Hang gliders above Haleakala Hwy.

This morning my 3¾ year old daughter and I saw running man for the first time in two months. I was surprised at how excited we both were to see him again—especially since we don’t know the man.

During the school year my daughters and I leave the house between 7:15 and 7:30am. I drop the older daughter off at her nearby elementary school and then I take the younger one to her preschool a few miles up the road. On the drive we talk about the things we see: cows, alpacas, jacaranda trees, hang gliders, school buses, boats… and running man. Running man is a man who  runs on Haleakala Highway on week-day mornings between 7:15 and 8am. He is part of our morning routine.

What is the connection between running man and children’s policy? Seeing him today made me think of two things about children’s policy: protective factors that help lower the incidence of child abuse and neglect, and the benefits of gaining a different perspective on what you see every day.

First, a protective factor that helps parents raise healthy, resilient children is an understanding of child development, including understanding the importance of routines for children. Research shows that predictable routines create a feeling of stability for children; help a child organize her life; help a child understand what parents, teachers, and others expect of her; and create a structured way for a child to learn life skills and explore the world around her.

Second, varying your daily routine can lead to a new perspective. While routines create stability for children, too much routine can create stagnation for adults. Musing on the differences in what you see on your way to work when you leave at a different time may lead you to ask new questions in other areas of your life. For example, you may question your current approach to your initiative to enroll more children in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and come up with new ideas for educating parents about the program.

One routine in my daughter’s life is our conversation as we drive to school. We talk about the things we see along the way and what they tell us about the season (are the jacarandas in bloom?), the weather (is the sky cloudy?), and the time (we are later today than yesterday because running man is on the other side of the road already). My daughter describes details such as the colors of the flowers and when running man gets a haircut. On our morning drives over the last two months, the absence of running man was a regular part of our conversation, affirming how much this unknown man had become a part of my daughter’s daily environment.

During the summer when my older daughter did not have to be at school by 7:45am, the drive to preschool usually occurred between 8:15 and 9am. Delaying our departure by 45 minutes meant we did not see running man… or did it? It is true that we had not seen him since last May, but we can’t be certain that not seeing him was the result of our changed routine. My daughter and I have had several conversations about why we haven’t seen him—especially on the few days when we went to preschool before 8am. “Maybe he is on Oahu,” she speculated. Or “maybe he is still sleeping,” “he is on the mainland,” “he already finished running today,” “maybe he is hurt,” or “maybe he doesn’t like running anymore.” The possible explanations of a child trying to make sense of changes in her daily life are endless.

If you are struggling with a problem at work or are looking for inspiration to move a project to the next level, see what happens when you change a routine. Arrive at work an hour earlier or later, explore a different part of your community, volunteer with a new organization, take a walk at lunch, hold your next meeting outside instead of in your office. Sometimes changes in the world have nothing to do with us and sometimes we need to create changes in the world.