Toddlers are in an interesting stage, developmentally. Sometimes their sleep schedules match perfectly with the rest of the family and sometimes they don’t. This can wreak havoc on the schedule of the family. That’s why it’s important to begin establishing a morning routine with toddlers as soon as possible.
All children benefit from routines. The routines give the children a sense of order and control. The routines also help the children know what is going to happen next and that helps reduce stress for everyone. Finally, children want to do what is expected of them, and routines help them to know this bit of information so they feel successful.
Establishing a Morning Routine
Taking a look at what you do in the morning already is a good place to start when trying to establish a routine for your toddler and children. I always look first at what I’m doing and see if it needs to be tweaked or completely thrown out. My motto is: “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” In other words, looking to see if part of what I’m doing in the morning is already working helps me know what I want to keep, as I incorporate other ideas to see if I can make the routine work more effectively.
After I’ve spent a few days looking at what is already happening, then I see what else “needs” to happen. I never try to add more than one additional action into an established routine at a time. Something I try to do is write out what needs to happen in each segment of the day in a way the children can understand. I’ve made picture charts, check off lists, and sticker charts to help my children understand what needs to be completed and to feel some reward for the completion of those things.
Another key is that instead of being too bound by the “time” things need to be completed, I try to focus on time segments for things to be completed in. For example, in the morning we need to get dressed to shoes, make our beds, pick up ten things from our rooms, do our morning chore, and then eat breakfast. There aren’t any times when the each action in the group needs to be finished by – no due dates or deadlines. Just the general understanding that these things need to be completed before we eat breakfast.
When we were working on creating the morning routine I mentioned, it took several months to incorporate all the actions on the list. We started with just making sure we all got up and dressed before breakfast. Again, I helped each child accomplish this task for the first few weeks until it became a habit. Then once the children could successfully complete that task regularly – and without reminders or assistance – we moved onto making beds and followed the same scaffolding of behavior, until the new behavior was mastered. By repeating this process several times, we have built our current morning routine.
After I have written out what we do normally, and added in the one or two things I wanted to change, then I try it out for two weeks. It takes time for children and parents to adjust to what is different in the routine. It is important to give the routine time to become – well – routine.
Whenever I try to start a new routine with my children, I practice doing the things with them during the trial period. So, in my example of a morning routine: I help my children get dressed, make their beds, pick up ten things from their rooms, do their morning chores, and then we all sit down to eat breakfast together. The first two to three weeks of a new routine are time intensive for me – especially the first week. During the course of the next two weeks, the necessity of my helping my children with every aspect of the routine diminishes. By the third week, I get a good picture of how well the routine works.
One final thought, children always resist change at first. So, whenever a routine is changed, there is bound to be some sort of resistance from the children. This can come in many forms – from “losing” shoes to out and out tantrums. However, I have found that consistently applying the routine to the moment helps the resistance strategies diminish. Consistency is the best friend of routines and without it – no routine could ever be established.