Before we become doting mothers and enter the world of motherhood, we often hear our own moms or even our grandmothers emphasising the importance of getting baby into a routine. Are routines so important and if they are – why? The answer is simple, humans love routines, and in fact we thrive on them. Babies are no different and need to have a predictable pattern which is repeated daily. A predictable schedule equals a relaxed mom and a content baby!
When a baby is born into the world, they start learning from the very moment they take their first breath. They learn to latch onto their mother’s breast for nourishment and comfort, they learn to cry and how to cry to capture their mom’s attention and from birth – they continue to learn. When a routine is in place, the predictability of the schedule gives the infant the chance to take a break from learning and process what they have learnt.
The common complaint of virtually all new parents is the lack of sleep. A newborn has no way of knowing the difference between night and day. However, if a newborn is put into a routine it will help baby to establish their circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is essentially a built in or an internal clock which is synchronized to light-dark cycles and to others cues in the human’s environment. This internal clock results in waking up at the same time every day (without an alarm clock). Circadian rhythms can be disrupted by changes in daily schedule. As such, if a routine is in place, the baby’s circadian rhythms will be in sync and this will aid in regulating sleeping patterns.
During the first few months of a baby’s life, it’s not impossible to feed the infant by the clock and it is also not possible to have a set bedtime. For the first few months of life, mothers will need to demand feed and also allow baby to develop their own sleeping patterns. As the infant grows, parents can then start implementing changes into their day that will lay the foundation for a future schedule. The changes can include a set or regular bath time, bedtime, quiet time, etc.
Routines – an important part of socialisation
Our society is governed by rules and regulations. As adults, we need to be clock-watchers to survive. When we raise our children within the confines of a routine, we are preparing them for the real world. When parents set regular times for sleeping, bathing, play, learning, etc, they are ultimately teaching their children that they need to follow the rules.
As the baby grows and starts to explore their world, a set routine becomes more important. In essence a routine will help to establish boundaries and a child will feel safe and secure in a predictable environment. If a toddler’s world is made up of sequential patterns and rituals they will see their world as being safe, secure and comforting and they will be more curious to learn more about their surroundings. Childcare experts agree that children who follow a regular schedule at home, are more confident and more eager to explore the unknown, as they know that they can return to their predictable routines.
A routine reduces separation anxiety
When the time comes for a toddler to go to nursery school – tears are to be expected. If, however, a routine is followed at home because the toddler has learnt how to sequence events (thanks to a routine), they will soon realise that mom or dad will fetch them just after sleep-time or soon after snack time at preschool. The predictability of a schedule will greatly reduce separation anxiety and it will help the child to anticipate the situation and be less tearful when mom leaves. What’s more, by collecting the toddler from school at the same time every day the child will soon realise that no matter what, mom or dad will always return!
Another benefit enjoyed when parents implement a routine into their child’s life, is that time is freed up and it give parents a chance to get things done. When a routine includes 15 or 30 minutes of playtime and the toddler is encouraged to play with their toys, the structured day permits parents to make efficient use of time. While the toddler is settling down to build blocks or puzzles, moms can start the evening meal, enjoy a cup of tea or sort out the washing.
An inflexible routine is not what’s needed
If the word -routine’ conjures up images of stringent rules that are inflexible and that cannot be broken or changed no matter what – you are mistaken. A routine means setting up a schedule where the same things are done at the same time (or as close to the same time) on a daily basis. The schedule does not have to be rigid, and there will be days when the family’s routine is thrown off course because life is unpredictable.
Many experts describe kids who don’t follow some sort of schedule as being in a state of limbo. They feel insecure and unsure and they are constantly wondering what will happen next. When parents create a stable and repetitive routine for kids to follow, they are setting boundaries and creating a predictable and safe haven for their children and in so doing they are preparing their kids for what’s to come.
As children grow, their routines and schedules will change and adapt. By the time a child becomes a teen, they will in all likelihood have their own routine in place.