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Many families practice morning routines, as they can help your family get up, get going, and get out the door on time. However, our evenings are often less structured—should your family consider ending the day with a routine, too? It can be a great way to help school-aged children gain independence, regulate energy levels, and develop important skills.

In general, routines help build executive function skills in children. Like the body’s own control center, executive function is a combination of motor, sensory and communication skills that are essential to our daily behaviors and decision-making.

Think about it like this: you’re trying to get out the door, when all of a sudden the phone rings, the dog barks, and you remember you need to take tonight’s dinner out of the freezer. Which one do you address first? How do you transition from activity to activity efficiently, while still getting to your appointment on time? This combination of memory, control and mental flexibility is executive functioning—and it begins developing at a very young age.

So, in the evening, when your child balances after-school snacks with finishing their homework and getting to bed on time, there are many opportunities to hone these skills.

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In addition to exercising executive function skills, evening routines can help:

  • Promote self-control, by using time wisely and balancing activities.
  • Reduce anxiety, as each day will have some predictability.
  • Foster confidence and independence, as children learn to manage tasks on their own.
  • Regulate energy levels, assisting in winding down after a busy day.

If you want to start an evening routine, here are some best practices to keep in mind. Remember routines vary from child to child—what is important is finding what works and sticking to it.

Think about what your child needs to do every evening. A successful routine should incorporate and prioritize what must get done every night. Consider snack time, homework, chores, and bed times.

Make time for activities of daily living. Self-care activities like brushing teeth and bathing are also a priority and should be included in the routine. They are essential for every area of development, and creating a foundation for healthy habits.

Incorporate their hobbies and preferences. A routine doesn’t mean there can’t be fun—in fact, there should be time for activities that bring joy to your child. Consider outside play, imaginary play and other recreational activities.

Always be positive and encouraging. Praise your child for what they have accomplished. Don’t dwell on what didn’t get done.

Pay attention to how they respond. If your child seems overwhelmed, burnt out, or disengaged, talk to them about the activities they are involved in. Studies show that kids can feel stressed from not just having too many activities, but from doing activities that they don’t enjoy.

Be open to change. The routine that works best may not be the one you initially envisioned—and that is ok. Assess what is working and what isn’t, so everyone feels empowered by their evenings.

Be patient. Starting something new always comes with difficulties, but it can have great benefits in the long term.

It may take time, patience, and practice, but establishing afternoon and evening routines can help your child’s functioning in the days and years to come.