Life with kids is rarely predictable, but COVID-19 school closures, quarantines, and shifting work schedules have taken things to an extreme. 

Connecticut Children’s pediatric psychologist Lauren Ayr-Volta, PhD, has tips for creating consistency in all that chaos.

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Routines are always helpful for kids, and especially during COVID-19.

No matter how old your child or teen is, there’s a lot they don’t know and understand, and that can be stressful.

On the other hand, structure and consistency make kids feel safe. Even simple routines give your child something they can predict and control, which is a big comfort during the uncertainty of the pandemic.

Here are tips:

1. Start small.

You don’t need to structure your family’s entire day or come up with a minute-by-minute routine. Start by focusing on a small portion of your child’s day that can always looks the same. If you’re not sure where to start, try morning or bedtime.

2. Pick something you can control.

You can’t control if your child’s class will switch to distance learning tomorrow. But (as one example) your child can have the exact same morning and bedtime routines whether they’re attending school in person or remotely.

3. Add to existing routines.

For example,

  • Take the activities your child already does each morning – brush teeth, get dressed, eat breakfast – and simply settle on an order that your child will repeat every day. These little moments of predictability can help your child feel in control.
  • Pick an activity your family already enjoys together, like watching the latest episode of a TV show or shooting hoops in the driveway. Put it on the calendar at a regularly recurring day and time, so your child always knows when it will happen next.
  • Tack on a clean-up routine after family dinner, assigning specific tasks to each family member. In all the uncertainty of your child’s day, even just knowing that it’s their job to help with the dishes is a comfort.
  • Add one relaxation element to your child’s bedtime routine, like reading a book together or doing a calming exercise. No matter what happens in your child’s day, they know exactly how their bedtime will go.

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4. Involve your child.

On Friday, you might announce, “Our lives have been so crazy lately, our family is going to start a new morning routine on Monday.” Take the weekend to talk about how the routine will work, giving your child reasonable choices: “Do you want to brush your teeth or get dressed first?”

5. Create reminders.

Go with what’s natural for your family: a big whiteboard or printed calendar to hang on the wall, or for older kids, a shared online calendar or reminders app.

6. Build in positive reinforcement.

For younger kids, this might be something immediate like, “After you’ve gotten dressed and brushed your teeth, we’ll sit down and have your favorite breakfast.”

For older kids, it could be a reward to work toward. For example, if they successfully complete their homework routine at least four out of seven days, you’ll have a pizza party.

7. Be patient.

It takes time for a new routine to take hold. If your family struggles at first, reassure them that it’s a normal part of starting a new habit. Don’t feel discouraged when you miss a day, or even a few – just refocus on getting back to it tomorrow.