Having a routine allows children to explore and learn new things through the comforting boundaries that are created. According to brain-development research conducted by child development centre Gowrie South Australia, and published in a paper entitled The Place of Routines in The Lives of Children, routines are a series of patterns that we perform every day. For our toddlers, they provide consistency, comfort and security.
The power of routines:
According to the brain development research findings:
- Routines are instructions. They help guide children towards a goal. While used for many reasons, the two most important are to help ensure your child’s health and safety, and help children learn positive behaviour.
- They help support the development of your toddler’s social skills and interactions. Simple things like greetings, please and thank you, and sharing of meals provide valuable skills.
- If your toddler is in a routine, he or she is more likely to be able to manage transition times, such as moving from one activity to the next, transitioning to a new caregiver, or even transitioning to preschool or daycare.
- Routines help build self-confidence, curiosity, self-control and communication skills, and give your toddler a space to learn, grow and develop.
- Stable routines allow your child to anticipate what will happen next, which gives her a sense of control, security and empowerment.
- Daily routines also help your toddler to develop independence and perseverance – both valuable life skills.
Routines help your toddler to learn how their world is organised, and what they need to do to interact within that world. Having a consistent and reliable routine provides a sense of continuity. Research shows that these patterns of behaviour that your toddler learns in the early years, can become internalised personal routines that she can take with her into any new environment. In turn, having internalised patterns can help reduce stress and anxiety.
Five ways to set a toddler routine
- Plan your morning: Figure out what tasks need to be done, then plan them in the same order every day. Wake up, morning cuddle, breakfast, get dressed, help you feed the cat, make the bed, etc. The repetitiveness of these experiences help lay down critical pathways in the brain. Repeating these activities makes the connections stronger over time. This means that your toddler will be more confident and calm.
- Create pictures together that indicate each step of the day’s, or week’s routine. Glue these onto a colourful sheet of paper or create a pin board. This can include any weekly social activities, like swimming or dance lessons.
- Plan at least one meal a day that you have as a family. This does not need to be dinner, in fact, breakfast will work just as well. All devices are turned off, including the TV, and it allows the family to discuss their plans for the day. Your toddler can help with the setting of the table as part of this routine.
- Include preparation for transitions into the next step of the day’s routine, such as, “five minutes and then you will need to pack up your toys and get ready for your bath”. Create a wooden or cardboard clock with hands you can move, that you can use to show your toddler the time.
- Create a bedtime ritual. This helps your toddler to slowly calm down and allows them to associate certain activities with getting sleepy. Always do the same bedtime ritual in the same order, such as bath, story and bed. Try to include some time when your toddler can talk about what she did during the day – this not only helps with memory, time orientation and language, but creates a special time together.
While creating a routine is important for your child, try not to be too rigid. Your toddler needs to learn to be flexible and be able to adapt to minor changes. If there is going to be a major disruption to the routine, explain this to your child and prepare her as best as you can. If most of her day remains predictable, she will be able to deal with the changes.
Remember, it’s never too late to start a routine, or adapt the current one you currently have. Share with your child that the system you have is not working, and you are going to try something new, and explain the new schedule. While this may need some adjustment, you do need to be firm in your decision in sticking to the new routine. Best of all, this allows you to grow and learn together as you navigate each step of these toddler years.
Kim Bell is a wife, mother of two teenagers and a lover of research and the way words flow and meld together. She has been in the media industry for over 20 years, and yet still learns more about life from her children everyday.