- 05 February 2017
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Structure: it’s not so much the schedule, it’s the routine that helps your child thrive. Children need structure in order to be successful. It doesn’t always mean that each day needs to be exactly the same in order to work. The routine is more important than the specific time that you do it each day. Bedtime and naptime structure can be helpful to establish consistency in the family schedule, but you can be flexible. With children, it is all about the routines (how you do it) and the transitions between activities. If you follow consistent routines when you do things (morning time and bedtime) and you consistently structure your transitions from place to place and activity to activity, it makes it easier for the children to be successful. Even though the environment may be different (home versus school or the store) your child knows what to expect.
Here are some ideas:
Follow the same bedtime structure so that your child learns how to become independent. For example: Go potty, wash face and brush teeth, listen to two stories, and go to bed. This structure will work at home and on vacation. It helps create a habit and structure that your kiddo can count on and learn from. Some children benefit from a visual schedule. Either take a picture of them doing the activity or draw a picture or even go online and print a picture. Write the name of the activity under the picture so that your child starts identifying print words. For example:
If your child has a hard time with transitions, warn them that change is coming and then tell them what is going to happen. We are going to leave in a few minutes (kids can’t tell how long this is but, generally, give your child about a 5-minute warning). Then tell them, “In one more minute we are cleaning up, (leaving, getting our jackets, using the potty, eating a meal).” When it is clean up time you can give even one more warning by using a countdown. “We are going to clean up in 5,4,3,2,1,” then sing the cleanup song. Even if it is not a cleanup situation, you can still give a warning and a countdown to change activities. Be consistent with this and it will become a part of a routine your child can complete with less reminders. This is very helpful at places like the park, where your child never wants to leave.
If your child knows that you aren’t going to change or simplify your expectations, they won’t try to change your mind so try to be consistent. If you ask your child to do something and they don’t do it, take a deep breath, and then help them do it. Break down the task. Hand them the block and tell them to put it in the bucket. Be sure to adjust your expectations depending upon the size of the task. If there are 800 LEGOs on the ground and your child is obviously frustrated, tell them to pick up as many as you think they can, just make your expectations specific and make sure that your child follows through. Then praise them.
Break down the task and be clear about your expectations. Children ages 2-3 can follow simple, related instructions. Be sure to place expectations on them, “Go get your shoes, (diaper, toy)” in order to give your child the opportunity to be independent.
Use a song for cleaning up, the same song, always. Music is a wonderful way to encourage your child to do anything! When your child hears you sing or even use a sing-song voice, their ears perk up! Use singing as much as possible during activities (diaper changing, cleaning up, bathtime). If your child has a language delay, use the same songs each day for each activity, for example, when you change your child’s diaper sing “Twinkle, Twinkle” every time and then eventually start leaving out words for your child to fill in. Eventually, they will be singing every word with you.
Praise your child for their effort and be specific, “I like how you are cleaning up!” “You are doing a great job brushing your teeth,” Be sure to notice when they are following the routine more independently and be sure to praise them for it.
If your child is not used to having a routine, start slowly and implement one new expectation every few days or even weeks. If your child has not had a consistent routine or schedule, then start simply with one specific thing you always do at bedtime and one specific thing you do at wake-up time. Then slowly add more to the routine. For transitions, just start by giving warnings and telling them what is happening next.
I hope that helps. Let me know if you have any specific questions or challenges.