The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has quickly disrupted normal routines for children and parents, leading to potentially stressful situations at home.
As of March 22, 45 states and Washington, D.C., announced school closures affecting 54 million students from preschool to high school. Many schools are switching their regular curriculum to distance-learning.
School closures disrupt children's routines while placing new stressors on parents who may have to find alternate childcare options or stay home from work.
Moreover, school closures interrupt something children hold dear: stability and routine.
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"Routines can be like swaddles for the mind, keeping thoughts and anxieties contained so that they don't spin and grow," Dr. Neha Chaudhary, child and adolescent psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, told ABC News.
Now, the advocacy group National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) is advising parents to create a daily family routine for children in order to regain a new sense of "normal."
Chaudhury said, "The best thing parents can do during this challenging time is to try to maintain some resemblance of a routine or schedule at home."
NAMI recommends structuring a student's day to be as similar as possible to what it was before.
Below are NAMI's tips for parents:
- Keep a consistent wake-up time: Have children wake up, get dressed and eat breakfast at the same time they normally did when going to school.
- Separate spaces for work and play: Send children to a designated area of the home to work on school assignments during the hours they usually would be in school.
- Keep activities relatively short: Follow the school schedule and switch activities every 30 to 40 minutes or so.
- Turn mealtime into family time: At "lunchtime," eat lunch together.
- Adhere to normal school hours: End schoolwork the same time of day children normally finish school.
Parents should remember that children mirror the emotions of the adults around them. That means if parents are feeling anxious or frustrated, kids will likely be mirroring the same emotions. Therefore it's important for parents to focus on their mental health in order to be able to foster a positive environment for their children at home.
"The best thing parents can do during this challenging time is keep their own anxieties in check by practicing self-care or seeking help when they need it, and allow themselves to be 'good enough' instead of perfect," said Chaudhary.
"Now is not the time for parents to hold themselves to unreasonably high expectations; that will only cause frustration and disappointment, which can easily spill over to their children," she said. "Instead, parents can model staying calm and consistent during times of crisis. These are the messages that kids need right now."
Yalda Safai MD, MPH, is a psychiatry resident in New York City and contributor to ABC News Medical Unit.