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Building a routine

Photo: Routines can be useful for both learning and leisure time.

Deaf children miss out on everyday overhearing. This means they don’t always know what will happen next and this can unstable them. Routines are useful as they help a child to know what’s coming and this helps them to understand what’s expected of them.

Holly is mum to Sybil (5), who is deaf.
“Routine is so important, especially for Sybil because she really does need to be asleep quite early to be able to manage the next day. So when she gets home from school she gets changed, plays with something quiet like Lego, watches TV or looks at books and then has her tea. Then she has some stories, a bath and bed. It's super boring but we need to do it that way. If there's any change to our normal routine, she gets so upset.”

Repeating the same things at the same time each day or each week creates a routine. Sometimes it’s challenging to get a good routine going so we’ll share some helpful tips here to get you started.

Why a good routine is important

There are lots of reasons that having a good routine is an advantage for deaf children, and there will be plenty of benefits for the whole family too.

  • Routines help deaf children to feel safe and secure and make their environment more predictable.
  • Having a good routine will help your child understand their boundaries, and feel like they have a better understanding of what’s expected of them.
  • If a child knows that every morning they’re expected to get themselves up for school at the time their vibrating alarm clock goes off and make their breakfast, it starts to build independence, as well as knowing what their part is to play in the family.
  • Routines are important for deaf children to prepare to relax into sleep. Try and make sure you establish a routine that works for you and your family and will be practical each day. You could try a light snack and a warm drink, a calming bath, a story or bedtime chat before sleep time. See our page on sleep for more ideas.
  • Having a visual routine can help embed a routine for deaf children, and also help you as parents and carers to remember what you’ve set! Keeping the routine somewhere central, such as on the front of the fridge, as a reminder for all the family will be helpful for everyone to know what’s expected.
  • Often as families we’re busy, so establishing a daily routine will make sure important things don’t get missed for your deaf child, and that you don’t need to constantly be asking your child to do something. As your children get older, they want to feel more independent and get on with things themselves too.
  • The responsibilities that a regular routine provides for a deaf child helps build a sense of self-confidence and pride in their own abilities to do things for themselves and for others too.
  • Having a well-established routine will help with the school day and your child’s education too. Getting up on time, knowing what needs to happen before everyone leaves the house and what they can expect after school really brings a calming sense of structure to their whole day.
  • If your child is with someone else (for example, grandparents) then try and ask that person to keep the important parts of the routine going, while acknowledging that in a different setting not everything can be the same and everyone has their own routines in place too.

Holly is mum to Sybil (5), who is deaf.
“I think routines are important for deaf children but for all children (and adults) too. My daughter has her cochlear implants put on shortly after getting dressed. If we don’t do it then then she can resist them going on, so it’s important we keep to that part of the routine. Before she got her implants, and while she was still getting used to them, having a set routine also meant she knew what was going to happen and didn’t become confused or upset. She gets very tired because of listening fatigue, her knowing the steps she needs to take to get to bed, through repetition, can help make it feel more manageable.”

Hester is mum to Harold (1), who is deaf.
“Harold certainly knows what to expect and it’s clear to us if he’s hungry – the routine has helped with this. As he gets older, we believe a routine will be even more important. On the odd occasion our routine has been changed, we notice he may be more restless. Bedtime is the one that we will try our best not to change as if the children have a bad night’s sleep, we all do!”

If it’s a bit of a challenge to get the routine established….

  • Make sure your child knows the routine is there for everyone’s benefit, that they’re not being singled out and everyone has a part to play.
  • Remember to praise them regularly. The more the routine becomes established, the easier it can be to forget to acknowledge that your child is keeping up with their part of it. They need to know you recognise that they are.
  • If something really isn’t working then don’t be afraid to start again. If your child is old enough, try and discuss with them what would be better, and establish things together.
  • Don’t be afraid to have time off of the routine – if you’re having a special event or a holiday, then let your child do things a bit differently. If the routine is well established at home then it will come back when you return to normal.
  • Make sure you and other family members, like your partner or your other children, try to support the routine as best as they can so it feels like the family are a unit.
  • Remember that children grow quickly and routines will need adapting. Bedtimes change, how much independence they can have will change, so do remember to review things regularly so your child feels the routine is age-appropriate and they’re not feeling too restricted by it.

Parents explain how they've set up their own routines. 

Holly is mum to Sybil (5), who is deaf.
“In the morning the children wake up quiet early, then get dressed upstairs and cochlear implants on, before coming downstairs for breakfast. At the weekend we stick to a similar routine and usually head out quite early. At night we go upstairs around 6pm, have stories then cochlear implants off, bath and then bed by about 7pm. My daughter can cope well with occasional changes to routine as long as they are explained clearly and she understands. We check her understanding by asking open-ended questions or asking her to explain back what we’ve told her. If we’re not strict about things then it can become very difficult to get them to do things like brushing teeth, hair or putting on implants.”

Hester is mum to Harold (1), who is deaf.
“Meal times are always around the same time. We tend to have a similar structure to our days, playtime after breakfast, walk after lunch and more playtime in the afternoon. We built our routine around feeding times. We use simple British Sign Language (BSL) signs to link with the activities we’re doing, for example we sign ‘eat’ when eating and ‘drink’ to indicate we’re getting his bottle. We’ve adopted some ‘family signs’ too, for example before picking him up, we clap our hands and use an open gesture and he knows to expect to be picked up. I also wrote out our routine and we have this stuck on a cupboard. Eventually I plan to use a visual planner to allow Harold to have more ownership over the course of the day. As we change his routine as he gets older, we will probably try to have a transition period, not changing it dramatically all at once but slowly over a week.”

How to get more support

After you’ve tried these suggestions, you might find you still need extra help and support. As well as our Helpline, the below are useful websites and resources. Although they’re not specific to deafness, they do offer plenty of practical tips and advice. We also have information sessions that explore behaviour and discuss routines you can join.