The Benefits of Routines

Posted: August 18, 2020 | Updated: August 18, 2020
Created by: Ms. Sylvia

If I could change your life with just one word, one idea, this would be it:


I know, I know. Doesn’t a routine make you feel boxed in? Doesn’t it start to bore you? Doesn’t it squash your spontaneity? Stop you and your children from being creative?

My short answer: no. For me, it’s the opposite!

One of the keys to understanding this may be in the meaning of the word. Routines are the predictable, repeated procedures and activities that transition us through our schedule. The word “schedule” is often used interchangeably with routine, but it describes the bigger picture. Schedules, which are also essential, dictate the timing of our routines and articulate the overall goals of the day. I’ll discuss scheduling in a separate post. For now, we’ll focus on our routines, the ritualized procedures of our days.

For me, a routine is the ticket to a joyful, fulfilling, productive day. Routine anchors me, gives me purpose, and, though it seems contradictory, lets me still be spontaneous and creative. When I don’t have a routine, that’s when I feel most stuck, most sluggish, and the least creative.

Routines are valuable for all of us and are even more valuable when we consciously plan and maintain them. As an adult, having a routine helps me ensure that the parts of my day I value are prioritized. There’s a large body of research on how routines benefit family life (I would particularly recommend this qualitative review). Below, I’ve summarized some of the benefits for children. You might find many of them apply to you, too!

1. Routines offer stability

When a child can predict what will happen, a sense of stability grows. Especially in these strange and unpredictable times, maintaining routines can help all of us to treasure the parts of our day that remain unchanged -- or the new stability that we can build when old routines are forced to change. The very existence of a routine offers us humans a sense of safety and stability, which children in particular find reassuring.

2. Routines make expectations clear

Because a routine is all about establishing how we do the things we do, when we create a meaningful routine, it makes it easier for children to know what is expected of them. Clear expectations are the root of many of the benefits listed below, because only clear expectations can be met.

3. Routines build competence and independence

When a child knows exactly what needs to be done and how to do it, a feeling of competence builds. Competence builds independence, which builds confidence. Children who have healthy, developmentally appropriate experiences of independence have more confidence to approach new challenges and approach them creatively. Healthy independence is deeply satisfying (for both children and adults) and contributes to positive personal growth.

4. Routines strengthen connection and community

Routines can help us prioritize connection. Regularly cooking and/or eating a meal together, playing a game, building something, or working on a project together can all be routines that directly bring loved ones together. However, even when our individual tasks have us doing separate activities in separate spaces, intentionally planning schedules and routines can build relationships. When we each feel that we are doing something that contributes to the family or the community, it brings a sense of belonging and connection, as well as an incentive to do our individual tasks well.

5. Routines build trust and cooperation

When your routine becomes consistent, it builds trust. Children thrive on the stability that routines provide and with that a trust is formed in the routines and the people involved - they see them as being reliable. A routine becomes “what we do” and “how we do it”. The trust routines yield end up creating more cooperation -- and less daily push-back.

Routines build trust on both sides of the parent-child relationship. When children can independently and eagerly take part in family routines, they are able to earn more privileges within the family structure. You can create meaningful opportunities for them to adapt their routines. Revising routines is an important part of the process, as we periodically reflect on how to better serve family needs, culture, and values. When children have already bought-in to the process, we can build even more trust by working together as a family to improve existing routines.

6. Routines lower stress for the whole family

Getting a good night’s sleep is one core part of lowering one’s stress, so a no-fuss bedtime is one of life’s not-so-simple necessities. Survival can be achieved when bedtime is less routine-based, but it can cause emotions to run high and stress to skyrocket. I know this from first-hand experience, as I wept (openly, in an airport) the first time I read Adam Mansbach’s parenting picture book of tragi-comic, relatable genius, Go the F*** to Sleep. When we brought schedule and routine to bedtime, it lowered everyone’s stress.

All the benefits we’ve listed so far -- the sense of trust, the independence, the sense of community and connection-- allow daily tasks to proceed more smoothly. Less struggle over the essentials of each day leaves more room for connection, creativity, and play. It leaves space for independence, alone time, productivity, and enjoyment. It lets us enjoy each other more. Less struggle creates less stress for both children and adults.

7. Routines establish healthy habits

Creating your own routines that align with your family’s needs facilitates healthy habits and better planning.

One rewarding healthy habit is assigning and completing chores. When children have responsibilities at home, it builds their investment in family life and teaches them essential life skills. Another key benefit of this habit is that by distributing the burden of household chores, we reinforce a sense of cooperation.

Routines can also help build healthier relationships with food through shared cooking, cleaning, and meal time. Building movement and meditation into our schedules and routines strengthens our bodies and minds.Integrating gratitude into our routines throughout the day shows to improve positivity.

Routines have the power to form us. As Historian, writer and philosopher Will Durant wrote in The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the Greatest Philosophers, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit,” (p. 87). Healthy habits formed by our routines assist us in creating our best versions of ourselves.

8. Routines teach delayed gratification

One of the noticeable benefits of a routine is that, as trust in the routines builds, a child’s ability to delay gratification grows. Research has shown many benefits to delayed gratification, also known as the ability to wait now for a better reward later. Learning that there is a time and place for a desired activity or event builds acceptance for when that event isn’t immediately happening and allows the child to build healthy anticipation.

Personally, I love to end my day with a bath and, if I’m being honest, I want to be in the bathtub all day, every day. Knowing that my routines will allow me to have that bath right before going to bed gives me the fortitude to get through tasks I may be dreading by giving me something to look forward to. I’ve seen this do the same for children.

Students who struggle with reading, but are looking forward to a math game have an easier time focusing on their reading when they know that math is coming after lunch. Young children who are desperate to go to the park can settle into other activities when going to the park at another time or on another day is part of a consistent schedule. Routine, trust, and the ability to delay gratification go hand in hand.

9. Routines maintain priorities

Your family’s routine is yours to design. My routine planner is a resource to help ensure your priorities are met by the routine you create, however there are many ways you can go about developing your routines. The routine you build for your family doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s, but it can! There are benefits to certain norms (like early bedtimes, shared meals, quiet times, and more). However, nothing is required. Everything can and should be tailored to your family values and desired outcomes.

As the only child of two musicians, I grew up with very unusual routines. On nights when “we” had a show or rehearsal, bedtime was in the car after the job. My mom would sing to me, I was told a story, and we were together -- that was the priority, not the timing. As an adult, I am now much more of a stickler about a consistent bedtime, but I am grateful to have grown up this way.

My parents prioritized what we valued most and made me feel like I had an important role in everything they did. Everything was shaped around that value. You can do the same by orienting your routines around what you value most.

10. Routines give opportunities for ritual

When we establish routines, we also establish our daily rituals. A ritual transcends routine by imbuing our actions with purpose and reverence. While “rituals” are often associated with religion, and while religious rituals may or may not be an important part of your daily life, I encourage you to set up other kinds of rituals throughout your day.

A ritual can be as simple as a kiss on your child’s forehead to start the day or as complex as a poem, song, and dance to start their school day. On the practical side, little rituals like this help differentiate the parts of the day. For me, these rituals infuse simple activities and interactions with reverence and joy.

You may be ready to try a family routine, but are overwhelmed by the logistics of how to start. Read on to find simple, achievable suggestions on how to develop a sustainable family schedule and consistent routines.