Understanding our child's need for order

When I joined a Parenting Workshop, I was asked how I felt if i found the spice jars  in my kitchen were kept in a different order from how they normally are, or what if the files in my computer got mixed up, or to enter my home after a long day to a room full of guests that I had not met before? And when I thought about what I felt it ranged from frustration, helplessness to complete anguish! And then what I was asked next, rocked me to my core! “Do you know, your child goes through this many times during the day?”. I just could not believe that it could be true! How could my children feel the range of emotions, when I do so much to keep them content and happy? Yet, when I thought about it, I realised that my children did have many meltdowns during the week.       

We explored how NEED FOR ORDER is a fundamental need in infant, children and adults. A child wants to make sense of his universe by having an order in her routine, the people she meets and in her environment. This makes her feel safe. According to Maria Montessori, the need for order is a developmental need for every child and the need could be high or low depending on the unique nature of the child. 

And if this need is not met, for ex. the routine of taking a nap every afternoon does not happen, infants will cry, children may have ‘tantrums’ and adults may get irritable and upset. Children, especially in the age group of 0 to 6 years are very sensitive to order, however, as they become older they do outgrow it to a certain extent.

This piece of information is very critical for us parents. Our infants cry when someone new carries them. They recognise a change in order of the person. Young school-going children resist change in their daily routine. If they are used to their father dropping them to school or their mother reading them a bedtime story, any change to that brings about a lot of distress. Children like to know where they can find their things in the same order as they had kept them and don’t like it rearranged. It also seems fair in their sense of order when the rules of ‘No TV while having food’ apply to all in the family and not only to them!

It was useful to observe and recognise this need in my children as they dealt with new situations. Preparing them in advance was very helpful, so that they have a sense of being in control of their surroundings, thus helping them build their confidence and competence. 

So if I am taking my child out after school instead of going straight home or if someone else is picking him up other than the usual person, I could try and prepare him for the change in routine before he leaves home for school. Sometimes even that may not be possible, but now I understand that he is not ‘just having a tantrum’. He is upset for a valid reason – and hence I don’t react harshly but respond to him with understanding.


Author : Mrinalini Ponappa Banerjea, is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families.