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Kids’ Routines: Every Mom & Dad's Secret Weapon

Tips for Parenting Alone or with a Co-Parent

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A mother kissing her son good-bye in the morning.

Include a good-bye ritual in your kids' morning routine.

Photo © Tanya Constantine/Getty Images

Your life probably revolves around routines already –– from where and when you drink your morning coffee to how often you walk the dog. But when it comes to your kids’ routines, cultivating the habits you want them to develop takes effort. Whether you're parenting completely on your own, or with a co-parent, the following routines will make your life –– and your kids' lives –– easier.

Kids' Routines to Make Parenting Alone Easier

Why do your kids need routines? Because knowing what you expect of them –– from when to brush their teeth to what they're allowed to do after school –– makes it easier for them to meet those expectations.

Morning Routine

Get a 12-hour jump start on your morning routine by making lunches and laying out clothes the night before. Make sure each person has their own alarm clock, too. And if you have a habit of hitting the snooze button, try setting multiple alarm clocks (on your cell phone or iPod) one minute apart. Be clear about what you need your kids to do in the morning, too. From brushing their hair and teeth, to reviewing their spelling words, post a list of everyone’s morning responsibilities in a prominent location –– like taped to the bathroom mirror.

Bedtime Routine

Whether your kids are toddlers or teenagers, they’ll benefit from a consistent bedtime routine. Creating space for the mental shift from daytime to nighttime is essential to getting enough sleep. This means setting aside a big chunk of time in the evening for winding down. Turn off the TV, computer, and all handheld screens an hour before you want them to go to sleep. Encourage them to use this time to read a book, draw, or play quietly.

Kids' Homework Routines

Set a time by which homework needs to be completed –– whether that’s before dinner or before your kids can use the TV or computer in the evenings. Carve out a little nook for doing homework, too. Keep a well-stocked pencil box (with pencils, pens, crayons, scissors, glue sticks, and colored pencils) by the kitchen table to turn that space into a daily homework spot. Make sharing their homework with you part of the routine, as well, so that you'll know what your kids are learning and whether they need help studying or managing projects.

Chores

Give your kids a regular set of chores to do each week. For example, making their own beds, setting the table for dinner, and dusting. As they get older, add "big kid" chores like vacuuming and laundry to the list.

Parenting Time

Here's a kids' routine that's often overlooked: time with you. Find an activity you enjoy together and make time for it each week. You'll be surprised by how much your kids will be willing to tell you about their lives once you block out all other distractions and spend a little time together.

Down Time

Everyone benefits from me time now and then –– including your kids. Avoid the temptation to schedule each moment of their lives and, instead, make sure they have plenty of time for playing and daydreaming. This is especially key for kids who tend to be easily overwhelmed.

Practice Time

Another regular routine kids need is time to practice new skills. From sports to musical instruments, make practice time part of your family's regular routine will ensure that your kids have time to build on the skills they're learning.

Kids' Routines to Make Co-Parenting Easier

There's no doubt that traveling back and forth between two homes is a challenge. But you can make it easier with routines that create stability and emphasize consistency.

Pre-visit Routines

Set aside a decent chunk of time for packing before each transition, so that important items don't get left behind. If your kids are old enough to pack their own stuff, create a checklist of items to pack, and teach them to use it to back their stuff for the return trip, too.

Post-visit Routines

Establish a regular routine you can repeat each time your kids come back to your house, too. For some, this might mean making the kids' favorite meals, scheduling a family movie night, or giving the kids space to think and readjust.

Goodbye Routines

Particularly with young kids, developing a consistent method of saying good-bye can be reassuring. For example, when my daughter was little, I'd ask her each time whether she wanted a hug, a kiss, or a high-five. Sometimes she's pick all three, and the simple act of giving her the choice gave her renewed strength for saying good-bye.

Communication Routines

Finally, develop routines for communicating while your kids are with your ex, too. From calling to say good-night to checking in via email or texts, having the complete freedom to communicate with both parents equally can be both reassuring and empowering.

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