One of the first things people seem to say as soon as you’ve had a child is “You've got to get them into a routine as soon as possible”, and whilst this really is great advice, it’s often easier said than done - especially when you have more than one little one to contend with.
In general, I’m a stickler for a routine. As a parent, I find routines help everything to run smoothly and keep me organised as much as possible, and the children appreciate it too - even if they are too young to realise it yet. Take the mornings, for example: both children know that in order to get to school on time, they need to get up, then get dressed, then eat their breakfast. They also know that if there’s a bit of time left before we need to leave, they can play. I’m not saying it runs super smoothly like this every single day, but I have made a good effort to instill the routine into them so it’s almost second nature to them now. This is also a great for me because they don’t feel like ‘Daddy’ is always nagging them.
One thing that has proven a little tricky is the fact that my children are different ages. It’s not so much the four year age gap per say, but the fact that a five year old and a nine year old are at very different stages of their childhood. My eldest is at an age where she wants to stay up later and seems to have no problem waking up early whereas at the opposite end of the scale, my youngest knows when he’s ready for bed, but loves a lie in. I’ve found that, for us, the best way to combat this is to just stick to one routine for everyone. I can only imagine the tears and tantrums from letting one stay up later than the other!! So, in our house it’s lights out all round at 7:30pm (it used to be later but you know what children are like: once they’d tried every excuse to stay up, brushed their teeth, and asked me why the sea is blue, my entire evening would be gone).
Now with the earlier bedtime, I get a couple of quality ‘self-care’ hours (which I admit can often be spent loading the dishwasher) and we all get a good night’s sleep.
As I mentioned, my eldest is usually the first one up in the morning, acting as my alarm clock. Then last to rise is my youngest. Both children are great at getting themselves dressed as soon as they are up, and after this, we all eat breakfast together. After I’ve picked them up from school, we’ll play a few games and watch some television before eating dinner around 5:30pm. Once they’re fed and watered, we start the bedtime routine with a bath, followed by some quiet ‘chill’ time, brushing their teeth, and finally bedtime with a story. (Most days, anyway).
As it’s just me, I encourage the children to help me out as much as possible. Even the small things like putting their shoes away or putting their clothes in the washing basket really help. From my own experience, my top tips for other parents who may be finding it hard to stick to a routine would be:
- Preparation and planning are key: as much as possible, get uniforms and lunches ready the night before so your morning routine is as smooth as it can be. Plan the cooking ahead of time: I find that when the children know what’s coming up, they are less likely to cause a fuss. Things run much smoother when there is less stress.
- If you have older children, ask them to help out with the younger ones. My eldest loves playing ‘grown up’ and the extra support really does help
- Be consistent. If you’ve just started trying to implement a new routine, don’t expect the children to warm to it on the first day. Give it time to settle it and eventually it will become second nature to them.
It’s all very well following these tips, but I can completely appreciate that sometimes it’s just really hard to stick to a routine. School holidays and changing seasons pose a real challenge in our household. In the summer, the children question why they are being sent to bed when it’s still so bright outside, and in the Winter, they wonder why they are being made to get up when it is pitch black. To help with this, my eldest has a big clock in her room and she generally understands the concept of time much more than my youngest. With him, I just try my best to explain the time to him.
The school holidays can be really tricky to manage because the routine that we’ve worked so hard to stick to is, all of a sudden, out the window!. The children generally try to stay up later and naturally I’m not quite as strict with it as I would be in term time. However, I try my best not to stray too far from the set routine. Call me a ‘meany’, and my two usually do, but clear routines work for me and keep us all pushing in the same direction.
If everyone is happy, everything is easier.