It’s science: Having a routine helps your family be happier

In the chaos of modern stress, life with young children can easily drift into a haphazard crazy survival mode. Dinners, activities and bedtimes start to resemble a fly-by-the-seat-of-your pants style rather than an intentional one.

However, science shows that routines and rituals can be one of the most important contributors to a joyful and connected family.

Research suggests that family routines are related to parenting competence, child adjustment and marital satisfaction. Studies have found that routines can also promote children's language acquisition, academic skills, social skills and emotional bonds with their parents.

Here are four ways routines reduce power struggles, calm stressful circumstances, and promote humor, stability, and closeness among families:


1. Routines invite cooperation

Laura Markham of Aha Parenting notes that having set routines helps prevent kids from feeling “pushed or bossed around” because they know the activity “is just what we do at this time of day.” Knowing what to expect helps them develop a sense of mastery and helps them be less oppositional, more cooperative and more independent.

One way to develop routines is with when/then wording. For example, "When you have your pajamas on, then we can read a book."

To drastically reduce daily power struggles, set up expectations such as:

  • "All homework must be done before an electronic device is turned on."
  • "You must be dressed for school before you have breakfast."
  • "Your room needs to be clean before you go out on Friday night."

The alternative—arbitrary amounts of T.V. time, random bedtimes, inconsistent responsibilities, haphazard dinners, or a jumbled order of activities—Markham argues, invites conflicts.

2. Routines offer safety, comfort and ease to the day

Knowing what to expect and when to expect it helps kids feel safe and move through their days with greater ease.

For example, research suggests that children with regular bedtime routines tend to sleep better and longer. Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution, details how being absolutely consistent about a baby’s bedtime routine—such as bath, book, turning the same light on, singing the same lullaby, playing same white noise, and giveing the same pacifier and lovey—in the same order every day “cues” a baby that it’s bedtime, provides comfort and helps him or her fall asleep easier. Having a set routine for after-school or weekends also helps kids relax and cooperate.

3. Routines act as a "stability anchor" and relieve stress

The comfort and predictability stemming from routines acts as a "stability anchor," according to research. It helps both parents and children relieve stress, reinforces emotional calm, and decreases anxiety.

Routines also help comfort children in unfamiliar or tough circumstances. For example, if your child loves listening to you read a bedtime story before lights go out, doing so may help her sleep when she’s in a different environment.

In an early childhood setting, a routine can be developed between a parent and child or a teacher and child to ease separations. In a doctor's office or hospital, rituals can ease stress over blood draws, shots, or difficult procedures.

According to Steinglass and colleagues, family stress is often first noted by the disruption of family routines. However, if routines are maintained under potentially vulnerable conditions such as divorce or financial strain, families are able to adapt better to change. Routines can also help family members stay connected despite interpersonal conflicts.

4. Routines are made better with rituals, which ingrain sweet memories

Adding rituals to routines makes them even more powerful. Rituals can be defined as “the sweetness, fun, or warmth that accompany routines.” They are "acts that provide extra meaning, communicate ‘this is who we are’ (as a family), build family ties, offer a sense of belonging, and help build love and connection."

A ritual can be a crazy handshake, a special song at bath time, or the way you always wink at your daughter and say the same thing each time you drop her off at school.

It may be things that no one but your family understands—code words, inside jokes, a way you celebrate a holiday together, or your own rules for sports games. These repetitive, fun or creative behaviors strengthen family ties.

One family played an animal guessing game each time an extra bit of food, such as an extra slice of pie, was left over that more than one person wanted. "I'm thinking of an animal," they'd start, and everyone who wanted the food would guess until someone won the game (and the food), even if it took an hour.

A few dads took their kids on a silly-clothes bike ride on the first Sunday of every month. They'd wear mismatched socks, checkerboard shirts, Batman costumes, capes and crazy scarves and bike through a forest preserve laughing and trying to outdo each other.

A father got his two girls flower corsages every Easter from when they were 2 years old until they were 30.

A family gathered each St. Patrick's Day and sang along loudly as their grandmother played lively tunes, followed by a huge meal of corned beef hash and green cupcakes.

A mom sent her daughter with a Ziploc bag with a piece of candy and a sweet note every time she went to a sleepover at her grandparents' house, a friend's house, or camp.

While some rituals may have been passed down from grandparents or other relatives (like always reading Uncle Scrooge comic books when you’re home sick or always wrapping raw carrots in pepperoni slices), others may be created with your new family.

Some rituals offer opportunities for positive humor, which, research suggests, is related to family satisfaction. Most importantly, as Ellie Lisitsa of the Gottman Institute writes, rituals ensure that you take time for emotional connection.

How do you start rituals and keep them going?

In his book, The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg names three parts of developing a new behavior:

  • The cue or trigger
  • The behavioral routine
  • The reward, or something your brain likes that helps it remember the "habit loop" in the future

Identify one sweet ritual you could add to a holiday, birthdays, Sunday afternoons, morning times, bed times or meal times. Do it once and take time to notice what you enjoyed about it—like a smile, a feeling of connection, a laugh, a calm or a warmth. Tuning into the subtle reward may help you build the motivation to make it a habit.

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These are the best bath time products you can get for under $20

These budget-friendly products really make a splash.

With babies and toddlers, bath time is about so much more than washing off: It's an opportunity for fun, sensory play and sweet bonding moments—with the added benefit of a cuddly, clean baby afterward.

Because bathing your baby is part business, part playtime, you're going to want products that can help with both of those activities. After countless bath times, here are the products that our editors think really make a splash. (Better yet, each item is less than $20!)

Comforts Bath Wash & Shampoo

Comforts Baby Wash & Shampoo

Made with oat extract, this bath wash and shampoo combo is designed to leave delicate skin cleansed and nourished. You and your baby will both appreciate the tear-free formula—so you can really focus on the bath time fun.

Munckin Soft Spot Bath Mat

Munchkin slip mat

When your little one is splish-splashing in the bath, help keep them from also sliding around with a soft, anti-slip bath mat. With strong suction cups to keep it in place and extra cushion to make bath time even more comfortable for your little one, this is an essential in our books.

Comforts Baby Lotion

Comforts baby lotion

For most of us, the bath time ritual continues when your baby is out of the tub when you want to moisturize their freshly cleaned skin. We look for lotions that are hypoallergenic, nourishing and designed to protect their skin.

The First Years Stack Up Cups

First year stack cups

When it comes to bath toys, nothing beats the classic set of stackable cups: Sort them by size, practice pouring water, pile them high—your little one will have fun with these every single bath time.

Comforts Baby Oil

Comforts baby oil

For dry skin that needs a little extra TLC, our team loves Comforts' fast-absorbing baby oil aloe vera and vitamin E. Pro tip: When applied right after drying off your baby, the absorption is even more effective.

KidCo Bath Toy Organizer

KidCo Bath Organizer

Between bathing supplies, wash rags, toys and more, the tub sure can get crowded in a hurry. We like that this organizer gives your little one space to play and bathe while still keeping everything you need within reach.

Another great tip? Shopping the Comforts line on to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices—and follow along on social media to see product releases and news at @comfortsforbaby.

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.


Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!


Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.


Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.


Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.


Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.


Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.


Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.


Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.


Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.


Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.


Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.


Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.


Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.


We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


Becoming a mother has been life-changing. It's been hard, tiring, gratifying, beautiful, challenging, scary and a thousand other things that only a parent would ever understand.

It is these life-changing experiences that have inspired me to draw my everyday life as a stay at home mom. Whether it's the mundane tasks like doing laundry or the exciting moments of James', my baby boy's, first steps, I want to put it down on paper so that I can better cherish these fleeting moments that are often overlooked.

Being a stay-at-home-mom can be incredibly lonely. I like to think that by drawing life's simple moments, I can connect with other mothers and help them feel less alone. By doing this, I feel less alone, too. It's a win-win situation and I have been able to connect with many lovely parents and fellow parent-illustrators through my Instagram account.

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