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Children often feel powerless and anxious in a big world filled with new and ever-changing experiences.  Knowing ‘what comes next’ is both comforting and empowering.  Routines help promote positive behaviour as children develop a sense of mastery in handling their own lives.  When they feel confident in their ability to manage their daily routines they are able to take on new and unexpected challenges.

While my husband and I understand this in principle, initially we felt some resistance to the idea of routines.  We didn’t want to live a boring, predictable life.  Since becoming parents we’ve come to understand that life with a 2-and-a-half-year-old is never boring and that parenthood is full of flux and novelty.  Routines no longer seem oppressive because they help us stay sane and on track.

Recently our son’s bedtime routine needed to be adapted.  He had escaped the crib and we knew it was time for a ‘big boy bed’.  We asked for some advice from Tracey Ruiz, a well-known sleep doula who had made a hugely positive impact on our lives when our son was 5 months old.

After reviewing the different steps in our bedtime routine, Tracy suggested several changes which she recommended doing all at once, as a clean sweep.  One big factor was that I was still the only person tucking my son in at night.  Despite getting lots of help with bath and story-time, I was always the one who did the final tuck-in.  Tracy said we had to get him more comfortable with having his dad and other people tuck him in. She pointed out that sometimes, unexpected changes (such as illness or emergency travel) can leave a family in a pickle if the designated ‘tucker-inner’ has to be away and the child hasn’t learned to be put to bed by someone new.

Visual Organizers To The Rescue:

This all made sense and we were ready to try it, but what should we do when our son inevitably asked for the parent who wasn’t there? Tracy suggested we make a little calendar with pictures of our faces on it so that our son could look at the calendar and know who was putting him to bed that night.   Though I loved the idea, I had forgotten about it in until 10 minutes before Forest’s first night in a ‘big boy bed’ and his first time being tucked in without me.  I whipped out some construction paper and madly printed off some pictures to glue onto a make-shift calendar, and produced a workable if not slightly odd-looking prototype.  I taped it on the wall and our son was instantly fascinated by it.  It seemed that once he saw the new routine visually represented on the wall he felt in control and at ease.  It was real eye-opener to see how much this helped him.

In the days that followed I got a bit more creative about making a working chart that we could regularly adjust according to our schedule.   I borrowed a button machine and made some buttons of my face and of my husband’s face. (You may not have access to a button machine but you can paste your photos to cardboard or magnets, or draw them yourself or order buttons from: http://peoplepowerpress.org.) Then I scavenged some letters from our collection of mismatched magnetic alphabets and put it all together to make our own customized ‘tuck-in’ chart (see the top of this post).  My son absolutely loves it and checks it everyday.  The little figure at the top moves along as the week proceeds, helping my son know which day it is.

The Possibilities Are Endless:

Seeing how much my son is impacted by this chart inspires me to make more.  Now I’m noticing all the signs and symbols that help us organize ourselves in the world.

In my son’s daycare they have a chart in the bathroom showing kids how to wash their hands and they have a daily routine chart that show’s them when key activities such as nap time, story time or snack times happen.

I think my next project will be to make a chart for our bedtime and morning routines.  Soon I’ll make a chore chart and maybe one about the different emotions. The possibilities are endless and it’s a good chance to get my craft-on (something I never seem to make time for these days).

It’s been two weeks now that our son is sleeping on a mattress on the floor in his newly kid-proofed bedroom, and it’s been going great! What a relief. While your routine or potential challenges may be different than ours, I hope that our creative approach to communicating new routines is something you can try to suit the needs of your own family.

Do you need some help? Click here to get started with a selection of printable cards. Click here for some morning routine cards. Click here for some bedtime routine card ideas.

Carly Stasko is a self-titled Imagitator, one who agitates imagination. She is also an artist/writer/educator/producer/public speaker/cancer survivor & parent living in Toronto. Check out her radio stories on CBC’s Definitely Not the Opera and her blog, Imagitate the State. Find more of Carly’s How To Raise a Parent articles here.

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