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Published on April 02, 2020

parenting and routines with children

Routines make your parent job easier...and more fun

Parenting through the COVID-19 pandemic

Routines make your parent job easier…and more fun. They're also good for children.

By Jeff Reiland, MS, child and family therapist, Gundersen Health System

We keep hearing about how children need routines. Why are routines so important? In this time of increased stress, it is important for children to have something they can count on. Many established routines have clearly been altered during the COVID-19 pandemic. This creates fertile ground for anxiety.

Predictability is one of the best ways to help reduce anxiety for children. Giving them some control of what happens each day can also reduce anxiety.

Young children can't keep time. They learn this concept in second grade. But they can look forward to the patterns in routines.

Step 1. Identify the routines you already have and build on these.

Morning routines, mealtime routines and bedtime routines are commonly established in many families. Ask yourself: What do I do, and what do I need my kids to do during this routine to make this experience go smoothly? Break it down to specific tasks. The younger the child, the more concrete the steps will need to be.

Step 2. Identify the spaces in between these already established routines.

Determine how much time you have between current routines and add new routines. Some ideas are listed below. These new routines can last anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour, depending on your children's needs and abilities. Let's borrow ideas long used by preschool and school-age teachers. Use your imagination and get your children involved in creating space in each day, like the following:

  • Reading time – What children's books are on hand?
  • Art and craft time – Inventory your supplies.
  • Explore time – Create an adventure in your home or back yard.
  • Story time – Many children love being read to.
  • Science time – Children love to learn how stuff works. Ideas can be found online.
  • Family game time – Make a list of all your family games.
  • Cooking time – What can you and your children make to eat?
  • Outside play time – Make a list of what is possible outside.
  • Music or dance party time – Who has the best moves in the family?
  • Field trip – Bring math and science to your world on a simple walk in your neighborhood.

Step 3. Implement these new routines with enthusiasm.

Be enthusiastic! Children will be more likely to be excited about something new if parents are excited also. Create a build-up of anticipation by having surprises as part of the routine.

Make a list of daily routines. Get your children involved in planning and preparing. Have them help to create a daily list or outline. Together, you can draw pictures of the routine, look for pictures in magazines or print ideas that you find online. The more involved your children are in planning, the more likely they will enjoy the experience.

Be flexible. Be prepared to adjust or modify the routine. It is okay to shift an outdoor activity to later in the day or to another day because it is cold or raining.

Use screen time when you really need it. Limit using television or any screen for recreational purposes for when you absolutely need it. Use screens when you need to handle a work-related problem, are on a phone conference call or need to get dinner started.

When kids are saturated with screen time, they very often behave more poorly. Make recreational screen time—often a child's favorite activity—something that they earn for later in the day by doing the important work first: chores, schoolwork, helping others and being kind to siblings.

Creating new routines will make your parenting experience more enjoyable. Once everyone gets into the routine, you have less to think about. Your kids have less to be anxious about. When you are tired or overwhelmed, just look at the schedule and follow it. Your kids will thank you.

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