What are the words to describe this season of social isolation and self-quarantine during COVID-19? I can think of a few:

Frustrating. Stressful. 

Extremely inconvenient. 

Full of anxiety. 

Ruined my plans. 

What day is it again? 

(I could go on…) 

As I was talking with friends (six feet from my computer screen, of course) about how normal life has been turned upside down by this Global Pandemic, I was struck with an interesting thought: Social distancing has taken away all the excuses for not doing the things I’ve said I’m too busy to do. 

For those who are self-quarantined, it has removed a great deal of busyness. Sure, many of us still have to work or do school from home. But chances are we haven’t been fighting traffic to get home, rushing kids to ball games, or struggling to get dinner prepared at a decent hour. This weird point in our current history has created at least some margin in our daily lives. And where there’s margin, there’s an opportunity

I realize this calls for an intentional change in our outlook on our situation. You almost have to unnaturally choose to see the opportunities before you. But I really do think they are there. 

Below are five ways—opportunities, if you will—that social distancing can increase happiness in the home. 

  1. The opportunity to slow down. Social isolation has given us the margin of time. Even if you are working from home, or if your kids are doing school remotely, chances are you can dictate and shape your schedule more than you’ve been used to. 
    • Use that to your advantage. Ask yourself, what are the important things I’ve put off because I said I was too busy? Exercise. Taking a daily walk. Reading. Meaningful conversations with your spouse. Playing in the yard with your kids. Reconnecting with that old school friend. Yoga. Eating at the dinner table each night. Meditation. And don’t forget time to just sit on the front porch… and breathe. 
    • Make a list. Schedule it. Do it! 
  2. The opportunity to clean the clutter. There are two sides to this. Yes, now we have some time to fix that leaky pipe, clean out the garage, and weed the garden (how convenient for the pandemic to happen during Spring cleaning!). 
    • But there’s also the side of cleaning up the clutter that has built up in our relationships with the people we love in our home. Maybe the busyness of your previous life has caused some disconnection between you and your family members. Now is the opportunity to engage in good, healthy, deeper conversations and times of connection. 
    • Our family decided to open up the box of conversation-starter questions that’s been sitting unused on our kitchen table. Every evening at dinner, we’ve had some of the funniest and most interesting talks around these questions. However you decide to clear that space, make it an intentional and daily routine. 
    • One word of caution: Cleaning the clutter may also mean visiting some of the issues that have been lingering between you and your spouse or your kids. This may be a good time to work things out. However, be very aware of stress levels and be strategic as to when the best times are to talk things out. It’s not a good idea to work on old issues when the anxiety is particularly high. 
  3. The opportunity to focus on others in need. Obviously you are not alone in feeling the stress and anxiety. There are those in our neighborhoods and communities who are hurting right now. This is a great opportunity for you and your family to help ease the fears and uncertainties of others, even while you are social distancing. 
    • One charitable neighbor of ours set out a tub full of hand-sanitizers on the sidewalk in front of their yard for anyone who had need. My daughter (on her own) created cheerful cards to give to the neighbors. Someone else in our neighborhood organized a “bear hunt” through social media—our neighbors were invited to display teddy bears and other stuffed animals in our windows so that when kids walked by, they could “hunt” for as many bears as they could. 
    • Anything you can do to bring a smile and sense of cheer to those around you will most certainly bring happiness to your own home. 
  4. The opportunity to be appreciative. When we are super-busy, it’s easy to forget to stop and remember what we should be thankful for. Practicing gratitude increases a sense of happiness and well-being in the home. No matter how much or little one has, there are always reasons to be thankful—for food on the table, the air you breathe, a roof over your heads, the people you love in your home. 
    • Acknowledge what you appreciate. Make it a practice at mealtime to share with each other what you are thankful for. Make a daily “gratitude list.” Thankfulness is a strong tool to temper anxiety and to boost happiness. 
  5. The opportunity to play and be creative. At no other time in our recent history has it been so vital to inject some fun, laughter, and play into our daily lives. Now is the time for family Monopoly games, Nerf wars, movie nights, making breakfast for dinner, camping in the backyard, playing in the rain, and family dance-offs. These activities cut through the stress and provide the glue that bonds family members more closely together. Don’t let the tension of quarantine compromise the opportunity to make memories. Laugh and have some fun!

Opportunities don’t take themselves. You have to be intentional about using the margin you’ve been given as you incorporate social distancing into your life. However, the payoff for you and your family is tremendous.

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Are You Setting a Good Example of Self-Care for Your Family?

Take the time to do some things each day that help you deal with all the chaos.

I fish. It’s what I do. Some have asked me what in the world draws me to stand by a pond and throw a little feathered hook in the water time and time again, often with very few results. I fish so I can de-stress. 

It’s mindless (somewhat) and I can leave all the emotion, anxiety, and uncertainties behind me for just a little while. If you fish, you understand this. I can clear my head before re-entering the real world. Fishing is my self-care

Self-Care… It’s become a popular term that’s popped up in conversations around health, mindfulness, and stress. You do self-care when you do any kind of action deliberately in order to care for your mental, physical, or emotional health. And it’s widely thought to be effective in reducing anxiety and stress. 

How apropos in our current state. At perhaps no other time in recent memory has it been so important to stay healthy. Stress and anxiety are at an all-time high. People are stuck at home. Routines are turned upside down. Family members are spending way more time with each other than they are used to. 

I’d say self-care is a precious commodity right about now. 

I don’t know about you, but in my house, it’s easy to give our kids a schedule that includes some healthy activities. However, it’s extremely difficult for me personally to get into a routine of self-care activities. My game is so thrown off by the stress of our circumstances. And it’s sometimes a fight just to get me away from the computer screen. 

But it has to happen. As parents, we’ve got to be a good example and practice self-care right now. And here’s why: 

You can’t give what you don’t have. 

Meaning, if you want your kids to practice self-care, you need to self-care. You’ve got to fill your tank so you have it in you to help them fill their tanks. When you self-care, you’re better able to handle feelings of anxiety, fear, uncertainty, and stress. This is important so these emotions don’t get the best of you. 

Pay attention to yourself. Keep an eye on the radar of your emotional state. Take the time to do some things each day that help you deal with all the chaos that is going on

  • Go for a walk. Get some fresh air. Let the sun shine on your face for a little while. 
  • Meditate or pray. Sing (out loud). 
  • Get plenty of sleep. 
  • Do push-ups. Or go for a run. Or practice yoga. Anything to stretch, strengthen, and move the body. 
  • Eat clean. Healthier food keeps your energy up. Drink plenty of water. 
  • But, every few days, sneak in that Oreo. Because… stress
  • Read a book. Watch a documentary. Keep your mental game strong. 
  • Communicate your needs to the people that love you. Let them know when you need to be alone. And let them know when you need to be with them. Get plenty of both. 

These are just a small number of suggestions for self-care. Search online for other ideas and find out what feeds your health—body and soul. And then do it. Regularly. 

Of course, we don’t self-care simply for our own needs. Our families are depending on us. That’s why it’s so important that we set a good example of self-care as parents.

Your moments of self-care are the teachable moments for your kids.

As parents, every little thing we do is seen. Young eyes are watching how we handle ourselves—especially in the midst of anxiety and stress. They take their emotional cues from what they see in us. “Do as I say, not as I do” is a terrible parenting style—particularly when it comes to self-care. They need to see you handling your health in a positive way

It’s okay for your kids to know you are anxious or fearful. But it’s so much more important that they see how you handle your anxiety and fear. When they see you taking care of yourself, you are modeling that for your children. It may sound funny, but your example of self-care leaves a legacy. 

Parents, take care of yourself. For your sake, and for your kids. They’re counting on you.

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I’ve never felt so fragile. When my kids were younger and we were driving somewhere, we would point to places we passed and say, “That would be a great place to hold up if there was a zombie apocalypse!” I always (idealistically) pictured myself as a strong “apocalypse” survivor-type. Now, I’m in something that feels apocalyptic and I’m not so sure. I’m scared.

In no particular order, every day at some point, I find myself worrying about:

  • Am I going to get COVID-19?
  • Will I be able to weather this financial storm?
  • Am I hurting my son’s education by not being “on top of it”?
  • Am I leading my family well? Being a good husband? Father?

But by far, my biggest anxiety is about loved ones getting COVID-19. I fear that someone I care about is going to get sick, or worse.

Consider the following:

  • My wife is in the medical field. No social-distancing for her.
  • My at-risk, elderly mother-in-law lives with us.
  • Our daughter is in another state that is under “Shelter-in-Place” law.
  • Two of our sons work at a restaurant that is still open for takeout.
  • Our other son just informed me that his friend’s little sister, down the street, is being tested for COVID-19.
  • My extended family is all in a state far more devastated by COVID-19.

This isn’t even taking into account my many friends that are working on the “front lines” of the medical field, counseling profession and parts of the police force. Plenty of worries to keep my mind busy and distractible and exhausted. I know that many of you are dealing with the same things. 

Worry, Anxiety, Fear, Insecurity, Nervousness… whatever you want to call it, it takes a toll on you. It’ll flip you for real.

[This is the place where I’m supposed to give you the dictionary definition of “worry” and maybe go on to provide you with research about how anxiety affects your health and maybe even encourage you to talk to a counselor if it gets really bad. I could do that.]

Here’s how I try to deal with it…

  • I have a grid of principles that I run my worry through:
    • Is this worry about something that I can’t control, can control, or maybe influence?
    • Is this worry masking a deeper issue that I need to address?
    • How am I going to choose to respond to this worry, not react?
  • I know that my mind and body are connected. Am I practicing good self-care? Getting enough sleep and exercise? Eating right and getting enough water? Am I controlling my breathing?
  • My environment influences my state of mind. I’m working from home now, so I listen to relaxing music or soothing white noise. I set up my “work station” near a big window to let the sun in or by my television playing long YouTube videos of relaxing campfires, trickling streams, or colorful aquariums.
  • I try to be informed while not allowing a steady stream of panic-inducing “noise” into my head via news and social media. It’s a balancing act. I try to only go to the CDC website and check the news no more than once a day because I want to be informed by accurate information but not conformed by the fear-mongering clickbait. 
  • I put anxious energy to use! Family Movie Night and Family Game Night help us all stay connected. We try to do chores together and make them fun. Instead of calling or texting friends and family like I normally would, I use an app like FaceTime or Google Meet so I can actually see them and see how they are doing.

Camping out in feelings of anxiety, worry, and fear about loved ones getting COVID doesn’t do anybody any good. It doesn’t help you and it certainly doesn’t help them. You may not be able to control the thoughts and feelings that “pop” into your head, BUT you can control what you do with them!

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Wait, your mother-in-law lives with you? Yup! For over two years now! The reactions range from “That’s so sweet!” to “Ugh. What’s that like?” It has been wonderful, but with COVID-19 and having to live in quarantine, it has definitely presented some new challenges. (Obviously, the older people in your life may not live with you, but these principles still apply.)

Check in on quarantined older or elderly family members, friends and neighbors.

Some of them may be in quarantine alone. I try to use apps like FaceTime or Google Meet to actually see them face to face instead of just making a phone call or texting. You might be able to see more worry or anxiety on their face than they would actually confide in you. (You might have to talk them through how to use something like FaceTime. It took, like 10 seconds with my mom and she was delighted to have a face-to-face connection!)

Ask them lots of questions, then really listen to their answers. Are they revealing how they really feel “between the lines?” Ask good follow-up questions about their physical and emotional health. Offer (read: insist) to run errands for them to minimize their exposure risk.

Normally, I advise married couples that each of them should generally deal with their own parents—especially if they have to deliver bad news, like, “we can’t make it to your place for Thanksgiving,” and to never make their spouse the “bad guy” to his or her in-laws. That’s still good advice, but definitely check in on your in-laws! This might be a key time to develop a deeper connection with them—that’s always worth it! 

The In-Laws

Speaking of in-laws, I’ve noticed something intriguing lately…  

While there are definitely some things my wife can talk to her mom about that I can’t, there are other times when being the son-in-law gives me a special voice into her life. This “voice” has been used a lot lately when it comes to the quarantine.

Case In Point: My mother-in-law recently had a doctor’s appointment. It was just a follow-up and she had a few questions for her doctor. My wife and I talked and agreed that a doctor’s office was the last place she needed to be in our current COVID-19 situation. The night before the appointment, my wife told her mom that she should definitely NOT go to this appointment for her own safety. It was more risk than reward—for an elderly person especially and even for all of us quarantined together. Her mom heard her out and politely said that she really felt that she needed to keep the appointment. (Mothers and daughters—it’s a “thing” at any age.) So, the next morning I played dumb with my mother-in-law, or MIL.

Me: So, what do you have planned for the day?

MIL: I’ve just got a doctor’s appointment to go to.

Me: I’m not trying to get into your business, but is everything okay?

MIL: Oh, yeah. It’s just a follow-up. I have a few questions for my doctor.

Me:  Just some questions? Go snag your phone. I wanna show you something cool!

Then I proceeded to walk her through the MyChart app. I helped her navigate the app and shoot her questions over to her doctor. She then, without any prompting, called the office and canceled her appointment. (For which they thanked her!) She got her answers in a matter of hours. 

She had no idea that she could do that. At her age, she just doesn’t think, “Oh, there’s an app for that.” She was thrilled that she learned something new about her phone and medical care in the 21st century. She just needed a little help.

A Couple Of Takeaways From The Story:

  1. Just like the rest of us, older people want to keep their dignity, independence, and don’t like to be told what to do or be treated like children.
  2. They get cabin fever, too and sometimes just want to get out, even though right now, it’s a really bad idea. Her socializing—like volunteering, crochet groups, yoga classes, etc., have all been canceled. Empathize with them. Help brainstorm safe alternatives. Get creative. Does she know that she can still “meet” with the whole crochet group on Google Meet or ZOOM?
  3. Don’t assume they know the facts about COVID-19 and the recommendations that have been issued. Don’t assume they can think of alternatives to going out and getting groceries.

It’s A Family Effort!

Our whole family is on the same page with Grandma. 

  • We all kinda “low-key” check on how she is feeling physically and emotionally. We watch for physical symptoms and mental health symptoms, like signs of depression and loneliness. 
  • Nobody wants to feel like a burden. Everyone wants their life to feel meaningful and significant. We include her in what we are doing and we also let her help with things we could certainly do for ourselves. Then we shower her with appreciation.
  • There is a balance between letting her lead her independent life and including her in our crazy family circus. We try to be sensitive about giving her space of her own and including her in our activities. My wife and I have five children—we know she needs alone time.

Three months after she moved in with us, we sat down, and I asked her, “Okay, be honest. How are we driving you crazy?” Since then, we’ve kept the lines of communication open. NOW is an especially important time to be in constant communication with the quarantined elderly in your life!

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Let me set the scene for you. I’m working from home, sitting at my computer trying to crank out a report and meet a deadline in an hour. 

The following sequence of events happens:

  • My 9-year-old son goes running down the hall and slides on the floor into the door as if he were sliding into 2nd base. (I guess he misses baseball.)
  • I calmly stand up and say, “Are you crazy? Don’t do that anymore.” (50– Nice and cool.)
  • Next, my 11-year-old son breaks a glass bowl in the kitchen.
  • I, truly irritated, go to the kitchen to investigate and help clean up the mess. (100– Hot, but bearable.)
  • Then my 2-year-old is yelling at my 4-year-old, “Let me have it. It’s mine. Let me have it!” as tears are flowing down his face. Of course, he gets louder and louder each time.
  • I put my referee suit on and very frustratingly resolve the issue. (150– Feels like I’m in the desert with no water.)
  • And then my 13-year-old daughter innocently enough walks in and asks me to set up Zoom on the iPad so she can get on a video with her friends.
  • And now, I’m ready to lose it. My very first thought, (picture blood vessels bursting out of my forehead, “Leave me the -beep- alone!(212– I’m at my boiling point.)

I’ve gone from calm, to irritated, to frustrated, to downright angry because no one will let me get my work done. Don’t they know the pressures that we are under right now?! Don’t they know that if I don’t get these reports completed, I could be the next one to be laid off or have his salary reduced?!

There are 2 distinct doors to choose at this moment: 

  • Behind Door #1: Blow up and let my 13-year-old and all the other kids have it. Check out the blog, How Your Emotions Affect Your Child to learn more about what else is potentially behind door #1.
  • Behind Door #2: Take a timeout.

The timeout is an extremely useful tool that has helped me with my own children. It is so important because when I reached the boiling point, my body had literally undergone a chemical transformation as adrenaline and cortisol was now rushing to my defense. I was not capable of thinking rationally because my brain was out of balance at that moment.

The timeout becomes vital to provide an opportunity to literally calm your nerves. It can be made to be real dramatic which helps to get the focus onto the issue and off the person. 

Some creative ways to take a timeout and not blow up on your kids.

Throw a flag.

(Stole this one from the NFL) When a team commits a foul. One referee throws a flag. Then all the referees huddle to discuss the foul and make sure there’s agreement on the consequences (e.g. 15 yard penalty). Play doesn’t resume until the foul was acknowledged by the referee and the consequence was administered. And then it’s on to the next play. (The referees are always calm, direct and clear when they discuss the foul that was committed and the penalty.)  If one of them has committed a foul that’s about to cause you to blow up on your kids, have a makeshift flag (i.e., bandana, handkerchief, napkin, old rag) and throw it to the spot of the foul. And if your spouse is available, discuss the foul with them. Sometimes the referee picks up the flag and says that no foul was committed. Sometimes your kids didn’t do anything wrong, the stress of life just got to you. Don’t be too proud to pick up your flag and say no foul was committed.

Hit the Pause Button.

(Thank Hal Runkel, marriage and family therapist and author of ScreamFree Parenting for this one.) When we pause, everything freezes. Time stops. We don’t yet act on the next thought that comes to mind. We’re giving ourselves time for the adrenaline to settle down. Hal Runkel says, “Kids don’t want cool parents. They want parents that keep their cool.” Hitting the pause button helps you keep your cool. Make your pause button noisy. It can be a buzzer like the one that comes with board games like Taboo or a little wheezy toy. This draws attention to the fact that there is an issue that makes me want to explode and we need to deal. These are drastic times which call for drastic measures. Let your drastic measure be hitting the pause button.

Set a 90-second timer.

Use your phone, microwave timer, watch, or just count. Did you know that we only stay mad (chemically) for 90 seconds? According to Jill Bolte Taylor, brain researcher and author of A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, anger triggers a chemical reaction within the brain that lasts for 90 seconds. After that, we either turn our attention elsewhere or replay the story and reignite the anger.  You’re about to lose your mind at the expense of your kids. You can often sense when that 90-second count starts. Stop, take a deep breath and set a timer. 

Simply call a timeout.

Form a “T” with your hands and say, “Timeout.” Doesn’t get more straightforward than that.

If you start to blow up on your kids or even get a few moments into your blow-up and then catch yourself and recognize the need for a timeout (this happens to me a lot), that’s ok. All isn’t lost.

Take a timeout the moment you recognize you need it. Take it from my experience; don’t start to blow up on your kids, realize that you’re blowing up, know that you should take a timeout, but since you’ve already started, choose to keep blowing up. Don’t do that!

If you do, you’re essentially saying, “I know that I’m not thinking rationally, that my adrenaline has thrown off my thought process, and that I’m in the middle of reacting, but I’m going to stay on that path anyway.” Pride or stubbornness should not get in the way of a timeout.

The best time to come up with a plan is before you need it.

Have an age-appropriate conversation with your kids. Discuss the timeout, its purpose and implementation. Then use it

Not only are you protecting your children and yourself, you’re also modeling self-control and teaching them how to regulate their emotions. And in the process, you’ve put yourself in a better position to get the results you really want: a family that is considerate, loving and respectful of one another. That beats fewer broken dishes any day.

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We are now weeks into Coronavirus social distancing. That’s just long enough for everybody to get some extra shuteye and accomplish some things around the house. And it’s long enough for everyone to admit they’re 100 percent ready for this to be over.

Even the couples and families who usually get along just fine are reaching their tolerance limit. Because let’s face it: being around each other 24/7 is hard.

A lot of positives can come from having what feels like someone ripping the rug from underneath us. Yet at the same time, we’re going to have to be on our guard for how social distancing has the potential to negatively impact our relationships in at least five ways:

If youre an introvert who married an extrovert.

You, the introvert, are probably livin’ the dream. You may think you just died and went to heaven, being forced to hole up in your house until further notice. Meanwhile, your extroverted spouse feels like they’ve been sentenced to the ultimate punishment—not being around others (which is what energizes them). That face-to-face human interaction is their lifeline. We all know that opposites attract, but this may be a moment when you aren’t feelin’ the love quite so much.   

The amount of time everybody now has on their hands as a result of social distancing could also negatively impact the relationships in your home.

Some children and adults who usually have a packed schedule are suddenly trying to figure out what to do with themselves. This right here will test the best of families when it comes to patience, adaptability and willingness to take it one day at a time.

Expectations of how things will go in the coming weeks is a thing, for real.

If spouses aren’t on the same page about social distancing, finances, family schedules, help with household chores and such, it can create a lot of angst—not only between the two of you, but in your family relationships as a whole. 

No matter how much space you have in your home, so much togetherness can make it feel claustrophobic.

Differences become magnified, too. What seemed like “not a big deal” before manages to get on your last nerve. 

Spending so much time and energy on the relationships in your home that you don’t have time to connect with relationships outside your home.

Unfortunately, this can make you resent the people in your home. 

So how can you counter these potential toxins in your relationships caused by social distancing?

Ask Some Questions

A great place to start might be to ask some questions such as: What does my spouse need? What do I need? What do my family members need? This could actually be a conversation between you and your spouse and/or your children. The goal would be for everybody to understand that each person probably sees this COVID-19 experience from a different perspective. All your introverted family members may be hyped up about being closed off from the rest of the world. They’re probably struggling to understand their extroverted family members who are feeling the significant loss of being physically around others. Seeking to understand each other’s perspective can go a long way toward creating a calm and peaceful home.

Talk About It and Make Some Decisions

When it comes to time, it may be helpful to talk about how frustrating all of this is. Then make some decisions as a couple or family about how you’ll actively plan to deal with it. I know in my home, we constantly talk about how if we had more time we’d do this or that project. My husband actually started painting a room we’ve said we needed to paint for forever. I’ve been going through photos from two decades ago in preparation for our daughter’s wedding that might not go as planned. 

If your children say they’re bored, it might be good to make a list together of things they can do—both fun and the helpful things—like spring cleaning. Some family members might want to start a new hobby like reading, an exercise plan, baking bread or learning how to play new games like checkers or chess. This could be the perfect time to go through those fall/winter clothes. Or purge the garage in hopes of having a yard sale sometime in the future or donating to charity. 

This break is also an opportunity to realize that it’s really ok to be bored and do absolutely nothing sometimes. If schedules are usually so full that you throw rest out the window, don’t feel pressured to fill all the time with activity. Give yourself and others in your home time to do absolutely nothing. (And be willing to overlook things that get on your nerves from time to time.)

Creatively Connect

Now’s a great time to connect with extended family members and friends by phone call, text, video chat or a letter. It’s also a chance to help others out from a distance by helping them place a grocery order or making sure they’ve got what they need during this time. Older people who live alone would probably really appreciate hearing from you. (The extroverts in your home will probably be all-in on making those connections.)

When it comes to expectations, getting creative about things could save the day. Instead of one person doing all the cooking, you can have a cooking competition with what you have on hand. Each family member could be responsible for creating a menu and either preparing or helping to prepare the meal. Divvy up the chores that need to be done. Have a poetry contest. Put “dress-up” or theme days on the family calendar. Try to make things FUN. Focus on the positives. For example, every time you think a negative thought about your situation, think of something positive related to it.

One last thought. Many of us, including our children, have questions. How long this will last? Are we going to have enough money? What happens if one of us gets sick? And the list goes on. I wish I had the answers, but I don’t. I can tell you this: You’re not alone and I’m rooting for you—and for all of us—to come out stronger.

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After multiple weeks of being told we need to stay home, a lot of folks’ nerves are frayed (parents in particular). Life might have been complicated before—keeping up with schedules, work and home. Now, things seem 10 times more complicated. Everybody is under the same roof all the time with nowhere to go for a break. Many parents are silently asking how long they can actually survive social distancing and this COVID-19 crisis with their family relationships (and their sanity) intact. 

It’s true that most of us aren’t accustomed to spending so much time together. Things that you didn’t even know got on your nerves—well, now you know. And, some of them are seemingly little things. Maybe it’s the way someone chews their food, the amount of dirty laundry, or the constant questions without answers. Or maybe it’s the way your perfectly capable kids seem so totally dependent on you to do everything.

Honestly, it’s enough to make a parent ask, “Where do I go to resign?”

Before you turn in your notice, here are some things that might be helpful to consider. 

Emotions are running high for everyone. There’s tension in the air and we feel it even if we don’t acknowledge it. It has its way of oozing out of people through petty bickering, short fuses, tears and an abundance of energy. The close proximity to others in your home may feel like someone has you in a stranglehold. 

Even if you’re in pretty close quarters, there are some things you can do to help your family avoid unhealthy behavior during social distancing.

Recognize that your children are taking their cues from you. If you’re really struggling with all that’s going on, find ways to process your thoughts and best next steps. Even if things are upside down, when you know the next steps you’ll take, your children will follow your lead. Your children need to know that you’re working to ensure they are well cared for. This provides comfort and security, especially in times of uncertainty. It’s ok if you don’t know all the answers. Having rules, rituals, consistency and structure in place helps everyone to know what to expect and provides freedom within healthy boundaries.

Speaking of boundaries, establishing boundaries is helpful. It lets people know where the fence lines are for your family. If you haven’t had a family meeting to discuss what this looks like, now is a really good time to do that. Items up for discussion include:

  • How will household chores get done?
  • With whom outside of immediate family will we engage during this time of social distancing?
  • What time is quiet time in the house? (could be until a certain time in the morning, a period of time in the middle of the day or a time at the end of the day)
  • Where and for how long are people using screens? (for work and for leisure)
  • Is there unlimited access to the kitchen and food?

Getting in the groove of functioning as a team will help your family now. It will serve them well in the future, too.

Even though your family is all together, don’t assume they’ll automatically talk about the thoughts and feelings that are rolling around in their head. This is a scary time for everybody. Establishing a quick daily check-in makes it possible for you to share information and answer questions. It’s also a good chance to talk about the flow of this particular day and address concerns or misinformation anyone may have.

With everyone under one roof, establishing times when you expect people to be in their own space away from everybody else can help. If your children share a bedroom, perhaps there’s another location one of them could be. The goal is for people to have a break from being on top of each other. It can be as simple as going outdoors when the weather is nice. Maybe it means taking a long, hot shower or a walk in the rain. It may even help to get up earlier or stay up a little later to have time alone.

What Each Person in Your Family Needs to Know

According to the authors of the Survival Skills for Healthy Families program, each person in the family needs to know:

  • How to speak up and say what they need. The ability to say what you want helps others to know what you’re thinking and feeling. It also opens the door for understanding.
  • How to listen. As a listener, we can choose to seek connection, be respectful and look for understanding. Or, we can react, fight and argue. 
  • How to cooperate. Teach your children how to find balance between their needs and the needs of other family members.

Realize that there’s a time to talk and time to listen. Everyone wants to feel heard when they speak, so ensure that your home is a safe place for family members to express themselves and discuss things without dismissing them. Acknowledge your feelings, and really listen to work through the emotions you’re experiencing. Show empathy and remember that if all this is hard to process as an adult, it can be even more challenging for younger family members to understand or express what they’re dealing with on the inside. Those things will probably show up in how they behave, so it’ll take some wisdom to dig deeper as you handle misbehavior while helping them understand their emotions.

It’s highly likely you will encounter challenges while you are in close quarters. By looking for solutions together, you’re modeling how to find answers to other sticky situations down the road. In order for your family relationships to come out stronger on the other side of this pandemic, these are a few safeguards you can put in place now to help keep the peace in your home.

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