The only real certainty in your toddler’s life is that there are changes every day: there is so much development going on for your child that even in a stable, consistent environment her world will be ever-evolving as she learns new skills and makes new discoveries. Toddlers feel safe and secure when they know what they can count on, and where their place is in the big, exciting world. Your little one will blossom when there is order and simplicity. She feels good when there is a predictable rhythm to her days, and she is more likely to cooperate with you because she isn’t stressed and confused by chaos. This doesn’t mean you have to become a rigid clock watcher (‘No, poppet, I can’t watch you take your first step. Remember, after breakfast I do the dishes while you play with your blocks!’).
The odds are that as your baby becomes a toddler, she will naturally settle
into a fairly predictable daily rhythm. Whether this is quite relaxed, or more precisely organised, will depend on your family situation and your individual child, and whatever is most comfortable for all of you.
One caution around routines is that if they are extremely rigid, you may find your child becomes quite upset if there are any variations or times of change. On the other hand, when you have a more flexible rhythm marked by rituals at transitions such as mealtimes, bedtime and going out times, and you give your child little reminders as these transitions are approaching (‘It’s nearly time to wash our hands for dinner’), you will find it easier to manage your day. You may also find you have a more adaptable child if some days the order of things is a bit different, as long as he isn’t stretched unreasonably beyond his regular meal and rest times.
Checklist: Planning your day
- Take a good look at what you really need to get done and what you would like to fit in – while being realistic about the size of your to-do list – and work these around your littlies’ needs.
- Instead of watching the clock and trying to keep to a strict schedule, break the day up into more flexible segments: early morning, late morning, early afternoon, late afternoon, evening. For instance, if your baby is more alert and happier to be out and about in the mornings, or your toddler needs an afternoon nap, you might plan outings or shopping trips in the morning and have a quiet afternoon at home. Or, if your baby has a longer nap in the morning and is more sociable in the afternoon, you could plan outings later in the day.
- Prepare dinner earlier in the day to avoid early-evening stress (let a slow cooker become your new best friend).
- If you have a baby and toddler, set up an activity before you go to bed at night so that your toddler can start the day engaged in his ‘surprise’ and you can feed the baby/prepare breakfast/tidy the kitchen in peace. Then, after breakfast, you can head out the door with the baby in a pram or sling, where he can sleep while you walk. Take your littlies to the park, on an outing or a play-date and let your toddler get some physical exercise, too. Or perhaps you could do an outdoor activity at home, such as gardening, while the baby sleeps in her pram nearby. Later, when you get home, you can feed your littlies and have quiet time together or pop your toddler down for his afternoon nap. Your toddler will be much more agreeable about quiet time (and you won’t be feeling guilty that you haven’t spent any time with him) if you’ve been able to get out and engage in some activity together.
- Remember that your littlies’ continuing development can mean that as soon as you feel you have ‘nailed’ a routine that works for you, it is likely to change again in just a few weeks, or sooner, as your child changes his pattern – perhaps by dropping a sleep or reaching a new developmental stage. Littlies can sense when you are feeling stressed and pushing yourself too hard – and you can bet that this will be reflected in their behaviour; they might be more wakeful at night or clingy during the day – so pacing yourself sensibly and being flexible is the key to creating a gentle rhythm to your days.