For a toddler, the world can be an overwhelming place. She’s pushed from place to place, told to do this or not do that, but has no real understanding of your planning or reasoning. It can be frustrating and scary; if she had better command of the language she might cry, “For goodness sake, what do you want from me now?” One way to reduce anxiety and bring a sense of order to a toddler’s world is to establish a routine.
Assess Your Needs
Life can get busy for a mom on the go, so planning shouldn’t be taken lightly. There are some things that are just not very flexible, like having to be at work at a certain time. Meals and naps are also important, because a hungry or tired toddler is more prone to melt-downs and tantrums, which can make for a very unhappy day for both of you. Look at your schedule and be realistic about the things you need to juggle in a day; pencil in your highest priorities first, and work other things, like errands or extra play time, around those.
Make Rituals Fun
Make the rituals of your routine fun for your child. For example, a 2-year-old doesn’t generally react well when when you walk in and announce he’s got to stop playing around and go to bed. Instead, make a bed time ritual that you can both look forward to. Bring him in for a bath where he can have fun splashing around as you give him all your attention. Snuggle with him when he gets into his pajamas and read him a story. By easing him from one activity to another in a way he’ll look forward to, you’ll find he gives you a lot more cooperation.
Schedule Some Spontaneity
It may sound like a contradiction, but it’s actually very important not to overload yourself or your child. It’s very easy to end up scheduling your every waking moment, but children need a little creativity and spontaneity, too. They need to be able to make some decisions, such as whether they’d like to stay home and read with you or go to the park. Don’t be so rigid with your routine that you forget to take your child’s feelings and moods into account. A routine is supposed to be liberating, not confining.
Make a Chart
Your little one is very visual–he may not be able to read, but he can see and respond to pictures, colors and other visual cues. Having your schedule posted on the fridge or in the family room and pointing to it throughout the day helps your child understand that there is an order to your day on which he can depend. Having your schedule up where you can see it and refer to it often is also a great reminder to everyone in the family to stay on track.
Stick to It
The best way to get into a routine is to do things routinely. That sounds overly-simplistic, but the truth is that for some people, routines can fail to really get off the ground. Maybe you’re not a routine person–maybe before parenthood you flew by the seat of your pants. Maybe you were just so sleep deprived that somewhere between 3 AM feedings and teething tantrums you started zoning out; instead of running your life, life started running you. Just because you didn’t get your child in a routine earlier doesn’t mean you blew it; but you do have to get into the swing of things. Keep your highest priorities constant in your routine so you and your toddler know what to expect. The only way you and your little one are going to adapt to a routine is by keeping up with it.
Tweak When Necessary
A good routine should work for you; you shouldn’t be working for it. If it isn’t working, don’t feel so trapped by your schedule that you run yourself ragged– change it. Try to avoid abrupt changes and unpredictability, but do realize when a change is in order. After all, your tiny tot is going to be doing a lot of growing over the next couple of years. As his needs change, the schedule should change as well.