Maintaining a Sense of Routine in the Holidays

Image: Loren Stow

The holidays are a time when we have all the time in the world (for a week or two) to spend with our families. Sometimes we go on holiday, other times we stay at home, and other times we invite family to stay with us… Holidays are treasured by most as an opportunity to recharge, enjoy their family and have fun experiences.
Whatever your plans this holiday, it is a given is that your normal routine will most likely be affected in some way. Children are home from school and creche, carers and nanny’s are also away on their own vacations, there may be day-trips, weeks away, and a whole lot of busy-ness…

Just how important are routines and can you ensure that they are nurtured? 

For young children, routines are incredibly important. They create feelings of safety and being grounded in an ever-changing world (even more relevant when holidays roll around and their day-to-day life changes completely for a few weeks). In addition, young children actually look forward to their routines and enjoy them immensely.

So, how can you ensure that your children don’t feel lost or insecure at a time when routines may be difficult or just plain impossible to follow?

The good news is that routines are not as ‘time-based’ or ‘location-based’ as parents think – as adults we usually relate the word ‘routine’ to a time-table and a certain place. While being three hours late for lunch or expecting our children to eat their lunch in the car would be a bit of push… doing lunch 30 minutes early or late, at a Wimpy en route to your holiday at the sea doesn’t have to stray too far from the routine at all… 

You see, this is because children do not see routine as a time-table. They see routine as the sequence of activities before, during and after an event. If you wash hands and say grace before every meal, talk about your favourite part of the day during the meal, and then wait for everyone to be finished with the meal before you clear the table, then this is the sequence of events that need to be applied at closely as possible no matter where you are.

The idea is that simply because you are in another location, or you’re not perfectly ‘on-time’, does not mean that you cannot still apply the sequence of events that creates a sense of routine for your child.

Another example is if you usually read the same bedtime story every night and then blow out a candle just before saying good night – when you pack for a holiday away remember to take the book and candle with you, so that you can continue with the routine no matter where you are and even if your little one stays up a little past bedtime.

If you have overnight guests or are entertaining, you may need to shorten the individual steps (read one book instead of three at bedtime). You can also involve other family members, like grandparents, who are willing to help and want to deepen their relationship with your little one. Give them what they need and a little run-down of what needs to be done. You never know, your little one might be thrilled by this! The important thing is to stick to the basic routine.

So, in order to ensure that you keep your little one’s routines going strong, take the time to look at their day and note the special sequences around events such as waking time, eating time, play time, bath time and bedtime.  What is the pattern that you follow and are there any special props (such as a special towel, a bowl and spoon, a candle or book)? Make sure you make space for these things in your child’s day, no matter where you are and what you’re doing.

On the topic of routines, we thought we would share some special routine ideas that we’ve come across, that perhaps you apply in your little one’s life…

A Practica Parent shared how he sends his little one off to dreamland every night, simply using a plastic glass with a glitter detail. He switches off the light and puts a torch under the glass, illuminating all the wonderful glitter. His daughter takes a sip of the ‘magic water’ just before going to sleep to help her off to wonderland…

Early Morning
Why not have a ‘rise and shine’ song that you sing with your little one just before getting out of bed. This song signals the start of a wonderful new day.  “Hi ho, hi ho, its off to work we go…”

Cleaning Up
Using the magic of song again, why not sing while you pack away toys? “This is the way we pack our toys, pack our toys, pack our toys… this is the way we pack our toys, every single night…”

Welcome Home
When transitioning from a day out back to being at home, why not have a routine where everyone gets a drink and sits down to relax and unwind for five minutes before getting busy with the next thing on the list?

Meal Time
Setting the table (whether alone or just assisting) is a great way to incorporate routine in mealtimes. Another routine, as mentioned above, is washing hands, saying grace and sharing stories during meal time.

It’s sometimes difficult for children to know how long to brush their teeth for, so you could use an egg timer or even sing a song, and your children know to brush their teeth for this whole time before rinsing. At bath time, my children choose which toys they want to play with in the bath – they have a basket filled with toys and throw their favourites in the running water with much ‘hoopla’ and joy!

Leaving Routine
It’s often difficult for little ones to transition between activities, like shopping, visiting a friend, being on the beach or watching television. It helps immensely to have a routine where you ask your child to say goodbye and wave. In this way they understand that they are finishing with one thing and moving to the next.

Holiday Routine
Lizette describes how, as a preschooler, on family holidays to the beach, her father would always rinse her feet of all the sand under the tap and then carry her back to their cottage – to this day she remembers how that felt and that she looked forward to that little routine almost as much as playing in the sand and sea. Why not create a little everyday routine that is especially for your holiday?

Back to School
For older children, it may help them to feel excited about returning to school if you try to remember all their classmate’s names and think of one positive sentence about each one. This shows that you care about their world at school and that they have something to look forward to after every holiday.

We hope that your family’s holiday is safe and filled with love and that you find a way to maintain (or even introduce new) routines in your little one’s life. These routines cannot be underestimated for their value in creating security, fostering excitement and building long-lasting memories.

Words: Loren Stow
when we know better… we do better

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