How can I get my child on a schedule?

When we send our children to school we expect that the learning is orderly and the time is structured. For some children, responding to a schedule comes naturally and they are able to complete tasks in a timely manner and maintain a consistent routine. Other children tend to move a little slower completing tasks and are not concerned when they don’t finish right on time. However, both types of children are still able to conform to school expectations and function well in the routine of a school day. Because of the consistent positive results seen in school settings, we know that children can also maintain a schedule at home as well. Schedules and routines help children feel safe because they know what to expect throughout their day. It also teaches them time management skills that will be necessary to be a productive adult. Getting your child on a schedule is not only possible, but vitally important.

Set a consistent wake-up times and bedtimes

The easiest way to start establishing a schedule is to set consistent wake-up times and bedtimes. Of course there will be days, such as weekends, when a child goes to bed late or when they are allowed to sleep in, or seasons, such as summer, when the schedule is more flexible and not as consistent from day-to-day. But even though there should be flexibility in schedule, there can still be time parameters for when the day should start and when the day should end. If you and your child have a general idea when the day will start, then you can create activities and plans in advance without disrupting your child’s sleep schedule. You’ll also know your child is getting a full night’s sleep so they’ll have the energy and emotional stability they need to accomplish tasks during the day. In addition to sleep times, it is also beneficial to have a time parameter for meals and snacks. This will divide the schedule of the day even more and provide regular sustenance throughout the day to keep your child focused.

Create chore charts and/or task check lists

Charts and lists are helpful because they provide a visual way to track progress. If your child does need to complete certain tasks by a specific time, or struggles staying focused on completing tasks, you can associate times with when an item needs to be finished. For example, you can have a morning checklist that needs to be completed by 8:15 in order to catch the bus on time, and then another list for after school items that need to be completed by the time soccer practice starts at 5:45. If your children are young, the lists may be there to help you maintain consistency in a schedule for your child, but as your children get older they should be responsible for their own lists. You may need to help them create a list or chart and oversee completion, but ultimately they should be in charge of prioritizing and noting when items are finished. This will promote independence so they don’t have to come to you to find out what they should do next.

Smarter Parenting has a variety of free chore charts for children and teens. Find them in the our Resource section.

Enroll your child in extracurricular activities

Extracurricular activities not only allow your child to explore their interests and talents, practice their social skills, and learn from other authority figures, they also provide structure to days and weeks. Activities that are set at a specific time and remain consistent from week to week are good motivators to help your child learn how to be on time. Children also stay on task better if there is an end goal in mind. It can be more difficult to manage time when there are endless hours to complete a task, then if there are time parameters for something to be completed. If you choose not to have your child enrolled in any activities outside the home, plan specific times for learning a new skill or participating in a physical activity so that your child can still get used to scheduled activities.

Provide adequate free time for your child during the day

If your child is scheduled with too many activities and has to follow a strict time schedule every day, they’ll start to resent the schedule and most likely fight against participating in the tasks and activities. Maintaining a healthy schedule should include time for your child to play and explore creatively on their own. With practice and consistency your child will adjust to maintaining a structured, yet flexible schedule.

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