First of all, schedules are NOT for everyone! I have friends who are completely capable of living each day with no set plan, changes taking place without a blip on their radar. Me? I am NOT that girl. I repeat, I am not that girl!
I live for routines and schedules. I am a list-maker, planner-keeper, and scheduler. So, it comes as no surprise, my daughter is on a schedule. Or, I guess I should say, WE are on a schedule.
This schedule did not happen overnight. It started WAY back when she was about 3 months (or so) old. You can imagine my uneasiness those first few months, ZERO schedule, coupled with her showing up 5 weeks early. I was craving routine like never before. Sure enough, by the time I went back to work, a decent schedule had been created. It wasn’t perfect, and it has changed a million times. But, it was proven possible, and you can do it too!
When friends ask for advice about getting their children on a routine, I usually share these simple tips.
1. Pick your schedule
First, you must consider YOUR day. My schedule is not necessarily going to work for you, and yours may not work for me. Working backwards can be the easiest way to determine an appropriate time schedule for you and your family. Determine the wake up time for your child. (Your child may make that decision for you!). Whatever time that may be, count back the number of hours of sleep necessary for your child at night. For example, my daughter’s wake up time is between 7:00-7:30 a.m. She needs about 11 hours of sleep at night, so that makes an 8:00-8:30 bedtime. (And by bedtime, I mean asleep in bed – Hopefully!). Continue to work backwards through your day until you reach wake-up time again, planning events such as nap time(s), meal times, bedtime routines, etc.
*If your child is in school or goes to childcare, meals and nap times away from home will most likely be determined by the teacher or facility. That’s ok! Make it work in your schedule.
2. Stay consistent!
This might be the most important part of creating a schedule for your child, and unfortunately, probably the hardest too. If you do this well at the beginning, it will get easier. You must keep your time schedule EVERY day, including the weekends. If your child naps at daycare around 12:30, then you are going to want him/her to nap on Saturday and Sunday around 12:30 as well. Same goes for weekly bedtimes, wake up times, meals times, etc. I told you this part would be hard!
When my daughter was younger (before she turned 2), I was that mom who left parties early or arrived late to gatherings, working around nap times so we could stay consistent. To be honest, there are times I still need to do that today, but it has gotten so much easier because a solid schedule is in place. I always second guessed those decisions, but now I truly believe the sacrifices were crucial in creating a schedule that works for us.
3. Make changes when necessary
Schedules will change! As your child grows and life happens, your schedule will consistently need tweaking, but not a complete makeover. The biggest changes to my daughter’s schedule have revolved around nap time, reducing her naps from three, to two, and now to one. Bedtimes may change depending on age or season, naps will decrease and eventually disappear, you may welcome another baby into the mix; whatever it may be, changes will happen. Make the necessary changes when needed and then BE CONSISTENT with the new schedule.
4. Understand special events happen
Of course, things will come up. Holidays, birthdays, family gatherings, vacations… it happens. Let them happen, let your child stay up late, or miss a nap. It will be OK! Want to know why it will be ok? Because you worked hard at #1-3 above. Once a schedule is in place, one day astray will not ruin what you have created.
Apparently, my daughter likes to party! On NYE we took her to a couple kid-friendly parties at our friends’ homes. We knew we would be out late and assumed our daughter would fall asleep, on a couch, with some of the other young kids. Well, we were wrong, she stayed up until 12:45 a.m. and had an absolute BLAST!!!!! Allowing her to stay up late one night did not ruin everything for which we had worked.
5. Get back on track
This last tip wraps right into #4. Don’t let your schedule make you miss out on life. Enjoy the special opportunities that arise, but get right back on track the next day.
After our NYE extravaganza, I obviously let my daughter sleep in the next morning, but the rest of her day we kept on schedule. By the following morning, she was right back on track. Live a little, indulge a lot, and then jump back into your routine. Sometimes we need to get off track so our schedule feels like a place to call home!
To all of my planners out there… Be patient, stick with it, and it will happen!