Stuck in a Rut? Clever Ideas for Revamping Routines

By: Michele Timmons

I like hugs and I like kisses, but what I really love is help with the dishes! ~Author Unknown

Routines are a critical part of childhood development. They help us stay organized and on track. They help children feel safe and protected, and they also help children understand sequences and patterns, which are skills they need later in life. If we let them, routines can also control our lives and put us at odds, rather than in tune, with our family. Here are some tips for rethinking the routines in your life and encouraging family bonding.

Tips for all parents:

  • Center yourself. In her blog, Tips for a Smoother Day, Donna Ashton gives suggestions for ways we can center ourselves so our days go just a little smoother. I think they are simple but powerful ways to stay focused on what is important – our families.

1. Get up before your kids.
2. Plan for the next day.
3. Take a moment to pause.
4. Create quiet time
5. Gauge your day.

  • Outsourcing isn’t just for big business. Take time to reflect on your routines. Are there activities you just hate because they take time away from what you really want and need to be doing? Is there a way to “outsource” them? Some people love to clean house. Others do it because it is expected, and then there are folks (like me) who absolutely HATE IT! Last year, I started a new job with a heavy travel schedule. As a result, spending quality time with my family became a priority, which led to my house becoming even messier than ever. This led my husband and I to brainstorm ways we could cut expenses in order to free up money to hire a housekeeper. This option isn’t for everyone, but there might be other frugal ways to “outsource”. Maybe you can co-op with a neighbor. Your kids might take over a task their family needs help with while their kids could do something for you.
  • Streamline your systems. Once you identify the “must do” activities for your family, think about ways to make them more efficient. For example, I find laundry particularly painful and I really don’t like ironing. (Is anyone besides my husband seeing a pattern here?) Doing laundry for a family of five was a 10-12 load ordeal and with 20-year-old appliances it took forever. As much as I would adore being able send all of our clothes to the dry cleaners, that just isn’t in our budget. So I found a couple ways to increase my efficiency. The first move was to focus on purchasing mainly items that don’t need to be ironed. I also learned how to “fluff and hang” most items carefully so they don’t need to be ironed later. It takes a few extra minutes up front but no ironing! As my older kids hit high school, I taught them how to do their own laundry—Yes, a little outsourcing is good for my soul! The rest of it can be done in a few loads, and only takes a couple of hours. I am much more willing to make it a priority now that it isn’t so overwhelming. Now, if only I had self folding clothes, life would be perfect.

Tips for parents with children ages 5 and under:

  • Bath time. Bath time can be an amazing bonding time or a pain-in-the-behind depending upon your schedule. When my older boys were little, they spent so much time playing in the tub until their little fingers were pruned. But by the time my youngest son came along, life was a little more complicated. We soon discovered bath time could still be a time for fun and bonding, but a bit faster – in the shower. Look for simple shortcuts to cut down on time in everyday routines like bath time.
  • Nap time. Naps are a must. The down time is important for the health of both you and your child. I was always a much happier parent when my kids took naps. At the same time, we lead a busy life, so it was also important that my kids be able to nap outside of our home. We always kept their favorite blankets or stuffed animals with us so the boys could fall asleep anywhere. They could nap in the car, at the sitters’ house, in a stroller, or at a friend’s house. My favorite naps occurred at my in-laws’ house on Sunday afternoons. If I left them upstairs by themselves, they did a great job of playing instead of napping. So I started staying upstairs with them, and I got a nap too—a win-win situation!

For parents with children ages 6–9:

  • School mornings. My kids were bus riders, so it was critical they be ready in time to catch the bus. Unfortunately, their favorite thing to do in the morning was anything other than getting ready for school. This often led to angry voices and tears, which are exactly what should NOT happen if we want our kids to be successful in school. To make the morning go a little more smoothly, try doing some of the school morning routines at night. For example, if you and your child pick out school clothes, pack lunches, and prepare backpacks all before bed, then you have three less things to worry about in the morning. I also try to arrange my schedule so that once a month I can take the kids to school. We call it “Donut Day”. The kids happily get up about 15 minutes early on Donut Day and then I take them to school. It’s a great way to break up the morning routine and really send them off on a happy note. While Donut Day may not be the healthiest day of the month, it only happens once a month. Plus, my kids really look forward to the special treat, which is much more important to me.
  • Homework. For some kids, homework is a breeze. For others it is a nightmare. It is important to realize where your child fits into that spectrum and create homework routines to meet their specific needs. In most cases, it is not productive to do homework right after school. Children are tired, hungry, and need a break. I found we had more tears when we did homework before dinner than when it occurred after dinner. Whenever possible, I avoid tears (mine and theirs), so we usually did homework after dinner. However, my oldest son struggled in school more than the others so we had to break his homework down into chunks. He might have to do 15 minutes of math homework before dinner and save the reading until later. Individualizing the routine may take a little planning, but it is really better for the children and for your relationship with each child.
  • Chores. By the time children enter school, they should be in charge of at least a couple age appropriate chores such as helping to set or clear the table, manage recycling, and keeping their room clean. While supervision is a must, these are chores they can usually handle with minimal assistance. Initially, kids are excited to help out, but quickly the work becomes a “chore” so it is always a good idea to have some ideas for how to jazz it up a bit. In a recent Parent Further blog, I mentioned trying to make the chore into a competition or game, which helps make chores a little more fun and a lot less frustrating for you and your child. Check out my tips here.

For parents with children ages 10–15:

  • After School. Many families no longer need child care once their kids reach middle school. Often times, their children stay home alone after school. While this freedom can help build independence, it is also considered a “danger time” for adolescents because they can more easily experiment with alcohol, drugs, and sexual activity during this unsupervised time. It is hard for kids to consistently make good choices when left alone for long periods of time. When my husband and I began to allow the boys to go home after school we set up a few rules. They were responsible for taking care of the dogs as soon as they got home, no one was allowed in the house, and they were not to leave the house. They also had to call me as soon as they got home. The phone call let me know they were safe and gave me a chance to do a quick check-in about their day. I could listen for background noise to make sure there were no extra children in my house. I also made it a point to come home early once in a while. If the boys were doing what was expected, they were praised. If not, consequences occurred.
  • Family Dinner. As our kids grew up, finding time for family dinners was a challenge. Travel soccer became our life and we were forced to divide and conquer to get everyone where they needed to be for sports. We still strive to have family dinner at least a couple times a week. Now, it just occurs in different places – restaurants. I use this time to find out what is going on in their lives and at school. Sometimes though, the age old “what did you do today” just doesn’t cut it. Here are two good resources to get the conversation going at the dinner table:

  • Sign up to receive ParentFurther’s free Everyday Parenting Ideas e-newsletter (like this one), and get your printable copy of the Table Time! Family Dinners Kit, a handy resource filled with ideas for creating fun and effective family meals.Sign up here.

For parents with children ages 16–18:

  • Family Time. By the time kids reach this age, the only routine is no routine. Kids are off exploring their world and spending more time with friends than family. As my older sons entered high school, I began to re-think my definition of family. I now include their friends as part of my family. I encourage my boys to bring their friends home and hang out at our house. I make it a point to feed whoever is at my house (which encourages them to come back). As a result, I know much more about what is going on in their lives and their friends’ lives. I can listen and give advice much more informally now, and the kids actually listen. For more ideas on what to expect during the teenage years check out this article.

Get more tips for raising teenagers here.


1. Donna Ashton’s Tips for a Smoother Day blog.
2. Donut Day image via Valerie Renee’ on Flick’r.