Resistant, rigid, or really essential – dispelling the myths around routines
There are certain words that are divisive – especially in the parenting community… ‘Routine’ is one of them.
For some, it brings to mind the comfort of the day unfolding as planned, whereas for others it’s an anxiety-inducing statement of oppression. No matter where you fall on the spectrum, today I’m tackling the positives of a routine, from both your – and your baby’s – point of view.
Firstly, the misconceptions around routines
Most of the thinking around routines refers to parent-led structures or attempts to impose a shape to the day.
Some of the opponents of this approach cite that a parent-led routine is strict and mean, especially as a baby can’t tell the time. While this final point is true, that doesn’t mean that your baby isn’t still driven by natural and optimal biological rhythms that a routine can support.
Still others believe that a parent-led routine is not good for a child, or is designed to be all to the benefit of the parent, as opposed to the child – which is simply not true!
Benefits for your baby
The reality is that babies thrive on consistency and structure. This is true of all babies, although the degree to which this is the case will depend on your baby’s individual temperament.
From a very young age, babies learn to recognise cues. When a sequence of events is predictable (i.e. dinner time is followed by a bath, then we read some stories and get into bed), this helps them to feel secure.
In the same way that they will often insist you continue reading the same bedtime story night after night, as they enjoy the comfort that comes from knowing what is going to happen, so it goes with our routines.
This security provides the base from which they feel safe to explore the world, learn, and discover.
An age-appropriate routine works with your baby’s circadian rhythm – and it can also work to reduce crying. Your baby will no longer need to yell or grizzle to communicate that they are hungry or tired; you will, instead, be able to pre-empt their needs.
The same works when it’s time to hand over the care of your baby to someone else – whether the daycare teacher or a grandparent.
Although you’ve left being their primary carer in the immediate term, nothing else changes for them and they don’t have the worry about whether this new carer will correctly interpret their ‘hungry cry’. In this way, a routine reduces stress for your baby.
Benefits for you...
Of course, one of the biggest benefits of a routine is that it can also reduce stress for you. When you bring your first baby home, you have that disorienting time of not knowing which way is up.
After those heady newborn days, some sort of routine starts providing a shape to the day. It’s the backbone of a structure that enables you to plan things. You’ll know your baby’s needs are being met and you can avoid any of the major drama that results when they’re not.
Consider too when you add additional children into your family; you’re busy with stuff to do, so a routine helps you organise the days so that everyone’s needs are met.
Clock-watching might have received a bit of a bad rap, but it’s easier than exclusively baby-watching and trying to read their cues. We’re busy and doing things – not solely studying our babies all day – so it’s a guide to ensuring their needs are met and our job is easier.
Our small humans don’t come with an instruction manual, so an age-appropriate routine or guide helps us to establish a baseline. This can help you to recognise when your child might be ready to drop a nap, or help you troubleshoot when they are upset.
A good routine also gives us a goal to get back to – and when travel or illness disrupts things for a few days, we know how to steer the ship back on course quickly and easily.
That’s one of my favourite aspects of a good routine – when it’s well-established, it’s very hard to break.
Today’s routines are based on a time when we have access to so much knowledge.
The International Sleep Foundation have done exhaustive research around recommended sleep hours and this information is made available to us.
That’s really empowering when we’ve lost so much of the ‘village’ that we used to have around us when raising children.
So, what exactly Is the best approach?
Where you fall on the routine continuum will depend on both your parenting style and your child’s (or children’s) temperament. If the idea of a routine is making you anxious or tense, then it pays to back off a bit and relax a bit more.
On the other hand, if you’ve adopted a relatively laissez faire approach and your child is often fussy, consider whether they might benefit from a little more structure or predictability.
In some cases, you might choose to follow a set idea fairly well to the minute, or you might just use it roughly as a guide and instead work on creating a few rituals as a part of your day – giving a predictable order to the sequence of events around nap-times or bedtime, for example.
Experiment with what is right for you and your family.
A friendly reminder: your kids are not robots
This should go without saying, but it’s often something we talk to parents about – no matter where they fall on the routine loving or loathing continuum.
Life is messy and can be unpredictable; not only is every day a little different, so are our child’s needs.
Even the best age-appropriate routine has room for a little flexibility. Your baby’s daily sleep needs will fluctuate – for example, if they’ve had a busy or full-on couple of days, they might need a bit more.
Equally, their metabolism follows a three day cycle, which can impact their feeding, as well as throwing bowel movements into the mix.
Your children are little humans – just like you and I – so allow for a little bit of movement and don’t fear: they’re not broken if that usual two hour nap runs shorter one day!
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Emma is the owner and founder of Baby Sleep Consultant, she is a certified infant and child sleep consultant, Happiest Baby on the block educator, has a Bachelor of Science, and Diploma in Education. Emma is a mother to 3 children, and loves writing when she isn't working with tired clients and cheering on her team helping thousands of mums just like you.
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