The COVID-19 pandemic seems wickedly designed to challenge grandparents raising grandchildren–kids at home all the time, elevated personal health risks, and the world upside down. Do you feel like you may go crazy? One small defense against this confusion and uncertainty (is it too much to call it chaos?) is setting a daily routine that can be a spine or a scaffolding that keeps things from falling apart.

A basic daily rhythm–a schedule–will help you and the children manage the new normal.

Routines provide structure and a sense of safety for children, which helps them control their impulses and behaviors. Routines are important for adults, too. As coronavirus crisis unfolds you may feel unmotivated or powerless. A daily routine to help you and the children keep focused and feel some measure of control.

“You must quickly establish a battle rhythm,” says Juliette Kayyem, a former Homeland Security advisor. “The same thing, the same time, every day.” This goes for the military as well as the family.

Derenda Schubert, a Portland psychologist, stresses, “every family’s routine will be different.”  She adds that a routine doesn’t have to be comprehensive time managment. “It can be small gestures and rituals such as visiting a teen’s room at bedtime, or offering regular meal times. The point is consistency.”

What are the basics of a routine?

Start with your children’s school routine

At least you will have something to anchor most days. Inspiring youngsters to engage with distance learning is hard, but school, such as it is, probably offers your best chance to keep your kids on track. It may also be the only outside help you can regularly expect. So build your days around getting them to class on time. Let class time set your schedule for wakeup, getting dressed and breakfast.

Add in daily chores

What a concept! Now is your chance to help you children learn to pitch in. Remember when you were a school kid and you got a certain pride from being the designated blackboard cleaner? Of course, children will resist chores. But persist! They are undoubtedly feeling your anxiety, and helping out is stress relief for them, too.

Dedicate time for play

Once you’ve mapped out times for things like food and school assignments, you’re ready to fill in the rest of the day, and actually carving out time for dedicated child-led play is huge for kids. When a child is imagining, creating, building or inventing, he or she is doing meaningful learning. Plan a few 15- to 30-minute blocks (more or less time depending on your child’s age and play development) of dedicated child-led play. The more a child plays, the more they learn to play.

Share books and reading time

Study after study shows the importance of reading to kids. Being home all day is a great chance to instill and strengthen that habit.

Plan reading blocks. Fifteen to 20 minutes a day is a great start (remember, that’s total minutes, not all at once. Break it into chunks). Consider structuring this reading time in a variety of ways: you read aloud, child reads aloud (if the child can read), and family silent reading time.

Invite the whole family to contribute to the creation of a daily schedule. Be sure to write it down. Post your battle rhythm where everyone can see it.

Finally, be flexible. Focus on what seems to work for your child and make adjustments.

  Talk about isolation! Scott Kelly spent a year like this.

The kids will push back. Of course. Tell them about Scott Kelly, retired NASA astronaut who spent a year living aboard the International Space Station. He recently offered some perspective. “On the space station, my time was scheduled tightly, from the moment I woke up to when I went to sleep,” he recalls. “You will find maintaining a plan will help you and your family adjust to a different work and home life environment. When I returned to Earth, I missed the structure. But pace yourself. Living in space, I deliberately paced myself because I knew I was in it for the long haul — just like we all are today. Take time for fun activities. And don’t forget to include in your schedule a consistent bedtime. NASA scientists closely study astronauts’ sleep when we are in space, and they have found that quality of sleep relates to cognition, mood, and interpersonal relations — all essential to getting through a mission in space or a quarantine at home.”