Rebuilding a Routine

Schedule and routine provide safety, security, and structure.

Following the death of a family member, safety, security, schedule, and routine are shattered. The first few months following a loss can be a blur. During that time, everyone in the family may be doing their best just to get up in the morning, get dressed, and keep going.

How does a family get back on track? How can you help rebuild safety and security for your children after a loss?

Rebuilding a routine and schedule will help. A loss can cause great anxiety and insecurity in children and adolescents. Creating a world in which they can comfortably anticipate what comes next will help lower their anxiety and rebuild trust and confidence.

How do we do this? Start with planning:

  • First, list out the mandatory obligations for each member of the household—work, school, meals, and naps for the younger children. Also consider support groups or counseling.
  • Then, list out the optional activities for each person—clubs, sports, committees, associations, etc. Remaining involved is important in your family’s healing. Take a look at the time commitment and timing of each of these activities. What overlaps? What is manageable?
  • Make sure you consider “family time” in your routine. It is important for the surviving family members to stay connected, and support each other. Will you be eating dinner together every night? Or, will there be specific evenings when everyone is together? Consider what you want built into the routine.
  • Consider your resources— Do you have a carpool friend or neighbor? Do you have extended family nearby who can assist? Do you have a teenager who can help share the driving responsibilities? Note: make sure to heavily include this teenager in the development of the family routine. If they are taking on more responsibility, it is important to give them a voice in the process.
  • Decide how many activities are reasonable for each person in the household to commit to at one time. Maybe it’s one, or two. But, don’t be afraid to set limits – boundaries are a key element of establishing a structured routine.
  • If your children are old enough, include your family in making the new routine. Give your children the opportunity to choose which activities they want to include. This will help your children feel more in control in an out-of-control time. And, you want them to have a sense of ownership of their routine.

Now you can begin designing your routine.

  • Think of your routine in two-parts: daily, and weekly. What will happen every day; what will happen only on Mondays?
    • For example, each school day morning the children will be ready for school by 8 a.m.—dressed, fed, teeth and hair brushed, bags packed, etc.
  • Identify parts of the routine your children can do for themselves, where you will need to help, where another person may need to help (sibling, family member). Make sure everyone is clear on their roles in the routine.
  • Develop a reasonable timeline for each step of the routine. When will you need to get started? Make sure to leave some wiggle room for the unexpected.
  • Walk through the finished routine with your family. Print the routine and post it somewhere the entire family can see and reference. That way everyone knows what is expected of them, and what “happens next.”

It’s comforting to know that nap time is right after lunch, and play time is right after nap time. While this is an elementary example, it is true of all ages. Rebuilding a routine after the tragedy of a loss will help provide nuggets of safety and security during an insecure time. It will also help everyone work together, and support each other as a family.

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