There's no doubt that routines impose some order on the chaos of babyhood. It turns out that they also serve to enhance your child's development. "They're a necessary part of socialization," says Larry Shapiro, PhD, author of The Secret Language of Children: How to Understand What Your Kids Are Really Saying (Sourcebooks, 2003). "When a child learns that it's time to go to bed, not play, she's beginning to understand that she has to follow rules."
Patterns and rituals play their subtlest and perhaps most important role when your child becomes more curious and mobile. At around the seventh- or eighth-month mark, he starts to understand the concept of object permanence, which means he realizes that people and objects exist even if he can't see them. If a child recognizes that he lives in a safe, predictable world that he can always return to, say experts, new challenges and experiences aren't so scary.
Soon after, routines help your child comprehend the concept of sequencing. By the one-year mark, your little one will begin to understand that bath time comes after dinner, shoes go on after socks. Knowing what happens next builds toddlers' confidence levels. "It's like being in on the joke," says Dr. Karp.
New, Independent Routines
When your child reaches preschool age, her routines will become more of a set schedule, says Kavo. At the same time, she'll want more of a say. Letting her add her own details to an established routine -- choosing what pajamas she'll wear to bed, for instance -- accommodates her growing independence while maintaining structure.
As your child grows, new elements will be added to your daily schedule while others will drop away. To help make the adjustment, add new routines gradually and keep things as consistent as possible. For example, when you're introducing solid food, doing it at the same time each day while baby sits in the same high chair can help ease the switch from bottle or breast to cereal and applesauce.
Daycare or preschool jitters can also be tamed with a calming ritual. When my daughter started school at age 3, we came up with our own special goodbye kiss -- a raspberry on her cheek that made her laugh. (Her classmates got a kick out of it, too!)