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Getting Back on Track in Times of Uncertainty

Let’s face it, we are currently living in a time where pandemics, virtual schooling, increased screen time, missed social engagements and burnt out caregivers are the norm. The uncertainty of what tomorrow will bring is just as anxiety provoking for caregivers as it is for children who thrive on routine. Routines and consistency are vital for child development and veering off this path of structure can be quite challenging for children, specifically those with special needs.

Some children, specifically those with ADHD, present with executive dysfunctions, making it more difficult to focus, follow directions and handle emotions. Executive functions are a set of mental skills that help with organization, planning, prioritizing, starting a task, regulating our emotions and self-monitoring our behaviors. A lack of structure and routine can make it particularly challenging for children who struggle with these executive functions.

Below are some ideas on how parents can add structure and routine back into their child’s daily schedule:

Create a visual schedule and keep it simple

We have a lot on our plate with a global pandemic that seems to be lingering around longer than we would like, thus try to keep things as simple as possible. Creating a visual schedule using a whiteboard and some dry erase markers could suffice but incorporating images or pictures for younger children or for those with limited communication skills can go a long way. By prepping our children what to expect during the day, there is less anguish over events that come unexpectedly. Allowing your children to map out the day with you can also be quite useful as it gives them a sense of autonomy and feelings of self-worth when they are included in the process. Remember to always incorporate some sort of “surprise/spontaneous” card in the schedule. Understandably, our day to day schedules don’t always fall into place the way we have them planned out and this becomes a teaching moment for children to learn that everyday life is not so rigid. Making use of a surprise card to replace an unexpected event or even an event that may have been missed, can be very useful.

Give warnings and use timers to stay on track

Children are forced to jump from one schedule to the next overnight and the transition is not always easy. Although a varying schedule can teach our children to be more resilient when it comes time for change, making use of strategies to help ease into a new schedule can go a long way. The use of timers whether it be sand, digital or bubble provides a visual reminder for children of how much time has lapsed, specifically during time-sensitive activities. For special needs children or those diagnosed with a neurodivergent conditions such as Autism, the ability to “see” the time assists with planning out how much time is required for a task such as getting dressed in the morning or during independent homework time. But don’t forget to ditch the timer when it comes to weekend snuggles and cuddles; free time is just as essential!

Incorporate outdoor play and movement in your daily schedule

Yes, even in the winter, being outdoors can instantly elevate the mood in a matter of seconds. Unstructured outdoor play in one’s natural environment is so vital to a child's emotional, social, cognitive and physical development. There is really no replacement for some natural vitamin D and the crisp air hitting our faces. This helps to keep us regulated and is an instant mood booster.  Getting outdoors can provide a peaceful escape from sensory overload as spending time in nature can appeal to the senses in a non-overwhelming way. We gain a deeper appreciation for running streams, smell of pine, sounds of chirping birds and soft textures of a flower petal.

 

Create an adequate bedtime routine

Using familiar rituals before bedtime such as reading stories, practicing mindfulness/meditation or reading affirmations/gratitude cards can help maintain a sense of structure at the end of the day. Science has repeatedly shown practicing gratitude and speaking positively about ourselves aloud can actually change our brains and improve the way we see our future unfolding. Using affirmations can also reduce stress and help children sleep more soundly. This is such a great way to promote regulation by incorporating into your daily routine.

Set aside connection time with your children

This means unplugging yourself completely from work obligations, social media, technology and household chores. This time is special as your child gets your complete attention. Whether it be all snuggles, taking up a hobby together or reading a book, children need to feel that sense of connectedness and stability especially during times of change.

Be patient

We are living in a time where daily changes are inevitable. It is imperative now more than ever to look after our own mental health in a world that can seem dark and gloomy. Remember that no one size fits all, so please be patient with yourself when attempting to create a schedule for the family. Don’t stress if your family did not sit down to have dinner at the same time every night, or if morning routine took an extra half hour than expected. Revise the schedule as needed and evaluate at the end of the week what worked, what didn’t work and what could use some tweaking. What works at one phase of your life won’t always work within the next phase so be patient, evaluate and reorganize as you move into the different phases of life.

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