Talking About: Schedules

4500 4500_ () 4500 4500 From the Inbox:

Maria wants to know about schedules with little ones. She has four boys under the age of five (hey! I remember those days), and she wrote to ask what kind of schedule I kept with my boys. Being the wise woman that she is, Maria has picked up on the fact that her boys do better on a schedule. I agree! If that is one thing I can tell you about boys, I have learned (the hard way) that the tighter the ship (within reason) the better the boys behavior.

Case in point: we recently went through some struggles with one of our boys and all roads pointed to a need for more structure in our schedule. We hunkered down and things are going so much better. So having a schedule (for some this will look much, much more intense than others!) really helps.

When my boys were all little (newborn, one year old, three and five), I kept a strict schedule but certainly nothing scheduled down to the minute. As you can imagine, we didn’t go too many places that didn’t allow flex. Library story hour with four boys five and under was not too appealing. I won’t lie, I didn’t love taking them to most parks. In that season, my idea of a good time was heading to the McDonald’s play place (outdoor preferred, far less germs, snob that I am). I’d hunker down with my extra large beverage and watch my boys run in a very, very confined location. During that season my best friends would invite me to the park and I would say “I’ll only go if you help chase my boys.” And they would, as best they could. If a park didn’t have a totally enclosed set-up, that park was out of the question for the Family Balducci.

Here’s the thing: it was the best of times and the worst of times. I remember feeling like so many of life’s activities were just out of the question for me. Our community has an annual All Saint’s Party. I feel like this (THIS!) year was maybe the first year I haven’t absolutely hated that party. Large open spaces and lots of people? HATE. Same with the annual Fourth of July party. I would be the mother whose children were dressed in matching neon green golf shirts. Everyone else sported red, white and blue so this helped me spot my four boys who were (as always) running in the exact opposite direction of where I stood, and all four in tangents pointing away from each other.

SO. What I’m saying is, the times they were a challenge.

Boys do need structure. What that looks like will vary from family to family. For me, it was enough to know we had breakfast, playtime, an outing, lunch, naps, playtime, dinner and EARLY bed. Bedtime could not be flex. That was my saving grace and I also learned early on that my boys needed to go to bed earlier than I would have thought. No later than seven. Even these days, Isabel goes to bed by 6:30 almost every night. And she’s coming up on three. (I am a firm believer in toddlers going to bed before the strike of that dreaded ‘second wave’ of energetic mania.) We kind of forgot this rule for a few years with Henry and were reminded in a most painful manner that children under the age of six shouldn’t be up past eight. Seriously.

Here’s my take-away thought on schedules and routine: it is there to serve the parent (primarily, but also the children) and NOT the other way around. Don’t make a schedule that’s timed hour-by-hour if that doesn’t fit your personality. The thought of having every day planned from dawn til dusk might totally stress you out. You might do better having a rough idea (a morning plan, an afternoon plan). Whatever helps you stay sane and happy! Seriously. But do keep in mind that children (especially boys? I can’t speak for girls too much just yet) do much better when they know what to expect and what is expected of them. This is true for toddlers and teens.

Thanks for asking, Maria — and keep up the great work! I hope this season is filled with peace and joy and lots of laughter and love. 4500″>



  1. Thank you for this! Especially the confined outdoor play area part. (You understand! I’ve never met someone who understands!) I have two very active toddler boys and dread taking them to the park. Or even into our yard, which is full of brick patios and terraces and sheer drops. I’m always feeling guilty because people tell me I should be taking them outside more. In theory I’m all for it, but in reality it means chasing and struggling and drama and stress. So we play inside and I have them run laps around the dining room table when they really need to release some energy. I am such a fun mom.

    • I understand, too! I have often said that I hate the park. It seems like it has such potential, but with four boys, one with autism, parks are difficult! Our oldest is now 7, and things have gotten easier as they can play better by themselves. In the winter, we run laps around the inner wall of our house, too. And sometimes turn on fun music and dance – the boys love to see Mom dancing silly, and it’s good exercise for everyone!

    • Cue the bad mom moment: we bought a Kinect (Xbox 360) for this very reason. I can’t let my child run around unless he’s fenced in. He just can’t handle it and it ends up stressing out both of us! Add to that, we live in South Dakota. Some days there’s just NO WAY we can go outside with so much snow and cold. It truly is my saving grace. I feel horrible that he’s getting so much screen time some days…but then again, he’s so active while doing it! (Added bonus, he’s started recognizing some of the words you use to navigate – so he is getting some benefits from it!)

  2. Your thoughts on sleep were helpful. My 3 year old is going through a delayed but raging case of terrible two’s. I’ve been suspecting that lack of sleep is making it worse. He’s in bed by 8 but now I’m thinking that’s not early enough. I”ll give an earlier bedtime a try. Thx!

  3. I can’t even imagine what time my son would have woken up in the morning if I had put him to bed at 6:30 pm when he was three years old (not to mention that he probably would not have napped, which was my sanity at the time). For years he went to bed at 8:30, woke up at 7, and took a good afternoon nap. Once he stopped napping, at 4.5, we had to move bedtime up to 7:30, which is a huge hassle. When we go to friend’s houses for dinner, or go to Mass for a Holy Day of obligation, it is impossible to get him to bed by 7:30 or 8. I miss the 8:30 bedtime and afternoon nap routine so much.

  4. Rachel, did you ever have ones that pop out of bed continually at 5 am. I have twin 2 1/2 year olds who go down around 7 to 7:30, but pop out of bed every morning starting as early as 4:30 til 6:30 which we deem an acceptable wake up time. We put them in separate rooms but even that isn’t helping. Suggestions? My first was a fabulous sleeper and I am at a loss

    • That’s why I never did an early bedtime with my son (until he stopped napping). I have too many friends who put their kids to bed at 7, and then the kids are ready to start the day at 5.

  5. Thank you for begin so honest and sharing your thoughts! Your insight is always enjoyed and appreciated. 🙂

  6. Thanks for this, Rachel. I am a couple months out from giving birth to my 4th, then I will also have 4 under 5 (girls though, not boys). I feel bad sometimes that we don’t do the library or the park very often, but you listed exactly the reasons why. It’s a good reminder that this is only a season, and someday we may be able to do more things out.

    Always great to be able to learn from your experience!!

  7. We aim to get our kids into bed by 7pm and when husband is gone I go for 6:30pm. Yes, the kids get up earlier, but that means I should get to bed earlier too. I find that if I get up before my children awake, the day goes a lot smoother. With early rising, that means “rest and read” is a must. Two hours of either taking a nap, looking at books, or listening to a cd (music, book on cd, etc.). This gives me time to wind down for an half hour…nurse a baby if I need to. Then get lunch dishes cleaned and start prepping for dinner.

    • I hear ya Megan! My day always goes so much better if I get up first and have some time to myself before diving into all my mothering duties. And, making myself go to bed earlier is key to being able to get up before everyone else the next morning.

  8. Thank you for this! We are having a terrible time with our 2.5 year old at night. The three month old sleeps better than him at night. We try to get him in bed at 8 but sometimes he isn’t asleep until 9. He will sleep for 5 hours but then is a jack in the box for the rest of the night. It’s hard to get the bedtime earlier because of our schedule but it’s worth a try. We are all sleep deprived and cranky and it’s a mess!!

  9. I would also add that it helped me to have a routine for meals and snacks, especially since I homeschool. The boys know that they have breakfast. They may have a snack around 10. Lunch is no earlier than 11:30 – noon. Mid afternoon snack no earlier than 2:30 and no later than 4:00. Dinner between 6:00 and 7:00, depending on sports schedules. This has relaxed somewhat as they have gotten older and need to eat at different times because of practice, etc. But it helped me keep them from constantly eating when they are at home, and also to get the routine going during the day.