Updated: Apr 14, 2020
Yep, I hear you. You're stuck in the house with your kids, who are used to a routine.
But usually it's their teacher or their daycare workers who come up with the routine, and lead your kid through it all day long. And they are paid to do it.
You, on the other hand, are a parent who is NOT getting paid to be a parent (unfortunately). In fact, you are probably working from home in addition to homeschooling and keeping all the things running in your household.
The last thing I want to do is add another thing to your heaping plate of responsibilities. But here's what I know: A simple routine, when done in a playful way, will help your kids cope, which may just keep you from going insane.
Kids, especially young ones, are still trying to make sense of their world. Their little nervous systems are still pretty wobbly when it comes to self-regulation (read more about that here). Kids also have a very fluid sense of the passage of time. That's why your five year old thinks that 55 is the biggest age they can imagine and you have to tell your three year old that you are going on a trip in "three sleeps".
Having a routine in place helps kids cope in a number of ways:
Predictability is similar to turning on the lights in a dark room: it makes the unknown known. This helps reduce anxiety for kiddos, because they know what to expect. Having a significant change in schedule like we are all experiencing right now is hard for all of us, but it's especially difficult for small minds that just don't understand the "why" and "how long" questions.
Routine relieves anxiety in parents, also! Guess what? You're also anxious. I'm just guessing, of course. But it would be crazy if you weren't at least a little bit more anxious than usual. There is a lot on your shoulders right now, and when you're at the end of your rope, the routine is your guide.
Routine sets up consistent expectations for you and your child. You are working from home, trying to get your kids to do their school work, trying to keep the floors in your house visible, and also at the same time trying to keep everyone alive. Um, it's a LOT. Once there is a routine in place, both you and your child know which hours you need to be left alone, how much iPad time they get, what they have to do to earn privileges, and when you can spend some time together.
Ok, if you weren't convinced already, maybe you are now. But how do you actually make it happen. I know, this is the stuff you actually need. Here are some practical ideas:
Keep it simple. No need to have a minute-by-minute schedule. Seriously, this will only make your life worse. Suddenly you'll have a house full of lawyers telling you that it is 11:03 and you are late to take them on a walk even though you are caught on the tail end of a longer-than-expected conference call.
Make it visual. Draw it, use clip art, have your kid draw it! Put that thing up on the wall in the kitchen, in the hall, in the bathroom, in your work space, and anywhere else you might need to point to it.
Make it fun.Try out different ways to make the routine into a game. How about BINGO? Make a minimum number of key squares that your kids has to complete every day (get dressed, eat breakfast, go outside, do x amount schoolwork, do a small chore, eat lunch, etc.), and then add in extras for them to create BINGO, like extra chores, helping out a neighbour, writing a letter, etc.
Make the routine the bad guy. You know that love-hate relationship you have with screen time? The routine can help. Struggling to get your kid dressed? The routine says they have to. Especially for younger kids, this really works.
Brief and debrief at the beginning and end of day. Remind your kiddo in the morning of what day it is and point out the key parts of the routine and any changes that you will be making that day. In the evening, perhaps at supper or bedtime, review the day, talk about what went well, and discuss expectations for tomorrow.
Parents, you guys are super heroes. Make the routine your cape! Hang in there and as always, reach out for support whenever you need it.