Mealtime, bedtime and screen time routines are associated with better nutrition, decreased risk of childhood obesity, improved child sleep (and parental sanity!), decreased risk-taking behaviors in teens, and fewer complications of chronic diseases like asthma.
Getting started can be very overwhelming. Begin with simply taking inventory of your current family routines. What would you like to see done differently? Choose just ONE routine, modify it and experiment to see how your family’s daily experience changes.
Once you’ve found a system that works, then begin to engage other people in your child’s life. For example, does your child spend a significant amount of time with other caretakers? Work to learn the routines your child has with those individuals, and see if you can work together to adopt some of the same routines to help ease transitions. Implementing these routines on a daily basis may seem overwhelming for busy families. I get it! We struggle to simply get through the day, we’re chauffeuring kids from one practice to the next, everyone seems to be on a different schedule. However, establishing routines helps to provide stability for kids, working to build their resilience and grit to withstand the chaos and pressures they may be feeling from the outside world.
The Essential Pieces to Any Routine
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics report on American Family Life, establishing a successful routine has been stated as something that helps families optimize health. Specifically, mealtime and bedtime! For best results, a successful routine needs to include:
•A plan and scheduled time
•Elimination of distractions
•Direct communication of parental expectations
Example Mealtime Routine
A mealtime routine might include:
- a family meal at 6:00 p.m. on weekdays
- the whole family sits together at a table
- No screens (Television, phones and tablets)
- Family members take at least 20 minutes to eat together and reconnect with each other
- Conversations should be light-hearted
- No one is required to “clean their plate” but they must remain at the table until dinner is over
Example Bedtime Routine
- May start around 7pm for young children, perhaps 8/8:30 for older children
- Start with bath time and five minutes of playtime
- Followed by putting on pajamas and spending 10 minutes reading in a quiet, dimly lite room
- No “screens” — they should be off and out of reach
- Could be followed by a parent singing a short song or another quiet activity
- A final “good night” to the child with a gentle reminder that he or she is expected to go to sleep and not get out of bed until the morning comes
- Tuck the child into bed, give him or her a final snuggles, and turn off the night light before leaving the room
Example Screen Time Routine
Many kids spend TOO MANY hours playing video games, watching TV and staring at a computer.
So many now have a habit of spending their afternoons with a TV, iPad, or video game rather than playing outside with their friends.
We want to work to BREAK this routine and create a new one by implementing a new screen-time rule; which requires SOME planning ahead and communication
- Set time of day in which screens are allowed, say from 3:30-4:30 p.m.
- Make clear your expectation that they will not be eating or using multiple screens at one time during this hour.
- Be clear in your conversations that outside of this one hour, you will not allow them to look at any kind of screen, and that you expect them to be doing something else—such as playing with their friends outside, doing homework or reading.
- Enforce this rule
It is important to remember that if you’ve never had routines or systems in place before this could be very overwhelming for both you, the parent, AND your children. Don’t feel you need to do everything at once. As with anything new, start SMALL and find a support system to help you stay focused and encouraged.