Toddlers thrive when their life is mostly predictable and stable. Having a routine of daily activities helps toddlers to feel safe and secure. This is a necessity for toddlers as they need to have a sense of security in order to grow and develop.With that being said, it is still okay to change things up from time to time. Toddlers also need to learn to be able to handle surprises and be flexible with change.
One of the basic needs of humans is having safety and security. This is true for all ages of people. Without routine, toddlers do not experience a sense of safety and security. With consistency and routine, toddlers have the security they need in order for their bodies and minds to make more developmental gains rather than being focused on obtaining security.
Routines also help to teach toddlers learn boundaries, expectations, and to manage their emotions and behaviors. For instance, if a bedtime routine includes two bedtime stories and this is consistently provided, the toddler learns the expectation and also learns to remain calm during bedtime (as long as other factors are put in place appropriately as well). When there is not enough routine, toddlers are likely to become fussier and more easily irritated. In the bedtime example, they may cry for longer periods of time and try to stay awake longer than the child who has had a consistent bedtime routine.
According to an article in Parents Magazine, “”The repetitiveness of the experiences [in routines] helps lay down critical pathways in the brain,” explains Dr. Thomas. “When you repeat things over and over, you make those connections much stronger over time.” The more robust those mental links become, the more confident and calm your little one will be, knowing that he can predict the next activity in his day. That means he’ll be less anxious overall — and less prone to throwing temper tantrums.” (Reilly)
The quote stated above is referring to the benefits of routine and structure for toddlers. In the toddler years, brain development is so complex. Toddler brain development and behavior development is very impressionable. The more often a certain neural connection in the brain gets repeated, the more stable that connection gets which results in that skill, behavior, or emotional regulation getting established more securely.
An example of establishing neural connections related to a bedtime routine includes having a consistent set of activities that your toddler experiences with healthy attachment and connection with a caregiver resulting in a calm and compliant manner around bedtime. The toddler also feels a sense of security and predictability resulting in being able to fall asleep with little anxiety or restlessness. The toddler learns to rely on the security of the routine which impacts his or her ability to manage his own emotions and behavior around bedtime.
Reference: Reilly, K.M. Routines Matter: 4 Ways to Set a Smart Toddler Schedule. Parents Magazine.