How can I help my children cope with COVID-19?

Routines for Children during the COVID19 Era
How many of you are feeling that your children are having a hard time coping with all of this time inside your home? Are you struggling trying to find time for home-schooling, work, cooking, cleaning, having fun, and resting? Are your children acting up more than usual?

If you answered yes to some of these questions, starting a ROUTINE might be your next step. Children need a routine to get the sense of stability that can be missing during this COVID19 era of uncertainty. Routines give them a sense of control in their life, they need to know what comes next and what will be happening that day. Parents also benefit from routines to be calmer and control the stress in the household. Stress and anxiety can get worse when a routine is lost; it is important to find a new routine to get back on track.

Obviously, every family is different and has children of different ages and personalities, so expectations have to be according to their age.

I would suggest following routines from Monday through Friday and let the weekend be more relaxed. This can be a helpful example of a weekday routine:

  1. Wake up every morning around the same time. No need for it to be too early, but sleeping in daily does not help getting things done or resting at the end of the day. Note on teenagers: Teenagers can start a little later because they might go to sleep later, but do not let them sleep in past 10 am, because they also need to get their work done. This can decrease their anxiety and depression, and help them organize themselves. Teenagers are one of the family members who will benefit most from routines.
  2. Have a healthy breakfast.
  3. Cleaning up. Children should help based on their age, for example getting breakfast cleaned up, fixing their room, brushing their teeth, and changing clothes every morning. NO PJs all day!
  4. School work. If they are in school it is important for them to start their school activities early, ideally by 9am. If you work from home, try to get them started before you start with your work. This will vary a lot according to who is at home and how they can help.  Taking breaks from work or home chores to help them can make it less frustrating for them, BUT with some independence (age appropriate).
  5. Breaks. Take breaks where they can play but try to avoid screen time during breaks. Physically active play can help them be more focused after their break. Set a time for the end of each break, maybe 20 minutes.
  6. Lunch. Try to have healthy food as much as possible. Divide chores, let them help do dishes, laundry, clean their room, etc. These can even be written in a calendar on the fridge such as who does what on what days. Take a longer break after lunch.
  7. Finish school early. Go back to school activities and work after lunch. Try to set a time in which all school work should be completed, for example 4-5pm. They need to look forward to a time of the day in which work ends and they are “free”.
  8. Social time. Many kids do feel the need to see their friends and enjoy talking to them. Try to arrange for calls or games through media after school so they can feel connected to them. If they are done with their homework, let them spend more time than usual with their friends.
  9. Play. Spend time playing with your kids or let them play at what they like best. Sometimes they just need 10 minutes of a card game or board game with you and then they feel better. If videogames or screen time are allowed, let them play, but limit their time. Maximum 2 hours a day.
  10. Family dinner. Try to have at least one meal a day together. During dinner, ask them about their feelings. Give them a place to express their current feelings, without judgement. It might be a nice time to give them positive feedback on what they are doing well. Sometimes we spend too much time telling them what they do wrong, or saying “No”. This can be a good time to reflect on the positive things they are doing.
  11. Bedtime routine. They should keep their bedtime routine to help them sleep better, so daily baths, brushing their teeth, and a book in bed can always help them go to sleep better. Avoid screen time 2 hours before bedtime to get a good night sleep!

Teenagers: try to keep them off their phone/tablets before bedtime.

This is just a weekly routine example, but it can help you make your own routine at home. Children and teenagers do best when routines are CONSISTENT and regular. Try to stick to them from Monday through Friday and let the weekend be more relaxed. You can always have a special treat or surprise that might make them feel extra happy in these days.

 If you have any more questions just Ask Hanna, our health advisors are here to help.

Dr. Valerie Hines, MD FAAP
Image: ©Shutterstock / Sergiu Birca

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