Q & A: Structuring the Day for a Toddler

{How To} Structure the Day for a Toddler | A Virtuous Woman

Q: Melissa, Thanks so much for your reply. I haven’t tried a more structured routine because I fear I cannot keep being consistent with it. He does spend a lot of time alone during the day as I tend my 1 yr old(nursing, changing, (etc.) I have never considered him being alone causing his independence, but I can see where it would. I do not feel an adequate mother because at times I do raise my voice(yell) and get irritated when I am interrupted. I feel pulled in a million directions and often resent the time I have to spend with all the responsibilities I have.  Any advice on a good routine for a 3 1/2 yr old, with a still nursing on occasion 1 yr old? Thanks!!!

A: Dear Mom, Toddlers can be very trying or very rewarding. I remember when my son who is just about to turn 19 was  3 1/2 years old and I had a newborn baby girl. At the time I was very young and despite my best efforts I just didn’t know how to handle him. I have learned a lot since then! It’s too bad that sometimes our firstborn children don’t get the best of us.

A lot of things can affect the behavior of your toddler. A calm child is more likely to come from a calm home and vice versa. Keep in mind here, that there are exceptions to the rule! But generally this is the case.

Your three year old knows that when you sit down to nurse the baby that you are distracted. He also knows when you are distracted with other tasks whether it is changing a diaper, cooking a meal, cleaning the house, or reading a book. Three year olds naturally want to take advantage of the situation! Not only that, but three year olds want your attention, so if he is occupying himself for large portions of the day he is going to be harder to handle.

I know how easy it is to want to “escape” from reality by sitting down with a book, computer, television, etc. – ignoring the little tyke as he pulls all of the books off the shelf or gets into the refrigerator. You just want peace and quiet!

I also know how easy it is to feel like a three year old is a needy little monster who is sucking the life out of you. So, when you are trying to get your TO DO LIST accomplished, interruptions are not pleasant. You just want to get your stuff done and get on with your life!

Let me tell you though – I have been there and now that my 18 going on 19 year old is practically grown, I really wish I had taken more time to sit on the floor with him and listened to him talk to me, play with me, interact with me. In other words I wish I had spent more time being “present.” I was there, but my mind was elsewhere.

Thankfully, by the time he was school age I had a wake up call because I realized how fast my children were growing up and I have spent the last dozen years or more “being present.”

Jesus has given us the honor of being a mom. Our first and foremost ministry is not to our friends, it’s not to our church, it’s not to ourselves – it is to our family – our husbands and children. This time passes by soooo quickly! I know it seems like forever when all you feel is frustration and sorrow. But this will pass and you will wonder where the years went!!

It’s okay to take a time out from time to time and read a book or soak in the tub. And it is okay to insist that the house be kept neat and tidy. It  is even good for your kids to know that responsibilities are important. But don’t forget that being there for your kids, paying attention to what they are doing – even when you’d rather be somewhere else – is in the end going to make everyone happier. Including yourself.

I often hear (and witness) moms who complain about their toddlers creating havoc in the home everyday. The child makes huge messes, throws temper tantrums, insists on having his way all the time. But my question is always this – what is Mom doing when little Timmy is making that huge mess?

If you are in the kitchen cooking supper and little Timmy is in the living room pulling all of the tape out of the VCR tapes – the problem does not lie with the child, it lies with the mom. She has allowed her little mischievous child to be alone for 30 minutes while she prepares the meal (which is a worthy endeavor). Rather than allowing him unsupervised access to the living room (or any other part of the house) put up a gate and insist he stay in the kitchen with you while you cook. Then, give him activities to keep him busy.For instance:

  • give him a drawer of pots or toy dishes he can play with
  • feed him grapes or carrot stick while he waits for supper
  • pull out a special coloring book reserved just for that same time each day
  • let him tear up lettuce for the salad, stir the cornbread batter, or shake the “Shake and Bake”

If your toddler helps himself to the fridge every time you sit down to nurse the baby (or whatever), instead of letting him have free reign of the house, put up a gate and give him a box of blocks or other toy to play with. One of my favorite ideas is to make Activity Bags for your toddler. Get them out only when you nurse the baby or at the same time each day when you need to get a chore done.

So, my point is, toddlers are going to get into stuff, if for no other reason than to test your parenting skills!

Don’t leave them unattended! The other issue with leaving your child alone to occupy himself is the fact that is causes your child to feel insecure and unsure of himself. He realizes that the boundaries are too wide and what he really wants is structure and solid boundaries to keep him safe. Having reasonable rules and limits to what is acceptable behavior gives children a feeling of being loved and cared for.

Note: This is not to say you should not train your children to be well behaved, stay out of things they should be into, etc. Those are much needed lessons to be taught. But until you can trust your children to be alone in a room without making a huge mess, supervise them. Also, every child is different. My girls were/ are very quiet, they like to play quiet games, then rarely ever break anything. My son was always into everything as a toddler. I had to watch him like a hawk.

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Here is a good routine for a mom with a toddler and infant:

{This schedule is a suggestion based on what worked for me.}

6:00 amWake up. Have devotions and prayer time – if baby is awake, nurse her during this time. Prepare Breakfast.

7:00 am – Wake up toddler. Make beds. Get dressed. Eat Breakfast. Morning Worship – sing some fun songs, have a Bible story, and pray.

8:00 amChore Time for Mom – Tidy kitchen & sweep, tidy bathrooms & wipe down sinks, start load of laundry,10 minute de-clutter. During this time you can do one of two things with the little ones – put the gate up and let them play with toys. Or let them watch PBS. I know television as a baby sitter [sigh]. It works.

9:00 am –  Play time.

10:30 am – Snack time.

11:30 am – Pick up toys. Prepare lunch.

12:00 pm – Eat lunch. Tidy Kitchen.

1:00 pm – Playtime with Mommy.

2:00 pm - Nap/ Quiet time. Afternoon chores for Mommy – fold & put away clothes, mop floors, tidy house, etc.

4:00 pm – Play Outside time in good weather. Or Play Inside during bad weather, in which case at 4:45 have children pick up toys. Don’t just tell your toddler to clean up his toys. Work beside him. Also, having toys well organized makes this much easier. Teach your child from an early age to only get one toy out at a time. HUGE timesaver!

5:00 pm – Prepare supper.

6:00 pm – Eat supper.

7:00 pmFamily Worship.

7:30 pm – Bath time. Story time.

8:00 pm – Bed time for kids. Let me say that bedtimes can be really difficult. I still remember the frustration of putting my first three children to bed – the crying, the spankings – it was horrible. I wised up with my fourth and fifth kids. Instead of fighting with them to go to sleep, I laid down and snuggled with them. Those memories are precious to me – the conversations we had! The hugs and kisses! The sweet, happy bedtimes! I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

9:00 pm – Tidy kitchen. Prepare for tomorrow.

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Once you do a routine everyday, your child will begin to know what to expect and when. Eating at about the same time is really helpful and can prevent a lot of temper tantrums caused by low blood sugar (hunger)! Patience in dealing with your children is really key – a calm mommy is more likely to have a calm baby/ child. If you always respond with a tense/ angry voice why should you expect any different from your child?

Don’t NOT try to get into a good solid routine just because you are afraid of failing. Never forget that tomorrow is a new day! God can give you the strength to be the best mom possible for your children. It isn’t easy. Raising kids just isn’t. But it is worth every bit of effort!

Here are some follow-up articles to this article you may enjoy:

Here’s an image you can pin to Pinterest or Facebook or share on your own blog:

{Photo Credit: Anna Brett}

{How To} Structure the Day for a Toddler | A Virtuous Woman

What is your daily routine with a toddler like?

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Comments

  1. 1

    Wow! I just wanted to tell you how good this was for me to read, and I don’t even have nursing babies or toddlers anymore! I do, however, have a 4 year old (my youngest) who thinks he rules the roost whenever I get distracted. So, thanks for the awesome reply.

    AND! I wanted to thank you for the Momma’s Day Planner! I won it from Heart of the Matter and I wasn’t sure how the proper “thank you” etiquette was for blogging. So, I will thank you here : Thank you very much!!!! And I will post a proper thanks on my blog and shamelessly plug A Virtuous Woman. :)

    Thank you and keep up the good work. :)

  2. 2

    Thank you for these ideas!

  3. 3

    Melissa,

    Thanks so much for this reply!! It is so informative, and many of the techniques I can put to good use, such as putting up a gate. I have tried this in the past and he wasn’t very happy with it, so I always took it down. I know now I am the one who is in charge, not him!!! Will definitely try this routine! Thanks again!

  4. 4

    I struggle with this constantly. I know well enough that my day will go so much better if I had better structure. Today was not a good day for me or the children. I have not had enough sleep this week, which made me very impatient and frustrated easily. I got up this morning and did things that I wanted to do for myself, rather than taking care of things that needed to be done. This led to problems and irritations for the rest of the day. Entirely my fault, but it was the kids who took the brunt of my frustration. Thank you for this post. I will be printing it and working much harder to gain some structure. I want to enjoy my children and the days that I spend with them, not have regrets at the end of the day.

  5. 5

    Hallelujah, a schedule that works (presumably) with toddlers/preschoolers! I can’t tell you how hard it is to get on/ find a routine that works for families with children under the age of 6 (at least the oldest under that age). I am definitely going to try this, it looks like something I can live with. I have a 3 year old boy, a 20 month old girl and one who is half way here (almost 5 months along). I may have to tweak to deal with the extra needed sleep for pregnancy but I am hopeful. Besides, it has a lot of the elements that I have found work for me.
    Thank you so much!

  6. 6

    Lifesaving tips. God bless you bunches!! I have been praying for this kind of insight for a long time. Praise God for what He has and is doing in you!

  7. 7

    There are a lot of chore times during this routine and I wonder if the kids could help with the chores instead of doing something else while Mom does the chores. Kids are happier if they have a little job to do that means something.

  8. 8

    I’ve been looking for more structure with my 2-year-old daughter during the days and I’m going to give that schedule a shot, thanks!

    ps. My daughter was born 7 days after this blog post was originally posted. I guess good information never dies

  9. 9

    …and I think it’s good to remember that some days, it’s okay to throw the routine out the window! And also, unless we have somewhere important to be, I always let my kids sleep in until they wake up naturally, which means I often get a little extra prep time to think through the day and maybe finish my coffee!

    I don’t necessarily schedule our day to the hour; I have two “portions” of the day – before nap and after nap. Depending on what needs to happen that day, I like to get the chores done around the house, then everyone (even me!) rests at nap, then we conquer the errands in the afternoon before it’s time to work on dinner. If daddy needs to work late, then I’ll most likely pop something in the crock pot before nap, then come home just in time to set the table. It’s so important to remember to tweak and adjust your schedule to make it work for you, and not to become a slave to it. Kids notice stressed out moms usually before the moms notice how they are feeling!

    • 10

      Jenn, thanks for sharing. Those are some great ideas! You’re right, some days aren’t going to go the way you plan… and that’s okay! Actually… it’s the story of my life!

  10. 11

    Hello! I saw this pinned today on a friend’s pinterest and gave it a read. This is very very good. I have an 18 month old boy who is very active. BUT I am happy to say that I already follow basically this type of schedule and it does really work. Since we do have set eating times I find my son going to his booster seat at 4:30 for dinner and I’m thinking oh yes time to eat, if I have forgotten. It really does help to have meals prepared or halfway prepared so that I can spend more time with him. I have cut out all computer time during the day except for in the very early morning while he is playing with his toys after breakfast. He likes a bit of time to himself and he usually comes and pulls on my leg when he is ready for me to play with him. We dont even own a TV. He gets up at 6am, usually naps 10-11, and then bedtime at 6 pm. I really am grateful for those few evening hours by myself because then I can clean, prepare for the next day, and/or be with my husband. Thanks for posting this! Not every day is ideal but it does help to try to stick to some type of guideline. I totally agree with never leaving them unattended. That is definitely asking for trouble!

  11. 13

    p.s. I do involve my son in cooking when Im cooking but most of the time we do crockpot meals. But he loves mixing Rice Krispies around in a bowl if Im mixing something too. He also is right there with a swiffer sweeper when I am mopping. He is mommy’s little helper! I dont agree with waking up kids in the morning if you dont have any place to be. I let my son wake up naturally. Dont want a grumpy little guy at the very beginning of the day.

  12. 14

    Thanks so much! I’ve been struggling with how to schedule my day with my 2 yr. old at home by herself while the other two are in school. This helped so much.

  13. 16

    I saw this on Pinterest and was immediately interested. In about 6 weeks, i am going to resigning from my position and entering the world of a stay at home mom/housewife, which after much contemplation and prayer, I believe to be the most important calling for my life right now. As I try to prepare for this new endeavor, I have been reading blogs voraciously trying to get as many tips and tricks for creating a well run, clean, maintained home. On top of all of these changes, my son and I will be moving every 6-8 months with my husband because of his job. Life is going to get crazy hectic and fast. Thanks for providing such blessed tips and tricks for running a grace filled home that honors both God and the family.

  14. 18

    It’s good for children to be independent! My son loves playing in his playroom. It’s important at this age to teach boundaries. My son is 3 and he knows not to play with the stove or open the refrigerator. Putting up gates doesn’t teach impulse control, discipline does. I also don’t believe in laying down with him at bedtime. After his bath we read two books and snuggle but then he lays down in his bed and independently drifts to sleep, we’ve had this routine since he was one and no problems,not even during weaning. I guess I’m just saying I agree parents need to be present, but also need to have boundaries, expectations and consequences.

  15. 19

    I just thought that I would comment and say thank you for the post. I’m grateful for the spiritual nature that was included. I found a link to you on pinterest and loved that you made a little picture just for ease of pinning. Thank you!

  16. 20

    I LOVE what you said about being present, and I am often guilty of trying to escape behind a computer while my 11 mo. old plays by himself! I should be present more often, so thanks for helping me realize that :)

  17. 22

    I like what you said about being present, but in your schedule you don’t mention daily interruptions like volunteering at school or going to the grocery store. I seem to go somewhere 3 or 4 times a week and they are at different times. Am I doing a larger disservice to my elementary aged kids by not volunteering or my toddler by not being scheduled.
    PS Your house sounds clean!

  18. 23

    My son is in college now, but looking back I realize Moms can get distracted when they spend too much time with only children as an outlet. I would have a young girl come over and help after school and pay her alittle something for a couple hours. If not in the budget try putting earphones on the older child to listen to a story while preparing dinner.

  19. 24

    Mindy, I loved your question and answered it here:

    http://avirtuouswoman.org/2013/04/28/qa-how-to-structure-the-day-toddler-school-aged-child/

    God bless you!

  20. 25

    This is something I have been thinking about lately. I only have one daughter, 3 years old, but I love having structure in my life, and I believe she would benefit as well. I just feel like I don’t know how to create the structure we need. Thank you for sharing the daily timetable. I think it looks very broken down, and perfect for me.

  21. 26

    Wise words, and a helpful schedule. I follow most of this schedule already and can testify that it works!

    I just wanted to add to the discussion that I struggle with the idea that it isn’t good to sleep as long as your children sleep in the mornings and that that makes you “that kind of mom”. Personally, I struggle with never getting enough sleep and perpetual fatigue, and if I can get an extra hour in the mornings and sleep as long as my daughter sleeps, I will because it makes me a better Mom and wife that day. For those of us who have husbands with evening responsibilities, going to bed extra early is not always an option without cheating him. Being pregnant and/or having a night-nursing baby, as many moms of toddlers do, compounds the problem and makes skimping yourself of an extra hour of sleep, in some cases, irresponsible.

    I hope that when my children are older, sleep through the night consistently, and are less demanding during the day, getting more solid rest at night and waking up earlier before them will be possible – I think it will be. But I think it lays an unnecessary guilt trip on pregnant/nursing/moms-of-little-ones to tell them they should be voluntarily giving up sleep when they are already so exhausted. We all know how cranky and ungodly we can be when we are tired! And for others, it leads to depression and anxiety. Sleep is important, and one of the keys to making us good moms. Let’s not discourage those of us who lay the housework aside and nap when our baby naps, or are excited that we got an extra half hour of sleep when the toddler decided to sleep in a little bit that day.

    You can find ways to still fit in time with God and make mornings pleasant. For example, I still make an effort to smile and greet my toddler joyfully when I get her out of her crib, even if I’m jerked out of sleep and still groggy. Also, I love that she actually sees me do my devotions every morning, even if I am more distracted than if I were alone.

    • 27

      Leah, I totally agree! Sleep is so important and one of the Eight Laws of Health! And in life there are seasons. I have struggled with sleep deprivation for the last couple of years {and with my health} and I can testify that not getting enough sleep can really affect the rest of your life. I wanted to respond to your comment in depth… http://avirtuouswoman.org/2013/05/13/mama-needs-sleep/

      Thanks for visiting with me today! God bless you!

  22. 28

    I came across this pin on Pinterest, and was excited to read it because I have a nearly 3 year old and a newborn. But I have to say, I felt more judgement than workable suggestions, and that disappointed me. Apparently, I’m “that kind of mom”. My toddler has always (and will always) sleep on her own because that’s healthy. And the one hour of the day that has any sort of quiet time and peace for the mother includes making breakfast and feeding the baby- necessary things, of course, but if moms are only allowed 20 minutes or so of a mental break every day, then I wonder how well any of us will do. The idea of a schedule is great, but this was a hard read for me.

    • 29

      Hi Erika, thanks for your comments. I’m sorry you felt judged as that was not my intention. This is the sort of schedule I kept when each of my five children were young. I was only offering suggestions based on what worked for me. I hope you are blessed as a mother – it’s such an important work! Differing opinions happen and I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. But I am sure you are a great mom and love your kids very much! Thanks for visiting and I hope you’ll come again soon. God bless you!

  23. 30

    WOW…u make it seems so simple & easy. THX!..

  24. 31

    I really enjoyed some of the things you mentioned! However I do think its important to note not everyone has toddlers/babies that sleep until 7 (I know you weren’t suggesting that necessarily, but it kind of felt that way.)

    My son wakes up at 5:30/6:00 every day and waking up any earlier than him is extremely difficult for me, especially since I’m pregnant. Even when I wasn’t pregnant, I tried waking up earlier to get my day going, but my son is a light sleeper—so he’d wake up when I did and it would be worse for him (losing sleep). He naps 2 hrs a day and goes to bed at 8 so I feel I have a good routine there. But a lot of children are early risers, and I think your comment of being “that mom” unintentionally isolates moms who wake up when their children do and make them feel judged.

    I love waking up to my son jumping in our bed and giving us a snuggle for about 10-15 minutes. After about 15 minutes he says he’s hungry for breakfast and I grab some homemade oatmeal (pre-prepared) and heat it up. It’s so easy for us and he doesn’t seem to be bothered by it.

    Just wanted you to see why some moms may have felt hurt by the “that mom” comment. I know as a fellow believer you would have never intentionally said hurtful words to your readers or words you felt would rub others the wrong way. But I felt it was worth mentioning.

    I also want to thank you for your time in sharing what works for you and your children. It is truly a blessing to be able to share on the Internet with other moms advice and insights that can lead us into being more godly mothers.

    • 32

      Hi Emily! I have a daughter named Emily. :)

      I really appreciate your comment. Absolutely, if you have a young child who wakes up that early, stay in bed! As I’ve mentioned before, this schedule is a suggestion based on what worked for me.

      I mentioned this type of situation in my article: How to Wake Up without Waking the Kids.

      I suggest having your devotions at the breakfast table or whenever you feel is convenient for you if this is the case. Your children won’t be little forever. I am certainly not perfect and to this day I struggle from time to time with consistently having my personal devotions!

      It was not my intention in any way to judge other moms or make anyone feel bad. When I wrote this article and mentioned “that mom” I wasn’t thinking of moms who are intentional about their days. Some kids literally have to beg their moms for food. I’ve known moms like that – they stay up late because of selfish reasons (watching television, computer time, etc.) and then want to sleep in in the morning. I talk about that here: Mama Needs Sleep.

      Every family’s situation is different. AND THAT’S OKAY. For instance, over the last decade I have struggled with chronic illness and being VERY sick for weeks or months at a time where I can do little more than lay in bed. I don’t get up and fix breakfast when I’m sick unless I’m feeling strong enough. Sometimes my kids cook for me.

      This article is only a suggestion that hopefully will help some and maybe give others ideas about how they can tweak their own schedule to make their day run smoother.

      God bless you in your work as a mother. There is no higher calling!

  25. 33

    So, what I am wondering is what do your kids really do all day? Do you have an activity for them every time while you clean, make snacks, dinner, or take a phone call, or do they watch T.V.? I don’t mean to sound critical, but while you are doing cleaning at 8am to 9am, they play in a playpen happily? And then you play with them from 9- 10:30am, they have snack for an hour?
    I am actually really struggling to cut the amount of tv my son watches during the day while I go about a similar schedule you have outlined. What I am looking for is a schedule of what Mom does, and a schedule of what the kids are doing. Obviously, these will over lap when Mom and kids play together, but I want to know how often that occurs every day and for how long. You seem like you are a very kind woman and wouldn’t mind sharing some more details. Thank you very much:) :)

  26. 34

    Hi!
    I am a mommy to a 4 month old and a 2 year old. This is what our day looks like :
    730 mommy time
    8 make breakfast
    815 get the babies up
    Eat breakfast /nurse baby
    9-10 am
    Quiet activity for toddler at table (play dough)
    Independent play time for baby
    Chore time for mommy
    10-1130
    Nap time for baby
    Mommy and toddler time (we read, play, or do something educational)
    1130 – 12
    Lunch/nurse baby
    1215 toddler nap time
    Baby play time with mommy
    130
    Baby goes down for a nap
    Mommy time/prep dinner/clean/work out/craft.
    330
    Baby and toddler up
    Free time/walk out side/nurse baby
    4pm
    Baby down for last nap
    Toddler gets 1/2 hour of “elmo”
    Mommy makes dinner
    430
    Dinner/nurse baby
    5-6pm
    Bath pjs stories milk brush teeth bedtime snuggles nurse baby
    6pm
    Bed time
    6-10pm
    Mommy & daddy time

  27. 36

    I do follow this basic type of schedule. I struggle to keep by twin boys out of stuff. Gates only help so much because they can break through more together. I read one a story and the other gets into something bad.

  28. 38

    Hello, I just started reading your blog and so far I love it:) I am trying to be a better wife and Mother. I have a request if you would. I seen you had an example daily schedule for a 2 year old and a baby. i liked how you carved out time in the morning for prayer and devotion than breakfast and more worship after and then you had worship at night. I have been trying to spend more time with the Lord as well and it’s pretty hard with a 1 year old. If you have the time maybe you can give me an example schedule as well./ I am a stay at home mom and I am still breastfeeding as well. If you can I appreciate it.:) thanks again for this Beautiful blog I know with Gods help and the materials you provide I can be a better Wife and mother. Spending time with Jesus in prayer and his word is the main thing. God bless you and for all you do.

    • 39

      Janelle, nurturing your relationship with Christ will make a big difference in how your day overall. I’m glad to hear you’re working on getting in some prayer time each day. Family worship is so important too. I will see if I can post a new schedule soon. I breastfed for a total of 12 years! So glad you stopped by. It’s nice to meet you. God bless!

      • 40

        Thank you so much for getting back with me. I’d love to chat as well. We all need as much encouragement as we can get. I am kind of discouraged right now with all the demands that life is throwing me. Cooking, cleaning, house wife, mother and errands. It gets over whelmin. I wouldn’t know that to do if I didn’t have Jesus helping me. Hanks for taking the time to do what you do the information is so helpful:) God bless hope we can talk soon.

      • 41

        Janelle, you are so welcome. I’m actually on vacation right now with my family, but when I get back I’ll see about working on another post. :)

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