I cannot overstate the importance of a daily schedule for toddlers. The first question you might ask is “why”? Most of our lives are spent following schedules! Surely this is the time to let our kids have their fun, right? Absolutely, and toddlers will have a lot more fun when they are abiding to a daily routine that they can predict.
Our little people are having so many changes happening to them in such a short time. They are rarely in control of what happens to them (despite their best efforts), their motor and language skills are developing rapidly, and they probably feel extremely tiny in a world they can rarely understand.
Establishing a regular daily schedule for toddlers provides them with comfort, security, and structure. Eventually you'll be so into the groove that your youngster won't allow you to deviate. I can't count the number of times that I simply wanted to lay down and sleep after a long day (or a large dinner) and my little boy still insists on getting an evening shower.
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A daily schedule for toddlers might seem too stiff, but tots truly do enjoy the consistency. Children don't know what is rigid and what isn't, they only know what is demonstrated to them. My tyke doesn't think of it as a some self-important word like “schedule”, it's simply a list of what happens next in his day.
Small fry are still too young to comprehend the concept of time, but having the same events happen daily in the same order can help them to make simple predictions and plans for the future. There are times that the schedule is completely disrupted because kids will inevitably be kids, but don't get frustrated.
Bide your time and snag the next opportunity to put yourself and your little cherub back on track. Keep things fun and flexible as much as possible, but at the same time realize that you still need to build a strong and stable foundation that your toddler can rely on.
A quick rundown of my daily schedule for toddlers might help in demonstrating that schedules can be reliable and flexible.
7AM-8AM Wake up and get dressed. He usually wakes me up with kisses, and I wake him up with tickles. Once the kiddo is conscious I'll get his diaper changed. We take our time getting out of bed. He enjoys a milk, I get my much-needed coffee, and then we get dressed.
8AM-9AM Make some breakfast to pair with coffee. I'll generally have a little scamp underfoot, but he's a happy fella if I just hand him a wooden spoon or one of his cars to play with. I get to enjoy my breakfast, and he'll occasionally come over for a bite of eggs or oatmeal.
9AM-10AM Catching up on chores is never fun, but it sets a good example. If I'm folding laundry, I'll let him fiddle with a shirt. Doing dishes? Here comes the wooden spoon again. Sweeping is one of his favorites. Some days he doesn't feel like helping and if that's the case there is nothing wrong with setting him in his crib or quiet place with some toys.
10AM-11AM One of my favorite times. My son and I get to sit and play for a while before lunch rolls around. Drawing, clay, cars, dolls, dinosaurs. He knows where his things are and generally I let him pick the activity. Participate, have fun, and marvel at how fast they grow up. You will look back at these times with so much fondness.
11AM-12PM Lunch is approaching fast! I'll generally hold off until 11:30 or so since I'm not exactly a gourmet chef. Most of what I prepare is quick and easy, and that leaves more time to relax with the little dude. When I start to clean he will either assist and let me know he's ready to stop, or look at me like I'm an insane person because he wants to play more. In the latter case, I'll leave him to play while I prepare a little something for us.
12PM-1PM Play time is over. We don't do toys at the table. Many times just showing him food is enough to lure him to eat, but if he's determined to play I'll let it go on. An hour is a long time to eat. Eventually he will get tired of toys or hungry enough to call it quits.
1PM-2PM This is the pre-nap phase. My son's eyelids immediately start drooping as soon as he sees me pick up one of his books. I'm not sure he knows how any of them actually end. I enjoy reading and I hope he will grow up to enjoy it as well. Until then, I'm happy to read to him. One bottle and one book and he is usually out like a light. Beautiful.
2PM-4PM Finally, I can do some work. If work is finished then I have free reign! YES!!
4PM-5PM When my boy wakes up it's time for a bit of time outside. The sun is low enough that I don't have to worry about him crisping immediately. This is a very simple time. He doesn't realize that he can roll in the dirt quite yet. Usually he walks along the fence and says “Hi!” to all the neighbors and dogs. He points out passing vehicles, and I get to enjoy walking and talking with my boy. He does the walking. I do the talking. (For now.)
5PM-6PM Once outside-time is wrapped up it's time to get dinner going. This one usually takes the longest to prepare, so I've had to drag my bundle of joy back inside amid a fit of tears more than once. Oh well. Needs must, right? Generally I'll settle him in to watch a movie and he quiets right down. Some people might shame the electronic babysitter, to those people I say “Good luck.” An hour or two a day hurts nothing. I promise.
6PM-7PM We both enjoy a bit of dinner, a bit of milk, or any combination thereof. Sitting and watching a movie might seem passive, but the right choice can be quite stimulating. My progeny has strong opinions on the duality of man as exhibited by Toy Story. At least, I think that's what he's talking about. Truthfully, I can't quite tell yet.
7PM-8PM Shower time is a lovely time. There is a certain collection of toys that he simply can't do without. Mostly ducks, with a couple of cars thrown in. I don't question his basis for selection. We splash and play and say “quack-quack”. Some days he's out in 5 minutes flat, others he takes a half hour or more. Again, I let him make the call. He knows once he's out it's time for bed.
8PM-7AM Lights out! We gotta get ready to do all this again tomorrow. I can't stay up too late!
Conclusion on Daily Schedule for Toddlers
It may be pretty evident that I've left some wiggle-room. My son and I know each other extremely well and I've finally gotten used to what takes us more or less time to accomplish. We are in rhythm with each other and it is something that I can't imagine doing without. If you still aren't sold on a daily schedule for toddlers I'll leave you with a few more benefits.
- Predictability and control will help your child feel safer and less nervous.
- A strong routine can develop your child's sense of self-control.
- Giving them some responsibility and independence fosters greater self-confidence.
- That self-confidence will leave your child more adaptive to change.
- Kids love repetition. Not just that, but kids scientifically need repetition.
In a world that is constantly changing, a daily schedule for toddlers can reinforce positive behaviors while letting negative ones fall by the wayside. Set yourself and your tots up for success by becoming the steadfast parent they can't tell you that they need. My schedule might not work for everyone. Heck, there are days it doesn't even work for me. No situation is completely idyllic, but I believe that with love, understanding, and mutual respect you can 100% guaranteed find a daily schedule for toddlers that works for you and your little people.