Getting Your Kids on a Schedule
Your two kids, a newborn and a toddler, desperately need a schedule. Your newborn’s schedule is all over the map, awakening multiple times each night for one reason or another . . . with the one commonality being that you must concurrently wake up, drag your wearied body to his crib, discover by trial and error what your newborn’s need is, and then meet that need. Then and only then will he return to sleep, only to begin the process again in just a few hours. Your toddler is asleep most mornings and awake late into the night . . . then, every once in a while, just for the sake of variety, he turns around and wakes you up at the crack of dawn (usually on a Saturday), insisting that you feed him promptly. These widely diverse wake and sleep cycles increase your daily stress, make your kids (and you) a little crabby, and leave you sleep-deprived and ill prepared for your day’s work. How do you get your kids on a schedule?
The structure that kids need comes from created and reinforced routine. You should establish routine morning wake times, meal times, nap times, and evening bed times. Put a lot of thought into what the routine should be before you implement it. Once a routine is committed to habit, It is just as un-fun to change as it was to establish in the first place. What wake time(s) work best given your work schedule and your spouse’s work schedule? What does the altered wake time do to subsequent activities (i.e., meals, baths, etc.)? For example, if you wake the kids up at 8:30 a.m., what time will they need lunch? Is that lunch time workable? Projecting further out, given their morning wake time, what is their anticipated evening bedtime? Is that workable?
For your toddler (not your newborn), you should explain the new schedule and why it is important. You can hear the “Why?!” coming already, can’t you? Toddlers are good at why-ing everything, and this will be no different. (Note: “Because I told you so!” is not an answer that your toddler will accept. Therefore, have legitimate reasons ready. For example, “Your daddy and I need to be rested for work each morning so that we can perform well, keep our jobs, and have the money to do everything that we, as a family, want to do. You like going to the movies, right? Well, that takes money.”)
You can also expect to hear “NO!” from your toddler as he is beginning the adaptation process. Expect him to have trouble adapting to his new routine. As much resistance as you may face, stay strong. You are the parent here: be in charge. Some changes may be significant enough to require gradual change: for example, if your toddler typically sleeps until 10:00 a.m., setting a wake time of 9:30 a.m. in week one, 9:00 a.m. in week two, and 8:30 a.m. in week three, rather than forcing your toddler to change from 10:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. in one day.
Be patient. Persevere. Don’t stray from your schedule, especially initially when the pattern of behavior is first being formed. Minor variations will be less disruptive once the routine is already established.
It may be helpful to write the schedule on poster board and post it in some prominent location such as the kitchen.
You may even post a rewards chart so that your toddler (not your newborn) can see their successes and experience rewards (stickers, snacks, etc.).
As time passes, you may need to revise your routine. For example, when your toddler begins kindergarten or you or your spouse changes jobs. When the routine changes, the process of creating and reinforcing routine begins again. Bring on another round of “Why?!”, “No!”, and other fun dialogue between parent and child.
But keep it all in perspective. They are your kids. You love them. Consistent reinforcement of your expected routine will ultimately make life in your household easier for everyone. Just remember this is a commitment. This goal is not achieved overnight. This is where the patience, perseverance, and probably a lot of coffee come in. Having a good friend who has “been-there-done-that” that you can confide in is also helpful. If you feel particularly frustrated, physical exercise can burn off the negative energy (although we have heard that some moms prefer mass consumption of chocolate ice cream as a coping tool). Whatever works for you . . .
By following these steps, you can get your kids on a schedule that helps everyone in your household experience more sleep, less stress, and more peace.