Babies learn by experiencing repetition. No matter what you do, if you do it regularly, your child will expect it as normal. Keep in mind that, from their perspective, it’s been done this way all their life. If, for example, you always make a cup of tea every morning when you first get up, your little one will expect that to happen. Or if you always play a CD of Brahms lullabies when you put your baby to bed, then they will come to associate hearing that music with going to bed and going to sleep.
The point is, you need to be consistent and persistent with whatever you do. Because littlies learn through repetition. Babies and toddlers can’t tell the time: they learn to predict their day through the regular circumstances that occur throughout their day, and they build a feeling of security based on this “knowledge of routine”. So if you check the mailbox at 10am every day with Mister Three, he’s going to expect it. If you read three stories to Miss Two before bed every night, she’s going to expect it. If you change Miss Seven Month’s nappy and play peek a boo in the middle of every feed, she’s going to expect it.
There are two types of consistency: consistency of routine, and in the case of older babies/toddlers and older children, consistency of boundaries.Consistency of routine provides security through the ability to predict events. Consistency in the setting of boundaries provides a framework for the ability to predict outcomes. Babies and children who have consistency (both of routine and of boundaries) are more secure and settled in their behaviour because they know what to expect (routine) and what is expected of them (boundaries).
Routine: If you are consistent in your habit of making a cup of tea every morning when you first get up, your child will expect that circumstance, and derive security from the familiarity of it.
Babies: One good example of setting a boundary for babies is an obvious physical boundary that keeps them from harm, such as stair gates.
Toddlers:You buy a new lounge suite, so you decide that you will have a family rule that there is to be no eating or drinking on the new lounge suite. If you are consistent in enforcing the rule, the child knows what is expected of him. He also knows that if he takes food to the couch, he will be told to go and sit at the table. Knowing that he may not sit on the couch with his Vegemite toast helps him understand what is expected of him. If he can do it sometimes and not others, he will not understand the difference, and certainly not understand why he is in trouble for doing something he did not get in trouble for yesterday. (This is an excellent example of a rule that must be enforced by all the adult-carers, and should apply to the whole family too!)