Structure your day

Structuring your day is one of the most effective yet simple techniques you can use to prevent behavior problems in your child.

“Young children not only need, but they also crave supervision, direction, and encouragement. Random acts of parenting aren’t good enough to get through the day with one’s sanity intact,” (On Becoming Preschoolwise, p. 85).

Here are some signs that you might need more structure in your day:

  • Your child whines and complains constantly and you’re never quite sure if it’s because he’s hungry, tired or bored.
  • Your child wanders aimlessly throughout the house.
  • Your child plays with anything and everything in the house.
  • Your child has very little attention span, flitting from one toy to the next.
  • You feel like all you do is chase your child around the house.
  • Your child hasn’t learned how to entertain himself. You are his personal entertainer.
  • You’re never quite sure when you will fit in a shower or do the dishes.
  • Your toddler hangs on your legs when you’re trying to cook dinner or do laundry.
  • Exercise? What’s that?
  • You feel guilty about the amount of TV your child watches. But how else are you going to get anything done?
  • You feel like you never get anything accomplished even though you’re home all day.
  • You never have enough time for yourself or your spouse.

Reduced opportunities for misbehavior
Something as simple as adding more structure to your day can resolve these issues. Huge, isn’t it? Many people (myself included) don’t like to live by a schedule. But when you realize the peace it will bring to your home, you will be motivated to stick with it.

“To have routine, order, and structure is to think ahead and plan. Structuring your preschooler’s day will eliminate a big chunk of stress on Mom because it reduces random opportunities for misbehavior. With thoughtful planning, Mom is proactive instead of reactive, meaning she can plan the day rather than react to each situation as it arises,” (On Becoming Preschoolwise, p. 86).

When your child is scheduled to spend 30 minutes in his room every day for roomtime, that’s 30 minutes that he won’t be getting himself into trouble. When you eat meals at the same time every day, you’ll ward off meltdowns due to low blood sugar levels. And when you schedule time every night for couch time, your child will take comfort in the security of your marriage. All of this leads to fewer behavior problems and a reduced need for discipline. That alone is reason enough to add more structure to your day. But there’s more…

Respect for authority
When you decide how your child will fill his day, an important attitude shift takes place. Your child will respect your authority. He will be less likely to develop a “wise in his own eyes” attitude where he has too many freedoms and too much control.

Focus and concentration
With structured play, your child will develop better focus and concentration skills. Whether he is asked to sit and read books for 30 minutes a day or simply stay in his room and play with a toy chosen for him, he will learn self-control. He will also learn that sometimes he must do something he doesn’t want to do, a skill that will serve him well in school.

Quality time for your child
You likely spend plenty of time with your child, but how much of that is good quality time? If you followed Babywise with your infant, you established a routine because it allowed him to get good quality sleep. You could have let him sleep anywhere any time, but you would have ended up with a demanding, sleep-deprived baby. The quality of a baby’s sleep is important. The same is true with the time we spend with our kids. Quality time should be your goal. Even if your new routine has you spending less time with your child overall, making sure it is good quality time is what’s important.

Quality time for yourself
By structuring your day, you’ll be able to set aside some quiet time for yourself. Not only will you get to shower every day (what a concept!), but you will have a chance to exercise, read a book for pleasure, cook dinner at a leisurely pace, or whatever else satisfies your personal desires. Realize that your child will be happier and better adjusted if he sees that mom devotes time to herself every day, even if it’s at his own expense.

Managing multiple children
Some parents shudder at the thought of having more than one or two kids because they can’t imagine how they would juggle the needs of every child. When your day is structured, welcoming a baby to the family can be as simple as shifting your daily routine around to make room for everyone.

Proactive parenting
Think of all the time you waste chasing after your child or watching him wander throughout the house aimlessly. Realize that by having more structure in your day, you can accomplish a lot more with your time.

“Managing your preschooler’s day enhances good organization, time-management skills, and provides an orderly environment for your children to optimize their learning experiences. It also helps Mom achieve personal and parenting goals while reducing the need for corrective discipline,” (On Becoming Preschoolwise, p. 86).

When you structure your day, you do more than just make it through the day. You schedule learning time for your preschooler. You schedule time to read books to your toddler. You schedule time for the gym. And you can do it all stress-free with minimal behavior problems.

Start thinking through how these ideas can affect your family. In my next post I’ll walk you through the steps of creating a schedule that will allow you to create a peaceful, structured environment in your home.


  1. Leigh Anne says:

    Thanks so much for this post. Since the birth of my second son 1 month ago, I seem to have fallen into many of the points you listed with my oldest, who just turned 2. I want the situation to change, but wasn’t sure how to go about it. I’m really looking forward to your next post about making it happen. Thanks for your words of wisdom!

  2. I will be checking back for your next post. This is very timely for me and my 2 kids. (2.5 yrs & 7 month old) Thanks for all your insight!

  3. I look forward to reading your next post. I am now learning how much my two year old needs some structure, and it would be good for my 8 month old to start. I have all of your books, but I probably need to re-read them. Thanks for all of your advise.

  4. Glad the blog is helpful. And just to clarify, they are not my books. I wish! I’m just a mom who loves all the ideas and wants to share all that I have learned. Definitely get your baby on a routine. Go back to Babywise for that. And the Babywise message board on BabyCenter is so helpful to many moms of babies. You might want to check it out.

  5. Amanda says:

    Great post! This was exactly my problem with Tobias (10 months) about 2 weeks ago. He whined and fussed all day for no apparent reason and I could hardly get anything done. I finally realized that I had structured our meals and naps but never his waketime activities. At 10 months old, he needed more structure as his waketime reached 2.5-3 hours finally. Now I schedule activities in 30 minutes increments for at-home things, 1 hour increments for out-of-the-home things like errands or walks to the park. It’s done wonders for his attitude! He’s back to being my happy baby and just in time because he just started crawling last week! Luckily we have few discipline issues because of the routine, he is rarely unsupervised or crawling around bored and looking for things to discover. Still happens, but far less than with some other babies.

  6. My boy is 9 months. He is GREAT at playpen time and we are working on blanket time. He will stay on the blanket when I’m playing or sitting there with him. He doesn’t get made when I put him back on the blanket.

    At what age does room time kick in?

  7. I would keep at it with playpen time and blanket time. That’s great he’s doing so well. I asked my contact mom the same question, because my other Babywise mom friend started roomtime at a very young age. If you think you can put him in his room and walk away while he stays there, then great. The idea is you don’t want to have to put up a gate or close the door. You want him to stay there because he is obeying you. I just started roomtime with Lucas last week and he will be 22 months tomorrow. He isn’t crazy about the idea, but he will stay in his room. I don’t use a gate, but I have put blue painter’s tape across the threshold to his room, one strip at his chest level and another at his knee level. The first day, he crawled under it. But I just reinforced the idea that he had to stay and he did. I came to get him (after a shower, so I was nowhere in sight) and he was sitting in the doorway. The tape was down but the important part was he stayed in his room. So keep up with playpen time and blanket time and perhaps wait a few months before starting roomtime.

  8. Thanks Maureen!

  9. Lorri Randle says:

    New to your site but it seems you have a great handle on the EZZO policies.
    I’m finding a little trouble this time of the year. I have a boy who will be 2 the 1st of May. Last year structure didn’t change too much because he still was taking two naps and not too mobile.
    Now he is only taking 1 nap, abt 1-3:30 or 4pm. I found that during the winter we had Independent playtime, and then learning time then reading time, lunch etc.
    Now with the nice weather he really really just wants to go outside all day for as long as he can.
    We still do Independent Playtime, but after that he is at the front door asking and asking to go outside and having a little ‘mini-fit’ if I tell him no.
    And to be honest, I have felt cooped up and feel the same as he does.
    How can I keep structure and learning and now implement outside time. The past few days we’ve gone to the park right next to our house with swings and a little playground. Or we walk/run around the neighborhood. I spend sometime with him playing chase or tickle or whatever and then some time I sit on the park bench and let him do some alone time exploring.
    I do feel that these past few days have included less ‘educational’ learning than days of the past stuck inside. We are now outside from 10am to 11:30am when we come in for lunch. Then from 4pm till 5:30pm when we come in for dinner, and then back outside with dad for a little before 8pm bedtime.
    Any suggestions-either keep him inside for a little longer after IP and cut that time down?

  10. Hi Lorri,

    I wouldn’t worry about it. Remember that your schedule needs to serve you and your child, not the other way around. Don’t become a slave to your schedule. Revise it to include this outside time! I imagine that once the “newness” of the nice weather wears off, you won’t spend quite as much time outside. I’m not one to focus on educational time for my kiddos (there’s a reason that real school doesn’t start until age 5), but if you are concerned about it, there’s a lot to learn outside. You can make little games too. Find a picture on the Internet of a pine cone, print it out and see how many pine cones he can find that “match” the picture. Bring a basket that he can collect them in. We have done little scavenger hunts which my 5yo son loves. I just made a list of various things he could find outside: 5 leaves, 3 rocks, 10 twigs, etc. There’s the element of counting involved and checking them off his list as we go along. You could also make a craft. Bring a spray bottle with water and food coloring and have him spray the rocks a color and have him tell you what color it is. Or collect some rocks, leaves, etc. and bring them inside to paint. I’m sure you can find many more ideas for learning activities outside if you look for them. Here’s one blog to get you started: They aren’t necessarily outdoor activities, but you might find some or maybe modify them. Have fun!


  11. I’m having all these issues with my 7 year old son.. He s been behavior problem since he started school all of the above unfocused, not retaining information he has learned , cannot complete assignments without constant redirection and attention by me or his teachers.. I’m glad I read this because I haven’t structured his day properly .. I realize he can do the work .. When he gets home from school he is very tired and cannot complete his homework so I let him take a nap for 1 or 2 hours at the most and then continue. I want the best for my boy .. I have to break him out this and structure his properly.. Any added advice is helpful?

  12. Hi John. That’s great that you’re inspired to structure his day. This is exactly where I recommend people start when they’re dealing with behavior problems. But I wonder if you might rethink the nap. A 7-year-old taking a nap at 3pm or later raises a bit of a red flag to me. It makes me think that perhaps he’s not getting enough sleep at night. I wonder if you might cut out the nap and get him in bed by 8pm. Your exact bedtime will depend on what time he has to get up in the morning, but he should ideally be getting 10-12 hours of sleep every night. For example, my 8-year-old has a 9pm “lights out” time, and he usually gets up between 7:30 and 8am. If he gets the sleep he needs at night, he’ll be better equipped to get through the school day.

    A couple other ideas to improve school behavior: 1) reduce his sugar intake, 2) reduce his food dye intake, 3) reduce his freedoms at home, 4) make sure he gets plenty of outdoor play time. The first two on this list had a HUGE effect on my son’s school behaviors. Good luck and let me know if you have any other questions!


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