Supporting the Brain with Routines

parenting Aug 15, 2023
Dad and Daughter Brushing Teeth

{ICYMI Lauren discussed the importance of routines and how consistent expectations can help support children during transitions. Click here to read more.}

As families prepare for the start of school, creating before and after school routines will serve as the foundation of a successful year. The research article, The Importance of Creating Habits and Routines, outlines the many benefits, “Routine is consistently found to be important for children. A bedtime routine is associated with increased family functioning and improved sleep habits. Family routines have been linked to the development of social skills and academic success, and adherence to family routines has been identified as important for family resilience during times of crisis” Routines provide structure and our brains thrive with predictability.

If you think about it, we experience many unexpected events throughout our day. As the saying goes, even our best-laid plans can go awry. I’ll never forget the discharge fiasco that occurred after our third child (our sweet Benny boy) was born. My middle son Jack, who was a little over two at the time, was running a high fever. We were ready (and I was really ready) to enjoy the peace and comfort of home. Since we didn’t know exactly what virus Jack had, everyone agreed that it would be in Benny’s best interest if we stayed another day. This would hopefully mitigate the chance of exposing our newborn to a harmful virus. I felt helpless and frustrated.

I was unable to comfort my child who was not only sick, but also about to experience a major transition into big brotherhood. I would be lying if I said I was looking forward to another night of temperature checks, blood pressure readings, and newborn check-ins. All which seemingly occurred right after the baby fell asleep. I was anxious to experience life as a family of five— our new normal. I now realize my brain, more than anything, was craving predictability and some sort of control. As an adult, I possessed the tools necessary to successfully handle the situation. I knew the health and safety of everyone was most important and my emotions were something I could work through.

As our children's brains are still developing, so too is their ability to implement coping strategies and overcome challenging situations. Perhaps they have a substitute teacher, their bus seat buddy is absent, or they sat out for part of the game they anticipated playing. The list goes on. The comfort of home and a predictable order of events feels safe for our children. Think of routines as a big deep breath for our brains.

Morning Routines

Morning routines are key in setting our children up for success as they begin their days. This consistency will alleviate some chaos and leave your child feeling empowered and accomplished well before learning the house. Give your child a voice and allow them to make choices while developing the routine. Would they like to brush their teeth before getting dressed or after they eat breakfast? Some children like having additional time in their bed, perhaps reading, for five minutes after they wake up. You know your child best. Be sure to involve activities that are regulating for them. It is important to remember that once the routine is developed, your child should follow their routine in the order it was outlined. Lastly, if possible, incorporate time for connection between you and your child. This could look like eating breakfast together. A child who starts their day regulated will be more successful in navigating the many challenges or surprises that may arise at school.

Sample morning routine:

  1. Wake up
  2. Use the bathroom & brush teeth
  3. Get dressed
  4. Make bed
  5. Coloring for 5 minutes
  6. Breakfast
  7. Book bag & bus stop

Evening Routines

An evening routine will provide your child with a space where their body and mind can decompress. Keep in mind, it may serve your child best if regulating activities are offered before demands. For example, your child might like to listen to music, have a snack or watch their favorite show before starting homework or running to practice. Connecting with your child before bed is just as important and beneficial as it is in the morning. Consider telling your child a little bit about your day. Sharing your own successes and challenges is a great way to model coping skills (i.e. “I sat in traffic, which was frustrating and stressful, but I called my friend and that made me feel really happy. I missed them.”). Engage in your child’s favorite activity or read together before bed.

Sample evening routine:

  1. Put my book bag away
  2. Snack
  3. Play outside
  4. Homework
  5. Dinner
  6. Shower & brush teeth
  7. Reading in bed
  8. Bedtime

Getting Started

You can tailor these suggestions to fit the specific needs of your family. If each component of the routine is appropriate for both you and your child, you will find that it is manageable. Once the routine becomes challenging, it no longer serves its purpose. I say this as a mother of three young children. Routines have been my lifeline. As much as my family thrives with consistency and structure, we have changed our routines quite a few times.

When it comes to implementation, the options are endless. Your child’s routine can be visual with pictures or hands-on using a checklist. Here are a couple of examples.


MKSA Blog: Ready, Set, ROUTINE! | Miracle Kids Success Academy


2. PIQOLA Chore Chart for Kids Multiple Kids ADHD Tools Checklist Board Routine Schedule (To Do List)


3. As a former teacher, I love these reusable pouches! Your child can draw/write their routine on a piece of paper and then check off each activity with a white board marker. One side can display your child’s morning routine while the other shows the bedtime routine. If you need to adjust/revise the current routine, this makes it effortless. Erase each checkmark and you’re ready for the next day! : Mr. Pen- Dry Erase Pocket Sleeves, 10 x 14 Inch, 6 Pack, Colorful, Plastic ,Reusable, Clear, Classroom Sleeves



  1. As mentioned, be sure to include your child in the development of each new routine. This collaboration will give your child some control, encourage ownership and advocacy, and decrease potential power struggles. Once the routine is in place, your child should complete each activity in the correct order.
  2. Be consistent. Routines are only successful when implemented with fidelity. Of course, unprecedented events are sure to dictate your day. However, if the day is uneventful, your routine should operate as normal.
  3. This might be the most important- revise as needed. If you or your child are experiencing frustrations with a routine, approach the problem as a team. Brainstorm adjustments that will make everyone feel supported and successful.

As always, we are here to help. If you find that you are struggling with creating or implementing a successful routine in your home, feel free to contact us!


Arlinghaus, K. R., & Johnston, C. A. (2018). The importance of creating habits and routine. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 13(2), 142–144.  

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