When I was pregnant with La Niña, I had read somewhere that children need the comfort of routines in their lives. A routine offers children and even babies a sense of security, a sense of all-is-right-with-the-world feeling.
The repetition that routines involve is truly comforting. Haven’t you noticed how children often ask us to read or recount the same stories day after day? To the point when if you forget a particular line or two, they know it well enough to point it out to you.
This is not to say that they don’t need to be entranced by new things every day. Children are born with an infinite capacity to learn, to enjoy and to absorb. And wise parents offer their children the stimuli they need to begin to understand the complex yet fascinating world in which they grow up.
But the world can overwhelm a little one quickly enough. Everything is so new, so unfamiliar, that it is only so much their little minds can do to grasp it all. A routine therefore gives them the comfort of something they can trust, something familiar that will not morph into strangeness the minute they turn their backs.
There are new skills to be learned every day, little things like tying of shoelaces, moving around, speaking their first words, feeding themselves and a thousand other things that carry the finality of milestones. In such a scenario, it helps the child to know that not everything in the world is unpredictable, and that there are some things which do proceed according to a set timetable and script.
The importance of a routine was brought home to me quickly enough. Any parent of a newborn knows how quickly the necessity called sleep turns into a luxury. Little babies do not understand the concepts of day and night; they can surprise you by sleeping amid noise and a blaring TV, and then again they might want to gurgle and coo and stuff their fists and toes into their mouths deep into the night.
Once La Niña turned a few months old, I learned to ease her into a night-time sleep schedule. Of course, she aided me in this task by giving me cues that she was ready to call it a day. I would wipe her with a soft cloth, then change her, and dim the lights, before nursing her, and hum Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, slowly, really slowly, to help her feel drowsy.
It worked. She would slowly fall off to sleep. Of course, she would promptly wake up two-plus hours later, but at least it guaranteed me some respite. I used the same routine with El Niño, and thankfully it worked as well then.
As they grew, there were other routines that replaced these. Being working parents, a lot of the routines that the Husband and I set were restricted to late evenings or weekends, but the children remembered them and looked forward to them, helping the bonding process.
Once the Husband had to travel out of town on work. El Niño was too young to notice, or comment on the fact, that he wasn’t around. La Niña, however, was inconsolable. It was the first time that her Dadda had not come home at the appointed hour and she could not understand why that was so. I insisted on her following our evening routine, including reading her nursery rhyme books at dinnertime, and gradually she calmed down.
Today there are a number of routines we enjoy. These routines govern the children’s mealtimes, sleep schedules, even their playtimes. The routines they particularly enjoy have become honoured family traditions for us, and we all, young and old, look forward to them.
The greatest advantage of routines is that it allows children to think in a more structured manner, enabling them to deal with the time and resources they have at their disposal in a far more constructive manner. The Husband and I benefit from the fact that, aside from a little minor cajoling that we need to do when the kids are not in the mood for the same-old stuff, things are more set.
I am not forced to nag them and there are fewer struggles between the kids and us. Each one of us knows what is expected of us and each, therefore, looks forward to the few times that we veer away from these set routines to enjoy some spontaneous fun.
La Niña is of course on the first rung of her school life right now, but going forward, I can see a study time routine proving to be of immense use, something whose benefits I can testify to from personal experience as a child. Apart from study routines, anything can be converted into a routine. Basic routines like brushing and having a warm bath can teach children to make personal hygiene a habit. Routines involving small odd jobs around the house can inculcate a sense of responsibility in them.
Routines also help children to cope with drastic crises that might erupt in their own lives or the lives of their family members. In the absence of a comforting routine, inevitable events like death or someone moving away can upset kids very badly.
I read somewhere that routines help children to feel in control of themselves and their lives. Unlike grownups, children are not in a position to make decisions about their schedules. What they will eat, where they will go, who they will meet, these are decisions that their parents, grandparents and other caregivers make for them. Routines enable them to know what they can expect on any given day.
Do you have any such routines for your kids?
Cynthia Rodrigues Manchekar loves being mamma to 4-year-old La Niña and 18-month-old El Niño. A working mother, she enjoys writing short stories and poems and looks forward to being published someday. She blogs at http://cynthology.blogspot.in and tweets @Cynth_Rodrigues.