As adults, we yearn to live a predictable life, where we can feel a sense of security, containment and control over our surrroundings (be it in the home or at work). Children are no different. In fact, when young children are repeatedly exposed to activities that happen around the same time and manner every day, they provide a sense of comfort and security to them. And, knowing what will happen next, helps children ranging from birth till 5 years of age, to learn to trust the adults around them and explore more freely, thereafter, promoting overall growth and development.
Benefits of Establishing Routines
As parents we involuntarily introduce and establish a routine of some kind very early on in our children’s lives and we generally do so without realizing much of what we are doing and why we are doing it. In reality these routines act like instructions that are guiding our child’s actions toward a specific goal and, most likely than not, there are two dominant reasons behind it:
- To ensure our children’s health and safety
- To help our children learn positive, responsible behavior
Most definitely, routines serve as a way to reassure and comfort to our children. They can also bolster other benefits like these below.
- As young children do not fully understand the concept of time, they do not feel the need to order their lives by the hour or minutes. Instead, they do so by the sequence of events. When things happen in the same order every day, children gain a better understanding of their world and, hence, feel more secure. Additionally, having a regular schedule gives children a way to organize their lives and function around it.
- Routines help to provide children with a context for learning. Through effective use of routines, children soon learn how their world is organized and they begin to reason what they need to do in order to be successful within it. For example, after playing outside in the evening, they need to come back in before sunset, get changed if they need to, and soon have dinner.
- Following a routine also helps children to learn to make simple inferences and predict what is going to happen next. This helps them to develop an understanding of concepts such as “before and after” and in turn leads them to develop self-control as they realize that they will have to wait until a certain time to do a particular activity. For example, a toddler is most likely to grab their outdoor shoes when he sees the father returning home from work, because he knows that he takes him out to cycle every evening.
- Having a regular schedule helps to foster independence and a sense of responsibilty in children from an early age, too. This is because children are likely to get accustomed to carrying out those tasks on a regular basis, thereafter, allowing them to build confidence in doing so. They can also simultaneosly challenge themselves by performing other related activities on their own, in the same environment. For example, if a young child assists the mother in getting groceries from the supermarket frequently, soon they will learn how to push the shopping cart and begin to recognize items that the mother typically gets.
- As much as establishing routines for our children is beneficial for them, it is of great advantage for the parents, too. This is because it helps to utilize time effectively and avoid unanticipated tantrums and stressors. Keeping at a routine may sound like an impossible task when parents are overwhelmed with balancing a constantly changing schedule for multiple members of the household. But gradually implementing changes and adjustments here and there to the routine can help make a huge difference to a parent’s sanity. For instance, when juggling to establish routines at the beginning of a new school year, parents benefit from some down time when children begin to sleep at a dedicated time.
Time Management Tips
For children who are still in their early years of development, i.e. below the age of 5, time is essentially conceived as either now or not now. That is enough to help them figure out how to predict and stay abreast with what’s to comes next. In order to reinforce those lessons, here are somehelpful strategies that families can work on together.
1. Seek inspiration through nature.
There is plenty that nature has to offer when it comes to learning opportunities. And this is reflective in the teachings of the Quran, too. As mentioned in Surah Al-Imran:
“Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding.”
(Surah Al-Imran, 3:190)
SubhanAllah, all praise be to Allah, there is indeed a greater wisdom behind the mechanics of day and night and the changing of the seasons. And these can prove to be excellent teaching opportunities to discuss the concept of time and even transitions.
Tip: How does that help with time management? By observing the patterns in nature and in their daily lives, children intuitively grasp the concept of time and how to create order. This is because it helps to provide a tangible representation of the passage of time that little ones can understand. Help your children notice and point out patterns in nature when you go for a walk or a drive. You can also reinforce these lessons by having your child sort their own photos from birth until their current age. Another nice exercise is having your child work on a sequencing exercise with their favourite story by asking them to re-tell the story in the correct order.
2. Plan and create a schedule together.
All of us use phone apps and the calendar to set reminders about meetings and important dates. These help us to be mentally prepared. It is the same with our children, too. It is best to use a visual aid to reinforce the idea of following a timetable because whilst a 3- to 4-year-old can’t tell you the exact hour they have dinner, they know that it usually comes after evening play time and before the bedtime ritual.
Tip: Involving children in tasks which to help them achieve a greater purpose is important. Since little children love to have routines in place which gives them a sense of stability, you can work together and create a visual chart of what a typical day might look like. It is also important to remind ourselves as parents not to over schedule our children’s routines and allow them to have some free time, where they can makes choices about what to do, too. You can then choose to display the timetable, in a central place where your children can easily access it throughout the day.
3. Practice waiting.
According to Ellen Dietrick, a preschool director in Needham, Massachusetts, “time management, at its most basic level, is the ability to delay gratification.” And in order to strengthen time management skills, Dietrick practices devising situations that require her students to wait for something they want. For example, she says, “If they clamor for pajama day, for example, we schedule it for a week away, rather than the following day. We mark the days off on the calendar and build up the excitement as the event gets closer. This gives them a sense of what it feels like to postpone something and a positive experience to associate with it.”
Tip: Most of us rush to fulfill our children’s wants, sometimes out of love and sometimes out of fear of not wanting them to have a spill of emotions. However, learning to delay gratification and tackle these challenges can help instill the value of time along with several other aspects such as money.
Try and delay rewards every now and then. Begin talking up the much awaited trip or treat, or surprise a few days beforehand, for instance. Allow your child to keep a count of days and cross out each as it progresses. Some age appropriate chores like looking after a plant can also teach children to be mindful of time in addition to teaching them a sense of being responsible. For example, planting a flower bud (to begin with), watering it, and watching it slowly bloom teaches children the art of patience.
4. Work on estimating time.
In order to help children make sense of real time and schedules, we need to collaborate an understanding of how long it takes to do certain things. It is easier said than done, but there are a variety of ways to begin.
Tip: We all know that the recommended time for brushing teeth is two minutes. But how do we get children to understand how long two minutes actually take? The best way to do so is to use a visual timer of some sort. There are certain kid-friendly brushing apps too that can help.
Moreover, providing learning opportunities where your child can practice counting actions in a given time can also help them develop a sense of timing. For example, have them predict how many times they can write their name in three minutes and then compare that to how many times they are actually able to do so.
5. Help set priorities.
Its important that children learn to manage their time wisely, however, that doesn’t really happen at a very young age, unless our children see us doing things in an organized manner ourselves. There are always moments where unexpected events tend to happen, so it is also essential to model navigating through such instances.
Tip: To begin with, have your children learn to differentiate between “have tos” and “want tos”. You can make this a fun game, where you ask them to categorize routine tasks under the appropriate group. Keeping the week’s schedule in mind, make a to-do list with your children and practice checking off things as you accomplish them. Again, it is also very important to be flexible and leave room for unexpected tasks/matters.
A Note about Multitasking: Most of us believe that multi-tasking is the way to achieve more in lesser time, however, it can complicate things and add undue stress in our lives. For instance, we are increasingly accustomed to the idea of eating while watching TV, and so are many children from a very young age.
Lessons on Time from an Islamic Perspective
The wisdom behind managing time effectively, is highly emphasised in Islam, and it is evident through one such hadith narrated by Ibn Mas’ud, where he mentions that the Prophet, may peace and blessings be upon him, said:
"The feet of the son of Adam shall not move from before his Lord on the Day of Judgement, until he is asked about five things: About his life and what he did with it, about his youth and what he wore it out in, about his wealth and how he earned it, and spent it upon, and what he did with what he knew." (Da'if)
Many of us are so caught up with our day-to-day lives that we don’t realize where the time goes. At the end of the day, it can also seem as if we havn’t really achieved much. For the believer, time management is part and parcel of fulfilling our purpose in life which is to submit and obey and worship Allah. The struggle is real, but it is important to reflect on how we can work to improvise and subsequently help our children, too. Here are some ways parents can use teachable moments from an Islamic perspective to help children learn about managing time.
1. Plan your day around the daily Salah.
By using Salah as a routine tracker, parents can successfully model practicing a well-balanced routine. For instance, you can start the day right out of the bed by waking up early for fajr, followed by recitation of the Quran, and then breakfast, before everyone begins their day. Similarly, towards the end of day, plan to have dinner between maghrib and isha prayers, and agree to spend some quality time as a family as well, where you discuss and plan for the following day.
2. Make clear intentions at the beginning of each day.
Duaa is a great way to begin your day and seek help from the Almighty. By making niya or clear intention at the beginning of each day, we can reap Allah’s mercy and blessings through the acts that we perform consistently. For instance, if you are a stay-at-home parent, you can begin your day by making the intention that whatever services or tasks you engage in for your family throughout the day. May Allah make them sadaqa-e-jariah or ongoing charity for you, make things easy for you, and bless you with immense barakah. Ameen.
3. Engage frequently in dhikr.
Whilst we are out and about or on the run, we can try to make our time more productive by making dhikr. While walking, driving, climbing stairs, etc., engaging in dhikr can reap unimaginable blessings and add weightage to our good deeds. To help model this habit for your children, listen to the recitation of the Quran and making it a regular practice (for example, in the car) is a good way to introduce them to importance of making time for the remembrance of Allah, even while we carry on with our worldy affairs.
4. Learn to trust Allah.
No amount of effort can bring certainty into our lives and that is why we need to trust Allah with timings, for everything. If you’re having a bad day and things seem to be falling apart, experiencing frustration and anger is human nature. But, when we learn to rest our matters in the hands of Allah and trust Him with His timings, we begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel and the hidden blessings and wisdom behind unexpected delays. These concepts are difficult to teach to younger children, but by way of modeling we can instill such thinking from an early age.
Not only do routines and rituals help children feel more secure, but they also help ease adults into parenthood. Especially during the early stages of becoming a parent, things can be overwhelming, but it is important to remember to learn and prioritize taks and not over exhert yourself. Similarly, when it comes to teaching our children about routines, make sure to not overstress them in the name of productivity. Rather, leave gaps in their schedule so they may learn to be flexible and think independently for themselves, too.
Umm Ahmed is an early childhood educator and mother of three boys. Always on the quest to learn, she is passionate about seeking knowledge and passing it on to others. A writer in the making, she draws inspiration through deep conversations, laws of nature, and her own children. She and her family are currently living in Abu Dhabi, UAE.