Managing Baby And Toddler Schedules

A few months ago I went to a party of a friend.  She used one of those e-invite systems (I'm still not sure what I think about them, because I'm old-school and still send party invites through the mail).  With e-invites you can usually see everyone else's comments about their RSVP - and I was in a curious mood, so I read through some of the responses.

One comment in particular caught my eye - someone said they couldn't come to my friend's party because the party was in the evening, and their toddler usually went to bed at 7:00 PM.  

The comment struck me, I think in part because I understand even more than most how miserable things can get when your child is cranky and tired.  I have four kids under five, three of whom still nap and also go to bed at 7:00 PM.  When one of the kids cries, at least a couple more join in.

It can certainly make attending certain events more difficult. This can especially be an issue during seasons when schedules are not the same, like in the summer when it is light outside longer and there are more evening events, or during the holiday season when there are naturally more gatherings that might interfere with your normal routine.

I have two main thoughts about handling your baby's or toddler's routines when events or schedules interfere with the norm.

First, it's okay to say no.  

If you know a certain event will just push your child (or your own patience) beyond the limit, it's okay to pass on certain events.  Sometimes you know a week will be extra busy, and it is okay to say no to just one more thing for your sanity's sake.  Rest is something we all need, and it's undervalued in today's culture - but little ones have a tendency to remind us of that need.  If you need to take your cues from them sometimes, I think it can be a healthy thing.

On the other hand, I do think it is a problem if you let your baby or toddler's routine dictate your schedule.  Which brings me to my second bit of advice:

Don't always say no.

Events and gatherings with friends and family build those relationships, and build community.  I don't think it's a good thing to neglect that community just because it might cut into your toddler's naptime.  Yes, the nap time years are temporary, but depending on your child and the spacing of their siblings, it still adds up to several years of your lives.  Kids benefit from community and relationships outside immediate family, just like you do.

Is it hard to go to an event that will throw your child's routine off?  Yes, and I am aware that some kids are less flexible than others.  However, most babies and toddlers can learn to be flexible if given the chance to practice.  If you never give them the chance to be somewhere besides home when they are tired, it will ensure that they won't handle it well.   I don't recommend participating in things on a regular basis that will disrupt their routines, but doing the occasional unusual thing does get easier on everyone with practice.

I know these two points on handling young children's routines seem to contradict each other a bit, but I think of them more as two sides to the same coin.  During these baby years (and with so much else in parenting), it's all about finding a good balance.  Say no and rest when you need to, but don't rob your children or yourself of the chance to do fun things and have meaningful interactions during these young years just because it may require a bit more effort.

But is there anything you can do to make unusual schedules less of a nightmare?

You will also get better at managing schedules that are thrown off the more you do it! When we have something planned at an unusual time, I do a few things to hopefully make the whole thing easier.

1. With evening or nighttime events, I adjust naptime.  I move their naptime up or down by an hour (when I can) to help them be more rested for whatever adventure we have planned.  Doing this occasionally is also a good way to help your kids get that practice at being flexible, while still in the "safety" of your home!

2. I bring lots of snacks, toys, and board books.  Distraction can be a great thing to delay crankiness.  Board books with colorful illustrations are always great to keep my kids occupied.  If I may suggest a book, I Prayed For You is an adorably sweet book that is brand-new this month!  The illustrations are interesting and perfect for little ones, and the message is so touching and reassuring for tired kids.

3. I recognize the signs of an impending meltdown, and leave when I have to.  If I can tell my toddler or baby is getting to a dangerous point, we may leave early, and the kids will fall asleep in the car on the way home.  Bringing pajamas to change them into before you leave also makes the transition to bed easier.

You learn to prepare the best that you can, then manage the crankiness when it appears.  In the end, it is worth the effort, because you and your children got a chance to build relationships and maybe even make some fun memories in the process.

What do you do when an event might interfere with your child's sleep time?

Note: This post is sponsored and brought to you by Tommy Nelson.  All opinions are my own.

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Lindsay Katherine said...

As a mom of a 10 month old, I really value these tips. I love the notion that it's okay to say no but not to use your baby or schedule as an excuse, because attending events or outings is fun and necessary!

Dana Brillante-Peller said...

I arm myself accordingly as you do - plenty of toys, snacks and other distractions. I can tell in their eyes when enough is enough and then I have to leave. If it is a special occasion, I hire a babysitter.

Lauren English said...

Oh man, I will have so much to learn about this when we have kiddos! I know our routines will be changed so much and I'm both excited and nervous for that change. I'll have to refer back to this down the road but I love your suggestion that it's all about balance and knowing your kid. So true!

Hannah M said...

I've gotten better about being more laid back about not getting nap time started at such and such time exactly or getting getting Emerson into bed right at a certain time each night. It's taken a while, and even then I know I could do a better job with being more easy going and not worrying about keeping to the schedule so tightly. Also, that book looks like it's the sweetest! i will be looking into it for sure :)

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