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What Makes a Routine Actually Work?



Have you ever made a morning routine chart that worked wonders for a day (or two or three) and then totally stopped working?


Me too. Why?

  1. The Novelty Effect When something is new, it feels good. Novelty triggers the release of dopamine, the feel-good motivation neurotransmitter. It’s like your brain gets a happy boost. As soon as it’s not new, no surge of dopamine, no (or at least less) motivation.

  2. No one gets it 100% right the first time As soon as the initial newness is over, the routine itself likely has flaws. Plans almost never work the first time around, they require data collection and revision. One of my favorite phrases is: “there’s no failure, just data,” meaning, it’s not a routine that failed, it’s a routine that is in process; you’re figuring out what works and what doesn’t.

  3. Move from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation For a routine to stick, the motivation needs to switch from extrinsic (an outside motivator like newness or an incentive/prize) to intrinsic (it feels inherently good to the person). This is where we switch from short term behavior modification to chinuch. For the routine to stick, it needs to feel good to stick to it,

“You got SO fast at your morning routine!” “Our family is so fun in the morning now” “I really see how hard you work to do XYZ,”


whatever feels good for your child. The long term success of the routine needs consistent positive reinforcement to stay consistent. So, start with ONE routine:

Morning routine After School routine Night routine Shabbos Morning routine Shabbos Night routine Shabbos Afternoon routine


Make a visual schedule (or write it out if your child is older and can read), collect data (there’s no failure, only data!) and modify it until it works. If your child is old enough, it’s always helpful to get his/her input on what is working and not working. The hardest part about getting input, I find, is believing what your child says. When your 9 year old says “getting dressed is too hard,” it’s easy to say “no it’s not,” instead of “what’s hard?”


Kids do well when they can. No one wants to struggle through each day. I promise. When you have something that works, keep the positive reinforcement going and keep an eye out for that inevitable “wrench in the wheel” that will make you need to modify the routine (changes in school schedule, sleep patterns, parent work schedule, etc). Then, back to the drawing board, choose one schedule make a visual schedule (or write it out for older kids), collect data, make changes, positively reinforce what is working and change what’s not working…


One last tip: research shows that motivation is inconsistent; it comes in waves. You will have times you are super-motivated to help your family stick to routines and times you won’t be. Totally normal. It happens. So if this article motivated you to make a routine, do it! And be kind to yourself as you weather the waves of working and not working, motivated and not motivated; routines that work are always in process, just like us:)

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