How to help your child establish a routine

By Youth Villages on 14th Oct 2022

If you’re a parent, especially of young children, you know that teaching them how to keep on a morning routine can oftentimes be challenging. There’s getting dressed, brushing teeth and hair, eating breakfast, gathering school materials, packing a lunch, just to name a few.

We use the term ‘executive functions’ to describe these routine patterns that, as adults, we have been doing for decades. Executive functions refer to the skills that help us focus, plan, work toward goals, regulate behaviors and emotions, and adapt to new and unexpected situations, like a disruption to a morning routine. When things are stressful, like you overslept or the dog got sick, it’s easy to leave lunch on the counter or forget to grab your work computer on the way out in the morning. One inconvenience can throw off your morning, but you can usually right your day. Kids, however, are still learning how to accept and work through these disruptions to their routine.

Children who have experienced abuse, trauma or neglect oftentimes struggle with executive functioning. Maybe there was no routine in their house, or the parent would lash out at the kids when something went wrong in tense times. At Youth Villages, our mission is to help children and families live successfully and we use different therapies to help identify barriers or triggers that can cause disruptions to a child’s daily routine. The common issues listed below can affect your child’s ability to do executive functioning.

  • Sensory processing differences
  • Gross motor coordination delays
  • Decreased endurance and strength
  • Decreased skill development
  • Improving body awareness
  • Know where her body is so she can feel confident to engage in play
  • Participation and comfort in age-appropriate daily activities
  • Graded force: knowing how hard to push or pull something
  • Fine motor skills such as handwriting, holding, or cutting
  • Social skills
  • Attention to task
  • How to tolerate frustration

If your child has any of these issues, don’t worry, these can be treated with occupational therapy to help kids achieve daily tasks. This can start as early as potty training. Teaching a toddler to listen to their bodies, react and then do something about it can be a daunting sequence. Maybe you set up a reward chart, post reminders around the house, or even set timers in the early days of potty training to get your child to the bathroom. These subtle cues can act as to-do lists for you and your kids, reminding you of what needs to happen before leaving for school, going to beds, etc.

If your child, or kids around you, are struggling with what you think are basic executive functions and daily activities, dig deeper. Ask them if they can associate a fear or concern with said tasks. They may not be able to, and that’s okay. You can ask a teacher, school counselor, or pediatrician for age-appropriate milestones and to help you identify potential issues your kid is having. From there, work to develop a treatment plan with the educators or doctors. Hopefully, this will lead you to occupational therapy or finding a treatment that works for your family.

For more information, visit the Child Mind Institute on how to help kids struggling.

Youth Villages is one of the largest providers of services to children in Tennessee and a national leader in children’s mental and behavioral health. The organization has been recognized by the Harvard Business School and U.S. News & World Report and was identified by The White House as one of the nation’s most promising results-oriented nonprofit organizations. Learn more at
Crisis services are available 24/7 if your child needs support. Call 855-CRISIS-1 or text CONNECT to 741741. If you have thoughts of suicide, contact 988 to be connected to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

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