Short answer: Show affection as much as you can. 

Often, we use the words “affection” and “love” interchangeably. While understandable, and they can certainly overlap, I’m going to make a distinction between love and affection. Affection is adoration, fondness, liking someone. So our question would change to: 

How much should I show my child that I adore them, I am fond of them and that I like them? 

See the difference that makes?

Or let me put it this way—a baby doesn’t understand the self-sacrificial love that you have for them deep in your heart, but just holding them and cuddling demonstrates affection. And they pick up on it. And it has long-term developmental consequences.

Or how about this? How would a teen receive an “I love you” if there was never any affection shown toward them? Those words would be meaningless.

Showing your child affection communicates security, belonging, acceptance, and that they are liked.

Sometimes as parents we stumble over the simplicity and the importance of showing affection. I hope my kids know and trust that I love them, but I also hope they know that I really like and enjoy them, too.

I have five kids. As babies, they were all held, snuggled, and rocked. There is no better feeling in the world than having one of my little babies asleep on my chest. My youngest is now 14. He was my only “snuggly” little one. 

Wow. Things are a lot different now. Showing affection evolves at different ages and stages as our kids grow up. My 14-year-old son doesn’t want to be “snuggled” and he definitely isn’t going to fall asleep on my chest. (Even hugs, if his friends are around, are kinda iffy.) But he appreciates a pat on the back after he mowed the yard or a hand on his shoulder if we are waiting in line. He really loves hearing that I noticed the heel-kick he did in a soccer game.

Each of my five children is a unique individual. Even when they were little, each had their own personality. One of the first parenting lessons I learned was that what one child needed in terms of affection from me was different from another child. I also learned that the ways I showed affection to them that seemed meaningful to me and came naturally to me did not necessarily translate into affection from my kids’ point of view, so I had to learn what they needed.

I had to spend time with each of them and learn about their individual hearts.

Some of the things I learned over time that have helped me figure out the best ways to express affection to my kids are:

Pay close attention to what they ask of you.

This can provide insights into how they receive affection. Do they ask:

  • You to come and play with them? Quality Time.
  • If you think the picture they drew is pretty? Affirmation.
  • If you can help with their hair? Touch.

Pay close attention to how they express affection to you.

This also provides insight into their heart and what means affection to them. Do they:

  • Want to sit in your lap and give you hugs?
  • Like to make things for you like drawing you a picture or bring you things like a dandelion? 
  • Tell you they like hanging out with you while you work on the car? 

★  Spend Time With Them.

  • Learn their “affection language.” When my daughter was about 5, I took her to a movie and put my arm on the back of her seat. She immediately asked me to move my arm. Point noted!
  • Let them set the agenda for what you do together. Get on the floor and play with their toys together. Watch them play video games. If you are present and engaged, you are saying you like them and like spending time with them. (Put your phone away.)
  • Take them with you to run errands or hang out with you while you’re working on stuff. Show that you just enjoy their company. Lots of bonding happens organically just being together.
  • Notice and express gratitude for the little things they do. Don’t reserve praise for big things. “Thanks for telling me a little about your day.” “I appreciate you helping bring the groceries in.” This communicates that you notice and like them.

Spend time with your child and become a student of their heart. Tell them that you love them but also tell them that you like them, you enjoy spending time with them, how proud you are of them, and that you believe in them. This all translates to affection to your child.

Many kids today don’t think their parents even like them, let alone love them. You are communicating how you feel about your kids all the time. And they are watching.

Staying calm in the face of a screaming or irrational child having a tantrum is no easy task. (Especially if it is in public or around friends & family. You feel like everyone is watching and judging. And they probably are. You just gotta get over that. It’s hard.) Let’s start with you.

We often find it hard to handle our emotions when our children have meltdowns. That often gives them power over us.

★ I’m gonna say one kinda harsh but true thing, give you a parenting principle that kept us sane, and then list a bunch of practical tips to help you hold on to your sanity.

The Kinda Harsh Thing

Your kids aren’t driving you crazy, you are. Don’t take offense. Someone had to tell me that same thing and it was a game changer for my wife and I. At one point we had 4 kids 5 and under. I get it. But kids are just busy being kids with their little kids’ brains. We have to be the adults. Sometimes kids act out to get our attention or affection, but sometimes they are feeling things they aren’t equipped to process. Sometimes they are just tired. You “lose it” or are driven “crazy” only as much as you allow. Let that sink in.

Here’s a little something about your (fully developed) parent brain. When you are stressed to the max, totally about to lose it, and highly emotionally triggered, your prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that does all the higher-order important brain stuff– like logic, predicting outcomes of words and actions, decision-making, impulse control, focusing your attention, processing feelings of empathy, compassion, shame, and guilt –that part of the brain gets “flooded” with the same stress hormones that put us into “fight or flight” mode. 

At this point, your nervous system has kicked in and you are no longer the “normal” you. To your body, it’s the same as being charged by a bear. You will not think, act, or speak, like the “normal” you. It’s not your best self, it’s your biology. This is the “driving me crazy” feeling that you feel. Under stress, we regress. We either shut down or lash out. (Sometimes at our kids, sadly.) You will accomplish little to no parenting good in this state and you may do harm.

Parents need to recognize when they are being “flooded” and call a “Time-Out.” This might mean asking your partner to step in. This might mean getting the kids into the car and just going home. This might mean asking your kids to go sit on their beds. It takes about 20 minutes for our brain to recover from flooding. During this time, do what soothes you and calms you down.

Now think of a 4-year-old brain. They are not even close to fully developed. They can be flooded just by saying “no” to a piece of candy in the check-out line or simply being tired. When they are flooded, they throw tantrums, melt down, and act out. They need time for the floodwaters to recede from their little brains, too. Sometimes they can’t calm themselves down or soothe themselves. You might have to take an active part in that. That doesn’t mean condoning misbehavior. You can address it later after they have calmed down. It means they are not going to learn any “lesson” while flooded.

We have to be the adult, the grown-up, the parent, the one with a fully-developed brain.

The One Parenting Principle That Helped Us Keep Our Sanity

Kids need routines, rituals, structure, and boundaries.  This makes their young lives predictable, secure, and safe but it also provides them with the freedom to be kids. Oh, and these things can also help mom and dad to stay sane. It might take a little work upfront, but it will save you from so many tantrums, meltdowns, plus lots of time in the long run. You need a morning routine and a bedtime routine for sure, minimum. Post them at your kids’ eye-level. Use pictures if they can’t read yet. A structured day is a less stressful day.

Practical Tips! 

(Whether these are helpful may depend on you and your kids’ ages & maturity levels.)

  • Separate the child and the behavior. Be careful how you say things.
  • Sometimes kids need to go outside and burn off energy.
  • The Art of Redirection: “Instead of jumpin’ off the deck, why don’t you see who can run around the house the fastest?” (Notice: You didn’t say, “Don’t jump off the deck!”)
  • Sometimes we had to pretend we were watching other people’s kids. Seriously.
  • Enforce Quiet Time—Even if they’ve outgrown naps. Kids can sit on their bed and read or play for 30 minutes quietly (maybe longer) while you catch a breather.
  • Include them in what you are doing—cleaning, cooking, etc. Give them a little job to do.
  • Rotate toys. We would pack up some of their toys and put them in the attic. Less clutter, and when you bring those toys back, it’s like Christmas. Rotate out some other toys.
  • Read to them. Seriously, this should be a top priority at any age.
  • Try to do something new every week or so—puppet show, art exhibition, dance-off.
  • Have one of their friends over. (Take turns with another parent.) 1 Kid + 1 Friend = 0 Kids. I don’t know how that math works, but it does.
  • Take advantage of reading days at the library or bookstores or a “Parent’s Night Out” at your church or YMCA. [When things open back up.]
  • Get up before they do and you are ahead of the game. Don’t play “catch-up” all day. Have your own morning and bedtime routines. Take care of yourself.
  • Structured playtime— “It’s 1:30! That’s Lego Time!” Unstructured playtime—“It’s 1:30! Time to play whatever you want in your room!” (Or outside, if that is a safe option.)
  • Teach kids not to tattle-tale on each other and learn to work out their own differences. (Tattle-tales got in trouble at our house unless there was blood involved.)
  • Have some “special things” they don’t always have access to. Then when you break it out, it is an INCENTIVE & EVENT. “Play-Doh! Just after we clean up lunch!
  • Break bigger tasks down into smaller tasks—“Clean your room” = “Put the books back on the bookshelf, then report back!” “Okay, now put your stuffed animals up.” And so on.
  • We learned that each of our kids had what we called “Pressure Points.” Learn them. One child hated standing in the corner for “Time-Out.” Another kid loved it, but hated being sent to his room. Yet another child loved being sent to their room, but hated chores. They are all unique individuals. What gets one’s attention may not get another’s.
  • Use a hula-hoop for cleaning their room—“Clean up the part of the floor in the hula-hoop!” Then move the hoop to the next area.
  • Time chores—make them a race, game-ify things. “Let’s see if you can get ready for bed before the timer goes off!” See if they can top their best time.
  • Don’t just say, “Time to get out of PJs. Get dressed!” Give them choices: “You can choose between this outfit or this one.” Trust me, this solves a bunch of problems before they become problems.
  • Charts on the fridge are your friend (but only if you are consistent with it).
  • If any behavior gets a “big reaction” from you, you will see it again. And again. And again. Choose wisely what you react to…
  • Have older kids help with younger kids. (But be careful not to put adult responsibilities on them. That can breed resentment.)
  • Sometimes you just have to put a kids’ movie on and chill for 90 minutes. It’s okay.
  • If you have more than one child, try to get some one-on-one time with each of them doing what they like to do. It can be 10-15 minutes twice a day.
  • SNACK TIME!” Diffuses many chaotic situations. Ah, the power of some fruit, cheese and crackers!
  • Do some exercises with your kids. It lets you blow off some steam and gets them moving and sets a good example. Plus, it’s just fun.
  • Try to see situations through their eyes. Cultivate empathy.
  • Know your triggers. Be prepared for them and prepare your children for them.“We are going grocery shopping. Please do not ask for any candy. The answer is already ‘no’ so remember not to ask.
  • Love your child unconditionally. Let them know that you like and enjoy them too.

What is that saying about parenting? “The days are long, but the years fly by.” It’s so true. My kids are basically grown up now. Somewhere, deep down inside of me, I miss the insanity.

I was thinking about this question as I drove to pick my 14-year-old up from football practice. Without any context, when he got in the car, I asked, “Do we ever fight?” He said no, and I followed up with, “Why not?” [His insights surprised me and definitely made me look like a better parent than I am. More on that later.] Here’s what he said:

“You’re understanding. You don’t yell or instigate. And you don’t nag. You listen. A lot of it is personality—We’re both pretty chill. We don’t press each other.” [He’s not wrong. We’re both laid back. Also, I don’t know what “press” means.] “Like, yesterday, I guess you can call that a ‘fight.’ You wanted me to mow the lawn right after football practice and I didn’t want to. You listened to my reasons why and said why it needed to be done. I still asked a couple more times, and you said, ‘Sorry, dude. Do it now.'”

For the record, he is the youngest of five children. I’m 50. What he calls “chill” might just be parental fatigue. I have most definitely fought with my other kids. But he has also benefited from what I’ve learned from parenting his four much-older siblings.

He did touch on some things that might be labeled, “New School Parenting.” Listening to where your teen is coming from. Trying to understand their perspective. Letting them feel “heard.” Explaining your reasons. Not yelling or escalating. This was definitely not “Old School Parenting.” My father didn’t say, “Sorry, dude.” He just went straight to, “Do it now.” and probably threw in a “Because I said so!”

Here are some probing questions to ask yourself that could answer, “How do I stop fighting with my teen?” Bear with me, I’m gonna start at the foundation…

1. Does your teen know that you love them?

Don’t be quick to say, “Of course!” I talk to a lot of teens who don’t think their parents even like them. How well do you know your teen’s heart? Do you know what speaks love to them? Do you show interest in the things that interest them? How much time do you spend time with them? Do you know their friends? Do you take a little time to welcome them into your home and get to know them a bit? When is the last time you told your teen that you love them? How about: I’m proud of you. I believe in you. I was wrong. I’m sorry. Please forgive me?

2. Do you have clear boundaries, routines, and structure in place?

At any age, boundaries and routines provide clarity and predictability and security. But they also provide freedom and communicate, “I care about your well-being.” They are just another way to say, “I love you.” ★ Have you made these boundaries clear to your teen and the benefits and consequences that are associated with them? ★ 

Both of these things form a relationship foundation that can stop a lot of fights before they start. An environment of love and good communication, as well as clear expectations and consistent consequences, will help you avoid many fights.

If you include your teen in making a cellphone contract or family technology plan or car-use contract, (or at least have a conversation that covers boundaries, expectations,  and consequences) everything is all laid out. You don’t have to think of a punishment on the spot or get angry, and you don’t have to raise your voice. You can just say, “Look, we talked about this. If you came in past curfew, you lost social driving privileges for ___.” (If you choose to go the contract route, remember, they aren’t carved in stone. They get adjusted as your child matures and builds trust. Plus, sometimes stuff happens—flat tires, extenuating circumstances, and sometimes some grace is in order.)

Stop fights before they start. There’s no “negotiating” which often escalates into a full-blown fight.

3. Still, no matter what, you are gonna have some fights with your teenager. 

  • Remember you are engaged with a teen whose brain is not fully developed. It won’t be until they are in their 20s. Just understand that the parts of the brain that regulate emotions, predict consequences for actions, and do other “higher-order” things like logic aren’t fully formed. If they are upset, it’s even worse. Don’t be shocked by an “I hate you!” or something similar.
  • Speaking of brains, when we (you and your teen) have hot and heavy emotions, our prefrontal cortex gets “flooded” with “fight or flight” chemicals that can make us say and do things that we will regret later. Learn to recognize when this is happening in you and your teen. This is when you need to call a “time-out.” Nothing productive is going to happen if one or both of you is flooded.
  • It takes two to tango. It takes two to fight. You are the adult—you can do things like de-escalating, not letting your emotions push you around, choosing the best time to address an issue, recognizing “flooding,” and knowing when you are out of line and need to apologize or calmly hold your ground. 
  • If you recognize there are specific issues or areas that tend to be the catalyst for fighting, take time (NOT in the middle of a fight) to have a conversation about them. Note: I said, “conversation,” that’s a two-way street that involves speaking and listening. I’ve found that even if a boundary didn’t change, but I took the time to explain the rationale behind it and listened to my teen’s point of view and made them feel “heard,” they had a completely different posture toward it. Sometimes even a tiny bit of “give and take” goes a long way.

Fighting with your teen is no fun at all, but it is part of parenting. Do your best to stop fights before they start. Sometimes we expect our teens to act and respond like adults, and biologically they literally are not there yet. We have to be the adults in the situation. Remember: You are fighting FOR your teen, not WITH them. They will see the difference.

When I was a teen, summer meant one thing: work. And lots of it. I had 2-3 jobs lined up before school was out each summer because my goal was to make as much money as possible. Part of my motivation was to put gas in my car, pay for any eating out, and try to save for college expenses. The other motivation was that my parents believed working would help me learn to be more responsible and give me other necessary skills in order to be successful in life. 

With COVID-19 essentially slamming the door on the majority of summer jobs for teens, we face some challenges. The escape out of the isolation that many teens hoped for, the earning potential, and the learning opportunities that parents know come from working have been swiped right out of their hands. 

In fact, according to a Pew Research Center survey, young people ages 16-24 are more likely to face layoffs due to Coronavirus. Why? Because they make up 24% of employment in the restaurant, retail, and transportation industries. The lack of work leaves behind the opportunity to learn about working with others, being responsible, and accountable to someone other than parents. It may keep them from experiencing a sense of accomplishment from a hard day’s work.

Now what? With Plan A out the window, this is a great opportunity to help your teen put Plan B into motion. In spite of all that COVID-19 has taken from us, there are still plenty of things teens can do this summer. These things can make the time go by faster, but also help them continue to learn the skills they need to master before heading out on their own.

Here are four ways you can help teach your teen responsibility this summer in spite of COVID-19:

1. Set clear expectations for the summer.

Even though many options have been taken off the table, ask your teen to come up with a plan for their summer. The structure still matters and makes a huge difference in a teen’s mindset and motivation. Exercise, some type of work, help with household chores, time with friends in a socially distant way, things they need to learn to do for themselves such as laundry, cooking, managing money, and maintaining a vehicle, along with family time are important parts of their plan.

2. Help them think through opportunities that do exist.

Think yard work, shopping for those who cannot get out, being a nanny or manny for parents who have lost childcare and summer camp opportunities, odd jobs, or construction. Don’t forget about those special projects you or others have been putting off or need help doing. Part of the goal here is to help them think outside the box about what’s possible during a difficult time.

3. Encourage them to look at their strengths and identify what they are passionate about.

Are there online experiences they could take advantage of to further enhance their skill set and make them more marketable in the future? Can they take a distance-learning course to help them finish school faster or lessen their class load down the road?

4. Ask them to take on more household responsibilities to give you some relief while providing practical experience.

It may feel like more of a headache in the beginning, but these are all things they need to be able to do once they are out on their own. Grocery shopping, meal planning, cooking and/or house cleaning or making household repairs could be ways they can step up and assist in a big way if they aren’t already. As a bonus, additional teen responsibilities at home is a helpful reminder that in times of crisis, everybody has something valuable to contribute to the good of the family unit.

Obviously, we are all dealing with the unknown here and looking for ways to navigate the constantly changing landscape. Undoubtedly, there is a tremendous financial and emotional strain on teens and adults because of the limitations we’re dealing with and certainly, we need to be sensitive to thisEven in the midst of chaos, circumstances often present themselves that turn out to be positive in the end. I’m hopeful that these tips can help you prepare your teen to handle any situation that comes their way and to help them learn responsibility even in the midst of a pandemic.

Parents, if there’s ever a time to sympathize with your children, now is it. If there’s one thing kids look forward to, it’s summertime. Think about it: summer camps, trips, vacations, jobs, and enrichment opportunities. 

Every couple of days, my teenage daughter comes to me with a realization of something she won’t get to do this summer because of COVID-19. She’s already missed one summer camp, the family reunion is not going to happen, and a summer program she was hoping to take part in is off the table. Oh, and she wanted to start her babysitting business this summer.

She’s bummed about it. Kids all over are bummed about it. About 20 million children, adolescents, and adults in the U.S. attend camps each year. Not this year. When your children are coming to the realization that COVID-19 is about to “ruin” their summer, that’s where you as a parent must step in and help your kids process what they may be feeling. Here are some ways you can help your disappointed kids. 

Deal with yourself first.

This is a blow to parents as well. A) We may hate that they might be home all day. B) We hate what they are missing out on, too. You may experience your own anger, frustration, sadness, or some other emotion. Identify and own it. Then do what you must to address it and move forward

Provide space for your child to express their emotions.

Your child may be experiencing disappointment, sadness, grief, anger, or any other emotions. You may see it on their face, in their actions, or in their responses. Asking them if they are disappointed because of summer cancellations with a soft, caring tone, or simply telling them it’s okay to be sad, gives them permission to experience their emotions

Empathize with and validate their feelings.

Regarding the cancellation of summer plans, child development and parenting expert, Dr. Deborah Gilboa says in TODAY that parents should tend to their child’s feelings but not put boundaries on their feelings. You don’t have to fix their emotions. Sometimes an “I understand” or “It’s okay that you feel that way” is all that’s in order. Your own stories of dealing with disappointments can provide your children with some comfort and help your kids process what’s going on.

Discuss what they are really missing.

It’s not just that they’re missing the activity of the summer. Kids look forward to reconnecting with family and friends they only see in the summer. The summer is a chance to explore their own personal interests. For teens, it might be the freedom that comes with having a job and, more specifically, having money. Students use the summer to do things to boost their resumé. Asking them, “What do you miss about not being able to do a particular activity?” can help your child think through what they enjoy about the summer and what it is they are really missing.

Look for alternatives.

Dr. Gilboa says that there are four elements to having a fun summer: independence, connection, purpose, and fun. What are some alternative ways to help your children experience those four elements that they often get from summer camps, jobs, and trips? S’mores, water fun, camping in the backyard, movie marathons, unstructured play, Zoom game nights with friends, gardening, building something, learning something new? Be realistic, but also be open to new challenges. It can make your summer memorable. This 30 Day Challenge can provide you some great alternatives. 

Keep Loving ‘Em Through.

This isn’t all one conversation for one setting. Having one conversation doesn’t mean the emotions are gone and won’t come back. And it doesn’t mean that your efforts to make it a meaningful summer are futile if they still experience sadness or grief at other times throughout the summer. Ongoing conversations can help your kids process ongoing emotions.

Your kids may be experiencing loss and uncertainty. They may be worried about how this affects their chances at college admissions and scholarships or feel like they are losing their childhood. Your consistent presence and willingness to both sit with and help them adjust to a different kind of summer can provide a positive memory of how to deal with disappointment that will serve them well for years to come.


Summer is here! Normally, everybody would be cheering loudly saying, “Bring it on!” This year, however, plenty of folks feel like summer has been here for the last two months. Now that summer is really here, all of the plans parents thought they had for their kids have likely been thrown out the window because of COVID-19.

With few or no summer camp options, social distancing at pools, many attractions not opening until mid-summer and limited access to child care options, parents definitely have a challenge on their hands if they’re trying to make summer plans. You may be wondering what in the world your family can do in the middle of all that. If so, here are some helpful hints for creating a summer to remember forever for your kids!

Hold a family meeting. Straight out of the gates, hold a family meeting to brainstorm what’s possible within the framework parents have established. Have a little fun with this. No idea is too crazy when you are brainstorming. And who knows? A crazy idea might lead to something that is totally doable.

Come up with a schedule. Sheer exhaustion from shifting to online-everything may tempt you to let summer be a free-for-all with no schedule. However, while having no structure may sound like a blessing to you and your kids, ultimately it can be a real curse. Making a schedule helps keep everybody grounded and in the know about what’s coming next.

Be intentional about creating opportunities for connection. Hanging out in the same house or even the same room isn’t the same as actually doing something to connect with your children. If that sounds like just one more thing to put on your already overwhelming “to-do list,” one easy option is to use First Things First’s 30-Day Family Challenge. Each day has a different fun, quick and easy activity for you and your children to do together.

Get active. Since everybody has probably had their fill of screen time, try going old school! Do some of these things for fun: puzzles, Nerf gun battles, water gun fight, riding bikes, let your kids create a scavenger hunt for the entire family to do, investigate how to make your own Slip ‘N Slide, play board games, Spoons, Charades, make a house of cards, go fishing, learn how to play chess or checkers, camp in the backyard and make s’mores, build a fort or treehouse, play marbles or jacks.

Encourage learning. During your family brainstorm meeting, ask your kids what they would like to learn over the summer. They may want to learn how to cook, change the oil in a car, repair a bike, make a piñata, or find out more about your family history. They may want to take a virtual vacation to an exotic location and learn about the culture, geography and things that are unique to it. Take it a step further and plan your meals, clothing or other activities around that location for the week. Study photography. Read a book together like “Cheaper by the Dozen.” You may even want to invest in some grade-level activity books just to keep your kids sharp.

Plant a garden outside or play around with growing food indoors. There are plenty of free tutorials available if you are new to gardening. Another option is to ask an experienced neighbor for a hand. You can also experiment with different things such as rooting the bottom of a celery stalk and then planting it. You could also cut a pepper in half, then scrape and plant the seeds to see if they will sprout. (Spoiler alert, they should!)

Not all of these activities would require hands-on supervision from parents at all times. In fact, some of them could be child-led or done independently. That would not only give parents a break, but it would help to build self-confidence and independence in your child.

One thing is for sure, one way or the other, this summer will be one for the books. It will either go down in history as the most boring summer on record or the summer our plans got turned upside down so we decided to make lemonade out of the lemons tossed our way. It may not be the easiest summer you’ve ever had, but it could become one of your best summers yet.

It feels like we’re in a weird transition in the pandemic right now. It’s like the world wants to go back to normal again. Officials are lifting some of the quarantine regulations, but we are definitely not out of the woods yet with the COVID-19 virus. 

I see people out in public and it seems like they are acting on two ends of a spectrum. Some people are continuing to be very cautious, donning masks everywhere they go. They’re following the arrows, standing on X’s in the store aisles and maintaining a hard “no” to people coming over for a visit. At the opposite end of the spectrum, folks are throwing caution completely to the wind, acting as if things are back to normal and ignoring any kind of preventative guidelines. 

Mix all this with what we’ve been going through the last two months, and what comes out is a lot of people on edge. It’s an emotionally-charged environment. Social media is fraught with all kinds of opinions and conspiracy theories and hostile exchanges about who’s-behind-what with the pandemic. It’s enough to make a person question their sanity.  

My kids see all of this. They take notice when other families are doing something different than us. They talk to their friends who are inviting others over for sleepovers and those whose parents are saying absolutely not. And they can sense the tension in each store line between those who wear masks and those who aren’t. 

So, how do we use this time to teach our children about emotional boundaries? 

What is an emotional boundary? 

When you see the lion exhibit at the zoo, there’s a boundary between you and the lions. And for good reason! The boundary is there to guard and protect you from the lions. It’s also there to protect the lions from you and all the other spectators. The boundary puts a healthy space between you and the danger. It defines which space belongs to you and which space belongs to the lions. Both lions and spectators benefit from this boundary. But if the lion makes its way to the spectator’s space (or, if a spectator shimmies his way into the lion’s space), well, bad things can happen. 

Emotional boundaries do the same thing. They serve to guard and protect us from threats to our emotional well-being. They also put a healthy space between you and other people. Sometimes people can cross the boundary. This happens in lots of different ways: bullying, shaming, name-calling, manipulation. If boundaries aren’t held, our emotional health and sense of self suffers. This can cause anxiety, depression or a sense of depleted self-worth. 

As we think about all that’s happening with the pandemic and the emotionally-charged opinions flying around like crossfire, emotional boundaries are compromised.

As parents, this is the opportunity to teach our children how to build and maintain appropriate emotional boundaries during this pandemic

How We Teach Our Kids Emotional Boundaries 

1. Model. Our kids watch us. Children take cues from their parents, especially when they aren’t sure how to respond to a situation. 

I was talking with a neighbor one day with my daughter present, and they began to explain to me their conspiracy theory on where the virus came from and what certain leaders were or were not doing about it. I completely disagreed, and normally would have made it known. But out of respect for my neighbor and because my daughter was watching, I kept calm and l listened. I validated his opinion without giving in to his hype and politely ended our conversation. Shortly after, of course, I got the chance to explain to my daughter that I didn’t agree with him and why, but that we must also be careful to respect other people’s opinions. 

How do you react in front of your kids when you see someone practicing a different habit of mask-wearing than you? Do you ridicule them? 

If you learn that another parent is allowing (or not allowing) their kids’ friends to come over and that’s not what you would do, do you allow your emotions to get the best of you and put labels on that parent? 

These negative reactions add fuel to the breakdown of emotional boundaries, and our kids sense this. Modeling appropriate emotional boundaries is essential to helping our children have appropriate emotional boundaries

2. Explain the importance of respecting others even when they do things differently. Modeling is one thing. But it’s so important to follow this up with a good conversation with your children about why you still show respect to others, despite the differences in the way they do things. 

After being in a store where some are wearing masks and others aren’t, take the opportunity to say something like, “Did you notice that some people were/were not wearing masks? Our family doesn’t do that, and this is why… However, that doesn’t give us permission to speak mean or disrespect people who don’t do what we do. They have their reasons for doing that, just like we have our reasons for doing this.

3. Be confident in who you are, even when others are disrespectful. Your kids are in situations where they see the glares between mask-wearers and non-mask-wearers in the stores. Or, one kid in the neighborhood might make fun of another for not being allowed to play outside with others. I’ve even heard some rather rude comments between strangers when it comes to social distancing. 

Help your children understand that people don’t always understand that it’s okay for others to do things differently and that they may react in ways that are disrespectful and make you feel bad. These kinds of reactions from others encroach on their emotional well-being. 

Say something like, we can’t help what other people say or think about us. But we have to be okay with who we are. We wear masks/don’t wear masks… play/don’t play outside with others… go to/don’t go to other people’s houses, because this is what our family thinks is best. It won’t always be like this, but right now we are making the best decisions for our family that we know how to. 

Lessons That Go Beyond the Pandemic

Resilience, self-confidence, security, respect of others and self-respect—these are all characteristics that come out of teaching our children about emotional boundaries. And there is no doubt we all need these to keep ourselves from going bonkers during this time in the pandemic. 

However, what you need to remember is that these lessons go way beyond the here and now. And perhaps there is no greater opportunity than during this crazy, emotional situation. You have the chance to instill in your children how to have strong emotional boundaries in the face of adversity. Your kids will need these skills for the rest of their lives. Don’t waste this opportunity to teach them.

A crisis can teach us a lot about ourselves. It can magnify our shortcomings and challenge our beliefs. It can shine a light onto our priorities—from how we spend our time, to what we spend our energy talking about, to where we spend our money. This is as good a time as any to reset and be intentional about how we, as a family, open back up for business. 

Let’s not leave anything to chance. You must be intentional. Intentional about time together, building relationships within the home, connecting with those you care about, not over-scheduling and self-care. Make a family plan to live on purpose post-COVID-19

THE EXERCISE

Step 1: Gather with your spouse and/or children.

Call together a family meeting. A family meeting shows that this is important. It also shows that you want everyone’s input. 

Step 2: Play a game, have a dance-off, start a pillow fight! Get the blood flowing!

Doing something fun first helps create a positive atmosphere where ideas can flow. It can set the stage for amazing creativity.

Step 3: Things to discuss that can help you develop your family plan.

Note: Pick and choose the questions that are most appropriate for your family. Older children may appreciate the opportunity to write answers to some of these questions ahead of time.

  1. What did you like most about being quarantined?
  2. What was the toughest part about being quarantined?
  3. Did you learn anything about yourself? If so, what?
  4. How do you think the quarantine affected our family in a positive way?
  5. Did we do anything during quarantine that we want to keep doing?
  6. What parts of pre-quarantine family life do you not want to go back to?
  7. What are our family’s biggest strengths? Biggest weaknesses?
  8. What does success as a family look like? How can we work together as a family to achieve that success?
  9. Who are the people outside of this family (extended family, friends, neighbors) that we care about?
  10. How could we be intentional to care for them and stay connected?

Step 4: PLAN

Work together to develop a family plan that reflects the thoughts and conclusions from your discussion in Step 3. Be sure that your plan includes how you will:

  • Spend time together as a family. (Number of meals you’ll eat together each week. How often you’ll do a family activity. Schedule one-on-one time.)
  • Choose a family-friendly number of extracurricular activities to participate in. (Consider how much time it will take. Pros and cons. Is this just a good thing or is it the best thing for me and our family? Are we over-scheduling? The cost to the entire family.)
  • Regulate screen time. (Check out our technology in the home resources.) 
  • Connect with those outside of your family that you care about. (Visits, phone calls, video-chats, gifts, etc.)

When crafting your plan, aim to be realistic. Be willing to adjust your plan if you overshoot your expectations. The goal isn’t to be perfect, it’s to have stronger relationships. Your plan may start with 5 meals per week. After a few weeks, you may realize that 5 meals per week are not realistic for your family. You may end up adjusting your plan to 1 or 2 meals per week. 

What’s important is that you prioritize your time as a family. Hard decisions may have to be made by everyone– often, starting with the parents’ choice of activities that they are involved in. This must be done if you’re going to purposefully bring the lessons your family has learned during the quarantine into your post-quarantine life. 

Dr. Gary Oliver, Executive Director of the Center for Healthy Relationships, wrote: “When 1,500 school children were asked the question, ‘What do you think makes a happy family?’ the most frequent answer was ‘doing things together.’”

The happiness and the belonging that comes with doing things together helps children have the confidence, security, and identity they need to leave their home and face the world.

If one of the top issues couples fight about is money, then a worldwide pandemic where uncertainty fills the air is certain to magnify financial disagreements. It’s to be expected.

Stimulus checks

Job uncertainty

Job layoffs and unemployment

Food and grocery shortages

Kids at home 24/7

Whether you were in a financial rhythm or not, the changes or potential changes can cause significant conflict. And it’s not because there’s too much or not enough money. It’s because you both have an opinion on what should or shouldn’t be done with the money. And there’s a good chance that you’re both certain that you’re right. 

There’s some frivolous things that people can spend money on that are not helpful for the current situation. However, that’s not what I’m trying to address. The question is: How can we come together and make financial decisions for our family in the midst of the changes brought on by COVID-19?

Have Priorities Changed?

There’s an old saying, “If you want to know what’s important to someone, look at their bank statement.” It may be time for a discussion between the two of you regarding what is most important during this time of change and uncertainty. Prior to this quarantine, education, being debt-free, creating memorable experiences and family togetherness were tops on our list. We often tried to take advantage of several educational opportunities, feverishly paid down debts and would go all out to celebrate birthdays and holidays to create memorable experiences.

That’s changed—at least temporarily. Financial security, home improvement and family togetherness are top priorities now. We’re saving as much as possible and working on repairs as if we’re preparing to sell our home. 

Family togetherness is in both lists, but it’s interesting how they look different when you are trying to save money instead of focusing on creating memorable experiences. 

Couples that can come to an agreement on the current priorities take a huge step into making financial decisions together. Before deciding what to do with money, first agree with what’s important to the family.

As a Team, Assess Where You Are. 

Basic questions to answer: 

  • Do we have enough money for all of our current and necessary expenses? 
  • Do we need to cut spending? 
  • Is it possible to increase our income? 

The ability to answer these questions together helps couples lay a framework for working together. Notice, we haven’t made any financial decisions or judgments yet about what those changes should be. We’ve simply identified our priorities and our current situation.

We’re Not Making Enough Money. What Needs to Change?

First, look at each other and agree that you’re going to make it through this together. There may not be enough money because of a pay cut, a layoff, increased medical expenses or you’re subjected to a natural disaster. This may be the first time that one or both of you has ever been in this situation. Fear, panic and anxiety can begin to grab hold. Being in a marriage means being on the same TEAM. Not having to face new challenges alone. Hugs, Kisses, and Affirmation are priceless when the money is tight. Turn toward one another, not away from one another.

Looking at your bank statement and financial decisions for the last month or two is really helpful in knowing where the money went—especially when trying to eliminate spending on things that aren’t priorities. Discussing payment options and deferments is something that many companies are willing to do during this time of quarantine. Check out this great blog my colleague wrote about getting help when the money isn’t there.

The key is to look at all options with an open mind and be creative. It’s easy to be attached to certain practices. We can get trapped in the mentality that if we don’t do this thing we do every year, then we’ll ruin little Johnny’s life. Is that really true?

Phrases to Avoid When Working Together to Cut Spending

  • We can’t cut that. This statement stifles creativity. You may ultimately land on some things that can’t be cut, but before using this phrase, you must exhaust all options.
  • That’ll make them so mad. Changes often evoke emotional responses that we must learn to deal with.
  • There’s nowhere to cut. This statement also stifles creativity. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. 

Have an Open Mind. Be Creative. Work Together. Be Willing to Compromise. 

Your preferences can’t always be more important than your partner’s preferences. If you’re constantly fighting about what to cut, you may choose to focus on increasing your income. You also may develop a system to alternate who chooses what to cut. This is probably going to be painful for all involved. But that’s OK, you’re doing it together.

Is Increasing Income an Option?

You may be surprised at all the industries that are hiring during this season: cleaning services, delivery services (both food and packages), grocery stores, and landscaping, just to name a few. You may be good at tutoring or making specialty items of value. This may be the time to market your services. They may not fully replace your income. However, it may be better than nothing. 

Agreeing on the Assistance You Receive

Whether it’s the stimulus check, unemployment or any other infusion of cash, it’s important that the two of you agree about it before you spend it. You may likely have two different opinions on what to do with the money. Do we catch up on bills? Save it? Fix the car? Resubscribe to Netflix? 

Don’t feel like you have to make the decision the moment you get the money. Just be sure to work together. My wife and I have made an agreement that any infusion of cash cannot be spent until we come to an agreement together. Look at your necessities and priorities and work from there. 

Work Together—Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.

This can be an anxious time. We can be susceptible to scams, quick fix payday loans, predatory loan sharks, and addictions. Committing to connect with one another to talk about money, to talk about life and to talk about your emotions can heighten your emotional security and peace when you’re not sure if you can pay the light bill this month. 

However, with the right attitude toward one another and a commitment to working together as a team, the two of you can navigate through anything and be stronger for it.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Every family in America is probably blessed with some members who are taking the CDC guidelines for COVID-19 very seriously and some who are taking them with a grain of salt. Often, those on opposing sides of the fence are looking down their nose at those who disagree with them. Each wonders when the others are going to wake up and realize their perspective is the correct one.

There is a ton of information out there. From the mainstream news, to opinion papers, talk shows, Dr. Fauci, the CDC and of course we can’t forget social media, it’s almost like information overload. And, who you choose to listen to often determines your behavior.

Whether you’re intensely practicing social distancing or think it’s a massive overreaction, one thing’s for sure – how you engage the ones you love around this issue will impact your relationship long after COVID-19 is no longer a concern.

At some point, many have figured out that it’s going to be complicated doing life together if you can’t agree on this issue. There is some degree of truth in that, but when have all members of a family ever seen everything exactly the same way?

We can spend our time arguing about who’s right and who’s wrong, which is unlikely to have a productive outcome. Or, we can figure out how to move forward while having differing points of view.

At the core of what many are dealing with is fear. Fear of getting the virus because people around you are not social distancing or following CDC guidelines. Fear of infecting someone else. Being afraid of doing the wrong thing. Fear of the government taking your rights away. Fear of losing a business. Fearing economic collapse. And the list goes on.

So, what do you do?

Talk about it. You may have family members who you believe are not handling things the way they need to. If that’s the case, you can choose to have a conversation with them. How you approach them really matters. If you are judgmental and condescending, it’s likely that the conversation won’t go well.  It’s probably a given that you feel strongly about your beliefs and you want those you love to get with the program. But the reality is, they may never be on the same page with you.

Case in point – your aging parents don’t want you telling them what to do. Or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, your college student does not want you telling them what to do.

If all of you are living under the same roof, have a family meeting. Talk about how the entire family will work as a team to keep every member of the household safe. You don’t all have to agree. In fact, you may have to agree to disagree, yet all find a way to do what is best for the greater good.

Acknowledge what you have control over. If your parents are living hours away from you, what they do is beyond your control. You can make recommendations, but at the end of the day, they are going to do what they want to do. Can you love them anyway?

One thing that is within your control is your attitude. You could walk around angry all day because people are responding in a way you believe is irresponsible. On the other hand, you could do what you need to do to keep yourself safe and not seek to be responsible for other people’s behavior.

For example, you are trying to keep your family healthy and safe and your neighbor decides to have a party for 50 people in their front yard. You could choose to confront them, but that would probably create more angst on your part. It’s pretty likely that everybody is feeling a fair amount of tension, so why create more? Going on a walk away from the party, heading to the backyard to play or staying inside might actually help decrease your anxiety.

Be careful about being quick to judge. Things may not always be as they appear.  Someone leaving the grocery store with a lot of toilet paper and other items could at first glance be seen as hoarding much-needed supplies. In reality, the person may be shopping for several older people in their neighborhood. 

Show respect. At the end of the day, respect really matters. Even though you may have differing perspectives on the Coronavirus, being able to share, listen and seek to understand each other’s views goes a long way toward maintaining a healthy relationship over the long term.

It is our differences that make this world a rich place. Instead of trying to convince others that your way is the only way, treat them with the same respect you’d like to receive. Although you may not see eye-to-eye, disagreement doesn’t have to damage or destroy your closest relationships.