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Predictable activities, rhythms and routines make children and young people feel more secure, safer and cared for. With a little bit of planned structure, children are less likely to feel caught unawares. They will know what to expect.

This is especially important for children in out-of-home care who may be more likely to feel that the world is an unsafe place.

In the current COVID-19 situation with no school and big changes to their daily lives, many children, carers and families are struggling to find a new and reassuring rhythm to their days.

Why ‘rhythm’?

We’ve used the word the word ‘rhythm’ instead of just ‘routine’. Rhythm ─ in your daily schedule, in physical activities like dancing, skipping or playing music, or in physical affection like rocking and patting ─ soothes the parts of the brain that generate feelings of fear, stress, anxiety and aggression. Having ‘rhythm in your routine’ is like dancing to a regular beat ─ it keeps you all in time in a predictable way. It’s not the same as having a strict schedule.

In such uncertain times, a regular rhythm to the day can be helpful for anyone, including adults who are stressed and worried about what’s happening in the world.

Being at home so much can be a challenge. It can also be an opportunity to spend some good quality time together by connecting in ways you wouldn’t usually.

What does a daily rhythm look like?

We’ve provided an example of a daily rhythm which you can adapt for your home. Feel free to change it to suit the abilities, likes and dislikes of your household. Where possible, give children their own choice of daily activities, games and foods. If this is tricky, try offering them a choice of a couple of different options. They will feel more involved, and like they have some control over what’s happening to them.

Discuss and do it together

As much as you can, try to do these activities together. And don’t worry, if you’re able to do a third or more of these together, you’ll be doing great!

Once you have thought about how you would like your daily rhythm to look, ask all the members of your household for their feedback. We suggest focusing on only one or two of the items, rather than everything, all at once. This can be too overwhelming for children. If they would like to make changes have a talk about what would work.

Suggest colouring in the document when it is written or printed out. Discuss together: Where shall we put it? How will we remember to look at it every day?

Is it working?

After a couple of days have another think and talk about the rhythm. Does it fit your household? If not, make changes. It’s important to give the rhythm a go even if it feels a bit clunky as children can learn to adapt to new things. That said, we need to make sure that individual needs and abilities are being catered for as well.

Go easy on yourself

Transitions are can be tricky for any child – especially those who have had distressing childhood experiences. Because of this, it’s reasonable to expect some bumps on the road to setting up a new household rhythm. Go easy on yourself and have realistic expectations – it’s unlikely you do all parts of the new routine, every day. That’s okay! Go with the flow.

Even by just keeping set mealtimes and bedtimes regular, things can feel more predictable.

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Take Two is a Victoria-wide outreach service provided by Berry Street on behalf of the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services. The service is recognised all over the world as a leading model of how best to support children and young people who have experienced complex developmental trauma.

Take Two can provide specialist clinical consultancy services to other organisations. Contact us us for more information.