The Two R’s: Routines and Rules
Two-year-old Mia Sparks likes her bathtub filled three-quarters of the way to the top. She likes her hair washed first, then her arms, then her torso, and then her legs. And when her bathing agenda doesn't go as planned, this toddler will take full advantage of her powerful little vocal cords. "When I asked my mother-in-law to bathe her, [Mia] screamed bloody murder because the water was not filled three-quarters and she washed her body first, probably not with the right soap," says Mia's mother, Masako.
The rest of Mia's life is a lot like her baths—very orderly and very organized right down to her bedtime rituals, including the number of books that are read to her (two). Her highly-detailed schedule certainly has its advantages and disadvantages. "She's an angel when things are going exactly as she expects. So normal day-to-day maintenance is low as long as I keep the routine," comments Masako.
But Darien, a Connecticut mom adds, "I think having this strict routine has made [my child] a bit inflexible."
Routines help us cut down on chaos by organizing our lives. Most parents create kids' routines to cover the basics such as nutrition and sleep. Others, like Masako, implement them to guide time for play, bath-time, and reading time. After all, there's nothing wrong with a little law and order.
On a developmental level, routines help young children, and even babies, manage the world around them. "Children do well when they have a predictable environment. They learn what to expect," says Dr. Kurt Fischer, PhD, director of the Mind, Brain, and Education Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. "If you're constantly trying to figure out what the rules are, what the schedule and regularities are going to be, then you don't have the freedom to explore and play." Rules, like routines, also provide children with that comforting element of predictability by outlining what's expected of them.
Dr. Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, PhD, a psychology and linguistics professor at the University of Delaware who has done extensive research on how children learn, says predictability empowers kids. "So much happens in your life that you don't have control over. So if you can make predictions like, 'I know after lunch I'm going to go down for my nap and I'm pretty tired,' it's not going to be so bad," comments Dr. Golinkoff. Like a favorite teddy bear, routines can provide comfort and security to a child trying to navigate and understand the unfamiliar world that surrounds him.