Chapter 27 – Routine Expectations

Note to reader:  My hyper son, Charlie, who is featured in my book, is now grown and has a PhD… and three active children of his own.

“So then, who is Tommy?” you might be wondering. Well, you can meet the real Tommy in Chapter One—but maybe you already know a “Tommy.”

Maybe you have a Tommy, or a Tomi. Children like Tommy are everywhere.

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Chapter 27 – Routine Expectations

“Tea will be ready in five minutes,” I announced to no one in particular but everyone in general.

Joy scurried to brush her hair as ten-year-old Charlie rolled out of bed, rubbing his eyes. In five minutes the whole family would be gathered in the family room to start our day with family teatime, a morning together-time—routinely expected.

Each day we read together, then discussed what we learned, and gathered memories. (Ah, teatime memories. You can ask me sometime about the day a pet mouse jumped out of Joy’s hand during our teatime and our whole family had to race to the rescue or the times tea spilled onto laps or books. There’s a tea stain on a book to prove it.)

Routines. Expectations. Less frenzy. Since each day we ate breakfast right after teatime, the children expected to go straight from the family room to the kitchen. After breakfast each child completed a prescribed daily chore. Routinely. They worked on their school lessons at a certain, expected time.

Charlie knew the prescribed place for dirty clothes (in a basket under a basketball hoop… swish and score!) and the designated boxes for his Legos (under the Lego building table). Each Saturday morning, a Pine-Sol scent wafted throughout the house and our vacuum cleaner roared. Our children had already been given a choice as to their preferred chores, and now they were expected to help clean the house together.

And always, bedtime was a given (though the prescribed time advanced with age). Putting on pajamas, brushing teeth, bedtime prayers, and “Goodnight, I love you!”

These and other habitual practices became a gift—both to Charlie and to me. By this time I had read a lot of info about hyperactivity. “Have a clear routine for the child,” advised the US Department of Health and Human Services. Their advice was given to help the child, but in reality it also helped me.

When Charlie knew what to expect, I didn’t have to deal with as many attention deficit issues. (No need to “listen” when you already know.) When customary practices were followed, I didn’t have to deal with the outbursts caused by Charlie hearing unexpected directives. (Fewer surprises equaled fewer reactions.) Having daily and weekly routines calmed Charlie’s behavior, containing the disarray.

“Where do I begin?” you might be asking. When life has been chaotic, everything can seem overwhelming, including the establishment of new customs. You might think the picture I described is impossible for your Tommy. But pause and realize that this snapshot of teatime with Charlie and our family was years down the road. The customs had been established in increments, not all at once.

Making schedules and establishing routines sound like work, right? It is work. But in reality, not having routines also means work. You have to work at getting your children to cooperate. You have to slog through a life lived in disorder. Either way, you will work. So I concluded that the work of teaching my children to follow routines would be beneficial and worth it—helping me now and benefiting my children both now and later.

If you feel overwhelmed right now at the thought of establishing routines, I hear you. But please don’t despair. Routines aren’t your master. They are your servants, so don’t feel enslaved by the thought. Just whenever you feel ready, start one new habit for your family, however small, and later add another. The benefits will build over the years. And by the way, you would be right if you guessed that we didn’t always follow our own routines. Daily, weekly, and monthly fluctuations happened regularly. For sure. Our family was routinely flexible because routines were not the master. They were established to serve the family.

When you are ready to establish new routines, I highly recommend the use of rewards. Don’t just punish your children into a new system. Incentivize. To start a new practice, I always began with the end goal in mind (such as “We need weekly housecleaning”). Then I looked for ways to motivate toward that goal. I looked at it from the child’s point of view and brainstormed incentives (knowing that in the end, I would be rewarded by the routine). Here’s an example of one of our incentives: Most children aren’t intrinsically motivated to clean a house. Yet it’s a skill that will benefit them both now and later. So I used the motivation of letting them choose between necessary jobs. “Would you rather dust the living room or clean the bathroom?” I also motivated them by promising they could read the Saturday comics after chores were all done. Believe it or not, this reward worked for my kids, but you’ll have to find your own motivators—the ideas that work for your gang. There are many methods of motivation, and whole books have been written on great ways to motivate children. You can do it, not perfectly, of course, but enough that your whole family will receive the benefit—including your active one.


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Read additional chapter excerpts:

Look Inside – Intro, Chapter 1, Chapter 2

Chapter 4 – Broken Stuff

Chapter 9 – Every Child Has a Gift

Chapter 13 – Fearing the Worst

Chapter 27 – Routine Expectations

Chapter 33 – Charlie’s Letter to You