How do children behave when their routines are disrupted?

We are all currently deep into the third wave of the pandemic, having to re-adapt to an extended curfew, and despite having acquainted ourselves to staying at home, even we as adults are challenged in adapting to our new circumstances. So it is no surprise that children face great difficulty in this situation where their routines have been disrupted.   

Speaking with Brunch, adolescent and child psychiatrist Prof. Hemamali Perera shared some guidance for parents on how best to identify and understand their difficult behaviour and manage them better. 

To begin with, Prof. Perera shared that first we must identify what a daily routine is or what once was their routine. She said that it is not just children who have routines; we as adults also follow a certain structured schedule. However, we can determine that children who are less able to reestablish routines for themselves are likely to face challenges when those predetermined routines are disrupted.


Adolescent and child psychiatrist Prof. Hemamali Perera

Why routines are so important

She said that especially when children go to school, they have a fixed routine and they know in advance what is expected of them; because they know in advance what they must do, they have a feeling of safety and security of knowing what they will face and are comfortable enough to face the day’s activities. They have an idea of what is expected of them, which reduces anticipation and anxiety and creates a stable environment. 

She commented that children are therefore able to have a better grip of their emotions this way by knowing what to expect. This informed schedule is what creates an environment for emotional stability – where children also adopt a certain amount of responsibility to participate in the day’s tasks.  

In addition, she said that this gives parents the opportunity to better manage their time, to facilitate the environment that is necessary for their children to get through the day. Therefore, they too can act in a way that does not disrupt the flow of activities. 

Prof. Perera said that we usually take our routines for granted but really they are of incredible importance to our development. 

What has happened due to the pandemic is that our routines have been obliterated, and we are facing various challenges because of it; inability to focus, feeling distracted, and it has created a feeling of being lost and aimless. She stated that as time passes, this has definitely gotten better, but the issue remains mentally taxing. Not knowing what to do and what to expect and having to think daily on what to do is more difficult than we may anticipate. 

Moreover, when parents are experiencing mentally taxing emotions, in turn the children are immediately affected because children are highly attuned to the emotional state of their parents; they are incredibly sensitive to these fluctuations. 

She said that in such a situation you can expect certain reactions from children; restlessness, expressing phantom pains, seeking excessive attention, possible destructive behaviour, expressing out-of-control anger are things that could raise alarm in parents. These children who have difficulty in concentrating may feel it elevated and it will be worsened. 

While these experiences may vary from child to child, it is a great opportunity for parents to step up their parenting techniques and take the chance to strengthen their relationships with their children. 

She said that parents must be a model example; they must be mindful of their words, actions especially, by remaining calm and regulating their tone when communicating within the households. Be attentive towards your children and listen carefully.  

Prof. Perera said that it is evident that parents are being creative and attentive in dealing with these challenges, but she would also like to point out that it is incredibly important that parents themselves maintain their mental relaxation, she said you must take time to talk with your friends, take time for yourself to do things that you enjoy, etc.  


The best way to mitigate these challenges

For your children the best thing you can do is to create a schedule; plan the full day, create a menu of items and include their studies but also fun activities, some physical activities, and for younger children include some activities to do with the whole family.  

She said that you must do a debriefing of this schedule in a simple manner – a great technique is to use images which are most effective. Use images in a simple schedule, highlight a few key elements like the time if your child can read the time, or mention the time of day – morning, noon, and night – in the plan. She said that this is far more effective and easy for children to absorb than us telling them verbally.  

Prof. Perera stated that these are challenging times and it is most important that we all take some extra effort to create a comfortable environment for our children which includes taking care of ourselves as well.