Can’t get your young toddler to change up their routine and try new things? Don’t worry. It’s not just you.

Everyone tells you routines are a must for young children, but I never realized how repetitious days in general with young kids feel once you set that all-important schedule. I found myself wondering: why? 

It turns out in a world where everything is new, they’re looking for a touch of comfort. That includes a schedule they can count on and likely a set list of very limited options for regular daily selections. Ok, so you know when you get to a restaurant and there’s like seventy million choices on a teeny tiny menu? The dread you feel is analysis paralysis and Toddlers feel that way times one hundred as they’re asked to make decisions throughout the day. 

When you think about it, they are literally learning how everything works. So, it makes sense that they can easily feel overwhelmed! We’ve been trying to get our son to feel comfortable trying new foods but it’s been a dismal failure. Breakfast during the week has to be a Spiderman Pop Tart. Lunch? Dino chicken nuggets. Dinner? One of three menu options we originally set for convenience but now can’t shake. 

We’ve finally caved and stopped fighting it. Sure, we suggest new options and if he tries them, we have the biggest celebration (secretly, of course). But we no longer fret over those less adventurous days. And some days that also means patiently reading the same exact book three consecutive times! If you need to shift the daily schedule, keep it small if you can. Anything greater than 15 minutes will feel like more than an hour in “toddler time.” 

We’ve also quickly discovered the importance of a bedtime routine for toddlers, as well as the complicated art of finding one that works for both your toddler and your family. Dinner at 6. A bottle and book at 7:30. Even knowing it’s potty and then time to brush teeth before heading to their room for bed. But then you wake up and it’s time to repeat it all the next day. 

This is not to say you can never change things up on your toddler. You can! But choose wisely. If a big change is coming, give them time to prepare by talking to them gently about the process. We are slowly moving our daughter into the same room as our son. We moved him into his new bed early and have used the weeks since to prepare him for the huge change. When he’s upset, it’s ok! We talk about it until he feels comfortable.

Keeping your routine also means developing consistency between parents. This means, if you co-parent, that you have to establish rules that you keep with your toddler, even when your spouse is not around. Simple things like what toys can go to bed with them (and how many) as well as when and where books are read. Even the most tiny, little things like if they can turn light switches on/off by themselves. Minimizing variation on these points will make it smoother for you and your toddler — which of course means fewer epic tantrums. 

So embrace the routine and the familiarity it brings and realize that as challenging as it will always be in some way, the adventure of parenting will never be as simple and innocent as it is at this age.

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