Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Rules and schedules for little ones

I was inspired to write this post about rules and schedules following an email from a dear lady who asked for advice regarding how to deal with her 2-year-old's behavior, while also expecting a baby any day. I'm a relatively new mother and definitely not an expert, but there are some things I'm learning along the way, and here's some of the experience I can share so far.

2-years-old are quite sharp and able to understand instructions and especially rules. My daughter, specifically, is an exceptional speaker so by 2 years she had quite a level of communication for her age, but those toddlers who don't speak so well are able to communicate, sometimes non-verbally, on a simple, intelligent, eye-to-eye level. They are able to understand the consequences of their actions ("if you pull the cat's tail she might scratch you"; "you didn't stop snatching toys out of the hands of other children when I told you to, so now we're leaving the playground and going home"). The child will of course test the limits by begging, whining and temper tantrums, especially in areas where rules are newly enforced, but it's important to keep the big picture in mind and know that insisting on firm reasonable rules is for the child's own good, and promotes a sense of security. 

Just a bit more regarding limits and schedules, I'm by no means an expert but during my short time of motherhood, so far (just 2.5 years), I've learned the importance of schedules for little ones. I don't mean being rigid as though we're in the army, but just enough to give the day predictability. We all function more smoothly when we know what we're supposed to be doing and what to expect from our day, and if it's true for us as adults, consider how much more important it must be for little children. Proper sleep time and an adequate number of sleep hours is especially vital in preventing crankiness, moodiness, irritability and bad temper. My rule of the thumb is to try and get the children to sleep when they are good and tired from playing, but not yet dropping down with exhaustion. 

Young babies, of course, don't exactly have a schedule, but once you have your second little one and once he or she is a few months old, I would highly encourage you to begin getting your two children on the same daily schedule. I don't mean nursing - I always nurse on demand, but just the daily structure. Schedule will also mean less power struggles, because the child knows, for example, that evening means supper, a bath, a story and then bedtime. 

Every family is different, but just as an example, we started having Tehilla regularly sitting with us at family meals when her she just had her first tastes of solids, at around 6 or 7 months. Around that time her sleeping habits also became more predictable. Now, at 9 months, my two girls sit together for breakfast (even though the baby only nibbles), play together, then sit together for lunch, and I make a point of getting them to nap at the same time. 

It can sometimes mean getting Shira (my older girl) to nap a bit earlier than I otherwise would, or to stretch Tehilla's play time a bit further, but having their naptime coincide is a big help. Then, after we're done with our afternoon activities, chores, play and supper (to which we also sit together), I bathe both girls at the same time - Shira sits in the big bath and plays with her toys, while I'm bathing Tehilla in the baby bed by her side. Afterwards I read aloud to them and get them to sleep, again at the same time. 

Having them on the same schedule required some tweaking and a bit of effort, and I must give a lot of credit to my husband - but it makes things so increadibly more pleasant for us all. It also allows me to plan things in advance, for example, if I know my children go to bed around 8, I might say that tonight I will tackle some paperwork, and most likely it will get done. If I have no idea when they'll eat or sleep, the house will be a havoc.

I realize that if you also work outside the home, this might be more difficult for you to accomplish than it is for me, since I'm blessed to be able to stay home with my children, but if you set your eyes on this goal of providing a structured day for your little ones, and communicate your wishes to other people who care for your children while you are absent, it can work. 

Of course there is a degree of flexibility - there are days when we are out and about, visits to grandparents, doctor's appointments and so on. But it's important that children know what to expect from a typical day at home. 


Anonymous said...

Dear Anna,

I just wanted to say how nice it is to have you posting more often again. I've been following your blog from before you were married (although I've never commented much), and I was missing your regular posts.
Of course I do understand that as the mother to two little ones you have much more important things to do with your time! Thank you for sharing your experiences with us.

Take care, Claudia

Leah Brand-Burks said...

Very well said, and I happen to adhere to not only the same principles, but almost the exact same schedule! Except I'm in the US, and I have two little boys. :-) Have a great day, Anna.

Rose said...

Such a good idea Anna! Keeping the girls on the same schedule helps them and you I'm sure.

Anonymous said...

Love the description of the daily routine, a picture of domestic tranquility and loving cooperation. Great starts.