Pretty sure I read in some parenting book somewhere that routines are amazing things for children. Honestly, I could have read it in any of the parenting books I’ve bought over the years or blogs I’ve read. But are toddler routines truly necessary? I’ve never really gotten an answer to my longing question, even from my children’s doctors over the years, except for today. I actually got an honest answer from my pediatrician.
“No, they aren’t truly necessary, but are recommended to help the child feel safe and know what to expect during the day.”-My kids pediatric doctor who’s name I don’t remember because I’m awesome like that.
Even though I’ve read just about every book and read many parenting blogs over the years, I’ve never had either of my children on a “scheduled” routine really. I got stared at funny when I stated that to their doctor too. Call me crazy, but I’ve never really seen the plus side of having one, or the immediate happiness or security it provided to my children.
I tested both having a routine and not having a routine, and there’s no visible difference that I or my husband can see between either child. I think the only thing that actually stood out, is when we’re asked to go somewhere, whether for a walk or just outside in general. And I’m pretty sure that’s solely because they want to go outside and rampage and have my fat self chase after them because it’s funny, not because of a routine or schedule. However, we did notice that having and enforcing a routine and/or schedule stressed us out more, in turn, stressed out our toddler too.
So Should There Be A Routine?
Honestly, it’s completely dependent on you, your family circumstances and your child or children. In reality, some children benefit and do exceptionally well in a structured environment, others, not so much. My children fall into that not so much category. Simple tasks like hygiene (my oldest currently in puberty) to brushing teeth is a chore and both children vocalize their discontent about it.
I’m not great at parenting although I am familiar with it, I mean I have three kids with a fourth on the way, and none have died yet, so I must be doing something right somewhere. I have found an unstructured structure that works wonders for my kids. So if you’re struggling to figure it out like I still am, hopefully, this article will help you find your way and discover what works best for your family and your family circumstances.
Bedtime & Morning Unstructured Structure
So let’s tackle the elephant in the room first. Sleep. If you or your child(ren) don’t get enough of it, expect all hell until naptime. That is if you can even get a naptime out of your precious little one(s). So we’ll pretend that everyone got an amazing, couldn’t be better, 8-12 hours of sleep and woke up refreshed and ready to take on the day.
If you’re a homemaker or work from home, try letting your child(ren) wake up when their little bodies decide it’s time for them to wake up if they don’t attend daycare or some sort of schooling. You may discover you get to sleep in more than you thought you would. From my experience, they’ll usually wake up within a 30-minute interval of their prior wake up.
Some days, depending on the prior days’ activities, that interval can be as high as 45 minutes. They’ll also go to sleep easier, with very little coaxing as it’s within their body’s tolerance level. If you like to wake up before the kiddos to have a little you time, you’ll be able to easily adjust to their sleep schedule without worrying about whether they’ll burn the house down, and they’ll be happier in the morning.
However, there will be days where no matter how much praying to Jesus or redirection you do, they just don’t want to go to bed. When that happens, and for my family, it happens at least once or twice every two weeks: we play, we dance, we run, we go for a late-night stroll or a late-night drive. We do everything we can possibly do to wear that little body out so it wants to go to sleep. That’s usually no later than 9 pm. So even we’re able to get some much-needed sleep for the day ahead or even enjoy a little bit of each other before we go to sleep.
If your kiddos go to school or daycare because you work, or for any other reason, try waking them up gently in intervals of 10 minutes. Just like you would set your alarm clock, do the same for your child(ren). This way you aren’t rushing out of the house late because they woke up late, but make sure you start this process at least an hour before they’re usually awake of their own accord. This way, by the second nudge, they’re already waking up and each nudge after will require less and less and they’ll be less cranky as they weren’t woken up abruptly. And you won’t feel like a chicken with its head cut off rushing out of the door forgetting every important thing in your wake.
We also don’t have a designated breakfast time specifically, but a designated range. What I mean by that is I will make breakfast for my youngest and put it on the table for her to eat at her leisure, which is when she’s hungry.
Some mornings she’ll wake up and eat within 10 minutes, other mornings it’s an hour before she is hungry. So we let her decide what’s best for her at the time. She’s incredibly good at putting down her toys, running up to the table, getting in her chair, sitting down and feeding herself until she’s done. However, once I take her bowl or plate off the table, she knows there’s no more eating until lunchtime, which is usually two to three hours after breakfast, depending on when she decided to eat.
We do give a little leeway when it comes to breakfast. If she ate all her food and didn’t ask us for seconds, which she does ask for more quite often, I put her plate in the sink. If there’s still food on the plate or in the bowl, I’ll ask if she’s done. Usually, if she isn’t, she’ll run over saying, “No, no, no,” and I’ll give her a few minutes to finish. Otherwise, we remove the dishes. I did the exact same thing for my oldest, who’s now almost 12-years-old, and he makes his own breakfast and eats only when he’s hungry.
We follow this exact method for lunch and dinner. It’s helped her become a little bit more independent and decide for herself if she wants it or doesn’t. Since she’s become a picky eater as of late, she’s realized that if she doesn’t eat the breakfast in front of her, it’ll be her lunch as well, and she conceded that battle of wills. Now if I can figure out dinner, we’ll be golden until she’s old enough to fully vocalize her current state.
There are fewer fits about food now as well, which is always a good thing. It has especially helped me prepare if we’re going to be out of the house for an extended period of time. I know the time period in which she usually is willing to eat her food, so I can pack accordingly, the same with my oldest. The only difference is he’ll tell me he’s hungry, whereas she will cry and throw a bowl or plate at me, or eat my food.
Most daycare and school settings provide breakfast there, so your child(ren) should be pretty adjusted to waking up and eating 30 minutes to an hour after their initial wake-up.
As far as hygiene goes, my oldest does it when he’s told, he’s never done it on his own will – ever. My youngest, I wait until after breakfast because that’s when it’s its easiest to get accomplished. All I have to say, “Okay, let’s go brush our teeth.” And she bolts towards me, grabs a finger and leads me upstairs to the bathroom where she is sat on the sink, given her toothbrush and mimics me.
Pretty easy and pain-free bedtime and morning in my home, which is a win on massive levels.
Naptime Reinvented – Not Really
Currently, we’re experiencing the phase of not napping. Doesn’t matter if I lay her down at 11 am, she will not nap. If I try to lay her down at 2 pm, she will not nap. She could be running on empty, and she will still with every defiant bone in her body, refuse to just go to sleep.
So what do you do? Is there even anything you can do? Nope, there’s nothing, except to put her in her room and let her have quiet time. And by quiet time, I mean her hopping, jumping, skipping, tossing, screaming and maybe finally somewhere in between falling asleep.
But usually, she ends up passing out in the car when we go to pick up our oldest. That’s usually around 2:30-3:30 pm, and even then, it’s not a predictable occurrence – as some days she’ll go without a nap and crash so hard at 7 pm she sleeps until 8 or 9 am.
And even though those days are few and far in between, they do happen and they are some of the most trying days. As she is so cranky and moody, yet she refuses to go to sleep willingly or at a decent time so she’s not up all night. I forgot to mention, that if she finally does nap at 2:30 we are usually waking her up at 3:45-4 pm so she doesn’t stay up all night.
We learned the hard way that letting her nap until she’s ready to wake up equates to an 11 pm bedtime, and sometimes even later, and that is not a fun time.
So what do I do?
There are certain things that occur when she’s tired, and they range from something as simple as a yawn to something as severe as a tornadic tantrum. So at 11 am I begin to observe her and look for the telltale signs that she’s tired and I need to intervene slightly to get her to sleep. The first is if she yawns back to back. That’s when I will stop what I’m doing and lay down on the couch with her and see if she’ll settle into a nap.
If she’s not ready then I go back to my office and start the process all over again. If she keeps bouncing from my office to the living room back to my office multiple times in a matter of a minute, I’ll take her upstairs for quiet time. Where she’ll usually just play semi quietly until I come to bring her downstairs. Surprisingly she doesn’t scale her baby gate during this time, because I mean she does it every other time.
If none of the above signs are noticed, I’ll let her play and rampage until we go to pick her brother up, where usually she’ll fall asleep until 3:30 – 4 pm or so. If she doesn’t nap in the car, then I know the evenings going to be a little rough and we play with her as much as possible until the tantrum over everything begins to happen. Which, like clockwork, starts at 6:30 pm and will last until we lay her down, which is 7 pm, where she’ll pass out almost immediately.
So What Do I Do The Rest Of The Day?
The exact same thing I did in the morning, let them dictate what they want to do. Some days all they, yup both of them, want to do is play and watch TV. Other days, they’re more exact in what they want to do and will ask for it.
I let her be her, a child. Most days, even after we play outside for a little while, she is just as content sitting on the living room table in her pot watching Dave and Ava. I’m also less stressed out because I know what she’s doing because even though we don’t have a specific toddler routine we follow, we are very much an unstructured structured family.
And I think it works so well because I don’t tell her when she can and can’t do something, I let her tell me when she’s ready to do something and I adjust my day or my plans to her. Because I’m a big believer in children should be allowed to be children. That includes the screaming moments, the crying moments, the toy throwing moments, the everything moments.
If it doesn’t hurt them or put them in harm’s way, then they should be allowed to discover every aspect of themselves freely. For example, my 2-year-old likes to banshee wail, and when it’s not acceptable all I have to do is say, “Not okay,” and she immediately stops. This is usually followed by her putting her index finger to her two front teeth and “shushing,” me and her surroundings.
So just as we practice unschooling a lot, we let her come into herself in the same manner, and it’s done wonders for her self esteem and her development. She is happy all the time and I’m a lot less stressed. So in the long run, I’d have to say that having a toddler routine, though helpful for some, isn’t a necessary thing to have, let alone do, and definitely doesn’t work for all children or family situations. Sometimes being flexible and allowing a child to be a child is more beneficial than something that may make your life a little bit easier.
Let me know if you have a toddler routine you follow or if you’re unstructured like we are, and how it works for you!