Do It Again and Again
I've always found that sticking to a routine is a little like sticking to a diet. It's not easy, and I'm often tempted to blow it off. But when I commit to the program, inevitably, the rewards are undeniable: I feel in control and satisfied. Experts say it's the same with kids. "Daily rituals and routines are some of the most basic ways to instill a sense of security and pleasure," says Martha B. Straus, Ph.D., author of Adolescent Girls in Crisis. In fact, a review of 50 years of research on family routines in the Journal of Family Psychology found that rituals like family meals and bath and bedtime routines help children feel secure, strengthen family ties, and lead to greater productivity. They may even help improve their health by maintaining good habits such as brushing teeth, exercising, and washing hands. Another study, from the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, found that these sorts of rituals provide a neurobiological benefit by stimulating both the left (logical) and right (emotional) sides of the brain. Families who eat dinner together regularly say it's easiest to make it happen by sticking to a set time and expecting everyone to be there -- no exceptions. Turn off the TV, and ignore the phone if it rings.
Jennifer Clarin, of Palmetto Bay, Florida, has created a routine that she swears makes bedtime a breeze for her 20-month-old daughter, Orli. "We always pick out three books to read, and then we sing 'The ABC Song' and 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.' Then Orli helps us turn off the light in her room. She settles down, as content as can be." Orli's grandparents and babysitter follow the same routine. "I think that it makes her feel safe," says Clarin.