Keelee Rakowski has a schedule you could set your watch by. If it's 7 a.m., the 22-month-old is eating breakfast. Then she plays with her older brother, Aidan, until 8:45 and heads to the park with her mom. Snacktime comes at 10:30. The rest of the morning has its order too: playtime, followed by drawing, lunch, books, and naptime. "To me, not keeping her on a schedule would be like trying to run a business without a business plan," says Keelee's mom, Mary Jo, who lives in Denver.
The Rakowski's routine may be a bit rigid for most moms. Still, experts agree that 1-year-olds thrive on having structure to their day. Why? An awful lot is changing in your child's world. Her language, social, and motor skills are developing rapidly. And while these are all good things, this rapid-fire period of learning can easily overwhelm a toddler. "Your child needs some consistency to her day, a predictable sequence that lets her explore the world without worry," says Victoria Manion Fleming, PhD, a child and family therapist in Northbrook, Illinois.
Getting a toddler on a schedule isn't as challenging as you might think. In fact, your child can help dictate it. She probably gets tired or hungry or playful at a particular time each day. You simply need to read these cues and build rituals around them. "You should have a calming transition time for naps, a mealtime routine, and a regular time for play," says David Burnham, MD, a pediatrician and medical director of the HealthEast Maplewood Clinic, in St. Paul, Minnesota.