Putting Toddlers on a Schedule: Can it Work?

Jan 15, 2013

The holidays are over, kids are back in school, and for most families, it's time to get back to the usual routine. There's only one problem, my family doesn't have a routine.

When your two-year-old's needs are different from the average toddler's, it's hard to keep your child on a schedule. For example, we never know how many times Stephanie will wake up during the night to eat (since she was born, it's been roughly three to five times every night). As the person who gets up with her every 90 minutes, I've come to realize that severe sleep deprivation can wreck havoc on any plans. It's amazing we can look this happy with so little sleep. 

But it's a new year! It's the perfect time to make a resolution, to begin anew. Right? So here it is: I'd like to start using a schedule to simplify our lives.

I've consulted with parents who feel very strongly about the merits of using a schedule, as well as those who see the shortcomings. Some have successfully used one since their child was born, and still follow it years later. Others say that parents who put a child on a schedule are fooling themselves into a false sense of control. One of Stephanie's occupational therapists says it best, "Nobody tells a baby when to sleep, eat or poop. They do it when they want, as often as they want, and for as long as they want."

But I really want to try a schedule.
I have many factors to consider. Stephanie's special needs must take priority. She burns twice as many calories as a normal toddler, so our first priority must be eating, then physical therapy, then having fun as a family. We need to make time for reading, listening to music, cuddling, playing and watching her favourite shows. Sounds pretty simple so far.

But ah ha! The main factor to consider is Stephanie's sleep patterns. As I mentioned, she wakes three to five times every night for food. When she wakes more than three times, our energy is low, and the day seems endless. I can't imagine following a schedule when this happens, but then again I've never tried. But that's what this new year's all about! Making our lives simpler and happier. I think Stephanie's up for it.

Perhaps this resolution is more of a dream than a reality right now. While our daily life isn't perfect, it makes us happy, and it works (most of the time), so who am I to mess with that?

I'd love to hear how other parents feel about putting a toddler on a schedule. If you have any tips or advice that have worked for your family, please let me know! 


Beverley MacNeill lives in Oakville, Ontario, with her husband, daughter and two cats. Bev is a stay-at-home who relies heavily on humour to survive the challenges of raising a baby with special needs. Prior to motherhood, Bev worked as a technical writer in the financial services industry, and is a trained chef.

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