How a Mom Built a Foolproof Bedtime Routine

By: Raquel Matos

It does not matter whether you are a working mom or home school your children; starting your toddler on a consistent routine will bring them comfort and ease your life as a parent.

In the summer of 2003, I had a job with a crazy schedule - traveling out of town for days and even a week at a time. Rosana, my daughter was attending daycare at that time. Her schedule would change daily, with her father taking her to daycare early in the morning when I was out of town and me taking her to daycare late and sometimes not at all when I was in town.

Rosana was now ready to leave the house every weekday for pre-school and this would make the timing that much more critical. She would need to be at school by 8:30AM every weekday, regardless of my schedule. I knew that the best way to avoid confrontation at bedtime and before school was to get Rosana on a consistent daily routine that summer. Not surprisingly, the more we tried to enforce a schedule, the harder Rosana fought us. I had to find a way to stop NO without arguing or punishment. We needed help.

I was blessed by luck. It is amazing how I would be led by a series of events to develop a solution that would help so many. Who would have thought that this solution would have had such a dramatic and lasting impact on our entire family.

An Enlightening Conversation and a Timely Visit

My sister Rebeca, a Ph.D. in Education, came to stay with us that summer before Rosana started pre-kindergarten. She silently observed our routine, or lack there-of. Rebeca's genuine concern prompted her to ask questions about my lack of structure. With my college education in Psychology, these questions led to a very enlightening conversation about the benefits of introducing routines and schedules early in a child's life.

Soon after Rebeca and I spoke I was visiting a cousin and noticed she had a written schedule on her daughter's closet door. Her schedule became a written list of basic tasks and activities like brushing her teeth, taking a bath, and going to bed. "This is great," I thought, "but how do I use it with Rosana, who is too young to read and too young to tell time?"

A Difficult Start

Her father and I attempted to implement a verbal schedule with Rosana. We started by saying, "It's bedtime; it's time for school, it's time for dinner etc. After two weeks, the response remained the same - "No!"

How could I make Rosana understand the need for a schedule? She had so much energy and so many things to do and learn. When it came time for breakfast, school, dinner and bedtime - especially bedtime - she just wanted to keep going.

The key was Rosana had to find the chart fun and interesting and adopt it as her own.

I searched high and low for a kit I could buy to start our routine. There were mountains of research and books that highlighted how children crave structure and how important it is to set routines for them, but there were no products on the market that had everything I was looking for something that a young child would understand and own.

The Breakthrough

I decided to create my own tool for her using stock images of her daily activities - things like bath time, story time, brushing teeth, bedtime and even a reminder to take her asthma treatment. I cut out these images and combined them with pictures of digital and analog clocks showing the time that each activity was to be performed. I then placed all of the pictures in her room alongside real analog and digital clocks. Her first routine was born, and just as important as being easy for her to understand, it was something that her father and I could follow as well.

I introduced the routine to her one day after school. I told her that I had a surprise for her in her room, giving it special meaning. She couldn't wait to get home and ran to her room and exclaimed "What is it"?" I explained that this would help her remind Mom and Dad of what "we" had to do. We looked at each picture and agreed on what each activity represented. I then showed her how we could compare the real clock to the picture on the wall. When the clocks matched, it was time to do that activity.

It Was Like Magic!

Rosana not only understood the collection of images, but she was also eager to do what they depicted with no argument. She would even tell me when it was time for dinner, reading and even bed! Her dad could also easily keep the routine while I was traveling. Rosana now had the structure she was craving, and our family had the routine that we needed.

Flexibility was essential as Rosana grew up. The images made it easy to introduce changes visually into her routine. Rosana would immediately adapt to the new routine.

Every parent that saw Rosana'a routine wanted to know where they could buy one. I would tell them that I had made it, and they would all ask "Can you make one for me?"

In February of 2007, I was watching Oprah while recovering from surgery. This days show featured moms that had developed products to make life easier and solve life's recurring problems. It made me think how wonderful it would be to make Rosana's routine into a kit that other moms and dads could use.

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