Setting Routines for the New School Year

“A child wants some kind of routine or rhythm. A child seems to want a predictable, orderly world.” — Abraham Maslow, psychologist

The laid back pace of summer is enjoyable for both kids and parents, but going back to school requires a more structured routine with earlier bedtimes and earlier wake-up times. Consider these tips to get your kids back into a routine that’s more conducive for succeeding in school.

Tips for all parents

• Talk about why school routines help your kids succeed in school. Research shows that kids who eat a healthy breakfast and get a good night’s sleep do better in school compared to kids who don’t.

• Expect resistance. No one likes to change their routine, especially if the change requires more structure and earlier bedtimes.

• Change your routine to model what you want from your kids. Kids are more likely to stay up when they notice that the parents stay up. They’re more likely to go to bed (and to sleep) if everyone goes to bed and your home gets dark.

• Get more tips on everyday routines here.

parents with children ages birth to 5

• Create a daily routine so that young children know what to expect and when. Wake up around the same time. Eat meals around the same time. Have your child take a nap and go to bed around the same time. These predictable structures help kids feel safe and secure so that they grow up well.

• If your child resists bath time, add ice cubes to the bath and pretend your child is taking a bath near the Arctic Circle. Find other creative ideas for keeping routines fresh from the book Parenting Preschoolers with a Purpose. Learn more >

• Expect kids to resist the daily routine as they enter the toddler and preschool years. Part of becoming more independent is to resist rules and routines. Be clear that rules and routines are important but be creative with them. If your child resists going to bed, become a horse (and get down on all fours) and give your child a ride to bed on horseback (your back).

parents with children ages 6 to 9

• Sleep is key for this age group, even though they may resist naps. As your child begins to get into an all-day school routine, expect them to be exhausted. Help your kids get their rest and be patient with the big changes they’re going through.

• Keep talking about and modeling good eating habits. As kids get older, they tend to find friends who have different or unhealthy eating habits. They may also want to use their lunch money or allowance to purchase unhealthy foods from vending machines.

• Emphasize how you want your child to succeed in school. Explain how part of that success relies on going to bed at a regular time, getting enough sleep, eating breakfast, and having other healthy routines.

parents with children ages 10 to 15

• Examine your daily routines and clean them up so that you can be a better role models for your kids. Young teenagers are quick to point out when you’re not setting a good example (even if they’re not doing what you say either). So make it harder for them to find fault with your routine.

• Be patient with puberty and the mistakes young people make. Some young teenagers will stay up too late (even when they’re in their beds). Don’t bail them out if they oversleep, and be firm about what you expect for daily routines and why.

• Some kids at this age resist changing their routine until school starts. That’s okay, but be clear that changing a routine takes time and that you expect your child to do well in school from day one.

parents with children ages 16 to 18

• Teenagers at this age tend to act invincible, and many seem to have a lot more energy than their parents. Keep reminding them about the importance of daily healthy habits. Don’t scold them when they get sick because they’re not taking care of themselves. Be compassionate yet also firm.

• Ask your teenager how you can be helpful for their daily routines. It may be as simple as getting a different kind of dental floss to make it easier to floss, or waking them in the morning (even if they do set an alarm). Provide the support that they want.

• Some teenagers keep telling you “later” when you ask about getting back into a school routine. Don’t let their procrastination keep you from having healthy daily routines. Explain that you need the house quiet between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. (or whatever sleep time you need). That way if your teenager chooses to stay up, he or she isn’t disrupting your sleep.