By Michelle Mady
Toddlers love predictability. Although a toddler’s behaviors, emotions and actions may feel anything but predictable, they find comfort in knowing what comes next. As a more go-with-the-flow type of person myself, I used to have a really hard time implementing routines. Although I know it is best for children, I couldn’t figure out where to start.
Although a toddler’s behaviors, emotions and actions may feel anything but predictable, they find comfort in knowing what comes next.
Through some trial and error, I found some great, easy places to start to build routines. And I also found that creating a routine sounds like a lot more work than it actually is. It isn’t a schedule or something to be chained to for all of eternity. But rather, routines are natural in our daily life, and with a new reference point, even the toughest times of the day can incorporate routines as easy as “rather, rinse, repeat.”
Each morning, I wake up, use the bathroom, brush my teeth and then head back into my bedroom to get dressed. It is routine for me, and once I realized that this is what toddlers need - simple, predictable steps - it was easy to start implementing some of my own.
Pick a few parts of the day that you see the biggest struggles. Is bedtime a never-ending process? Is getting out of the house for school a nightmare? Has your child dropped their nap, so the 3 pm hour of “not tired enough to nap, but too tired to be rational” has you stressed? Those would be the first to implement a routine.
Include Some Control
When thinking about implementing routines, a lot of parents see that as something that has to be created by them. A routine is seen as an adult-led process and decision. However, as we know, toddlers crave control. So, why not have them in on the fun? Give them a few options.
“When it is time for bed, do you want me to read you a story before saying good night?” you could ask. “Or would you like to sing a song together? One or two books? Before or after your bath?”
Questions like this not only help you to see what is important to them, but it also gets them to buy into the routine. Remember to only offer options that you are okay with, so there isn’t a power struggle.
Questions like this not only help you to see what is important to them, but it also gets them to buy into the routine.
Including them in the planning of the routine also makes it more predictable. It will therefore not come as a surprise to your toddler, and your toddler will know what to expect because they have had some input. Younger toddlers can even have a part in this, picking what song or book to read each night, for example.
Stay Consistent ... Until You Can't
Life happens. Routines are great and can minimize big feelings around times of transition. But sometimes, traffic is at a crawl on the way home or an early morning meeting means a variation in the plan. While implementing routines requires some consistency, life’s events may cause some disruption in those routines.
When you can’t keep consistency, acknowledge the change. Even the youngest toddler needs some verbal reassurance that this change is an exception, rather than the rule. Explaining the change doesn’t need to get very involved.
“We are not going to have time to read two stories tonight. But we can still sing a song; which song do you want to sing?” you could say.
“Daddy is going to have breakfast with you tomorrow instead of me. What will you choose for breakfast?” for instance.
If you can add another layer of control, like giving them an additional option, it can help keep their expectations realistic and acknowledge the one-time change.
Routines do not have to take a lot of thought and time to implement, but they can be a great tool in helping your child to manage big emotions!
About the author: Michelle is a mom of 5 children ranging in age from 5 to 15. As a toddler and preschool teacher, she shares experiences, activities and guidance to other parents, as both a parent and as a professional early childhood educator, at any stage of their parenting journey.