Rituals and Routines

EARLY CHILDHOOD TODAY: Dr. Brazelton, what rituals and routines do you feel are particularly important to the social and emotional growth of young children?

T. Berry Brazelton: I always encourage parents to start the day off with a good breakfast with their children, everyone sitting down and talking together about the coming day-without the television on! And teachers can do similar things in the classroom. They need to gather the children and talk about the day, getting the day off to a good start.

I think there are different rituals and routines that work with children of different ages. For example, diapering and feeding times provide wonderful opportunities to communicate with babies. These routines should be more than just the task at hand. Talking, singing, and playing with babies at these important times will further their social and emotional development. The regularity of input from people around them is critical for infants and toddlers.

Reading time is particularly important for 3- and 4year-olds. This should happen on a regular basis. And threes and fours, as well as 5- and 6-year-olds, need regular meeting times where plans for the day can be discussed. Children need to know what they can expect as the day unfolds. I would also suggest that these meetings include conversations about plans for the entire week.

Planning special events is very important to children. Particularly in this day and age, when there aren't as many opportunities for families to come together, these planned times at school can be very important.

Separation From Home to School

ECT: As we all know, separation from home to school is often difficult for preschoolers. Are there any strategies teachers can use to help with this transition?

Brazelton: Once school begins, advance information about what will be happening in the days and weeks to come will help children feel more comfortable. If this is the child's first school experience, parents should be allowed to stay until children reach a reasonable comfort level.

Fostering friendships is a wonderful way to help ease children through this transition. Teachers should plan times throughout the day when children can interact with a special friend. Young children need the opportunity to regularly bond with another child or several children they respond to.

Tips for Teachers

ECT: Do you have any tips for teachers to help them encourage children who might be reluctant to join in classroom rituals and routines?

Brazelton: I'd say support them in their efforts to join the group. If a child is shy, help him as much as you can. Cuddle him, understand him, but don't push him. The best way I know of to help a child enter a group activity is through another child. Two children always enter a group more easily than one. I think children learn so much from each other. Having a close relationship is so critical.

School Rituals for Young Children

ECT: Are there any special rituals or routines you've seen that work particularly well with young children?

Brazelton: Children come to see gathering times as fun and pleasant, a time when they're supportive, not critical, of one another. I remember when our children first started school, they'd sit in a circle and talk about what happened the day before. That seemed to break the ice and allowed everyone to get close again.


T. Berry Brazelton, MD, is a renowned and respected expert on pediatrics and children's development. His 28 books include Touchpoints (Perseus Press, 1994) and Infants and Mothers (Delacorte Press, 1994). His Touchpoints Community Outreach Program, which trains professionals to serve families of infants and toddlers, is in 25 sites around the country.

This interview originally appeared in the August, 2000 issue of Early Childhood Today.