Routine charts, for the win!

How does your child put on their shoes in the morning?

"Hey sweetheart, we're going to leave in ten minutes. Make sure you put your shoes on."
"Leaving in five minutes -- get your shoes on."
"Seriously, get them on your feet."

Sound familiar? Why do kids always struggle to get their shoes on? With all the prompts and reminders you give them, shouldn't they just put them on the first time? All you want them to do is get ready and go—which is why you keep prompting them over and over again. I’m sure you’re thinking “I’ll just give them one more reminder, that’ll do the trick”. Sadly, it's not the trick. Constantly reminding them is actually creating a bigger problem. Insert: power struggles, tantrums, nagging, and ultimatums. Resulting in: resentment, lack of trust, frustration, complaining.

Now, I’m going to make a suggestion for you. It might feel a bit uncomfortable at first, but it is the only way to put an end to the tirade of reminders from the example above. Here’s my simple, extremely counter-intuitive advice: stop reminding your children. I’m going to strongly encourage you to take all of the energy that you usually waste nagging your children, and instead focus that energy on building a routine and teaching it to your children. This will allow you to switch your role from drill sergeant to enforcer. You are no longer in charge of belting the commands—you are now the enforcer of the routine.

Now let’s get to work on building this thing.

How to build and implement a child-lead routine.

Step 1: Get buy in.

This could happen during dinner time, play time, or bath time. It can really happen any time where you’re not in the heat of the moment. Ask your child if they could help you solve a problem: “Hey, I have a big problem, and I would like you to help me figure it out.”

Step 2: Ask the question.

Ask your child “What do we need to do to get ready for school in the morning?” Make sure to write down their answers. They will offer up things such as brush teeth, put on clothes, eat breakfast, and so forth. If they leave out a step, ask them “What about what goes on your feet?” The key here is to get the answers from their mouths, not yours. It's very important that they say the steps aloud. There is no room for go-backs when it's their words getting displayed in the routine chart!

Step 3: Order it!

After you’ve written down all their answers, create the order in which the tasks need to be completed. This allows for some space to really think about the flow of the routine. A client did this with me one morning and realized that they go up and down the stairs three times to get everything accomplished in the morning. She was able to streamline and do everything upstairs that needed to get done before going downstairs. Saving time and reducing morning nagging. (Win win!)

Step 4: Post it up!

This can be done many ways. My favorite way is to take photos of your child going through the routine for "practice". Practicing the routine like a game will help build muscle memory, and it will ensure a smoother transition. Print the photos and display them in order. If you and your child don’t want to do pictures, you can simply write the steps down on notebook paper and tape them to the bathroom mirror. Getting the children involved by drawing pictures of the steps or decorating the chart somehow is another great way to get buy in!

Step 5: Use the chart.

For the next two weeks, refer back to the chart each morning. (Repeat: Two weeks, constantly referring back. Invest time now for payback in full!) Spend time walking your child through the new routine chart while referring back to it over and over again. Let your child work on remembering the tasks, and resist the urge to just fill in the blank with what comes next. You are teaching your child that you no longer hold all the answers and motivation. Now, they get to hold the answers. Show them that they hold the answers by exchanging the phrase “Go get your shoes on” with “What comes next in your routine? Check the chart!”

*BONUS* Step 6: Magic word.

"Help" is a magic word in my book. When your child is tired, hungry, angry, lonely, etc, they may need a bit of assistance going through their routine. Sure, they know how to brush their teeth by themselves, but it may just be nice to have some company. I always allow for the request "Can you help me?" quickly followed by the response "Helping means we do this together!"

Routine charts can help with so many tough moments. Routines can be made for broad moments like “How to get ready for school in the morning” as well as focused moments like “How to brush your teeth.” Utilizing this tool supports your child's feeling of confidence in their abilities, builds autonomy, and tempers power struggles. You are no longer the power holder, your child sits in the drivers seat of their routines. And that is a skill that will serve them a lifetime.

So now, imagine how your child will get their shoes on in the morning.

“Hey sweetheart, we’re leaving in 10 minutes for school, check your chart and make sure you have everything completed!”
“Got everything done? We’ve got 5 more minutes, need any help?”
“Ready, let’s go!”