Back To Basics: Routines

Student at desk studying.

How many minutes do you spend refocusing your student to start an assignment, brush their teeth, or get dressed for the day? These are common frustrations for parents who have students with executive functioning challenges. However, by developing routines, you can help create a shift in your student’s focus toward everyday tasks and events. By implementing structured routines, you may minimize daily distractions and roadblocks to help them succeed not just in school, but in other areas of their lives.

Why are routines important?

At Untapped, we’re big supporters of Navy SEAL Jocko Willink who says, “Discipline equals freedom.” The consistency that routines bring helps create freedom for your student. Lack of routine (and the discipline that accompanies that) can cause disorganization and unpredictability. Creating and following routines helps students utilize their energy and creative gifts. Research shows that routines decrease impulsivity and increase time management skills. Emphasize to your student that once homework/chores/etc. are completed, their time is their own and they can spend more time with friends or doing what makes them happiest. Help them designate times to complete daily tasks, and celebrate their success in building consistency with those routines.

How to implement simple, non-negotiable routines

The first routines we like to create for our students are morning and evening routines (which are non-negotiable). For example, if your student takes medication, that must be incorporated into the morning and/or evening routine. We’ve created guidelines to build simple routines to help you and your student streamline daily tasks.

1. Set a time for the routine:

Students juggle a variety of activities each week: tutoring, clubs, sports, music lessons, etc. Establishing specific times for every routine is crucial for success; sticking to one time of day to complete a task will reinforce the tasks as routine and help integrate that habit into your student’s active life.

When examining a morning routine, consider what time your student wakes up. 6:30? Implement their morning routine first thing, from 6:30-6:45. This includes tasks such as brushing teeth, taking medication, getting dressed, making their bed, and eating breakfast. When creating an evening routine, consider what time your student goes to sleep. If they head to bed around 9, try to begin the nighttime routine an hour before then and see what works. This gives them time to read or watch a show before calling it a night. Experiment with what works best for your student and stick to it!

Once you have the morning and evening routines down, you can begin to incorporate other routines into your student’s day. For example, if your student gets home from school at 4, schedule “Academic Time” from 4-5 every day. We designate this chunk of time as Academic Time instead of Homework Time because even if there’s no homework to do, your student should take this time to study, read ahead, etc.

2. Designate a space and ambiance for the routine:

In addition to establishing a specific time and location, ambiance can help a child adjust to a routine. Let’s use “Academic Time” as an example. Academic Time lasts from 4-5pm every day. To begin, your student sits at the kitchen table with a mug of tea in hand and classical music playing in the background. Every day, help your student set up this space so they are comfortable and focused. The repetition of these small details will help your student acclimate more quickly to the routine.

3. Write it out:

Tasks for your child’s non-negotiable routines should be written clearly and concisely. It’s important for them to have a concrete visual of the routine in a list format so they know what’s expected. For a simple, non-negotiable routine, 3-4 tasks is best, listed in short phrases no longer than one sentence. Your student should check off tasks as they are completed; the list provides a great visual aid to maintain accountability. The following is an example of a straightforward, non-negotiable routine checklist to complete before bed.

– Pack backpack

– Brush teeth

– Wash face

– Lay out clothes for the following day

These tasks will take only a few minutes once implemented as a daily routine, and you and your student will both have more freedom when you’re not spending time harping on them to complete those tasks.

Let’s summarize: set times for your student’s routines, set expectations/locations/ambiance (if needed), and write out details so there’s no room for miscommunication or misunderstanding. Discipline equals freedom for both you and your student. Once routines are in place, you’ll find fighting and impulsivity decrease while productivity increases.

If you have any questions about routines specific to your student, reach out to your mentor!

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