by Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD
The right balance of novelty and routine can help us feel peaceful, content, and joyful. If we have too much novelty all at once, we can get overwhelmed, stressed out, or exhausted. We feel depleted by processing and adapting to so much of the new. If we have too much routine, we can get bored, disinterested, or even depressed. We may “numb out” or feel like we’re just “going through the motions.”
One of our roles is to set up our lives so that our families have a good balance of novelty and routine.
In many ways, children thrive on routine. They feel comforted by getting-ready routines, lunchtime routines, bath time routines, or bedtime routines. They may like knowing that after they eat their vitamins, they will read exactly three books, brush their teeth, go to the bathroom, and be tucked in. They feel safe anticipating that when their babysitter comes over, they will take out the play dough and then play in the basement.
In other ways, young children thrive on novelty. They learn new words, notice new smells, see new sights, and engage in new experiences at lightning speeds. They may be thrilled to ride the merry go round for the first time, see a giraffe at the zoo, go to a friend’s birthday party, pet a friendly neighborhood dog, or go on vacation at a cabin in the woods.
By tapping into our intuition and inner knowing, we can often sense when our kids are ready to “mix it up” and embrace something new. We can feel when they are ready to begin a new challenge or experience, such as taking a martial arts class, going to a baseball game, or learning to read. We can also sense when they need a little more routine, such as quieter free-play afternoons, a more systematic way to get out the door in the morning, or a bit of a break from classes or outings.
Here are some ways we balance novelty and routine in our family lives:
Books – Kids might love to read certain books over and over again, but then enjoy choosing new books from the library.
Parks – Kids feel safe and comfortable at their neighborhood playground, but love exploring other playgrounds.
Friends – Kids enjoy playing with siblings, cousins, or close friends, but interact with different kids at the park, library, campground, or preschool.
Art – Kids love making art projects with you in their basement, but like the way other adults set things up for them or work with them through a park district art class.
Music – Kids might love you to play the same CD over and over, but benefit from hearing other tunes like drumming, piano, bluegrass, or classical.
Food – Kids might eat well when they recognize the food on their plates, but at times are encouraged to try new dishes, flavors, or combinations.
Places – Kids love visiting the same recognized, comfortable places like the library, the grocery store, or the nature center. Other times, they appreciate new places like the planetarium or the children’s museum.
Home – Kids love being in their own beds, but may sometimes enjoy sleeping at Grandma’s, a friend’s house, or in a tent.
Being purposeful about novelty and routine requires us to pause, reflect, and pay close attention to our children’s needs. By listening to their feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, we can set up a good balance.
We can also listen to ourselves and reflect on our own needs for novelty and routine. Right now, do we need more rest, routine, calm, and familiar? Or do we need more inspiration, excitement, outings, newness, and adventures?
Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD, mom to three, is a psychotherapist for individuals and couples in Chicago’s western suburbs. She specializes in counseling for parents of babies and young children. www.erinleyba.com or firstname.lastname@example.org