This is traditionally the time of year when parents are saying, “I can’t wait for everyone to get back to school and into routine!” or “The kids really need some routine and structure, they’ve become unplayable!” That routine, of course, would come with returning to school but, with the government having pushed the back-to-school date out by a month due the second wave of COVID-19, parents now need an interim game plan for family sanity while they get back to work from home (WFH).
To regain some sense of control as well as to differentiate between weekends and weekdays, it’s time to implement some good, old-fashioned routine. Routine is the structure of the day, creating predictability which in turn promotes feelings of security. It’s time to put some basics in place as parents are back to work even though children are not at school.
A routine communicates:
- This is what we do
- This is when we do it
- This is how we do it
- These are your limits
- This is what is expected of you
- This is what is expected of me
A regular routine is also a form of discipline and a set of boundaries. It ‘holds us’ which is why we feel safer and more in control.
Children also need to see that it’s time for work. They need visual cues to help anchor that thought and manage their expectations of you now that they are not your sole focus 24/7.
YOUR GAME PLAN
- Tidy your house
- Demarcate the work and school spaces
- Dress for work – it’s a powerful visual cue for your children
- Pack lunchboxes for your children – it’s a boundary and a message
- Bring back a regular wake up and bed- time
- Create a new daily routine and discuss it with your family
- Pair up their screen time with your work time
- Go through all the toys and games in your house and divide them up into anytime toys and specific time toys
- Allocate family chores
- Eat, play and pray together
I unpack the game plan in more detail below.
Your Game Plan Unpacked
Step #1: Tidy your house
After relaxing boundaries and expectations over the festive holiday season, most homes need a good tidy up. Do this together as a family – it’s a summer spring clean.
- Put things back where they belong
- Chuck out things that have had their day, don’t fit or are past their sell-by date
- Create a pile of items to give away to those in need
Step #2: Revisit your virtual work and school spaces
These spaces also need a spring clean because clutter is dead energy.
- Rearrange the furniture if you have the luxury to do so
- Clear out all your drawers and only keep what is necessary to do work and school properly
- Start with a clear desktop
- Buy one new thing to bring your desk alive – maybe a new pot plant or pencil holder
Step #3: Dress for work
Although you may not need to do so because you are working virtually, this is a strong visual cue for your children that you are back in business and an energetic cue for you to get back into the zone. Have work clothes and weekend clothes, it will help you to punctuate your weekdays and weekends.
Step #4: Pack lunchboxes
Pack lunchboxes for your children that include enough food for two snack breaks like they would normally have at school. Benefits:
- It’s a multisensory visual cue that we are back-to- work and it is no longer school holiday time
- It acts as a boundary to keep them out of the pantry
- They can’t interrupt you to tell you they are hungry or thirsty because you have ticked that box
Step #5: Bring back a regular wake up and bedtime
Our body clock actually thrives on regularity and both parents and children need plenty of sleep to cope with a normal day let alone a COVID day that is filled with:
- Lack of certainty
- The back-to-school date has been shifted out
- There is every possibility it could be shifted out again at any time
- We are subject to lockdown restrictions
- It is definitely going to be a year of stop-starts like a road under repair
- Fear abounds
- More people are getting COVID-19 both old, young and inbetween, even healthy people
- More people are dying
- The news is full of negative statistics and news about hospitals being full
- We all know of people who have died or who have lost family members to the pandemic
- If we catch the disease, we have no idea how it will play out as there seem to be such a wide variety of symptoms, so it is difficult to plan for
Sleep resets your mind and your immune system. Give it a go and talk to your family about the importance of sleep.
Step #6: Create a routine
Create a new daily routine and discuss it with your family to get their buy-in. Every family’s routine is going to look slightly different depending on various factors such as:
- Work hours
- When you have to have meetings
- How many adults are in the house
- Who is working and who is available to mind the children
- How many children you have
- How old the children are (ie. How much supervision do they need?)
- Whether or not you have a helper in your home such as a domestic helper, an au-pair, a tutor or even a family member such as a parent or grandparent
Here is a basic outline for a daily routine:
- Wake up
- Shower and get dressed
- Eat breakfast
- Morning work session
- Parents need to work
- While they do so, children can do activities that are more learning-oriented such as educational games and toys, puzzles, reading, online educational games, construction toys, colouring in etc.
- You might want your children to use some screen time when you have to be on an uninterrupted call/in a meeting
- Younger children from babies to three-year-olds will need almost constant supervision if they are not sleeping
- From four to six years, they will be able to focus on something on their own for about 10 minutes
- Babies to six-year-olds generally need an adult around to intervene, support and encourage from time to time to keep them going
- From six to nine years, they will be able to concentrate for about 20 minutes
- Lunch time
- If you are at home, you need a break, and your kids need to see you
- Try and take a lunch break with them
- If possible, switch off your devices for the duration
- Children need to experience you being fully present, even if it is only for 15 or 20 minutes
- Afternoon work session
- Parents need to work
- Children can do more fun, play-based activities
- Arts and crafts
- Science experiments
- Visiting the park
- Limited screen time
- If there is any possibility of you being able to take part in something for a short while that would be fabulous. If not, try and do something with them at the end of the day or after supper. Even swimming, exercising or bathing together works like a treat.
- Chore time
- Feeding dogs
- Closing curtains
- Laying the table
- Washing up etc.
- Bath time for younger children
- This is a powerful multisensory signal that the day is coming to an end
- Supper time
- Switch off devices
- Be fully present with each other
- Have conversations
- Catch up on the day
- Family time
- Watch a series together or
- Play a game together
- Clean teeth
- Story time for younger children
Step #7: Pair up screen time with your work time
Where possible you might want to do this, particularly before school starts, while you are getting back into routine and need fewer interruptions. We know that children will sit still and not disturb you when they are in front of a screen so use it wisely to get yourself going for the day in this interim period before school starts.
If you want to help your children (between 4 and 12 years) to manage their screen time effectively, download this very effective family screen management strategy as my gift to you called The Money or the Box Game:
- A colourful sheet of Movie and Gaming tickets for you to print out and distribute to your children
- One page of background and instructions
- They get a limited number of tickets from you per week
- If they run out of tickets, there are no more, and they must go and create another kind of fun
- If they still have tickets left at the end of the week, they can trade them in for extra pocket money
Step #8: Do an audit of all your games and toys
It’s good to know what you have. You may be surprised to find things that have got lost in the cupboard and haven’t been seen for some time. Also remember that your children actually love playing with old games they haven’t seen for a while. They shift brain-body space all the time so when they revisit something, they may play with it completely differently.
Divide games and toys into:
- Anytime toys
- These are unbreakable and can be played with without adult supervision any time
- Special toys
- Those games and activities that will need some supervision or instruction, or because of small pieces or rules that need to be explained, etc.
- You may want to go as far as allocating certain items for certain days if you are a keen planner
Step #9: Allocate family chores
Doing chores are a contribution to being part of a family. I say they are the glue that keeps a family together because every family has chores. Children from three years of age through to teens should be participating in chores. I don’t believe in paying children for chores unless they are extra special like washing and vacuuming the car.
Chores are part of a family routine and provide brilliant learning opportunities for children to:
- Become competent
- Grow in confidence
- Learn life skills
- Become independent
- Take on responsibility
- Contribute to the family
- Be part of the family
Be invitational and teach kids to master the things they see you do every day. You will never regret it.
Step #10: Eat, play and pray together
Your child’s deepest desire is for a real and authentic relationship with you. As much as they like their screens they love you more. You are the leader of your family. You create the emotional temperature in your home. You create a sense of togetherness and belonging.
They say that families that eat/play/pray together stay together and there is much truth in this.
- Eat meals together as often as possible.
- Play games together – play is a bridge-builder; a different form of communication
- Pray together, even if it is just a simple act of lighting a candle at the dinner table to bring awareness to those who are less fortunate than you, or for someone who has passed away or is very ill at this time.
It’s a wrap. So, there you have it: a 10-point plan to get everyone back into the right frame of mind to kickstart the rollercoaster that will be 2021. Get ready for another year of ups and downs, stops and starts, it will be the order of the day. Prepare your mind and your family for it. Don’t promise them that we are going back to normal. Use the analogy of a rollercoaster with your children, they can understand that.