Routines are unspoken lessons you teach your children. Regular bedtimes, mealtimes, baths, and consistent time to play and read stories are very important to young children. The whole course of a day is big and unknown to them, so routines give them something to rely on. These regular events allow them to understand what they can expect during the day. Routines also enable them to begin to understand the ways in which you take care of them.
Routines aren't just for your child's benefit. Many parents rely on routines to make sure they don't lose aspects of what their lives were like before they had children. If you used to be someone who went to the gym daily or who looked forward to your monthly book club meeting, you know that you had to plan your schedule around those times and dates. If you want to continue doing those things (and you should pick things to continue) then you'll need to do a little more scheduling, taking into account your child's routines as well as your own.
You can create routines around fun things, such as baths and meals, but also around chores and necessities, just as you do for yourself. Picking up toys before bedtime, washing hands before meals, and letting your child see you do laundry and other tasks allows her to see that routines are part of life.
Creating Safety and Normalcy
The most important events that need to be scheduled are meals and sleeping. Once you get your child into a basic schedule, such as breakfast at 7:00, lunch at 12:00, dinner at 6:00, and bedtime at 7:30, you'll soon see that other events will happen around those main events. There will be naptimes, snacks, and time for diapering and baths.
From the age of twelve to twenty-four months, babies sleep ten to fourteen hours within a twenty-four-hour period. They'll eat for fifteen to thirty minutes at a time, and it takes a few minutes to dress and diaper them. This actually leaves a fair amount of time for everything else.
It sounds like a full day already, but the truth is that the more planning and routine you have, the more time you'll have for fun and for your own needs, such as shopping, cleaning, and even relaxing. Without routines, your day would be a disorganized rush of things you had to do immediately, which would create stress for both you and your child. For instance, if you wait until your child is hungry before you feed her, she may be irritable and crying. If you wait until she's overtired to put her down for a nap, she will also be unhappy. If you have a set time at which you do these things, though, your child can learn when to expect them and will feel more relaxed about her own day.
Of course, even the best-laid plans often go awry with a one-year-old. There will be days — and sometimes they will happen in a row — when your daughter won't eat when she's supposed to. Or she will take longer than usual, or she won't be able to sleep. Keeping a flexible schedule is key to maintaining peace of mind — and peace in the house. Use a schedule and routines as the backbones of your day, not as the law.
The more routines you and your daughter can rely on, the less likely you are to have to cope with difficult and unpleasant behavior. Your child will best be able to thrive when the life around her is stable and predictable, rather than out of control and last-minute. If the idea of following the same routine and having the same set of events each day sounds dull, remember that nothing is a dull to a one-year-old because every little thing is a new experience.