Establishing Routines By Tessa Little
Welcome to 2021! For every parent, guardian or caregiver who helped a precious little human get through 2020, you can give yourself a massive pat on the back. Last year was not the easiest of years and I am sure we can all agree that we have had more fun. Despite the stressors we are experiencing, our babies and toddlers are not in the slightest way concerned about Covid-19 and its effects. Therefore, as challenging as things are, we do our best to keep things as normal as possible for them. This normalcy can be established through developing routines for the activities our children have from day to day, from waking up to bedtime and everything in between. Even pre-pandemic there have been recommendations through the years that routines help in the development of babies and toddlers.
For us adults routines can sometimes seem boring or restrictive. However, for babies and toddlers, routine helps with their feeling of security, causes them to feel safe in their environment and allows them to learn about their world. As adults we can embrace the routines we establish for our little ones as they give structure to our time with them and helps us to get more organised. Both my husband and I have a general structure to the day that ensures our little one’s needs are met. Having structure allows us to have the things we need ready at the time we need them.
We started various routines with our daughter from soon after birth and now as she transforms into a toddler, we are seeing how having these routines have helped and continue to help with her development. From anticipating that the toys ‘go in their box’ at the end of playtime to knowing she gets a story read at bedtime, she is understanding that her day has a sequence of events. As she gets older, she also has the ability to become more involved in her routines. She is now able to help pick up the toys or choose the book she wants read. She also has an understanding of routines that she may not like all the time but that need to be done anyway such as combing her hair or brushing her teeth.
Opportunity for learning
Her responses to the things that happen in her day are excellent, though sometimes trying, teaching opportunities. She is not a major fan of brushing her teeth so every day we have to put on a song that is about teeth brushing while we brush our own teeth. Sometimes she willingly joins in and other times she looks at us as if our teeth brushing is for her entertainment. We persevere.
Keep routines enjoyable
Despite having the element of predictability, we have found that routines do not have to be boring. Your child is an individual and your family is an individual unit with its own personality. Therefore, routines can be infused with excitement, creativity and interest.
Make bath time exciting by introducing toys, bubbles, waterproof books and for when bath time is over, a fun hooded towel to get your little one nice and dry.
Playtime routines can include putting out a playmat and toys. As your child grows incorporate ‘tidy up’ as part of the playtime routine. Tidy up can become a game/learning opportunity in itself as your child learns to pick up after themselves. We use really upbeat tones (even if we are watching the clock praying for bedtime to come quickly) so that the entire process feels like a game.
Bedtime routines can include stories, gentle singing, a favourite cuddly toy or blanket. Adult bedtime routines after a day with a toddler may include soaking in a hot bath, a glass of wine, and a hope that morning will be slow in coming.
Mealtimes can include, where possible and regardless of what the meal is, family mealtimes. As well as conversation, this time can include teaching of acceptable behaviour while eating (a definite no to throwing your unwanted food over the side of your chair). This also goes for the adults.
Though routines are important, it would be impractical for them to be inflexible. We would often have to adapt routines if we stayed away from home. Other times you may need to adapt would be if someone was unwell or if there was an appointment or an emergency. Life happens and, in most circumstances, it is not the end of the world if the way you do things has to temporarily change. If you do need to significantly change your child’s routine, try to convey reassurance, even in very young children, by engaging with them in a reassuring manner.
For every parent, guardian or caregiver who may feel that they are in a never-ending cycle involving meals, play, baths and bed……….remember that as you establish routines and as your little ones get older, the consistency pays off.