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Parent Organization

The other day was a perfect example; because of the cold weather, one of us got up to go running but decided against it. That left a whole hour to do things that needed to get done. But, that hour stretched a bit – getting to the shower and breakfast took longer than usual. All of a sudden it was time to take the kids to school and things weren’t ready. The mistake – a change in routine.  

You probably have your morning routine planned out – you know when you are getting into and out of the shower so that it coordinates with your spouse’s shower and your kids’ toilet flushes. Some people have everything planned out down to having the breakfast bowls on the table, and the bags by the door or even in the car the night before. It’s how we make sure that we have what we need and get where we are going.

And yet, even though we are organized, we often end up leaving our houses in a tizzy with half-open back packs slung over shoulders, breakfast in hand, permission forms signed at a red light on the way to school. Why does this craziness persist?!

Having adult routines is a good start, but it is not the whole picture.  We may have a plan for when we think breakfast should start/finish and when we need to be driving away but our children are not mind-readers and depending on them to be psychic can be frustrating and disappointing. Many of us think we are using routines but they are only routines if they are consistent and everyone knows what is expected of them. If we do not communicate our plans to our kids (and spouses), we cannot expect them to follow suit.

Routines can be used in the morning to get us out the door, but also throughout the day in those tricky, hassle-filled times. Some of our most valued routines are the Getting-Home-From-School routine or the Getting-Out-The-Door-To-Choir-Practice routine. One of our families is just building a Get-Ready-For-Hockey-And-Don’t-Forget-Anything routine. Chances are, if you have one or more areas of parenting that are really working for you, you have created a reliable routine that your children know inside and out. Maybe it’s the bath or bedtime scenario. If it’s working, take a look at why. The likelihood is that you have outlined for yourself the tasks that need to get done, who is doing them, the order in which they occur and you have clearly taught your children all of that information. It is most-likely repeated daily with the odd “special occasion” exception – even then, you probably have an abbreviated routine that works in its place.

At Parenting Power™, we always encourage parents to take the time to teach children what you need them to do. They are not born knowing how to schedule their lives, but they are often wanting to try and eager to please. This process can begin when our children are quite young.

Let’s go back to that morning routine. If you have a plan for how you get organized, involve your children in developing a plan that will work for them. Spend some time deciding the sequence of the tasks. If you have a child that is starving in the morning but dawdles like crazy when getting dressed, put dressing before eating. The motivation of breakfast will move the first task along. In our experience, this may require an apron being worn by some children during breakfast – but it does work.

Discuss the timing of the tasks as well and make sure that it is realistic. Just because you can guzzle a bowl of cereal in two minutes (or is that me?) doesn’t mean that your 5 year old can. Have some timing milestones noted as well – at the table by 7:35, brushing teeth by 7:55, boots on at 8:01. Then, help kids to know when those times are. Set an alarm for 7:50 to alert your family that there are five minutes left for breakfast. This stops you from nagging and helps them to feel independent.  That really is the whole point of this exercise.

By establishing routines with our children (and mapping them out with charts - pictures and words), we help our children to know what is expected. Things are more predictable and they feel capable because they are doing things for themselves. As mentioned above, work out the plan with your kids and then, do it with them for a few days – help them follow the chart. Then let them try it on their own and encourage their efforts. If most of the plan is working but some things are a disaster – rethink those parts. Working with our children is a lot easier than working against them.  

Now, a warning! A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Often parents receive this information and try to do too much too soon. They want to move directly from chaos to structure in two days, get overwhelmed and don’t follow through. Please take our advice and pick one time of day and one routine and do it until it is the norm. You will move forward with baby steps. Home organizers will tell you to take 15 minutes a day to clean out one drawer at a time while de-cluttering your home. The same rule applies when de-cluttering your family chaos. You may be able to handle a bunch of new routines, but it is the little people in your life who really have to learn them.  

In closing – add new routines gradually. Don’t overwhelm your family. Focus on what your children are doing and trying to accomplish. Notice effort. Let them have input in as much of the routine as possible but make sure that there are targets for them to meet so that they clearly understand what is expected. Good Luck!


Julie Freedman Smith and Gail Bell are the founders of Parenting Power. They provide parents with strategies to become confident, capable and calm. Contact them at or 281.2524

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