Toddler Routine? How is that possible?

Toddler Routine? How is that Possible?As parents we hear how important the bedtime routine is for our children. We also know- how important keeping routine naps are for our sanity as well as our children’s ability to learn, grow, and process. However, there comes an age where children really start to thrive on daily routines. Routines make children feel safe, in control, and grounded. Around 1 year of age we see self-imposed patterns develop in our children, their eating, sleeping and playing cycle becomes a little more predictable. Around this time we can use routines to help enhance their learning.

Before I go any further I would like to draw a huge distinction between a schedule and a routine. Young toddlers will not thrive with a time-driven schedule. They need to be allowed the flexibility they require to complete their naps, and meet their basic needs, while also providing a loose framework for what to expect during the day; this can be done through routines.

For example, in our house, our morning routine is we wake up and have breakfast within the hour of waking, usually with Daddy before he leaves for work. Then we get dressed and have creative play (dress-up is the favorite at the moment) for my 3 year old; and fine motor skill (like opening and closing boxes) for my 10 month old. About an hour to hour-and-a-half after waking my 10 month-old is ready for a quick morning nap. Once she is asleep, my 3 year-old and I spend 10 minutes doing an activity of his choice, before I break away and he has time to play on his own. This 10-minute window allows him to get involved with play and leaves him with some direction for his self-play. I can usually use the remainder of the morning nap to clean up the kitchen, or do some laundry, etc. Once the baby is awake, we leave the house either run errands or participate in a child-related activity before returning for lunch and/or afternoon naps.

This routine is not set in stone for every day of the week, but 3-5 days of the week this is our routine. I make an effort to preserve this routine. I will not over schedule activities for myself or my children that would devastate our routine. When we are in our routine the children know what to expect and it makes the morning run smoothly (USUALLY). Everyone gets what they need from this routine: food, sleep, play, attention and time alone.

On days that will stray from the routine, it is important that I prepare myself and my children. This is especially true for parents with an older toddler. In our family we use bedtime to talk about the plans for tomorrow. This gives my 3-year-old time to prepare for the coming day. He has a chance to ask questions about why we are doing certain things, and I have time to answer and prepare him. This is a really helpful tool for us.

Our routine did not happen overnight–we built this routine together as a family. It started with our needs, and then with our priorities. Routines grow as your family grows, and little elements within the routine may be further defined as children age. Routines offer a lot of opportunity for teaching children. An example of this is dressing. At first we dress the child, then the child learns pick out their clothes, then to put on their clothes with help, and finally to dress themselves independently.

If you are trying to come up with a routine that works for your family and will provide some predictability for your toddler, I encourage each of you to sit down as a family and write down all your activities, as well as the things you value and want to incorporate in your day-to-day life. From this list, try to make a general routine to attempt and start finding a family routine that works for your specific family dynamics. You may find that you are smothered by the amount of activities you have invested yourself in and want to try to tone them down. Alternatively, you may find that you need to add more specific types of activities to break up your time. Looking at your needs and wants on paper allows you to optimize the use of your time, and develop a more efficient framework for your day. After all, it’s not only children that thrive on routines, its human nature.

Casey Mix-McNulty, RN, BSN is a full-time mom to an imaginative little boy and a feisty little girl.   She is also a pediatric nurse aspiring towards becoming an IBCLC.

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