When you envision a schedule, you may have a picture in your mind of setting times for activities. While this may work for school children, or in a work environment, it will not work for toddlers. Creating a schedule for these increasingly independent children is more about creating structure and stability than it is about the clock. The only part of the child's schedule which should have a consistent time is bedtime. Toddlers are not tiny robots, and if you try to force them into a too regimented schedule, they will either act out or shut down on you. Opt for a gentle but firm approach to creating a safe and predictable routine for a toddler, with room for spontaneity.
Make two vertical lines on a piece of paper, creating three columns. Label the first column, "Must Do,' label the second column "Activity Goals" and label the third column "Would be nice." This is just one way for moms and dads to be more clear in their own own minds, and with each other, about what they expect from their toddler each day. The "Must Do" column will contain the basic needs and grooming activities for the toddler. Indicate which ones are daily, every other day or weekly. The "Must Do" column should include at the very least, eating (list all meals and snack times), brushing teach, naps, baths and bed time. The "Activity" column can include potty training, including using the bathroom upon waking, before naps, and before bed. The "Would be nice" column can include outdoor time, play with friends and other desirable but optional activities.
Start the day off right with a morning routine that fits the toddler's needs, and the needs of mom and dad. For toddlers the morning routine could include using or trying to use the toilet and then washing hands. Brushing teeth is another part of the morning routine. Getting dressed should be routine for toddlers that need to leave the house in the house in the morning, with parents. Sitting down at the table for breakfast, with one or both parents, can be included. The routine should include the same must-do activities each morning.
Create a mealtime routine for any meal that is eaten at home. There may be an opportunity for a lunch routine, if you are home with the toddler. Set a dinner time routine for the family. While mom or dad cooks dinner, the toddler can have TV time or arts and crafts time in the kitchen. Involve the toddler in dinner preparation by giving them a bowl, a spoon and some spices. Require the toddler to eat dinner at the table, and to bus his own dishes to the sink when done.
Schedule ongoing activities once a week or every other week for toddlers. Too many scheduled outings may be too hectic for everyone. Sign up for a weekly book reading time at the local library. Attend a weekly swim lesson class. For a more flexible schedule, set a goal in the "would be nice" column to go to a museum, gallery or the library once a week. Include social activities in the toddler's schedule, including a weekly or monthly play date with another toddler. During good weather, make time each day for the toddler to play outside in your yard or in a nearby park.
Stick to a naptime and bedtime routine that was established when the toddler was a baby. If you did not have one, start one as early as possible. For the toddler, extend the bedtime routine to be longer and include more relaxing activities and together time. The toddler may need more time to wind down than he did as a baby. A bedtime routine could include a nightly bath followed by quiet reading time with mom or dad. Turn off the toddler's TV shows at least one hour before bedtime, or he will associate bedtime with not being able to watch his favorite shows. Include teeth brushing, potty time and other grooming activities in the bed time routine. Bedtime is one part of the toddler's schedule which should follow the same time each night.
- Know when to be flexible and bend the schedule to fit a toddler's immediate social or emotional needs.
- Do not schedule too many activities in the same day as the toddler can become overwhelmed.
- Do not let must-do activities, including grooming activities, fall off the schedule.