As I am writing this post, more and more businesses and governments are shutting down; families are staying home or only venturing out on urgent errands, and nursing homes are in lock-down modes due to the spread of Coronavirus. Many parents are struggling to balance the needs of their young children with the demands of their careers, and teachers and school districts are reinventing education to work from home. FaceBook is buzzing with advice, some of it actually helpful, on how to keep kids educated, entertained and alive. I borrowed an image below from one of the helpful sites to show you what a typical daily schedule might look like for families who are stuck at home. Instead of adding to the growing body of social media on Coronavirus, I would like to share with you some thoughts I have about the need for schedules and routines, not only during the times of crisis, but on a daily basis. As a family therapist, I talk about issues of “structure”, “routine”, “schedules”, and “rhythms” often. It is surprising to me how often I get blank looks from both parents and children when I ask them: “What is your bedtime?”, “What chores are you responsible for?”, “What is your dinner time routine?” and others in the same spirit. So, why is it that I find schedules and routines crucial for success for families, especially with young or special needs children? As a family therapist, I talk about issues of “structure”, “routine”, “schedules”, and “rhythms” often. It is surprising to me how often I get blank looks from both parents and children when I ask them: “What is your bedtime?”, “What chores are you responsible for?”, “What is your dinner time routine?” and others in the same spirit. So, why is it that I find schedules and routines crucial for success for families, especially with young or special needs children?
Here is a short list of my reasons:
- Schedules and routines create predictability, a crucial element for children who are learning and exploring their environment. We ask babies, toddlers and kids of all ages to comply with our demands literally all day long – sleep here, eat this, wear that, be quiet, listen to this adult, perform on that test. Imagine how anxiety-provoking it would be if nothing in your environment was the same from day to day! I would probably lose my mind before noon on any given day if my toothbrush wondered off, if my coffee tasted differently or if instead of attending a regularly scheduled event, someone messed my routine. And yet, we do this to kids all the time! Creating predictable bedtime, mealtime, and play time helps kiddos of all ages to expect something to happen, and therefore makes it easier to adjust when it does happen. In addition to psychological adaptation, our bodies will also get used to routines, and pretty soon our tummies will rumble close to lunch time, and our eyes will get tired close to bedtime.
- Second reason I am a big fan of routines is the idea of control. It is well known that toddlers are masters of strongly held weird beliefs – foods cannot touch each other on their plates, socks are evil, and their favorite loveys are their entire world. These beliefs are the kids’ attempt to exercise control in a world where very little control rests with them. When we provide loving parameters, kids begin to believe that they can control and order their universe, and this creates a sense of calm and cooperation that is music to the ears of any parent.
- Another reason why I encourage families to set up and maintain routines is that during those routine times, family time is guaranteed. If your child knows for a fact that dinner time/family book time/family walk are coming, they will feel more prepared to contain their stress and unhappiness until they see a familiar face. We cannot be, nor should we be, within an arm’s reach 24/7, but when kids know when they will have our undivided attention, their anxiety decreases dramatically.
Do I have you convinced to try implementing some routines and schedules at your house? Great, let’s look at what makes a routine a routine.
- A routine is something that is predictable with respect to time and place; for example, “we brush our teeth every morning right after breakfast”.
- A routine can be replicated; for example, “we always set the dinner table in a certain way”;
- A routine is known to all family members, and they can verbalize is to others; for example, “we always make our beds before leaving for school”;
- A routine is something that does not need to be explained, justified or bargained; for example, in my house, we always light Shabbat candles and say our prayers before we pass out the yummy challah (even the family dog learned to be patient).
What routines have you implemented in your house and what are still posing a problem? Please reach out with a comment or a question. Our office is open and operational during this COVID-19 outbreak, and teletherapy is always an option for those who are not able to leave their homes.