Many children respond well to routines, and consistency in parenting can be beneficial for the entire family. Routines provide comfort for parents and children alike, and by applying consistent parenting techniques, children know what to expect when they behave in a certain way. In fact, as I recently explained in this post, fear of the unknown often tops the list of greatest fears for parents and children alike.
Fears of the unknown often manifest as tantrums. Because children are bombarded with changes every single day, establishing consistent daily routines can help minimize the extent of the “unknown” in their lives. Routines can be especially helpful when the child or family is going through a transition, such as giving up a bottle, going to a new daycare, changing schools, moving to a new city, or even meeting a new friend. Routines reduce anxiety and create a sense of predictability, which can provide a sense of comfort and safety in the child’s ever-changing and expanding world.
What’s more, routines also teach children self-control and internal regulation. As Laura Markham, PhD said, “While helping children feel safe and ready to take on new challenges and developmental tasks would be reason enough to offer them structure, it has another important developmental role as well. Structure and routines teach kids how to constructively control themselves and their environments. Structure allows us to internalize constructive habits.”
While routines provide a sense of comfort and safety, and teach children self-control and self-regulation, over-prioritizing routine and consistent parenting can create undue anxiety and an unhealthy rigidity – which is why it is important for parents to find the right balance between consistency and flexibility. Since life is messy, plans change, and things are often out of our control, a certain amount of flexibility is also necessary so that families don’t get derailed when things don’t go as planned.
A flexible approach to parenting gives everyone in the family room to make mistakes, learn and grow. Additionally, flexibility sends the message that the family functions as a team, and not as a dictatorship. You can help show your children that their voice matters, by letting them make choices regarding minor decisions. For instance, if our family’s routine is to order in on Friday nights, we may give each child a turn choosing the restaurant we order the food from. Even if we don’t agree with the choice, the rest of the family learns to be flexible and open-minded about the choice.
Flexibility teaches children to be adaptable and can teach them the importance of being open-minded. If a child is overly reliant on routines, he or she will be less able to adjust to life’s changes. Additionally, teaching your children to be adaptable and open-minded can help build resilience as a family, so that you are all better equipped to handle life’s pitfalls and challenges.
Not to mention the fact that flexibility in parenting can also make your job as a parent a little easier. Much of parenting is trial and error; we learn on the job after all. So it is helpful to be able to change course when we find out something isn’t working. For instance, if you create a practice piano after school routine, but after a few weeks, you realize that one of your children needs a short break after school in order to decompress, it might be necessary to change your tune about that routine. What’s more, sometimes we parents do make mistakes. By leaving room for flexibility in our family routines and parenting beliefs, we can learn from those mistakes and move forward.
“So much of parenting is trial and error. Instead of being locked into one particular way of parenting, we can be free to try something different or think about things in a different way. Not everything will work for your family, and that is OK! Being open to learning and growing as a parent may allow you to meet each of your kids in a way that works best for them.” – Nicole Schwartz, MA, LMFT
So how does a parent find the right balance? Well, consistency in your core beliefs will guide you on when and how to be flexible. Ask yourself: would a variation from the routine or the consistency still be in line with my core beliefs? If yes, then perhaps your family would benefit from a more flexible approach to the situation. For instance, if staying up a couple hours later on a Saturday night so the family can watch the Olympics together or go for a sunset stroll on the beach fits to your goal of enjoying family recreation, then perhaps a flexible approach to bedtime on those nights is beneficial.
By being aware of your goals, core beliefs, and consistently prioritizing those, you can work toward striking the right balance between routine and flexibility for your family.