Are family routines a dynamic concept?

Carmen T. Francisco Mora

Being of different ages, languages, cultures and hemispheres, the authors of this text have coincided in the dynamics of life. Our doctoral studies and our deep interest in families and their quality of life, have oriented our research towards the construct of family quality of life.  In particular, after studying the work of different authors, Carmen detected the pertinence of exploring the nature of family routines. As a result of collective discussions, we have considered the appropriateness of elaborating further on this issue in the light of some related  authors. 

Family routines have been considered as one of the dynamic concepts of Family Quality of Life (FQoL) (Schlebusch et al., 2016; García-Grau et al. 2019). Daily activities carried out in the child's natural contexts are one of the strengths of the Family-Centered Early Intervention model (McWilliam, 2016). Family routines are of particular importance in Early Intervention for children with disabilities because of the amount of learning opportunities they provide. As examples: mealtime routines, bedtime activities, going to the supermarket, to the park, etc. But, to what extent can these routines be considered as concepts of family dynamics? Does the fact that they take place in a family context allow them to be considered as such?

Gardiner and Iarocci (2012) consider that it is not enough for the child's routines to be developed in a family environment or context, to be considered one of the dynamic concepts that would be part of the definition of FQoL proposed by Zuna and colleagues in 2010. This would be the case if the focus was placed on the child's dysfunction rather than "taking a more holistic and systemic view of family life and functioning" (p. 2182). For instance, children with disabilities often require daily routines as well as carrying them out with the person to whom they are attached. Usually, this will be the case when these routines are developed by fathers, mothers, grandfathers or grandmothers. These routines are familiar precisely because they are carried out by people linked by a close family relationship. 

What is then required for family routines to be considered as forming part of the dynamic concepts of FQoL? Fiese et al. (2002) seemed to provide an answer to this question when pointing out an important difference between family routines and family rituals. The latter "are highly symbolic in nature and have a strong affective component" (p. 382). On the contrary, routines can be activities that the child performs with people outside the family. When these same routines are carried out by family members, it is worth questioning to what extent this activity has a symbolic charge and about the influence it has on the different family relationships. 

Certainly, routines may improve their value if they have a symbolic charge. After a systematic review, Fiese et al. (2002) stated: "the authors speculated that once the child can be a more active participant in family life, routines become more regular and rituals more meaningful" (p. 384). The definition of FQoL provided by Park et al. (2003) implicitly alludes to this symbolic character, understanding FQoL as "the conditions in which family needs and family members enjoy their life together as a family and have the opportunity to do things that are important to them" (p. 368). When the routines of the child with a disability are developed in line with this family spirit, it will contribute to a better quality of life for the entire family and for each of its members.

We can then consider that family routines would be original to each family because of the symbolic character that brings family members together. It is therefore important for practitioners to uncover family routines by listening to the different family members. Family routines are not a receipt used by services and should be taken into account when implementing interventions. In the end, as one of DSiN's slogans says, "One size fits all! Only when it rains and a huge baobab tree shows up".



Fiese, B.H., T.J. Tomcho, M. Douglas, K. Josephs, S. Poltrock, y T. Baker (2002). «A review of 50 years of research on naturally occurring family routines and rituals: Cause for celebration?» Journal of Family Psychology 16, n.o 4: 381-90.

Garcia-Grau, P., McWilliam, R. Martinez-Rico, G. y Morales-Murillo, C. (2019). «Child, Family, and Early Intervention Characteristics Related to Family Quality of Life in Spain». Journal of Early Intervention 41, n.o 1: 44-61.

Gardiner, E., y G. Iarocci (2012). «Unhappy (and happy) in their own way: A developmental psychopathology perspective on quality of life for families living with developmental disability with and without autism». Research in Developmental Disabilities 33, n.o 6: 2177-92.

McWilliam, R. (2016). Metanoia en Atención Temprana. Transformación a un Enfoque Centrado en la Familia. Revista latinoamericana de educación inclusiva, 10(1), 133-153. Recuperado de

Park, J., L. Hoffman, J. Marquis, A.P. Turnbull, D. Poston, H. Mannan, M. Wang, y L.L. Nelson (2003). «Toward assessing family outcomes of service delivery: Validation of a family quality of life survey». Journal of Intellectual Disability Research 47, n.o 4-5 (2003): 367-84.

Schlebusch, L., Samuels, A. y Dada, S. (2016). «South African families raising children with autism spectrum disorders: relationship between family routines, cognitive appraisal and family quality of life». Journal of Intellectual Disability Research 60, n.o 5 (mayo de 2016): 412-23.


Carmen T. Francisco Mora
Carmen T. Francisco Mora is a PhD student from Santiago de Chile (Chile). Her PhD research is focused on the Conceptualisation of the Quality of Life of Families with Children with Disabilities from 0 to 6 years old. Her thesis is carried on at the Faculty of Psychology Blanquerna, Ramon Llull University (Barcelona, Spain) and supervised by Dr. Anna Balcells Balcells (Ramon Llull University) and Dr. Alba Ibáñez García (University of Cantabria).

Olga Múries Cantán 
Olga Múries Cantán is a PhD student from Barcelona. Her thesis research explores quality of life’s perceptions of siblings of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Her thesis is funded by the Faculty of Psychology Blanquerna, Ramon Llull University (Barcelona, Spain) and supervised by Dr. Alice Schippers and Dr. Climent Giné. She is currently working in a regular school supporting and assessing children with special needs and their teachers. 
Olga has been related with Disability Studies in Nederland since 2015 when she did her Educational Psychology master’s internship about family quality of life.