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I remember sitting with my newborn son in my arms. It was the middle of the night; I was feeding him. The world was dark, except for the small circle of light we were sitting in.
I was frazzled. I was tired.
Above all, I was panicked.
How was I responsible for this little new life?
The next few days were not any easier. Was he sleeping enough? Was he sleeping too much? Why wasn’t he emptying his bottle?!
To me, being a new mom was a complete roller coaster. I didn’t feel like I knew what to do. I worried a lot about whether I was doing things right for my son. And I really just wanted someone to explain to me how one raises a child.
Enter baby routines.
Creating and abiding by a daily baby routine literally saved my sanity and gave me some measure of freedom.
Another thing I noticed in those first few weeks, is that taking care of a baby tends to eat up the day. It would be time to start dinner (as if I’d gotten any groceries done) and I’d still be in my nursing t-shirt and PJ bottoms.
Sound familiar? I thought so.
Quick wee side note: Because I know how hard it can be to stay in the routine and habit of playing with your kids, and to come up with fun games each time, I’ve created a 7-day challenge for parents of toddlers and preschoolers. This is a great way to get started if you’ve fallen out of the habit of playing with your kids, or to learn about fresh ideas and activities.
Each day for 1 week, you will receive an e-mail with an activity that you can do with your kids. Join the newsletter and start your 7 days of play today!
What is a baby routine?
Let’s start with the basics. What am I talking about when I talk about a baby routine.
Basically, a baby routine is doing the same thing, the same way, at the same time every day.
In my view, this can be applied at various levels. For instance, the day in general can look pretty much the same on any given day. This works well for my toddler.
My oldest son, who is now 6, needs even less similarity between individual days. However, I notice that he likes the structure of the weeks to be predictable.
It’s how he knows whether he can ask for candy (on the weekends) or whether he’ll be allowed to stay up another half hour (on Saturdays).
When he was a baby, I used not only a daily baby routine, but I also used routines for all the things we did.
For instance, naptime always played out in the same way.
Bedtime always looked the same.
So did playtime.
This may sound boring and restrictive, but in practice the opposite is true.
Using routines and a daily schedule has advantages for everyone involved and helps tremendously.
In short routines have given me:
- something to hold onto as a new mom;
- confidence in my parenting abilities;
- freedom to move around with little children;
- time to myself;
- and, most importantly, a happy baby!
Let me explain exactly how everyone thrives when routines are used in a household with your children.
Why give baby daily schedules?
For babies, there are two advantages to living with a baby routine.
The first, is that after a while, they start to recognize the patterns and so know what is coming next.
Remember that they don’t know anything, they don’t understand anything. When you tell them what you’re going to do, it is doubtlessly good for their language development, but they still won’t know what is going to happen.
Giving baby daily schedules tells him what is coming next.
It takes the surprises out of the day. In a life where literally everything is new, where everything is an experience…sighs, smells, sounds, feelings….everything is a lesson, knowing what happens next bring calm and confidence.
Baby routines tell a baby that things are alright and as they should be.
Because events are unfolding the same way they did yesterday, and everything was fine then as well. Mommy held me, I got fed, I was safe and warm.
The same will happen today.
The second advantage for very young children, is that it’s easier for their parents to understand their needs.
If there is some measure of regularity to sleep, milk and play, then it becomes easier to understand what baby needs when he or she cries.
It was one of the biggest struggles for me when I first became a new mom.
I’d heard that, by some magical process, moms know what certain cries mean.
Well, let’s just say I was one of those moms lacking that particular magical ability.
Using a baby routine made it easier for me to know what my baby needed when he cried.
This was because I already knew how long it had been since he had slept or eaten, and I knew when he was due to sleep or eat again.
If his bottle was due within half an hour, say, and he was crying, then most likely he was hungry.
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Why kids thrive on routines
I still use a daily schedule, even though my kids are now past their infancy. It keeps the day organized for all of us. My children know what the rules are as well as what is expected of them, because we have a daily schedule. Does that mean they are little angels, of course not. They still end up spending time in the naughty spot by the front door. But usually, the drama is reduced to a minimum. If we do encounter a lot of drama (I’m human, not super-mommy), it’s usually because we’ve strayed from the clarity of a daily schedule.
One the whole though, my kids sit at the table without an iPad, because that’s what we do every day. For the same reason, they go to bed each evening without a fuss. The daily schedule also explained why it’s very difficult to get my kids to clean up the mess they’ve made during the day…it’s not something we do consistently, daily…
Why moms thrive on routines
Even us moms can benefit from baby daily schedules. Again, I have two reasons 🙂
First, it’s because with baby daily schedules, we know when our little ones are sleeping and we can plan accordingly. My youngest son still sleeps a solid two hours in the afternoon, each day. I can count on that. Which means that I can plan something else during that time. I can look forward to some undisturbed time for writing a blog post, or tweaking some freebies.
This works the same with infants, when my kids were just babies, I knew I could do groceries between 9 and 10 am. Why? Because they were always asleep during that time. I could lay them down in the pram knowing they’d fall asleep and I would have a whole hour!
The second reason that routines are good for moms also, is because our bodies and minds also thrive on regularity. Think of an evening routine: you end up sleeping a better and more wholesome sleep, if your body comes to expect sleep at a certain time and after a certain ritual.
The general structure
So, now that you know that everyone in the family benefits from daily, structured schedules, let’s get around to the practicalities.
Rule of thumb: the older they get, the less detail you need.
For setting up baby daily schedules, there’s the general structure to the day, but there is also the repetitive cycle of sleep, milk and play that for most babies takes about three hours. In general, there’s a short nap in the morning (1 hour), a longer nap around lunch (2 hours) and again a short nap in the afternoon (1 hour). That adds up to 4 cycles of 3 to 4 hours each.
For toddlers, the daily schedule is already quite a bit more lenient. We still get up at the same time each day, and most things take place more or less at the same time each day as well. But with only one nap left, there’s a bit more liberty to move things forward or backward.
Or course, there’s breakfast in the mornings, after which we usually play together. Then some fruit around 10 am, after which the kids are expected to play by themselves for a bit. Lunch at noon, after which the youngest takes a nap and I divide my time between household chores and special time with the oldest (if it’s not a school day). In the afternoons we’re usually outside, a good idea especially with boys regardless of the weather. In the late afternoon I cook dinner, and the kids either play together (if that still works while they’re getting increasingly tired) or they get to watch some cartoons (yes, I allow television if playing together is simply too ambitious).
How to get started
So, giving a baby daily schedules is so wonderful, why isn’t everyone using them? Well to be honest, they are not for everyone. Some babies thrive without. Some moms are fine without. Hey, don’t fix what isn’t broken. In the end, it’s your life and you need to do what works for you.
However, if you feel some regularity would balance things nicely, give it a try.
Write your routine down. You won’t know it off the top of your head in the beginning, so make sure you have your routine close by.
Also, don’t worry if you don’t stick to it perfectly from the start. Even more important, don’t expect your kids to stick to it from the start You’re changing the rules in the middle of the game, after all, and they don’t have to take to it from the beginning.
All you need to do, is keep in mind why you’re introducing to your baby daily schedules and routines, and then nudge yourself and your kids in the schedules direction each day. Give it a week or two, and you should definitely see some results.