Consistency is important to the social, emotional and cognitive development of babies and young children. Regularity, predictability, routines, orderliness, and setting and enforcing limits contribute to a positive consistent environment.
Repeated experiences in a consistent environment help strengthen networks of connections in the brain. These connections form the foundation for the development of trust in others, self-esteem, behavior regulation, and many other abilities.
Children benefit from consistent environments, relationships, and interactions. Consistency provides repetition that strengthens connections in the brain. Positive consistent environments help children develop trust, emotional security, and secure attachments. Consistent environments give children the security to feel relaxed, be open to learning, and learn how to manage their own behavior and make good decisions.
Elements of a Consistent Environment
Regularity and Predictability
When infants grow up in a regular, predictable world, they learn that they can trust their caregivers to meet their needs. Babies develop a sense of security when caregivers respond predictably and lovingly when they are crying, hungry, sleepy, or in the mood to play. Older children can learn to wait to have their needs met, but infants cannot be expected to wait until a certain time for someone to respond. Infants who know that they can depend on caregivers to meet their needs have a strong foundation to form secure attachments.
Schedules and Routines
Schedules and routines create predictability and stability for young children. Routines — doing certain things in a certain order at approximately the same time — help build children’s self-confidence by making it clear what to do in a situation. Young children who cannot tell time or verbalize the steps in a routine can still remember, and depend on, the order of a routine. For example, a 2-year-old may know what to do when she arrives at her child care center: hang up her sweater, wash her hands, and then find a toy to play with. When the teacher sings the clean-up song, she puts her toys away and lines up to go outside. She can successfully follow the routine, and that success builds self-esteem and encourages independence.
Orderliness in the Environment
An orderly, organized environment helps children know what to expect, and gives them feelings of security and control. Children know that their toothbrushes are in the cup by the sink. They know that the blocks are in the building corner. They learn where to put things when it is time to clean up. Adults realize how stressful it can be when she cannot find something. Keeping the environment reasonably orderly can reduce frustration and stress for children, as well.
Being consistent does not mean never changing the schedule or routine, never changing the rules, or always being in control of a child’s actions. Flexibility is essential, because children’s needs change. Even when the basic routine is the same, some details could change from day to day. For example, children might ask parents to read their bedtime story in the living room instead of the bedroom one night. Schedules also may change for special occasions, such as a birthday party. As children get older, some routines may need to change to accommodate children’s developing independence. When children are secure in their regular routines, they learn to adapt to small changes more easily. Experiencing flexibility within routines helps children learn to adapt without anxiety or stress.