Working and Schooling at Home? Simplify Life with Family Routines

A rock-solid routine is the key to keeping your family calm and thriving while everyone's working and learning under the same roof.

Cheryl Butler
7-minute read
Episode #573

As the mother of 8 kids ranging in age from 14 to 26, I can tell you firsthand that one of the biggest reasons I still haven’t lost my mind (well, not completely!) is because of one secret weapon: routines.

Routines are your daily habits, the things you do the same way at the same time. They can help you balance your work and school schedules and provide structure at home. When it comes to family living, routines help children feel safe and secure because they can rely on certain things happening at certain times. Since routines help children know what’s expected, they're generally more cooperative. Through consistent repetition, routines can help build independence from a very young age that carries on right through to college.

Here are 7 simple steps to help you create a rock-solid daily routine.

1. Maintain morning routines … even when you're not going to leave the house

Morning routines set the tone for the whole day, even when you’re housebound and don’t have to rush out the door to work and school. Even now, with commuting temporarily out of the daily mix, decide what time your family will get up each day and stick to it.

Establish the routine of getting everything ready the night before so that your kids aren’t struggling to find clean pants, school supplies, and other necessities on the fly. This, in itself, can help keep your blood pressure at a very healthy level!

This is a difficult time for adults, but it's also extra scary for kids. Set an upbeat tone with smiles, kisses, and encouraging words each morning.

Have a healthy but easy breakfast menu ready to go for remote school and work days. Forget omelets and French toast—instead, be practical and have selections like oatmeal, toast and peanut butter, and a few hard-boiled eggs cooked in advance.

Finally, don’t forget to rally the troops and excitedly wish them a wonderful day in their new virtual world. This is a difficult time for adults, but it's also extra scary for kids. If you can set an upbeat tone with smiles, kisses, and encouraging words each morning, you’ll give them a positive start to the day.

2. Prepare and organize your day

I’ve found that the two keys to any successful routine are consistency and organization. Practicing your new schedule as faithfully as possible will teach family members what to expect so they can participate and stay on task.

When you're organized and prepared in advance, your routine has a much higher success rate, because you won’t be running around like crazy to pull it off.

Review your child’s virtual school itinerary and be sure all necessary supplies are out and ready. Keep extra headphones or earbuds on hand so no one will be disturbed by anyone else's computer noise.

Being able to spend time with our kids is an unexpected bonus during this trying time, so embrace it and make the most of it.

Create activity boxes for younger kids so they’ll have fun arts and crafts projects, puzzles, or coloring books and crayons to stay occupied with when you’re working and they're in between school lessons.

Have easy snacks like pieces of fruit or pre-packaged crackers and trail mix ready for noshing. Schedule snacktime so your kids know that it's not a raid-the-pantry free-for-all.

Schedule frequent breaks so you can interact and hang out with your kids for ten minutes every hour or so. Being able to spend time with our kids is an unexpected bonus during this trying time, so embrace it and make the most of it.

3. If you're working from home, set some boundaries for your kids

Many of us are working remotely during the coronavirus outbreak. If telework is unfamiliar territory, take some time to teach your kids how to respect your work time and space. My editor, who says she's been working from home "almost since the dawn of the internet," offers these tips:

  • Talk with your kids about what it means for you to work from home. Tell them that just because you didn't drive to work doesn't mean you're not working. Work isn't just a place you go to; it's a thing you do to provide for the family.
  • Set specific work times. If your kids can easily tell time, make sure they know when you're on the clock. Younger children will benefit from an alarm that lets them know when you've finished for the day. It also gives them something to look forward to.
  • Take breaks with your kids. QDT's Get-Fit Guy recommends getting up and moving around for at least two minutes every hour. Time for a dance break!
  • Talk to your children about what constitutes an emergency. They should know when it's okay to interrupt you and when it's not. Give them a little quiz. "Your sister cut her finger. Is that an emergency?" Yes, of course! "You can't find the remote control. Is that an emergency?" It may feel like one if your favorite show is about to come on, but no, it's not.
  • Challenge your kids to get creative about problem-solving. Let them know you have confidence in their ability to solve their own problems. That lost remote control? They can use their smarts to think of all the places where a remote might hide and then go on a hunt. (Hint: It's between the couch cushions.)
  • Expect some interruptions no matter what you do. This is true especially when you have younger children, but even teenagers might find it hard to remember that you're not instantly available to them. Be patient and flexible. We're all coping with new challenges, and no one expects things to go perfectly.

And now I'll add a tip of my own—reward good behavior. Just as you have to adjust to a new set of work circumstances, so does your child.

Here's an example. You're about to start a video conference. Explain to your child that you can't be interrupted during your important meeting. Take out one of the activity boxes you created and reassure her that you'll check back soon. When the meeting is over, praise her patience and cooperation with enthusiasm—what an awesome job! Then, sit down and read a book or have a cookie together.

And if you’re not so lucky and she does interrupt you, remain calm and redirect her. Here’s a fun example of a work-at-home dad being interviewed on live TV only to have "help" from his two children!

4. Use time management hacks

As families navigate the unchartered territory of balancing work and school from the dining room table, take advantage of savvy timesavers. Here are some ideas to help streamline your new norm.

Identify daily time wasters and try to eliminate them. Maybe it’s the TV, cell phone, or email. If you lack self-control (like I do sometimes), then use the StayFocusd Chrome extension to force you to stay away from certain websites during set blocks of time.

Know your productive times. When do you feel most productive? Figure out what time of the day you have more energy. Is it first thing in the morning? Or maybe right before lunch? Or perhaps you're a night owl. Make this stretch of time work to your advantage if possible.

Use a timer. When you sit down to do a task, set the timer. Turn off social media and your phone and focus on that one task. Give yourself 15-20 minutes to accomplish and cross that item off your list. Do the same with your kids and their assignments.

Use productivity apps. While you’re working from home and overseeing your child’s remote learning you’ll need to stay on top of your productivity game. There are dozens of apps that can help.

5. Prioritize family dinner

If you start thinking about what to serve your family for dinner as your child wraps up his virtual day late in the afternoon, you're creating extra stress for you and your family. But if you can get into an organized dinner routine, you’ll add years to your life!

By shopping for groceries ahead of time and planning a handful of meals that you know your family will eat—such as lasagna, baked chicken and rice, or tacos—you will have all the ingredients on hand to prepare dinner quickly. If you really want to optimize your time, make a few meals on the weekend to have ready for the following week. I make calzones every Wednesday. I love having a no-brainer meal in the mix each week.

RELATED: Why Meal Planning is Essential to a Happier Family Life

While your kids are home, now is the perfect time to teach them some daily living skills like cooking a simple dinner and how to do their own laundry! Once the coronavirus outbreak is under control, they’ll have acquired new lifelong skills.

6. Use bedtime routines to wind down

At one point, my husband and I had 4 children under the age of 3. The only thing that gave us any sense of normalcy during those crazy years was our bedtime routine.

Younger children need to know that they will be going to bed at the same time every night. Parents who get into the bad habit of letting their young ones run the show often don’t have any personal time of their own to unwind at the end of a long day.

Select your bedtime and work backwards. If you decide 7:30 p.m. is when you want your preschooler to go to bed, start the bedtime process an hour ahead. At 6:30, give her a gentle reminder that bedtime will happen soon and she needs to finish up playing with her toys. A few minutes later, announce cleanup time and get your cherub in the habit of picking up the play area before she goes to bed.

If your kids are school-aged, establish a routine for getting their outfits, snacks, and lunches ready the night before. Next, oversee teeth brushing, going to the bathroom, and putting on PJs. Then you can have some quiet time together reading their favorite bedtime story or just snuggling and talking. When younger kids have your undivided attention at the end of their long day, it gives them a sense of security that all is right in their world.

Your teens need your attention before bedtime, too. Chat with them about their day and help them wind down. If you get into the routine of connecting with them on a very regular basis, they’ll know they can count on you when they really need help.

Keep pre-bedtime conversations light whenever you can, but don't ignore fears if they come up. Assure your child that although things are different and scary right now, you're always doing everything you can to keep them safe.

7. Don't forget your personal routines

Don’t forget about yourself when it comes to establishing routines. Parents need to build in time for their needs as well.

I find it helps to get up at least 30 minutes before my kids wake so I can have a few quiet moments to myself before the day takes off. Have a good read available that you can dive into while dinner is cooking or schedule a hot bubble bath while your spouse reads the bedtime stories.

Be supportive of some downtime for your partner, too. With everyone home and under the same roof for an indefinite period of time, you’ll need to make self-care and time for one another a priority now more than ever.

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.