Human beings are creatures of habit; we live better and happier lives when we know what to expect. For children and teens, routines help them feel safe.
“The current coronavirus outbreak is causing major disruptions in peoples’ lives,” said Dr. Sharon Rink, a Pediatrician with ThedaCare Physicians-Darboy. “Schools are closed, parents are working from home or, perhaps, working extra hours away from home. Everyone’s lifestyle is upended, which causes stress. Establishing new routines is a great way to reduce that stress and help everyone feel safer. I can only imagine the stress of being expected to work from home full time while taking care of children at home full time, we want families to know they are doing a great job.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Healthy Children website (www.healthychildren.org) notes that children do best when routines are regular, predictable, and consistent. During the current coronavirus situation, it recommends that parents/caregivers talk with their kids about why they are staying home and what their daily structure will be during this time.
“Let them help create a daily schedule that can hang on the refrigerator or somewhere they can see it each day,” suggested Dr. Rink. “Be sure to include breaks from work and schoolwork to relax and connect with each other.”
Here are some suggestions for parents to help families create a daily schedule during this abnormal time:
- Wake up, get dressed and have breakfast at the normal time.
- Decide where everyone can do their work most effectively and without distractions.
- List the times for learning, exercise and breaks. Your child’s school may have sent out a schedule for your reference.
- For younger children, 20 minutes of class assignments followed by 10 minutes of physical activity might work well.
- Older children and teens may be able to focus on assignments for longer stretches, taking breaks between subjects.
- Include your hours as well, so your children know when your workday is done.
- Make sure the whole family gets about 30 minutes of physical activity — moving daily
- Schedule time for nutritious lunches and snacks, making sure the snacks are fruits and vegetables.
- Don’t forget to take afternoon breaks.
- Incorporate chores/family responsibilities.
- Have dinner together as a family and discuss the day.
- Enjoy more family time in the evenings, playing, reading, watching a movie or exercising together.
- Stick with normal bedtime routines as much as possible to make sure everyone gets enough sleep.
- If video games, texting or other social screen activities are not allowed at school, they should not be allowed during “school time” while at home.
- Set a timer so everyone knows when it’s time to change activities.
“Children react, in part, to what they see from the adults around them,” said Dr. Rink. “When parents and caregivers deal with the coronavirus outbreak calmly and confidently, it offers good support for their children. Parents can be more reassuring to children if they are better prepared.”
Here is some advice for how parents can support children:
- Take time to talk with your child or teen about the coronavirus outbreak. Answer questions and share facts about COVID-19 in a way that your child or teen can understand.
- Reassure your child or teen that they are safe. Let them know it is okay if they feel upset. Share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you.
- Limit your family’s exposure to news coverage of the event, including social media. Children may misinterpret what they hear and can be frightened about something they do not understand.
- Keep up with regular routines. With schools closed, create a schedule for learning activities and relaxing or fun activities.
- Be a role model. Take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise, and eat well. Connect with your friends and family members.
“Young children have no concept of time, they don’t understand hours and minutes, but they understand a routine or an order of events,” explained Dr. Rink. “That helps them know what to expect next. Otherwise, life feels pretty chaotic and they don’t feel safe.”
Right now, Dr. Rink wants families to support one another.
“This is a challenging time for children and teens,” she said. “They’re isolated from their friends, frustrated about being cooped up and having nowhere to go, perhaps they’re confused about how to handle their schoolwork and on top of all that they’re not sure when this is all going to end. Parents share similar frustrations. Establishing new routines will help to reduce the stress associated with those frustrations and create a reassuring environment for everyone in the family.”