We all have heard that routines help children feel safe and secure. But when you have a unique learner you know that routines are difficult to establish.
It can be exhausting as a parent trying to build and maintain the structure of a routine. According to this article about developing routines in ADDitude Magazine, many parents give up too soon.
Routines are important to the psychological well being of every member of your household. But they aren’t necessarily easy to build.
If you have a unique learner, you know that your entire morning can blow up over a scrunchy sock. Wake up time can be like trying to get a sloth moving when your child didn’t sleep well, which isn’t uncommon for many unique learners.
Meal times can be especially trying as picky eaters rebel at the menu, or just aren’t hungry right now.
Some daydream and dawdle to the extreme frustration of their parents.
It is possible to establish routines, even for unique learners. It will take time and effort, but the extra work now will be worth it in the long run. Here are some ideas that can help.
Identify Problem Areas
Start by determining where routines would make a difference. For example, homework, getting ready for school in the morning and bedtime are often difficult for children, especially unique learners.
Write out everything your child does during a day including all the steps from waking up through going to sleep.
Developing routines takes time. The sure path to failure is to try to do too much too fast and expect overnight results. Instead, use a mini-habit development method to build routines one part at a time.
In other words, break a problem area, like going to bed, into many small routines. Then start working on one small part of the routine and build on it.
Summer often comes with more relaxed sleep schedules, but unique learners can have difficulty sleeping well at any time. (Stay tuned for an upcoming article that focuses entirely on sleeping.)
Remember the advice that grandma would give- no roughhousing, dim lights and snuggled up in a cozy blanket. Setting the right environment will encourage sleep.
Electronics can cause a disturbance to brainwaves which results in difficulty falling asleep and poor sleep quality. Cut the electronics off at least an hour before bedtime and have them leave their devices in the other room.
Going back to school will require earlier wake up and get moving times but going to bed earlier isn’t the best solution. Instead, fix your child’s wake-up time. If your child will need to get up by 6:30 and they have been getting up at 8:00, start working the wake-up time backward. Each day wake them 15 minutes earlier. Tying the earlier wakeup to something fun will help. Getting up to go on an early outing is more appealing than having to “get used to waking up early because school is starting soon”.
Have dinner at the same time each day and make sure to offer something they like. Unique learners can be picky eaters and meal times can turn into an unnecessary battle. If there is always something they like to eat they will feel less on edge about meal times.
Tie some simple chores into the routine for meal times. Your child can set the table while you finish dinner and clear the dishes while you load the dishwasher. If the same thing is expected day after day then it will feel very normal for children to follow these routines.
Begin planning your homework routine by deciding when and where your child will do their homework. Have a designated spot if possible where paper and writing utensils are easily accessible. Keep the spot only for homework so it doesn’t become a place to collect junk mail. You also want to avoid having to move all the homework and supplies off the table, so you can have dinner.
Keep in mind that your child is genuinely tired from school and the thought of facing more school work they are already struggling to do is upsetting. They need a break when they get home from school.
This break must be part of the homework routine. A snack and then a designated time for outside play. If they can’t play outside due to weather, then inside play needs to be something other than screen time. They need the physical movement to get their brain ready to focus again.
Why Routines Matter
A routine is simply a series of actions that you do repeatedly. Each action in the series is a habit that you do not have to think about to perform. This means that you (or your child) can do these things without having to consciously think (or fight) about it.
Routines provide structure and a sense of security and familiarity with the rhythms of daily life. Structure helps minimize stress because your day is scheduled ahead of time. Both you and your child know what to expect.
Remember that routines will take time and effort to develop so be sure to celebrate small wins along the way. The payoff is well worth the effort. By establishing routines for your unique learner, you can reduce the amount of frustration you both experience day to day.