We all want what is best for our children, which includes teaching them how to be self-sufficient. One of the ways we can do this is by establishing a routine for their day that will help them feel secure and in control. Routines are also important because they give kids boundaries so they know what to expect at certain times during the day.
Let's talk about routine charts for kids: why we use them, what the benefits are, and what is included in our charts. At the end of this post, there are some free printable charts for you to download, too!
Why are routines important for kids?
Children like knowing what is going to happen next. They feel more confident and secure when their day is predictable. If you have a schedule and routines for the whole day, it will be easier for everyone. They will know what to expect, which is helpful whether they are at home or in school.
Benefits of routines for kids
A schedule with a routine at home makes kiddos feel more secure. This way they know what is coming and they can be prepared. Some children need extra time to prepare for transitions. If this is the case with your child, be sure to work that in to your routine charts.
Having a routine will make your child feel more confident and independent. They might know when it is time for bed or to brush their teeth. They will be proud of themselves when they do these things all by themselves.
I know my daughter, Sapphire, does not enjoy task switching. She prefers to work in blocks of time, so instead of doing one task for 15 minutes, then another for 15 minutes, she wants a 1 hour task. Other kids may prefer small chunks of time like 10-15 minutes, or somewhere in the middle like half an hour.
Another reason routines are important is because your body gets used to certain things each day. If wake up time is at 7AM, nap time is at 1PM, and bed time is at 8PM, after a week or two, your child's body may naturally fall into that rhythm. This makes waking, napping, and bedtime exponentially easier.
Either way, figure out what works best for your child and set up your routine system around it. This may take some trial and error, and it can change over the years – it sure has in our house! – but overall the goal here is to start a basic routine and expand from there.
What do you put in a routine chart?
When creating a routine chart, I played to my children's strengths, while working in their weaknesses for confidence-building opportunities.
Do you want one routine chart that lasts for the entire 24 hours, or is it easier for your family to do a morning, day time, and evening routine chart separately? Maybe you have different routines for different days. In that case, you could have a binder of routines that you swap out.
For example, if you have a doctor's appointment one day, that won't be on the routine chart every day, right? So, have a routine for doctor's appointments. I always have the kids pack their iPads and snacks, so part of the routine would include those steps before leaving for the appointment.
We plan meal times because it's easiest for us. Other parents may wait for their children to let them know they're hungry, but I've noticed that my youngest daughter will forget to eat if we don't put it in the “plan” for the day. This then triggers headaches, and complete meltdowns. To prevent those, we plan in meal and snack times.
Teaching my kids what to expect each day has cut down on arguments and power struggles tremendously. Knowing that 2PM is clean up time, with a snack to follow, encourages Sapphire to stay on track. The alternative was saying “it's time to clean up!” – and even with a grace period for transition, we'd have issues.
How can you show your child what's expected of them in an age-appropriate way? By using a visual routine, of course!
Plan in “down” time.
Whether it's quiet time, learning time, or even nap time, planning in relaxation times can make it easier for kids to calm down.
We have different spots in our home that are meant for different things. We have a huge closet that wasn't being used, that we turned into a meditation room. Inside, you'll find all of the goodies in the calm down box (aka rescue kit), as well as an Amazon Echo that plays calming music.
Don't forget to plan the fun, too.
While every day doesn't have to be completely action packed like a summer camp, there's always something fun to do! Don't forget to plan the fun times in, too. This gives your kids something to look forward to as they're completing their other tasks for the day.
I encourage you to leave fun time in no matter what; taking away recreational time because a child misbehaves is not helpful for anyone. I don't use fun time as a reward. Everyone deserves to enjoy their day, and having this time factored in helps my kids stay on track.
Shouldn't kids learn to be flexible?
Teaching kids to be flexible is important, but it takes time. And some kiddos do better with routines, while others are perfectly fine flying by the seat of their pants. In our house, flexibility isn't really popular LOL we have 3 autistic individuals and an Army dad who loves routine as much as I do.
Routine charts for ADHD and autism are GOLD.
Every child is different, but in my experience with teaching ADHD and autistic preschoolers, I found that they truly do thrive when a routine is offered. Chaos ensues when there are no boundaries or expectations. Sapphire has Oppositional Defiant Disorder and routines help manage this as well.
What is the difference between a routine chart and a reward chart?
A routine chart is designed to help children establish the habits of goal setting and time management. They help your child be more self-sufficient, and build confidence.
A reward chart is designed to change children's behavior, or keep them on track doing what they are “supposed” to be doing. They offer rewards for basic tasks such as brushing teeth.
Reward charts rely on outside forces to motivate your child. With positive parenting, the goal is to help your child find the motivation within themselves.
Our job as parents are to help create self-sufficient adults. It may seem like you have a long time to do this, but if your child is 3, you only have 15 years until they're expected to be an adult and live on their own. That's NOT a lot of time when you think about how fast life moves and everything we need to teach them. If your child is 8, you have 10 years. Whew!
If you want, you can even combine a routine chart with a reward chart.
How routine charts tie into positive parenting
Routine charts are slightly different than reward charts. I don't reward my children for behaving how they are expected to behave, necessarily, but I've learned that they LOVE a good check list (and freak out without routine), so this is what works for us.
Positive parenting is about encouraging your children to be themselves, in a safe and respectful way.
Having a routine that is designed specifically for them helps build self-confidence.
A daily routine chart for a 10 year old may look slightly different than a routine for a 6 year old, for example. Even if your children are close in age, their routines should be individual. Individualism is a huge part of positive parenting.
Daily routine charts for kids
My daily routine chart printables are gender neutral. I've seen a lot of charts out there with princesses on them, and they're titled “Girl's Chore Chart” or “Girl's Routine Chart” and, well, some boys like princesses, too. Plus, including nonbinary kiddos is important to me so gender neutral it is.
Morning routine charts
Morning routine chart for toddlers: add photos of your child completing the task that is on the list. Images are better for kiddos who aren't at reading level yet.
Morning routine chart for kids: you can add photos of your child to their routine charts but adding words as well will encourage your child to use their reading skills.
Bedtime routine charts
Bedtime routine chart for toddlers: this may include bath, brushing teeth, reading a book, etc – you will be involved in this routine so make sure you plan time for that as well.
Bedtime routine chart for kids: perfect opportunity here to help kiddos be more self-sufficient. Which tasks can they do on their own, before you join them to read a bedtime story?
Download my free routine chart printable kit: it includes a blank page at the end to add your own child's photos and tasks to!
What to include in your child's routine chart
We all know that children thrive on structure and routine, but many parents are still struggling to establish a daily schedule.
To ease the process of structuring your day, take some time to think about what's most important for you family. Is it making sure they eat breakfast? Or getting them dressed before school? Maybe they need help with their homework first thing in the morning or reading together at bedtime.
Maybe one kiddo thrives doing schoolwork in the morning, while the others prefer the evening. Whatever your priorities may be, make sure everyone is clear on how the day will unfold so no one feels left out or overwhelmed by expectations.