Maintaining children’s routines: a guide for parents living with mental illness

Emerging Minds, Australia, October, 2022

Resource Summary

This resource was developed to help parents understand the importance of maintaining routines in helping children feel safe and secure, and when to ask for support.


Emerging Minds acknowledges that families come in many forms. For the purposes of easy reading, the term ‘parent’ encompasses the biological, adoptive, foster and kinship carers of a child, as well as individuals who have chosen to take up primary or shared responsibility in raising that child.

Routine is an important part of any child’s life. When daily activities are predictable children feel safe and secure, understand what is happening and know what to expect. When a parent experiences mental health difficulties, routines may become harder to keep. This resource aims to help you learn about the importance of maintaining children’s routines and provide strategies to maintain daily activities for your children when times are tough.

Maintaining connections

When a parent experiences mental health difficulties children often notice something about you has changed. The first thing they will probably want to know is that you are going to be OK. After that their concern will generally turn to practical considerations related to their daily life and what it means for them. For example, they may wonder: can I still play sport or have a friend over; how will I get to and from school; can I still go to music lessons; and who will make my lunch? It can often be these daily tasks that become more difficult when you are unwell. You may need to spend more time in bed or away from the family home for respite. The good news is there are things you can do to support maintaining children’s routines and the sense of connection between you and your children even when you are struggling.

Start with small things you feel you can manage, for example:

  • continue to tuck them into bed each night
  • read a chapter of their favourite book or short story together before bedtime
  • sit and talk to them during bath time, even if this is just for a few minutes
  • spend time making school lunches the night before.

And if this is too much, ask your partner or other trusted adult in your child’s life to help out and manage these parts of the routine for you. It might be that you can do some of these things if another adult assists, for example, you might be able to sit and eat with your child if someone else has helped prepare the meal.

It can also be helpful to think about the following:

  • What does your child’s regular routine look like on weekdays and weekends: Do they play sport or have after school activities? Do you normally drop them at school or walk them to the bus stop?
  • What are some of the important activities in your child’s life: Do you have a diary of school excursions, events or birthday party invites to help you remember what is coming up that may be important to them?
  • How can routines be maintained when things get tough: Is there a neighbour whose children have a similar routine to yours, or another parent at soccer, who wouldn’t mind helping with drop-offs and pick-ups for a while? Do you have family who may be able to step in and help, such as grandparents or aunts and uncles?
  • Who else can help keep routines stable: Do you have trusted friends or family you can ask for support to help with a few weekly tasks for your children?

There is real strength in knowing when you need support – and asking for help.

Asking for help

We know asking for help can be difficult. It is natural to want to be able to do things independently but during difficult times there is real strength in knowing when you need support.

It might feel easier to ask those closest to you because you have shared history, but when it comes to (for example) another school parent, you may find that more difficult.  Remember you don’t have to reveal any details about yourself that you don’t feel comfortable with, but you could try saying:

‘I wondered if there was any chance you would be able to drop Leo home from school this week because I am having difficulty getting to pick up at the end of the school day.’


‘Would it be possible for you to take Mia to soccer on Saturday for the next two weeks? Because we are having difficulty getting her there.’

Providing a time frame is important because it lets the person know they aren’t being asked to provide support indefinitely – it’s just while you are having difficulties. This extra support will help you in maintaining children’s routines and make it easier for you to concentrate on your recovery. Ideally you would offer to help them out in return when you are feeling better. Not only does it help you feel supported, it’s a nice way to create a sense of community around all children and teach them that helping others is important.

Your support networks video

‘Generally children are very accepting of all differences, they have an open, honest compassion, especially when it comes to those they love and want the best for. As long as their needs are being met and nurtured along the process they will be fine. Often in my distress this was a challenge, but I recognised my difficulty in being present emotionally to them and I would arrange at times for other trusted supports to assist me with this. I believe it does “take a village to raise a child”.’

– Jodie, mother, Tasmania

The Raising Children Network has some great ideas on maintaining routines with children of different ages.

If you feel your family could benefit from more routine, you might view this as an ideal opportunity to start creating good habits. Maintaining children’s routines will not only help them to feel more secure and safe but will make the general activities of daily life easier on you. It will be comforting for your children to have some of their regular routines continue and can help them to stay connected with you while you are feeling unwell or working on your recovery.

Discover more resources

Login to Emerging Minds Learning

Keep a list of your favourite resources for reference or try some of our courses.

Subscribe to our newsletters