Why Emma Goes Nuts When You Change the Routine

Happy New Year,

The New Year is a time when we are thinking about our habits. We wonder if we should make some changes and many of us develop New Year’s resolutions. And sometimes we even keep them. Based on the surfeit of articles in our newspapers about how to make and keep resolutions we have to assume it’s not an easy task.

For our children, our habits, how we choose to live our lives is a touchpoint. It is the way they understand the world. When we see just how wedded they are to any of the family routines, just think about how challenging it is for you to make a New Year’s resolution that will change your daily habits. And you’re an adult with control over your life. So, there it is. Today we are going to talk about the importance of routine and rituals for our kids. 

Routine and Rituals Lend Stability

When our children were little we would tell them to duck every time we drove under an overpass. It was silly and it was fun. And more importantly, it was a ritual.

Children love routines and rituals. They provide the security of knowing what to expect. Children have little control over their lives. Adults are in charge and the kids follow along. Routines and rituals let them have the control of knowing what to expect.

Routines are part of scheduling. Whenever you see an article about bedtime, the advice is invariably to have a routine. It starts with a snack, then bath, pyjamas, teeth, story, kiss and goodnight. And you know when you hire a babysitter you need to ensure that they know the schedule and follow it. Kids depend on these routines.

I remember being in a preschool one year in November. The teacher had just gone on maternity leave so a new teacher was filling in for the rest of the year. She was keen, young and qualified. This was going to be her first job. The ink was barely dry on her diploma.

On the first day with a group of three-year-olds she instituted her own schedule and planned for circle time before snack. Up to then, snack time had come before circle time. In her mind she simply switched the two because she thought that would work better.

The kids thought differently and there was a revolt. They knew the routine and were not about to let it change.

The new teacher learned a lot about the importance of routine for preschoolers. She reverted to the known schedule and the kids were happy.

While routines are all about when things happen, rituals are about how they happen. They are touchstones for our children. It can be a daily ritual such as giving each kid a kiss as he goes off to school or the process you use to celebrate birthdays.

Rituals define how you live. From small things like ducking under an underpass to larger things like celebrating a major holiday, they give our children a sense of what matters.

Routines and rituals are predictable. They give our children a sense of security. They can relax when they know what to expect next. That’s why wanting their own special plate every day at lunch or having all family members sit in the same spot at the dinner table matters to kids.

Of course, the world doesn’t run like a well-oiled machine with the routines that never vary. The important thing is to remember that when things are going to change, your children may rebel. So prepare them by explaining what is happening and why. Try to ensure that some familiar components are in place.

For example, when you are traveling incorporate some standard routines in the day. Make sure they each have their favourite ‘lovey’ (blanket, stuffed animal or toy) and a blanket they recognize. It’s also a good idea to keep naptimes and mealtimes as close to the usual time as possible. Children who are well fed and rested are more flexible about the other changes. They will be fun to be with and both you and they will have a wonderful holiday.

Changing a ritual can be a challenge. Any parent who has made what he thought was a simple and one-time-only change to a birthday ritual soon learns that the children expect the change to be permanent. So one year Daddy bakes the cake and it’s great. Well, as far as the kids are concerned, Daddy now bakes birthday cakes. Forever.

Bottom line, kids thrive when they know what is happening. They feel secure and relaxed when they can count on rituals and routines to define their day.

What are your children’s favourite rituals?

Bringing Parenting Today to your event.

 Parenting Today is keen to speak as part of your professional development event, parenting workshop or workplace wellness support program. I offer keynotes and workshops, have written books and have ongoing newspaper columns, books, blogs and newsletters. And, no matter what the actual topic, they all share a basic value that I call:

P.U.R.E. Parenting.

 P — is a parenting plan

U — is unconditional love

R — is respect for your child as he is right now

E — is encouragement

These make up the framework of any resources that will come from Parenting Today. These four pillars are the essential ingredients for raising healthy children who will develop into capable young men and women.

After-School Survey

Regular readers will know that I am very interested in child activity, particularly in play. This survey intrigued me and may also interest you.


The Canadian Active After School Partnership wants to better understand how children between 5 and 17 years of age spend their time after school in the 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm time period.  It would be very helpful to us if parents and caregivers complete this 10 minute survey to help us learn more about this topic.  We want to know how children spend their time after school; what parents think about after school programs that their children are now in; and what children who are not in after school programming do during this time period.

To thank you for taking part, we will give you the option to enter your email address into a draw for one of three $150 gift certificates at Sport Chek!

Click here to take the survey

We also invite you to share this survey with anyone else who is a parent or caregiver to a child between the ages of 5 and 17.

Thank you for your participation!








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