Children need routines. It's comforting and reassuring for them and makes them feel as though all is right in the world. There is a difference between routine and rigidity, though. Sometimes parents have to be a bit more flexible, and this may cause children to react in different ways.
When children are born, feeding on demand seems to work best. Babies bond with their parents and parents get accustomed to having this new little person in their lives. As they grow older, it's easier and more convenient to establish routines for feeding, although they should still be flexible. Once a child is weaned, they are ready for feeding times to be established and for mealtime to become a ritual.
The same is true of bedtime. Some children establish their own sleeping routines early in life, and start sleeping through the night with no difficulty or effort on the part of the parents. Other children struggle with this and, as they get older, they need to have a bedtime established in order to get enough rest, especially if they are in childcare. Far too many parents feel they should "leave it up to the child," when it's the parents' responsibility to ensure that their child's needs are met. Most experts agree that if you want to get your child to bed earlier, you should do it by 15 minute increments each night until they are used to going to bed at the time you feel is appropriate.
With the return to school, a general rule of thumb is that children need at least 9 to 10 hours of sleep a night. This means figuring out how you can fit this into your routine. If your child goes to daycare at 6:00 a.m. in the morning, they should be in bed by 7:00 or 8:00 p.m. This gives you time to get them ready in the morning, make lunch, get yourself together and still get to the childcare center on time. Children under the age of 5 years should be in bed by 8:00 p.m. every evening, except for special occasions when exceptions may be necessary. Elementary aged children need to be asleep before 9:00 p.m. at night. There is no reason for young children to be out shopping with their parents or running the streets after this time. If routines aren't established early in life, they are difficult to instill when children get earlier.
As someone who has been in the field of early childhood education for 25 years, I can tell you with certainty that far too many parents feel they can leave their child at the childcare center for the entire day, have them fed every meal there and just put them straight to bed. Your child needs time with you, they deserve bath time before bedtime and a story read to them before they fall asleep. They need to go to daycare with a dry diaper, clean clothes, combed hair. It's the childcare teacher's job to care for the children "in loco parentis," not to be their parents.
As children get older, homework and studying routines have to be established. One of the best tools parents can give children is the ability to budget their time. As soon as children get home from school, they should probably start on their homework. If they can finish it before dinner, all the better. If they have assignments, teach them to chart them on a large calendar posted to a pegboard or on a whiteboard so it's visible to them. They can mark them off as they complete them.
So many children have full lives with daycare, after school activities, chores or responsibilities, lessons and more that it can be difficult to find time to squeeze in everything that needs to be done. Don't fill your children's lives so full that there is no time for relaxation and play! They need to be kids, too. But don't confuse play with hours spent playing online or game systems. Children need socialization, playtime with friends and family time, too, so make sure you make time in your own routine for this every day.