The Science Behind the Case for Routines

by ParentCo. April 11, 2017

Two Kids brushing their teeth

Picture a day at home with your family without having to ask the kids two million times to get dressed, brush teeth, find shoes, etc. Imagine a magical day where kids aren’t begging for screen time or asking what they can do. Of course, a serene, cooperative home atmosphere all the time is unattainable, but researchers are beginning to understand ways that routines help families have healthier happier lives.

While we often hear about the importance of free play and unstructured time and the negative effects of over-scheduling our kids, a consistent balance of routine and diverse activities prepares kids for how to manage life as an adult. Whether we realize it or not, we establish routines, which become habits that help us complete repetitive activities without a lot of mental energy.

Research shows that completing tasks in the same order repeatedly builds brain power and supports mental health. Teaching kids how to put these building blocks together lays the foundation for healthy habits and self-care routines as they grow.

When I taught preschool I experienced the benefits of having the day’s activities outlined for kids in a way they could understand. I prepared my crew for every transition because moving from one thing to the next is complicated and not automatic for developing little minds. Using routines, especially at the beginning and end of our day, gave the class comfort and consistency in an environment away from home.

The same techniques and approaches to daily routines that work in preschool classrooms are beneficial in the home for kids of any age. Outlining expectations and encouraging healthy habits through daily routines will give the growing brain tools it needs for optimal performance.

Developmental research reveals that families who develop and maintain flexible routines that change and adapt to kids' growth experience less stress and more manageable behavior.

Emotional Stability

  • Established routines offer predictability. When expectations for the day are clear and predictable, kids feel confident and successful.
  • Even a flexible schedule promotes accountability for completing a task. Exposure to plans that get made and kept establishes trust in other family members.
  • Brains of kids with anxiety are concerned with every decision. When routines reduce the number of choices kids need to make, they are able to devote more mental energy to priority decisions.

Time Management

  • Kids’ brains are developing executive functioning skills. They also are just beginning to understand concepts of time. Interaction with a schedule and a clock throughout the day solidifies how long projects take and the steps needed for completion.


  • Experience with self-care tasks including hygiene habits and nutrition through family routines will encourage healthy lifestyle choices.
  • Resiliency during times of stress promotes adaptability, the ability to manage negative emotions, and problem-solving skills.

Connection and Cooperation

  • Taking the time to be mindful and deliberate in planning routines strengthens relationships as families communicate and work together.

Literacy Skills

  • Simply writing a short to-do list on a whiteboard provides experience with literacy development as kids see things written, read, and checked off. Visual schedules with pictures and words help beginning readers understand word formation and sentence structure.

Routines can be flexible and shouldn’t prevent families from having spontaneous fun. But adaptable routines that jive with a family's lifestyle can put everyone on the path to less stress and conflict and provide a deeper understanding of the benefits that researchers have discovered.

So, next time you start making a to-do list for yourself, create a schedule for your routine daily habits with your child and see how it goes. You might be surprised how enjoyable schedules and routines can be!



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