Q: I am in desperate need of getting my two little boys on daily schedules but have no idea where to start. What is crucial to do with a 3 1/2 year old and a 21 month old?
A: When it comes to schedules the best place to begin is with sleep. Implementing a sleep schedule for nap time and bed time will set the stage for you to implement various other aspects of a structured day for your boys. For example, if you decide that 8pm is "lights out" for them, you can develop a bedtime routine backwards from there. Ten to twenty minutes for quiet reading, preceded by tooth brushing and bath/shower time gets you back to about 7pm. This allows you to have a routine dinner time that precedes bedtime (approximately another hour or so for dinner prep, feeding, clean up and some play time afterward). If you use this strategy for nap time, you can also work backwards from it to make sure you are fitting in daily activities, meals and snacks as part of your routine leading up to naps. Once you have a routine set, do your best to stick to it very closely for the first two weeks. It may take them some time to adjust and you may run into some resistance at first, but they will adjust, and when they do, you'll be glad you exerted the effort. An excellent tool for helping you develop an effective schedule (and for coping with resistance) is to use a structured and consistent system for rewards and consequences (yes, they're old enough!). I highly recommend the book 1, 2, 3 Magic, by Thomas Phelan, for a no-nonsense, straightforward and easy-to-implement parenting strategy.