Early childhood development consultant Una Van Staden says it’s important for children to have routine in their days. “This gives the day a rhythm that will becomes familiar if it is repeated the same way every day. ” The repetitiveness of a schedule will help your baby to feel more settled.
Johannesburg-based clinical psychologist Cristine Scolari adds that routines help children regulate their bodily arousal. Young children are dependent on their parents to help them regulate their brain chemistry, so get to know your baby and learn to respond to her needs accordingly.
Follow these tips to set up a successful routine for your child:
“It’s important that a baby doesn’t sleep so much that she misses feeds. A newborn baby needs a minimum of six feeds every 24 hours,” says Una. At around eight weeks, feeding times become more predictable and the length of the feeds will become shorter. Your baby will also be more awake and focused on the feeding, rather than dropping off to sleep. Una explains that, as a general guideline, you should be feeding your baby every three to four hours. However, if your baby is breastfed or experiencing a growth spurt, he may need to feed as often as every two hours.
When your baby starts solids, her milk feeds will gradually decrease.
By the time your child is 12 months old, milk feeds are reduced to just two a day, once on waking and again at bedtime. “It is advised to offer your toddler three meals a day, and two healthy snacks. Finger foods are what most toddlers like to eat, so offer plenty of options that he can pick up and feed himself,” says Una.
Placing your little one in a high chair for mealtimes as part of his toddler routine will send clear signals to his brain that it’s time to eat. It’s also a good idea to make the environment conducive to feeding by observing where he is most comfortable sitting and clearing the area of any distractions.
When a newborn is awake, he’s preoccupied with feeding, nappy changes, burping and settling. This doesn’t leave much time for play. And because newborns get tired quickly, Una suggests keeping interactions gentle and soothing. “Massages, speaking to your baby, singing and tracking exercises are recommended,” she says. Any stimulating exercises should take place when your baby has happily woken up on his own – this is when your baby is ready to engage and learn new skills.
“During the later months, it is imperative to do structured play time with your baby so his brain is tired enough to switch off,” she adds. Your baby needs to actively interact with you and explore the world around him.
“Your baby’s routine needs to consist of structured play as well as free play.
Infants will drift in and out of sleep throughout the day, and the naps will become less frequent as your baby grows. “Around his first birthday, your little one should be having two sleeps during the day, about three and a half hours apart,” say Meg Faure and Ann Richardson in their book Sleep Sense. Your child’s sleep patterns will be determined by his daily activities, so engage him in stimulating activities during his awake time. If he’s yawning, rubbing his eyes and fussing, he’s signalling that he’s ready for a nap.
If you have errands to run, let your baby nap in the car seat or stroller, but don’t make this a habit − napping on the go should not form part of your baby’s routine. “I don’t believe it’s a good idea to let your baby nap on the go all the time as this could affect his night-time sleep,” advises Una. She explains that your baby will learn to depend on the motion of the car or pram to soothe him to sleep, and may not always transition into a deep sleep. “Restorative sleep takes place when your baby is sleeping on a still surface, like in his cot. Motion is wonderful to use as a calming strategy, but not for sleeping.”
Create a sleep zone for your baby and stick to it, so he is napping and sleeping in the same place and at the same time each day.
Ending the day with a relaxing bath is a great way to connect with your baby while helping him settle into a good bath-time habit. Start your bath-time routine approximately 30 to 45 minutes before bedtime. “Babies generally sleep the longest after a warm bath and the bath then becomes a bedtime signal. The key to a successful bedtime routine is to not take your baby out of the sleep zone after bath time,” she explains. After a soothing bath, your baby would be due for a feed, while your toddler can engage in quiet play leading up to bedtime.
Snuggle up with your child after bath time. There should be no loud noises like the TV blaring. Make the room darker, play soothing music and, definitely, no electronics for toddlers.
Una also recommends storybooks instead of picture books. “Be sure that you’re picking bedtime-friendly books that support sleep – a book that has your toddler shouting and stomping around won’t work.”
Una encourages preparing your baby for bedtime. This usually means a bath and a story to help your little one wind down. It’s a good idea to avoid any activities that will overstimulate your little one before bedtime.
“To create a bedtime routine that works for you and your baby, put together a predictable sequence of events that you can consistently follow in the same order every night,” says Una. The routine will evolve and change as your child grows, but the basics remain the same.
“A toddler’s brain chemicals have to be activated by soothing routines, which are repeated during the course of their development. This will lower your child’s activity level and prepare his nervous system for relaxation,” she adds. It’s also important for your child to learn to fall asleep on her own, which means he should be placed in his cot sleepy, but awake. Avoid rocking or feeding your baby to sleep as he will need the same things to go back to sleep if he wakes during the night.