Routines Good for Kids. Well, Most of the Time

My son has a friend whose parents think we don't have enough rules in our house.  The boy loves to come over because he can watch all the TV he wants (and stares in a trance at his favorite shows) and can play Xbox morning, noon and night, if he wants that, too, unlike home where it's outlawed during the week.

It's true, we don't have many rules beyond bedtime at 8:30 on school nights, brush your teeth before, eat fruit at least a couple times a day, and do your homework.  But that's because, and forgive me while I brag, we have a good kid who gets good grades and pretty much does what he's told (if you don't count picking up after himself).

But a new study has just found that children who have regular routines fare better with social-emotional health (SEH), according to

Children who regularly sing, play, story-tell and eat dinner with their families tend to have higher social-emotional health, the Web site reports.

Now we're a little past that stage, with our middle-schooler, but when he was little, and I took him jogging in the stroller, I made up little stories all the time, and sang to him, and we played outside all day long in the summer.  So I guess we sort of had a routine.

The study found that children who participate in five family routines are more than twice as likely to have high SEH and for each additional routine that a parent and child do together, there is an almost 50 percent greater likelihood of having high SEH, points out. 

I guess we're a little behind the eight ball on that, but my son has plenty of friends and playdates (oops, we call it "hanging out" now) and when he recently wasn't invited to a big event that most of his friends from elementary school were, he had to comfort me.  He couldn't have cared less.

Now, this isn't just some little feel-good thing that therapists promote. Experts consider a child to have high SEH when they exhibit the ability to understand emotions, express empathy, demonstrate self-regulation and form positive relationships with peers and adults, explains. High SEH in early childhood is thought to help a child adapt to the school environment and perform well academically. High SEH also is a good predictor of children’s long-term outcomes.

Researchers believe that being cared for in stimulating and nurturing environments in early life, with regular participation in predictable family routines, reflects greater family organization and can provide a sense of security and belonging. 

I'm the last to say that me or my family is organized.  I'm constantly losing my phone (and newspaper and book and reading glasses, etc., etc., etc.), as is my husband, and my son has picked up his dad's unerring instinct to do everything -- get dressed for school, do school projects, write reports -- at the very last minute.

But somehow, it all gets done, and none of us is in danger of being sent to the loony bin.

So maybe rules -- or even a too-tight schedule -- aren't everything.  I admit I'm never going to be a mom who has every minute of their kid's day planned out and written on a whiteboard by the phone, all the way through year-end.  But I don't think everyone has to.  I don't believe my kid is suffering. In fact, he's pretty all right.


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