Keeping Calm in the Midst of Chaos: The Importance of a Routine

Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, typical routines and familiar schedules have been altered, and many people are wondering how to establish sense of normalcy. You may be having difficulty creating a new routine, and that is perfectly okay. What is important is that your family is safe and well. Children and adults alike are experiencing feelings of anxiety, stress and uncertainty; these feelings are natural.

If, by chance, you are experiencing extreme sadness, worry or panic, please seek support. Let your doctor know how you are feeling. Additional information on coping and stress as well as a helpline can be found here.

Benefits of a Daily Routine

Children often find comfort and security within their daily routines. Routines allow children to predict what happens within their day, so they do not have to worry about the unknown. Predictability reduces feelings of stress and anxiety and promotes emotional stability. A routine is particularly important for children who do not functional well without structure.

When experiencing a major life stressor, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, routines and schedules can become inconsistent or non-existent. Children will need time to rest and time to process and accept the changes that they are experiencing. Yet, with time, children will once again begin to crave structure and routine. Without a routine, you may notice an increase in undesired behaviors and meltdowns.

One of the best ways to create structure and routine is by making a schedule.

First, let’s discuss what a schedule should not be:

  1. A schedule should not be ridged
  2. A schedule should not make you feel overwhelmed
  3. A schedule should not be overly booked
  4. A schedule should not be generic

Now, let’s talk about what a schedule should be:

  1. A schedule should be flexible and should help guide your day
  2. A schedule should promote feelings of control and productivity
  3. A schedule should be realistic and tailored around current circumstances
  4. A schedule should be personalized to meet the needs of you and your family

How to Create a Schedule

The first step in creating a schedule is to determine what tasks are mandatory and how much time will be needed to accomplish these tasks. Get the whole family involved and try to consider the entire family’s needs. If needed, create multiple schedules that meet the needs of each family member.

After you determine your mandatory tasks, the next step is to develop a timeline for your other daily tasks/activities. Use consistent routines, such as nighttime routines, morning routines and mealtimes, as a foundation for your timeline. Maintaining a consistent morning and nighttime routine will keep circadian rhythms (one’s internal clock) on track, which supports healthy eating habits, rest and wellness.

Once times for meals and morning/nighttime routines are established, you can determine times for your mandatory tasks and other activities. Consider filling up the remainder of your schedule with general categories that include specific activities for each category. Younger children need a more structured schedule with less choices, while older children and adolescents will benefit from the autonomy of selecting their own activities.

Tip: Making a visual schedule can be a great activity to encourage social skills, creativity, cognitive skills, visual-motor skills and fine motor skills.

Click on the image below for a free, printable schedule.

Free Visual Schedule

General Categories and Activity Examples:

Educational Time

(Academic assignments, reading, learning through play, learning a life skill) This website offers many educational worksheets and activities for children of various ages. It is important for children to engage in educational activities during the summer months to avoid academic regression.

Creative Time

(Scrapbooking, painting, making a homemade card, experimenting with a recipe, playing an instrument, sensory play, building with blocks/Legos, play-doh art, making a fort, any type of imagination/pretend play games)

Movement Time

(Riding bikes, playing sports, washing the car, running, jumping rope, swimming, playing water games, walking your pets) Get outside, if possible. Fresh air and sunshine are great for mental wellness. If you have to be indoors, try at-home exercise/movement programs, animal-walk races for kids (pretend to be a bear, frog, or worm), or build an obstacle course.

Down Time

(Taking a nap, reading, walking, journaling, coloring, listening to music) Mindfulness activities can help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Five different mindfulness activities are listed here.

Social Time

(Playing family games- puzzles/card games/charades, cooking together, having dinner with family, sharing feelings, calling relatives and friends, socialize with friends through video chat mediums)

Remember, this is a unique and unprecedented time. Following a schedule may not make life feel completely normal, but hopefully it will provide your family with a sense of structure and predictability. Wishing you wellness and happiness during this time.

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