We Had to Change Our House Rules While Sheltering in Place, and This Is What's Working

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Now that my husband and I are sheltering in place with our almost-4-year-old, we have adjusted some of our usual house rules based on the current circumstances. Other rules, however, have been enforced just as rigidly as before. It all depends on whether the rule helps meet our daughter’s needs and the needs of our household in our new normal of being home all day.

The first big change I made is that I now allow climbing up on and jumping off furniture – most of the time. Our daughter is a highly active child. We live high up on a steep hill that she’s been climbing at least twice a day since she started to walk, so she’s accustomed to getting a lot of physical exercise. She participates in dance, gymnastics, and spends hours climbing and running at the beach and the playground. When she has to stay in on a rainy day, we immediately start to see behavior problems and her sleep is impacted. So, while we try to get her walking for exercise, which is allowed according to our city’s shelter-in-place order, we also don’t want to overdo it out of respect for the spirit of social distancing. To make up for lost time, we’ve allowed our house to become a little bit of a playground.

Most everyone I know has increased their screen-time limits during this pandemic, and our family is no exception. I used to be very strict about no more than an hour per day, with slow-speed high-quality animated programming during the week and movies on the weekends. Currently, we are allowing movies every day, and we often allow the full movie to play, rather than breaking it up into two segments so as not to exceed our daily limit of one hour. If we start to see behavior problems, however, we pull in the reigns on this one. We also continue to make sure to end all screen usage an hour before bedtime so her sleep isn’t impacted.

One thing that hasn’t changed in our house during our lockdown? Bedtime. It’s right at 7:30 p.m., like always. In our home, the rule is that you have to be in your room after bedtime, but it’s up to you if you sleep. We have never believed that anyone can make a child sleep, but we feel strongly about preserving our evenings together as a couple. I also write every day right at 7:30 p.m., and that ritual is my personal time for creative pursuits, which isn’t something I’m willing to let go of. Bedtime is also part of the routine and structure that we believe comforts our daughter and creates a predictable world for her, even while our greater world isn’t predictable at all.

Before the pandemic, our daughter often fell asleep immediately – or sometimes played with books and stuffed animals for a short while – but now she’s having more trouble sleeping, probably because she isn’t getting as much physical activity. To help her with this, we’re letting her play audiobooks for an hour after bedtime so she has something to do if she just isn’t tired.

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Similar to bedtime, we also enforce a daily quiet time of 45 minutes – something we did before the pandemic. We don’t want to break this habit just because of the current circumstances. Rest time helps our daughter recharge, and it encourages her to develop her imagination when she plays independently. I also take this time to just veg out. Between homeschooling, working from home, and running the home, I need a break, too.

When we started to reevaluate our house rules after it became clear that the lockdown was going to be a longterm thing, we really focused on what was best for the whole family. Our daughter’s needs are very important; she needs stimulation, physical movement, and, most of all, loving interaction during this uncertain time. She needs us to create as many opportunities as we can to find substitutes for the life she’s used to. We also need to view the family as a unit and make decisions based on everyone’s overall well-being. Since this is all new, we recognize that as parents, we need to remain flexible and continue to adjust our expectations as we experiment and learn what works best. The rules we’ve established for “everyday” life have gone out the window, so it’s up to us to decide how our family needs to function right now.

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