and relax. How about with your kids?

Kids love routines. They love knowing the rules, knowing what to do; being able to check if others have done their bit! Routines lower stress because they empower everybody in the family. They are egalitarian: once established, everyone must submit to them equally. They create expectations in all directions. There are no secrets, everyone knows the same things, knows what is going on. An unknown future is stressful, but a predictable one is reassuring.

(Routines also help kids learn to self-regulate. I.e. manage their own behaviour. Instead of needing to be told what to do every time, kids can refer to the routine, and know what to do for themselves. Self-regulating is the holy grail of child-rearing.)

You can use routines to lower the stress in your family. They are powerful tools to help you ‘self-define’ as a parental presence (see previous post). They create clarity and minimise conflict.

In our family we have lots of routines. Our kids are fairly young so the routines reflect that. Here are some of them:

  • Each child has an assigned task to help prepare for breakfast. Takes about 30 seconds each.
  • At breakfast we will thank God and say the Lord’s prayer together. We hold hands.
  • Our children go to school five days/week whether they feel like it or not (this one’s not as obvious as you might think)
  • Mum or Dad has to get dinner
  • If our daughter eats her meal without assistance, she gets a sticker on her chart
  • Kids have a bath if they didn’t have one the night before
  • Before bed, we have lots of routine. After dinner it goes like this:
-clean hands (messy from messy eating!)
-read story together on the lounge – kids take turns choosing book
-bible story and prayer together as family
-children tidy a set number of items from bedroom floor, varies depending on age.
-children visit toilet before bed.
-bedtimes: 7.30 for younger ones, 8.30 for older one.
-Mum and Dad are required to tuck kids in bed and kiss them, and probably to hear about the favourite event from the day.

That’s not all our routines, but you get the idea!

Pretty mundane stuff, most of it. But here’s the thing worth knowing about these routines: we rarely have conflict about any of them. Everyone accepts them, everyone normally complies. (Occasionally I fall asleep and fail to tuck kids in!) I don’t think the kids see them as ‘mum and dad’s expecations’, I think they feel them as ‘the way our family operates’. It’s just the rules. We all have to follow them! We kind of like them.

We still have to remind the kids to do lots of these things. Compliance is not always automatic! But the point is that once it’s been said, there’s generally no argument, no conflict, because everyone knows that those are our family patterns.

Over the years we have added routines, some short term, others permanent. Nearly always this has been a blessing to the family. In fact, I think we need to add a couple more. Like teeth brushing! (shame)

So, how could you use routines to lower the stress in your family? You already do this, but could you benefit from a few more? It’s actually quite simple (not easy, simple!). You just need to

1. articulate the expectation clearly and regularly

2. stick to it like glue regardless of complaints

At first there will be complaints. They won’t last long. Kids are very quick to learn the routines. They’ll feel like it’s a natural law long before you do. Within ten repetitions you’ll have a new routine.

The best area to establish a new routine is probably the area where you have the most conflict at the moment. That’s the point where you need a powerful stress-reducing tool like this one.

Here are some examples of routines, that might spark your imagination:

You can have half an hour screen time each day. When you want it to start, come tell me, and we’ll start this timer. When the alarm goes off, you stop. (possible addition, If you don’t stop at the alarm, you will not have screen time tomorrow.)

After you have done these three morning jobs, you can have your phone. Until then it will sit here. It will be the same every school morning.

If you call me from another room I will not answer. If you come to where I am I will talk to you.

Eight o’clock is piano practice time.

Friday and Saturday are the nights available for going out.

You get $10 pocket money each week, for your social life etc. That is all. You manage the details.

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