Small children live in a world with people who are bigger than they are, processes that they do not understand, and changes around every corner. This can seem overwhelming and daunting. As parents, we can help mitigate any anxiety that comes with the uncertainty that children face each day by creating safe and predictable routines. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) defines routines as “repeated predictable events that provide a foundation for the daily tasks in a child’s life”. By having consistent and predictable events each day, children learn about the world around them by understanding what they can expect to occur, how to control their emotions, and how to build appropriate social skills.
The three main elements that routines will focus on are food, sleep and social interaction. Consistent meal times and snack times will teach children to have healthy eating habits. Sleep affects the ability of the child to be fully energized in order to focus on learning and social interactions. Children will be at their best when they are fully rested by having consistent bedtimes, nap times and wake up times. Hygiene practices are built directly around the eating and sleeping routines – hand washing, teeth brushing and bathing. By integrating all of these into routines, your child will start to learn overall healthy habits that will impact them for the rest of their lives. Children need adequate restful periods and social times throughout the day. Routines will help children to balance this.
There are many different routines or schedules that you may find online or that other parents may suggest. Ultimately, there is not one routine that works for every child. Each child’s temperament, preferences and family structure will shape the needs for their routines. Here is an example of a simple routine that could be implemented for a toddler:
6:00 AM Wake up / Breakfast
6:30-8:30 AM Free play
8:30 AM Morning Snack
8:30-11:00 AM Errands / Playdates / Free Play
11:00 AM Lunchtime
12:00 PM Naptime
2:30 PM Wake up / Snack time
2:30-5:00 PM Play Outside / Library
5:00 PM Dinner time
5:30-6:30 PM Quiet Play – puzzles, blocks, books
6:30-7:30 PM Bath time, pajamas, brush teeth, read books
7:30 PM Bedtime
Some families may choose to use picture charts to post around the house so that the child can remember routines. For example, a morning chart may show pictures of a child waking up, eating breakfast, putting clothes on, brushing teeth and playing. This helps to remind the child of the steps and helps them to feel more in control of their day.
Ultimately, the use of consistent routines can reduce stress for both parents and children!
For more parenting advice and support, contact the Parents As Teachers program through the Arizona Partnership for Children. This partnership between Catholic Charities Community Services and Devereux Arizona provides family support through home visits, screenings, and assessments at no costs to families. Families in Mesa, Gilbert and Queen Creek with a child ages 0-5 are eligible. For more information, call 480-388-3292.
Mary Cannon is a program manager for the Catholic Charities’ program, Parents as Teachers, with the Arizona Partnership for Children (AzPAC). Parents as Teachers provides free family support through home visits, group connections, screenings and assessments, along with needed resources.