How to establish routines that work for your children in divorce

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date published

15th August 2022

written by

Emma Heptonstall

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date published

15th August 2022

Mid-August is perhaps only out-done by Christmas in the scope for chaos when it comes to children. Deep in the middle of school holidays, summer heat (if we’re lucky, though no more level 4 heatwaves please) and the ‘silly season’ that goes with this time of year. It’s often when routines go out of the window. And that’s fine. There’s a place for chaos! But when you’re in the midst of divorce, and as you look ahead to September, routines become so important. In this blog we’ll examine why, and how to establish routines that work for your children in divorce. 

Why bother with routine?

There are benefits to being able to go with the flow. When life throws you curveballs and the unexpected happens, it’s helpful to have the skills and flexibility to cope. But that doesn’t mean chaos should reign supreme all the time. And, certainly for children, routines can feel like a sanctuary when the rest of life feels turbulent.

The return to school after a summer break can feel difficult to a child. Throw divorce into the mix as well and it can feel like their world’s turned upside down. That’s why getting a routine in place is so helpful on an emotional level. If your child knows they spend Monday to Wednesday with you, Thursday to Friday with their other parent they can mentally prepare. They feel more in control – the routine is a secure boundary that feels like a safety net. 

Routines can help with behaviour too. When you have a predictable routine in place, children learn what to expect, and what’s expected of them. It makes it easier for them to focus on the task in hand rather than get distracted. And it’s less overwhelming for them than having to be responsible for their own planning all the time. 

On a practical level routines make it easier to get things done. There’s less scope for messing around when you all know what needs to happen and in which order. It takes less headspace all round as you’re not trying to create the plan on the hoof as well as implement it. And means they are more likely to develop healthy habits around sleeping and eating if there’s regularity around these times. 

How to create new routines

So, now we’ve established routines are helpful both practically and emotionally, let’s look at how to create routines that your child will be happy with. 

No-one likes to be told what to do without having some understanding of why. So it’s important to discuss with your child why the routine will help them, in terms they can understand. For example, you can explain you need morning routines so:

Involving your children

  • They get chance to eat a breakfast they like
  • They get to school on time
  • They have everything they need for when they go home with their other parent.

Explain that without a routine it’s likely things will get missed and there will be more stress and shouting in the home – which no-one wants! 

Just as children need to understand why routines are needed, they are more likely to stick with them if they’ve helped to create them. Sit down together and ask your children for ideas on how to make mornings, bedtimes, coming home from school, the transition between homes, or any other tricky time easier. Ask them to identify:

  • What needs to happen?
  • In what order?
  • How long will each task take?
  • Who’s responsible for it?

For example, at bedtime they might say things like:

  • Brush teeth
  • Put pyjamas on
  • Put clothes away or in the washing
  • Have a bedtime story
  • Turn the light out

And you can decide together on the order, and  whether they do the tasks themselves or with your help. The important thing is to listen first, and let them come up with the ideas themselves. It’s likely you’ll need to do some reality checking. 

Often children get so enthusiastic about the planning process that they’re far too ambitious about what can be achieved in the time available! So make sure the routine is manageable for everyone. It can be helpful if you can link activities together, so they know that they need to put their shoes on after they’ve brushed their teeth each morning, for example. 

If your child doesn’t have a good concept of time, use concrete examples to help them. For example, you might discuss watching two episodes of ‘Bing’ with your two year old before teatime, rather than having 15 minutes of TV. 

It’s important that downtime features in your routines. In part this acts as a buffer in case time runs out to get all the tasks completed, but it’s also so you don’t all end up frazzled! 

How to support children to follow routines

For many families, coming up with the routine is the easy part. But after a diligent few days, it all falls by the wayside. Here are some tips for keeping the routine in place for a few weeks at least:

  • Get it on paper, and stick it to their bedroom door or the fridge. For children who prefer visuals, use pictures. If you can laminate your paper children can tick off when they’ve completed each part of the routine each day. This gives them a tangible reference point and means they don’t have to remember what they’re supposed to be doing. Over time the habit will (hopefully) sink in and become more automatic.
  • Positively reinforce when they stick to the routines. You might want to use a sticker chart with a small reward at the end of each week, or simply keep it simple and make a point of saying “It feels so much more relaxed when we all know what we’re doing in the morning doesn’t it?! Thank you for helping to make it less shouty and stressful”.
  • Take time to review the routine every few weeks. How does everyone feel about how it’s going? Are there parts of the routine that aren’t working, because there’s not enough time, or the task is too difficult? How can you agree to adjust things to make it more workable? 

Settling into your new routines in divorce

As a coach I see how painful and stressful the divorce process is for my clients. There’s a lot of grief to process, and it can leave you floored. Routines can help you, too. They can hold you, in exactly the same way they provide safety for your children. So don’t forget to think about what you need from a daily routine. 

To start with, keep it simple. You might decide to include an easy self-care practice into your day – for example going for a five minute walk to clear your head after dropping the children at school. 

I can help you come up with a workable plan to manage the emotional, practical and legal rollercoaster of divorce. You don’t have to do everything at once. You don’t need to be overwhelmed. Together we can clarify your vision for divorce and get you moving on the steps needed to make it happen. 

In The Absolute Academy I have weekly Q&As on every aspect of divorce. My members tell me this has become a vital part of their weekly routine. It’s a touch point where they can offload their worries and get their questions answered. It means they feel more in control of their divorce, whatever stage they’re at. 

If you’d like to ditch your overwhelm and start building a divorce routine you can manage, come and join us! Find out more and join here.

About Emma

Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is the author of the Amazon best-selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. Emma is also the host of  The Six Minute Divorce Podcast. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com

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