Routines versus flexibility

Holly posted, “From an early age we established a daily routine for our 22-month-old twins, and it has worked very well thus far. So well, in fact, that we can almost set a clock by them, and they become distressed if we deviate too far from the routine. We purposely chose routine over adaptability, but at some point they will need to learn a little flexibility. I am not considering a change in bedtimes or mealtimes, but was curious in your thoughts on the age at which an established routine relaxes and becomes less vital to children’s comfort needs.”

It would probably be best to let the kids take the lead on this one. As they get older, they’ll sleep less, and there will be more opportunities for unplanned outings and special events. Some kids—and adults—find routines appealing and reassuring. Other people find routines stifling. To some degree kids will take cues from parents, but like most issues of personality children will have a mind of their own.

In many ways, I’ll bet you’re already seeing more adaptability and less parental control. For instance, young babies get all or their nutrition from breast or bottle; but by 9 months or so most babies will want to feed themselves. By 12 months, many babies won’t let an adult feed them at all! Toddlers by nature want to master skills and do things on their own, which takes control out of the hands of the parents. That’s why toddlers love to say “Me do it!”

It would be a mistake to force children who thrive on routine or children who love spontaneity to adapt to a completely different style. Both kinds of children will end up meeting in the middle anyway. As years go by, social interactions and school demands become more complex, and all children have to learn to adapt. Let your children set the pace.

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