The Importance of Routines in Early Childhood

baby on schedule with clock
Photo By Velychko Viktoriia/shutterstock

As you close in on your due date, most expecting parents will begin to think about “scheduling.” Will I feed on demand or every 3 hours? Will my child nap on a schedule or whenever they’re tired? Should napping always happen in the crib or can they nap in the swing, car seat, stroller, as well? I am a proponent of creating a flexible routine.

Parenting is a constantly evolving role. Reflecting on your child, yourself, and the things that make you each unique, is essential to creating a schedule and a relationship that will work for both of you. Responsive parents recognize that their children have different needs when it comes to sleeping, eating, playing, etc. In my opinion, parents should create routines that are responsive to the individual temperament, body rhythm and interaction style of their baby.

Why Is a Routine Important?

Predictability and consistency are essential for all children, whether babies, toddlers, or teens. But while children thrive on this predictability and feel safe and secure knowing the routine, it is also important to teach children to be flexible. Rigid routines do not take individual families differences into account. For example, in a family where there is a working parent, a child may not go to sleep at 8pm, because the working parent wants quality time when they come home. As long as the child ends up getting enough sleep for their body so that they wake up ready to take on the next day, who’s to say what bed time is appropriate.

A routine that considers your child and family allows you and your child some flexibility and greatly reduces stress. Young children learn to have faith in a bigger, stronger grown up who will always keep them safe. If a bottle is given 30 minutes earlier than the plan, or a preschooler naps after she’s really “given up” her nap, you are all going to be happier and feel that your needs are met. Another prime example is where a child naps. I encourage parents to try having their child nap in the crib, stroller, etc. Certainly you should acknowledge where they sleep best, but also recognize that schedules change. Helping children to be able to sleep in multiple places aids everyone’s flexibility.

Read Next | Why Kids Need Family Traditions and Rituals

Don’t Be Too Rigid with Routines

Flexible routines take into account your child’s natural rhythm, but are also set within a structured framework. I want to be clear that this concept is not a free-for-all. Having a schedule is important, but it doesn’t have to be set in stone. It is not one size fits all. Responsive and reflective parenting makes having a flexible routine possible. All that being, said I recognize that some children need a stricter routine. For some children, if you wait longer than the scheduled 4 hrs to have them nap, all hell will break loose. Responsive parenting will help you notice and use that information. You can continue to work on helping your child become more flexible. The emphasis is on spending the time it takes to “know” your child.

Preschoolers and grade school children respond positively to a flexible routine as well. Parents are encouraged to be spontaneous at times. Acknowledging a change in routine and the feelings that may come up when doing something a little bit differently, teaches children to enjoy flexibility and feel safe enough to manage those changes. They learn to roll with the punches. For children who have a harder time with flexibility using a conspiratorial tone when telling your children about a change in their schedule adds excitement and can be used to help create teachable moments.

Responsive parenting allows you to understand your child and their individual needs. Within what they learn, parents create a flexible routine that is specific to their child. This helps children (and parents) feel safe and secure, less anxious and less stressed and more in control both emotionally and behaviorally. This routine should be flexible enough to allow for the changes that naturally pop up. The ability to manage these slight changes is a lifelong skill for children (and their parents)!

family watching tv
Read Next | How to Maintain a Healthy Routine Through Tough Times

Dana Rosenbloom has a master’s degree in Infant and Parent Development and Early Intervention and has been working with children and families for over 10 years. Dana’s Kids provides parent education, play therapy, special education services, parent workshops and support groups, and professional development. To learn more about Dana and Dana’s Kids please visit

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