“For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.” 1 Corinthians 14:33
How Kids Think
Children sometimes wonder, “What’s going on?“ Younger children tend to be overwhelmed by the chaotic pace of our helter-skelter world. Constant change confuses and frustrates them. An unstructured environment that lacks a daily regimen is counterproductive. Few kids thrive on chaos.
Children are constantly going through developmental changes. Routine and structure allows children to relax and explore the world around them. A regular schedule also teaches responsibility as they learn how to perform familiar activities and grow in their competency. In a research study on family routine and its implications on child development, Dr. Mary Spanogla stated:
“During the early childhood years, children become more active participants in the daily course of family life. Whether asking to help bake holiday cookies or demanding that a mismatched set of clothes must be worn to preschool every Friday, young children are keenly aware of the daily, weekly, and annual rhythms of family life and are eager to be involved as central players.
Naturally-occurring family routines and meaningful rituals provide both a predictable structure that guides behavior and an emotional climate that supports early development.”1
On the flip side, a child who grows up with instability and constant change will develop behaviors in response to the lack of predictability. The Urban Institute has found that, “children thrive in stable and nurturing environments where they have a routine and know what to expect. Although some change in children’s lives is normal and anticipated, sudden and dramatic disruptions can be extremely stressful and affect children’s feeling of security.” 2 Change is expected and even needed for a child’s development, but constant and prolonged stress (called toxic stress), leads to problems with academic performance, social competence, and the inability to regulate emotions.
When the Church carries out its activities with structure and order, harmony and peace result. To develop secure, stable, and confident children, establish a consistent routine at home and in the classroom. This can take the form of classroom rituals as well as spiritual disciplines. Spiritual practices such as prayer, worship, and fellowship offer a secure routine in which children progress in their Christian faith.
“Throughout the centuries the disciplines of prayer, confession, worship, stewardship, fellowship, service, attending to Scripture and the Lord’s Supper have remained constant channels and disciplines of grace. These time-resilient disciplines give the church in every age and culture ways to keep company with Jesus.”3
Daniel is a glowing Old Testament example of someone whose personal regimen proved to be a great asset throughout his life (Daniel 6:10-11). His routines and spiritual disciplines allowed him to remain faithful and to serve as a trusted advisor to several kings. Daniel kept the faith in the midst of change through many decades!
During my early years, I served as a substitute teacher in elementary and kindergarten classrooms. One of the challenges of being a guest teacher was the lack of knowledge about the children’s daily flow. Kindergarteners especially crave and thrive on the routines that their regular teacher establishes.
One day I found myself serving in a combination Kindergarten—First Grade class. It quickly became clear to the students that I didn’t know the morning routine—but 20 eager helpers were keen to educate me! First we checked the weather, then we did a coin and math activity, assigned daily jobs, and gave the special task of “line leader” for the day. “Circle time” began with a short, read-aloud story and then the children stood and recited the pledge of allegiance.
The day moved quickly as we completed centers, recess, library time, computer lab time, and then more centers. Now it was time to close out the day. Again my lack of knowledge became readily apparent. During show-and-tell, several students stepped forward and shared their item. I switched on the “Going on a Bear Hunt” audio tape (yes, tapes still do exist), and we acted out the song together. Finally, the day ended as we distributed homework folders and moved the dates on the calendar to prepare for tomorrow.
That day reminded me again of the power of routine. I was a completely new captain of their ship, but they moved forward with sweet confidence as a group, safe in the traditions and routines that gave them handrails for the day. My new face and the new content taught at centers didn’t overwhelm them. The foundation established by familiar routines enabled the students to make forward progress without skipping a beat.
What You Can Do
- Establish activity patterns for your child.
- Make a daily checklist that includes responsibilities such as: make bed, clean room, do homework, read Bible, feed pet, etc.
- Though occasional variations from the normal schedule can add excitement, kids welcome predictable patterns. They thrive on doing things in a prescribed order.
1 “Family Routines and Rituals: A Context for Development in the Lives of Young Children”, by Mary Spagnola, PhD; Barbara H. Fiese, PhD Infants & Young Children Vol. 20, No. 4, pp. 284–299, 2007.
2 “The Negative Effects of Instability on Child Development: A Research Synthesis”, by Heather Sandstrom and Sandra Huerta. The Urban Institute, September 2013.
3 Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us. Intervarsity Press, 2005.