Playful Routines

UPMC Children’s Hospital’s Family Care Connection family supports centers work with families of young children often discussing routines as a key factor in preventative health and stress management for the whole family.

Routines have the power to create healthy balance within our personal lives and within our families.  However, sometimes routines can become stale. Given the importance of routines, shouldn’t they be engaging, inspiring and playful instead?  Here are some ideas to add excitement and thoughtful variation to routines.

Sleep- A bedtime routine can have a positive effect on both children and adults. Research shows that going to bed at the same time and having a consistent pre-sleep routine can improve the quality of sleep. How, you might ask, can bedtime be fun and relaxing?

For adults, perhaps indulge in some calming self-care.  Try fragrant herbal tea, light hobby reading or diffusing lavender and chamomile (considered calming scents) into the air as you simply take time to breathe. Sing or listen to certain quiet songs or playlists before bed.  Keep a bedtime journal to download your final thoughts of the day so your mind can rest easier.

Kids can benefit from downloading too, they may just need to do so verbally. Talking about their day, emphasizing what they are grateful for, and sharing hopes for tomorrow could be great way to connect and encourage others in your home to simmer down before bed too. A special bedtime book (this may be the same book every night) can encourage smoother bedtime transition.  

Healthy practices usually exclude screens around bedtime, but if you find that screens are a necessary part of your routine, use the blue light filter function, or turn down the brightness. Ensure any nighttime viewing is not overly engaging or activating, in fact it could be helpful if its slightly uninteresting (e.g. reruns).

Hygiene- Practice mindfulness as you shower, brush your teeth and prepare for busy days or restful nights. Focusing on the simple nature of what you are doing, in the present moment, can provide a much-needed break for your mind. Play music that you love, or explore some that you’ve never heard. Consider adding essential oils and aromatherapy to your routine to provide a variety of different scents without artificial fragrances.

Helping children to count how long they brush their teeth or wash their hands can keep their minds active during these repetitive tasks (2 minutes for brushing teeth and a full 20 seconds for washing hands!). Adding music and toys to bath time can make this mundane task more enjoyable. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to talk and bond at these times!

Nutrition- Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks. Sometimes it can be exhausting to figure out what to eat and feed our families multiple times each day. Amidst the buzz of daily life, take time to make getting and preparing food fun!   Listen to music, sing songs or dance while you drive, ride or cook. Create or search for new recipes to try with some of your favorite foods. Have children help you pick out certain items at the store or food bank. Ask them to help pick foods by color or food group, or maybe just according to what they can reach. Use party plates and decorate according to a theme for a regular weeknight dinner. While you eat, talk about the many colors, smells, flavors and textures of your food.

Even clean up can be fun. Challenge your kids to keep the floor crumb-free by using a small handheld vacuum or dust pan with short-handled broom.  Exhausted and out of ideas? Exchange recipes with a friend or family member, or maybe even have a dinner party and trade meal prep with each other. Have breakfast foods for lunch or dinner and dinner foods for breakfast. Give yourself the freedom to switch it up.

Bonus- Adding positive relational habits to your routine can add playfulness and contribute to personal growth as well.  Think of a friend or family member you could set a time to talk with each week. Perhaps a pet deserves 5 minutes of undivided attention (sometimes pets are the best listeners). Pick-up groceries for a disabled or elderly neighbor when you grab yours. Send a card to one friend or family member each month just to tell them how awesome they are. Create a unique routine with your child, significant other or just for yourself (e.g. secret handshake or notes of affirmation posted around your home).  

Play is everywhere if you are open to it.  Bring more play into your routines and share the increased joy you experience each day with others.