It’s 7am. We open the door to our toddler’s bedroom, wish him a good morning and hand him his sippy cup of milk. He’ll usually say, “Open curtains and blinds. Turn off fan. Turn on light.” He knows to expect all of this because it’s what we do almost every morning. Our whole day is littered with little rituals—from putting his toys on the couch before meal times to placing his clothes into the hamper before bath times. Even our daily flow has a rhythm that relies on a general structure; a template of sorts that we fill in.
Routines can often turn chaos into calm with my toddler. One of the reasons he sometimes throw a tantrum is because his life is feeling a little chaotic and he doesn’t like it one bit. And when his life is disrupted—whether from minor things as an irregular sleep schedule or major life events like moving to a new home—having a routine can help lessen potential tantrums and offer him a sense of familiarity.
I’ve found several other benefits that routine provides, including:
Less power struggles
When we tell our toddler every day, “It’s bath time; let’s clean up your room,” resistance grows less and less because cleaning up his room is just what we do when it’s bath time. And when it’s time to take a nap, he (now) knows that he’s supposed to lie in bed and rest, and that eventually he’ll wake up and we’ll come get him.
A sense of security
Sometimes it seems like separation anxiety never fully goes away, but because we drop him off and pick him up at my aunt’s house the same time on the same days, he tends to pick up the pattern: “They’re leaving now, but they’ll come back to pick me up because they always do.”
After meal times, LO runs to the bathroom and climbs on the steps so that he can wash his hands and face as well as brush his teeth without having to ask him.
Less to worry about, more to focus on
Because of the predictability in our toddler’s life, he can spend less time feeling anxious or worrisome and use that time to play, relax, and explore. He doesn’t have to worry whether something unpleasant will come up.
Does having a routine mean we have no spontaneity?
Not at all. I think of routines as templates with “pillars”—you tend to have a set time for waking up, bathing, eating and sleeping—that can be filled in with spontaneous activities. For instance, after snack time is usually a good time for us to go on a family outing, which often varies from week to week.
And special occasions almost always warrant a near-complete disruption of routine (holidays, anyone?). However, he knows that after all the hullabaloo, we’ll return to our regular days. And even vacations don’t usually cause an upheaval because of all the days of having regular, predictable routine.
These days our daily routine on a weekend can include:
- 7am – wake up and eat breakfast
- 9:30am – snack time
- 12pm – lunch
- 1pm – nap
- 4pm – snack
- 6pm – dinner
- 7pm – bath
- 7:30pm – bed time
Simple routines can make the difference between a happy, restful toddler and an anxious, over-tired one. When we all know what to expect, we don’t have to continually ask, “What’s next?”
Do routines work for your kids?