How to Create a Routine for Your Toddler
"When I think back to my childhood, I remember running around in the streets with my friends, feeding stray dogs, and having water-balloon fights with my sister.
It meant lunchtime whenever we'd see our mother from the balcony. And soon enough, we realized that we'd know exactly when our mother would call us for lunch (our tummies would inform us)."
Most of the 90s kids didn't have planned schedules and routines, and parental involvement in children's lives was not as dense back then as it is today.
But modern parenting styles include establishing a consistent schedule for their children. We want to talk about the importance of routines, rituals, and boredom in childrens' lives.
Why are routines important for children?
Adults often create routines to make it easier to understand daily life. We have workout routines, skin-care routines, night-time routines, and more. It helps us regulate our schedule; keeps our lives organized and relaxed.
So it makes sense to do the same for our toddlers, doesn’t it?
Psychologists often talk about rituals. Rituals help people reduce stress and anxiety by performing repetitive tasks daily. For some, it might be a nice cup of coffee in the morning; others go for a run after lunch; some tend to take a smoke break every hour (not every ritual serves your body and health).
Rituals help us make sense of our schedule, time, and life.
Danielle Kaufman, Psychologist at Melbourne Child Psychology School, talks about the one ritual that every parent should implement in their child's life before the age of seven.
Developing a personal routine will give your toddler a sense of consistency and security. Their bodies and minds will adapt to the routine (morning routine, eating routine, bedtime routine, etc.) and automatically know what comes after brushing their teeth or how much playtime they will have after they're done with school work.
Routine and specification bring a sense of stability.
Some researchers state that we're facing an epidemic of anxiety. Uncertainty creates a shockwave of stress and what we need to do for our toddlers is to create a bit more predictable and familiar environment. Consistent routines and schedules can do that.
How to create a routine for your toddler?
If what we told you was enough to decide to look into the routines and schedules, here's what psychologists and childhood development experts advise.
Create a consistent bedtime and wake-up routine
Children between the age of 1-3 need around 11-14 hours of sleep each day. Make sure to squeeze your toddlers' routine in that timeline and create a consistent wake-up and bedtime schedule.
"Toddlers who wake up at the same time each morning are more likely to take predictable naps throughout the day," says Sarah Honaker, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist, and Certified Behavioral Sleep Medicine Expert.
Parents know it best - you can't control what time your baby will fall asleep. They're usually very active in the evenings and don't want to go to bed. A consistent bedtime schedule will help them adapt to the routine, and you'll start noticing how your toddler will walk around with sleepy eyes around their usual bedtime.
Create a consistent eating schedule for your toddler
Have you noticed that if you eat every 3-4 hours a day, your body starts giving you signs of hunger automatically?
The body adjusts to the schedule, and the mind becomes free of the constant thoughts about "when should I eat?"
Toddlers thrive when their mealtime and snacktime are predictable and organized. Consult with your pediatrician and dietician to create a healthy and balanced meal for your baby.
Such an approach to food and eating schedule will help your toddler develop a healthy relationship with food; which will reduce the chances of acquiring eating disorders in teenage years and adulthood.
Create a consistent playtime routine for your toddler
The essential routines also include a playtime schedule. Games and play are essential for toddlers; it helps reduce stress; develop fine motor skills; help them burn energy and get ready for bedtime, and is just plain fun.
Consistent family activities, shared breakfast, and playtime will help the family bond.
A trick some parents and teachers use is they establish a playtime routine after a healthy lunch. Such a cycle will help kids associate healthy snacks (like broccoli or other veggies that children tend to avoid) with fun playtime.
Don't overschedule your toddler - boredom is good
Leave some breathing time in between the regular activities. Preschool itself is a routine for toddlers.
Make sure to schedule essential rituals for your baby and give them a sense of consistency at home.
Have you ever heard of a "helicopter" parenting style? Amy Brown, Associate Professor of Child Public Health, Swansea University, argues that modern parenting styles, such as "helicopter" or "lawnmower" style, can get into the way of the healthy development of a toddler.
Overprotectiveness, overscheduling, and planning every minute of your toddler's life in detail can backfire.
A fundamental part of growing up is learning to tackle issues and daily difficulties on our own. Children need to be challenged to get ready for adulthood. Overscheduled and predetermined routines can come in the way of that.
Debbie Pope, Lecturer in Psychology, University of Central Lancashire, talks about the benefits of boredom in her article for The Conversation.
She says that "boredom can act as a motivating force, encouraging children to seek out new experiences."
"Helicopter" parents that organize activities for their children, in hopes of increasing their attention span and not letting their kids get bored are hindering the natural development of their children.
Do everything in moderation and create a necessary routine (sleep, wake-up, and eating) for your toddlers.
Where do I go from now?
Creating a routine for your toddler can be tough work. But it's rewarding for both parties.
Remember how hard it usually is for you to get used to a new thing or even a slight change in the schedule? So don't give up if your toddler doesn't pick up on the new rituals. Give them some time, observe them and see what they respond to the most.
Give it time and your toddler will adapt to the new schedule and routine in a blink of an eye (or it will seem like a blink of an eye after a few weeks).