Do you like to go with the flow, and let your day unfold spontaneously? Or are you at the mercy of your calendar, craving routine? Once you become a parent, you may find that your child thrives on a schedule, albeit a flexible one. Kids do well when they are provided with structure, but structure that allows for bad days, growth spurts, and transitions from activity to activity. Learning to incorporate both structure and flexibility is key. At each age, children thrive on routine. Young babies are learning new things every minute of every day, and a loose schedule will help them to adjust to the astonishing new world they’re being introduced to! And toddlers and preschoolers must find a balance between rest, play, and learning that will keep them stimulated without stressing them. A schedule can help with that balance. But how do you develop a schedule at each age?
Establishing a strict routine for a newborn baby is unnecessary and, as many new parents have found, incredibly challenging. But since babies do thrive on routine, you can start building small routines into your baby’s day early on, and build them up over time. When your baby is born, she won’t be able to distinguish between daytime and nighttime. In order to help her develop her circadian rhythms, and sleep better at night, establish a daytime habit of exposing her to daylight during her wakeful times. You can also introduce a bedtime ritual early on, including a bath, a lullaby or a book, and dim lights in the room where she sleeps. As the months go by, try keeping a journal of your baby’s naps, feedings, and playtimes. You may find that a schedule emerges eventually, and you can stick to that schedule as she grows. Some parents find it helpful to employ the method outlined by Tracy Hogg in her bestselling book, The Baby Whisperer. Hogg advises parents to allow their young babies to eat, play, and then sleep, and to repeat that order of events throughout the day, in order to set the stage for healthy sleep habits. And if you enroll your baby in daycare, you’ll find that those healthy habits and a flexible schedule will be reassuring to her in her new environment.
Now that your child is a toddler, he may have developed a flexible schedule of mealtimes, naptimes, and bedtime. But you can incorporate even more rituals into his life by teaching him when to brush his teeth, wash his hands, and even help with small chores around the house. Many toddlers grow accustomed to their childcare center’s schedule, and thrive when that schedule is followed at home. And as your toddler makes friends and develops interests in certain activities, you can even establish fun routines like Saturday playdates, or swim lessons on Sundays. As your toddler’s world grows, you can enrich his life with more activities and opportunities for learning, and that is often easier to do when these activities are a part of a schedule that your toddler learns to rely upon.
By the time your child has reached preschool age, you can count on his classroom at daycare or preschool to establish a predictable schedule that allows for not only mealtimes and naptimes, but a wide range of learning experiences, developmental activities, and games. A schedule, at this age, allows your childcare provider, and you, to make sure your child’s day is well balanced, incorporating rest, play, and learning! At this age, when children are beginning to become even more active, transitions become very important to a child’s schedule. Allow time for a child to wind down after playtime, so that he can rest afterwards. Give your child notice when he needs to get ready for daycare or preschool, or when you need to take him to run errands or go on a playdate. Allowing your child to adjust to the idea of a new activity will ensure that he’ll enter into that activity with the right attitude and energy.
Of course, there are times when your schedule will fall apart. Vacations, visits to grandma’s house, and the flu can all wreak havoc on your family’s schedule. But you can use this as an opportunity to teach your child that despite the upheaval in their day, they are still safe and loved. And when they return to their daily schedule, they’ll feel a relief that their routine is waiting for them, even after a few days off!