In my personal experience of being a parent so far, I’ve found neither my child nor I function unless there’s a schedule. Back during the hell months when my son wouldn’t sleep for more than 20 minutes at a time — day and night — I was losing my mind, frantically researching sleep schedules and the like to try to figure out something, anything, that would help. I came across a ton of articles, suggestions, and studies about schedules for babies and toddlers. I asked my mom groups on Facebook, too, and found a daily toddler schedule you can actually follow. Most of the moms who messaged me for this article all had a very similar schedule to each other and to my schedule, believe it or not. And of course, the one thing nobody budged on no matter what (even if they had a loose schedule) was nap time and bed time.
One mom tells Romper, "As a mom of toddlers, I figure out when they need a nap and plan everything around that first (I allow skipping a nap or changing nap time maybe once or twice a week if the kid can handle it, but that's it), and then meal time. Everything else that happens during the day can change, but as long as our toddlers have predictable sleep and meal times, they get the feeling of having a routine."
So when I was researching schedules and asking moms in my mom groups about schedules when we were going through the hell phase, I came up with this schedule for our family since I’m fortunate enough to be a work-from-home mom:
- 7:30 a.m. – Wake up, bottle of milk and probiotic, then free play in his room.
- 8:30 a.m. – Jack and mom go for a walk.
- 9:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. – Breakfast and music time.
- 10:15 a.m. – Second bottle and nap time routine.
- 10:30 a.m. – First nap/mom starts work shift.
- 12 p.m. to 12:30 p.m. – Lunch.
- 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. – Free play and sometimes reading books together or doing an activity outside if I’m not working. We also run errands during this time on my days off.
- 2:30 p.m. – Snack.
- 3 p.m. – Second nap.
- 5 p.m. – (Ish, depending on how long he naps). Snack, free play until Dad gets home.
- 5:45 p.m. – Sit down to dinner as a family.
- 6:30 p.m. – Free play and quiet activities.
- 7 p.m. –Bedtime books with sound machine.
- 7:30 p.m. – Bathtime.
- 8 p.m. – Bottle and bed.
Now this is all contingent on if he actually naps and how long he naps, of course. But it helps us to have a consistent schedule so his body knows when it’s time to relax for a nap. According to the National Sleep Foundation, this helps toddlers find their circadian rhythm, which helps them sleep longer and better. And he will probably drop that first nap when he's 15 months old, because according to my Baby Sleep Site app (which I highly recommend if you're having sleeping baby issues), babies tend to still need two naps a day until they're 15 months old.
Hey, major thing to remember though: every baby is different.
Most moms I talked to said that until they had a daily schedule, their days were filled with tantrums, lots of crying, and fighting with their kids. In fact, according to The Happiest Baby blog, experts believe toddler routines are important at every stage of “toddler-dom,” starting with 12 months. “Routines give little children a sense of security, a feeling of being smart, and a sense of time,” the website noted.
However, some people believe in child-led scheduling. According to Baby Center, child-led schedules tend to be "very loose routines." The website explained, "You follow your baby's lead, meaning you look for cues to decide what your little one needs next rather than imposing a timetable for feedings, rest, or play." But the website added that this doesn't necessarily mean your days will always be totally unpredictable, since most kids have fairly regular patterns on their own. "But your baby's schedule may vary from day to day depending on the signals she's giving you. So if your baby seems ready for a nap at 1 p.m. on Monday, but on Tuesday doesn't seem sleepy until 3 p.m., your schedule shifts accordingly," the website noted.
If you think a set daily schedule would work for you, this daily toddler schedule was aggregated from real moms, and is pretty easy to follow, even if you’re flexible (you know your kid, but I suggest never skipping naps or bedtime routines). Several moms gave me their schedules, and they were all very similar.
- Ranging between 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. – Wake up, change out of pajamas, breakfast, breakfast clean-up while child free plays.
- 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. – For stay-at-home moms, many went on an outing, whether it was story time, errands, a play date, visiting friends and family, or just going for a walk. For children under 15 months old, they had their first nap time somewhere between this time.
- 12 p.m. to 12:30 p.m. – Lunch.
- 1p.m. to 2/3 p.m. – Either nap or quiet time.
- 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. – Free play and cooking dinner.
- 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. – Dinner, clean-up, free play, or sometimes a walk.
- 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. – Bedtime routine then sleep.
Pretty doable, right? For moms whose kids went to day care (and according to some preschool and day care teachers), most of their schedules were pretty similar as well:
- Kids arrive at 8:00 a.m. – Clean-up (bathroom/wash hands), eat breakfast at 8:15 a.m.
- 8:45 a.m. – Book time while cleaning up from breakfast. Then get ready for play/outside time.
- 9 a.m. – Play outside for 30 to 40 minutes. Return to room/bathroom to wash hands then sit at table to brush teeth.
- 10 a.m. – Center time for 60 minutes: art, blocks, books, Play-doh, etc.
- 10:55 a.m. – Clean-up, then wash hands for lunch.
- 11 a.m.: 15 to 25 minutes for lunch. Then quiet activities: puzzles and books while cleaning up.
- 11:45 a.m. – Group time to review letters, numbers, shapes, etc.
- 12:15 p.m. – Story time while going to the bathroom for rest time.
- 12:30 p.m. – Nap.
- 1:45 p.m. – Kids look at books independently while using the potty and getting ready for snack.
- 2 p.m. – Snack
- 2:15 p.m. – Group time to discuss the day and read a "good bye book" for parent pick up at 2:30 p.m.
So for the most part, except for the child-led schedule, most parents and caregivers have a healthy balance of free play and scheduled activities. But the most important scheduled activity? Time for nap and a bedtime routine.
You know your child best. Follow their cues and find some points in the day that are pretty predictable, like a nap time or meal time, and go from there. It doesn't have to be a military schedule, but a little structure will help both you and your baby.