Your Usual Routine With The Kids Isn't Working? Do This Instead

When you switch your behaviour, you can switch their behaviour

Mom and daughter brushing teeth together

We near the end of another long day, filled with meals and snacks. Time with friends, mixed with quiet time. A book read, a walk around the block, a trip to the park. To a parent, this often seems like the point at which rest is in order. The moment to pause and reflect on another busy day. 

The time to get ready for bed. 

The challenge comes when my kids aren’t on the same page. They’re energized by all the fun and not interested in stopping it. When I ask them to put on their pajamas, they laugh and run back downstairs. One begins to colour while the other sets up bowling pins in the foyer. They want to see what happens if they ignore me. What will Mummy do?

It’s very tempting to pull out the I-Mean-Business voice, and I do - sometimes. But that’s not usually what gets results. Though it’s hard to manage when we're all tired, which is often the origin of such showdowns, trying to "make it a game" when my children are standing up to me is magical. 

They may refuse to get into their pajamas when I ask, but if I challenge them to see if either can get those PJs on in less than ten seconds, or I put PJ pants on my head and ask if anyone else wants to try on the hat I’ve found, it creates a different atmosphere.

If they don’t want to brush their teeth? I get my toothbrush ready alongside theirs and ask them to see who can hum a song the whole time they’re brushing. Not wanting to bathe? I fill a plastic bowl with rainbow ice cubes I’d made with food colouring and let them bring it into the tub. The challenge is to come up with a low-stakes way to make the routine interesting. 
I may set a timer so we can see how many toys we can put away in two minutes. Or we may select our clothes for the next morning with a silly system of nonsense words. “Ok, you picked out your plocks (socks) and borts (shorts), now how about a murt (shirt)?” I try not to think about how ridiculous I look or sound and lean into the possibility, the way I hope my children always do.

This approach works well in the home or outside of it. On a recent family road trip, unexpected highway traffic had us confined to the car much longer than expected. Dinnertime came and went. We had plenty of snacks and toys, but my children simply reached their limit of sitting in seats. One started crying, and the other joined in. 

My husband was as tired as I was, but we rallied. “Hey, who wants to play I Spy? I spy something… and white!” 

My daughter perked up instantly, identifying a road sign and then excitedly finding something else for us to guess. We all joined in. After several rounds, she proposed a new game. She’d say a word, and the rest of us would need to come up with a rhyme. Cat! Splat! Hat! Brat! We all laughed and laughed, and it carried us to our destination for the night, where we ate dinner and collapsed into bed.

I admit that, after a fun day, I sometimes can’t understand why my kids resist. I want them to be grateful for the places I took them, for the small treats, for the special moments we shared. To be met instead with shouting and tears can feel like such a letdown. But finding a bit more energy to add some giggles often pays off with a much smoother transition to the next part of the day and lets everyone go to sleep smiling.

Including me.


Jessica Manack lives with her family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her writing has recently appeared in Women Speak, Birthing, and Her View From Home, and she is a recipient of a 2022 Curious Creators Grant. Read more of her work at