Why Routines are Important for Toddlers

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Oh how I remember those first few weeks and months when my son, who had been just the happiest baby became a strong-willed toddler. He needed structure. I needed structure. If you’re trying to figure out how get the calm back in your chaos, I feel ya.

That’s why today I’m sharing a few reasons about why routines are important for toddlers and how you can implement a routine in your day.

Life with toddlers means there’s never a dull moment. But that doesn’t mean you have to live in chaos. So let me ask you a question.

Have you ever tried creating a routine for your toddler?

The idea of a routine might make your head hurt or perhaps it feels too restrictive. When I say, “routine,” I’m not talking about a rigid schedule that can’t be messed with. What I mean is: a general flow to your day, but with the possibility of flexibility as needed.

Because we all know that if toddlers require anything, it’s that we be flexible.

Okay, so you’re looking for some calm but without understanding why routines are important for toddlers, you may not fully understand how a routine could help you achieve that goal.

Why Routines are Important for Toddlers

As a general rule, toddlers tend to feel safe and secure when they know what in the world is going on. When they deal with a completely unpredictable schedule every single day, they will often respond with tantrums, trashing the room as soon as you leave it, or just being a tyrant. 

You might be wondering what happened to the little baby who was always so happy-go-lucky. Your toddler is simply trying to figure out the world he lives in. He doesn’t know how to tell you he needs a routine and healthy boundaries.

Toddlers Need to Know What to Expect 

Knowing what to expect from their day is a huge plus for toddlers. They don’t get control over much in their world, so being aware of the general schedule and what is allowed will help them feel safe and secure.

If you haven’t implemented a schedule or routine for your toddler, it isn’t too late to start! 

Me (age 17), with my son James (18 months)

Think through your week and figure out what needs to be done each day. You know meals will happen consistently, so make sure they happen at about the same time each day. This will help their little bodies acclimate to when to be hungry so you can avoid hangry kids.

Leave time for preparing the meals, too. If meal prep time is when your kids generally lose their minds, try having specific activities available only during these times. In order to keep them with you, if you’re able, use baby gates to block off the kitchen and teach them physical boundaries.

It’s really important not to leave your toddler unsupervised. That’s when he’s most likely to get into trouble or do something you really don’t want him to do, like pull all the books off the shelf.

  • If you have a younger, nursing baby, try having a small snack available within your toddler’s reach and have quiet time activities available, too for those times you are nursing.
  • Ideas may include a special coloring book (Color Wonder Markers from Crayola are incredible for less supervised coloring!), a box of beans and some cups, Duplo blocks, or some time with PBS. 
  • Yes, television time has a stigma about it, but let’s be honest, it works. And in moderation, I think it’s okay.
  • When you’re working in the kitchen, let your toddler help wash plastic dishes, play with play dough in his high chair, or get out a special toy.

However you decide to structure the day for your toddler, make sure the same routine happens consistently. If you’re starting from scratch, try to make the routine fairly rigid for a few weeks, to acclimate your toddler. After that, you may be able to implement some flexibility, such as a trip to the park or zoo or even having a picnic lunch.

Toddlers Need to Know What is Expected

If you’ve never set boundaries for your toddler, now is a good time to start. Back in the middle of the last century, toddlers were kept in playpens. While this may seem barbaric compared to how we let children roam these days, imagine how safe those kids probably felt. They knew their boundaries because they could see them. They knew what was safe to play with because it was with them in the playpen. 

Now imagine how children nowadays feel when they are allowed to roam free in their homes but are periodically scolded for doing random things. To them, there is no rhyme or reason to the scolding, while the reasons are plain as day to you. They don’t know what is dangerous or off-limits until you tell them.

Routines Teach Responsibility 

It’s important to communicate clearly what the boundaries are. When toddlers know the routine and boundaries, they will start to acclimate to what is expected of them. 

This is also a great time to teach basic hygiene and other responsibilities, like washing hands before eating, taking their plate to the sink when they are done eating, or brushing their teeth before bed. All of these basic life skills are part of your daily routine – or should be.

The more structure they have, the easier these tasks will become and the more responsibility they will be able to take on. 

Routines Create Better Behavior 

Creating a routine and explaining clear boundaries will lead to better behavior. You need to make yourself available to teach boundaries even when it feels inconvenient. Even when it feels difficult, the results will be worth it. Don’t let your toddler wander too far away from you until you feel they understand the boundaries and expected behavior. 

Training your child to be well behaved, kind, thoughtful, and obedient takes time and patience!

How to Teach a Routine to Your Toddler

Teaching a toddler something new isn’t always easy, so it’s best to start small. Begin with wake up and bedtime routines. These will set the tone for your day. Don’t forget to schedule a nap or quiet time and keep mealtimes as consistent as possible. 

  • If you can, let your toddler help shape the in-between times. 
  • Give them a few options for things to do between meals, whether it’s some outdoor time, puzzle or game time, coloring time, etc. 
  • Allowing them some freedom to choose the fun activities to fill their day will help them acclimate to it.
  • Begin with talking to your toddler about the plan for the day. Let them in on the schedule and let them have a sense of responsibility for it.
  • Another idea is to make a picture chart. Simple pictures can help your toddler know what is coming next, which will give them the security they crave.

Sample Daily Toddler Routine

When you understand why routines are important for toddlers it’s a lot easier to find the motivation to keep a routine if you’ve struggled with sticking to one in the past.

7am: Wake up toddler, get them dressed, eat breakfast

8am: Chores for mom. During this hour, you could set up baby gates and contain your toddler to a play area where they have specific options, or even let them enjoy some educational television time.

9am: Supervised playtime 

10:30am: Snack Time

11:30am: Pick up toys (work alongside them and teach them where things go) then prepare lunch

12pm: Lunchtime

1pm: Quiet playtime or play time with mom

2pm: Nap time (and afternoon chores for mom)

4pm: Outdoor play if the weather is nice. Indoor playtime, if it’s crummy outside.

4:45pm: Pick up toys (whether indoor or outdoor)

5pm: Prep dinner

6pm: Eat Dinner

7pm: Quiet play time (usually puzzles, books, or Duplos work well here)

7:30pm: Bedtime Routine Begins

8pm: Bedtime

Keep in mind, this is just a sample of ideas. Be sure to tailor your schedule to fit your family’s needs. However you decide to implement routine and boundaries be sure to give a lot of grace during the transition process.

It can be hard for a toddler to acclimate to something new, but in the end, you are more likely to see positive results when they are given secure structure to their days.

>>> Be sure to check out my post: Structuring the Day for a Toddler, too!

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