Is routine good for toddlers?

Doing the same thing every day may be boring to grown-ups, but for toddlers, predictable routines lower stress, increase confidence and even make them feel smarter.

Routines give little children a sense of security, a feeling of being smart and a sense of time. And they’re important for toddlers at every stage!

So what’s the best routine for toddlers? 

Toddler Routine: 12 to 24 months

By your tot’s 1st birthday, you can start developing a daily toddler routine. Your child will recognize the patterns of the day (a diaper when he wakes up, lunch when he sees you take out his special plate, a little massage before bed). Your consistency builds his sense of security, and that gives him the courage to go off and explore the world.

Toddler Routine: 24 to 36 months

Middle toddlers hate unexpected changes because they work so hard to figure things out (“C’mon! I just finally got it…Don’t go changing it on me!”). That’s why routines are such a huge bonus at this age. They fill your 2-year-old’s need for things to “follow the rules” and be “just so.”

Mina, 2 1/2, wore a princess outfit complete with wings, crown and ballet slippers to playgroup…every day.

Thirty-month-old Arnie loved his fireman hat so much that he insisted on wearing it to sleep for almost a year!

So, don’t be surprised when your little kid rigidly demands the same food, same shirt, or same song every day; explodes if the peas touch the carrots or a guest sits in Daddy’s chair; and insists you start over—from page one—if you’re interrupted in the middle of reading her Good Night, Moon!

Toddler Routine: 36 to 48 months

It’s common for 3-year-olds to suddenly notice they’re weaker than almost everybody else. (That’s why they love to point out that they are faster and stronger than babies!) Realizing that they are vulnerable can trigger new fears and worries. Routines help these kids feel safe and secure.

Despite their worries, older toddlers no longer demand rigid daily routines. In fact, they love it when we throw silly variations into their routines (adding a crazy verse to a favorite song, making up new words as you read a beloved bedtime story, having a “picnic” lunch on a blanket in the living room).

Toddler Routines That Boost Cooperation

Life with a toddler may feel unpredictable, but even small toddler routines for certain parts of the day can make them (and harried parents!) feel a little more relaxed and agreeable. Here are a few toddler routines to try in your home: 

  • Bedtime Sweet Talk: Close the day by talking to your toddler all about the wonderful things that happened that day...and all the fantastic things that are ahead. (Read more about bedtime sweet talk here). 
  • Special Time: Special time is a short time period that you dedicate to giving your tot lots of love and attention. (Read more about special time here). 
  • Loveys: These cuddly pals build confidence and security, and they could help ease toddlers into sleep. Plus, a lovey toddler routine is especially comforting in times of stress. 
  • Pacifiers: For young toddlers (under 24 months), sucking is a comforting routine. 

    About Dr. Harvey Karp

    Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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    Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.