I had a friend say the other day, "Why do you talk so much about routines and being consistent?" We had been brainstorming ideas how to help her little one be more successful in preschool. I'm a big advocate of consistency and routine regardless of whether they have a speech and language delay or not. Here are some of my beliefs.
1. Children thrive on predicability. Really who doesn't? My day always run more smoothly when I know what is going to happen that day. When I get to work, and everything has changed, and I have to react, I tend to become grouchy.
2. Routines allow children to focus less or stress less about what is coming next. Consistency allows them to concentrate on learning, playing, building language, or improving their speech.
3. For children working on developing their language skills, routines allow children to hear and or practice vocabulary, concepts, frequently enough that it will help active their goals and help with generalization.
4. Routines, structure, and predictability allow children to test boundaries in safe ways. All children test boundaries; it is a part of growing up and becoming more independent. BUT we want them to be relatively safe when doing so. We want the consequences of their tries to be successful. Meaning that they will have pushed a boundary out and have gained more independence or they will learn that that boundary is firmly in place.
5. Establishing routines, structure, and consistency at a young age helps children as they grow. In school, children need to function in a classroom. They are in a group of many other children with only one or two adults in the room. They need to be able to follow someone else's agenda and not have meltdowns because they are no longer in charge or have rarely heard the word, "No" and do not know how to handle it. In therapy, it means that they have to know that they are are going to follow the directions of the Speech-Language Pathologist and are not going to be upset when you are playing a different game today or worse yet, not playing a game at all.
So what can we do to help children establish routines?
1. It is important to be consistent which can be tough if the routine you are introducing is unpopular. It sometimes helps to have a game plan and write down what the new routines are going to look like and how you are going to react if the child(ren) you are with are not happy with the changes.
2. Use visuals. They really do work, and I'm probably preaching to the choir. Here is a blog post I wrote about why you should use visuals.
3. Keep in mind who and why you are creating the new routine. Especially a the beginning try to use activities, games, rewards (if you use them) that the children enjoy. They will be willing to participate if it is fun, or they are getting something out of it.
Establishing routines can be hard, but the effort is well worth it and will help everyone function better in the classroom, therapy room or home much better.