What is a routine? A routine is defined as a sequence of actions regularly followed. If you’re not a totally fly by the seat of your pants person, you probably have a lot of your own routines. As adults we have routines such as waking up daily at 6am, making coffee as soon as we roll out of bed, watching certain TV programs at scheduled times each week, exercising, brushing our teeth twice a day or making meals at consistent times.
Having routines can greatly benefit our infants and toddlers because the repetition of a routine helps them learn. What can routines help your toddler learn? Well, a lot! Routines help little ones learn social skills, safety, boundaries, self-control, how to deal with transitions and so much more. In turn, having routines for our young children can make us happier parents.
How do routines help children learn social skills? Young children learn to wave bye-bye and then typically saying hi comes soon after. These greetings are important social and language milestones that they will use throughout their lives. At home and in child care children also learn routines such as waiting, turn-taking and sharing.
Routines can help a child learn safety, boundaries & self-care skills such as washing hands after using the potty, brushing teeth before bed or holding Dad’s hand when outside on a walk.
Routines can help your child have self-control and guide behavior. Toddlers like to be in control, so having predictable daily routines can help. Before bedtime, you can ease power struggles with children by giving them a sense of control with choices that are part of their daily routine. For example instead of saying “You have to take a bath” or “You have to brush your teeth”, you can ask your toddler “Do you want to brush your teeth first or take a bath first?”. This gives them a sense of control. At clean up time you can say “I’ll help you, do you want to pick up your cars or your blocks first?”
Many toddlers have difficulty with transitions. You can use “First, Then” statements to ease transitions and also incorporate the use of an egg timer or bell into daily routines. For example, “First you put all your books onto the bookshelf, then we get to have a snack” or “When the bell goes off it’s time to put the Playdoh into the can and then we can go outside on the swingset”.
Having consistent daily routines helps your toddler with learning and helps them remain in control and feeling safe and confident about their day. Routines for your toddler also benefit you as a parent. If you know that every day from 1-3pm Suzanna is napping, you can plan your projects (or your own nap!) around that time. Many parents “allow” their toddlers to set their own nap and bedtimes, which can lead to daily chaos and lack of rest for the entire family. Yes, your toddler WILL resist you at times, this is what toddlers DO. BUT, if you stick to your guns and your scheduled routines without wavering your child will learn that these are the routines and rules. You cannot make your child fall asleep at nap or at bedtime, however, if you continue with a naptime schedule of 12:30pm-2pm is quiet time and whether you are tired or not, you must go into your bed with a book or quiet toy (no iPads, games, etc), most kids will and do fall asleep and can keep this routine until kindergarten age. Kids do NOT outgrow napping at age 2, contrary to what some parents say, and many of today’s children get much less sleep than they need thus contributing to behavioral problems during the day.
If you visit parents.com you can find ideas of sample daily schedules for toddlers such as this one:
6:45 a.m. Wake up, play in the crib or your bed
7:30 a.m. Breakfast
8:00 a.m. Get dressed, brush teeth
8:30 a.m. Read books and play
10:30 a.m. Morning snack
11:00 a.m. Arts and crafts
11:30 a.m. Listen to music
12:00 p.m. Lunch and cleanup
12:30 p.m. Naptime
2:30 p.m. Afternoon snack
3:00 p.m. Outdoor play/walk
5:30 p.m. Dinner
6:00 p.m. Playtime and cleanup
7:00 p.m. Have a bath/brush teeth
7:30 p.m. Pajamas, story time, lullabies
8:15 p.m. Bedtime