Now Is the Right Time!
As a parent, you play an essential role in your child’s/teen’s success. There are intentional ways to grow a healthy parent-child/teen relationship, and daily routines provide a perfect opportunity. Routines not only help your family move through the day smoothly and on time, they can have a significant impact on your child’s/teen’s success.
Children/Teens ages 11-14 are either in the process of establishing critical habits or are perpetuating habits they’ve already established, whether it’s getting ready for school, completing their homework, or going to bed at night, that will extend throughout their lifetime. Though 11-14-year-olds may desire more independence and flexibility with their daily routines, the structure and predictability in the morning, after school, at dinnertime, and at bedtime can promote healthy habits and offer a foundation of stability during the many changes they are undergoing.
Yet, we all face challenges in establishing routines. “Seriously Mom, a bedtime? Why can’t I just to go to bed when I want like everybody else?”might be a phrase you’ve heard uttered. Whether it’s going to bed at night or getting ready for school in the morning, our children/teens may engage us in power struggles when they have other goals in mind. Using the steps below can help navigate this struggle with skill.
The key to many parenting challenges, like establishing routines, is finding ways to communicate so that both your needs and your child’s/teen’s needs are met. The steps below include specific, practical strategies along with effective conversation starters to prepare you.
Whether it’s engaging in a battle with your eleven-year-old over completing homework or your fourteen-year-old struggling to get out the door on time in the morning, establishing regular routines can help your family get through the day cooperatively while building vital skills in your children/teens.
Today, in the short term, routines can create:
- greater cooperation as we go about our daily tasks;
- greater opportunities for connection and enjoyment as we each implement our respective roles and feel set up for success;
- trust in each other that we have the competence to complete our responsibilities with practice and care; and
- added daily peace of mind.
Tomorrow, in the long term, your child/teen:
- builds skills in collaboration and cooperative goal setting;
- builds skills in responsible decision making, hard work, and persistence;
- develops independence, life skills competence, and self-sufficiency; and
- deepens family trust and intimacy.
Five Steps for Establishing Routines
This five-step process helps you and your child/teen establish routines. It also builds important skills in your child/teen. The same process can be used to address other parenting issues as well (learn more about the process).
These steps are best done when you and your child/teen are not tired or in a rush.
Step 1. Get Your Child/Teen Thinking by Getting Their Input
You can get your child/teen thinking about establishing routines by asking them open-ended questions. You’ll help prompt their thinking. You’ll also begin to better understand their thoughts, feelings, and challenges related to your daily routines so that you can address them. In gaining input, your child/teen:
- has the opportunity to think through the routine and problem solve through any challenges they may encounter ahead of time.
- has a greater stake in anything they’ve designed themselves (and with that sense of ownership also comes a greater responsibility for implementing the routine);
- has more motivation to work together and cooperate because of their sense of ownership;
- will be working in collaboration with you on making informed decisions (understanding the reasons behind those decisions) about critical aspects of their day; and
- will grow problem-solving skills.
- Ask questions to invite your child/teen into a dialogue with you. You might just start by asking:
- “What do you think is helpful about having routines?”
- “How does having routines make the day go smoother?”
- “What works for you to remember everything you have to do? Making lists on a whiteboard? Setting alarms? Writing reminders on your mirror?”
- “What do you usually do to get ready for bed?”
Did you know that doctors and medical professionals use checklists as the easiest, best way to keep track of daily processes they have to go through to serve patients?1 11-14-year-olds will appreciate the ability to maintain their own checklist and may enjoy picking out a whiteboard or chalkboard to use for that purpose.
Because children/teens are asserting their independence, you may want to work alongside them creating your own adult morning checklist. You can model the skills while also empowering them to design their own.
Be sure you create your plan at a calm time. Don’t create your plan when you are either in the routine itself, are hungry or tired, or have time pressures.
- Discuss challenges. As you talk about the progression of your morning routine, talk about times that are typically challenging. For example, your child/teen may go back to sleep when the alarm goes off in the morning – pressing the snooze button a few times – requiring you to eventually wake them up.
- Ask, “Seems like getting up on time is challenging. How can we address that to make getting up easier so that you can do it independently?”
- Brainstorm ideas to solve the problem. “Are you getting enough sleep at night? Do you need a different ring on your alarm?”
According to the National Sleep Foundation, 11-13-year-olds require between 9-11 hours of sleep per night, and 14-year-olds require between 8-10 hours per night.2
To avoid a bedtime battle, take a weekend and agree upon a reasonable bedtime to test needed sleep. Make sure it’s not a particularly stressful day for your child/teen since sleep can be altered by stress. Allow your child/teen to wake up naturally. Then, count the hours. How long did they sleep? That’s likely the exact amount of hours they require each night.
- Write your plan. Make sure your child/teen is the one who is writing down the plan or checklist. It doesn’t have to be perfect!. Go for simple. Post your plan in a visible location. Refer to it as a reminder during the morning routine: “What’s next on our plan?”
Step 2. Teach New Skills by Interactive Modeling
As parents, it’s easy to forget that children/teens are learning to perform everyday, typical tasks with greater independence each year of their lives. Learning about developmental milestones can help a parent know which tasks might be more difficult. Here are some examples:
- Eleven-year-olds can have higher energy and require more movement (i.e. vacuuming the carpet and mowing the lawn can align well). They prefer to learn new skills versus refine known/previous skills (so you might think about new skills they could learn that might motivate them).
- Twelve-year-olds also have high energy and are better able to organize their own work. They will initiate their own activities without an adult prompting them. Discuss a plan with a schedule and let your child/teen implement the plan without reminders but be sure and recognize them when they accomplish a task!
- Thirteen-year-olds like to be left alone when at home, therefore think about tasks they can accomplish alone maybe while wearing earphones to listen to music. They want to serve others and are interested in justice issues; these motivations can be built upon since these fundamental values begin at home.
- Fourteen-year-olds crave being with parents while needing their own independence and identity; so think about family chores that can be accomplished as a team with a plan but be sure and give the teen their own independent tasks for which to be responsible. They are invested in larger world justice issues so you might make the connection between service at home and being able to serve in the greater world. This is the age that if teens don’t have a strong sense of belonging with family and friends, they can move toward more high-risk behaviors such as drugs and alcohol. Finding ways to make loving connections and care for your home and family life together is a critical prevention strategy!
- Fifteen-year-olds show an increase in demonstrating independence while also respecting rules. You can make the connection between greater privileges and their ability to show responsibility. They will have greater self-control than younger teens.
- Sixteen-year-olds may fight chores, routines, and contributing to your household with more vigor as they grow in their confidence and identity and feel they should have the freedom to do more on their own without the ties to your household. They desire risk taking. Part-time jobs and getting a driver’s license can become healthy ways to fulfill that need.
- Seventeen-year-olds have completed puberty, and thus are fully inhabiting their adult bodies, yet their adult brains have not fully formed. These young adults are beginning to envision their future outside of your home. Some may be terrified while others will embrace and be excited by the future possibilities. They are more independent still and are taking less risks as they view their uncertain adult future.
- Eighteen-year-olds will be more comfortable with adult responsibilities and returning to you for advice again. They don’t feel they need to fight for their independence anymore since they are on the threshold of the adult world. They may fear their future and be also relish in the possibilities.
- Nineteen-year-olds can be living on their own, so if they are not yet, think about them as an independent emerging adult under your roof. They can and should be making their own decisions about their daily and bigger choices like who to befriend or with who become romantic. They may seek your advice and guidance knowing that, ultimately, they now have the right to choose for themselves.
Teaching is different than just telling. Teaching builds basic skills, grows problem-solving abilities, and sets your child/teen up for success. Teaching also involves modeling and practicing the positive behaviors you want to see, promoting skills, and preventing problems. This is also an opportunity to establish meaningful, logical consequences for when expectations are not met.
- Though children/teens would often like to appear fully capable and independent, they are still learning the tasks of family life. Consider: “If my child/teen left our house and lived away from us today, would they know how to do a load of laundry, how to pay for utilities and rent, and prepare three healthy meals a day?”Thinking about what tasks they’ll need to be able to do when they are on their own can offer you guidance on areas to step up their responsibilities. When you’ve identified those areas, you’ll need to teach them to do those new tasks.
- Teach your child/teen how to perform the routine. Particularly if there are new responsibilities or challenges, be sure that you’ve tried those steps out together first.
- There is a simple process called interactive modeling that teachers use that can become a powerful teaching tool for parents.3
- Say what you will model and why.
- Model the behavior.
- Ask your child/teen what they noticed.
- Invite your child/teen to model.
- Ask what they noticed with their own modeling.
- Practice together.
- Provide specific feedback starting with strengths using “I notice…”
- There is a simple process called interactive modeling that teachers use that can become a powerful teaching tool for parents.3
Your 11-14-year-old is more interested in what’s happening in the outside world and making connections so use this motivator! Experiment with having your child/teen wait on your family table. Play it out by having them set the table, take drink orders, and serve. Or, if your child/teen is more interested in meal preparation, have them select the menu, shop for it, and actively work together on cooking and preparing it.
Step 3. Practice to Grow Skills, Confidence, and Develop Habits
Your daily routines can be opportunities for your child/teen to practice new skills if you seize those chances. With practice, they will improve over time as you give them the chance with support. Practice grows vital new brain connections that strengthen (and eventually form habits) each time your child/teen performs the routine.
Practice also provides important opportunities to grow self-efficacy – a child’s/teen’s sense that they can do a task successfully. This leads to confidence. It will also help them understand that mistakes and failures are part of learning.
- Use “I’d love to see…” statements. When a child/teen learns a new ability, they are eager to show it off! Give them that chance. Say: “I’d love to see you get completely organized and packed up for your school trip. Once you’re done, you can lead me through what you have done.” This can be used when you are in the routine and need to move on a next step.
- Recognize effort. Frequently, we offer feedback on what our children/teens are not doing right, but how often do we recognize when they are working on their behaviors? Recognize effort by saying “I notice…” statements like “I notice how you modified your checklist to make things flow more easily – that’s taking responsibility!”
- Proactively remind. Remind in a gentle, non-public way. You may whisper in your child’s/teen’s ear, “Remember your checklist? You’ve got it!”
The best way to turnaround a misbehavior is by recognizing when and how your child/teen is making good choices or acts positively in similar circumstances. They need to learn what to do as well as what not to do.
Don’t move on or nag. Children/Teens often need more time to perform a task sometimes because it’s physically challenging but also, and most especially, because it can be mentally or emotionally challenging (the task, their current developmental needs, and stressors they might be dealing with in their heads). Even if we believe the task is simple and doesn’t require much time, be sure to wait long enough for them to show you they are competent. Offer a whole day to complete the task and don’t focus on a time of day to complete it if possible. Your waiting could make all the difference in whether they are able to do what you need them to do.
Step 4. Support Your Child’s/Teen’s Development and Success
At this point, you’ve taught your child/teen a new or challenging task, and you are allowing them to practice it so they can learn how to do new tasks well and independently. Now, you can offer support when it’s needed by reteaching, monitoring, coaching, and, when appropriate, applying logical consequences. Parents naturally offer support as they see their child/teen fumble with a situation in which they need help. This is no different. But, the challenge of this age range is that they may initiate a fight if they feel you view them as not fully competent. Be sure you are empowering them to fully implement a task. Be there if they need you but only if they ask for your support.
- Ask key questions:
- “Are you all set with what you need to get your project together?”
- “Do you need any help finishing up so that we can move toward our agreed bedtime?”
- Reflect on outcomes: “Seems like you got to bed later than we hoped last night. What did you notice about how it impacted your mood or attention in class?”
- Apply logical consequences when needed. Logical consequences should come soon after the negative behavior and need to be provided in a way that maintains a healthy relationship. Rather than punishment, a consequence is about supporting the learning process. First, get your own emotions in check. Not only is this good modeling, when your emotions are in check you are able to provide logical consequences that fit the behavior. Second, invite your child/teen into a discussion about the expectations established in Step 2 for the routine. Third, if you feel that your child/teen is not holding up their end of the bargain (unless it is a matter of them not knowing how), then apply a logical consequence as a teachable moment.
- Stay engaged. Working together on particularly challenging times of the routine can help offer additional support and motivation for your child/teen when tough issues arise. Be sure to pose the challenge as a question and allow them to offer solutions.
- Engage in further practice. Create more opportunities to practice when the family has time together.
Logical consequences should not be used as a threat to get your child/teen to complete their routines. Threats harm the relationship with your child/teen and decrease their decision-making skills.
Step 5. Recognize Effort and Quality to Foster Motivation
Though adults tend to forget, our attention is still our child’s/teen’s sweetest reward. They want and need our recognition of their competence in order for them to feel competent.
It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness and business of getting tasks accomplished like getting to work and school on time in the morning. But, if your child/teen is working hard to get to school on time in any small ways, it will be worth your while to call it out. After all, your recognition can go a long way to promoting more of the same positive behaviors and expanding their sense of responsibility. Add to their motivation to work hard with the following actions.
- Notice! It may seem obvious but it’s easy not to notice when all is moving along smoothly. When children/teens are buzzing through their homework tasks and on time, a short, specific call out is all that’s needed. “I notice you completed your homework today on your own in the time we agreed upon. Yes! Excellent.”
Be specific. “Good job” seems to not carry much meaning. However, a specific compliment about a pointed behavior – “You finished what you had on your list before moving on to playing your game – love seeing that!” – can promote more of the same.
If you focus only on outcomes – “You got out of the door on time” – you miss the chance to influence the process. Better to say – “You were able to complete your homework, pack up for school, and come downstairs right on time.”
This age group is trying to define their identity as an independent person. Comments that point out how they are acting in ways that are self-sufficient will help them see how contributing to your daily family life can also help them achieve their personal goals.
- Recognize small steps along the way. Don’t wait for the big accomplishments – like the full morning routine to go smoothly – in order to recognize. Remember that your recognition is a tool to promote positive behaviors. They need to happen along the way. Find small ways your child/teen is making an effort and let them know you see them.
- Build celebrations into your routine. For example, “Let me know as soon as you are done with homework and chores. I would love to then play that game together you’ve been asking about.” Or in the morning, for example, “As soon as we all get ready and come downstairs, we can have some hot cocoa together before leaving for school.”
Avoid gifts or other physical rewards for performance. These actually have a de-motivating effect on children/teens. When you remove the money or extra screen time, for example, have they internalized the skills and also the sense of responsibility for performing them? There’s less of a chance if you’ve offered a “bribe.” Focus on your attention as the best reward. This is an essential strategy in discipline for skill building.
Family celebrations are different than “bribes” for good behavior. With the bribe, you bait ahead of time in order to get a child/teen to behave a certain way. But, celebrations instead can be decided upon and occur after hard work has taken place. If you are working hard to hold a garage sale with all family members contributing, then celebrate with a trip to the local ice cream shop. These kinds of celebrations recognize cooperation, work ethic, and contribution in a connecting way.
Avoid screens one full hour before bedtime (that includes phones). The bright light of the screen fools our eyes and brain into thinking it’s daytime and fuels our body that way. It can delay our ability to go to sleep and get a solid night’s rest. Educate your child/teen on this fact so that you aren’t viewed as setting an unreasonable rule but are only following through on what’s known about sleep and screens.4
Engaging in these fives steps is an investment that builds your skills as an effective parent to use on many other issues and builds important skills that will last a lifetime for your child/teen. Throughout this tool, there are opportunities for children/teens to become more self-aware, to deepen their social awareness, to exercise their self-management skills, to work on their relationship skills, and to demonstrate and practice responsible decision making.
Center for Health and Safety Culture. (2019). Routines. Ages 11-19. Retrieved from https://www.ParentingMontana.org.