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Children thrive in structured environments

January 6, 2019

Most readers are beginning to recover from the beautiful chaos that we self-inflict during the holidays. We are generally happy to return to our day-to-day schedule after this significant departure from our daily routine.

No one breathes a sigh of relief for a structured schedule more than children. Children thrive in structured environments.

An important part of creating a structured environment is to establish and maintain healthy, family routines. Children do best when routines are regular, predictable and consistent.

The Count 5! Public Awareness Campaign promoted by Florence One Schools and The School Foundation focuses on five Golden Keys: Sleep, Movement, Nutrition, Routine and Love. While “Routine” stands alone as an important part of child development, it also encompasses all of the other Golden Keys in that they all should be included on a consistent, daily basis.

Mornings are sometimes the most hectic time of the day, so morning stress can be minimized by as much preparation the night before. Breakfast should always be a part of the routine. Being cheerful and positive is an important part of starting the day from the time children wake up until saying goodbye for the day.

After school might include time for physical exercise with screen time (TV, tablets, phones, etc…) minimized.

Family dinners are an important routine to develop. Eating at least three family meals together during the week is associated with healthier kids. Healthy eating habits are more likely to occur, with a 20 percent decrease in unhealthy food choices. There is a 12 percent lower likelihood of children being overweight. Children and adolescents have a 35 percent reduction in eating disorders.

Family dinners are a great time to not only monitor what children eat or drink but to also spend time together, without the distraction of TVs or smartphones, to talk about the day and improve social-emotional health (the ability to understand emotions, express empathy, demonstrate self-regulation and form positive relationships with others).

Nighttime should include a ritual that promotes a regular bedtime and consistent routine. For younger children, this might include the American Academy of Pediatrics program “Brush, Book, Bed.” This gives parents the simple and clear message of each night: 1) Helping your children brush their teeth; 2) reading a favorite book (or more!); and 3) getting to bed at the same time.

For older children and adolescents, it might include important aspects of good sleep hygiene such as: 1) Making the bedroom a place where sleep is the priority by removing the TV, not studying on the bed and turning off all electronics 30 minutes to one hour before bedtime; 2) Avoiding exercise immediately before bedtime; and 3) try to eat no less than two to three hours before going to bed.

While routine is an extremely important part of child development, it might look very different from one family to the next. Flexibility within the constructs of a structured schedule is also important to avoid rigidity and promote adaptability.

The goal should be to establish a routine that works for your family and children and then to adhere to it. Families can work together to create a routine that fosters a healthier lifestyle, with parents as the role models.

Dr. Michael K. Foxworth II is a pediatrician at HopeHealth Pediatrics.

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