I’m a big fan of routines. Being German, the importance of keeping to a tight schedule has always been somewhat hardwired into my system, so it should come as little surprise that I have started early on both my children.
So, what is a routine? To me, a routine is simply a consistent approach to a situation. If done right, it has enough flexibility to allow for a relaxed life, while at the same time giving you an idea of what to expect every day.
Take sleeping, for example. We get up at the same time each day (give or take half an hour) and go to bed at the same time. Whether or not the boy is sleepy, he will be put down into his cot at roughly the same times each day and nine times out of 10, he will then – predictably – go to sleep.
Having a routine, for me, does three things:
- I am usually aware of what is going to happen. Regular repeats of actions in our household mean that I can reliably predict how both children are going to react, what they are going to do and what my approach needs to be as a response – all without the crystal ball. For instance, I know that my husband will get up at 6am every morning, while the girl will have her alarm set for 7.30am and the boy will wake around 8am. That means I can shower any time between 6.30 and 7.15am without getting in anyone’s way and without running the risk of ending up with a head full of shampoo under a barely dripping shower head.
- I can prepare better for potentially dangerous, messy or upsetting situations. Children like a framework to act within and changes to their own routines can mean that their moods are all over the place and their actions may seem out of place. Knowing how my children normally act and react means I can also anticipate what they will do when faced with new or different situations. I know my daughter gets increasingly excited towards the end of term (who wouldn’t), but that also means she gets bored of being in her room reading or crafting away. So I find things to occupy her with. I know she is normally quite forgetful, so I double-check with her whether she has everything before we set off to school. I know the boy easily gets scared in new surroundings, so I keep him close and talk him through what is happening each step of that way. Routines mean that, as a whole, our household is kept relatively calm.
- A change in routine is not the end of the world. Once established, a routine can deal with the occasional change. This means that – every so often – staying up until late for a special occasion is not a big deal as I know that both children will be back to their normal sleeping patterns the next day. It means that it doesn’t matter whether the boy misses an afternoon nap in his cot when we’re out and about, because he will just sleep at the same time in his pram. It means that missing the latest issue of Girl Talk does not lead to a massive meltdown, because the girl knows she can get a different copy the next week.
In short, having routines makes our lives incredibly easy.
The problem is, routines take time and patience to establish. In the boy’s early days, getting him to sleep at the same times each day was a struggle. It would drive me round the bend knowing that we’d have visitors coming over or that we’d have to see the midwife or health visitor during the day as I knew I’d have to start all over again.
Now the boy is 16 weeks old and it’s getting a lot easier.
I am currently establishing a new routine with him: eating at the table. Now, the boy is not quite old enough to be weaned yet (although when my daughter was his age, weaning was seen as perfectly fine by 4 months), but I want to get him into the habit of only consuming food at the table.
Like with his sleeping routine, I have started quite early and I am taking a gradual approach to getting him used to this new way of living. He has a reclining high chair – the more practical alternative to the wooden one I wanted as the latter would not have allowed him to sit with us until he can fully sit up by himself.
In front of him lie a spoon and a plate each day, just like we have cutlery and crockery, too. The difference is, at the moment, his plate is empty.
Being at the table with us means that he can see what we do. He has now started to imitate us by putting the spoon in his mouth. When he has his first foods, the aim will be for him to learn to feed himself quite quickly. I know it will be messy, so he has a plastic bib and for staining foods like steamed carrots or mashed berries he may even go without clothes underneath.
There will be a host of new rules to learn, from sitting up properly to only touching certain foods with fingers to trying everything on the plate. Introducing those rules gradually and reacting the same way each time they are – and aren’t – adhered to will mean that, in time, meal times will be a calm, enjoyable affair for us.
Children, of course, need reminders. The girl still does. But she knows what is expected of her.