Most of us have an idea in our mind of what we want evenings at home to look like—home-cooked dinners, stimulating conversations, and cozy bedtime stories. The reality doesn’t always match the ideal, though. Parents and children are often tired and hungry when they first get home. Parents feel pressure to get dinner ready or check email. Children vie for their parents’ attention. And then there’s bedtime, which is often more chaotic than cozy.
Why is Routine Important for Children?
Whether you’re naturally organized or a free spirit, a regular routine can help tame the chaos, creating a more peaceful atmosphere in your home. The best evening routines are simple and flexible, yet offer some consistency. Each family’s routine will be slightly different, but should focus on meeting three basic needs:
- Social needs: attention and connection
- Physical needs: food, cleanliness, and sleep
- Emotional needs: stress release and well-being
Developing a flexible — yet predictable — routine creates a framework for meeting these needs automatically, even when life gets busy. The ideas below aren’t meant to be all-inclusive, but can serve as a starting point to help you develop and tweak a nighttime routine that works for your family.
Evening Routines to Try
Banish the 5 o’clock blues. For most families, the first hour after arriving home is the hardest. Establish an after-school routine to smooth the transition. Create a space for backpacks, papers, keys, and laptops and put these items where they belong as you walk in the door. Turn on some peaceful music. Put out a light snack, such as crackers, cheese, or sliced apples. Talk with your children about their day as you share the snack. Once their immediate needs have been addressed, children are ready to move on to evening activities. Need to check in with work? Talk as a family about carving out some time during the evening for this so that it’s intentional and doesn’t consume your entire night.
Establish family dinners. Whether you love to or you’d rather order in, family dinner is as much about the company as it is about the food. Try to eat together at the table at least a few nights each week. Enlist your partner and children in helping prepare the meal and cleaning the kitchen. Even young children can wash vegetables, spin a salad, or put bowls on the table. Keep a few frozen meals, prepped vegetables, or bagged salads on hand for busy evenings.
Set aside time for a ten-minute tidy. It might be tempting to leave the dishes in the sink and the house in disarray, but you’ll have a more peaceful morning if you tackle chores before you go to bed. Many families do a “ten-minute tidy” after dinner or bedtime. Pick up toys, pack backpacks, clean the kitchen, and prep dinner for the next evening.
Unwind. Home can be a sanctuary for both children and adults after a busy day. Try building time to unwind into your evenings. This might include going for a walk, reading together, or playing a game. Warm baths and bedtime stories are a traditional part of the night routines of many families. Try to turn off all screens at least an hour before bedtime as screens suppress melatonin production, which is essential for healthy sleep.
Most families have times and seasons that are busier than others. During these times, some of your routines might need to change or be simplified. Remember, how we meet basic family needs is less important than that we meet them. It’s okay to ditch traditions that no longer work in favor of something that might be even better.