Returning to routine again

Well done, you have successfully managed to survive emergency education part 2. Survival is good enough. Are they safe and loved? Are they fed and warm? If yes then you have done enough.

It looks increasingly likely that most young children will be back in the classroom before Easter 2021 and all young people will be back in school after Easter. Children and their parents need time to prepare for the inevitable return to routine. Routine is always important but even more so in times of high stress. Over Christmas, the short days, (that felt so very long), the holidays, the exhaustion, the general feeling “shur look we will be back to normal soon” combined to make most homes a bit unscheduled. However, the days of regular routine will return, and should return. Structure and routine help make the world more predictable and more secure. This reduces stress and anxiety. Routine is particularly important for young people with additional needs. Regular routine protects our mental health, alleviates anxiety and puts less demand on the brain. When a task is has clear predictable steps to it, it reduces the cognitive load factor, cognitive load refers to the amount of mental effort needed to do a task.

What routines do children need to remember?

  1. Bedtime
  2. Alarm clocks and breakfast
  3. Putting on a uniform or real clothes
  4. Eating a packed lunch
  5. Getting ready on time

Bedtime and Breakfast: Regular routines especially around bedtime are associated with healthy sleep, better mental health and fewer behavioral difficulties. A simple way of putting this for children is that just like phones need recharging so do our brains. The amount of sleep we need is often underestimated; most school age children should be getting about 9 hours sleep. As adults we should be getting more than 7 hours per night, perhaps less TV and more shut eye might suit us all😊. Ok so getting everyone to bed at a reasonable hour is one thing, how to get them out of bed in time for breakfast, uniform, hair, shoes, coats, buses… the morning chaos list can be endless. One effective way is to plan backwards. Look at your mornings, what time does everyone need to be up and ready in order for you to have a stress-free start to the day, let’s say 7.30 am, well then if we work backwards to get 9 hours sleep, the young person needs to be asleep by 10.30, not in just resting in bed so bedtime becomes 10pm.

Time keeping: Visual schedules are a great resource to sequence evening and morning tasks and can be easily created in time increments that suit your household. Check out for some ideas about visual schedules. In the simplest terms you create a visual timetable that reflects the tasks that need to be completed before bedtime or during breakfast. Adapt to child’s literacy level and understanding of time level. For bedtime you might give a reminder 15 mins before bedtime, a visual timer like a Time Timer can be very useful for this. A bedtime reminder is very effective for minimising bedtime resistance. If you just announce “right now its bedtime” protest is very likely.

Getting ready: By the time schools re open, children will have been off school for the equivalent of a summer holiday. Does their uniform still fit? Do their school shoes still fit? Do they know where their school bag is? The level of engagement with remote schooling varies widely but any level of engagement makes it likely that the various school books are scattered around the kitchen/home office/place where the computer lives.  Get the children involved in a ‘school stuff’ scavenger hunt. Collect all the school equipment and books for school before the first day back.

Practice and preparation- Unfortunately it is highly probable that the lead in time for return to school will be short, so it would be helpful to begin preparing for the early starts and set eating times sooner rather than later. All day snacking is never a good idea but for children and teens returning to an environment of two breaks in the day it is vital that they get back into the habit of ‘elevenses’ and ‘lunch’ and nothing in between.   Practice setting alarm clocks, putting up hair, tying shoe laces but make these activities fun where possible, add a timer and make it a race, have a getting dressed standing on one leg competition or have the kids be in charge of getting you up and dressed. The key thing is to turn the thinking and talking to returning to routine. It will be a less of shock when it does happen then.

Same Storm but Different Boats- every family has experienced the pandemic in a different and the levels of stress and anxiety in each household will vary.  It is important to acknowledge that for some children the return to school will increase their stress levels, and for other children returning to school will be unsettling and somewhat confusing after the relative freedom of the last couple of months. Choose compassion and connection over confrontation and chaos.

Some useful links below.

Positive thinking and positive parenting – some fishful thinking

This is a useful collection of advice and tips from agencies around Ireland

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