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Routine: The Secret to Overcoming the Mental Health Toil of Covid-19


You think of the next two weeks and you can picture a laptop perched in front of you while you try to motivate yourself to work. One of your children is pulling your ear while the other two are practicing their rugby tackles downstairs. You hear a thud. Another thing broken and then you get the dreaded ‘I’m bored’. You ask yourself how are you going to do this for two weeks?! But the problem here isn’t that your children are evil devils out to ruin you (even though they probably are). It’s because they have no routine! With no consistency, their minds are constantly asking what are we going to do now. Here’s an example of their day: 10:00: Wake up

10:30: Get out of bed

10:40: Breakfast alone (too much coco pops)

11:30: Make a mess after breakfast and then watch television

12:00: “I’m bored”

12:30: Annoy siblings

13:00: Lunch

13:30: Throw tantrum in refusal to do work

14:00: Sits down and doodles

14:30: “I’m bored”

14:45: “I’m hungry”

15:00: Gives up on work and watches television

16:00: “I’m bored”

16:30: Annoys parents working hard

17:00: Forced to watch television

19:00: Dinner

19:30: Watch television

21:00 “I’m not tired!”

21:10 Throws tantrum

22:00 Finally goes to bed

Repeat

School is so much more than learning and academics. In school, children negotiate who they spend their time with, they share their toys, and they problem solve when they fall and hurt their knee but there’s only ten minutes of lunch left. But most importantly, they follow routine. A review by Spagnola and Fiese (2007) found that routine or lack of routine differentiated levels of socioemotional, language, academic and social skill development. It is not the lack of academic learning or the corona virus panic that is likely to lead to mental health issues among children. It’s the lack of stability that both they and their parents will experience for the next four weeks. In fact, one study by Zajicek-Farber and colleagues in 2012 found that reducing parental stress and lack of routine highly impacted child development. So what is absolutely essential in the next few weeks is routine.

Why is routine beneficial?

Routine allows the opportunity for emotional bonds to be developed. According to Kubicek (2002), the emotional investment that children experience through routine starts by making them aware that the home is a setting for learning as well as building relationships. For example, when a child eats dinner with their family, they are asked questions and they feel listened to. This is essential for emotional development and as they listen to others, they become more attuned to their own emotions and empathy skills. The simplicity of a child explaining how their day went goes a long way in articulating their thoughts into language, learning how to take turns at speaking and understanding how to read cues, which further develops their language. This means that their day must involve some degree of independence from parents, despite being in the same household.

What does routine involve?

Of course, it is essential that children continue to maintain their academic development, which does not always need to involve new material. Times tables, reading comprehensions and art projects can keep them busy and engaged. Reading is essential and if you are not aware, Twinkl are offering free resources for parents for a month. The relationship between routine and academics also works the other way around. A longitudinal study demonstrated that when children aged 4 had a routine for five years, they performed better academically. And let’s be honest. When you tell your child that they are expected to do some work for three or four hours a day, there will be bickering. But with this comes development of their social skills. This helps build negotiation skills, trust and independence. If they are continuously putting up a fight against the work, push them to try something new as this is a great form of learning, whether it be cooking or knitting.

Don’t get me wrong. It is difficult to achieve this routine. After all, children think they’re on holidays! But we don’t want to fall into the cycle of “I’m bored” to a response of “well maybe you should do some schoolwork”. This is reactive and non-effective so we want it implemented before the “I’m bored”. Your patience will be pushed, but being aware of this combined with routine in the household makes it easier to deal with.

And start using it your benefit as well. Get your children setting the table, cleaning up after themselves etc. For your children, don’t be controlling but do monitor what they're doing. That’s a good balance between guidance and giving them independence. Create a points system where they get points for goals achieved and if they meet a certain amount of points, they get ice cream after dinner. If you are still working and not at home, no harm in asking for photographic evidence! It makes the day more exciting for them and easier fo you. Of course, every child will differ on what works for them but the general consensus is completing the disliked work in the morning and moving towards activities that the children find enjoyable in the afternoon, which might be sport, art, music or reading. Also note that television doesn’t have to be immediately negative. Netflix has great documentaries such as Planet Earth and more child like educational shows. What is also essential is routine in sleep and diet. As mentioned in an earlier post, the best measure of sleep quality is going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning. Routine. For diet, the Mediterranean diet has been found to strengthen the immune system, which fights against diseases. Make meal time family time and get them helping with the cooking. Again, routine. Following the Five Ways to Well Being, we should get exercise, something to learn, a moment of gratitude, the ability to slow down and take notice, and connection with someone on a daily basis. It’s particularly testing to be grateful in times like this but if you’re feeling cabin fever, just remember that not everyone has the freedom to stay at home. Stress will weaken your immune system and lead to deficiencies but routine is a weapon you have against this. It takes five minutes the night before so plan it out with your children and it will save you time.

Here’s an example: 8:30: Wake up time

8:35 Gratitude counter/journal (WOW challenge)

8:40: Breakfast with family

9:00: Brush teeth and get dressed

9:10: Meditation using Calm or Headspace (WOW challenge)

9:15: Times tables and an English comprehension

10:30: Break, call/skype Grandparents, talk to family (WOW challenge)

11:00: Irish teaching resources and any homework given

13:00: Lunch

14:00: Indoor workout or go play sports outside/create a short movie/ read if done early (WOW challenge)

15:00: Art project/History or nature documentary

17:00: Learn a musical instrument/chess/draw/ lego/read (WOW challenge)

19:00: Watch television or play board games with family

21:00 Bed time

In conclusion, the self-isolation periods we face are likely to take a damaging effect on our mental health but structure is what keeps order in a child’s life and your life. It doesn’t involve will power. Only organisation. We don’t know how long we will have to isolate but we do know what is essential while we are self-isolating. Stick to routine. If you want help with it, follow our social media and take a look at the WOW challenge. Don’t go back to work exhausted from your time off. Redefine your schedule, reevaluate your lifestyle, and reduce your stress. Routine, routine, routine. Yours Sincerely, The Motus Movement.

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