Babies and toddlers thrive on routine. When children can predict what is coming next and what is expected of them, they have a more positive reaction than when given directions. Having routines encourages healthy habits and will help ease the stress of the morning and nighttime hustle. Visual systems help children with their routines. They help make transitions easier while minimizing meltdowns.
Routines help SO much. Kids need to know what to expect. Being in an unpredictable environment will cause your child more stress, but routines will help with things such as:
- Power struggles: When your child is used to certain routines, they’re more likely to follow directions without the meltdown.
- Self-control: Children can control their emotions when they know that there is a certain order to the day.
- Safety: When there are rules and routines set in place, children feel safer in their environment. Always holding hands while in a parking lot is a great example!
- Socialization: Routinely sitting down for family dinner is a great time to practice social skills and manners.
- Learning: Children are always learning about the world around them. Routines help your child feel confident to explore and learn.
- Bedtime expectations: Children won’t ask for one more book or one more hug or one more trip to the bathroom if they know that they’ve already had these needs met during their bedtime routine.
- Morning expectations: Getting out of the house can be hard, but with morning routines, your child can do everything they need to do to get ready for the day.
Many parents ask, “When should I start a bedtime routine?” You can start from day 1! It’s never too soon to implement routines with your child. A newborn bedtime routine can be as simple as the following example: feed--change diaper--put on pajamas--swaddle/sleep sack--lights out--white noise on--rock and cuddle--bed. Yes, those are things you will always do, every night at bedtime, so you might as well start doing it in the same order every night and get your baby used to the routine.
Once your baby is 3-4 months old, start incorporating things like baby massage and simple board books. It’s also never too early to start reading with your baby. You can start with simple color contrast books and work your way up to picture books and short stories.
Starting at a young age, you’ll want to start singing your favorite lullabies with your child as well. As they grow, doing the same bedtime routine and singing the same songs at bedtime will help trigger the production of melatonin and help their body get ready for sleep.
When your baby starts getting teeth, you want to add brushing teeth to the bedtime routine as well as the morning routine. The sooner your child learns about brushing their teeth, the less they’ll fight you about it as they get older.
Now, we’ve talked about younger babies and what routines should look like as babies, but what about toddlers? Toddlers can actually be so much fun during bedtime routines. I know, people think I’m crazy when I say that I love working with toddlers. But the truth is, toddlers have SO MUCH comprehension about the expectations of bedtime and implementing solid routines will teach your child and help him/her tremendously. Your toddler can not only comprehend what is expected of them, but they can communicate with you about it as well.
I have a few great tips when it comes to toddlers and bedtime:
- Let your toddler make choices: LOTS OF CHOICES! Let your child choose which potty to use, which pajamas to wear, what stuffed animal to sleep with, what books to read, what songs to sing, etc. Let your child decide if s/he wants to brush their teeth first or if you get to brush them first. Give your child the responsibility of turning of his/her light at the end of your bedtime routine. This is your child’s last chance to get out of bed for the night. Giving your child the responsibility to make choices will actually help your child obey you when it’s your turn to make the choice that it’s time for bed.
- Use these visual routine cards: Print them out. Laminate them. Hang them on the wall at your child’s eye level. Let your child touch them and point to them. Let your child help you create them and hang them in order. If you’re new to bedtime routine cards, start small. Start with 3-5 routines and add more every few days. I HIGHLY recommend to start with these routine cards around 2 years old. It will take your child a while to catch on, but the more consistent you are in using them and pointing to them, the more your child will understand the routines and expectations.
I also love using morning routine cards as a great way to kick start the day. Your child can learn to get dressed, brush their teeth, comb their hair, and make their bed all before coming downstairs for breakfast. It would be great to get into these routines before your child starts school. Trust me, you will thank me.
It can be SO HARD to get your child (or CHILDREN) ready and out the door in the morning--especially if you’re just trying to wake yourself up and down a cup of coffee before heading out for work. SO much can happen within a 30-minute morning hustle out the door. Between breakfast being too hot, milk spilling on the floor, socks not matching, and brother and sister bickering, mornings can be a recipe for disaster, but implementing routines and visual routine cards can make all the difference in your family's day!
Teaching your children to get up and get ready for the day is not only good for their hygiene, but also good for their independence. I’ll tell you a quick story about my son when he was five-years-old.
When I used the morning routine cards with him, he was excited to wake up in the morning and check that his tot clock had turned yellow (yes, the first item in his routine was to check his clock). He would then jump out of bed, head to the bathroom, go potty, wash his hands, wash his face, and brush his teeth. He’d then go back to his room to get dressed and make his bed. Once he was done with all of that, he would come downstairs for breakfast, and I would do his hair. We would be out the door and on our way to preschool without meltdowns because he knew what was happening each morning.
I promise that if you set consistent routines and expectations, your children will follow along, and you’ll all be able to enjoy the process much more. Don’t forget to download my free bedtime (and morning) routine cards above and tag me on Instagram so I can see your kiddos using them! I know you will have tons of success and you will really be able to enjoy putting your child to bed at night and waking up in the morning with clear expectations and solid routines.
Missy Yandow is a certified pediatric sleep consultant and dual-certified potty training consultant, owner of Slumber and Bloom. She is an energetic mom of 3, living the dream with her husband, Tim, in Rochester, NY.
Missy has dedicated her career to helping little ones grow and blossom. With degrees in Early Childhood Education and Child Life Psychology, Missy is passionate about sharing her knowledge about child development with families all over the world. You can find Missy providing expert sleep and potty training tips on the last Friday of every month.