The Importance of Routine in Times of Uncertainty

Over the weekend, many states began to implement “shelter-in-place” orders in an effort to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus. While some families were already “social distancing” and staying home, we are now, officially, all in this together… but apart.

We don’t know how long this disruption of normal life will last, but estimates seem to be getting longer and longer. Initially, the recommendation was two-weeks of social distancing, but as time has gone on, things have changed. Chicago Public Schools, for example, will not reconvene until April 21.

Needless to say, things are uncertain and weird, and the end, if it is in sight at all, is at least one month away.

Therefore, I cannot overstate the importance of developing a routine in your home.

Why is a routine so important?

Routines help to minimize stress and anxiety.

There is a lot of crazy stuff going on out there right now. You know it, and your kids know it too. For this reason, creating a safe and predictable environment for your children right now is imperative for their mental health.  Knowing the next right action will help to eliminate aimlessness and unnecessary decision making during this time.

If your children are acting out or demonstrating unusual behaviors, it is even more important that you implement structure so that they can find and adapt to a new normal.   

How, exactly, you do this will depend on your children’s ages.

Younger kids will respond well to you taking charge of the situation and flexing that parent muscle. It reassures them that they are safe in your care.

Older kids may appreciate being part of the conversation about what the routine will look like, and their inclusion in this process will certainly help when it comes to enforcing it.

Routines help to keep you and your family happy and healthy.

Considering we don’t know how long these safety measures will be in place, let’s look at this time as a marathon, not a sprint.

By creating a schedule or routine, you ensure that you are finding a balance amidst all the moving parts.  

A schedule can also help you and your family to maintain a sense of purpose and focus during this trying time.

What should our “shelter-in-place” routine look like?

While there is no wrong way to make a schedule, there are a few things that I would suggest to maximize the efficacy of the routine:

1. Consistent sleep and wake times

Good sleep is crucial in maintaining a steady mood and a positive outlook.  With a good night’s sleep, everything can be kept in its proper perspective, so make sure you are doing your best to stabilize your circadian rhythms.

2. Exercise

We all know that exercise is good for us, but it is particularly necessary in times of stress and anxiety. Exercise can help to reduce the body’s stress chemicals, cortisol and adrenaline. It also helps to get endorphins going to improve your mood.

You probably have noticed that your kids have a lot of energy, so a great way to spend some time together is to go out for a walk or a jog together. The fresh air will do you all good!

3. Work and Remote Learning Times

In the past week, you may have started working from home AND homeschooling, so it is only understandable that you are feeling a little overwhelmed. There will, undoubtedly, be a period of adjustment. However, the sooner you establish boundaries and get in the swing of things, the better you will feel.

Establish times when you can work without being interrupted by your kids. Perhaps they are working on school stuff during this time. If so, make sure that they know how to email their teachers with questions. Also, consider exploring online resources with them at a convenient time so that they can fend for themselves when you are unavailable.

If it is too hard for you to work while your kids are doing their school work, plan accordingly. Maybe you work during the day, and you all do school work together in the evening.

Do what works best for you.

4. Screen Time

Let’s face it- kids are going to be on their screens more during this time. I get it, and I have no judgment.  However, you’re not doing yourself any favors if the screen time ultimately makes your life harder in the long run. Studies have shown that extensive screen time can make kids anxious and irritable. Therefore, screen time can turn into a “borrowing from Peter to pay Paul” sort of situation.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends less than 2 hours of screen time for kids 3-18 and no screen time for kids under 2. Those are strict guidelines and you may veer from them, but please try to remember that the recommendations are there for a reason, and more than likely, YOU will pay the price.

Which brings me to another point that I think is really important and one that drives a lot of screen time… you totally do not have to keep your child entertained. They can and should be bored. Often.

Let them be bored, and let them find solutions for their own boredom. There are books to read, arts to be made, board games and basements full of toys to be played with, musical instruments to be practiced, and chores to be done. There is no reason that they should stay bored for too long, and there is no reason that you should have to keep them entertained endlessly.

Creativity is born out of boredom.  Let them do the work.

5. Chores

Helping around the house is another way to keep your kids busy while giving them a sense of purpose and lightening your load during this time.

Younger kids may not prove to be that helpful when it comes to getting things done, but they love to help, so get them started while they are still enthusiastic and willing. A small child can certainly help to fold or put away laundry and put their own dishes in the dishwasher. They can also help to collect and take out trash, among other things.

Older kids also enjoy being useful, so let them know that you need them during this time, and work together to figure out appropriate jobs that will help alleviate your burden.

By calling on your kids for help, you will feel less overwhelmed, and you will be able to be more available, calm, cool, and collected for them.

This brings me to my final suggestion:

6. Quality Time Together

Yeah, things are crazy. You’re all feeling a little uprooted, a little isolated, a little lonely. Things are scary and weird right now, so make sure you’re spending quality time with your kids to connect, to reassure them, and to have fun. Try doing something new and different together.

Bake, take a long car ride, go on a bike ride, do a puzzle, watch a movie that you’ve wanted to watch, read a book that you’ve wanted to read. The possibilities of what you can do with all of this newfound time are endless.

Someday, you may look back on these days as some of the best that you ever spent together.

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