Establishing a great night routine for your family

Published on Wednesday, 25 September 2019
Last updated on Tuesday, 31 December 2019

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We often think of a night routine as involving tooth-brushing, book-reading, and lights out, however, a good routine can start from the moment your family gets home from work, school, or child care.

Children thrive on predictability and a regular evening routine brings many benefits. For starters, routines build relationships and bolster children's sense of belonging and safety in the family unit.

Routines teach youngsters new skills and responsibilities, like setting the dinner table, and promotes healthy habits, such as tooth-brushing and hand-washing. Calm and consistent night routines can reduce stress, which in turn, benefits children's immune systems, and when it comes to bedtime, routines teach children's bodies good sleep habits so they can rest and rejuvenate overnight, ready to embrace the next day's challenges and opportunities.

That said, it's not just children who benefit from consistency. By introducing a simple yet flexible evening routine, the whole family has a chance to connect, share, and enjoy a peaceful home atmosphere.

Adding some structure allows you to balance relaxation with those 'must-do' tasks, and to help everyone get into a rewarding night routine, here are some pointers from Bright Horizons.

What should you focus on when establishing a good evening routine?

Although every family is different, it's recommended that you focus on meeting these three basic needs when establishing your night routine:

  1. Your family's social needs - attention and connection
  2. Physical needs - food, cleanliness and sleep
  3. Emotional needs - stress release and wellbeing

How you meet these needs is seen as less important than making sure you do meet them, and the experts say that, 'Developing a flexible – yet predictable – routine creates a framework for meeting these needs automatically, even when life gets busy.'

What are some practical ways to develop a good night routine?

You'll find out what works for you and the kids, but as a starting point, here are four ways to get into a good routine at home:

  1. 'Banish the 5 o'clock blues'
    Bright Horizons recognises that for many families, that first hour after arriving home is the toughest. Children are hungry, belongings are everywhere and many parents have raced from work straight into domestic pressures.

    To replace chaos with calm, it's recommended that you smooth the transition by establishing a good after-school routine. This means:
    • Creating a space where belongings can be stored as soon as they're brought home
    • Turning on some peaceful music
    • Serving a light snack and asking your child about their day to meet their immediate needs by easing their home-time hunger pangs
    • Setting aside some intentional time during the evening to finish any work rather than sitting at your computer all night
  2. Place a focus on family dinners
    It's recommended that you eat together as a family at least three nights a week and get everyone involved in preparing and sharing the food, then cleaning up afterwards.

    This can mean taking turns with your partner to cook, asking your child to wash vegetables and enjoying the meal together, whether it's freshly made, from the freezer, or arrives home-delivered.
  3. Do a nightly tidy up
    It's been said that a clean house equals a clean mind, and there's truth in this. Instead of leaving dirty dishes as a morning job and leaving toys out forever, set aside 10 minutes to tidy up each night. You'll sleep well knowing that you have a clean slate to wake up to, and this is an opportunity to teach your child good habits.
  4. Relax
    As well as getting all the important jobs done, it's also important to set aside time to unwind in the evening. You could all go for a walk together, play a board game or watch a family show; and as the bedtime routine starts, your child can sink into a warm bath and bedtime story.

    Although TV and tablets are a common way to relax, do keep in mind that preschoolers should have less than one hour of screen time a day and school children should watch no more than two hours a day. Watching a screen can affect children's sleep, so make sure their screen is turned off at least an hour before lights out.

At the end of the day, these tips are a great way to get a good routine going, but do what works for your family. There will be times when you're away from home, have guests visiting or realise that the current routine isn't really working.

Instead of forcing things, focus on meeting your family's social, physical and emotional needs, and how you do this is up to you.

Additional references

The Raising Children Network
The University of British Columbia
Australian Government Department of Health
New Zealand Government Beehive
New Zealand Ministry of Health

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