Parents often ask me if having a good schedule is really that important, and the answer is yes! Children thrive on schedules! Whether you have a baby, toddler, preschooler, or school aged child, they all appreciate knowing what comes next in their day. If you have an older child that can talk well, then you know that they will ask several times a day what is next. Where are we going next? What time are we leaving? How long until dinner? If you have a predictable schedule, they will go from asking you what’s next to telling YOU what’s next.
When children are younger that predictability is what gives them a secure feeling. For instance, they are secure in the fact that they know that after diaper changes come feedings. They will often start rooting or sticking their tongue out during diaper changes because they’re excited about being nursed or given a bottle afterwards. The diaper changes send a cue to your child’s mind and body to get read for that next feeding. The same thing is true for sleep. Having a good bedtime routine in place will allow your child to become ready for bed.
If you have the same consistent routine each night before bed, you might notice that your child will start yawning or getting really sleepy during your routine each night. This will help your child fall asleep more easily for bed, and the same is true for naps. Having a short nap time routine will allow your child to realize that once again sleep is near. You want to use the EAT-PLAY-SLEEP (EPS) schedule throughout the day for your baby.
If you’re unfamiliar with EPS, it means that babies should be fed AFTER they wake up and not before. I know this is counter-intuitive to what we parents tend to do in the first few weeks, but this is what will ensure your baby is going to sleep independently vs having baby fed to sleep as a prop. After 6 weeks of age, I recommend changing over to EPS so that baby can start to get on a good schedule. So if you have an infant your daytime schedule would look something like this:
- Baby wakes in the morning, is changed, and then fed
- Baby plays or is awake for awhile (length of time depends on child’s age)
- Baby is put into crib sleepy but awake without being fed again beforehand
- Baby wakes up from nap, is changed, and then fed…process starts all over
If you have a toddler or preschooler, your schedule might look something like this:
- 7am – wake up
- 7:30am – breakfast
- 9:30am – snack
- 11:30 – lunch
- 12:30pm – nap
- 3pm – snack
- 5pm – dinner
- 6:30pm – bedtime routine starts
- 7pm – bedtime
If this is your child’s schedule every day, then you will notice that he/she will start to get sleepy at nap/bed times and get hungry at the same times each day. This predictability allows your child to feel in control of his/her day and to know what to expect. It helps their body maintain a good circadian rhythm and over tiredness for sleep, and eating on a fairly predictable schedule of every few hours prevents energy dips, metabolism slowdowns, crankiness, and cravings.
Having a good schedule for your child means that you as the parent can plan your day accordingly. Whenever possible, try to plan to be home during your child’s naps. Doing so will allow your child to get the best daytime sleep possible, which will in turn help with their night time sleep. Since sleep begets sleep, it’s in your best interest in preserve those naps whenever you can! Of course there will be times when you can’t be home for your child’s nap, but just do what you can to make it happen most days.
At this time of year, with school going back into session, I’m often asked by parents of multiple young children what they should do when they have to run their preschooler to school several times a week during their youngest child’s nap time. In these cases, the best scenario would be that you try to arrange your little one’s naps around the times you have to leave the house. If that’s not possible, then try to at least get one (or more) naps taken at home. Usually the drop off/pick up times only interfere with one nap, so if you have a baby who’s taking two naps a day you’ll want to get at least one nap taken at home and the other one will need to be “on the go”. Since most babies enjoy falling asleep in their car seat, stroller, or carrier/wrap, use this to your advantage and let one nap happen there while transporting your other child.
While you’re never going to be able to be 100% consistent with your schedule and routine every single day, you can do your best to be consistent on the days that you’re home. Don’t panic if one day you weren’t able to keep your child on schedule for naps or bedtime. It’s ok…life happens! Just return to normal the next day, and expect that your child’s next 24hrs might be affected by that short nap, skipped nap, late bedtime, etc.
Did you know that I always include a custom daytime schedule and bedtime routine with every sleep package I offer? Often that schedule can be the difference between the program working quickly and perfectly and not working well and lingering on for weeks. If you are having problems with your child’s sleep or their schedule/routine, contact me today for your free 15min phone assessment!