Friday, August 22, 2008

Dealing with children’s disrupted routines

Most kids need routines; it gives them a feeling of control and security. They know what to expect and what is expected of them. Real problems can come when a routine is disrupted. A child can feel insecure, threatened or scared and will often act out when their routine is interrupted. Life happens and we the parents or caregivers cannot always meet our children’s needs for consistency and routine, all we can do is deal with the disruption or permanent changes and any reactions our kids have.

From personal experience I know that even a small change like bedtime being ½ hr later can have an impact on my children. For small routine changes it is best to try and keep as much of the routine the same. So bedtime may be a ½ hr later but we still do the same things in the same order. The time may have changed but nothing else has. This reassures kids that they still have some control and know what to expect. It is not always possible to keep a routine, even if it is just a matter of time.
When we are running late it is not always possible to follow the morning’s routine, sometimes compromises have to be made. It may be a matter of having breakfast on the way instead of sitting at the table, or not getting the time a kid needs to ease into transitions. All of this can through a kids day off and their behaviors. Their expectations have not been met and they are reacting to that. Also when we are late or rushing there is the added stress to everything. This is usually when our kids act out or break down, just when we need them not to. But then what can we expect, we are changing their routine and expect them to rush around with no transition time or anything, and we are probably stressed and they can hear it in our voices, of course they are going to be resistant to what we want. Not that being aware of why they are acting out makes it any easer as you try to get everyone out of the house and make it to your appointment or work on time.

Then there are things that just happen that we don’t have control of but can still disrupt our routines; the car breaking down, the power goes out, unexpected guest show up, or someone does not show up or is late. This is life. The best thing to do is to try and get back onto your kids schedule or routine as fast as possible. If one day you are unable to follow the usually routine the very next day you start right back on it, even if your kids resist. The sooner you can get your kids back into the routine the easer it is on everyone.

Change in a routine is the hard one, even when it is a good change. A parent or caregiver starts a job, or changes the time the go to work, or starts school can be very difficult for kids to adjust to. This is a permanent change that they will have to learn to live with. Eventually it will become part of their routine but we the parents and caregivers have to give the kids the time to adjust. We cannot expect them to accept a change right away, it can take weeks even months for some kids to adjust.

School starting in the next two weeks is going to be the big change in routines for most of us. It is going to take a few weeks for both kids and parents to get used to this. It can be a stressful time for everyone. The best thing to do is try and keep the new routine as close to the old routine as possible, and be there for your kids even if they don’t act out or express anxiety. They may be feeling it but are not showing it. Consistency is going to be the key to getting everyone to adjust to the new routine sooner then later and with as little stress as possible. Give yourself and your kids a lot of time in the morning to get used to getting ready for school. Do as much work, like making lunch and picking out clothing, the night before. Anything you can do to reduce the stress of change will help. You may want to start working on the new routine now so that it is not so new on the first day of school. Do some practice runs now to make sure your timing is right so there is not a lot of stress to get everyone moving and where they need to be the first week of school. This will give everyone some time to adjust their routine before hand so things go more smoothly the fist day of school.

Giving yourself and your children time to adjust to any change in routine is the key. There is usually resistance to change, which may cause your child to act out or just feel insecure for a bit. Every person, adult or child, deals with change differently. The only cure for this is for the change to become part of the routine, and only time and consistency can do that.

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