Rhythm and Routine for Babies: The Importance of Finding Your Family’s Groove
Before becoming parents you might have regarded routine as the opposite of joyful spontaneity, but once children enter our lives it transforms into something almost sacred. For adults, routine provides peace of mind, but for developing babies and children it is absolutely essential to healthy development.
Perhaps a more enticing and accurate term for “routine” though, is “rhythm”. Rhythm refers to fluid movement and progression, peaceful synchronization, that (with practice) becomes almost effortless, and that’s exactly what routine does for our children and us when we make it part of our lives.
What Do Rhythm and Routine Accomplish?
When a baby is first born he mixes up his nights and days, there is little rhythm, daily life is unpredictable, and though joyous, can be exhausting. Soon, though, a baby will begin to sleep, wake and get hungry at more regular intervals, craving predictability and expressing joy when she gets it. Though an infant will reveal her desire and need for structure, it is up to us to actually create and enforce it. Doing so reduces stress because our little ones will know what to expect and what is expected of them in return.
As adults, we understand the mental energy required of us when a “wrench” is thrown into our daily plans. Imagine how exhausting it would be for a child, still new to the world and full of wonder, to constantly contemplate what comes next and what response will be required.
A study conducted by Dr. Jodi Mindell and her colleagues at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia found that babies who had a sleep routine fell asleep faster and had fewer night-waking episodes, while their mothers experienced improvements in mood. Not surprisingly, other studies in pediatric journals point to fewer tantrums when parents establish routines for their young children.
“Little children like nothing better than fixed habits,” says Michaela Glöcker, in her book, A Guide to Child Health. “Experiencing a regular routine gives your child a feeling of security and trust that is reflected in his sense of self, and is the best possible foundation for developing his will.”
Child pediatrician Benjamin Spock (1903 – 1998) taught that predictability leaves room for children to live in the moment, experience joy and be creative. Habits make tasks easy and effortless. Expectations guide us all emotionally, and it is when children’s expectations are not met that temper tantrums ensue. When a child expects that he will have to clean up his room after each playtime, he does so in an automatic fashion. If he is only periodically told to do so, there will usually be resistance, if not an all out battle.
When a child has always cleaned up after herself, and has never known any other possibility, she will grow into adulthood with the gift of self-discipline and responsibility, instead of struggling to remember chores and keep ahead of them. In his book, The Road Less Traveled, psychologist M. Scott Peck (1936 – 2005) reminds us that discipline is the single greatest gift we will ever give our children, and that starts with basic regularity, simple, daily expectations.
For babies and children, those expectations revolve around meal times, naps and bedtime, along with the preparations surrounding them. According to retired Waldorf kindergarten teacher Margret Meyerkort, “If children have regular external rhythms, and then internal rhythms being to develop for them as well.” If dinner is at a regular time each day, the child’s digestive juices will begin to flow as dinnertime approaches. If bedtime is regular, then children begin to feel drowsy as you are getting them ready for sleep.”
In Beyond the Rainbow Bridge, a book based on a Waldorf/Steiner school parent-enrichment class, the authors tell us that “We all know that bodily rhythm is an indicator of health or illness. A doctor checks the patient’s internal rhythms of heart, blood pressure and pulse during an examination. When the patient has irregularities in these rhythms, these may indicate illness.” The same principle applies to rhythm in our daily lives.
Emotionally, rituals such as a morning or evening verse, singing a song, telling a story, taking a bath, getting into pajamas and brushing teeth can reinforce routines and help children ease through transitions. Keeping the order of these rituals the same retains predictability and limits room for argument.
Of course, every family needs to be realistic about what their personal needs are and what is possible. Starting with just a few fundamentals and then tailoring and adding from there offers the greatest chance of success with the least frustration. Goals need to involve baby steps in order to be achievable.
Creating a family routine can be daunting at first, and there will always be days when alterations are unavoidable, but finding daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal rhythms, and sticking with them, will pay off ten fold. Parents who have achieved this balance report that the initial stress of establishing a family rhythm and sticking to it, will always pale in comparison to the long-term stress of never having one at all.
Editorial provided by, Jennifer Leavitt-Wipf a freelance journalist and the mother of two grade students at Housatonic Valley Waldorf School in Newtown, CT. (PD1211)