Back in the day when I was in college, I was in love with routines. Each time there was a big exam, I would head straight to the library, lay out all my pens and notepaper, do exactly three neck stretches, and set my coffee within arm’s reach but far enough to keep it from killing my textbook should a spill occur.
Because…yeah…laptops were all new age back then, and I was the proud owner of a ginormous desktop computer.
Then I became a mom.
And not much changed regarding my love for routines, rhythms and schedules. They gave me comfort and security when life felt very overwhelming and chaotic. If I’m being honest, keeping a good daily toddler schedule saved the sanity of both my husband and me through the 2-year-old not listening phase.
(Or as much is humanly possible while parenting young kids.)
But there were a few bumps in the routine road.
Enter the “dreaded” morning routine.
When my son was a toddler, he would wake up, eat breakfast, and watch a cartoon. The start of the routine always went fine. But when it came to getting dressed, brushing teeth, putting on shoes and leaving the house, he fell apart.
He could not bear the “horrific pain” of donning shoes. Most days they suddenly went missing (despite being right in front of him) and he would collapse into his chair sobbing.
Don’t even get me started on bedtime.
There are several ways to create a toddler schedule that will work for your child, but here’s the biggest secret that helped our son overcome his morning, bedtime and mealtime drama.
A set of printable routine cards.
I had these cards made, printed them onto cardstock, and put them in the order we wanted for our morning routine.
They’re are exactly what I needed—brightly-colored, fun and functional.
And since they are printable, I can re-print a new set each time these get a little beat up. I can also use the same printable pack to create a unique, separate routine for my daughter.
Getting started with printable routine cards.
You can mention using these cards in advance, but it’s not necessary or required. On the day you get started simply mention,
“You are going to learn how to get yourself ready in the morning!”
Or if there is another routine you are working on, exchange “in the morning” with “at dinner time” or “at playtime” or “at bedtime.”
Then focus on the routine for one to two weeks, allowing your child to gain more and more independence as you coach them through it. I found the most success coaching my oldest using a Language of Listening® approach.
Language of Listening® is a basic three-step coaching model, which always goes like this:
- SAY WHAT YOU SEE®. Describe exactly what you see without questions, judgement, fixing or teaching.
- If you see something you like, name a STRENGTH (something the child did well).
- If you see something you don’t like, name something the child CAN DO instead.
Putting it into practice.
When I first printed of the cards, my son was curious what I was doing, which was the perfect moment to explain to him that I was “creating something very special so he could get ready in the morning ALL by himself!”
I went into more detail saying, “These are the cards you will use to help you through your morning routine.”
We talked about what each card meant and where we would put them. Each time he seemed curious in the cards or interested in doing things “by himself,” I started with SAY WHAT YOU SEE®.
“You’re pretty excited about using these cards. You want to do more by yourself. I can tell you’re looking at the cards and probably thinking about how you are going to use them.”
No worries about being perfect here. If you get it wrong, your child will correct you.
When it came time to use the cards…
Here’s how it went.
Me: “Wow. All the routine cards are lined up here on the wall to help you! You can learn how to get ready all by yourself.”
Him: “Woo hoo!” (His enthusiasm surprised me! My guess is that spirited or strong willed kids may thrive using these routine cards because they offer the child a sense of control!).
Me: “The first step is to wake up and you already did that! The second card says to make your bed. Show me how to make your bed.”
And one-by-one, we went through each card on the routine until we were ready to leave the house. This was day one and there was a lot of coaching, but this was also 100 percent expected.
We kept going.
Each day we tried again and again, going through the routine. When he didn’t want to follow the cards, I named a CAN DO instead or offered some sort of choice that fit within my boundaries.
And every single time he completed one of the cards, I named his STRENGTH and said something like this,
“Wow, you did that all by yourself and you didn’t need any help. That shows you’re independent and you know how to figure things out!”
Over a period of several weeks, he became more independent and followed the printable routine cards. Of course, he’s learning and growing, so he continues to need some coaching and guidance each morning.
He does so much more on his own than he used to and to me that makes the world of difference. When the mornings are notoriously rushed and I am trying to get my daughter ready for the day, it is so helpful to have my preschooler do several steps without me needing to offer instructions.
The printable routine cards are an amazing tool that any parent can use. Now if I could get him to SEE the shoes right in front of his eyes, we’d be GOLDEN.
You can see the 40+ different printable routine cards included in the printable pack here.
There’s a set for mealtime, chores, bedtime, morning time and play time all in one pack!