Routine and structure are a part of our daily life. For children and teenagers, having a predictable daily routine helps not only with organization but also with emotional regulation and behavioral control. Prior to the pandemic, we all had well-established routines in our daily lives. With the restrictions related to COVID-19, marked changes to these routines have occurred, and the familiar structure of school and work have shifted or disappeared.
It can feel challenging to know where to start or how to establish a structure or routine. Whether you have chosen one or not, by now, you have probably fallen into somewhat of a routine. Now that we are in the winter season, it is a good opportunity to evaluate if that routine is effective and how you can enhance this routine to better serve your family’s needs.
When considering how to approach developing or enhancing your daily routine, first be realistic in your expectations. This is an extremely stressful and challenging time. There is a sense that it should be a time to be highly productive and get to all those put-off tasks and projects. Still, such a mindset undermines the very real emotional burden we are all carrying. Be patient with yourself, your children, your family, and set realistic expectations for your daily schedule. Less is indeed more.
Most school-aged children are on either a hybrid or fully remote school schedule, which includes both time and task-based scheduling. For children learning at home, consider how much of their time needs to be structured or organized to better suit their learning while affording you time to focus on your work. It is also important to consider how you want your weekends to feel. There is no need to be over-scheduled, especially in a pandemic! However, having routines and transitioning between the business of school and the laxness of a weekend can be challenging for some children. You know your family best and know how much leeway you have in developing structure and rest days.
When considering how to fill your rest days, be sure to include a mix of cognitive, physical, and enjoyment activities. Having a mix of activities will prevent the rapid onset of boredom, is intrinsically regulating for children of all ages, allows opportunities for parents to have space to complete their duties, offers stress relief for everyone, and builds in time for intentional family connection.
Cognitive activities include anything that involves brain work. Some examples include puzzles, reading, making up stories, baking, reorganizing your closet, or even figuring out a new system for finally cleaning your room.
Physical activities include anything that involves your body, such as running, jumping, sledding, skating, going for walks, making obstacle courses with household items (and then working together to clean up!), and building couch forts. Physical activity is play!
Enjoyment activities include anything that brings you and your family joy. These often include both the brain and the body, but the primary focus is on the joy, excitement, and connection these activities foster, such as watching movies as a family, living room campouts, reading holiday-themed books – truly anything!
Without the structure of school and work, it is easy to slide on our sleep habits. Having consistent sleep and wake times is incredibly helpful for emotional regulation and behavioral control, as well as focus, concentration, and mental organization. These sleep and wake times do NOT need to be the same as they are during your typical school and work schedules; however, the closer you keep to that schedule, the easier it is to transition between the two (something called social jet lag)…so plan accordingly. If you can anchor your wake times with consistent mealtimes, you can secure circadian rhythms and enhance your body’s natural routine.
Even with the demands of distance learning and working from home, there is a lot more free time in people’s daily life given that most extracurricular activities have been suspended. This extra time offers an opportunity for families to find new ways of connecting. One way of using this time and building connection is to develop a Passion Project. A Passion Project is an extended activity on a topic of your choosing that allows for exploration and learning. It can be on anything that sparks joy for your family! Learn how to bake bread, grow herbs from seeds, learn a new language like ASL, teach yourselves how to play guitar, write a family musical…whatever makes your family happy. If you choose to pursue a Passion Project (or two or three), consider carving time out every day to work on it as a family. It may take up to 2 weeks to complete the Passion Project but could take longer depending on the level of complexity. Be creative and challenge yourselves!
Passion Projects take time. Allow your family to have dedicated space to connect over a shared interest, offer a sense of purpose, and provide an opportunity for families to learn together. In a time of significant loss, Passion Projects offer an opportunity for creation.
With all the focus on structure and routine, it is easy to lose sight of the very real emotional work that most kids and adults are doing in their daily lives right now. Developing grit (or resilience) is an integral part of any daily routine. There are simple ways to build resiliency in kids, most of which are built into the steps above.
As mentioned above, diaphragmatic breathing helps with self-regulation and resiliency building. Below is a quick introduction to diaphragmatic breathing.
Guided Belly Breathing: