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We Tried It! – Routine Charts

We’ve been struggling a bit with typical 3 year old power struggles around here lately.  I’ve been wracking my brain (and my parenting library) for possible solutions. And then it hit me.  Close examination of the problem revealed that these blow ups aren’t coming out of nowhere as they initially appeared.  They are, in fact, almost always centered on one thing – transitions.


My boy HATES transitions – most specifically leaving the house and going to bed.  No matter how smoothly we seem to be going down the road, he always throws on the brakes when he sees either of these two things on the horizon.  In response to this new found knowledge, I’ve formulated a plan: to build very specific and consistent routines around these times of transition.

Click through for the goods on exactly how I did it…

Along the same time I had this epiphany, I also spotted some fantastic routine charts over at I heart organizing.  Let me just say before I go any further, this isn’t a reward chart per-SE, but that’s how I intend to use it.  And let me also say that pre-toddlerhood I never thought I’d use anything of the sort.  I was all up there on my high horse thinking, “Reward charts? Pfft! We’re gonna be all about intrinsic rewards at our house”.  Oh how the mighty have fallen. (Or in this case, the woefully over-confident.)


Fast forward to today and I can’t get these suckers printed out fast enough.  Especially considering their uber cool design.  I really love the graphic elements and color scheme – definitely fridge worthy.  Which is good because that’s exactly where these guys are going.


Before printing, I did do a little Photoshoping to make them better suited to our needs.  Specifically, I altered the order of the morning routine (putting teeth brushing after breakfast) and swapped out the drink of water for face washing (complete with a photo of C’s mug) in the bedtime routine.  I also used parts of the bedtime routine to create a naptime routine.


Since these aren’t my printables, I wouldn’t feel right giving you my modified copies but it wasn’t hard to do.  And if you don’t have access to Photoshop, you could always physically cut up the sheets, rearrange as needed, and glue them to some pretty backing paper.


Once all three lists were printed, I ran them through my spiffy new laminator.


The routine that corresponds to the time of day resides on the front of the fridge.  A smiley face is added for each drama-free completed step using a dry-erase marker.  A page full of smiley faces = a reward.  This is day one so we’ll probably experiment a bit but right now his reward is to pick an activity: an art project, playing in the snow, watching a TV show, playing a game, etc.


The other pages wait on the side of the fridge until they’re needed.  What do you think?  Is this going to work?  Has it worked with your kids?  I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below.


P.S. for more free printable goodies, check out my roundup of Free Printables for a Stellar 2012.

UPDATE: So far so good – we had success at both naptime and bedtime using these today.  Also, I realized that it doesn’t bother C to jump around as long as he gets to check things off as he goes.  For example, pajamas should probably be after “go potty” in our bedtime routine but we just do smiley face eyes for getting undressed, a smiley face for the potty, and then the smiley face mouth for putting on PJs.


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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Cecilia January 18, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Oh, i’m so curious (selfishly so) to know how it goes. Good luck!


Casey January 18, 2012 at 5:27 pm

So far so good! (I am C’s dad). Today is a snow day in Seattle, but I didn’t get to sleep in as C woke me up early to start checking things off the “morning routine” list. If this litte tool makes waking up in the morning fun, I might have to print out a couple for myself!


Jen | Our Happy Family January 18, 2012 at 6:34 pm

We’re just about to make the same kind of thing for our house – specifically for our 4 year old boy who is also not good at transitions! Thanks for the inspiration, I love the picture charts, easy for them to follow along!


Anonymous January 18, 2012 at 8:38 pm
Steph at ModernParentsMessyKids.com January 18, 2012 at 11:08 pm

Thanks for the tip Amber!


Reina January 19, 2012 at 10:15 am

I do like the idea of having a routine for making transitions easy for them and for us. The only thing I do not really agree is in giving him a reward for each time it goes ok. I believe that the reward system is although working in the beginning, a dangerous one. We teach him that for everything he does properly, he will get something nice and let’s face it, in real life it does not work that way. Now he is small, he is happy to choose a tv program as a reward but if we continue this way,what kind of reward will he be motivated to do his homework for when he is 14? Further we do not teach them to follow the routine himself because every step we are checking if it is done or not.

I do use routines (I like more to call it rhythm) with my kids but I do not give them a reward if it went ok. Their reward is a hug and a thank that because they worked together with me, the going to bed was really nice and I enjoyed a lot doing it and sharing this time with them. That is enough. They run to to list and look at the foto and say we need to brush our teeth, we need to put the pyjama. We have the advantage from following a list without the future disadvantages from the reward system. Maybe you could also try :) If it works with my twins….


Casey September 17, 2012 at 11:23 am

I wholeheartedly agree with the above comment about rewards :)


Criando múltiples January 19, 2012 at 1:25 pm

I also forgot to mention that I involved them in the making of the list of stuff that needed to be done before going to sleep.


Linds @ Purposeful Chaos January 22, 2012 at 9:55 pm

love it! i will have to try it out with my almost three year old who can struggle quite a bit with transitions. i also just got a laminator and am looking for reasons to use it!


[email protected] February 2, 2012 at 9:02 pm

This worked like a charm when my daughter was 3 – I found that I really only needed them for about a month and then she found her own rythm. We actually made our own (with her as the artist) each week for getting out of the house and going home from daycare. She did get a reward, but ONLY if she did all of the things for the whole day. By letting her help create them, I think she also had a bit more ownership of the process.


Anonymous February 11, 2012 at 1:43 pm

I like the picture schedule, and found it works very well with kids who struggle with change in routine. It helps them to organize their day in their head and learn exactly what to expect will come next.One thing that really helped me instead of writing on the schedule which put me in charge of it, was giving my child the responsibility each day by putting clothespins on one side of the schedule to indicate it was not yet done and the child moves them to the other side of the picture after completing each thing. This gives the child more ownership and responsibility and a feeling of satisfaction when the list is completed. My son really responded well to this!


mumspeak March 26, 2012 at 10:45 am

We use ready made routine charts for our kids. They look really funky and are interactive using a dry erase pen. Tasks are ticked off once they’re completed. The older son gets a written task list while the younger girls get task illustrations. It works really well for us. I’m actually just blogging about our routines right now and how well it’s worked. A 2 part blog cause there’s just so much to think about.


Casey September 17, 2012 at 11:24 am

I wholeheartedly agree with the above comment… once the rewards are no longer desired, the behavior will change accordingly. Love the enthusiasm :)


Eunice November 15, 2013 at 12:57 pm

What font did you use to change the text?
Thanks! :)


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