How to Establish Routines for Toddlers

Order and sequence provide people with a sense of security and control, and toddlers are no different. Your toddler's brain is constantly absorbing information, and establishing a predictable routine lets them focus on developing skills like brushing their teeth as opposed to wondering where the toothbrush is. You don't need a military-tight routine for your toddler, but following a predicable schedule of tasks and care can make everyone's life easier.

Things You'll Need

  • Poster board
  • Markers


    • 1

      Verbalize the upcoming event or task every single time. For example, every time teeth-brushing is coming up, tell her, "OK, after you play with the blocks for a few minutes we're going to brush our teeth." For younger toddlers, who don't understand words like "before" and "after," simply say "In a little bit we're going to stop playing blocks and start brushing our teeth." Reaffirming the sequence of events makes transitions easier and prompts fewer meltdowns because she knows what to expect.

    • 2

      Make transitional activities part of your routine. Going from 60 mph to zero is tough for a toddler. For example, buffering play time and nap time with 10 to 15 minutes of story reading and cuddling in a quiet space lets your toddler wind down and sleep peacefully.

    • 3

      Draw pictures of basic daily tasks so she doesn't feel overwhelmed by sequencing and routine. For example, draw a poster of the necessary steps for getting oneself dressed and hang it by her drawers. Walk her through the routine of putting on her pants, shirt and socks and then let her practice herself. Follow this routine every morning and she'll soon be able to dress herself.

    • 4

      Keep constant what you can and prepare your toddler for changes. Some days you'll go to the doctor's or grandma's house but maintaining the bulk of the routine makes dealing with new events easier. For example, if the doctor's appointment is at 2 p.m., play lots of running games with your tot in the morning and put her down for an early nap. Readjusting the schedule makes new events easier to absorb instead of discarding the routine all together and sneaking a nap in the car or, worse still, skipping nap time all together.

Tips & Warnings

  • Include your toddler in her routine after a few weeks by saying, "Okay, do you know what we do next?" You'll be surprised how quickly she anticipates the next event and how much pride she takes in knowing what to do without your instruction.
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  • Photo Credit Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

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