People ask me all the time for parenting tips. Just kidding, they don’t. 😜 But if they did, I’d tell them that the single-most important parenting tip for kids of all ages is scheduling. So today, I’m sharing exactly why developing daily routines for our toddler has been so awesome for our family.
I should note, however, that if you came to this post looking for an hour-by-hour schedule to follow, you’re out of luck. ;) And that’s because what works for us might not work for you, and vise versa. Everyone parents differently, every parent is in a different situation, and every child is different. It just takes some trial and error before finding a schedule that works best for your toddler and your family. (And don’t think that we’re scheduling geniuses or anything. We alter our routine and mess it up and then attempt to fix it all the time. Sticking to it is important, but hell, it’s difficult, too!)
Building off that: Parenting Trigger Warning! Like the last time I wrote a kid-related post, I’m about to talk about decisions that my wife and I have made while parenting our daughter. I’m no authority, so please don’t let my decisions erode your sense of worth as a parent. We’re all in this together, and we’re all free to make different parenting choices, hold different beliefs and prioritize different activities! There’s no one “right way.” But please share your scheduling tips in the comments section below so we can all learn from each other and potentially try others’ techniques. Thanks for reading!
Top reasons for following a daily toddler schedule
Good habits are developed
Writing that headline makes me realize that I’m turning into my grandmother, but this one has proven true. The times in my life when I’ve had a solid daily schedule in place have been times of great health, creativity, friendship and general happiness. Times when I’ve let things slide into disarray, though, have been times filled with… uh… less desirable results.
It’s not a direct comparison, but I see the same trend in Emma’s daily routine. When I get lazy with the schedule, she rips the house apart, nothing worthwhile is accomplished, and things get heated. But when we work toward a more schedule-based existence with, for example, dedicated times to eat breakfast, independently play, leave the house, read, or to be quiet–you know, all that good stuff–she’s a happy, playful, curious little toddler person. And if we do it enough, it becomes less of a “routine” and more so just “good habits.”
A fun example is that a few months ago, Kelly and I decided to work “clothing clean up” into Emma’s nighttime routine: when she puts her shoes on her shoe rack in her closet and puts her dirty laundry in the hamper. For a while, we had to remind Emma to do it, and we needed to walk her through how to do it again and again. Now, though, she kind of does it without thinking! No matter what time of day it is, she runs her shoes to her closet when she takes them off. Pretty cool!
Nap times become guaranteed
One of the ultimate advantages to schedulatizing your toddler’s day is (almost) guaranteed ample and abundant nap times. The nap is the linchpin of any toddler schedule. Most parents will tell you that napping is key to a child’s wellbeing or that their kid tends to have a rough day without a nap… and in my experience, that’s so true. But it’s also so important to the parent! (You can hear a collective sigh of relief around Lincoln Park at about 1:30 each afternoon as our little angels become delightfully comatose and we dance off to oh-so-quietly do a full day’s worth of adulting/chores in as little as half an hour.)
All jokes aside, a good nap time routine can fundamentally whip any toddler’s schedule into shape. It builds good sleeping habits, raises energy levels and all together makes for a happier kid. We’re down to one nap now, but I still long for the days of two and three naps. ;) It’s starting to sound like I need a nap myself. Next topic!
Boundaries are established
Kids are like little balloons that inflate themselves into every nook and cranny of your day until you feel like you could just explode. Sorry, that was harsh, haha. Luckily, I’ve recently discovered this thing called boundaries, and it turns out that toddlers totally buy into them! Boundaries aren’t easy to pull off, but an added benefit of any schedule-based lifestyle is that boundaries happen naturally!
I’ll give you an example. Kelly and I recently implemented a specific period of the day for Emma to play independently. She gets to choose an activity to do in her room, and we just kind of leave her in there to do it herself. She loves it, and it’s helped her become more independent. (And, frankly, Mommy and Daddy sometimes need a little break from the damn doll house. 😂) This addition to our schedule has opened up a whole world of new opportunities for Emma, it’s also set up boundaries. Emma now understands when Mommy and Daddy are available for play, and when we need to do things like cook and clean and whatnot. Everybody wins!
Appropriate expectations are set
I don’t know the key to avoiding toddler meltdowns, but the key to causing them is not setting expectations. A predictable schedule does all the expectation-setting work for you in advance, and the benefits are abundant. Now that Emma can anticipate the events of her day and plan ahead, she is fully aware of what is expected of her at a given moment. Transitions between activities become routine instead of opportunities for conflict.
This is true when Emma is being watched by another adult as well. A good example is our bedtime schedule. It’s now easy to hand off those responsibilities to babysitters or grandparents without the whole thing collapsing because it’s so routine. Emma almost leads it! (Get into PJs, then brush teeth, then pick out two stories, then climb into the crib, then read the books, then talk about her day, then…)
Mealtimes become more enjoyable
This is another example of how adults can likely benefit from scheduling just as much as our kids can. Scheduling appropriate time for snacks and meals makes the whole endeavor much more enjoyable and healthy.
Over the last few months, we’ve increasingly added meal prep and clean-up to Emma’s schedule to help her transition from playing to helping and also calmly sitting and eating as a family. She’s still a bit young to do anything super productive in the kitchen, but she loves washing vegetables and chopping fruit.
I find our meals to be the most important component of our daily schedule. If planned properly it provides a great opportunity for us to spend quiet time together and to learn about each other’s day. Just kidding we mostly talk about Elsa.
Flexibility is allowed for
All of this said, don’t be a slave to the schedule… and don’t let it rule your life. It’s safe to say that no two of our days are exactly alike, and that each day requires subtle variations. Maybe Emma needs an especially long nap or maybe she doesn’t need a nap at all. Maybe I want make homemade bread one day and we choose to destroy the kitchen instead of having independent play time. Or maybe a friend stops by and we do an impromptu playdate and we shift things back an hour or so. The point is that if a schedule is strong enough, these little changes won’t break it. Enjoy life with your kid.
It’s also important to invite your toddler in as a part of the scheduling committee. Emma gets a vote in what we decide to do, and, ultimately, she kind of decides how much of her time is spent. Of course, I have veto power, but you get the idea.
Finding a schedule that works for our family has helped relieve my parenting guilt affliction. You know: the guilt. The feeling that no matter what parenting task I’m engaging with at the moment, it isn’t enough… or whatever parenting decision I make is the wrong one. I hate the guilt. It ruins parenting for me. Scheduling has helped so much with this, though. It’s given me a framework to make improvements to my parenting day, and I no longer feel like I have “failed days” because I at least accomplish some worthwhile stuff with my daughter every day. I also can’t feel pressured to rush into the next activity because each one has a set time. No need to stress anymore; I just enjoy the ride!
Do you have any toddler scheduling tips? Would love to hear them!