8 Tips to Creating Dependable Schedules
Social stories can be especially helpful for preparing children for certain tasks or how to behave in specific social settings, i.e., from getting ready for school or going to the dentist. Social stories simplify the parts to prepare children for an event by making it seem less overwhelming.
Social stories help communicate:
- Details about the setting
- What typically happens in the setting
- What actions or behaviors are expected from children in the setting
Humans are hardwired to seek out dependability – we are creatures of habit. Our brains and our bodies perform better when we can follow a routine. Structure and organization in our daily lives can even promote health and wellness. Studies show that the average adult makes over 35,000 conscious decisions per day. As our responsibilities increase, so do our choices. Minimizing the number of decisions we make in a day can prevent fatigue.
Building a routine can help boost confidence, reduce stress and ultimately, provide predictability through established expectations. For children, especially young children and children with special needs, routines are critical. When there is consistency and order, kids can practice positive behaviors, create good sleeping habits, engage in healthy eating patterns and ultimately, promote their well-being.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. – Aristotle
Habits impact mood. When daily activities are regulated, the “fight or flight” instinct can be disengaged, and pleasure can be activated. For children of all abilities, routine delivers a feeling of safety. As routines become habits, they deliver a feeling of purpose. When a task has been done before, it is comfortable and empowers the child to act independently. It is important to keep the child’s abilities in mind and set achievable expectations tailored to their personality to create and keep up habits.
Author and humorist Mark Twain showed evidence of his understanding of children in his books, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He also understood a thing or two about following a schedule. Twain is widely considered one of the greatest American writers of all time and he believed if you tackle the hard stuff on the schedule first, the rest of the day will seem easy by comparison.
If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first. – Mark Twain
Effective schedules are well planned, prepared, and predictable. Here are eight ideas to incorporate into a routine and in turn, lessen decision making, into your child’s day:
- Establish start and end times for tasks during the day
- Create if/then rules – if X happens, then Y can occur
- Limit the number of options, but provide choices when appropriate – meals (turkey or ham), clothes (solid or stripes), rewards (candy or stickers), activities (park or bike ride)
- Make “mini routines” within the day – morning/afternoon/evening, breakfast/lunch/dinner, home/school/activities
- Post visual supports and reminders to encourage staying on task
- Celebrate accomplishments no matter how small – hugs, high fives, praise, prizes
- Communicate the schedule with your child in a way that is effective for them – talk it through, stick it on the fridge, include auditory cues for transitions
- Balance activities with high and low energy events – snacks, breaks, play, outside, TV, nap, reading, free time
Balance is a key component on the list of ideas – having a schedule as a template is healthy, but over-scheduling or rigidity to ‘the plan’ is not. Allowing children, the opportunity to self-initiate activities and control their schedule encourages developmental skills and is an act of growing up. Play is a great example of incorporating balance into a schedule while giving kids control of their day. Play allows children of all abilities the opportunity to make choices, practice skills, and explore new things. Routines should serve both the child and the caregiver with some flexibility in the plan.
Children of all abilities are unique! Consider the child’s strengths, skills, and goals to maximize their daily schedule. Familiarity sends signals to the child that the world around them is safe and gives them the courage and opportunity to participate appropriately. A dependable schedule is a launch pad for kids to grow, thrive and reach their full potential.