On the Pulse

How to Maintain Structured Routines for School-Aged Kids During Scheduled Breaks

2.21.23 | Ashley Speller

A family walks along a beach

For some parents and caregivers with school-aged children, scheduled breaks throughout the academic year are a chance to kick back and relax while enjoying quality time without being on a tight, daily schedule.

For many kids in the region, mid-winter break is here, and spring break is only a few months away. Though well-intentioned, interrupted routines can sometimes impact behaviors or cause stress in both children and adults alike.

“In general, we all do better with routines in day-to-day life,” explained Dr. Mollie Grow, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s. “Structured routines help parents regulate the emotional and functional changes their children undergo as they develop. Routines help children know what to expect as they go through these changes.”

Dr. Grow spoke with On the Pulse to share recommendations to help maintain a sense of structure in the household ahead of the upcoming breaks.

Stick to Your Child’s Sleeping and Eating Pattern

Though children will likely want to go to sleep later than usual, Dr. Grow advises that parents and caregivers try to maintain a child’s normal sleeping and eating pattern as much as possible. A good goal is to stick to a bedtime within about 30 minutes of the same time each night. This is helpful for our circadian rhythms.

“Regardless of age, we all feel better when we eat and sleep right,” Dr. Grow shared.

Share What Works for Your Family With Others

If you are planning on spending your vacation away from home this year, be vocal with friends and extended family about your preferred rules and routines.

“What works for one household may not be typical in another. A good approach is to talk ahead of time so as to not cause any confusion or unintended disappointment,” Dr. Grow said.

Implement Age-Appropriate Media and Screen Time

During lengthy breaks, children are often given additional access to television, computers and mobile devices while at home. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), today’s children spend about seven hours a day on entertainment media, so the AAP recommends utilizing resources like a Family Media Plan to help manage screen time.

“Screen time can be fun and, in some cases educational, but make sure it doesn’t take too much time from other activities,” Dr. Grow explained. Plan some scheduled media breaks wear everyone unplugs. Rather than using screens, consider choosing activities that promote good brain growth, such as talking, playing games, playing music or singing, and enjoying books together. “Our family loves the great library resources through the Libby app. It’s an easy way to listen to audiobooks together with our kids in the car,” shares Dr. Grow.

Choose a Family Group Activity

It’s up to parents to find a substitute for the physical activity that is part of a child’s normal daycare or school curriculum. Prepare for the indoor and outdoor options in your area by having the right rain or snow gear and attire available.

“Have your child help decide what these activities are,” Dr. Grow added. “Some ideas could be visiting a public library or community center, going on a nature walk, or checking out a local park. These can be opportunities to create family traditions.”

Create Memories, Not Stress

Focus on creating memories with your child. It’s a great opportunity to make scheduled breaks special instead of stressful.

“Kids grow fast, Dr. Grow said. “They change quickly, and each year is very different for them. It’s important for parents to try to carve some time to slow down, be present and enjoy this time of year with their children.”