When you hear well-intentioned parents advising you as a new mum or dad that routine is key, you may assume that you will need to have a strict, regimented plan in place for when the baby comes along. However, rather than watching the clock and trying to do the same thing at exactly the same time every day, it is important to note that there is a difference between a routine and a schedule.
Therefore, you must find a routine that works for you as the parents and, of course, your baby. Routine is more about establishing a sense of security and provides a chance to build on the relationship you will have with your child. Here we will look at some of the benefits of having a routine for your children and some of the ways you can achieve that.
Routine in the First Few Months
Your baby has just spent nine months in the womb developing at an amazing rate. The womb is where they are just beginning to learn to respond to sounds and voices, light and dark shadows, and even the foods you eat. You cannot expect them to instantly know that they need to sleep all night and nap only at certain times of the day from the day they are born. Newborns will only know that they need to alert you when they are hungry, tired or just need a cuddle.
When you watch out for their cues, obviously you will need to follow them to some extent, but you must also do so in a way that creates expectations that work well for the whole family. If you let them dictate when they eat and sleep, you will end up extremely sleep deprived and unable to function day-to-day. You will need to find a good balance between letting baby decide how the day begins and ends, and letting the clock decide.
Night and Day Routine
Once you have found a good flexible daytime routine, you will still need to help them establish the difference between night and day. Even though they may not go to sleep at the same time every night, it is important to follow the same steps in an evening to develop a solid bedtime routine. Predictability is something that a baby thrives on and so you should aim to always give them a bath and change them into a fresh nappy and clean baby clothing at night.
It is important to note that newborn clothing should be made from breathable materials to avoid restless nights. It can also help to use bubble baths and lotions that have been developed specially to help a baby sleep. They are usually made with soothing scents such as lavender and chamomile that help to relax them and encourage them to fall asleep.
Post Bath Routine
After their bath, it is important to keep the lights dimmed as any bright lights will disrupt the sleepy atmosphere you are trying to create. Instead of taking them back downstairs to prepare a bottle or to grab their favourite blanket, make sure you have all this ready in their darkened bedroom. It can also help to install blackout blinds for the summer months when the sun doesn’t go down until much later. Once they are in bed, it is never too early to start reading bedtime stories. Bedtime stories are a proven way to help strengthen parent-child bonds and the soothing sound of your voice will help lull them into a deep slumber. Having your undivided attention also helps an infant to feel loved and secure, which is extremely important for their social and emotional development.
Routine in the Toddler Years
It is important not to let the routine you have followed through the baby years slip away when it comes to the toddler years. During the day your child’s naps may have dropped to one a day or even none, but a simple routine lets them know what is going to happen next. The sense of predictability that babies thrive on is still as important for toddlers, as it helps to develop their prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain responsible for planning and executive functioning.
Always start the morning the same way, which includes getting them dressed, making them breakfast, and cleaning their teeth. Eventually, these are the kinds of tasks that they can learn to take on themselves, which will help grow their independence. You should then explain to them a little bit about what is going to happen during the day so that they know what to expect.
When you are helping your child to get dressed, although it may seem like yet another task you need to tick off your never-ending list of things to do, it is actually an important time for bonding. Your child learns far more from watching than following directions, so eventually, you will find that they will ask to try and dress themselves by copying what you have always done. As they get older, that sense of independence will branch out into their choice of clothing.
Rather than buying clothes for them whilst they are away at nursery or school, involve them in the process. Take them shopping with you or show them a few ideas online. If your child is able to pick everything from their t-shirts to their coats and children’s hats, they will begin to develop their own sense of style and consequently, their self-esteem and confidence levels will grow.
Quiet Time Routine
You should also still follow the same basic rules at night time that you followed when they were a baby. Whilst a bath every night may no longer be necessary, you should try and establish a ‘quiet time’ when they can begin to wind down for the day. If you intend on them being in bed by 7pm, start the quiet hour from 6pm. During this hour you should turn the television off and start getting them ready for bed rather than leaving it until 7pm on the dot. Dimming the lights and turning off all gadgets also helps the body begin to produce melatonin, which is the hormone responsible for inducing sleep.
Getting Ready to Sleep
It may be a good idea to create a routine chart with pictures depicting what needs to happen next so that they can take on some of the tasks themselves. A simple visual timeline they can follow of toilet, teeth and pyjamas lets them feel more in control and involved with the day-to-day tasks of the family. Reading should continue to be part of their night-time routine, whether it is them reading to you, or vice versa. This one-on-one time may be a privilege and a rarity, especially if you are often too busy throughout the day to really focus your attention on your kids. Not only that, but starting your children off with a bedtime reading routine can mean that they are more likely to continue reading into their adult years. As we all know, reading is a valuable tool for developing language skills, communication and, of course, the imagination!
If you want to give your child the best start in life by helping them to feel loved, secure and confident in themselves – it is impossible to argue with the advantages of setting them a good routine from a young age.
Healthychildren.org also discuss the importance of family routines.
If you have any questions or simply want a nice chat, don’t hesitate to contact the My Little Duckling team, we’re here to help!