Toddlers NEED schedules and routines. Here's how to create one that works for your family with a free printable!
I'm big into schedules. Real big. Before kids, routine and scheduling kept me organized and put together. Post kids, it keeps me sane, keeps the kids on track and makes all of us much happier. Our days flow pretty seamlessly with minimal to no tantrums. Part of that is due to my kids knowing the routine of the day, and having some power in their schedule to do things they enjoy. I know some parents aren't into schedules and if that works for you, great. But I'm here to tell you how awesome they are and how you can create a schedule that works for your toddler (and you)!
Here's why schedules and routine are so important for toddlers: They know what to expect, and know what's expected of them. When you are consistent in how you structure your day, there are no surprises, no wildcards for them to process. This results in your toddler being able to better communicated with you. Meltdowns and tantrums are usually a result of big emotions, thoughts or feelings that your toddler is just too young to be able to communicate yet. So when you take out the randomness and chaos of the day and replace it with constant routine, your toddler has less to process. When his or her day is more consistent, s/he knows what's coming next. That knowledge brings a sense of security. Secure toddlers are better equipped to communicate when something is wrong or they have a need. (Or when they're happy and having a good time, too!)
Not convinced that toddlers need a good routine yet? That's ok. Try it for a week and see the effects and affects it has on your little one! Here's how we structure our day:
My Toddler's Schedule
6-6:30am - wake up, breakfast bars and milk, 30 mins of a movie or children's TV (so that I can make coffee and wake up too!)
7am - playtime in the playroom
8am - get dressed
8:30am - if it's a school day, leave for school. If not, the nanny arrives and cooks the boys a larger, second breakfast. I work; go to yoga; run family errands. The boys help the nanny with laundry, play games, read books and eat a light lunch with her.
11:30 - nap time. Henry has mostly given up his nap so he has quiet time.
1:30 - if it's a school day, I leave to get the boys from school. If it's a nanny day, the nanny leaves.
2:15 - play time in the playroom. Otto is always up by now.
3:00 - snack time at the dining room table
3:30 - afternoon activity. I always try to get the boys out of the house, even if it was a school day. We'll walk to the park if it's nice, go to the arboretum, run kid friendly errands, or I'll plan a play date. In the summer, we'll play in the back yard in our kiddie pool (this is the one we have and it's ridiculous how much use we've gotten out of a $29 blow up pool! We're going on three years with it. That thing holds up), go to a friend's pool or visit the community splash pad.
5pm - dinner time for the kids
5:30 - bath night is every other night so if it's bath night, they bathe now. (PS- my kids color their bath water with these things - the colors don't stain hair, skin or towels!) If not, I turn on the news and bring some toys into the living room.
6pm - change the kids into jammies and give them sippy cups of milk
6:15 - turn on a children's movie. They sit on the couch and drink their milk and watch the movie. No playing this close to bedtime - it's time to wind down.
6:45 - Otto goes to bed so that he's asleep by the time Henry goes to his crib (my boys share a room)
7pm - Henry's bedtime.
This is what works really well for us, since I work part time from home. We keep this schedule on the weekends too. If we go out to eat, we're at the restaurant with food in front of us by 5pm, which is kind of a bummer for my husband and I, but keeping the routine is SO worth it! My kids don't fight bedtime, don't fight nap time, eat consistently and I've only had one public meltdown with Henry (who's almost 3) and no meltdowns with Otto (who's 14 months).
If you aren't a work from home part time mom, how can you create a schedule that works for your toddler and family? I'd start by being consistent with bedtimes and wake times. If you let your child sleep in until 9am and then are frustrated they're still awake at 10pm, start waking them up earlier consistently, and putting them to bed at the same time consistently. Every day. Even on the weekends.
Then create blocks of time that you can fill with activities. Morning, noon, afternoon and evening blocks. If you work full time, you can still do this for the weekends and evenings. Just make sure that the evenings during the week are the same as the weekend. This will help with making bedtime so much easier! And hey, I made a printable for you (11x8.5) so that you can organize your own tot's schedule:
Routine has been essential for our family. It creates a consistent pattern of habits so our boys know what's coming next. It's a stable environment for them, and frankly, for us too! Crating a schedule that works for your toddler will help immensely with those big toddler emotions they don't quite yet know how to verbalize and will make for a much easier, struggle-free bedtime.