For the month of September we have tips tackling transitions. This week, we're focusing on routines. Kids thrive on routine, and often feel tremendous stress when they do not have a routine on which to rely. That stress can actually impact healthy brain development. We have tips on maintaining routines even through periods of change.
Your Baby/Toddler (Birth to 36 months)
When babies are newborns they live by their own schedules – they eat when they need to, sleep when they need to, and poop when they need to. Parents simply follow their cues, though pretty soon (once baby starts sleeping through the night for instance) it is important to introduce a daily routine. Just like you, babies and toddlers like it when their day is organized and predictable. In fact, having a consistent routine that rarely changes is how babies avoid becoming distressed and anxious. Your baby will learn that he can trust you with his needs and since he knows what the day holds for him, he is more prepared to learn about the world around him and have fun!
- Consistency is important to your child’s development. Create a schedule that works for the both of you so that you can always be at your best. Make sure that your child has a bedtime routine that eases into a sleeping schedule. For example, 1-2 hours before bedtime, turn off the TV/radio and have quiet time.
- Eating and snacking schedules are just as important. You know how grumpy and unproductive you can get when you don’t eat? Your child feels the same. Providing healthy meals and snacks at appropriate times ensures your child stays happy and healthy.
- Trust your child’s appetite, if she does not want to eat at the time you feel she should, try again in 30 minutes to see if she is hungry; this will give you a better idea of your child’s own internal appetite-clock.
- Trust your child’s internal sleeping schedule. Read your child’s cues, and know when your child’s behaviour means, “I’m tired, and want to sleep, I’m just not able to tell you.”
- Sometimes schedules need to change. Instead of changing your child’s routine drastically, help him ease into his new routine. For example, if your child is changing from two naps to one, gradually change the time you put him to sleep by 15 minute intervals over a period of two weeks; anything more can alarm your child and cause him to be irritable and unhappy.
Routines and schedules are important to your child. It’s how she decides whether or not her needs are being met, and it’s how she learns that you know her best. When your child has a consistent sleeping and eating schedule, she is in a much better position to be productive in her own learning, which optimizes her language, motor and personal-social skills. Make sure to allow some flexibility; if your child does not seem to stick to the schedule that you’ve created, then adjust so that the schedules suit your child better.
Your Preschooler (36 months to 48 months)
Your child may be in daycare or in school, and these places have their own schedules and routines. Be sure to maintain as much consistency as possible with your child’s daycare or school schedules, so that he is better prepared when he returns from the weekend or from holidays.
- Much like transitioning, prepare your child for daycare or school by talking to her about the changes in her schedule a week before the changes begin. Talk about how she might be trying new foods, or ask her to help with making her lunch. She can also help pick out her clothes for the next day.
- If possible, ask for a schedule from your daycare or school, and have it ready on your refrigerator to reference daily. Discuss with your child the activities that he will be doing the next day, or throughout the week. This will also help you plan what your child should be wearing (perhaps a bathing suit for “Wet N’ Wild day), or what your child should bring to school (“Show and Tell” Fridays).
- When routines change, sleeping and eating schedules are typically altered. Prepare your child for earlier bedtime and wake up routines, and have snacks ready.
- Always remember to give your child and yourself plenty of time in the morning to get ready. Some mornings can be more difficult, so make sure you lessen your frustration and feelings of being rushed by allotting more time when needed.
A change in routine can be very difficult. When your whole day is different from what you are used to, it can be tough to accept new changes in your day, let alone enjoy them. Help your child by being enthusiastic about these upcoming changes, but remember to be sensitive to your child’s feelings.
Want more tips? Read all of the tips from our partnership with Infant Mental Health Promotion at SickKids.