Restoring Calm & Order to my Toddler’s Pandemic Disrupted Life

When Covid hit, we stopped our parent education classes, play gym classes, music class, art class, going to the children’s museum and all playdates. From seeing other children everyday to entering social isolation, it was a drastic change. Needless to say, our daily rhythm and routine was disrupted.

Like other young children who are astute observers of people and environment, my toddler noticed changes to the daily lifestyle early on, big ones like not going out and small ones like more people donning masks and face coverings on the street. She also started reacting to the involuntary stress that exudes from us, now grappling with sheltering in place, social distancing, working from home, residency and work visa interruptions, passport expiry and cancellation of vacation plans.

The husband started working from home in our 500 sqft apartment, and we didn’t have an extra room for his office so he took over the dining table. In a small confined space, Miss 2 had to play quietly and refrain from going to daddy when she sees him. This resulted in even more stress for all of us.

Restoring Calm & Order to my Toddler’s Pandemic Disrupted Life

From my Montessori understanding of the sensitive period for order in young children, I knew this was causing huge disruptions in my toddler’s need for order and calm, affecting how she perceived predictability, structure and security in her life.

We had to find a new rhythm and routine (Normalisation in Montessori terms). While it took several weeks in classroom environments, we were fortunate that my toddler took a much shorter time to assimilate to the new rhythm and routine, helped by the fact that the home environment is already familiar and there isn’t a change in carer (I was still the one providing a supportive role in her care).

These helped my toddler find back her calm and order, and us as a family to get into the mojo of staying home, and enjoy the extra bonding and physical face time:

  • Provide age-appropriate explanations so they start to understand what’s happening now and what’s causing changes. I took a technical and science-based approach and educated my daughter on germs and personal hygiene. It is important to prepare them for the lifelong lesson of taking care of their own health.

  • Acknowledge the changes and empathically respond to big "pandemic triggered" feelings. Use this framework for validating feelings, normalizing them and offering sensitive help/solutions.

  • Creating a new daily rhythm and routine (not schedule) and using it consistent to build familiarity and predictability.

Restoring Calm & Order to my Toddler’s Pandemic Disrupted Life

This is the interactive routine chart I DIYed with my daughter.

Restoring Calm & Order to my Toddler’s Pandemic Disrupted Life

Restoring Calm & Order to my Toddler’s Pandemic Disrupted Life

Restoring Calm & Order to my Toddler’s Pandemic Disrupted Life

Unmovable “fixed” building blocks of the day are mealtimes, the rest are activities that can be switched up following my daughter’s interest. Therefore, the mealtime cards (breakfast, lunch and dinner) are glued to the board, while the rest have velcro dot stickers that allow them to be attached and detached.

Restoring Calm & Order to my Toddler’s Pandemic Disrupted Life

Restoring Calm & Order to my Toddler’s Pandemic Disrupted Life

I did not add timings to the chart as children are still developing their understanding of time and this avoids the stress of following a schedule. I shaped the segmentation of day according to what my daughter understood (visuals of the sun/moon) — morning, afternoon, evening and night. For older children who have some concept of time though, an hourly (not minute) timeline might be a helpful guide.

We placed this routine chart in a high-touch, high-visibility place in the house, and referred to it frequently as we transition from one activity to the next.

Note: I used my Polaroid mint printer to print actual pictures (with labels) of my daughter in different activities. This gave her a concrete idea of what each activity was about vs. illustrations/drawings. You can also use Powerpoint/Pages to create and print similar cards, before laminating them for durability and then sticking on velcro dot stickers on the back.

Montessori in Real Life has a great explanation for the difference between a schedule and a daily rhythm/routine.

  • Staying social amid the changes. I made plans for a social pod so we keep play dates exclusive and safe. How We Montessori has a great post about how they're managing playdates within a small community to keep children physical safe and emotionally happy. We also maintain social connectedness with cousins via FaceTime calls.

  • Check in on emotional and mental health. We had a daily visual journal (idea by Chalk Academy) to draw/write everyday happenings. I found it was particularly useful to start conversations about how my daughter had been feeling throughout the day. Talking about our day and our emotions help regulate her mental state.

  • Calmly set limits to co-exist in peace and harmony. We set some simple rules — when Daddy is in a do not disturb meeting, he puts up a sign. When he is in casual meetings, my preschooler can approach him and get his attention by placing her hand on his shoulder (he has a floor desk). This helps my preschooler understand how accessible daddy is, respond accordingly and prevents undue stress for everyone involved.

Our Little Play Nest has a great Instagram post sharing a DIY sign she uses at home to set boundaries with her children about not intervening in parents' work from home meetings.

  • Help children to feel more in control by having them take ownership over tasks they can complete, such as washing their hands independently on their own, packing their sanitizer and masks, preparing and freezing meals for extended stay home period, creating artworks for friends and others (e.g. frontline medical workers and the isolated elderly in nursing homes) in need of support.

  • Preparing the home environment for engagement and fun. I love to set up easy, open-ended sensory play with water (e.g. sink activities) and play dough tinker boxes which doesn't require more than 10 minutes of prep. I also ensure our art space at home is well-stocked with tools and supplies. Bigger projects like cardboard toys or cardboard small worlds can help foster family bonding and is a good distraction for the negative news about the pandemic situation.

  • Show empathy and patience to our children's new and challenging behaviours. These can manifest as clingyness, tantrums and meltdowns, lack of cooperation, regressions or lack of interest in independent play or learning activities. Respect that our children are having hard times just like us, and showing them love and security at their worst is the best thing we could do for them.

  • Pick up self regulation skills with our children, such as yoga and deep breathing exercises. Creation of calming corners at home where children could process and regulate their big feelings is also helpful. These calming corners can be simple - a soft spot to rest, with some books, light snacks and a water bottle. Sensory bottles would be ideal too.

My toddler actually loves retreating to a laundry basket, covering herself up with a play silk, and spending alone time there. Following her needs, I placed small cushions in the basket to make it even more inviting for her.

  • Self-care for parents. Remember that we need to fill our own cups first before we can pour from them. During the most stressful phases of the pandemic (surges in the community), I cut out unnecessary daily stress such as toileting training attempts. I also founded an online peer support group that I could lean in and seek help from.

By showing ourselves care, we model to our children how to stay calm in the face of disruptions.

These pandemic times are challenging and hard for everyone, as we adjust and re-adjust to new normals. Give yourself grace and patience, as you bring calm and order to your children's lives.

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Hi! I am Yunnie. I am the newly minted mama to a little baby girl and a mum friend to everyone on this special (and many times scary) journey of motherhood. Also a graduated bride with a penchant for weddings.

Hi! Thank you for taking time to read my blog. I am a stay-home Singaporean mama living in Seattle who is passionate about child-led and open-ended play for children in a conducive home environment.

Discovering Montessori and Reggio has been a life-changer for me. It made me an empathetic and mindful parent who follows my child’s needs and interests in the activities I plan at home. I hope the Montessori-friendly and Reggio inspired baby and toddler activities I share here inspire you too.

Happy reading!