Why is it a convention?
I was naive. My daughter Charlotte was quite lazy as a baby, so I wanted our first trip away from home to be a relaxing one. However, after a few days and a few missed naps, Charlotte went from being my sweet angel to a mess, and so did I. As my husband and Charlotte took turns pacing the floor, my grandmother put her arm around me. “She’ll be fine,” she assured me. “She just misses her everyday life! ”
Grandma was right. The next day, when we walked through the door of our own apartment, Charlotte was her lovely self again. If I learned anything from this exhausting adventure, it’s this: babies love a predictable world, and for good reason. For young children, every day is filled with learning and excitement, and everyday life can be a welcome break from the chaos.
“Think of it this way,” says Harvey Karp, M.D., creator of the DVD and book, The Happiest Baby on the Block. “If you spend your whole day working to master new tasks, then you’ll be grateful you have regular coffee breaks.”
Dr. Karp says daily habits can also help keep your child away from unexpectedly dramatic changes. Sticking to a familiar pattern can ease your child into a stressful situation, whether it’s a new sibling or a parent’s business trip. But that’s just the beginning. Read on to see how basic habits can help your baby grow into a confident child.
Set a schedule
Dr. Rose Kavo, associate professor of child development at Bank Street College of Education in New York City, says that for a newborn who can’t yet tell morning from night, a routine can be especially helpful in establishing her circadian rhythm —- an innate biological clock that helps her distinguish between day and night.
This does not mean that you should feed your newborn on time or try to establish a regular bedtime; in the first few months, most babies’ bodies are not mature enough to follow this pattern. Feed him on demand and let him sleep when he wants, but start imposing some routines, such as exposing him to sunlight when he’s awake, so he can begin to distinguish between day and night.
About 4 to 6 weeks….
Dr. Karp suggests some nighttime routines, including dim lights, a bath, and some milk. Don’t worry that your baby might wake up three hours later. Dr. Karp says: “The idea is to lay a foundation so that over time your baby will associate these cues with sleep.” .
Starting at about three months .
Simple rituals can be incorporated into your life, such as playing with your favorite toy. At this point, you are still at the mercy of your baby’s random clock. To combine these crazy behaviors and methods, take note of your baby’s general eating and sleeping habits, as well as general mood at specific times of the day. That way, you’ll know when your baby likes to walk in the park best and when you’re better off playing at home.
At 7 months old….
Caring for your child is no longer a guessing game. Most people are ready to have a regular eating and sleeping schedule; the long nights of multiple wakings and feedings are mostly behind you.
Establishing a routine
There’s no doubt that routines bring some order to the chaos of infancy. They have also been shown to help promote children’s development. “They’re an essential part of the socialization process,” says Dr. Larry Shapiro, author of The Secret Language of Children: How to Understand What Your Child Is Really Saying (Sourcebook , 2003). “When a child knows it’s time to go to bed instead of playing, she begins to understand that she has to follow the rules.”
As your child becomes more curious and active, patterns and rituals play their most subtle and perhaps most important role. Around the seventh or eighth month, he begins to understand the concept of object permanence, which means he becomes aware that people and objects exist, even if he can’t see them. Experts say that if a child realizes that he lives in a safe, predictable world to which he can always return, new challenges and experiences are less frightening.
Soon after, routines help your child understand the concept of sequencing. By the time your little one is a year old, he or she will begin to understand that dinner is followed by a bath and socks are followed by shoes. Knowing what happens next can boost your toddler’s confidence level. “It’s like a joke,” says Dr. Karp.
New, independent routines
When your child reaches preschool age, her routine will become a more set schedule, Carver says. At the same time, she’ll want more of a voice. Let her add her own details to the established routine —- For example, choosing what to wear to bed in pajamas —- This will allow her to be more independent while maintaining structure.
As your child grows, new elements will be added to your daily schedule and others will fade away. To help make adjustments, gradually add new routines and keep things as consistent as possible. For example, when you feed your baby solids, give them at the same time each day and sit them in the same high chair, which will help them switch from the bottle or breast to cereal and applesauce.
Nursery or kindergarten jitters can also be relieved by a calming ritual. When my daughter started school at age 3, we came up with our own special goodbye kiss —- The raspberries on her cheeks made her laugh. (Her classmates got a kick out of it too!)
Be prepared to be flexible and adaptable. Just as you get used to a routine, your child may decide to move on. Elizabeth Cooper from Brooklyn, N.Y., remembers the morning her then 8-month-old daughter Lila said goodbye to her daily 10 a.m. nap. “She wouldn’t go to sleep and just cried,” Cooper said. “I was convinced she needed her morning nap and held on to it long after I should have given up,” Cooper said. “I’ve gotten so used to our schedule that it’s hard to see that she’s changing and conforming to her needs.” If your child is resisting her routine, you need to take a step back and analyze the situation. For infants under 9 months, biology is often the culprit: If your infant is sleepy and restless at bath time, she probably needs to go to bed earlier.
Test the rules. By about 18 months of age, toddlers have a good idea of what’s going to happen —- They may want to change things just to test their own abilities. Shapiro says: “When children realize they can control themselves, sticking to a habit becomes a problem.” . If you let your child win part of the battle, he’s more likely to cooperate. For example, bedtime itself may be non-negotiable, but the kind of pajamas she wears can be her decision.
Mix them up. From two years out, a little variation can help kids maintain a habit that has gone out of style. For example, this might mean adding a silly song about brushing teeth to the ritual of getting ready for kindergarten. At this age, “parents get cooperation through routines,” Dr. Karp says.
Sometimes, of course, deviations from normal levels are out of control —- Maybe it’s a vacation, or a bout of the flu. How your child handles change depends on her personality, Shapiro says. But you can make it easier by trying to familiarize your kids with their new surroundings; for example, taking toys from home on a trip and keeping meal times the same as bedtime.
Nonetheless, most experts agree that it’s okay to mix things up occasionally. A few unexpected departures can teach young children flexibility, adaptability and tolerance.
It’s important to respect the daily routine that has special meaning for your child, but as Carver says: “It’s also important to learn that life is still good, stable and safe when your daily routine is changed.”