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Schedules and Routines: What happens when mine is interrupted?

As many of our children are home from school- with no return date given, and summer break rapidly approaching- many experts recommend creating and keeping a schedule for your child[ren]! Just like many parents and caregivers, you may find yourself asking a number of questions.

How important is keeping a schedule? How strict should it be? What should I put on my schedule? What do I do if my schedule is interrupted? Hopefully, by the end of this article, you may find some clarity. 

Let’s start by answering some of those BIG questions. 

How important is a schedule? Schedules are important for a lot of reasons. The main reason why a consistent schedule for a child is important is that it helps a child establish their circadian rhythm.  Circadian rhythm is a term that means the biological clock that determines when to wake up, go to sleep, and feel hungry at certain points of the day. Inconsistent sleep and eating schedules can lead to lethargy, irregular weight fluctuations, weaker immune systems, mood swings, irritability, and difficulties concentrating.

In conclusion, schedules, especially regarding your must-have activities, are particularly important . Creating a schedule for your child will affect how your child’s body will develop a rhythm and respond to future events! 

Let’s move onto the next big question. How strict should my schedule be? The answer to this question is more complex, but in short, flexible depending on the activity! For your must-have activities, you want to be strict, and for your filler activities to be more lenient. For your must-haves, give a little more time to complete the activities, but be firm with the end time of that activity. The reason we want to give more time to complete these activities is so you can plan for future challenges. For example, wake-up time 7:00am-7:45am. 

Scheduling large gaps establishes the “START” time of an activity, but ultimately decides the END time of an activity. Waking up typically takes less than 10 minutes (usually) yet you allocated 45minutes. At 7:00am, plan to wake your child up; if your kiddo was awake on and off during the night, or played hard yesterday, the large time gap allows you more time to let them sleep. However, at the end of your interval, be strict! Following this example, your child must be awake up the set time; otherwise the remainder of your must-have activities, such meals and bedtime will be off schedule. For meals, plan to eat at regular intervals, again, allowing larger intervals so your child can eat at their own pace; similarly, once the interval is over- it is over. Strict consistency will help to establish that rhythm while preparing your child for school and the workforce. Another suggestion is incorporate hygienic routines into your firm schedule. Establishing strict hygiene routines promotes independence and changes activities such as brushing teeth, washing hands, brushing hair, from a “demand” to a daily habit. 

The remainder of your schedule, your filler activities, are opportunities to be flexible! These are the activities you can change, extend, or shorten the length of time. 

To best decide which activities to include as schedule fillers, use your child’s school curriculum, IEP, or learning and skill goals that have been determined by their teacher, therapist, or other professionals that your child may be working with as a guideline. Rather than planning specific activities everyday to work on, set time gaps to work on skills. Let your child help decide the order of activities based on domains. Be flexible, and use fun language. Rather than saying “do you want to do math or language arts” try. “Do you want to [ex. Count dinosaurs or write a letter to Winnie the Pooh?]. Remember, kids learn more through play then doing worksheets. In order to increase cooperation and reduce avoidance behaviour, make work activities fun, give your child choice and opportunities to lead, and don’t be frustrated if your plan doesn’t go exactly the way you imagined. Utilize all your resources, toys, computer games, household items- be creative! If you get stuck, and can’t find ways to make engaging activities, ask your child’s teacher or support team for activities to use and how to present them. Leave room in the schedule for free play, gross motor breaks, and time to practice cleaning up toys, organizing items, and helping with daily chores around the house. Praise and reinforce compliance, and let your child know you are proud of them for their effort. 

  Lastly, let’s answer that big question, WHAT DO I DO WHEN MY SCHEDULE IS INTERRUPTED? Don’t get discouraged. Everyday has a new set of surprises, and there will be many events that you cannot control. Create a “busy box” that has activities and toys that are enjoyable to your specific child, they can do completely independently, and are safe to engage in without supervision. Try to avoid activities that will over stimulate your child, but can keep them engaged and happy. That way those days when your kiddo is just not tired, and won’t sleep, they can play quietly and calm down. If they wake up early, they can engage in activities independently without requiring your immediate attention. Use your schedule as a guideline, but be flexible and change it as you need to. 

   So, at the end of the day, schedules are important, consistency is important, but when parenting or caring for any child- you will never be able to predict what will happen. Focus on sleep schedules, eating schedules, and hygiene routines. Make everything as fun as possible, and praise and reinforce compliance and task completion. Finally, when creating a schedule – always leave time for parent self care. As a parent or caregiver you need time for yourself, in order to take care of someone else, you need to take care of yourself.

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