Behavior regulation plays a crucial role in our ability to control emotional reactions. Luckily, there are numerous ways to promote behavior regulation! Today, we will learn about one of the most effective strategies: visual schedules.
A visual schedule is a simple tool to help your child track their daily responsibilities and routines. They help to reduce anxiety and confusion, help to facilitate smoother transitions for those children who have difficulty, and keep the whole family on the same page. And when we reduce anxiety and stress, we also increase behavior regulation!
Visual schedules can include pictures, words, or both as well. Pictures will be the best choice if your child doesn't read yet. If they are reading but are still young enough to respond positively to pictures, I recommend using both pictures and words. When in doubt, if you're wondering which to choose, ask your child what they would prefer!
The more involved your child is in creating a visual schedule, the more likely they will want to use them. For example, you can use stock photos or photos of your child's daily routines and activities. And you can make the visual schedule feel more fun, engaging, and personal if you ask your kiddo to help you decorate with stickers or fun colors.
You can outline your visual schedule by month, week, and daily tasks. A weekly schedule is likely a good start if a child has many different after-school activities. For children who have trouble remembering or transitioning between daily routines such as, "brush teeth, shower, homework in your backpack," a daily task schedule may be your best bet. Or if your family travels often, or has two or three big schedule changes during a month, such as house guests or birthday parties, a monthly schedule could also be helpful. Here's a more in-depth example for visual schedule use:
Perhaps your child has difficulty remembering what they need to do before leaving for school, and every morning you have to remind them to put their lunch in their backpack. You remind them to do so while they are finishing breakfast. But unfortunately, because they weren't concentrating on what you were saying, they most likely forgot about their lunch by the time they finished eating. Maybe your kiddo is anxiously thinking about an upcoming test, that their favorite shirt is dirty, a conflict they're having with a peer, their soccer game after school, etc. When anxiety levels are high, their behavior regulation is compromised, and when you ask them if their lunch is in their backpack, they will boil over.
.Visual schedules can help your kiddo focus on their after-school soccer game while still remembering to put their lunch in their backpack. Using a visual schedule for similar situations as the above will help facilitate behavior regulation and promote independence!
If the concept of a visual schedule seems daunting, don't worry, you're not alone; many parents feel that creating and implementing visual aids is time-consuming or cumbersome. However, this is when I like to remind parents of how much we, as adults, rely on visual aids to guide our day-to-day routines, schedules, and even ideas.
I'll forget something if I don't write it down within moments of hearing it. I also use my calendar on my phone to save any appointments, meetings, events, etc. Whenever I meet new clients or conduct observations, I write down every little piece of information to avoid forgetting it. If I park in a large lot, I usually take a picture of my parking spot to remember where I parked. I'm telling you, I write everything down because if I don't, I almost immediately feel anxious or fearful of forgetting. Anxiety, fear, and stress are key factors that comprise our behavior regulation. Thus, like how we use/need visual aids to keep us organized, calm, and less stressed, our children need the same.
Let's think about another critical component: adults facilitate a child's schedule, for the most part. Yet, while we know our kiddo's daily routine, we often forget that our children don't know what it is. Making our children's schedules accessible will help them keep track of their routines while managing anxiety and other negative emotions surrounding transitions or the unknowns. Like adults who keep notes or a digital calendar, there's less anxiety when a child can visually track and see what their to-dos are. In addition, when we reduce stress, we promote behavior regulation, improving our child's ability to be mindful of their feelings, understand when negative emotions occur, and utilize better reactions.
The following example illustrates how a child may feel when confused about their daily routine or weekly schedule:
Think about attending a meeting, conference, or any seated event lasting multiple hours. Typically, the meeting facilitator provides a schedule for the attendees that lists the agenda, breaks, opportunities for questions, lunch, and who's speaking/presenting. Now try to imagine yourself at an event where they don't give you the agenda; you walk into a big room, sit down, and have no idea what to expect for the next three hours. Most people in this situation would likely have many questions about the schedule and feel heightened anxiety because they don't know what to expect. Why? Because someone else is facilitating and managing their time, what their day looks like is out of their hands.
Our children may feel this when they don't know or understand their schedules, especially for the kiddos who are still learning what a calendar looks like and does. For instance, while you tell your child that soccer is on Tuesday, they don't understand the concept of "days of the week," which could result in a meltdown when they think it's soccer day, but it's not.
Creating and implementing visual schedules can be instrumental in reducing anxiety and promoting behavior regulation.