Life with a Toddler on a Schedule

life schedule

Like so many other first-time moms, I read everything I could get my hands on when I first had my son. I was able to take advantage of late night feedings and long cluster feeding sessions by looking up all the advice on anything I could. If it were a new development for our baby that week, I’d scour the internet finding any option and every opinion I could to try to find what worked best for our family. One thing that really stuck was the importance of keeping our baby on a schedule. I didn’t attempt much for the first few months, but by the time our baby was 12 weeks old, and I was returning to work, I knew we needed to have a plan in place.

Our plan

It started with small things since a 3-month-old is about as predictable as Indiana weather. So first, we picked a bedtime routine. We made sure to dim the lights, put on PJs, diaper change, read a book, and then it was down to sleep. As he got older, we added set meal and snack times. Daycare drop off and pick up was as regular as we could make them with both of us working. That meant set times for waking up and bedtime. By seven months he was sleeping all night, and by a year we thought we were on top of the world.

Our schedule

I’m not saying it was easy and I’m not saying it’s for everyone, but for us, it has worked well. My son just turned three and we still stick to the schedule as much as possible. Here’s what our schedule looks like:

  • Sleep: We are up by 6:30 – 7 AM every day (daycare on weekdays and church on Sunday make this easy to stick to), nap is from 1 PM – 3 PM, bedtime is 8 PM.
  • Baths: Baths are on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday nights – we’ve adjusted this one more than others because sometimes you get dirty playing outside and extra baths are fun. 🙂
  • Food: We eat breakfast as soon as he wakes up, snack at 9 AM, lunch at 11:30 AM, snack at 3 PM, and dinner by 6 PM. This just follows what works for us in the morning and we replicated the daycare schedule at home on weekends.

It’s predictable and replicable for a tiny 3-year-old brain and it’s something he can count on. It also helps us reason with him on why he can’t have ice cream at 4:30 or why we don’t start an involved activity like painting at 7:45 at night. I’ll admit it doesn’t mean we haven’t done those things on occasion, but normally we wouldn’t and he knows to expect that. It reduces arguments and some amount of whining when we can explain something he does every day.

Our experience

By this point, you’re probably reading this and thinking one of two things… 1. You’re so lucky your kid goes to bed and sleeps all night! Or 2. This sounds like a nightmare to maintain.

I’ll admit, both are things I think to myself all the time. Having a schedule is great. I know I get 1-2 hours during nap time and I know I have from 8 PM on to ourselves. It means I can get some laundry folded on Tuesday night while my husband handles bath time or he can schedule a late work meeting for 8:30 PM without missing any time with us. But it also means I have to be in a place he can take a nap every weekend afternoon. No late lunches or early afternoon barbecues. It means if our errands run long and lunch is late, then I get a cranky, whiny 3-year-old who probably won’t nap well either.

Our results

We continued doing this because it worked. As a baby, we needed a routine and now he’s grown used to it. He knows it, expects it, and sometimes he has problems when we don’t adhere to it. Skip a nap? I wouldn’t put my worst enemy through dinner with my son on a day he skipped a nap. Wait until 1 PM to eat lunch? He’ll probably be falling asleep at the table.

A slip up might be fine or it might be catastrophic, depending on the day and how things go. To avoid the chance it could upend everything; we do our best to stick to the plan. Like I said not every single day but almost all of the time. Unfortunately, that means no staying up late for fireworks or sunsets on the beach when we’re on vacation. It also means defending our decisions and sticking our ground when friends or family say “can’t he just xyz this onnnne time” or “it’s vacation who cares!” Believe me, we all will if we just give in. And for us, the routine of it significantly outweighs the occasional inconvenience.

Sometimes I feel like maybe he’s missing out or we aren’t being fair. I’m sure some of you are thinking the same, but I know my kid and while I think I’m doing him a favor by keeping him up to do something “fun,” his inability to sleep well reminds me it’s just not worth it. He has plenty of years ahead to enjoy these things… when his new schedule says bedtime is 9.

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