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We expect things to be different after marriage, and one of the more difficult changes is in our friendships. Often, while we share similar stages of life with our friends, your marital relationship should be the primary relationship. It’s pretty likely that you and your spouse want what is in the best interest of your marriage. 

Many couples bring a variety of things into the relationship—including that comfy couch from your bachelor pad or that well-worn t-shirt or sweatshirt, mismatched plates, cookware, and friends of the opposite sex. While it may be easy for you all to decide what old items to discard, it becomes much more difficult to have the conversation with your spouse about ending and/or adapting long-standing or even newly-established opposite-sex relationships. These innocent friendships often create a rift between spouses, especially when our spouse sees the relationship as no big deal but there is something in your gut that makes you super uncomfortable.

If you find that you and your spouse are having more and more unresolved discussions about these “friendships,” you may be in the “Danger Zone.” In the Danger Zone, you and your spouse may find yourself: 

  • Emotionally disconnected from each other
  • Not communicating well
  • Having unresolved conflicts
  • Decreasing in physical intimacy

If you see, DANGER, DANGER, DANGER, take heed. Dr. Shirley Glass, licensed marriage and family therapist, has found that “82% of the unfaithful partners I’ve treated have had an affair with someone who was, at first, ‘just a friend.’ The new infidelity is between people who unwittingly form deep, passionate connections before realizing that they’ve crossed the line from platonic friendship into romantic love.”

How should I begin this conversation with my spouse? 

Ask Questions

Internal Questions:

  • Look at the person in the mirror.
  • What really is bothering me? Do I feel ignored? Insecure? Disrespected? Jealous?
  • Am I asking my spouse to look at their opposite-sex friendships while I have not examined my own? 
  • What about this relationship makes me uncomfortable?
  • Does my spouse share a past romantic relationship with this friend?
  • Does this remind me of something from my past relationships?
  • Do I know my spouse’s friend? Are they doing things for the friend that they won’t do at home?

Relational Questions:

  • What is the state of my marriage? Is it healthy? Do we laugh together? Play together? How well do we communicate? Handle conflict? How is our intimate life? 
  • Are we nurturing our marital relationship?
  • Have we talked about boundaries? Does my spouse include me in the friendship? 
  • Am I invited to go hang out together with the friend? 
  • Are we in the “Danger Zone?”

Once you have considered the above questions, find the right time and place to begin the conversation with your spouse. 

  • Use “I statements” (Speak from your own point of view—“I feel, I need, I think…”)
  • Be respectful 
  • Ask questions of your spouse
  • Actively listen to them
  • Being aware prevents you from approaching a slippery slope

Having this conversation is meant to create and establish relational boundaries that you both can agree on as well as be held accountable. Additionally, you should be open about how you feel about it when your spouse has opposite-sex friends, but do so in a controlled and positive way. Avoid opening an accusatory conversation because you’re feeling hurt or slighted. Choose to respond instead of react. Seek to understand your spouse and the situation first, then open the conversation as a way to strengthen your marriage. 

Being aware of the danger zone, paying attention to warning signs and being respectful of your spouse’s perspective will enable you both to be on the same page and do what is best for your relationship. This does not mean that you and your spouse can never have opposite-sex friends. No matter the difficulty, talking and being open about boundaries is necessary to build a strong, lasting relationship.

***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.***

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.

The freeway is a terrible place for my emotional health. 

Perhaps like you, the chance to leave the house for something essential is a bit of a treat these days. A couple of days ago, we needed bread. So, I joyfully hopped in the car to head to my favorite locally-owned bakery with thoughts of fresh sourdough on my mind. 

Joy quickly turned to temper as I entered the on-ramp and encountered other—I’ll call them “drivers”—on the road. Let’s just say that those around did not have the same philosophy of operating a motor vehicle as me. They were either too slow, too fast, or just too unlike me in how I preferred them to drive. I’m a bit ashamed to admit it: choice words flew, and the stink-eye was given from the driver’s seat on several different occasions. I mean, I was irate, irked, ill-tempered. Don’t these people know when a loaf of sourdough is on the line?

I’ve yet to understand what it is about the freeway that can turn my elation into exasperation, my peace into petulance. And maybe for you, it feels like the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, with all the quarantining, working from home, homeschooling, and mask-wearing, have been escalating trips on the freeway of fury. You may be asking yourself, why is COVID-19 making me so dadgum angry? 

Here’s the Situation

We get angry because there’s an unresolved issue somewhere. Many times that issue is buried more deeply in our psyche than we think. Even though I haven’t figured out my deal with freeway driving, I’m pretty sure it’s not the drivers around me that have me boiling. Even if they really are terrible drivers, they’re just the triggers, the spark that sets off the gasoline-doused woodpile already set up in my mind. 

And the COVID-19 crisis has provided us with lots of potential for things to go up in the flames of anger. Consider the situation we’re in: 

  1. The threshold of our tolerance is at an all-time low due to the stress and anxiety that is so common during this time. Most of us are basically on a short fuse. Times are uncertain. Uncertainty begets a sense of lack of control, which begets negative emotions, which begets anger. Pile up the wood and pour on the gas…
  1. Things going on around us are magnified at an all-time high. We’re home and around the people we live with so… much… more. You notice things you never saw before—little, annoying, nit-picky, normally-inconsequential things—which now drive you absolutely bananas. You know what I’m talking about. He leaves his shoes in the living room all the time. She won’t stop texting me while I’m trying to work. The kids are loud, hungry, bored, tired, whiney. One little match on the pile… kaboom.

The Problem With the Kaboom

When we allow the pile to build and the match to drop, it puts a terrible strain on our emotional health and our relationships. When the kaboom occurs, stress hormones flood the brain. Those hormones override the part that handles impulse control, consideration of the consequences of your actions, and the ability to use logic and process empathy, compassion and guilt. We basically lose the ability to govern these higher-order thinking skills in order to compensate for surviving what we perceive as a threat. We go into a “fight, flight, or freeze” mode. 

And this is when people tend to react, give stink-eyes from driver’s seats, fly off the handle, go off on someone, lose their everloving stuff. It’s bad for your emotional health, and it’s bad for your relationships with the people around you. 

Strategies for Dealing With Anger

Below I’d like to offer some strategies for preventing our anger from flaming up. Before jumping in, however, it’s important to acknowledge one thought: anger is normal. In and of itself, it’s a neutral emotion. Heck, countless social justice movements were successfully launched because someone was angry with a legitimate issue. So give yourself some grace. Know that your anger is okay; it’s all in how you manage your anger, what you do with it. 

Here are some things to think about: 

  • When you’re triggered, take a timeout so the spark can burn out. Marriage researcher and relationship expert Dr. John Gottman found out that it typically takes at least 20 minutes of “self-soothing” for the brain transition out of “fight, flight, or freeze” and to get back to normal working order. For you fellow “manly-men” out there reading this, self-soothing sounds a little… tame. However, this is your best ally to keep the woodpile from blowing up and saying or doing something you’ll regret. Take a walk, shoot some hoops, play an instrument, weed the garden, bake a cake—whatever it takes to take the heat out of the spark. 
  • Explore your anger. This might sound a little psycho-babblish, but the idea is to consider what’s really going on inside that’s making the anger build. Sure, something your spouse or kids (or the drivers on the road) did trigger something; but ask, what’s the real issue here? Is it the stress of this pandemic? Is it the unknown, the uncertainty? Are you missing people you normally see in person? Are there ways you’ve typically coped that aren’t available right now? And are you getting enough exercise, rest, clean food, or connection with the people you love? Exploring these ideas is akin to disassembling the giant gas-laden woodpile that’s been building in your mind so that the next time something lights a spark, the tendency for a kaboom is much less. 
  • Recognize the things that are giving you joy during this time. Has there been an upside to being at home more? Has there been more opportunity to hang with your spouse and the kids? Or maybe to learn a new hobby or rekindle an old one? Have you been given the margin to read more, exercise more, watch more movies, complete home projects, or just enjoy the outside? Recognizing the joys that are coming out of this situation is essential to handling your anger so that the anger doesn’t handle you. Acknowledge these joys on a daily basis and adopt a sense of gratitude for those things. When you do, you’ll notice the positive shift in your attitude in no time. 

Anger is a normal emotion. Understand how it affects you physically and mentally, have a plan for it, and learn from it as you focus on the positive things in your life!

They told us we had a moderate chance of severe weather Easter night and to be weather aware. How many times have we heard that and the weather amounted to nothing to write home about?

Many went to sleep thinking if there was severe weather in the area, storm alerts would go off on phones and weather radios. Sadly, between 11 p.m. and midnight, a severe storm turning into an EF3 tornado ravaged our community. Thousands were left without power and hundreds with homes that were either destroyed or uninhabitable until repairs are made.

While we can see the physical devastation from the storm, there is an invisible aftermath. That aftermath is taking its toll on those who lived through the event, especially the children. It reveals itself in different ways depending on the age of the person. 

I have spoken to a number of parents who shared with me that their children are struggling to go to sleep at night. Some say their teenager, who has been totally independent, is now clinging to them and won’t leave their side. Others just seem lost and afraid. I thought it might be helpful to talk about some ways parents can provide comfort for their children as they try and deal with the trauma.

As children try to cope with what they experienced they might feel increased fear and/or anxiety that shows itself in different ways. It may be in the form of tantrums, crying for no apparent reason, acting in ways that seem defiant, not wanting to go to bed by themselves or not wanting to be alone, period. They could become especially clingy, not wanting to leave a parent’s side. 

As parents try to manage repairs and create some sense of “normal” for their family, this behavior could create additional angst for parents.

Here are some things you might find helpful as you seek to help your child process what happened.

Even though you are juggling a lot of things, be intentional about spending focused time with your children. Although their clinginess may get on your nerves, know that sitting in your lap, holding your hand, snuggling up next to you on the couch or in bed are all comforting to children who have experienced trauma.

For your older children, you may see them somewhat withdraw as they try to process what happened. Provide opportunities for open, honest conversation. Answer their questions as best you can. If your teen asks you if you think this could happen again, tell them the truth: It’s possible, but not likely. Consider how old you are and whether or not you have been in the path of a storm like this before. I have lived through a lot of storms, but nothing like the tornado. This helps give perspective to them as they process their experience. 

If you don’t know an answer to a question, say so. You might be able to find the answer together. Or it may just be a question that nobody really knows the answer to.

Where possible, create routines and structure. These two things can help restore a sense of normalcy for your family. People in general thrive on this because it helps them feel more in control (at least to some degree). 

Acknowledge the grieving that is going on and the loss of innocence for young children. In reality, they will never NOT remember this moment in time. Take care in how you talk with them, and assure them of your protective presence. Giving them the opportunity to write, talk and/or draw about what they are feeling and then explain it to you will help them process their emotions.

Playtime is important. Even in the midst of trying to get things done, take time out to do something fun. This can help to decrease anxiety and stress and help the healing process – even for the adults.

Adapting to change in general is often hard for people. It can be unsettling for everyone, especially children, when you are uprooted from your home and have to live somewhere else permanently or until repairs are complete. Don’t assume they grasp what is going on. Talk them through it by explaining it clearly. You might say, “Because of the damage to our home we are going to have to live in another place for a while, or we are going to have to look for a new place to live.”

If this is the only home your children have known, there will probably be some sadness and anxious feelings that you can actually talk about. However, don’t underestimate the calm that this can bring even to a 4-year-old who may not understand everything. Keep it simple and age appropriate. It helps decrease surprises which tend to increase anxiety in children. You might have to have the same conversation a number of times and that’s honestly to be expected. Be patient.

There are some things that are adult topics such as money constraints that children don’t need to know the details about. You can always say, “We can’t do that right now, but I will remember that you asked about that and when things settle down we will talk about it.”

Limit the amount of exposure your children have to the ongoing news, photos on social media and even conversations that you have around them. It is challenging as adults – triple that for children. All of the ongoing exposure keeps them from being able to recalibrate and settle down.

Take care of yourself. You’re probably really tired of hearing that phrase, but let people cook for you, help you clean up, provide food. Let others do anything that will allow you to conserve energy and be there for your children.

As you move forward, remember that every family is different. It’s normal to feel traumatized, have some flashbacks and feel on edge (hyper-vigilant) after something like this. These symptoms usually will subside or at least decrease over the next few weeks. There really is no easy fix. Things will not get better immediately. But paying attention to how you engage with your children, what you allow them to be exposed to and being intentional about talking with them and being physically close to them will bring comfort.

If they are still struggling to adjust over time, don’t be afraid to seek professional help for them. These things are scary, frustrating and hard to manage for us even as adults. Asking for what you need from others can help you get through the challenges you face. At the same time, it will help you be a healthier parent for your kids.

Frustrated. Bored. Sad. Anxious. Stressed. Angry. Scared. 

“My parent(s) lost their job.” 

“Is this about to be the end of the world?” 

“My best friend’s mom is being tested for coronavirus.” 

“Is this online school from home really getting me everything I need?” 

“My sister is getting on my everlasting nerve.” 

“Is someone I love going to die of this?” 

I’m not describing the questions, emotions, and thoughts of adults through COVID-19, though many share them. I’m talking about our children.

Many are hearing a new vocabulary that causes them to experience emotions during COVID-19 that are new to them.

Words like quarantine, shelter-in-place, unemployment, pandemic, stimulus, COVID-19 conspiracy, create questions and a need for understanding. It may signal that their world, their family’s world is changing or in their mind, moving away from something they’ve grown comfortable with and reliant on.

Our children are experiencing a moment in time that may well leave behind some defining changes in how they live their lives. My grandparents remembered the great depression like it was yesterday even though they were children when it took place. My parents remember the Civil Rights struggle vividly. They were teenagers. I remember 9/11. They will remember being quarantined, school shut down for months, sports and music seasons canceled, parents trying to homeschool, and being confined to the house. 

They will remember it because of the emotions that they experienced.

Many will know someone that contracted COVID-19. Others may not. But it doesn’t mean they aren’t affected emotionally. As parents here’s what we can’t do. We can’t…

  • Ignore the possibilities that COVID-19 is affecting our kids emotionally.
  • Tell our kids that their feelings are right or wrong.
  • Tell them how they should feel.
  • Make them talk.

Here’s what we can do.

We can…

  • Provide a safe space for them to share. Must be non-judgmental and listen with as few expectations as possible. The fact that they can share with you what they are feeling can rob the emotion of some of its debilitating effects.
  • Help them name their emotions. Whatever they share is real to them. Take time to understand what they are thinking and feeling. (Check out the Feelings Wheel for a list of emotions. THIS is another good guide to emotions.) Encourage kids to write down the emotions they have felt or are feeling during COVID-19. Write them down as they talk about them if necessary.
  • Simply be present with them to provide a sense of belonging. Whether they are talking or not, spend time with your kids doing things together. This often helps to set up organic conversation later.
  • Acknowledge our own emotions and share how we are dealing with them. Be honest and open enough to acknowledge some of the effects the COVID-19 quarantine is having on you.
  • Make sure physical needs are being met—full night’s sleep, healthy eating, exercise, getting outside. These all help our brain better process our emotions. We don’t process our emotions as well when we’re hungry, angry, tired or lonely.
  • Encourage them to talk with other trusted adults (grandparent, aunt, uncle, youth pastor, coach). I have accepted that there are some things my 13-year-old daughter feels more comfortable talking to her grandmother about than me. This isn’t a time for me to be jealous or controlling. I should be thankful that I have support to help us all.
  • Look for behavioral changes. Is your usually quiet child talking all the time now? Is your social kid spending a lot more time by themselves? Are there some behavior cues that let you know they may be dealing with some unresolved emotions during COVID-19? 
  • Develop rituals and routines. A routine can provide consistency and stability for our children. Within the routine, there are often spaces that lend themself to sharing and talking. Mealtimes, bedtime routines that include some time to reflect on the day, quiet time, family temperature checks, family meetings are just some of the environments where talking can take place. 
  • Be patient. As adults, we sometimes don’t share until we’re ready to share. Your child may be the same way. Simply letting them know that they can come to you at any time is reassuring.
  • Seek out professional help. If your child is obviously being emotionally affected in a significant way and they are possibly a danger to themselves or others, counselors are accepting appointments via video.

Helping a child process their emotions means being prepared at any time for them to start talking.

You can’t plan or schedule emotional processing. I’ve had my daughter tack on a comment at the end of a trivial conversation that set off an alarm that something was bothering her. A little question like, “Will we have enough money to buy ice cream?” from my son signaled that he had been thinking a lot about how the current situation is affecting us financially. 

Listening. Listening is the name of the game. We’ve all heard the old adage, “We have two ears and one mouth to listen twice as much as we talk.” As parents, we have to work to practice this principle. The more our kids talk, the better. The less we lecture at them, the better. This is a time where we as parents can be a tremendous aid to the emotional development of our children which will serve them greatly for years to come.

Last week I checked in on a friend to see how she was doing while in quarantine. Her response, “Overwhelmed, stressed and a bit stir crazy.”

One thing is for sure: She is not alone. It’s probably a safe guess to say that most of us are feeling a variety of emotions during the COVID-19 outbreak – everything from sadness, anger, suffering, fear and annoyance to impatience, depression, disillusionment and vulnerability. All the feels for sure.

The big question is, what do we do with all we are feeling? Great question. In a moment like this, it is important that we intentionally do something with those emotions

First and foremost, we need to acknowledge what we are feeling. Put words to the emotions rolling around inside. It might help to Google a list of feeling words to help you identify and express all the emotions you are experiencing. 

Write down all the words you believe you are experiencing. After you write them down, you need to know that none of those emotions are bad or wrong. They just are. It is now up to you to decide what your response will be to these emotions. In other words, you need to boss your feelings around instead of letting them hold you hostage and feeling like you are being tossed to and fro.

There are a few clues that can help you know if you are being held hostage by your emotions. For instance, you might be sleeping or eating more than normal. Perhaps you feel like you are on the edge of the cliff not knowing what you might do in the next moment. It may even feel like the people around you are constantly pushing your buttons and you have no capacity to keep yourself from going off on them. 

What can you do to take control? Here are some techniques you can try.

  • Breathe. Seriously, take some deep breaths. Breathe in deeply and then slowly exhale. Do this a number of times. Practice this throughout the day versus only when you feel like your emotions are beginning to run wild.
  • Exercise. This helps clear the fog out of your brain. Go for a walk, run, bike ride or do a workout on YouTube. Do something that will work up a sweat and release endorphins. 
  • Making sure you are eating healthy, getting plenty of rest and taking in Vitamin D (as in good ole sunshine) can also help you physically, mentally and emotionally.
  • Grab that journal you wrote your emotions in and consider specific things you can do right now. You can write down ways you want to choose to respond when it feels like these emotions are trying to take over. Acknowledge the emotion and consider your plan of action to get it under control. Actually saying out loud, “I feel overwhelmed or angry right this minute,” is more powerful than you might think. 
  • Ask yourself, “What do I need right now?” If you are a verbal processor, you might want to phone a friend and talk about what you are experiencing so they can help you put together your action plan. Playing music that helps you calm down is another option. Watching a show you really enjoy or utilizing some of the free virtual tours available to visit a place you love could be helpful.
  • Consider what you have control over or what you have the ability to influence. Your attitude is for sure something you can control. When you feel tension and fear creeping over you, you can literally say, “No, not today,” and then go do something constructive like yard work, helping a neighbor who can’t get outside, baking or making masks. Anything that puts your brain in motion in a positive way will work. When you are experiencing fear and your heart starts to beat fast, stop and assess the situation to determine what is real and what “could happen.” Differentiating between the two will help you be able to decide the best next steps. Sometimes, the best next step is to tell yourself that those thoughts are not accurate or true.
  • Your mindset matters. Negative self-talk can keep you from handling your emotions constructively. If you tell yourself you aren’t strong enough or smart enough to handle something or that you just can’t, your brain believes what you tell it. Instead, try statements like, “I’m not sure of the answer, but I’m going to figure it out,” or, “Another day, another adventure. I am strong and I am smart. I can figure this out.” Then set yourself in motion to figure it out.

Taking control of your emotions is a process. As you try some of these suggestions, be patient with yourself. Start by doing one thing differently. As you begin to do that thing more consistently, add something else into the mix. Over time, it is likely you will see yourself managing your emotions instead of letting them manage you.

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 this COVID-19 crisis with their family (and their sanity) intact. 

It is true that most of us are not 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 for all of us to consider. 

Emotions are running high for everyone. There is 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 are in pretty close quarters, there are some things you can do to help your family avoid unhealthy behavior.

Recognize that your children are taking their cues from you. If you are really struggling with all that is 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 will take, your children will follow your lead. Your children need to know that you are 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. Plus, it will serve them well in the future.

Even though your family is all together, don’t assume they will 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 is 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 are 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 is 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 are 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 will take some wisdom to dig deeper as you handle misbehavior while helping them understand their emotions.

It is highly likely you will encounter challenges while you are in close quarters. By looking for solutions together, you are modeling how to find answers to other sticky situations down the road. In order for your family 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.

When you’re in the checkout line at the store and a 2-year-old has a meltdown because they can’t have a candy bar, nobody is shocked because well, they are two. It’s totally another story when an adult who is unable to regulate their emotions has a public meltdown.

Unfortunately, a rising number of teens and adults seem to be struggling with emotional and impulse control, and the results are often disastrous. Think road rage, someone cutting in line or even publicly expressing a different opinion in a rude manner.

The Child Mind Institute defines self-regulation as the ability to manage emotions and behavior in accordance with situational demands. It is a skill set that enables children, as they mature, to direct their own behavior toward a goal, despite the unpredictability of the world and their own feelings. It includes:

  • Being able to resist highly-emotional reactions to upsetting stimuli,
  • Calming yourself down when you get upset,
  • Adjusting to a change in expectations, and
  • Handling frustration without an outburst.

Children who don’t learn this skill struggle to self-regulate as they get older. And, if you’ve ever experienced this out-of-control feeling or been on the receiving end, you know it’s not a good thing. There is good news, though. If you didn’t learn this skill as a child, it is still possible to learn it as an adult.

Your emotional brain processes information in two milliseconds, so keeping yourself under control during a frustrating experience involves being able to pause between the feeling and your response. There is a trigger; someone pushes your buttons (we all have an easy button), there is an instant reaction, accompanied by a strong emotion often followed by a feeling of remorse. This is the body’s automatic built-in protection system, also known as “fight, flight or freeze.”

Your rational brain, which helps you make sound decisions, processes information in 500 milliseconds, 250 times longer than your emotional brain. People have to learn how to assess situations quickly, but if they don’t pause long enough to discern what is actually happening, their emotional brain can take control before their rational brain has a chance to kick into gear. 

If you or someone you know struggles with self-regulation, it’s not too late! You just have to be intentional about choosing to behave differently.

Think about what you can control and what you cannot. You cannot control how other people behave, but you can choose how you will respond or engage with them. Sometimes, the best response is to do nothing.

Learn how to master your feelings, versus letting them master you will serve you well. For example, when someone cuts you off when you’re driving, you suddenly feel your heart rate go up, adrenaline starts flowing, and your first instinct is to go after them. However, if you are practicing emotional regulation, you can take a breath, even acknowledge that that makes you angry, but then let it go because the consequences of your actions could bring harm to you, that driver and others who aren’t even involved.

This should not be interpreted as people not being able to stand up for themselves or being silenced. Instead, learning how to master strong and powerful emotions can help people develop calm and constructive ways to have their voice heard. When people are out of control, it’s highly unlikely that anything positive will come from the situation.

***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.***

Popular artist Taylor Swift is aware of her critics and the harshness of their comments, especially after the time she sang off key with Stevie Nicks. One critic said it was the beginning of the end of her career.

These comments definitely affected Swift. So, what was her response? She wrote a song: Mean. 

You, with your words like knives and swords and weapons that you use against me,

You have knocked me off my feet again, got me feeling like I’m nothing…

While there have always been mean people, many would agree that there seems to be more mean behavior than even a decade ago.

“I believe as a society we are seeing more meanness and we have become more tolerant of it,” says Dr. Gary J. Oliver, emotional intelligence expert. “While bullying has always been around, we have seen an escalation of inhospitable, hurtful and demeaning behavior – and not just in adults who have lived a rough life. We are seeing this behavior in children as well.”

So, as Swift asks in her lyrics, why do people have to be so mean?

“I think there are a number of reasons,” Oliver says. “People seem to be more accepting of mean behavior instead of stopping it. And we have a lot of hurting people out there. When a wounded person feels threatened, they lash out in an effort to protect themselves. These people are almost always unhappy, insecure and frustrated. Their effort to make themselves feel better and safer comes at a great cost to those who become the target of their anger.”

Oliver also believes mean behavior has increased because of humans’ natural instinct to fight, run away or freeze when they feel threatened. People who don’t how to handle a mean situation often resort to fighting back or attacking someone out of anger.

“Most people do not realize that when they feel threatened, the emotion portion of their brain gets hijacked. If they have never learned emotional self-awareness, they resort to instinctive responses,” Oliver says. “Parents can teach their children how to handle their emotions in a way that is assertive yet not mean and disrespectful.”

Dr. Oliver shares these tips to teach children emotional intelligence:

  • Love your children.

  • Keep expectations realistic. No child can be number one at everything.

  • Help your child to recognize his/her strengths.

  • Teach them healthy boundaries.

  • Model how to treat others with kindness and compassion even when treated disrespectfully.

  • When someone makes a mean statement to your child, teach them to ask themselves if it is true. If not, they can dismiss it. If it is, they can do something about it.

“Nobody likes being treated mean – not even the bully,” Oliver says. “Teaching your children that they don’t have to react to every stimulus and that they can remain calm will serve them well on into adulthood. How far your child goes in life depends more on emotional intelligence than having a degree from an Ivy League school.”

Who would you prefer your child to hang around, someone who is mean, disrespectful and rude or someone who is compassionate, kind and respectful?

If you live with a teenager, one thing is certain: their emotions change as often as the weather or their clothes. They ascend to the heights of joy one day, the depths of teenage despair, the next.

The teen years are a time to explore new ideas, new attitudes and new feelings. Since a certain amount of unpredictability is normal, how can you tell if your teenager’s emotional swings are beyond the normal ups and downs of adolescence?

Although it’s not always possible to know what goes too far, there are some things you can look for in the process.

Here’s a warning-sign checklist from the Minirth-Meier psychiatric organization that can help you:

  • Deterioration of grades;
  • Chronic truancy;
  • Chronic school failure;
  • Mood swings;
  • General Apathy;
  • Drug/alcohol use;
  • Blatant sexual behavior;
  • Verbal or physical displays;
  • Withdrawal or feeling of hopelessness;
  • Sleeplessness, fatigue;
  • Low self-esteem;
  • Sadness, crying;
  • Secretive;
  • Suicidal thoughts, unexplained accidents;
  • Death of significant person;
  • Interest in the occult;
  • Poor impulse control;
  • Family history of substance abuse or mental illness;
  • Extreme change in appearance or friends; and/or
  • Inability to cope with routine matters/relationships.

Jay Strack suggests that a parent’s first response to these signs of trouble is crucial. He’s the author of Good Kids Who Do Bad Things.

“Overreacting parents often drive kids into an emotional shell from which they are reluctant to venture. Underreacting parents send a message to their kids that says, ‘I just don’t care.’ Either response can be devastating when the individual loses his emotional balance,” he writes.

Strack says it is important to differentiate between the normal pressure of life and crisis situations.

If your teen is demonstrating a number of the warning signs, here are several action steps you can use.

  • First, don’t panic. “This is no time to lose control of yourself,” Strack says. “A calm demeanor and a listening ear are crucial.”
  • Next, act quickly. Strack writes that parents should not sit around “hoping the problem will solve itself or just go away. Timing is crucial in a crisis.”
  • Then, seek advice. Seek the advice of those who can really help, like counselors, pastors and teachers. You may need lawyers, police and other officials, depending on the situation.
  • Always stick to the main issues. “While your teenager may have several areas in which he needs improvement (e.g., self-acceptance, personal discipline, study habits, etc.), it’s important to stick with the major issues of the crisis until they are resolved,” Strack says. “Only then will the teenager be clear-headed enough to focus on the other issues in his life.”
  • Finally, strike a balance. Strack’s fifth guideline is important. Teens need to know that you love and cherish them, despite their behavior.

“At the same time,” Strack says, “you will need to balance love with discipline when necessary so that your teenager doesn’t just run over you.”