Every child is different, but they do have one thing in common. Experts agree that children need a sense of structure daily.
"Your child needs some consistency to her day, a predictable sequence that lets her explore the world without worry," child and family therapist Victoria Manion Fleming, Ph.D., told Parents.
Young kids love repetition and knowing what to expect can help boost your child's confidence. It can even lead to fewer tantrums! "Kids with a routine are better at handling momentary chaos," adds pediatrician Dr. David Burnham.
Aside from having to experience fewer meltdowns, having a routine can also lay the foundation for learning, good study habits, understanding the concept of time and respecting other people's concept of time, following rules, and having chores and responsibilities. Did we mention having a routine can also benefit parents?
Because we are talking about kids here, the schedule should be flexible. Don't make it so rigid — you think of it as "things to get done" list — or else you will just get frustrated. Take inspiration from a former elementary teacher, founder of Toddler Approved and mom of four, Kristina Buskirk, who shared her schedule for her 2-year-old in her blog.
Here's what their daily plan looks like:
7 a.m. — Wake up
7 a.m. to 9 a.m. — Breakfast and then get dressed. As she preps her older kids for school, Kristina sometimes entertains her youngest child with sensory games, which usually involve touch, such as clay art, sensory bins, water or ice, painting, and learning through alphabet sticky wall. When Kristina finishes early, she's able to put in the laundry and drop off her kids to school before 10 a.m.
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10 a.m. to 11 a.m. — Trip to the park and also for running errands. Another option Kristina recommends for this time block is to do learning activities such as alphabet matching, matching shapes, objects or photos, color mixing, sorting and building bricks and blocks.
12 noon — Lunch. Kristin says she loves reading to her kids when they eat. 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. — Nap time or quiet time. Kristina uses it to catch up on e-mails. 3 p.m.— Playtime outdoors. If it's raining then, she and kids go stamping, drawing, and sticker art.
4 p.m.— Snack time 5 p.m. — Independent play time. Let your kids learn how to entertain themselves! It gives Kristina the time to prepare dinner, put away the laundry, or finish up home chores. 5:30 p.m. — Dinner time (which is flexible) 6 p.m. — According to Kristine, "My kids don't get a bath every day and sometimes we scrap this entire schedule and just watch a movie after dinner. We do try and do something creative and something together every night, in addition to cleaning." 7 p.m. — Start bedtime routine and storytime. She tucks her toddler to bed around 7:15 p.m. but the older kids go to be at 8 p.m.
Remember her schedule is just an example. It's a template to start your toddlers on until you see what works for his routine. Here are some reminders on how you can get started on your toddler's schedule:
1. Divide your day, say early morning, morning, afternoon, nighttime. 2. Think of your child's day ("Is she more able to sleep in the afternoon?" "Does she like going out in the morning," etc.) The key is to build your tot's schedule around the times when he usually gets hungry or sleepy. 3. Don't forget to include preparation and transition time. ("Would you rather prep for breakfast the day before?" "Can you do prep tasks in between your tot's activities?") Don't expect your little one to fall asleep right away after a high-energy activity or wake up in an instant after a nap. 4. Try to vary the activities you set for your toddler. (You can follow Kristina on Instagram or visit her Kids Activities Blogfor ideas on simple activities for tots.) 5. Make time allowances for unforeseen circumstances. The purpose of a schedule is to have an outline of your day. You'll never know when you're going to be stuck in traffic or need to run to the store to get diapers.
Some kids love to nap in the morning and again after lunch. You may want to incorporate an early morning walk, or maybe you don't have older kids to prep and drop off to school, so you have more time for activities such as music time or morning snacks. The most important thing is to try to stick to your routine as best you can.