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Why routines matter

All of us benefit from having a sense of purpose and some structure in our lives. We feel more comfortable knowing when we might eat, sleep, work and play, and young children are no different, although their needs are different. Having good routines in place provides a sense of security for children and promotes wellbeing. Routines also support the development of positive parent/child relationships. Here’s some advice about routines for sleeping, eating and playing, and some of the pitfalls to avoid.

Between one and two years old, children’s development continues at pace. They’re emerging as little people with very definite likes and dislikes, and are also starting to develop an awareness of themselves as individuals. The frustration they sometimes feel may start to be expressed through more challenging behaviours or tantrums. Having clear routines can go some way to helping both of you manage this.

Routines for sleeping

  • Ensure your child still has naps during the day, but not too late, and a good bedtime routine, going to bed at a reasonable time everyday
  • Most children still need a minimum of 12 hours sleep each day, and some need more
  • Tired children are more likely to have temper tantrums
  • Tired children are also less likely to eat well, and eating enough good food is what helps children maintain their energy levels

Having a good bedtime routine also means you’ll have the benefit of more ‘me time’ once your child is settled. Win-win!

Routines for eating

  • Keep to set meal times, even if your child’s going through a food refusal/fussy eating phase. It’s really common for two year olds to eat a lot one day but not so much the next
  • Avoid over snacking
  • Offer water regularly throughout the day and at mealtimes. Toddlers who drink high calories drinks, such as fizzy drinks, all the time, won’t eat very well, may experience behavioural issues and are also more likely to experience tooth decay

Routines for playtime

Toddlers will happily play independently providing they have the security of knowing you’re not too far away. You do still need to make time to play games with them though, helping them to engage fully with their play.

Play is how children make sense of the world around them and learn. You can’t expect your toddler to entertain themselves if you’re always on your phone without giving them attention – in fact they are more likely to play up.

If you spend focused time with your child, you’ll find their speech develops more easily and they’ll be more settled at night because their needs have been met during the day.

  • Don’t put all the toys out at once. It’s a good idea to put some away and then rotate them to keep  your child’s interest
  • Get a group of toys out together. It is normal for a child to play with a number of toys together, and to use them for things other than their purpose.
  • Encourage children to experiment with using toys and objects for different imaginative purposes – for example using a stacking cup as a drinking cup
  • Try being creative by turning everyday objects into toys, such as turning pots and pans into drums.
  • Children who enjoy playing and have lots of opportunities to play will have fewer tantrums

Page last reviewed: 24-10-2023

Next review due: 24-10-2026