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Welcome to Behavior Management        Weekly Column...

By:  Julie Miller

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The Importance of         Routine        

  Children, like adults, enjoy routine in their life.  When they cannot depend upon a routine or are interrupted by regular modifications, their behavior tends to reflect the routine - chaotic and inconsistent.  Occasional changes in routine are not a problem, but should be reserved for special events or holidays.  Young children, especially, have problems dealing with disruptions, so programs may limit visitors or trips.

Visitors need to be screened to assure age appropriate activities.  Many a teacher has been given a recommendation only to be sadly disappointed by a visitor's program.  Often times, guests may be skilled for an entirely different age group, not have enough supplies, or not provide an interesting activity for the majority of children.  What then is number one rule of thumb?  A good parent or educator knows what will or will not captivate their child or group of children.  They will preview the activity and make an evaluation.

Click To DownloadOn trips, young children are often uncomfortable.  The enthusiasm shared by elementary aged children on outings is often lost on young children who like routines and the reassurance that a familiar environment has to offer.   Unfamiliar sounds and noises can frighten young children.  Toddlers do not know what to do when a toilet is not readily available.  The recently toilet-trained child, who cannot wait, will be embarrassed to have an accident.  Such an incident can ruin their day, as well as the other children in the group.  Typically, the younger the child, the fewer the trips recommended.

Of course, one can overdo a routine when schedules are strictly adhered.  Rigidity in a schedule offers its own set of problems.  When an activity is especially engrossing or demands a few additional minutes, there usually will be no damage if the schedule is off a bit. Problems can result when children are regularly asked to stop work to engage in something less meaningful.   This can promote negative or destructive behavior.

To the rushed adult, a child's work can be disregarded as unimportant or fruitless.  The time they put into projects may seem minimal by adult standards and may lack the same level of importance.  When available, observe your child's "work" (i.e., coloring, drawing, and painting).  Watch their facial expressions.  Do they concentrate on their projects?  Ask them about what they have created and allow them time to share.  One will quickly find out just how serious this "work" thing is for a child.

When it is important to stick to a rigid schedule (i.e., event time, travel time, etc.), provide for transition time.  Warn the children in advance that it will soon be time to clean up.  Then, let them know when five minutes is left.  The "rule of three" can apply here.  Give them three notices and then be off.  Usually they are more than happy to comply. 

No matter what the setting, positive routines should incorporate:

                    basic needs (food, water, toilet).

                    interesting, age-appropriate activities.

                     variety.

                     large motor activities (stretching, walking).

                     group and individual activities.

                    transition time.

                    rest time.

  Parents may find it advisable to incorporate a timetable somewhat similar to that of their child's daycare or school environment.  Young children's metabolisms will be oriented to this schedule and will be hungry according to this schedule. Their body has become accustomed, often three or five days a week to this routine. On weekends, this might explain why she or he is cranky at 11:00 (normally lunchtime at childcare) or naps in the car on the way to afternoon activities.  Perhaps a snack can be brought along to help avoid hunger pangs or activities be planned earlier in the day so everyone can actively participate.

Children need consistency in their daily routines.   Structured appropriately, a routine can help reinforce positive behaviors in children and minimize negative behaviors. Parents and other adults who participate in the life of a child need to keep the importance of routine in mind when planning any event.  With a little planning and preparation, adults can assure outings and activities will be more enjoyable for all parties involved.

   

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