How Routines can help you Parent & Educate your Child

Routines are not only for ‘getting jobs done’.

Routines are central to the education of infants and children in forming the building blocks of language, social interaction and eventual mastery of a new skill.

In this episode, routines are discussed from a variety of perspectives by Dr Chalfant.

We also review the movie “Ride Like a Girl” which Dr Chalfant recommends as a much watch family movie event!


Justin Kyngdon: Welcome to Episode Four of the Annie’s Centre Podcast, my name is Justin Kyngdon.

Dr. Anne Chalfant: I am Dr. Anne Chalfant. In this episode, we will be discussing routines. We’ll also be talking about how to talk to your children about the coronavirus. I’m going to do a little bit of a movie review for a film called Ride Like a Girl.


Speaker 1: One mother, one mission, to create a world where families thrive. Dr. Anne Chalfant, internationally acclaimed clinical psychologist, family therapist, author, and mother of four children, brings you powerful and practical parenting techniques from her clinical and personal experience. Ladies and gentlemen, the doctor is in the house.


Justin: Okay, the main topic for today is routines.

Dr. Chalfant: Yes.

Justin: Can you help define what do you mean by routines? Then we can go into a broader discussion about it.

Dr. Chalfant: Sure. I have been very excited about doing this episode because I’m obsessed with routines and how beneficial they are to families. Routines are basically doing the same thing in exactly the same way, or at exactly the same time in exactly the same way. That’s the simple definition of a routine. Routines are, I think, very underutilized and possibly undervalued in families these days. Definitely, something that families could do more often to drive.

Justin: Because the common reason may be for not doing a routine is that, I’m too busy, every day is just so busy. That as soon as I put a routine in place, it’s all going to fall over anyway. Why should I bother then putting the routine together? Or, I’m just too busy to put a routine together. That can be a common blocker or barrier for people to do a routine.

Justin: It can be.

Dr. Chalfant: Why should people be focusing on routines?

Dr. Chalfant: Because it is critical, as I said, to helping families actually thrive. I don’t just say that because that’s our motto in this podcast. It really does allow families to find a flow, to get some order, to build skills in their children. Not just routines in the sense of a structured way of going about a task, I want to talk about that, in this episode a little bit, the value of a routine even in children as young as toddlers, or even from six months of age up, and the use of the idea of a routine to actually teach early language skills, or early cognitive skills, or motor skills.

They are so useful on so many levels, not just to create order, and a sense of calm, and build skills within children and teenagers but even from really, really early development.

Justin: Okay, excellent. What is the current problem, as you perceive it, with routines in families?

Dr. Chalfant: I think, as you alluded to, many families lack routine these days. That’s because they feel stressed and overwhelmed, they’re very busy. When parents are working, for example, either one or both parents, if families aren’t living with both parents, then they will say that they don’t have time. They get home from work, they’re just hard-pressed enough to get some homework done with their kids or see that their children get some homework done, get dinner on the table, and get children off to bed.

Often people are chasing their tails through that evening cycle or through the morning routines or the morning time, morning period, and in seeing children complete other tasks like homework tasks, practice a sport, music practice, if children are taking on a musical instrument, for example. There’s often a block to do with being time-poor, people complain about not having enough time, and that’s a problem.

A lack of routine is a problem because all it does, unfortunately, is create more chaos. People feel like they’re chasing their tails constantly. Children, particularly children in adolescence, don’t function well without routines. We know from the scientific literature, from the psychological literature, that they function best when there is structure and order, when they understand exactly what is happening next. With a routine being the same thing done in the same way, maybe every day, then children really need to rely on that in order to have an easy flow through their day and to feel a sense of calm, and to then develop a sense of mastery over whatever skills they might be trying to embed into their routines.

Justin: What about a routine in terms of then when in the school year you’ll have events come up like swimming carnivals, athletics carnivals, cross country, the drama night, do they throw the routine out, or how can you have, as you said, doing the same each day on each day, and then you have those additional events? How do you not let something like that throw out the routine?

Dr. Chalfant: The main way, you first need an established routine in order to accept do other changes to the norm, whatever that might be. Whether it’s because there’s a carnival coming out to prepare for, the [unintelligible 00:05:39], or whatever it might happen to be. When there’s a routine in place that is stuck to pretty consistently, then you can actually quite successfully introduce change.

You can say that normally on Tuesday nights we do homework, for example, or we play sport after school, whatever it might be, but tonight there’s a change and you can introduce that change into the routine. Children see it as a novelty, it’s a one-off, they accept it as a one-off because they know what the normal routine is. When life is just disorganized chaos, there’s no particular routine.

Justin: Or every day feels like a fire drill.

Dr. Chalfant: Yes, exactly. Then those spontaneous things that come up, just add more fuel, if you like, to the fire of what is the chaos of the household. It doesn’t make it any better. What you really need always is an established routine that you can then demonstrate clearly for children where there is a change. You can only show a change when there’s a change from what is the existing established norm. The established norm is always the first port of call.

Same with introducing transitions into a children’s schedule. You’re trying to get them to shift. Particularly, I’m thinking of younger children now with parents, all my clients will often complain that they can’t get their child to pack away or they can’t shift them from, for example, completing an evening task to their bedtime; to shift into the bedtime routine or phase and how they go about doing that.

Even with transitions, you can create a routine around a transition. In preschools, they have things like pack away songs or particular music that they cue, or visual that they use, or maybe it’s a little bell or something that they use, and there’s a little saying or rhyme that goes with it to do with packing away or moving from one activity to the next. We do that from such a young age with children, because we want to, from a very early age, teach them how to move through from one activity to the next, so that by the time they’re adults like us, we don’t need a song or a bell or a visual cue, we know how to move with the flow of our own routine. We’ve hopefully had early experiences going to retain so we can establish our own independently once we are older.

Justin: Right, so we might just need a strong coffee between different things. There are several things you want to discuss in today’s episode, why don’t you go about them.

Dr. Chalfant: I wanted to use the episode to highlight to families strongly the benefits of using routines. There’s 10 benefits that I’ve tried to boil it down to. There’s really many, many, but to keep it simple. In covering of those benefits, what I want to try and do is touch on a couple of key periods in the day where routines are very helpful, like the morning routine, or morning time, after school, so homework routines, the evening or bedtime routines, and the weekends, the value of having a weekend routine as well.

Hopefully, we’ll cover off on all of those. I’ve also just done a little video post for Facebook coming up on our Friday video post to do with the weekend routine as well, where I share our own family’s weekend routine as a little bit of a template for people.

It’s a big focus of mine at the moment because I really think it’s one of the biggest factors in allowing families to organize themselves, bring calm, allow then time for connecting with kids for the fun, for the downtime, because there are clearly established routines in place that allow that to happen.

Justin: Brilliant.

Dr. Chalfant: We’ll go through the advantages and hopefully cover those within some examples.

Justin: Let’s start.

Dr. Chalfant: The first advantage is that routines anchor us. What I mean by that is that they give us, as I just mentioned, a flow to the day or a structure to follow, where we see that one activity leads to the next, leads to the next. There’s a pattern or an order that we’re completing, completing one task after another. For children, because obviously, the focus of this podcast is children in their families, for children and teenagers, when there’s a clear pathway through the day, obviously, that then allows them to operate more independently in following that pathway themselves with practice.

One really good example of that is the morning routine where, hopefully, families would have, and I would strongly encourage families to have a morning routine that looks something like children get up, they use the bathroom, they get dressed for school. Once they’re dressed for school, they have some breakfast. Once they’ve had their breakfast, they do their teeth, brush their hair, use the toilet again, perhaps. They make sure their bags are packed and then they make their way to school, whether that’s by bus, or car, or walking, or whatever it might be.

That every morning, the pattern or the order of those activities is exactly the same. Certainly, in our household, that is the very routine that I just shared that we follow with our four kids.

The benefit of that is that it allows the children to flow easily through the morning without playing catch up or yelling out instructions from one end to the house to the other, “Have you got this for school?” “It’s time to brush your teeth now.” “Come to the breakfast table.” “Have you finished your breakfast?” “Okay, what do you need to do next?”

If you have a routine like the one I’ve just described, then children don’t need those repeated instructions. Parents not needing to give them don’t feel frustrated by constantly giving instructions. It takes the heat out of what can be a tricky situation with getting kids off to school in the morning. It allows children and parents to have an easier flow and a greater sense of calm.

Justin: One of the things you do with that is you can say, “Well, now you’ve had your breakfast. What’s next?” If they haven’t quite gotten on to the next task and because they have done it repeatedly, they can move on.

Dr. Chalfant: Yes. That’s an excellent point because in our family, we have a 4-year-old, a 6-year-old, turning 7, and a nearly 10-year-old, all of whom are at school. Clearly, the level of establishment of routine is different for each of them because they’re at different stages in their development. The four-year-old needs that open-ended questions that prompt, “Okay, what’s next?” That’s enough to trigger for her what the next step of the routine is or as a little gentle reminder, “Okay, I need to do this next. I need to go and brush my teeth next,” or, “I need to pack my bag next.” Whereas the nearly 7 and nearly 10-year-old boys don’t need that question anymore. They’ve been having the routine every morning for long enough that for them, they simply move through it. Obviously, the 10-year-old is better at it than the 7-year-old is better than the 4-year-old. That’s very age appropriate as well.

The idea is that what we’re trying to do in repeating the same activities in the same order every day, which is what a routine is, we’re trying to move them towards independence. That they can eventually do that themselves without the reminders.

Justin: Excellent. I can see the next one here is reduce stress, which is a nice segue from that.

Dr. Chalfant: Exactly. When there’s order, as would make perfect sense, then there is less stress and less anxiety. There’s less rushing around, there’s less chasing tails, as I said. There’s less stress for children in not really knowing what’s going to happen next. What’s the next instruction going to be? What do I need to remember?

All of that builds anxiety in children and it increases frustration for parents because they feel that the child is being slack, whereas, the child feels that they don’t really know what’s going on. So it’s this perfect storm, if you like, of people not really knowing what should be done next and not what what should happen next, which causes frustration. The point of a routine or one of the other benefits of a routine is that it reduces stress and it takes the heat out of that and it allows for calm and therefore for people to move more smoothly through.

The next benefit is that it builds discipline. In having that kind of order or consistency, the same activity in the same way each time it occurs, particularly when you’re looking for consistency in a skill, it allows for that. For example, if we take the bedtime routine or thinking backwards from sleep, people often complain about sleep and the fact that their children not getting a good night sleep.

One of the biggest factors with children being fatigued, in fact, with all individuals being fatigue is looking at whether they’re getting enough sleep. The key there is whether they’re getting to bed early enough. If you want your children to be going to bed at the same set time every night, what they need preceding that is a really clear bedtime routine that starts 45 minutes to an hour before bed, which is again made up of, and I’ll just share our own family’s routine, something like, again, pack your bag ready for school for the next day so that everything is it and you could check that off. Again, depending on the age of kids in the family, some will need more or less help with that than others. Go and do what we call just teeth, toilet, PJs. Our children have a family book–

Justin: Sorry, just to jump in. That’s a nice grouping, a logical grouping.

Dr. Chalfant: Yes, absolutely.

Justin: Explain why would you do that?

Dr. Chalfant: Because it’s easy for a child to remember that when it’s in that cluster of three like that and they all go together, don’t they? So, do your teeth, use the toilet, and go put your pajamas on. It’s a logical grouping as you said, but the way that you deliver that in that cluster makes it easy for a child to remember those three things.

Our children have a family book, so they all sit together and we read to them or one of us reads to them. Then they have– In our family we pray, so they have prayer at bedtime and then they go off to sleep.

Again, because we want them to have a consistent time for sleep, we start that routine 45 minutes to 60 minutes before the sleep time. We go through those activities in the same order every night, so that they don’t need to be reminded about the various components of that routine. There’s less, again, fighting and getting frustrated about the fact that children not getting off to bed and not staying in bed and all those sorts of things that go with the bedtime routine typically and cause frustration in parents.

Justin: Yes. Another good thing to point out is between dinner and then beginning that routine there are no screens, there is no TV, there is not–

Dr. Chalfant: Not in our routine, there’s not. Generally, clinical psychologists like myself and other medical professionals and pediatricians, et cetera would highly recommend against children having screen time in the hour at least or two before they go off to bed anyway.

The point about discipline there is that could be applied to really anything. If you want your child to develop consistency with a skill. If you want them to develop a more consistent skill level with their music, let’s say they’re learning piano, for example, or with practicing for a sport. At the moment, our eldest son is in a basketball team and so he needs to practice his shooting.

Having a routine around those activities in that it’s done at the same set time each day or every other day and even for the activity itself, that there’s a routine in how it’s implemented. For example, music practice might consist all of, it’s piano practice, 5 or 10 minutes worth of doing scales on the piano and then 5 or 10 minutes spent on a particular component of a piece that the child may be working on or practicing, then maybe 5 or 10 minutes with something that’s more free or they can ad lib or relax and play something that they wish, et cetera.

When it’s the same style or same order each time they go to practice, it builds discipline. It builds order for them and that leads to more competency and more consistency with the skill that they’re working on.

Justin: Right. If anyone’s thinking that the discipline is somehow going to stymie creativity, it is not because the child will be able to flourish within the discipline and actually be able to be creative and enjoy the creativity because they have that, particularly say learning piano, is that they are going through that set routine each time in that lesson. That makes a lot of sense.

Dr. Chalfant: That is an excellent point.

Justin: Efficiency. How does a routine make things more efficient when they’re so rigid?

Dr. Chalfant: [laughs] Because you don’t need to nag basically. As a parent, if you’re spending all day chasing children around the house or teenagers trying to get them to clean their room, move from here to there, transition from one task to another, get to homework, start unpacking bags after school, et cetera, and you’re constantly chasing them through those, then that wastes a lot of time because each of those moments of interaction, or negative interaction potentially, most likely becomes an individual fire that you then have to put out multiple times through the day.

When there’s an established routine, you don’t need to do that. The routine basically becomes another way of saying, “Well, this is just what happens in this house. This is just the way we do things here.” There’s an implicit or an underlying message that the child gets, that you don’t really need to state because the routine is there. That takes all of the need for nagging and the child coming back to you and saying, “Oh, why do I have to blah, blah, blah?” Because you can simply refer to the fact that, “Well, this is the way we do things here. This is the established routine.”

All they’re really arguing against is the routine, as opposed to you the parent delivering an instruction, which is a very different scenario in terms of parent-child interaction.

Justin: Taking the heat out of it. What else do you have for us?

Dr. Chalfant: The next aspect after efficiency that’s beneficial from a routine is that it creates a framework to teach a skill. This is something that I really love about the broader sense of routines. I’m not talking anymore about morning routines or homework routines, et cetera, I’m talking about a way of using the concept of a routine or the same way of doing the same activity each time to teach even really small children, from as young as six months, early skills and it enhances their body development when you use routines. For example, if we think about Joakim, now, 14-month old, from as young as when he was six months old– I know, again, this is very well supported in the literature, looking at early intervention and early education for really small children, even those children, who’ve got some developmental difficulty, using routines to teach things like language, first words, early motor skills, like climbing, early cognitive development, completing puzzles, routines around skills like feeding, and self-care can all be taught using a routine.

I’d use Joey as an example, Joakim who we referred to is Joey or Jojo. For Jojo, who is 14 months, when he was 13 months, obviously, he was moving around the house now that he could toddle a lot faster and that was causing some concern because there’s some sets of stairs in our home. We started to, at that point, teach him how to go safely down the stairs with some help initially, but eventually the idea to be on his own doing that. Not, unsupervised, but independently whilst there’s an adult watching him.

Justin: Correct.

Dr. Chalfant: We started that process by, initially the routine was to physically prompt him, show him the right place to put his hands, the right place to put his feet, where his belly should go as he’s trying to move his body down the stairs, so with adult physical assistance.

Justin: You would physically handle him down the stairs?

Dr. Chalfant: Correct. As we did that, we paired that with words, like hands down, leg first, tummy down, for example. Now he doesn’t necessarily know what those words mean in and of themselves at that stage, but over time hearing the same pairing of words with the same physical prompting, every time he comes to a set of stairs and we try and follow through and be there every time he comes to a set of stairs, then that it becomes a routine for him about climbing the stairs or going up and down the stairs, that in and of itself is a routine. Within that routine, because it happens so frequently and it’s always paired with that language in that way, then he starts to learn how to become more independent.

We get to the point then when he’s not 13 months, but maybe 14 months, which he is now and where we can start to take away the physical prompts so that level of scaffolding or support if you like, can be reduced and we’re observing that he now can put his hands down in the right place without being told. We’ve built some independence in his ability to move up and down the stairs. In fact, he’s more independent than that. Now, he can actually go down the stairs on his own. Although he doesn’t understand or have the capacity to say, hand first, or legs first, or legs down, he’s actually articulating some sounds now as he does that. He’s learned that there are words or sounds for him that go with those movements and over time again, again, the goal would be, or what is most likely to happen is he will start to actually articulate those words, like legs, or hands, or down as initial words that might come with that activity.

In the same way that when we’ve taught him or when I’ve taught him, through feeding from six months, the age when do we give kids solid? Six months of age on. That’s what I think the recommended guideline is.

Justin: When you get to four, you don’t worry about the guidelines


Dr. Chalfant: That’s true, but for children, yes, that’s true. I think we started a bit earlier than six months, but anyway. From six months of age, if you’re sitting and you’ve got the baby in the high chair, and you’re trying to give them some food, again, words like more, or the labels of the food that they’re eating or want some or any of those things may not in and of themselves be particularly meaningful but when they’re constantly paired with a particular action, like holding up a spoon and looking in an anticipatory way at the child and saying, “More?” Like a question and waiting for the child to even vocalize or give you eye contact, or look at you in some way, when they do delivering the food as a response to that bid for attention from the child, when you do that every single time, that becomes a routine.

Then, eventually, you start to see that the child will look and vocalize as a way of bidding for attention and some food, or they might even start to say the first sound of the word more, once they nine and up to 12 months of age, they might go mm or make a sound that sounds very similar to the word more like moo or whatever it might be, something more open-ended in terms of their sounds. That only happens because they have learned through the same activities going together at the same time, over and over again, that that’s the routine.

Routines are great for bedtime, homework, after school, morning, all those things. The way we run our life. The way I manage my work routine, my schedule, all those things, but they are the most incredible tool to use, to actually teach children from really early toddler years and up about language, motor skills, self-care, feeding.

At the moment another example with Joey is putting a nappy on him at the moment. He’s so busy. He wants to move around all the time. We’ve got nappy pants for him at the moment when I bend over him and say, “Leg in and hold the nappy,” over time that has become a routine where he’s now lifting his leg to put it in the nappy and I’m simply holding it open, ready waiting for him. The repetition and the fact that that’s happening, in the same way, each time allows him to show the very earliest phases of those really important self-care routines.

Justin: Absolutely, then how does that affect children that are older say with homework? How does that same methodology apply to homework, obviously being around learning something like spelling, times tables, et cetera? Can you explain how that–

Dr. Chalfant: Using routine to facilitate–

Justin: To facilitate that, not the active now, now is the time for homework, but let’s say learning times tables. Let’s just focus on that one thing. How do you create that scaffold?

Dr. Chalfant: Yes, absolutely. Exactly. Again, whatever routine or scaffold you choose to use, you’re playing with semantics around the word routine, whether there’s, for example, a– Let’s take our 10-year-old because he’s learning times tables at the moment, so I keep it really practical. For him, we might have a routine in the car. I do have a routine in the car going to school where I’ll test his timetables and I’ll give him a period of time within which to answer. We treat it like a quiz show game, where I go baaa, if he’s out of time and then we’ll rehearse the ones that he’s a little more shaky with, and then we’ll go back and repeat them and relearn them. Then we’ll come back and I’ll give him that shorter time frame again.

In that little car activity, as an example, he knows that the routine is he gets given a set type of timetable. Let’s say we’re driving to school and I say, “Okay, today we’re going to do the four times tables.” I deliver them in random order, whenever he misses the allocated time period, it’s like I give him three seconds to answer. If he’s longer than three seconds, he gets a baa. He knows that he’s then going to rehearse that with me several times and then he knows that that gets embedded back into the original activity we go through it again in random order. That in and of itself is the routine that we have just in the car trip in the morning for practicing his times tables. We don’t do it every day, but every now and then we will do that.

In learning more broadly, in sitting down when children want to sit down do their homework, and work through their homework using routines is valuable. They’re not just that there is do maths tonight and do English tomorrow, et cetera, but teaching them the value of how to create something like a list and cross off as they go through their homework routine. Working with them and explaining, again, this is for older primary school-aged children, or even certainly for teenagers, but teaching them how to make a list of the tasks that they have to do. Put that list into some order of priority, then allocate time frames to the activities that are ordered in that list, and then have a way of crossing off as they go.

For our eldest child who’s nearly 10, at the moment as he completes a homework activity, he starts with a in tray and moves it to an out tray. There is a starting pile and he physically lifts it and puts it in a finished pile. So for him there’s a very concrete and visual way that he’s seeing that he’s progressing through the routine and in and of itself, that is a little routine, the movement, the repetition of doing all of that. For an older child, it may just simply be a written list that they cross off and they feel a sense of completion as they get through that task.

We use routines in ordering activities, in the way we deliver an activity for learning like the times table example. We use routines in how we even set up an activity to be completed successfully. The homework routine in our house, again, if I think of Fred, our eldest, we have worked out a routine in terms of when different activities are, or different learning subjects are completed. He knows that Monday night is the night that he does as much of his schoolwork as he possibly can. His school homework almost all of it gets done, except for spelling, because spelling has a little bit to do each night. Tuesday, he knows that there’s nothing on because he plays sport after school. Wednesday, he does the next bit of spelling. Thursday, he does some revision for spelling tests that may be coming up and we do a little bit of a learning project that we have, in fact, sorry, that’s on Wednesday, I’ve got the days wrong.

We have something that we call, an I wonder list. We use that as a kind of interest or a little project, a five minute,10 minute project with the kids. They have a list where they write down things that they’re wondering about, maybe their scientific questions, we’ve had questions on that list like, Xavier, our second eldest wanted to know what’s Vegemite made out of, they’ve had questions about how does thunder come about those sorts of things. Things that they just are very interested in. We would use the, I wonder period in the evening on whatever night that falls to explore with the internet, with a book, doing some research for five or 10 minutes together, and then talking about what we’ve discovered.

That falls into our, if you like, homework routine, even though it’s not strictly homework from school, but it’s something that is occurring in the homework period on a particular night of our weeknights. The children know what’s happening every night. They know that it’s the same every week and they operate more independently because everything is the same every week like that.

Justin: Absolutely. Wrapping up.

Dr. Chalfant: Yes. The last benefits really having discussed all of those examples and advantages are the fact that these routines then build competence, they build independence and they build self confidence because children are able, with repetition, to learn the routine, to move smoothly through it, to then eventually move independently through it, without assistance. Then to feel confident because they are developing skills by doing that and they get a sense of mastery over whatever the skill is that they’re working on, as simple or as complex as that may be. That ultimately provides a pathway to achieving their goals, whatever goals they might set for themselves.

I suppose one really great example of, again, I said at the start, I was really excited about talking about routines, which maybe makes me very mundane kind of person, but nonetheless different things excite different people don’t they? There was an example which just highlighted to me how valuable routines are and how much we actually rely on them for confidence, for a sense of stability, for a sense of achieving goals and purpose. That was, looking back, I can’t remember why I was even looking at this, but looking back on the Chilean miners who were in a mine that then collapsed, this was over 10 years ago now. At the time it took, I think three months to get them out of the mines. They were there for 17 days before they were even discovered. Then once they were discovered, it was another three to four months of drilling almost 24/7 to get them out freely and safely.

In that time, the leader of the group of miners discussed afterwards that he set up really clear routines for each of the miners during the time that they were underground, in order to give them a sense of purpose, to give them something to focus on, to concentrate on, to give them a sense of meaning each day. It was routines like, for them, it was helping with mapping or shifting rocks or taking turns to do various activities. There was even a routine around their eating, where none of them ate until everyone’s food had been delivered down.

These were things that were done in order to keep the group basically sane, through what was an absolutely horrendous ordeal. Imagine waiting for four months to be freed from underground and coping. What really allowed them to do that was the fact that they had routines in place, which helped their mental health.

The biggest point, in those other advantages I just listed is ultimately it is all about again, helping families thrive, the benefits to mental health or mental well being for kids and teenagers. That really is the value of routine.

Justin: Excellent. Are there any areas where we need to be careful with routines? Any warning warnings you might have?

Dr. Chalfant: Not wanting to sound like I have no flexibility or spontaneity whatsoever, it is important that you be creative at times as well and that there is room for spontaneity, but as we said earlier, that’s only easy to implement when there are established routines and then you can put transitions, fun, downtime, creativity and all of that zest into life.

It’s also really important that you review routines that things become stale sometimes after a while or less relevant depending on the age of the child. Either of those can be factors that need to be reviewed. In our own household, we started off the new school year with a sense of a bit of chaos, who’s going where and when, who’s got what extracurricular activities on where this year, what times of day and all of that. That took a few weeks before we were able to actually literally write out a routine for all of the kids, with, who’s got library when, who’s got sports when, who’s doing music when, who’s finishing school at what time, all of those sorts of things. Who’s picking up who, who’s getting the bus, all of that sort of stuff.

Then once we did that, we put that into a little Excel spreadsheet and then we reviewed it a few weeks later. With the first few weeks, we actually wrote little notes on it to say, “This needs to change here, this needs to move here, we’ve got to adjust this time,” et cetera, et cetera. Then just slightly shifted the routine accordingly. Who’s doing homework on what nights and what homework are they doing? All that sort of stuff.

The thing to think about is, just be open to reviewing routines, once they’re set up, it’s not so rigid that you just absolutely can’t change them. You have to be flexible as well and look at what’s being effective and what’s not and then adjust accordingly.

Justin: Okay, excellent. Thank you very much for going deeply into routines. Now, a recap of a recent Facebook posts about the COVID-19, coronavirus. Can we use this time just to recap that and give you an opportunity just to– People can look at the Facebook post at Annie’s Centre on Facebook, but in your own words again, what’s the essence of the message about coronavirus you want to give to families?

Dr. Chalfant: Yes and I spoke about this very briefly on radio during the week on 2GB. That was because I was listening and a caller rang in and he was talking about, I think it was his son and the fact that they suffered with anxiety anyway, but they had been at the hospital over the weekend in an absolute full blown anxiety attack, a panic attack, worrying about health and what is happening.

There are children and teenagers who do have what we call, health related anxiety or generalized worries and one of their areas of worry is health. With all of this going around at the moment, watching people just strip the shelves of toilet paper, pasta, rice, and you name it or listen to it constantly on the news feed or see the Armageddon-like descriptions that are being produced within the media, particularly the television media, then it is really hard for children to know exactly how bad the situation is and whether they should be very worried or not.

The reason why I did this Facebook post and, again, rang into 2GB and got briefly interviewed about it, is because the first thing that parents really need to do is to keep calm. It sounds like an obvious thing to say, but perhaps it’s not so obvious at the moment in all of the hysteria that seems to be going around. Children really need to feel confident in their parents and in the society more broadly. If parents are hysterical or panicky or expressing worry in front of their children, then children will genuinely feel that there is something serious to be worried about.

Justin: You could think you’re being calm, but you’re actually, when your partner comes home that you’re having the conversation about, “Hey, have we got all these toilet paper, pasta? Have we got all these different things?” Then the children begin to worry, but in your world you’re having an adult to adult conversation. It might be brief because it’s busy, but the children could be picking up on levels of anxiety or worry or thinking, “Oh, what I’m seeing in the media is true. We need to go and race out and do these things.” You got to be careful about how you–

Dr. Chalfant: You’ve got to be careful about the tone of your conversation with children and in front of children, absolutely. I think the best thing in being calm is just speaking about facts in a matter of fact and calm way rather than in that breathless, “Oh my goodness. Where is it now? Which country has locked its borders?”

Justin: A quick comment on the TV.

Dr. Chalfant: Yes, absolutely. All those sorts of things-

Justin: Put this on Twitter [unintelligible 00:40:09].

Dr. Chalfant: – and making much more of a situation than what may be required.

Speaking about it in a methodical and calm way, and in a confident way. One example of that with small children is just explaining calmly to children that they have very good immunity. They have very good immune systems, and in all likelihood for a child to firstly get the virus, it would be far less likely. Secondly, if they did, they would experience cold, maybe flu symptoms in the same way that they possibly had flu or cold before many times, and got over that just as effectively. The chances of anything dire happening are very slim indeed. Really boosting their confidence and being positive, or talking positively about immunity and about their health, and about how strong they are, and how well they’re able to cope when things like colds and flus come around, and it’s just like that. That’s the first thing, keeping calm.

The second thing is about educating maybe older children and adolescents, giving them facts rather than sitting them in front of hysterical TV news reporters, and getting them to ruminate over it afterwards, or digest it without any parent intervention. By facts, I mean, going to responsible and fact-based websites like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, New South Wales Health, for those that live in Sydney or in New South Wales, has some very good information. There are lots of fact sheets that these websites have produced. There’s great information for families that parents can either sit down alongside a child and just read and then discuss, or could read themselves and then shape or tailor the information that they digest for a child to the right developmental level, and set at the right tone for that child’s development.

Justin: Makes a lot of sense.

Dr. Chalfant: Then the other aspect of educating is being honest. Some parents, including us, don’t have all the answers in terms of the complexity of this virus, and how fast it may be spreading, and how it’s spreading. Again, through the media, it’s very unclear at times. When children come home from perhaps hearing about this at school, or from other children, or from other environments where they may be participating and then ask parents these questions, when you don’t know, it’s really important to say, “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out for you.” Then look that up, do the research, and then again, tailor that research to the appropriate level of your child’s development, and set it at the appropriate tone. Don’t have the child research and looking for something you don’t know, because I think as a parent, you need to have a first pass, look at that information and see how appropriate it is or isn’t to discuss with your child.

Keeping calm, educating your children in various ways that we’ve just described. Then the third aspect is really just using your common sense as a parent, which sometimes is not so common. Again, looking at what are the ways that the virus is spreading? What are the things you can do to prevent that? There are two main ways, hygiene and boosting immunity. Boosting immunity through ensuring that you’ve got really good sleep habits for your children, that they’re getting enough sleep. Boosting immunity through making sure they’re eating very healthily, fruit, vegetables, good vitamin C. All those sorts of things.

Justin: Exercise.

Dr. Chalfant: Yes, absolutely. All those things are really important for a child’s immunity to ensure that they stand the best chance for maintaining health.

Then, obviously, hygiene practices which now are all over the place in terms of visuals, fact sheets online, video tube clips, you name–

Justin: Sing happy birthday in your head as you’re washing your hands.

Dr. Chalfant: Anything, all that stuff or just any visuals, like your flowcharts. Schools have them everywhere now, if they didn’t already, but about healthy hand washing and coughing and sneezing, and all those things. Just using common sense. Common sense, educating kids and keeping calm, are the main things.

Justin: In the words of Winston Churchill, “Keep calm and carry on”.

Dr. Chalfant: That’s exactly right.

Justin: This is actually my favorite part of the show today, which is a film review. What I enjoyed about this particularly, is that we watched the film first, and we were able to then enjoy it and then say that this would actually be great to film for our children. I’m glad you’ve reviewed it, and I’m going to share it with all of our listeners.

Ride Like a Girl, directed by Rachel Griffiths. What do you want to talk about with this– [crosstalk]

Dr. Chalfant: Ride Like a Girl, I chose it for this episode because we’ve just had over the weekend, International Women’s Day. Ride Like a Girl is a great story, among other things. It’s a great story about a phenomenal woman. It’s based on the story of Michelle Payne, and her quest and her dream to win the Melbourne Cup, which for those who don’t live in Australia and don’t have much to do with horse racing, is probably one of– it’s our most well known horse race.

Justin: That’s going to be one of world’s famous.

Dr. Chalfant: I think it’s one of the world’s most famous horse races. She’s an Australian woman who grows up in Ballarat. This story charts her life and her various challenges through life in wanting to achieve this dream of winning a Melbourne Cup.

Justin: It’s every jockey’s dream, by the way, to win the Melbourne Cup.

Dr. Chalfant: Yes, absolutely, and she is a jockey. Nonetheless, she’s a female jockey in what really is a male-dominated industry without a doubt. I chose it for that reason, but also because, as you said, it was a fantastic family film. It’s got some great Australian actors. It’s directed by Rachel Griffiths, Teresa Palmer, Sam Neill, phenomenal–

Justin: He migh be a New Zealand actor but–. [laughs]

Dr. Chalfant: [crosstalk] sometimes but sometimes we do. Stevie Payne, which is actually Michelle Payne’s brother, plays himself in the film. He has down syndrome, and he is incredible in this movie, actually. Magda Szubanski, Brooke Satchwell, there’s a list of very famous Australian actors and actresses who do a brilliant job.

The story of Michelle Payne wanting to win the Melbourne Cup, like any jockey would. She’s one of 10 children, single father, her mother dies when she is very small. Despite the fact that it’s such a large family with a single parent, they’re a close family, and that came through really beautifully in the film, that they supported each other through all sorts of challenges.

I can say from a little bit of personal experience that I’ve actually met one of Michelle Payne’s siblings. I won’t say who, but the strong impression you get from speaking even to her is that they are a close family, and that they do support each other, and that they wish nothing but the best. That was very clear in this film, the closeness of the family, how supportive they were, and how they backed each other through each other’s trials and tribulations, including supporting Stevie and his desire to be involved in the racing industry himself, ultimately to become a strapper and work in stables, and things like that.

It tracks the family’s life, Michelle’s life and her challenges, the way she overcomes them, and ultimately, this great message of having a growth mindset and never giving up, which I think is wonderful for kids to see. We talk a lot in the scientific literature and in the psychological literature about the value of a growth mindset, and how important that is in achieving success, but also in developing good characters, and resilience and all those sorts of things. This is a great film for highlighting just how important having a growth mindset, always trying, never giving up on your dreams, going for it no matter what comes, how important that is.

Our children in watching this, I wasn’t sure how they were going to go, because it is about horse racing.

Justin: What should they don’t have anything to do with. [laughs]

Dr. Chalfant: They know absolutely nothing about it, and we probably know even less than that. Obviously, their range in age as well. Joey clearly didn’t watch it, the 14-month-old, but Edith, who is four years old, Xavier, who’s nearly seven and Frederick, who’s nearly 10, did watch it. I can honestly say that they were completely hooked in this film.

Justin: Absolutely.

Dr. Chalfant: They were on the edge of their seat when we were turning it off for– We had to split the film because it reached their bedtime one night, and they got to come home and watch it the next day as a treat after school. They were so frustrated when we turned off the movie, understandably, but they were just so engaged and engrossed in it. Then the next day when they came to watch it again, they couldn’t wait. They were talking about it for the rest of the week afterwards, from aspects of, how did she overcome these injuries? Just the way she kept trying, discussions around the relationships within the family. It was so–


Justin: They could see the sibling relationships relating it to themselves and that was great.

Dr. Chalfant: Yes. The other thing that was great that I loved about the film– That growth mindset that never giving up theme, that I think is really wonderful for children to see, the themes of family support.

Also the theme really of awareness of disability and inclusion. I really loved that the children engaged with that and enjoyed that too. Looking at Stevie Payne who does have Down syndrome and the fact that he also in a way in parallel to his sister was pursuing his own desires in working in a stable and working as a strapper, and working with someone great and supporting his sister and informing his own identity and his own independent set of skills, working in his own capacity, doing a fantastic job and to be respected, as he was, for the job that he was doing. It was great to have children to see that and to see the value of inclusiveness. When there is the right kind of support that people with disabilities can really thrive and do well.

I thought that on so many levels, this was an incredible film. That plus the fantastic actors in it just made it a brilliant movie to watch from adults through to kids, and a really excellent family film. I would rate this a 9 out of 10. It is an absolute must see for a family. Watch this film with your family.

Justin: We watched it on Apple iTunes. It was released at the cinemas late last year, September 2019. I’m sure it’s available on DVD and there are many other streaming services now, but that’s where we watched it, on Apple TV. Absolutely, Ride Like a Girl, directed by Rachel Griffiths, 9 out of 10.

Well, we are at the end of our show and you have a coronavirus themed joke I see.

Dr. Chalfant: Do I?

Justin: Yes.

Dr. Chalfant: What did one elevators say to the other elevator?

Justin: I do not know.

Dr. Chalfant: I think I’m coming down with something.

Justin: [unintelligible 00:52:27] Again that’s a wrap for another episode of the Annie’s Centre Podcast. You can find us on Facebook, The Annie’s Centre website,, that’s centre spelt the English way, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn, and also YouTube. I know we’ve added YouTube as well, so all over social media. Please search the hashtag, Helping families thrive, that’s the hashtag, Helping families thrive. Please also ensure you leave comments, ask questions on any of those social media profiles.

Dr. Chalfant: All right. Our mission is to help families thrive and I hope with this episode tonight we have done just that. Please go to our Annie’s Centre Facebook page and leave a comment and don’t forget to review and rate the podcast using the app. All right.

Justin: Thank you.


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