Written by Heather Malley and Susan North
Ideally, the purpose of a schedule is to create a daily flow that is working for everyone (a negotiation of needs). It’s about ensuring that logistics and individual responsibilities are being balanced with free time and family togetherness.
Rituals and routines can be centering for children and parents, providing a flow to the day that is calming and reassuring. This structure, without rigidity, is what we promote at preschool and what we feel could be helpful for you at home as well. But for many families, our take-away point will be more about easing up on the requirements and going with the flow more.
You don’t need to turn your home routine into a preschool right now.
First, take a breath and know that every families’ routine will vary, and yours may be more flexible and looser or more scheduled than others. Whatever your weekdays need to look like for your family is okay. Just through your interest in reading this, you are on your way to creating the schedule that fits your needs.
It’s important we give ourselves permission to relax and take the time to figure out what is going to work. For many, we aren’t allowing ourselves much of this processing time right now. We may all be in an emergency mindset, even though we do have the power to make some helpful changes in our daily lives through this challenging time.
Think about what’s working and what isn’t, and find time to process how that might look different. This may take a while and may be a process over the days or weeks. Processing this can be done by talking out loud to a friend who might listen, or it can be done by journaling, talking with your spouse, or just within your own thought process.
Self-care is key to maintaining a happy household during this time at home. Be sure to prioritize some daily ways in which you are filling your own personal cups and taking care of yourself. It can become easy to acquiesce to children's demands in times of stress, but a pattern of this can fuel a lack of self-care for ourselves as parents, which isn’t a good model for them. Our children need us to be regulated and capable for the long term.
As you adjust your routine, start with what feels good and see how things go. This may take some time. Some parents may find that other than meal times and bedtime routine, any other scheduling is just too much right now and going with what the children want to do is really the thing that feels most helpful.
Some Reasons for Structure Without Rigidity
Kids aren't clock-watchers. (Plus their internal clocks are constantly being messed with -- sun-time constantly changing, daylight saving time on/off, etc.) So, these routines don’t have to be timed like clockwork.
General schedules and repeated expectations can be helpful in terms of skirting bribes. Doing something fun "after you (perform a chore)" can become a routine. This is better than "you can do something fun if you take out the trash." This is useful for things like having a child feed a pet, for example. "When you were little, I nursed you before I had my breakfast because you were really hungry (imitate baby squalling; this always gets a laugh) and you needed me to feed you. You feed Sparky when you get up right before you come to breakfast, because Sparky can't get his own breakfast and you are like Sparky's mommy/daddy."
Schedules might help you as a parent figure out how to incorporate a variety of activities and are helpful because you can build in fun/not so fun, active/quiet, group/individual activity, so the day has some texture and shape. Think of a piece of music with dynamic changes - the architecture of the day is the same. But this isn’t a requirement or even a goal for many families, nor should it be. A schedule is meant to be helpful, if it isn’t helping then it’s not working.
Some tips moving forward:
- In support of schedules, what children notice much more is routines, sequences. Brush teeth, go to the toilet, three books, lights out. Some children will thrive more with less structure, and some will crave the order. The same is true for adults.
- Spend a little time each day (could be 10 minutes or more) when your child gets to lead the play and you follow along. This fills their connection cup and helps prevent emotional upsets.
- When you break with tradition/schedule, say so. That way you are honoring the routine. For some debate savy (i.e 4 year old) kids, they will say the next day "I didn't have to brush my teeth last night!" and you will say "Last night I reminded you that not brushing teeth was a very special circumstance but we'd be returning to our routine tonight."
- Repetition is always important for children to understand the basic structure and how things work at home.
- Another thing that can be routinely incorporated is giving kids responsibility. Yes, it will take them longer to make a salad, or help make a salad, but they will be so proud of doing real work for the family instead of just "make work." You can download all sorts of "busy making" projects but everyday stuff (like feeding pets, tearing up lettuce for a salad, setting the table, going around the house with a big bag and dumping all the small trash cans into it) actually contributes to family life, and they know this. And then afterwards, instead of saying "Yay," say "Wow, thanks so much, that was a big help!"
- Children helping to plan the daily flow could be a very helpful and empowering activity. It can help you see what is most important to your child as well as give them some real control over what these days look like. Some days may look much more relaxed than others (possibly the weekends). The degree to which your child dictates the schedule or activities will depend on your freedoms and needs. Many parents are juggling work from home in addition to a schedule for their children during the week and those situations may require more parent-led structure.
- It’s important to allow a good amount of outside time for both your child(ren) and youself. So shoot for at least an hour each day and if you can do 2, even better.
- It’s preferable and developmentally supportive that your children spend some time every day entertaining themselves. You have some responsibilities you will need to attend to and they will learn their role in helping the family by giving you that space. This is an important skill, deciding what they want to do that is accessible to them and keeps them entertaining themselves. Try to find ways to incorporate more and more of this non-media playtime into the schedule if you typically are entertaining them or using the TV as a babysitter. This may mean letting them be bored even though that can be uncomfortable for them and you. Empathy and compassion go a long way while still maintaining this expectation.
- Self-help skills can be supported by making safe snacks and water accessible for children to grab themselves. You can create a shelf or use their lunch boxes for this.
We know this is a lot to digest but we hope it is a helpful resource for you in your journey right now. As always, reach out if you want to connect personally.