The Importance of Toddler Routines
School’s out and summer is here! Many parents want to soak up as much of the summer sun as possible and fill their days with trips to the swimming pool, impromptu stops at the playground, or a late picnic dinner in the park. All these activities are enjoyable ways for a family to spend time together—unless, of course, you have a cranky, overtired toddler on your hands.
Toddlers like to stick to their routine. During summer vacation (or any vacation), it’s all too easy for routines to get thrown off. If you’re finding that your toddler is crankier than usual, it might be a good time to get their routine back on track or start a new one.
Why toddlers love routines
Toddlers are small people in a big world. That can be a scary feeling to a young child. Having a predictable schedule and routine at home is something that makes a child feel safe and in control. They are learning they can depend on you to keep them safe and in their familiar activities. Knowing “what happens next” not only helps toddlers feel secure, it also helps them to develop their planning and executive functioning skills. To build on this skill, you could:
- Offer your child choices, such as: “It’s almost time for bed. Do you want to read Pete The Cat or I Am A Bunny?”
- Ask your toddler throughout the day what comes next. For example, after breakfast, ask, “What do we do after we eat?” (“Brush teeth”)
Why routines are important
Just as knowing what to expect is calming for your toddler, it is also beneficial to you as a parent. Having a set schedule helps the day run more smoothly and keeps everyone happy. In addition, routines also help toddlers:
- Learn positive behavior and safety, such as holding hands while crossing the street.
- Gain confidence through repetition.
- Have fewer meltdowns from being overtired or hungry.
What it means to have a routine
Some parents are intimidated by the word “routine.” You might think it means that you have to eat dinner every day at 6 pm, do the same activities every day at the same time, and never be spontaneous. Really, it’s just setting up a day where your toddler can expect a series of familiar events. Does it ensure that your toddler will nod off to bed every night at 8:30 pm without a hitch? Probably not. But having a routine of “jammies, brush teeth, read a book,” for example, will help get your toddler into a sleepy state of mind. Of course, a toddler’s routine is going to be unique to their family, but here’s a sample routine to follow:
Sample daily routine:
- Wake up
- Eat breakfast
- Get dressed, brush teeth
- Go on morning walk
- Have morning snack
- Play at home: arts and crafts; music time. . .
- Eat lunch
- Nap time
- Afternoon snack
- Play at the park
- Play at home: puzzles, blocks. . .
- Eat dinner
- Bath, brush teeth, read books
Don’t sweat the schedule
Just because you have a daily schedule, doesn’t mean there isn’t room in your day to literally “stop and smell the roses.” If your toddler wants to watch a ladybug crawl up and down a branch, let them. If they want to examine every sidewalk crack, that’s OK, too.
When you do plan something different than the norm, talk about it ahead of time. It’s best to give a heads up to your toddler so they know when they will be varying their routine. For example, “We’re going to go to Granny’s this afternoon after lunch and naps. We’ll still go on our walk this morning, and then after lunch and naps, we’ll go to Granny’s.” Then give another transition warning a few minutes before you need to leave.
As your toddler grows, their need for an unchanging routine lessens. Enjoy this special time with your toddler as they learn to navigate their world and gain a sense of control over their little lives.
This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com).