You may have witnessed your toddler’s meltdown when you realized you needed to make an unplanned stop at the grocery store on your way from daycare. Or, you woke your baby up two hours earlier than usual to bring him to a doctor’s appointment, only to mess up his nap schedule for the rest of the day.
Scenarios like these are all too common in the busy world of parenting and caregiving, but they illustrate precisely how important routines can be for babies and toddlers.
The Many Benefits of Routines
Unplanned events pop up here and there that are unavoidable, but here’s why sticking to a routine as much as possible can help your baby’s days go more smoothly:
Routines help your child feel safe.
Your little one looks to you for answers. What’s coming next? What should I expect? These are the questions running through his brain as he tries to anticipate what else is going to happen throughout the day. When he knows what to expect, there won’t be surprises that could throw a wrench in his plans. He’ll know he can depend on the routine he’s always had to keep him calm and relaxed.
Routines can reduce anxiety.
When your child knows what’s going to happen in his day, he won’t be left anxious, wondering what’s to come. Routines offer stability and security rather than “what-if’s” that, during the early years, can produce a high level of anxiety. Even if your child is going through a stressful situation, like potty-training, sticking to his usual routine with everything else can help him work through it.
Routines can help your child develop independence.
A routine keeps your little one focused on the things he needs to do each day, like eat, play, and learn. The more consistent you keep his routine, the more he’ll learn what comes next and can prepare for it. He’ll start to learn when it’s time to get changed, eat breakfast, read a story, and take a bath, and he’ll feel confident in what he can do to get ready for each part of his day.
Routines can keep your child on a healthy sleeping and eating schedule.
All children (and adults!) can thrive on a consistent eating and sleeping schedule, but babies and toddlers are still learning how to get into the swing of daily life. They also need plenty of downtime to keep their development on track. A set bedtime, naptime, wake-up time, and meal schedule can ensure that he’s eating and sleeping regularly to get all the energy he needs to grow and develop.
Routines can strengthen family bonding.
Things like bath time, feeding time, and story time are all parts of routines that can grow a strong family bond between you, your child, his siblings, and other family members. Get everyone in on the action! Your baby will learn that these special bonding times are something he can rely on.
Keeping the Peace with Routines
These tips can help you make sure that the consistent routine you set for your household will keep baby feeling calm and secure:
- Use visuals, like a picture chart, to help your child know what comes next in his daily routine.
- Make his routine a mixture of necessities (sleep/naps, eating, bathing) and fun (reading, playtime, outdoor activities).
- Allow for some flexibility in case unplanned events arise but give your child plenty of notice and reminders about what will change.
- Adjust your routine as he gets older to make room for new responsibilities, changes to meals and naptimes, etc.
- Give your toddler some choices, like whether he’d like to read or take a bath first before bedtime.
Routines give your child a sense of structure that also gives him a blanket of security. Praise him when he sticks to each task. You’ll be on your way to a predictable pattern of behaviors that can eventually set him up for success in daycare or preschool.