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Predictable Routines: Life Through Baby’s Eyes

Traveling, running errands, a visit to Grandma’s, a playdate, sickness, and holidays. What do these all have in common? A change in routine for babies. Most people like some sort of routine that’s predictable and can be relied on and this is even more true for babies. Babies can’t read clocks or calendars and are entirely dependent on us to communicate with them the important things pertaining to their lives.

Imagine you are dropped into another country where you don’t speak the language and are just learning to make sense of it. You don’t know what day it is or the time. Your tour guide ushers you along at a fast pace giving very little information about where you are going or what you will be doing. You start to get hungry but you don’t know when you will be offered food. You feel the urge to use the bathroom but are unsure when the tour bus will make a stop and give you the opportunity. The bus finally makes a stop and your tour guide takes you to a bench to sit down and then leaves you there. You have no idea if or when he will return. It starts to get cold and you realize your sweater is on the bus. You didn’t know you were supposed to grab it in the haste to exit the bus. Panic has more than set in. You feel frustrated and confused and STRESSED. You just want to cry.

How often do babies feel this way? Not knowing what to expect can cause undue stress and overwhelm for even the youngest baby and yet far too often we look at a baby or toddler who is out of their element and “won’t stop crying” and wonder what has gotten them so upset.

Predictable routines are reassuring for babies and help them feel more secure. The more predictable we can make things for them the more at ease they will feel and the more they will be able to settle in and focus on the important tasks of learning about their bodies and their new world.

Babies and toddlers thrive when they know what to expect and what’s expected of them.

What does this mean for parents and caregivers?

  • Tell your child what you are going to do before you do it.

    • “I’m going to take your diaper off now.”

    • “I’m going to get a washcloth so we can wipe your hands.”

  • Tell your child where you are going and when you will return.

    • “I’m going to the bathroom. I will be back in a few minutes.”

    • “I’m going to the grocery store. You are going to stay here with Grammy. I will be back after your rest.”

  • Tell your child when there will be a change in routine and any information you know that will help prepare them for what to expect.

    • “Usually we play right after breakfast but today we are going to playgroup. There will be other children there and new toys to explore. We’ll take turns using the toys with the other children…”.

    • “Tonight we are going to sleep at Papa’s house. At home you sleep in your white crib but at Papa’s house you will sleep in your traveling crib…”.

  • Having a predictable rhythm to your day will help the day go smoother since everyone knows what to expect. You don’t have to have a rigid schedule, just a general flow to the day that if your child is able to speak they would be able to tell you what happens next.

  • Having little rituals at significant times in the day can eliminate some of the frustration and struggle.

    • Ex: Dressing/diaper changes, mealtimes, nap & bedtime

    • Keep the rituals short and sweet and be consistent with their use. As your baby grows they can become endeared to those rituals and look forward to them.

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