Preschoolers and Routines

Preschoolers and Routines

17 April 2022 • Words by Karla Pretorius 3 mins

Wait…what? Is that even possible? Parents want their children of any and all ages to understand the importance of a routine. Although there is a certain ring to “I told you so…” it is ultimately not what we are looking for when giving advice – waiting for our child to get it wrong. We want them to know intrinsically that routines and healthy habits are good. We have learned from our experience that having a routine can decrease your anxiety, prepare you for transitions and help you prepare for unpredictable events or changes.

But how do we teach our preschoolers that routines are crucial? 

We have to work on self-awareness and self-regulation, which leads to effective emotional regulation from a young age. When we create a routine or schedule for our children, we want to make sure they are part of the planning process, and then we want to show them the benefits of this routine. According to Malik and Marwaha (2022), children’s temperament plays a role in their willingness to follow a routine. It is then our responsibility, as parents, to offer a more motivating way for our preschoolers to follow routines. But how?

Here is an example activity map for preschoolers to include a daily routine: 

Start with the basics

Choose activities that you feel are most important, like a regular and consistent naptime and bedtime routine, brushing teeth, meal times, and, of course, something they enjoy – this can be “free playtime” or “special playtime” (where they have the opportunity to share their favorite games with you). Once you have noted the basics, you can start with a visual schedule.

Keep it visual and fun – always

Ask your child to help you create a visual schedule for them, but also their siblings and everyone in the family. The more this seems like a “group activity,” and everyone needs it, the more likely they will participate. You can have a work schedule and ask your preschooler to help you decorate your daily routine schedule with them, perhaps. They can choose what time they want to get ready for bed (give them a choice of two good times here, though), and then they can select which bedtime story you can read with them. The critical point here is always to bring in options they can choose from. It is, after all, their schedule and routine.

Slowly increase the expectations

If they had to complete three tasks before “special siblings time or special mom/dad time,” they must later complete four tasks. Let them know that it is because they can manage more responsibilities and include this increase in a “brag book” that can be shared over dinnertime with the family.

Remember to include movement breaks, sensory play, and “no expectation” breaks

If your child sees that there are times when they can do what they want, they might also be more motivated to complete other tasks on their visual schedule. PROTIP: create a “sensory corner” by adding sensory toys, such as squeeze balls, rainmaker toys, and various items they enjoy playing with within a specific corner or tent. This can lead them to become more aware of their sensory needs and thus request to go to their “sensory tent” consistently.

Self-awareness and self-regulation

If you notice your child is a bit tired, ask them if they don’t want to have a “sensory tent” break before starting their chores for the day. The more we focus on our children becoming aware of these needs, the more we are helping them become independent in regulating their sensory requirements. 

Following a routine at first is difficult for any child, but with enough practice and encouragement, our preschoolers will soon see the benefits of implementing routines and healthy habits daily.

Karla Pretorius

A registered counselor with a MA in Psychology. Co-founder: AIMS Global & Leadership at: Augmental