Though some babies quickly develop predictable feeding and sleeping patterns, most newborns simply react to the jumble of sensations they are presented with. Changing states, like moving from being alert to drifting off to sleep, can be difficult for your baby, and she needs your help to manage the events and emotions that she experiences throughout each day. Creating a regular routine is the first step, and it's one that will also help lay the foundation for her understanding of time.
For the first 6 months, you're helping your child make order out of chaos. Consistent, responsive interactions, such as being fed when hungry and soothed when upset, help him organize himself. A multitude of nurturing moments help develop his natural body rhythms, and a schedule will soon take shape. Loving relationships are formed, and life becomes a more predictable pattern of people, things, and events.
Babies live in the immediacy of their experiences while adapting to predictable or scheduled experiences. Living a predictable schedule is the foundation for understanding time and the consistencies of day-to-day events such as night following day. Each family has its own way of using time. A baby adapts and internalizes his family's style, but will also eventually add another voice to what will happen and when.
Now and Then
Six-month-old Lucas watches closely as his mother covers her face with a blanket. His face lights up with glee as she pulls it off with a high-pitched "Peekaboo! I see you!" The universal delight that comes in one of your baby's first games also introduces the concept of "now" and "then." Right "now" mommy's face is gone, but "then" it comes back. The game reinforces short-term memory, which is just starting to develop. Peekaboo helps babies develop a basic understanding of time, which is always changing, and compare it to the more permanent quality of people and things.
Of course toddlers can't tell time. They have a limited amount of "storage space" for long-term memory because the area of their brains where the comprehension of time develops fills in later. Yet, it's quite remarkable how children do develop a sense of order through repeated routines. That's why toddlers are such creatures of habit and are keenly aware of the typical order of their day.
You can remain flexible while respecting your toddler's need for routines. Don't let daily schedules be a rigid time clock! Meet the evolving needs of growing toddlers, but keep the sequence the same. For example, 15-month-old Sammy is moving to one long nap instead of two. Lunch should be moved up so he can be sure to eat before he gets too sleepy. The events of the morning remain in the same sequence of play, snack, outdoor play and lunch, but each is slightly shortened. Toddlers aren't confused by the change because their routine remains the same. Also, young Sammy isn't pushed beyond his limit to fit the schedule.
Toddlers and twos have all the time in the world! Adults never have enough. Respect your toddler's position even though it's "unrealistic." Think of your toddler as an inspired artist on the verge of a brilliant creation, or a scientist making a discovery that will change the world! Young children's drive to learn is strong and urgent. When you must interrupt your child's activities, give him time to adjust to the idea. Does a gentle "In a little while we will need to put things away" ensure cooperation from your budding Picasso or Marco Polo? Of course not, but it helps. Adults try to keep toddlers "on time" - which is a mission impossible. Going with your child's timeless pulse of activity makes life more enjoyable for everyone. Here are ways to help your young one become more aware of time:
- Be sure to talk about specific sequences of events: "Mommy will come back after naptime."
- Review the morning's activities during lunch: "We played inside, then we went outside."
- Notice and acknowledge when your child seems to be thinking about events from the past: "I see you looking for the dolly you played with yesterday."
- Give toddlers plenty of time to move from one activity to another. This lowers their natural need to resist direction during this "I do it" stage.
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