A lot of times people say "routine" as though it's bad, but when you're raising a toddler, a routine can be a godsend. Not only does a routine give structure to the day, it can help your toddler learn self-control and social skills. Transitions will also be easier if your little one knows what is coming next. You don't need to be a slave to a schedule, though. You just need to ensure that your toddler's day unfolds in the same basic order each day, unless you had too much wine on Girls' Night Out and have a raging headache. Then you need to cut yourself some slack on the routine.
If you are lucky, especially after a night out, your toddler will sleep long enough to let you get up and get dressed before he wakes up. If not, you can get up and get dressed together, ideally between 7 and 8 a.m. After dressing, have breakfast together. If your toddler is active, give her a few minutes to play before she has to sit down for breakfast. After breakfast, get out of the house. You can go for a walk, go to the playground or a play group, get your errands done or a combination of those activities. Incorporate time for your toddler to be active and time for you to talk to other adults. It will help both of you have a better day. Also, plan on bringing a snack or being home about two hours after breakfast so your toddler can have a healthful snack.
Try some quiet play time next. This is an appropriate time to read a few stories and do a few puzzles together. Then see whether you can get her to play independently while you do some chores or check Facebook. Try putting out special independent play toys or organize toys in a different way to encourage him to play on his own. If that doesn't work, put him in his high chair so he can watch you make lunch.
Eat lunch together. Eating together models healthful eating habits and gives the two of you time to share at a leisurely pace. After cleaning up lunch, read some more stories together or listen to quiet music. Then put your toddler down for a nap, ideally around 1 p.m. Your toddler shouldn't sleep more than two hours during the day, so wake her up around 3 p.m. This is your time to relax, take a nap or get stuff done without a toddler following you around.
After nap, feed her a healthful snack. Then take him for a walk or outside for some outdoor play. If the weather prevents outdoor time, try dancing in the living room, making a mini-obstacle course out of the couch cushions, rolling a ball back and forth or some other kind of active indoor play. Around 4:30 p.m., transition to some kind of creative play. Play musical instruments, do an art project, smash some edible play dough. Next, let her have some independent play time while you start dinner or do some other chores. If late-afternoon crankiness prevents independent play, this is the time to use the Exersaucer or Jumperoo or some other confining toddler gear. It's really hard to cook dinner with a toddler hanging on your leg.
Hopefully, the whole family can eat dinner together between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. If that's not an option, try to get your toddler fed then so he has time to digest his food before bed. After dinner, bathe your toddler. Then read some stories and sing some lullabies. Between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., your toddler should go to bed. Then you can relax. Or at least check Facebook again.
About Times Listed
If your family has a different schedule or your toddler is a late sleeper, that's fine. Just try to keep in mind that your toddler should have three meals and two snacks a day, that she needs 10 to 12 hours of sleep at night and one to two hours during the day and that she should be active for at least 90 minutes per day. Also, remember that you deserve some time for yourself each day and that talking to other adults is not a luxury.