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How raising kids within routines boosts social and emotional health

Published: Monday, March 17 2014 7:30 p.m. MDT

"The chores part was never really successful in the routine, so I ended up nagging and yelling," she said.

Kids are adaptable. Fitzpatrick said she has "terrible guilt" about the fact that all her kids had to move during high school — and her middle son, Jack, during his senior year. The kids developed empathy for new kids, and they all grew into nice adults. Her oldest, Michael, has lived in China and now lives in Russia.

"It makes them who they are, but there's a lot to be said for stability," she said.

Finding balance

"Routine" should not be synonymous with "inflexible."

"Sometimes people get too stuck in a routine, and that's not always helpful, either," said Janine Murphy-Neilson, a counselor in private practice in Fairfax, Va. Before her current job, she taught preschool.

Murphy-Neilson witnesses struggle around two extremes: parents who are so rigid that kids don't learn how to be flexible, and families that lack routines that would reduce stress and simplify family life. Her kids, ages 13 and 17, learned from family routines what to expect, saving "all sorts of power struggles, all kinds of tension," she said.

Walk into any preschool or grade school classroom and you will see a routine posted on a wall. It's the first thing children learn, she said.

"They go over it repeatedly, and very quickly they practically manage themselves," she said. "Most children like knowing what is expected of them, and it gives them a sense of mastery and control to have a routine."

Routine provides little kids with not only a sense of security but also a sense of mastery. In the preschool where Murphy-Neilson taught, the kids would retrieve carpet squares and sit on them for a weather lesson.

"They would know what was going to happen; it gave a sense of some control — sort of being the expert. If you can get kids to do that and feel good about it, it's a win-win," she said. "You're not running around trying to corral 20 children."

Among her own family's treasured routines are Sunday night dinner with her father, music lessons and the taekwondo lessons her children have taken together since the youngest was 5.

"There are times we've had to be flexible with those things, like when my daughter's in a play, but being able to come back and re-ground in those helps," she said.

"I just think it's common sense to know that not having routines for kids can create havoc and problems," English said.

Email: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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