Establishing Routines for Your Child

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Establishing a routine is important for a child’s development. Children fear the unknown, and a routine provides structure to their daily lives. This is why pediatric occupational therapists incorporate routine in their treatment sessions. Routine helps children identify their role within their home, school and neighborhood. They can develop the skills necessary to complete daily tasks, such as getting dressed, eating and bathing.

By establishing routines early, children identify their role expectations in their infancy and continue to develop these expectations throughout their lives. It’s notable, however, that each child is different. For example, for children with physical and/or developmental disabilities, skill expectations are modified throughout various stages of life due to potential difficulty with strength, motion, coordination, memory, transition, following directions and problem solving. Therefore, it’s important to set clear expectations for children and establish routines for optimal success within their various environments.

How can an occupational therapist help?

As an occupational therapist, we work closely with parents and their children to understand current routines and traditions. Parents can add therapeutic activities to their routines that are meaningful and optimal within their family environment. A great tool occupational therapists use for routines are visual schedules or checklists that list each step of an activity with a picture or word in the appropriate sequence, allowing children to actively participate in their routines. Below are tips for a few common daily routines.

Morning Routine Tips

  • Select a wake-up time for children starting around 1-year-old, and stagger wake up times if there are multiple children to help each child one at a time
  • Create a visual checklist to promote engagement in morning routine
  • Start with allowing your child to dress independently on the weekend then progress to week days with small items of dressing first
  • Plan a fun activity into the routine on the weekends like during breakfast by encouraging engagement and letting them know routines can be modified

Toileting Routine Tips

  • Establish times throughout the day to visit the toilet, such as when waking up, after meal time and before bed
  • Provide your child with clothes that can be easily removed
  • Adapt the toilet seat for appropriate fit and place important items within the child's reach
  • Allow your child to complete a fun activity like reading a book to make toileting fun and a comfortable environment

Bedtime Routine Tips

  • Select a bed time and establish a sequence of events to be completed half an hour before, such as putting away toys, bathing and brushing teeth
  • Keep the television off and use calming music before bedtime
  • Create a visual checklist to promote engagement in bedtime activities
  • If your child is afraid of the dark or worried about monsters, try checking those scary areas in the routine to reduce fear

In addition, occupational therapists understand how routines can be difficult for children who do not like change or have a different sensory experience. We work with parents and children to modify routines by adding changes in small increments that are not overwhelming for your child. We also modify the sensory components within your child’s environment to promote a well-fit experience.

Learn more about strategies and tools in establishing routines and/or modifying a routine for your child.

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