Kids Routine Charts and Using Positive Discipline To Make them Work

Kids Routine Charts and Using Positive Discipline To Make them Work

Over the summer, my 9 year old daughter began having trouble falling asleep. “I just can’t sleep!!” she whined (and she really meant it.) After several weeks of trying to talk her out of her insomnia, I decided a new bedtime routine was in order.

We brainstormed the steps, and decided to include a short foot massage in the routine. We also brought back lullabies, which we hadn’t sung in years. We wrote it down with colorful markers and I’ll be darned if that new routine didn’t do the trick.

Why are routines, and more specifically routine charts one of the most effective tools you can find to reduce morning, bedtime and homework battles?

Many reasons!

First, when practiced regularly, routines become automatic.

We no longer have to expend energy thinking about what to do and when, we already know. Then we can use that energy for other purposes like tying shoes, giving hugs, or telling a joke.

Second, routines help children feel a sense of safety and predictability by not just clarifying what’s expected, but also giving advance notice for what’s coming next. When the brain doesn’t know what’s around the corner, it stays on high alert and in a defensive mode. When it does know what to expect, it can remain calm, receptive, and cooperative.

Third, routine charts provide a visual reminder of what’s coming and thus help shift responsibility from parent to child. Visual reminders (a chart, a picture, a list) can provide a literal picture of success that your child (not just you) can see. So rather than bark commands across the room, you can simply point to what’s next on the chart, or ask, “What’s next on your routine chart?” and let your child take it from there. Now you’re not the boss, the routine is! See below for some examples.

Fourth, if your child has helped to create the routine, then they are the boss, too, and that’s self-discipline.  We all want our children, by the time they are adults, to be able to stay on track, move through tasks, and experience the satisfaction of a job completed without being watched, forced, or bribed, am I right? Most adults need external reminders to keep themselves focused (to do lists, calendars, alarms, post-it notes, etc.) Children do, too.

How to involve your child in creating the routine chart?

  • ask them to help you brainstorm all the steps needed (to get out the door in the morning, to get homework done, to get ready for bed, for example)
  • ask them to help you decide the order of events
  • get their help in drawing or coloring pictures for each step
  • ask them to pose for a picture of each step
  • get their help in picking out clip art pictures for each step
  • ask them to write or type it up themselves

Are routine charts just for little kids?

No. All three of my children have routine charts for various parts of the day and they are 9, 13, and 16. Many of my executive coaching clients have routine charts (or lists) too!

Here are some examples of routine charts from the toddler to the teen years: 


What if you’ve used a routine chart in the past, but it just doesn’t work any more?
Routine charts get stale after a while and need to be refreshed. Or, your child’s needs may change. In general, re-visit routine charts every 6-12 months, or when they seem to have lost their punch.

Not just any routine will do.

So here are 4 tips to make a routine chart work for your family

There are a few characteristics that will make your child’s routines doubly (if not quadruple) effective. In summary, here they are:

  1. Make it visual. (see the examples above!)
  2. Get your child involved in creating the routine itself or chart. Co-creation = co-ownership = better follow through.
  3. Use it. Refer to the chart by pointing to what’s next, asking your child what’s next, or gently taking them by the hand and leading them to the chart.
  4. If it’s not working, re-visit it. Involve your child in making changes so that it works for everyone.

If you have a routine chart you’d be willing to share, please post a picture in comments!  I’m always on the lookout for great examples.

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Marcilie Smith Boyle, MBA, CPCC is a Life, Leadership, and Parenting Coach who helps high-achieving, working parents find authentic success in their personal and professional lives. She offers 1:1 and group coaching (live or via phone/Skype) on topics such as parenting, work/life balance, career transition, and leadership as well as Parenting with Positive Discipline classes and speaking engagements in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

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