Monday, September 7, 2009

Repetition in Baby's Daily Life: The Power of Routines

As human beings, we rely on our daily biological rhythms to know when to wake, to work, to eat, and to sleep. These rhythms are controlled by internal things (like hormones) and external things (like light/dark cycles and alarm clocks). Babies are born with somewhat "flexible" rhythms that are influenced by the environment as they grow and develop. This flexibility allows babies to adapt to their parents' world. Most parents don't believe it, but they have enormous influence over their babies' daily rhythms. Routines are an important tool to help parents and babies get in synch.

Right away, I need to clarify that routines are not the same thing as "schedules" that might be forced on babies. Routines refer to patterns of actions, doing the same thing in the same order (as in dance or gymnastic routines). Schedules usually refer to actions that are dictated by the clock rather than the baby's needs.

Predictable daily routines help babies develop rhythms that are just like mom and dad's. As a side effect, they also help babies build trust, social skills, and self-control. Most parents instinctively settle into routines at bedtime, bathtime, and when feeding their babies. Because babies love repetition (see our last post), routines can help babies feel calm and secure. For example, let's pretend that your 3-month-old shows signs of being drowsy. You might take the following steps to lead the baby gently to sleep.

1) Hold the baby close and start using the same words over and over to tell the baby that it's time for nap.

2) Change the baby's diaper and clothes, close to the place where she takes her nap, maybe while singing a special nap time song.

3) Put her down on her back to sleep and gently rub her tummy while still singing or saying the same words over and over.

4) As the repetition lulls her into feeling more and more sleepy, you can step away and let her fall asleep on her own.

To reinforce a routine, you need to repeat these steps before every nap. Routines can be used for most of baby's daily activities. Once babies are older than 2 1/2 to 3 months, they start to develop their own rhythms and even settle into their own loose schedules, sleeping and eating at similar times each day.

I'll be honest, routines won't always make your baby sleepy or happy. But if you keep using them with your baby, your routines eventually will become familiar "dances" and you'll both know all the steps. Routines can be especially helpful for busy toddlers, but that's another post...

Next time: We'll share some fun ways to communicate with older babies.

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