Focus on Building Flexibility
Although a set schedule is a major comfort for your kid, you don't want to make him so dependent on predictability that he'll fall apart the minute something changes. Now is a perfect time to teach him to be adaptable, so he'll be more resilient when he's older. "Within the framework of your established routine, make small changes that will shake things up a little," suggests Dr. Axelrad. "Swap out the books at naptime, or eat a picnic lunch in the living room instead of at the kitchen table." By adding some variety to your everyday patterns, you'll teach your child that even though you're going to a new park for your playdate instead of the usual one, he's still going to get to meet up with the same buddies, play on the swings, and have a great time.
It's also wise to vary the adult who's running the show -- switch between Mom and Dad, or a relative or babysitter. "If it always has to be you putting your child down at bedtime, for instance, what's going to happen if you need to go out of town for a business trip?" notes Dr. Thomas. By having your husband handle things at bathtime or asking Grandma to take your son to story hour, you'll be letting him know he can count on other adults to meet his needs too.
After a shift in routine proves successful, be sure to recap the experience to help your kid remember. "To positively reinforce the behavior, talk about how well your child did at making the change," suggests Beth Ryan, a child-life specialist at Children's Memorial Hospital, in Chicago. "Say, 'We went to a park we've never visited before, and you had so much fun on the slides!' It's that positive reinforcement that encourages flexibility."