Creating Routines to Drive Relationships and Learning Opportunities
By Joyce Ravary, OTR/L
School is under way, and most households are quite busy! The days start early and after school time flies by, and before you know it, it’s off to bed. One day can roll into the next.
Since I am a pediatric occupational therapist, many of the parents I come into contact with on a weekly basis have children with special needs and it takes a unique set of parenting skills and lots of energy (emotional and physical) to meet the daily demands of nurturing their child, and supporting their continued development.
I can only imagine how parents must feel as they are pulled in so many directions. So, as the start of the school year is upon you, I would like to encourage all parents, and especially parents of kids with special needs, to think about how routines can create built in opportunities to really connect with your child and additionally, how routines can create many wonderful opportunities for learning.
Daily routines are perhaps thought of as just ‘maintenance’ activities: meal time, running errands, taking a bath, getting ready for bed. But these day to day activities provide rich opportunities for having fun together, and supporting your child in learning new skills, and new levels of responsibility.
Here’s some of my thoughts on routines:
- They provide comfort and a sense of safety from knowing what will happen (this is especially helpful for young children or children who are very disorganized or disregulated).
- Routines can help limit behavior disruptions because it provides children with a sense of control (example: “It’s bedtime, you can choose which PJ’s to wear”) (It’s time to clean your room, then you get a snack”)
- Routines guide a child’s actions towards a goal and help children learn positive, responsible, healthy patterns of behavior. For example “We always brush our teeth before bed”.
- Play time and mealtime are two routines that create great opportunities for social interactions, like talking, taking turns, sharing, learning to wait, and helping others.
- And of course, routines tend to make transitions much easier for children, especially those with sensory defensiveness or motor planning problems.
- Routine activities also create opportunities to target a skill and work on that skill, little by little on a regular basis. Many routine activities center around self-care skills (like dressing, tooth brushing, or bathing) and other daily living activities (like picking up toys, setting the table, packing one’s lunch), which are valuable skills to develop. If you feel overwhelmed with your schedule and time demands, just think about targeting one to two self-care or daily living skills to address with your child. And remember even if they just perform a portion of the task, and then gradually learn another step, you are helping them move toward greater independence.
- Once a child has learned a skill related to self-care or another daily living skill, you also want them to maintain that skill by continuing to perform it and learning to be more timely and efficient in the performance.
- Initially it can take ‘extra’ time to facilitate a child ‘doing for himself’ instead of ‘doing for them’. So perhaps you target a skill on the weekend or another day/time that fits your needs. But, remember to allow for it to be a regular occurring activity even if it’s once or twice a week. Establishing a rhythm will help assure the task will be, well, a part of your ‘routine’!!!
- Of course, life happens; the car breaks down, someone get sick, you have surprise guests…..a change in routine can be stressful or bring some added fun. Either way, if you have well established routines, it’s easier to get back ‘into the swing of things’ when you need to.
- Some children are too rigid or ritualistic and in these situations, you may need to build in a ‘Super Saturday Outing’ and work on using cues (perhaps even picture cues) to introduce ‘CHANGE’, and help your child learn to that going with the flow can be ‘ok’!
I would love for this blog to generate discussion, and to hear parents share their tips and thoughts with others on this topic!