Real World Routines: How to Balance Routine and Spontaneity
Don’t be Afraid of Spontaneity
Remember, you can take many elements of your routine with you. Singing your child’s naptime song or reading from a much-loved book can be done anywhere. If a bath is a staple of your baby’s bedtime routine, lay a towel down in the sink of your hotel room and suds away! Recreate your home environment as much as possible by packing favorite blankets, toys, and bath products.
Creating more portable, alternative forms of your regular routine can mean more spontaneity for you. George Cohen, M.D. Editor-in-Chief of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Guide To Your Child’s Sleep suggests getting your child accustomed to sleeping in a car seat or stroller.
“If you are going to visit a friend, try having the baby nap somewhere that is not their usual crib or bassinet two or three days ahead of time,” says Cohen. “Once they are used to it, you can take them with you. Now the baby has two routines that will work.”
There are, in fact, some advantages to breaking out of your regular routine. It can teach preschoolers to constructively cope with change.
“The first time you make an exception they may cry, ‘I can’t fall asleep without you reading to me,’” says Rimm. “Just say, ‘Yes you can, it’s good for you once in a while to fall asleep without reading.’ That is the kind of ebb and flow you want to have between structure and flexibility.”
Getting Back on Track
No matter how diligent you are, there are bound to be rough patches along the way. When this happens, try giving one (or even all) of the following a try.
- Re-institute the routine as soon as possible: Let your children know that there is a difference between holidays and home. Yes, you let your daughter stay up late while on vacation, but at home it is back to “homework-shower-lights out.” She might protest, but deep down she is looking to you for guidance and continuity.
- Do not skimp: After a long day, it is tempting to skip a step or two of your usual bedtime routine. “Not a good idea,” says Mindell. It is ultimately more time-consuming explaining to your child why their routine has suddenly changed than to stick with the status quo. If you must streamline, do not eliminate the phase of the routine that your child enjoys most. It may take a Herculean effort to get through all three bedtime books after a full day at Grandma’s, but it is well worth the effort.
- Share the work: Whether you are trying to get back to your usual routine or just starting one, you will probably face some resistance from your children. A partner or childcare provider who knows the drill can help you through the transition and give you a break from the repetition.
- This, too, shall pass: Your routine is going like clockwork and then Bang! everything seems to unravel. Do not spend your time analyzing what went wrong or scaring yourself into believing it will never end. Children (like adults) have good days and bad. A few crazy days here or there are to be expected. If, however, your child exhibits a sudden change in behavior or appetite, consult with your doctor.
In the end, swapping my son’s usual routine for days in the Florida sunshine was well worth it. He dipped his little toes in the Gulf of Mexico, delighted in the seagulls, and watched his first sunset. Meanwhile, I learned that the best routines are those that evolve alongside our children as they help them grow.
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