Rainbows’ families often discuss their daily routines, or lack of, and express desire for establishing a familiar routine. Familiarity in routines can be useful for little ones by making them feel secure, safe and comfortable, while helping them to anticipate what is coming next. Infants, toddlers, children and even adults can develop a sense of self-confidence and security by having established routines. Parents may feel overwhelmed by starting and setting a routine, but I often remind them that they are likely already engaging in a routine of some sort and that the best routine is one that works best for their family. There are no one-size-fits-all routines or guidelines, but there are some helpful tips and tricks to get started when setting a routine with babies and toddlers.
• First, start by asking yourself, “What am I already doing in our daily routine?” What are some aspects of your day that happen habitually already? Breaking your day down into tasks can be helpful for identifying parts of the regimen, such as breakfast, getting ready for the day, transitioning to the community, etc.
• It can be nice to have your child involved in the daily tasks by giving them some responsibilities or having them participate in the routine with you. For example, you may allow your toddler to toss a food item into the cart when shopping or lift their foot to help with putting on shoes. Keep in mind that when a child knows what to expect, they can feel secure and prepared for their day just as we like to do as adults!
• It is important to keep the routine as similar as possible each day, such as washing hands directly after eating or waving goodbye to a beloved pet before leaving the house. Children are quick to pick up on routines and enjoy participating in the anticipated activities.
• It is important to be realistic and understand that our days do not always go according to plan, and we do have to be flexible, but giving the child a warning ahead of the change can be helpful for reducing stress and tantrums. Let your little one know what is going to happen next.
• Offering choices in your schedule can help with a sense of autonomy, especially with your toddlers who strive for independence. Perhaps you can let your child choose whether they want strawberries or blueberries with breakfast, or whether they want to put on their pink gloves or red gloves today.
• Visual aids can be a great reminder for kids on what to expect next, so feel free to use pictures to indicate what is to come. For example, you may use a picture of a toilet when it is time for a bathroom break. Consistently using symbols for certain activities can solidify the routine and provide a clearer explanation for what will happen next in the day.
• Modeling steps of your routine, such as brushing your teeth alongside your child or taking bites of a warm meal in order to prompt them to take a bite as well, can help your child successfully, independently complete tasks. Our children are constantly looking to us for cues on how to act, and demonstrating is one of the best ways we can request behaviors from them.
• Finally, it is important to give your child lots of positive and descriptive feedback for engaging in the routine. This is helpful for building their confidence and security.
By Alison Stramel, LMSW