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Rule #1 of Parenting Young Children - Consistency and Routine - For real, for real!

Updated: Jan 22, 2023

I can't stress enough how much easier life with a young child is (or will be) when there is consistency and routine. Many routines or parts of routines have to start in infancy in order to work well in toddlerhood so it something you need to prepare for from the start. The baby only knows the little bubble of its world. So if you demonstrate your expectations as early as possible, its the only way they know how to behave. Even if a baby goes to child care at 6 weeks old, they will be able to differentiate between expectations at home/with their parents from expectations at school/with their teachers.


IMPORTANT: Consistency and routines are the result of adult behavior and planning. Negative behaviors that are the result of lack of proper adult behavior and planning should be reflected on by the adult, not converted into frustration toward the child. No one is saying that it is easy to create and plan for these behaviors but, after reading this, you can't claim you didn't know :)


Ok, so why are consistency and routine so important? When a child's world is consistent, they can start to understand what to expect in the world around them. It's really true for adults as well. Think about how 2020 felt. We were all kind of lost because our realities became very unpredictable, suddenly different, and ever-changing. It's not comfortable.


Consistency and routine allow young children the comfort to try new things (aka learn and grow) at the most efficient rate. If they know what to expect most of the time, they know they are going to be okay. Below are some examples of routines that you could think through. On my resources tab, you'll find a worksheet to think through these routines. I would recommend doing this before baby is born and revisiting every 3 - 6 months with all who closely care for the baby in your home. If you haven't already planned for these routines and ways to reinforce consistency, do it ASAP!


Sleep:

Anyone who ever has a problem with their child's sleep and asks the pediatrician about it, the first question is going to be the same every single time, "Do you have a bed time routine? What is it?"


For newborns and infants, sleep will, as we know, not happen at the same time everyday or for the same duration but what happens around naptime and bedtime can be routine.


Suggestions:

  • Choose a time in the evening where you will turn the lights low in your home and keep them low until an appropriate wake up time in the morning.

  • You should also try to make everything quieter and calmer in your house during these hours. This helps baby to understand the different between night and day.

  • Read a story or sing a song each day at the time that will be baby's bedtime. Over time, the nighttime routine before bed will get more complex but starting with something at the same time every day helps baby to understand bedtime.


As soon as baby sleeps through the night, the nighttime routine should become very predictable and consistent as often as humanly possible. Choose a routine and stick to it. Don't let toddlers manipulate you into adding steps. They will try. *See more below on toddlers and manipulation :)


Suggestions:

  • As stated above, start to calm and quiet your home around 7:00 (or whatever bedtime you choose.) This will mean communication and routines will all people in the house that promotes a quiet and calm environment as bedtime approaches.

  • Have 4-5 steps that occur before it is time to sleep. This could be bath, pajamas, brush teeth, read a book, sing a song, lay down. These steps should happen exactly the same way, every single day, as often as possible, as soon as baby is sleeping through the night.

  • As with bedtime, wake up time should be the same thing every time as well. It can be different for morning and for naps but it should be the same every morning and every nap. Do they get their diaper changed every time? Then what? Eat? Play in the living room? Playroom? Whatever it is, it should be the same AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE.

Anecdote: My daughter is generally a calm child. She also is very compliant with going to bed at bedtime. However, one of the steps in our bedtime routine is that we read her two books while she is in her crib. She very much listens and interacts in the story but she is holding on to the side of the crib and jumping like she's on a trampoline most of the time; not necessarily calm but the goal is still achieved each night of her winding down and going to bed when it is time. Routines don't necessarily have to be all neat and tidy, they just need to happen everyday in the same way as often as possible.


Eating:

As we know, whether breastfeeding or bottle feeding, newborns and young infants are going to eat much more frequently. Starting to teach the expectations of eating times can still begin very early in order to have consistency which will lead to less unwanted behaviors later.


Suggestions:

  • When baby is going to eat, tell the baby something like, "Ok, you are hungry. Lets eat." This will allow baby to begin to understand key words for when they want food are "hungry" and "eat." This will encourage them to use these words to communicate their hunger as soon as they can.

  • Speaking of communication, I highly recommend teaching your baby the sign language sign for eat. They can do it much earlier than they can talk and it is very helpful to stop having to read their minds/behavior when they are hungry. When teaching signs, you have to use the sign for that word as often as possible so the baby will use it as soon as they can. If you don't demonstrate it enough, it will never click for them.

  • If you so choose, you could feed the baby in 2-3 spots the become common places for the baby to be fed whenever you're at home. This will reinforce later that there are certain place where we eat. Obviously those places will change as the baby begins to use a high chair or sit at a table but they baby is more likely to comply with eating in specific places rather than having food all over the house. This is something that is important to some people and not to others.

  • When you are finished tell baby, "Ok, all done" or "ok, finished." This will encourage baby to communicate later by saying "all done" when they are done eating. Again, extremely helpful to not have to try to read their minds or behavior.

  • As with "eat," "All done/finished" is also a very helpful sign to teach your child. again, when teaching signs, you have to use the sign for that word as often as possible so the baby will use it as soon as they can. If you don't demonstrate it enough, it will never click for them.

  • When baby moves to eating solid food, have a schedule of rough times the baby will have meals and snacks. If baby is able to be given food at any given time during the day, this can make your day feel hectic. As with having specific places to eat, having specific times to eat is a personal choice. If it doesn't bother you for your child eat whenever they indicate they want food, that is up to you. There are a couple of benefits of this. If baby has certain times they will always get meals or snacks, they know that food will come and they do not need to always be asking for it. With that said, they also are more likely to eat more of what you want them to eat at for meals and snack rather than mostly consuming the foods that are just most easily accessed.


Warnings:

Whether it is something that happens all the time or is only going to happen once, giving a child a warning of what is coming can make your life A LOT easier. Again, when a child knows what to expect, they feel more comfortable. Feeling more comfortable means that they can handle their emotions much more easily and begin to display self regulation of these emotions. Rather than freaking out when you tell them they have to stop doing something RIGHT NOW, a warning allows them to process the change, get ready for the change, and handle it much more smoothly. You might be thinking, "My infant isnt going to self regulate yet, so why give warnings?" Answer: The infant will self regulate better and sooner if they can feel comfortable to know that, whenever possible, you are going to give them a warning of a change rather than changes coming out of no where and upsetting them. If you don't warn the child and there is a tantrum, that is a mistake in adult behavior, not the over reaction of a child.


Examples of in the moment warnings:

  • "In a few minutes we are going to put our shoes on and get in the car."

  • "In one minute, we are going to be all done with the blocks."

  • "After this episode we are going to be all done with Daniel Tiger."

Note: They don't really know the difference in the time so if you say 1 minute and it ends up being 5, its okay. As long as they were warned what was coming.


Warnings should also be given when the child will experience something that is out of the ordinary day.


Examples of warnings for daily changes:

  • "Later, after your nap, we are going to go to the grocery store and then take your brother to soccer practice."

  • "Today, Grandma is coming over for dinner."

Daily Schedule

Newborn and infant sleep, play, eating, and mobility are ever-changing so if you get too stuck on a schedule, it will make it even harder to constantly change with you baby. Actually, a facet of parenting that is exceptionally important yet very hard to accept, is that you have to be prepared to constantly pivot based on babies needs. With that said, when your child has set into one nap a day, you should have a daily schedule where your child's day reflects that schedule as often as possible. Changes in the schedule should be appropriately communicated to the child ahead of time as much as possible. (See examples of daily schedules on Resources Tab.)

  • Necessary Clarification: Some resources suggest a very stringent schedule for baby from day one. This isn't the road I support. Feeling like you have to be absolutely 100% compliant with a schedule all day long with a infant can make life feel very overwhelming. Accommodating baby and yourself for those first few months is the road that I advocate. As you learn your baby and your life with baby, then you learn what schedule/routine will work. This is why I say that your expectations and routines should be revisited every 3-6 months.


Behavior Expectations:

There are expectations for how to act in every different setting and situation. Taking the time to think through the different settings and situations that your child will encounter and deciding what your expectations are for those, will help you and the child immensely. If you communicate expectations and reinforce expectations for your child from very early on, they will adopt those expectations and you will have to do less work later to try to change behavior. If you do not communicate expectations and reinforce those expectations and then your child behaves in a way that is not what you desired, whose fault is that? See "IMPORTANT" note above.


Example:

  • When babies are tiny, it might seem harmless and funny when they push you or hit you. Assuming the expectation as they get older is that it is not appropriate for them to push or hit you, this expectation should be communicated from the start. Its not as if the child should get in trouble of be given a reprimand for it but you could say, "Please do not push me. I don't like that." If you do not allow that behavior early, it is MUCH less likely to become a problem behavior later.


Things to keep in mind

Toddler "manipulation":

  • Toddlers are learning how to operate in the world. Therefore they are trying to figure out the behavior of everyone around them. People call toddlers manipulative sometimes because when they are trying out a new behavior to see what will happen, it can feel like they are purposely trying to upset you. It is extremely important to keep in mind that they are not trying to upset you. That baby LIVES for your approval. They are not trying to make you angry or frustrated. Try your hardest not to over react to new negative behaviors or to stubborn behavior.

Being consistent can be really hard.

  • If your baby cries and makes you feel bad or they throw a tantrum at an inopportune time, it might be easier to just give in. DON'T DO IT! (I'm speaking in general terms. I understand there may be times you have to give in. Generally speaking, though, DON'T GIVE IN). They have to know that you mean what you say. If you do your part and give that warning and they still throw a tantrum when it is time to be done, it is extremely important for you to still discontinue the block play and to stay calm. When they know that you mean what you say, they will learn that there is really no point in trying to throw a tantrum to change it. Thus reducing tantrums. Alas, they will definitely still happen but less often. In the long run giving in to a young child turns into the child thinking, "If I make a big enough scene, I can pretty much get whatever I want." Nobody wants that! (More on doing your best to always mean what you say and follow through in a later post).

Resources: See Routines and Expectations Checklist and Daily Schedule Examples




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