Friday, February 8, 2013

The Importance of Routines for Toddlers

   I haven't seen or visited a parents' group, book, show, or website that did not stress the importance establishing routines with children.  These sources seem to list endless benefits of routines:
  • Encouraging self-control in toddlers
  • Preventing power struggles with parents and children
  • Easing transitions for children
  • Learning social skills and cultural norms
  • Developing language skills
  However, I haven't really seen many studies that back up the benefits of routines.  This is not to say that I question their importance or ability to help toddlers (and parents) survive everyday life.  As I have stated previously on this blog, often parents are more knowledgeable than researchers, and lab findings often just support what parents already know (with the exception of the connection between fevers and teething as explained in this post. I've always questioned these results as Q-ball has had a fever every time she was teething...)
  Still, for this Science Friday, I wanted to explore any findings that further validate the role of routines.  Surprisingly, I wasn't able to find very many hard numbers.  But, most of the studies seem to focus on the importance of bedtime routines. This makes sense considering that one of the studies stated that sleep problems are one of the most common concerns of parents- 20 to 30 percent of infants and toddlers have sleep difficulties.  
I can't even get a picture of this busy toddler without it blurring- how is she not sleepy?!?
   In a 2009 study published by Sleep, 405 mothers who identified having an infant or toddler with a sleep problem participated in 3-week study that measured the success of groups who established bedtime routines to control groups who established no routines.  Mothers who followed new routines were instructed to give their child a bath, a massage, and then conduct quiet activities like cuddling and singing.  These mothers also ensured lights were turned off or dimmed 30 minutes prior to bedtime.  
   The results very significantly showed improvements in the amount of time it took to put the child to sleep and in the number of nightly wakings.  As a bonus, the study also showed that maternal mood and child sleep problems are intimately linked.  As sleep improved, so did the mothers' quality of life- she was less tense and, of course, less tired.  
   As a parent with a 22-month old who still regularly wakes 4-7 times each night and regularly takes 40 minutes to fall asleep, I find any studies on sleep interesting. Although, I must give Q-ball credit, we have had some nights in the past month were she has slept for over 4 hours at a time! And, I can certainly relate to the connection between mothers' quality of life and sleep (just ask my husband!)  Here at Q-ball's household, we have a very established bedtime routine- brush teeth; potty; bathe; put on PJs; read book with Daddy; kick Daddy out of room; nurse; crawl onto (or next to) mattress; and direct Mama to rub back. All of this makes me wonder- what would my nights be like without a routine?!?!

n.a. (2012). Love, learning, and routines. Zero to three. Retrieved from
ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 8, 2013, from­ /releases/2009/05/090501090916.htm 

Sussman, F. (2011). The power of using everyday routines to promote young children's language and social skills. Retrieved from

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