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Episode 28

How can routines help you raise self-controlled children?

April 25, 2022

[Kyle]: In today's podcast we're going to talk about structures and routines. Do you have them? Are they good for your kids? What kind of ones do you use? In what ways are they healthy and can they sometimes be unhealthy? But inevitably, we think structures and routines set your kids free to be self-controlled, self-disciplined kids. So, we look forward to having this conversation with you.


[Kyle]: Hello and welcome to episode 28 of The Art of Raising Humans. I'm Kyle.

[Sara]: And I'm Sara.

[Kyle]: And today we're going to talk to you about the importance of routines in your kid's life. I know for many people, you know, we feel like we maybe understand this kind of subject and topic, but we find in our interactions with a lot of parents, that there aren't a lot of routines or structures put in place and maybe there's not even an understanding of why they're so helpful, you know? To put it in place, lots of times routines, we're talking like bedtime routines, eating routines, sleeping routines, you know, all that stuff.

[Sara]: Well, I think you kind of feel like “oh, yeah, yeah. I mean, we want routines”.

[Sara]: But maybe we miss-- We feel like that's “oh, just if you can. That's great”, but you know, they're not that important.

[Kyle]: Yeah. Well, and I think a lot of times we de-emphasize them, because we don't like to have routines ourselves, you know? Either the routines seem to be stifling, you know? So, we like to-- Some people even admire how little routines they have, right?

[Sara]: Yeah, a free spirit.

[Kyle]: Exactly! “I do whatever I want, whenever I want”, right? It almost seems like that routines can turn into a way to control your kid, you know? Or a way to control yourself. When really the routines aren't about that.

[Sara]: Well, right, because people can slip into “it's a rigidity, it's very rigid, it's fear-based, it is a controlling thing” instead of, a healthy routine is actually a source of freedom.

[Kyle]: Yeah, I love that. So, why are structures and routines so important, Sara?

[Sara]: All right. So--

[Kyle]: Do it, Sara! Enlighten us!

[Sara]: Structure and routine helps us know what's going to happen next and as grown-ups, we like to know that, right? If I went into my work day and I had no idea what's going to be happening every day, it would be very stressful because I didn't know “am I going to like it? Am I not? What's happening next? When are they going to give me lunch break?"

[Sara]: You know, “one day it's at ten, one day it's at two, I never know”. You know, all those things, that predictability, helps us settle, feel peaceful, feel like “okay, this is what I’m gonna do, then this is gonna happen” and as much as we feel that as grown-ups with all the flexibility that we have, with all of the grown-up control we have, kids don't have any of that. So, it's a far scarier world where they're dependent on all these grown-ups and they have no idea what's happening next.

[Kyle]: Yeah, I mean, as you were saying that, I remember even when you and I first got married and you are a fantastic cook, but your meals sometimes take a long time to cook and as a bachelor, my meals never took long times at all, typically involved a microwave and typically, if I was hungry my routine was, I nuked something or I cooked some chicken nuggets in the oven and so, max my meals took 20 minutes to cook. So, when we got married and you were cooking some kind of meal, I was thinking “20 minutes, it's gonna be ready” and then it'd be like an hour into it and I would “my routine is all messed up”. Like my body, even our bodies will get on a routine of like, my body's heard you say dinner's gonna be ready soon and it was like “an hour's gone by, when are we eating food!?” and I remember feeling so anxious because I didn't know, some counselors call it food anxiety, I was kind of like, so I had this food anxiety of like “when am I gonna eat?” and then when you started telling me that “oh, lasagna takes longer than 20 minutes” or whatever beautiful dish you were making that day, I got a new routine and I instead could go grab a snack, you know, while I’m waiting for that hour and a half to go by and then I wasn't so anxious, but it was the not knowing what was going to happen next and when to expect it. Even as a grown adult, I began to feel very anxious.

[Sara]: So, all of that sort of “this is going to happen, then this is going to happen and then you're going to do this”, all those kinds of things give us peace of mind, help lower the stress, we know what's going to happen and we get better at that skill as we continue to follow this routine.

[Kyle]: Can you tell me like, if you're speaking to a parent that has a baby and just even, I mean, I know this will translate all the way to teenagers, but why are kids--? It seems like kids developmentally; they need routines and structure.

[Sara]: Yeah, our brain is actually always searching for that. Even if we're not giving it to our brain, our brain is going “okay, then this is gonna happen, then that's gonna happen”. Our brain is-- It loves it and it craves that and it looks for it. It looks for structure, it looks for how things are going to be.

[Kyle]: Why?

[Sara]: Why?

[Kyle]: Yeah, why does it do that?

[Sara]: It's made to work--

[Kyle]: I know, what I’m--

[Sara]: Okay, you want me to give an answer--

[Kyle]: No, I just think, I think the answer is it feels safer.

[Sara]: Oh, okay.

[Kyle]: Yeah, we don't feel safe if we don't know that stuff, right? I think naturally, developmentally from the time we're a baby, the first thing we want to do is feel safe.

[Kyle]: We want to feel safe in our environment, so the more I can expect-- I can understand what's going to happen next, the safer I’m going to feel.

[Sara]: And actually, even if the lights go dim and loud noises get quiet and you see the sun going down, even your brain without you even saying “okay, brain, start to go-- Start getting sleepy”, your brain does it all by itself and for a baby, you said baby.

[Sara]: You know, if you're-- I wouldn't take my baby, turn on all the lights, make a bunch of loud noises and then go and lay my baby down, right? You start that sleepy routine, you want soft jammies on, you're holding your little baby, you're helping the brain and pretty soon if kids go to bed at a regular time with a regular routine, you can start that-- If it's bath time or something, you start that. Your kid's brain already goes “all right, shutting things down, getting sleepy” and the more you're consistent with that, that baby will go to sleep real easily; we're all kind of like that. If our kids know, you know, seven o'clock in the morning my dad comes in and says “time to get up” and then, you know, I get up and I make my bed, I go out and there's breakfast on the table, you know, those routines your child just starts going through the motions, because the brain is wired to “okay, now I do this and now I do that” and it creates this peaceful “everything's taken care of, I’m okay in this world, here is what I do next”.

[Kyle]: Yeah. Well, the words I heard you say that feel really-- I think good to a kid is “consistent”, “predictable”, right? Like it's expected and even like you said, you trained your body to then start to do it and as you were sharing that picture, Sara, I don't know if the listeners felt this, it didn't feel controlling at all, it felt like a sense of support and encouragement to-- Like it wasn't like a magic wand. When you do that, everyone knows who's had a baby, when you do this stuff it's like the baby just goes out. At least ours didn't, maybe yours did, but it's like you do this stuff and magically the baby then just is out, right?

[Kyle]: And you don't even do it to make that happen, although you would like that to happen. You set the stage, you're basically setting boundaries with the structure and routines to make it more likely the kid chooses that.

[Sara]: It supports the process, right? So, I can either go against the process and create things that'll make that harder or I can support the process.

[Kyle]: It's similar to adults have routines like this too. There's a lot of adults I talk to who every night they go to sleep the same way, right? They'll try to go to sleep earlier because they feel like they're tired and then they end up watching a show and they stay up too late and then, they regret it and the next day they wake up tired and go “I should have done that differently”, but then they don't and it's hard to break those routines, but if they're in counseling and they're talking about feeling anxious and stressed about life, one of the first things you say is “let's fix that routine! Let's do a relaxing routine”. Start your nighttime thing earlier, get into the discipline of maybe taking a bath or taking a shower at night or doing something relaxing. Turn that tv off, read a book or do something that's-- Take a walk around the block, something that will rest your mind to where then when you come back and are ready, you're more likely to sleep well.

[Sara]: Well, and I think everyone's had the experience where maybe there's some area in life you have a routine and you almost don't even think about it, you know? I brush my teeth before I go to bed, it's not something I think “okay, now I need to go in and brush my teeth”, I just sort of do it, it's just part of my process of going to bed, but I think we've had that experience where there's some routine you have and then let's say, you go on a trip or maybe you have someone staying with you and your routine gets off and how you just feel out of sorts and you're very excited to get that routine back, so everything feels calm and you feel better and so, that same thing that happens in us happens in children. Where even if at first they're resistant or pieces of the routine they're resistant to, over time it creates this peaceful process and not to say it'll always be perfect, just like it isn't in our lives, but it does set that stage and it does support that process.

[Kyle]: You even used a good word there that brought to my mind, was if I had a kid who was struggling with resisting a lot, a really resistant kid, I would really definitely want to have structures and routines in place, because it's going to help the kid learn how to cooperate, you know? It's going to make it more likely when they're doing life, doing school, doing whatever, they're more apt to cooperate with the routine rather than resist it. I find a lot-- Not saying it's 100% true, but a lot of resistant kids who the parents are complaining about a lot of defiance is, typically you'll find a lot of inconsistency. You'll find a lot of the routines are inconsistent and the kid doesn't know what to expect from day to day, you know? And if you can help that kid start to feel the sense of relaxation and rest and just cooperating and almost like, submitting to the routine, then the kid learns that “oh, I don't have to resist everything, I can actually just let go and let the routine take me”, yeah?

[Sara]: Yeah, it becomes just part of their daily process. I mean, I know in our in our family from day, one thing I feel like we did well it is have a nighttime routine and not to say there weren't ever struggles with nighttime, but I don't feel like that has been a huge-- Our kids brush their teeth, wash their face, you know, go to bed and that's generally not a big area, but cleaning rooms, we never created a big routine, it was sort of like “oh, your room's messy, let's clean it”, instead of “every Saturday morning it's clean the room day”.

[Sara]: And so, that has been a bigger struggle in our family, because it's been more of just a spontaneous--

[Kyle]: Yeah, it's inconsistent, it's not as--

[Sara]: Yeah, there's no routine to it and so, that's something we've actually talked about recently. Maybe we need to build more routine around that, because it is a harder area and we, you know, for our family it's a value system that we take care of our stuff, we take care of our room, you know and so, that's just an example where you can have these routines that has minimized, I feel a good deal of struggle and our kids feel very secure in that they're taking care of their bodies, getting sleep.

[Kyle]: Yeah, they flow with it really well, yeah.

[Sara]: But then this other area where we didn't have that routine, there's just more stress and struggle and all the things.

[Kyle]: That makes me think of the previous podcast, which if you haven't listened to it, you should go back and listen to it, about consequences. Is I was thinking as I kind of wrote this kind of podcast out, was this idea that like, with the cleaning the rooms. If we just were then to impose a consequence on not cleaning a room, I think we're missing the point of what needs to be done here. I typically the reason why you're having this conflict, is because there's not a good structure, a good routine in place to help support that kid to be successful. So, if the kid isn't cleaning the room, I would propose that first, we need to go back and model it and then two, consistently expect it, encourage and support them doing that, so then they start to feel how good it feels to have a clean room and it's not like “oh, mom and dad think I’m being a bad kid cause my room's dirty, now they're gonna-- Now I need to clean my room to prove to them I’m a great kid”, right? Instead of like “oh no, this is just a skill that it's a habit that needs to be learned”, right? And so, we'll consistently come along to support you and eventually, I believe we can get there and then the kid can start doing that.

[Sara]: We have to remember we're always wiring our kids brains, right? They're always watching us, they learn a lot by watching us and so, where we've come along and wired their brain really well in one area with a routine, we haven't built that wiring in here. So, of course it doesn't go well, so we build in the routine, we do all the things you just said, so that we can build that wiring. Once the brain is wired really well, it just kind of clicks along.

[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah, almost without thinking, it's almost like muscle memory, you know? Almost like-- That is a great like, when once you build in like, if people who are into athletics or sports, once you start practicing a certain way of throwing the ball or throwing the frisbee or kicking the ball, eventually it becomes muscle memory and you don't really have to think about it, you just naturally kick the ball that way or do it that way, you know? I remember once I got cleaner, it was kind of a thing I had to learn in college, but I began to feel I liked being clean and then after a while, it would be harder to be dirty or I remember getting in the routine of brushing my teeth at night and then I said “now if I go to bed at night without brushing my teeth, it feels gross, it doesn't feel right”, yeah? So, that's kind of what we're talking about, is helping the kid get into that, where it's not a me making them do something. If I feel like I’m making the kid do something or getting the kid to do something, I think there's a failure of a routine or structure in place, you know? So, that leads me now to, what would you think, Sara, are some of the most important structures or routines you would want in place for the kids?

[Sara]: A morning routine and a nighttime routine. Because that's just real basic self-care and if I sleep until 11 one day and seven another, it just really messes up my brain. My ability to learn and grow as a child are very, you know, sleep obviously is very important for that.

[Kyle]: Yeah, and that's a real big conflict for people, a lot of times, especially teenagers, you know? That there is a shift in the routine and the kid will like, on breaks, stay up to one or two and sleep in and you'll see this whole conflict happen pretty frequently in teenagers homes, where the kid is not into routine or I guess the thought I’m-- When you're thinking is, I think lots of those kids think the bedtime they had when they were younger was a way to control them, you know? And then when they became teenagers, the way they choose to express their independence is by saying “I’m gonna go to sleep whenever I want” and they think that's freedom. When really, you're watching it as a parent “you don't seem free, like you seem like you feel like you have to stay up to somehow be a more grown-up person and then you're exhausted the next day”.

[Sara]: And you suffer and you see-- Yeah.

[Kyle]: Yeah, and [Unintelligible]-- I mean, obviously our kids are 12, 9 and 5 and so, as our as our kids go into those years, I’m interested to see how this routine they bought into at night, where they readily accept and they want to go to sleep at the time that, you know, they go sleep, that continues.

[Sara]: Well, they know how they feel. We do make comments, it's not like they never miss a bedtime, right? So, they know what it feels like to stay up late and that's just part of our process of “oh, stayed up late, I feel kind of tired”. You know, you talk about “we made this choice, what's the consequence of that choice?”. Not that, you know, not in a bad way, just to bring awareness to “if I eat pizza and ice cream for dinner, how do I feel?”.

[Kyle]: Exactly, it might have tasted good, but then I feel kind of gross afterwards, yeah.

[Sara]: We're not going to do that, just to raise their awareness.

[Kyle]: Well, and you want them to choose it, that's what I’m saying. Even if the kid's going to stay up late, the kid chooses that and then accepts the responsibility of those outcomes, you know? The ones that just naturally happen because you've been up so late.

[Sara]: Taking care of our space, cleaning our house, cleaning our rooms, that's what we talk about. How does it feel when the room is messy, when the room is clean, we go-- I, you know, I walk back in and go “how does the room feel? How do you feel?”, you know and I just bring awareness so that reinforces the routine.

[Kyle]: I would add, if I could add a third one. So, tell me if you have more, but you said morning routine, which I think obviously kind of predicts how your day is going to go, like you want to start that well. A nighttime routine which helps that morning routine go well too, you know, but an after school routine, you know? So, for a lot of families the after school routine, I think is crucial and I think is really missing, you know? So, for a lot of kids the after school routine, especially once they get a phone or have a device, its they get picked up at school and they veg out on the device for 30 minutes and feel like it's necessary to like, “somehow I just gotta decompress from the day”, you know?

[Kyle]: And I feel like a lot of parents buy into that routine, instead of it being a reconnection time. Like, I would like the routine for any parent after school to be “I haven't seen you all day! Let's reconnect!”, you know? I want you to download any of those emotions or feelings or whatever, either verbally or through play or through activity or whatever you have, right? To then be able to get those out of your backpack, you know? Like “your backpack's full of emotions from the day, let's try to help unload those”. So, it's been like 30 minutes to an hour, you know, that could be the routine, right?

[Sara]: Yeah, yeah, yeah, and then it's supporting, it's sort of “you've left, how are you going to re-enter the family in the home? How we all?” You know, we all have-- If you think about it, you have a routine coming home from work.

[Sara]: So, how do you do that? Do you want to keep doing it that way? Is there another way to kind of re-entry into the home and--?

[Kyle]: Well, I know a lot of adults come home and get on their phone for a good 30 minutes too, it’s like they--

[Sara]: Yeah, watch tv, turn on the news or sports.

[Kyle]: I remember, Sara, when I switched that routine, I share this story a lot with clients is, I used to come home. If you remember this, I liked to play FIFA, the video game, I loved it because I felt good about it, I didn't feel guilty because it was like a 15 minute game and sometimes, I’d play two games be 30 minutes, but when it was just you and I, was no big deal, but when we started to have kids it was like, this other human wanted my time and I feel like “I’ve been with kids all day, I kind of just want to come home and decompress”, I kind of bought into that and so, I played the game once, maybe I said “hey, Sara, I’m gonna play another one, is that cool? You got Abby?” and you like “yeah, cool”. So, I’d do another, but then we had two kids, it was like now two humans wanted to spend time and I started thinking “man, am I buying into a lie that when I come home I need to disengage from other humans for a bit and that's going to energize me? Do electronics really do that? Do screens and devices really bring me more energy? Or do they just delay something? Do they just help me escape for a moment?”, you know?

[Kyle]: And so, I did an experiment. I encourage any listeners who feel this way to do this. I thought “I’m just actually going to believe the science”. The science says it actually, we’re interpersonal creatures and by me engaging with other humans and my kids, that actually my brain is wired to feel joy, to feel connection, to feel more energy. So, instead of disengaging with the video games, I would get on the ground and play with the kids, and although sometimes it was-- I was tired, I was exhausted, at that time I was working two different jobs and sometimes I didn't want to do that, but I did it, I found almost every time by the time I was done doing that, laughing with them, I did feel more energized and I actually wanted to do things around the house. I wanted to come say “Hey, Sara, can I help you with something? can I--?”. I didn't just want to veg out the rest of the night, you know?

[Kyle]: And so, I would encourage people to try something like that. I just did it for 30 days and after that, pretty much a year later I realized I hadn't even played video games anymore, they were gone and we just got rid of the system and we still don't have a video game system in our house and that's just one of the routines that I have in place. When I come home, I loved it! I loved the routine when the kids would go “Dad! Dad! Dad! Dad!” and they'd run up and give me a hug and I know that's not going to happen forever, but I can do that to them. I can come home and be excited to see them, excited to see you. I can make that a routine and I think that's a healthy one to have.

[Sara]: Yeah, I think if you look-- I think most people know in their heads their routines are great, but it's actually kind of-- I find this interesting, I think it’s kind of fun to look. There are studies done on people who wake up and make their bed and people who make their bed studies, show are more successful and get more done than people who don't make their bed every day and not that you have to make your bed every day, but there is a lot out there that shows these little things, these little habits we build in really trickle through our life and affect a lot of areas and we can set that stage for our children. We can build that for to reduce conflict, to help our relationship, to help them be healthy, you know.

[Kyle]: Help self-control, help increase their cooperation, yeah.

[Sara]: So, we can build that in now and it just has a big payoff.

[Kyle]: Well, and I want to encourage every adult who's listening to this, it's important to model it. Have healthy routines for yourself, you know? And if you feel like routines feel constraining or controlling, I would encourage you to rethink it, that this is what a disciplined life looks like. A person who is self-disciplined has healthy structures and routines in place for their life and then they model it to their kids and it actually is going to help you with emotional regulation, self-control. I mean, there's so many positive things that come-- It's not about controlling you, it's not about you doing things to become a good person.

[Sara]: And they're not with-- We're not speaking of some sort of routine that's held with this rigid anxiety. That's not the intent.

[Kyle]: No

[Sara]: It’s not “We have to do this little thing--!”

[Kyle]: “It’s 8 o clock and we haven’t done the routine! Let’s go! Go! Go!”

[Sara]: Yeah, it is not done that way, it’s done with a freedom and a joy where-- Yeah.

[Kyle]: So, you hit a good point, I was gonna our routine's always good and healthy. I think sometimes they can be negative if they're about anxiety, if I’m doing it to control. So, if there's anxiety based around it, it's probably to control, you know? So, what we're talking about is routines and structures that help you take the freedom you have and be disciplined about how you use it, you know? And then what I like about it, early on we did this when the kids were young, the whole bedtime routine we did that with them, right? So, if you've got little ones, sit down and talk to them about the routine, yeah? Even Dr. Becky Bailey and Dr. Markham would talk about doing it visually, make a picture of the routines, you know? So, our routine that has been in place since they were little, was every night-- You can use ours or use, you know, come up with your own, but ours has always included reading something together, ours is always included brushing the teeth and then, singing a song with them and praying with them. So, those are four things that we always do every night and have put that routine.

[Kyle]: Lately, to be honest with you, we've kind of gotten out of the routine of reading because we just have not a good book at this time. So, there are moments where we're like “yeah, I don't have a good book I want to read right now”. So, we-- But even then we we're like “ah!”, but we want to get back to that, we really like that reading together thing and there's a lot of times there's books that kids want to read, that they want to read with us and we feel the same way. So, doing those kinds of routines for us have really helped. The morning has also been great, I mean, the kids kind of know the routine, there was a time where there was a lot of conflict around that and what we did was we decided with the kids, five important things we wanted done in the morning and they wanted done and they agreed upon those, they came up with those and then, we just encouraged them over a span of 30 days to 60 days to being intentional. Every morning we focused on those five things being done before we did anything else.

[Sara]: And they refer to it as their list and so, really all we have to do is “is your list done?”.

[Sara]: And they just hop to and go get the rest if they haven't done everything. Sometimes they have, if they haven't, they just go get the rest done and there's no big discussion or anything, we just all know what's happening.

[Kyle]: Yes. So, all day what I hope you're hearing us say, if you don't have routines and structures in place, I would encourage you to do, especially for the morning routine and the nighttime routine, those two, but I think for kids that are going to school every day, how they get re-welcomed into the family, how they process those emotions in the end of the day, I would encourage you that I think using a screen after school isn't going to be as helpful. So, I think having some other kind of routine where they get used to like “oh, when I come back home, this is how I--” and if you have teenagers, I would really strongly encourage you talking to them about routines that they have in place and ways in which they could create their own routines. I know even one funny-- One book a guy talked about having a teenager, how he changed his routine as a dad, because he noticed after school his kid wasn't opening up like he used to and so, he would purposely-- He started a new routine for himself where he'd set his alarm at like 11:30 or midnight, when his kid was up and he would wake up and walk into the living room and act like he was getting some water or something like that and he found his kid was just more talkative and so, he just started this whole new routine without his teenager even being aware that he was doing this on purpose, but the point was he was intentional about the choices he was making in regards to setting himself up to have the relationship he wanted to have with his kid.

[Kyle]: So, I would encourage you to just reflect upon the routines that you have in place, because they're there, like Sara said, our brains are designed for this, so whether or not you know you have them, you do have them, you have routines, you have structures that you-- If you're using them to control, move away from that and think of it as discipleship, it's all about disciplining yourself and helping discipline the kids to be self-disciplined, okay?

[Kyle]: So, would love to hear some of the routines you have in place. We just covered three, there's many, many other one people do. Love to hear your nighttime routine, your morning routine, so feel free to send that information to us and we'd love to share that kind of stuff on some further podcast, when we talk about this more in depth, okay? So, thank you for listening, I hope this was helpful. Please share with other families, so they can also be helped with this information and as always, have a great day.

[Sara]: Thanks for listening.

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