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Setting Routine with a Spirited Child: The Checklist that Saved my Sanity

My four year old is what some might call a “Spirited Child”.

To start with, he’s high energy – I mean REALLY high energy. I thought this was just normal for a boy, but as his younger brother gets older, I’ve figured out that my older son is really high energy. He’s like the energizer bunny – he never gets tired!

To add to the energy, I’ve also learned that he needs strong, consistent boundaries. He thrives when we have a routine and things are much easier for all. Transitions have also not been something that have been super fun with him. Moving from one thing to another can sometimes be an ordeal and a fight at every turn. Even the simplest things like “get in the car”.

Setting Routine with a Spirited Child: The Checklist that Saved my Sanity

For a while, it worked well to give him time warnings. “Buddy, we’re leaving in 5 minutes,” then 3, then 2. But recently, he has been pushing the boundaries more and the time warnings alone are no longer effective. 

Morning had been especially difficult. I have a longer commute than my husband, and I also take much longer to get ready than him. So, getting the boys ready, out the door, and dropped off at daycare falls to him. The past few months, mornings usually ended with my husband cussing under his breath, our four year old screaming/crying/hiding, me trying to smooth things over, and all of us being really late.

Finally, one night, I had an idea. I made a list of the four things that have to be done for my son to watch cartoons in the morning  (five if you count eating/cartoons as a task). His 20-30 minutes of morning cartoons are cherished by him. We had tried withholding cartoons before, but it frustrated my son just as much as telling him needed to get dressed while watching said cartoons.

His morning checklist of five things consists of:

  1. Get dressed
  2. Brush teeth
  3. Brush hair
  4. Put shoes on
  5. Breakfast & cartoons

Once the first four things are done, he can eat his breakfast while watching his cartoons. I talked through the list with my son and showed him how he can cross off each item as he completes it.

Setting Routine with a Spirited Child: The Checklist that Saved my Sanity
I put chalkboard contact paper on the panel around our fridge and used this space for his morning checklist

The result?

Instant peace.

He latched onto the list and now refuses to deviate from it. One morning my husband (without thinking) went to turn on cartoons before all four items were done and he said “No dad, not until my list is done.”

Since the morning list was implemented, we’ve also implemented a nighttime list, which has helped a ton with that routine. So, if you find yourself struggling with your preschooler over a common routine, give the list a try. I found that writing it out not only helps the preschooler, but it helps keep us on track too. Which is great for those nights where I literally don’t care what they do, as long as they’re still breathing.

What tips & tricks do you have to help your kids stay on routine? 

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