Always Missing Deadlines? Your Childhood Could Be To Blame.

Psychologists find that inconsistency in childhood routines may have negative effects in the long run.

11/29/2016 04:01 pm ET | Updated 4 days ago
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Psychologists find that kids with consistent daily routines grow up with fewer time management and attentional issues.

Do you struggle with time management? Have a tough time getting things done? You may have Mom and Dad to thank for that.

Having a freewheeling, unpredictable daily home life as a child may have long-lasting negative effects, according to new research.   

The University at Albany study, published in the November-December issue of the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, found that children who grow up with predictable daily routines are less likely to have time management or attention problems as young adults.   

For the study, psychologists asked 292 undergraduates to assess the level of regularity of a variety of activities and routines from their childhood, including meals, extracurricular activities, sleeping habits and time spent with friends and family. 

They found that students who reported having more consistency in their daily lives as children tended to have fewer issues with attention and time management. In other studies, the same research team showed that children with a more regular routine also have better self-control and reduced anxiety and depression as adults. 

“This study is part of a broader line of research exploring the relationship between the stability of the family environment and adjustment in children, adolescents and emerging adults,” Dr. Jennifer Malatras, a psychologist at the University of Albany and the study’s lead author, told The Huffington Post. “Our research suggests greater regularity in family activities and routines is associated with fewer problems overall, and, importantly, we believe it may be possible to improve the regularity of family routines even when it may be less feasible to alter more global aspects of family stability.”

Routines are likely to contribute to a sense of security and control over one’s environment. Children who know what to expect on a day-to-day basis are more likely to feel a sense of stability in their family than those whose daily schedules are more erratic, the researchers explain.

This seems to be particularly true for children undergoing family hardships: Malatras’ previous research showed that consistency of daily activities had a positive impact on children who experienced major family changes like death or divorce. 

“A family going through divorce ... may be able to maintain or even increase the regularity and predictability of the family environment by ensuring that their children have consistent daily routines, such as a consistent bedtime routine or participation in extracurricular activities, which may serve as a protective factor,” she said. 

A number of other psychologists have also suggested that routines give children a sense of stability and comfort, and recommend that parents establish a rhythm of daily activities and traditions early in a child’s life.

“Building routines with your children helps them feel safe,” Australian child psychologist Danielle Kaufman said in a recent interview. “They know what to expect when they go home, and it provides them with clear boundaries, expectations, and consistency.”

Of course, an obvious limitation of the current study is that it relies on young adults’ memories of their childhood rather than actual data about their childhood routines. Still, the research suggests that routine is an important area for psychologists to explore further. 

“It is important to recognize the complexity of child development and the multiple influences that affect a child’s developmental trajectory,” Malatras said. “Promoting family stability during childhood and adolescence may enhance the development of skills that may be important in promoting adjustment and overall functioning.” 

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