Saturday, July 13, 2013

Teaching with Routine and Sameness

Have you ever noticed how your children love to catch you making a mistake, especially when you do something out of order?  Children learn about the world around them by sameness and routine and they crave patterns that they can learn from.

One evening we had visitors over for dinner and it was a special occasion.  The food was coming out of the oven in phases to keep it warm.  One of our young guests must have been hungry so she served herself what was on the table and took a bite.  My oldest daughter, the perfectionist child, was quick to catch her breaking a dinner-time rule and called attention to the violation.  Our family procedures had trained her that we all start eating together, after the blessing.

Use this teaching tool to your advantage, especially when you want to increase the cooperation from your young children.  Family situations such as the morning rush, dinner time and bedtime are 3 situations that can be stressful on parents and children.  Creating a reoccurring sequence of events during these times can make them easier to get through.

Let’s take bedtime for example.  Children don’t like going to bed because they fear that they are going to miss out on something good.  They have this perception that “the REAL party begins when they have to go to bed.”  At the same time, parents can’t wait to get their children in bed so they can de-stress, relax or in some cases, get more work done.  If your children sense that you’re trying to rush them off to bed, they will prolong the event.

Allow your children to help you come up with all of the activities at bedtime and put them in sequential order.  Have them help you create large pictures that represent each of the events in the sequence: a story book, a pair of pajamas, a toilet, a glass of water, etc.  Next, tape each of the pictures high on the wall and out of their reach, placing them in sequential order. 

The additional key to success with this activity is to include your children in the process of creating it and to make it fun!  Put aside your mind chatter and stress, and take on an excited demeanor as you call out each of the items in order to have them complete them.  Go with them and participate.  The more engaged and fun you are in this process, the more they will feel a part of it.

If your child catches you doing something out of order, relax and don’t get defensive.  Be humble and thank them for catching the mistake.  They will feel respected and important that they uncovered the flaw.  Just try it on purpose sometime; break a sequence just to give them something to focus on and watch their legalistic nature make an issue of your mistake.

Teaching children cooperation and social skills can be a challenge.  Your little children do not arrive in the world ready to comply.  It takes time, patience, and practice to get them to cooperate and participate.  Use routine and sameness whenever you can and notice how much easier parenting can be.

Bill Corbett is the author of the award-winning parenting book series, LOVE, LIMITS, & LESSONS: A PARENT'S GUIDE TO RAISING COOPERATIVE KIDS (in English and in Spanish) and the executive producer and host of the public access television show CREATING COOPERATIVE KIDS. As a member of the American Psychological Association and the North American Society for Adlerian Psychology, Bill provides parent coaching and keynote presentations to parent and professional audiences across the country. He sits on the board of the Network Against Domestic Abuse and the Resource Advisory Committee for Attachment Parenting International, and holds several degrees in clinical psychology. Bill's practical experience comes as a father of 3 grown children, a grandfather of two, and a stepdad to three.  You can learn more about his work at and

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