Having a routine in place helps most children cope more easily with day to day life, but for a highly sensitive child (HSC) it is even more important to have familiar routines in place to help them visualise what is coming up and what they need to do.
Why are Routines Important for a Highly Sensitive Child?
Ever notice that your HSC seems to be more overwhelmed than normal by their school days around Christmas?
Have you noticed the impact of an upcoming holiday has on your HSC? Or a birthday, or school trip?
Do you see a negative reaction from your HSC as they enter their classroom and there’s a replacement teacher standing in front of the class?
Things out of the ordinary routine tend to affect HSCs in a notable and visible way. When life deviates from the routine that they are comfortable with, and expect, it has an impact.
I’m 45 and still very much a creature of habit. Throw a change my way and I will show you how to stress good and proper. Schedules and routines may seem boring perhaps, but they are necessary for my sanity.
Think of routines as an important survival strategy for HSCs coping in a noisy chaotic world, particularly for children who are rarely in full control of their daily activities.
HSCs Often Struggle With Changes
A routine (knowing what is happening and when and what they need to do) helps keep a HSC’s feet on the ground. Surprises throw them and often they act with resistance – or have issues processing their day later, resulting in a hard time getting to sleep for example.
Sometimes, even planned changes are difficult for HSCs to cope with. As the end of a school holiday draws near the stress levels start to rise in our home as the threat of change to the daily routine looms. The change from sleeping in and hanging about in pyjamas to the morning routine that school brings is huge, and often knowing that daily life is about to change is enough to stress our HSCs.
Ironically, the busier days are, the bigger the change heading their way is, the more important it is to stick to a familiar routine.
Living Spontaneously v Living with Routines
The reality is that a HSC is sensitive to changes in their routine, but life is not always predictable. Part of parenting a HSC is helping them gain the ability to cope with inevitable changes, giving them the tools to deal with real life.
However, particularly whilst they are still small, it will help a lot if a HSC can picture how their day will be, even their week. It really helps to establish routines, for days to be as consistent as possible. The same thing, at the same time, with the same action required – wherever possible. Predictable is good for a young HSC.
Raising a HSC means you become an excellent planner. And a HSC needs you to be that for them.
As a child gets older they become more resilient to changes to their daily schedules and are able to cope with spontaneous actions. This is certainly something we have spent time deliberately fostering in our house. But we also still have solid routines.
What Type of Routines?
When you think about establishing routines think about morning routines – on school days but also at the weekends.
Think about routines after school and for days when a child has activities outside of school.
Think about routines around meals and snacks.
Think about routines around play dates.
You can create routines around daily or weekly chores.
Getting a routine around bedtime set up is also important for a HSC (the younger the better in my personal experience) as so many HSCs have sleep issues. A well-established sleep routine is vital for a HSC to function effectively and cope the next day. HSCs will more likely be able to cope with changes after a good night’s sleep.
Tools for Establishing Routines That Work
Week or Day Planners
So that my sons have a good overview of their week we have a handy magnetic week planner (NL link). You could also use a day planner.
You could also design your own.
Bedtime Routine Overview
I made an A4 page with the boys’ bedtime routine on it – pictures so it’s easy to follow. It hangs on our landing in sight of the boys. That way they can be easily prompted and know what they should be doing and when they should be doing it.
Time on Sunday to Review the Upcoming Week
We use a mealtime on a Sunday to talk about activities coming up in the week, particularly events and appointments that are not regular. Then there are no surprises for the boys as the week progresses.
Get Enough Sleep
I’ve said it before, but if you want the morning routine to go well it’s important everyone gets enough sleep.
Get as much ready as you can in advance. This means evening preparation for those busy school mornings, football kit ready the night before a match and so on.
Many parents of HSCs relay the morning battles they have with their children about clothes. Try getting all clothes ready the evening before, when there is less time pressure and make firm agreements that the clothes chosen and laid out are the ones to be worn the next day.
Every little helps.
When the pressure of getting ready for school and work are off it’s easy to ditch routines and allow weekends to be free-for-alls. My tip is to maintain routines on the weekends too. Keep the bedtime routine the same as far as you can, maintain rules and provide your HSC with consistency on days that already demand a mindset change from them.
For example on Sunday we sit down and eat breakfast together as a family – it’s the only day that happens. The boys lay the table and look forward to that family time – it’s become a standard part of Sunday and it gives the boys structure. It’s also usually the meal time we use to review which activities and appointments are on the agenda that week.
There are many reasons to employ a few routines in your home, and all children benefit. They create a sense of structure and security as well as responsibility. Above all routines make things predictable for HSCs – and that in turn reduces overwhelm.