Back into the Swing of Things: Helping Kids Get into a Routine
Thanks to the world being turned upside down by a global pandemic, kids haven’t spent much time in the classroom in 2020 and had quite a bit of free time on their hands. Even though teachers and administrators did their best to make virtual learning accessible to all students, many students took advantage of being home all the time and essentially gave themselves an extended summer vacation. Basically, kids did what kids do.
Fast forward to 2021, many kids and teens are returning to school despite a resurgence of COVID in the US. While many students were hoping to get another year of virtual learning and spending all day at home again, schools were already preparing for the 2021-2022 school year with kids back in the classroom. But beyond preparing lesson plans and decorating classrooms, schools are taking as many precautions as possible to make sure kids and teens have a safe place to learn and get back to socializing with their friends.
But after a year of basically being at home and maybe only spending a few hours a day on a computer learning, if they were learning at all, you can probably guess there are some parents struggling a bit to get kids back into a regular daily routine. Now that the school bell has rung, it’s time for kids and teens to give up spending hours on social media, playing video games, sleeping in, and being lazy around the house. Though, let’s be honest. They’ll probably still do all of these things anyway and then complain they’re exhausted. It’s tough being a kid.
Creating a regular routine has a few steps, the biggest one and probably the hardest is repetition. Starting a regular routine can be difficult in the very beginning so kids will need a lot of encouragement to make sure they’re staying on top of things. For teens, a regular routine is something they’ll need to appreciate now before they start out on that adventure called life.
Ditching the Bad Diet
No, I’m not crazy. Establishing a good routine starts with establishing a good diet. Think back to your elementary science class. The human body is basically a machine that needs the proper nutrients to keep it functioning properly. Sugary drinks, salty snacks, and fatty fast food meals might taste delicious, but they’re definitely not helping to provide the essential vitamins and minerals kids need as they’re growing up. They’re definitely not the best options for grownups either.
When possible, kids need to start out their morning with a nutritious breakfast, not a sugary cereal or fatty fast food meals. Consider things like yogurt with fruit, a whole grain toast with peanut butter or Nutella, or even a breakfast wrap. A good breakfast has been proven time and time again to help kids to do better in school and give them the energy they need first thing in the morning.
After breakfast, most of the bad foods kids consume come in the form of snacks they have throughout the day. Soda and other sugary drinks like fruit juices in the house are a major offender and aren’t just bad nutrition, they’re horrible for teeth. Even sports drinks like Gratorade are loaded with sugar and added salts, which are included since athletes need electrolytes. Instead, encourage kids to drink more water or consider some sugar free drinks to help reduce the amount of sugar they’re consuming everyday. Fruit juices can be good, but eating the actual fruit is far healthier.
Keep fruits and vegetables around the house along with healthy dips like hummus. Dried fruit like banana chips are a great alternative to regular salty chips and have a little sweetness to them.
At dinner time, veggies are extra important. A salad or steamed vegetables are a great option. Limit fast food like burgers or pizza during the week. They might be incredibly convenient for a busy family, they’re doing more harm than good to your kids. The more healthy foods you can feed your children, the better they’ll feel and the more energy they’ll have to get things done throughout the day. Of course, there’s nothing stopping mom and dad from doing the same and setting a good example.
The Dreaded Mornings
I admit I am not a morning person and never have been. For me, setting a routine in the mornings helps me get through until I’m finally awake enough to deal with people. Your kids, especially your teens, might be the same way in the morning. They simply refuse to deal with other humans or responsibilities until they’ve woken up on their own terms.
Before school starts up again, make sure kids understand what time they’ll be getting up in the morning and that’s important for them to get to bed early. A couple of weeks before school starts, set a bedtime so kids have time to transition into a sleep routine. This will greatly help with getting up in the morning.
As soon as they’re up, they should have a set of things they do before it’s time for the ride to school such as brushing their teeth, getting dressed, combing their hair, getting their backpacks ready, and having breakfast. Teens will likely have their own routine they do in the mornings which likely involves complaining about having to go to school at all and why they just can’t be a YouTuber.
Help your younger kids to get into the routine by reminding them early on what they need to do and have them do it quickly so they aren’t late for school. But It's important to remember that your kids are human just like you. Some days they’re going to have bad mornings when things just don’t seem to go right, just like you. Don’t lose your temper and don’t lose control. If they’re trying and things just go wrong, it’s alright. Just get back into it the next morning.
Sleep Time is the Best Time
Kids are too young to understand the joys and magical wonder that is sleeping. If you aren’t getting to bed at a reasonable time, you can throw that daily routine out the window. A good night’s sleep is probably one of the most important habits to have when setting a daily routine. While it is true there are plenty of kids out there who can function very well on a few hours of sleep, it doesn’t mean they should. Spending far too much time playing video games until late into the night or staring into phone screens when they should be sleeping robs kids of valuable sleeping time and is overstimulating to the mind when they’re trying to sleep.
Set a bedtime in your home and make sure kids follow it. For younger kids, this may not be a problem, but it’s difficult to give teens a bedtime. Encourage your teen to be in bed before midnight and have all technology off at least an hour before they go to bed. Many experts believe that our dependence on technology and our unhealthy habit of bringing it with us to bed is causing our body’s natural sleep cycle to be ruined. Tablet, smartphones, TV, and other devices that give off blue light need to be off at least an hour before bed.
For kids who have trouble falling asleep, consider talking to your pediatrician about giving your kids a natural sleep aid like melatonin. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that signals the body it’s time to sleep. It can usually be found in many of the same places you buy medicines and has been used for years by children and adults to help them fall asleep.
But by far the most important part of getting good sleep is having a sleep routine. This means making sure kids are always in bed and sleeping by the same time every day during the week, with little deviation during the weekend. It also means limiting how much you eat and drink before bed, especially those sugary drinks and juices. Once the body becomes accustomed to falling asleep at a certain hour, it will become far easier to go to bed at a reasonable time and get more sleep.
The To-Do List
After a long day of school, kids are generally ready for a quick snack and spending the rest of the day doing nothing until dinner. But a good routine isn’t just for mornings and bedtimes. There is a lot of time to get things done after kids get home.
A good snack is a high priority for many kids when they get home from school. This is the time when it’s important to have healthy snacks and treats for them to hold them over until dinner. After a snack, encourage them to get their homework done right away. Now, I’ve yet to meet anyone who ever loved homework. This means your kid is probably going to hate it just as much as you did. If you have time, sit down with them and help them get through it quickly. And if you can’t help, at least offer words of encouragement. Homework is supposed to reinforce the things they learned in school that day so hopefully their lessons are still fresh in their minds. It also gives you as a parent to see what they’re learning and if they may need some additional help.
For some families, homework is done after dinner and the time between getting home from school and dinner is free time for many kids. After homework, kids usually have the night to themselves to do as they please, but kids should know when it’s time to start settling down and getting ready for bed. Making sure kids stick to these times will make sure they fall into a routine much easier.
Rinse and Repeat
Routines don’t have to be such a drag, but in order for them to be effective, kids need to do them every day until it’s second nature to them. Are they still going to have to be told to do things? Well, yeah. They’re kids. Sometimes you have to repeat yourself because their brains simply have too many other things going on in there to focus.
Repetition and support are the big things kids need if they want to develop good routines again. Of course, it absolutely helps if you’re setting a good example for your kids and following a few good routines of your own. Whether it’s going to bed at the same time, spending time reading, or doing nightly chores, being an example goes a long way with helping kids see the benefit of routines.