I would consider a toddler, a toddler, from about 18 months to 3-3.5 years of age. After 3.5 years I would start to consider children shifting into the preschool stage. So, we are talking about a short enough time frame with your little one between 18 months and 3.5 years. An awful lot of developmental change can happen in that time. Your baby will shift from the baby stage through to being a walking, talking little ball of personality. They start to seek more independence from you but still look for the security that a parent brings.
Through a solid daily routine, you can provide them with the day to day stability of knowing what is coming next. Plus, the structure of learning opportunities that they will thrive on during this time. Children thrive on routine. Doing the same thing day in day out may seem boring to adults however for children it gives them predictability that they love. It increases their confidence and security which reinforces bonds plus helps them feel smarter. It also gives them time. Toddlers want to feel like the centre of their universe, who doesn’t want to feel like that, right? So by giving them a stable routine day to day you are giving them that sense of importance that they are craving.
To make a shift towards routine firstly establish a regular starting to your day. Nobody likes to wake a sleeping child however by starting your little ones day at a regular time every day you are helping to regulate their internal body clock, their circadian rhythm. I suggest that this is between 7 & 7.30 each morning. This will give you a start point to the day on which you can build the rest of their daily stepping stones.
Very important! By offering meal times at regular times each day you again are regulating appetite and their body clock. I suggest offering breakfast within 30 to 60 minutes of waking each morning. I also like to steer parents away from TV or screen time upon waking. Instead, bring your toddler to a brightly lit living space and allow them to play. Get their imagination working straight away. Play is their work and that is how they learn and use new skills. Generally, I would see toddlers have 3 main meals a day plus 2 snacks. Most will probably still have two milk feeds a day up to 2 or 2.5 years of age however their main nutrition would be more beneficial to them from solid meals at this stage. I like to see little ones that are still napping having a protein-based meal prior to going down for their nap and their evening meal falling at approx. 5 pm.
This is the age range dependent. I would generally see the drive for day time sleep start to diminish with toddlers from 2.5 years. With most no longer requiring formal napping by 3 years of age. Where I see naps still present after 3 years of age I would generally see that this napping is taking from the night's sleep and would suggest adjustment, where necessary. To establish napping balance I like to see naps falling in the middle of the day. Generally between 12.30 pm & 1 pm with little one awake from all napping by 3 pm.
This can vary between toddlers and is very much dependent on their sleep needs. However, I would guide that toddlers need to be in bed 4.5-5 hours from when they woke from their formal nap. For example, if napping ended at 3 pm then bedtime would be approx. 7.30 pm. However, if napping is no longer part of your toddler's sleep picture I would suggest bedtime no later than 7 pm and even earlier where your little one is showing that they are tired.
As much outside time as possible! Toddlers love to be out and about seeing the world around them. I suggest factoring in 2 stages of activity with your toddler in the day. A morning session and an afternoon session. The morning session takes place after breakfast and incorporates a fruit-based morning snack while out and about at the playground or park. Or if it’s a rainy day a home activity that your toddler enjoys. After they have had their restorative cot nap engage in something else while factoring in another snack time if this doesn’t impact your child’s appetite for their evening meal at approx. 5 pm. Remember it's important to stimulate but not exhaust toddlers. Children that are overtired will not sleep as well as a child that is rested but well stimulated.
If you are experiencing sleep issues with your Toddler establishing or tweaking routine may well help to resolve things. It honestly depends on what is happening and how long the issues have been going on. If they have transferred from the baby stage then perhaps working with a sleep consultant 1:1, like my Virtual Sleep Solution, or perhaps a Sleep Program, like The Sleep Series, may benefit you in terms of identifying the issues and having a plan to work with to resolve things. Either of these options may also give you the toolkit to understand how to recognize when tweaks to routine are needed to settle sleep blips down.
Sure – this handy graphic will help you map out a daily routine that works for your little one and the stage that they are at!
Erica Hargaden is a certified Child Sleep Consultant with her private practice Babogue. She works with families 1:1 via her Virtual Sleep Solution and her online sleep program, The Sleep Series, which is built around her 7 Steps to Better Sleep. To learn more check out @babogue_sleep, www.babogue.com or email email@example.com