Each night as you are tucking your children into bed, review the day's events and emotions. Then take a moment to preview the next day. This means that you talk about tomorrow’s plans and events and help your child understand what to expect during each step of the day. The next morning as you are getting ready or eating breakfast, briefly preview the plans again with your child.
At bedtime as you sit and talk. Spend a moment reviewing some things that happened during that day. Let your child guide the discussion and linger on the events that seem meaningful to your child. If they seem particularly proud, excited, or upset about something that happened during the day, allow them a few minutes to talk it out with you. How your “Review of the Day” sounds will depend on your child’s age and personality. For a 4 year old you might say “Today we sure had a lot of fun making play-dough sculptures huh? Then we had spaghetti for dinner and took a bubble bath!” Your four year old might choose to tell you about how tall they were able to make their play dough tower before it fell down or how they didn't like how loud a dog was barking at the park. For your pre-teen the conversation might sounds more like this: “I’m glad you were able to get together with your study group this afternoon. Did your group work together well?” Listen to your teen's response and continue to ask questions and listen as they talk about their day. Reviewing the day gives your child a chance to mentally process the day’s events and ask any questions or explore feelings or situations with you.
How to Preview the Next Day:
After they are done reviewing their day, begin previewing the plans for tomorrow. Start at the beginning and work your way through the day. You might say “Tomorrow is going to be a little different than most days. Instead of going to school right away, we’re going to a dentist appointment. After the dentist I’ll drop you off at school. I can walk you up to the office and help check you in.” Continue through the day’s events to help your child get a sense of what will be happening throughout the day. Younger children may require more details and a more “story-like” discussion. Help create images in their minds of what will happen. “After school while you’re waiting by the swings, you will either see me in my red car or dad in his blue truck. We’ll be in the normal meeting spot under the big tree.” Older children won’t require as much detail, but still appreciate a heads up about whats going on the next day. “Hey, I’m not sure who yet, but either mom or dad will pick you after school tomorrow.”
As they fall asleep, your child will process the plans and feel prepared and aware. Answer any questions your child might have about the details of the day. Some parents occasionally remind their kids that "Sometimes our plans change, but this is what we hope will happen tomorrow." This can give your kids a sense of security that, although unexpected events may turn up, you're not worried about it, and they shouldn't be either.
How to Repeat the Preview in the Morning:
In the morning as you eat or get ready, go over the plans again to remind your child. “Remember we’re not going to school right away? We’re heading out to the dentist in about 15 minutes. Then I’ll take you to school when we’re done.” They'll remember you telling them about the day's plans the night before and think "Oh yah. I've heard this before. Everything is under control. Nothing new."
How to Handle Changes in Plans:
As kids gain mental control over their schedules, they will be become more flexible to last minute changes that are just part of life. When those changes do occur, make sure you take a moment to explain what is happening and why. “Yesterday I told you that we were going to Angela’s house to play, but her mom called and told me that Angela is really sick. We’ll have to put off our playdate until another day when Angela is all better." Then help them understand what the new plan is: "We’ll just spend the afternoon at home today. When we get home you can choose a craft to work on.”
Previewing days with kids helps them feel in control of their lives. Although they don’t always get to choose what happens in their life, they know what will be happening so they can be prepared. In a way, its a form of respect. Rather than just pushing your child into the activities you’ve planned, you can talk with your child about plans and come to an understanding before the event. Whether or not your family has a “regular” schedule everyday, this is one technique you can use to bring stability to your child’s life.
*Although this is a concept that many families use, it is explained in more detail in the book Simplicity Parenting. Simplicity Parenting is a great resource iIf you want to know more about how to use this strategy with your children or read more examples.