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22. Getting into the Back-to-School Routine

Who here is ready and eager to get back into the school routine?

I’m going to guess that the answer is 50/50 on that :)

We KNOW there are pros and cons. We know there are good things about routines that make our lives easier.

And.... we also kind of resist routines because it restricts our freedom and can sometimes feel confining. Plus our kids might really resist at the beginning and that's no fun for anyone!

In today’s episode, we are going to talk about all things routines… why routines are important, and how to set up a great routine your kids will actually do without complaint.

There are a handful of times during the year when our routines will change significantly. Back-to-school season is obviously one of them. After the Christmas holidays is another time, and also when we return from a vacation. 

These are generally the times when we go from lots of freedom and flexibility, late bedtimes, different eating habits, etc. to a more rigid schedule with higher expectations and increased responsibility.

And then there are the starts of all of these periods that we don’t often think about… like the start of summer, the start of Christmas break, or the start of a vacation. 

We tend to think of these periods as periods without routines. And while that’s true in the sense that we’re not trying to impose a routine, they still mark a change and if these periods go on long enough, we tend to establish some kind of flow (or routine) to our days.

We might also have a personal thing going on in our lives that necessitates a routine change, like the birth of a baby or changing jobs, schools, a new house, or mom going away to a conference, etc.

In any case, whether at the start of a more flexible holiday period or the start of an alarm-setting, get-out-the-door period, you will likely notice an increase in emotions in your kids.

You’ll notice more meltdowns.
More fights with their siblings.
More stubbornness or disagreement on things they normally are quite agreeable to.

For example, a few days into summer camp, my super flexible daughter who usually has zero interest in picking out her clothes was suddenly blistering mad that I picked out the “wrong” pair of socks.

We get this because it’s a period of change. Change is hard. We can feel out of control and so can our kids. So expect this. This is a NORMAL part of the process that you can anticipate. It will pass. You are not doing anything wrong. I’m going to talk a bit more about the emotional side of the back-to-school season in my next episode so stay tuned for that.

Why are routines important?

When we’re on vacation and we don’t HAVE to have a routine, we tend to fall into one naturally anyways. Why? 

Because we like to know what to expect. Understanding what to expect feels safer and more secure than constant change. We know what to do, we know what’s expected of us, and generally how to thrive. 

Routines also take the thinking away. They create habits, and then we can do things on autopilot which reserves our brain’s decision-making capacity for more important things.

Routines create habits and habits are done on autopilot. This is WHY routines are SO important with our kids. We want them to create good habits and do all of the things that need to get done to get out the door in the morning, for example, eating breakfast, brushing their teeth, and packing their lunch.

Routines make the hard things easier because they take the thinking out. And for some things, we want to take the thinking out. It makes sense to not have to think about brushing your teeth before leaving the house… let’s save our brain’s decision-making capacity for more important things. 

When our kids do things on autopilot, they’re done without negotiation and push-back. It simply gets done. Thus, making life easier for EVERYONE.

How do you establish a new routine with your child?

The short answer is: you do it over and over again.

But let’s break it down a bit. The whole point of the new routine is to establish new habits and expectations that will make life easier and set everyone up for success. 

Your child must know what to expect AND what’s expected of them in advance. So often we forget this step! We just start barking orders at them and they’re like “Woah….chill the F out. I’m not doing that! Why would I do that, when I could be playing with this like I did yesterday and the day before that?”

So let them know in advance. You could tell them a week before school that school is starting next week and things are going to change. You can let them know the night before what’s going to happen in the morning, after school, and evening.

Tell them what they’ll be responsible for: like packing their lunches, unpacking their backpacks at the end of the day, who’s dropping them off or picking them up, stuff like that.

You could even write down the order of events — sometimes referred to as a routine chart. So you and your kids would work together to come up with each task that needs to be done (brushing teeth, packing school bag). Your kids would put it in the order they want, and you all agree to it.

If they can’t read yet, they can draw a picture of the task or you can take a photo of them doing it and pin it up so they can independently refer to the routine chart. Then, they're not dependent on you telling them what to do… it shifts the responsibility so your child is in charge of getting themself ready.

Is the order of the tasks important?

Yes and no.

No, it doesn’t matter which order things are done in, as long as it’s agreed upon and it’s done in the same order every day so it becomes a habit. If you switch up the order each day, then it’s introducing decision-making again and it’s less likely to create an automatic habit, which is what we want. 

How long does it take to get a new routine up and running, and your kids doing it without resistance?

The answer to this will depend on your child and how consistent you are. It might take a few days to get into a groove, and the weekend may interrupt the pattern and create resistance again.

I would say that it takes a few weeks to really get a new routine and habit down if you’re consistent. 

And know that there will be some resistance at times. Especially in the first few weeks. Especially after the weekend or a day off sick. Especially when everyone is tired. 

Setbacks are normal. Just identify where you’ve gone off course and redirect everyone to get back on track.

And if you need help with that, then you’ll definitely want to check out my FREE training on how to get your kid to listen without yelling, threats, or bribes.

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