Many families are spending more time at home – together – than they likely ever have. While the COVID-19 pandemic and the related stay-at-home orders create the opportunity for more quality time (Monopoly, anyone?), they also present challenges. With the stress that comes with social distancing and being cooped up together, we may find ourselves easily frustrated and in conflict more frequently.
It’s important that we be mindful of the challenges we are facing, and carve out dedicated time to respectfully express our feelings, thoughts, and concerns; practice apologizing; and, most importantly, try to understand one another, whether we agree or disagree with the other person’s perspective. (Two differing perspectives can co-exist, right?) As Brené Brown teaches us about empathy, what matters is trying to connect.
There are things you can do, individually and as a family, to get along better in the current circumstance. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Mary Uong-Kaale with The Village Family Service Center offered these suggestions:
Incorporate as much of your typical routine as possible into your day. Get dressed for work even when you’re working at home, or stop by Starbucks drive-thru for your coffee and come back home to start your workday if that's what you typically do each morning. Continue with your usual physical exercise, hobbies, or faith and spirituality practices. Schedule virtual playdates for your kids and online coffee meet-ups with your friends. Plan an at-home date night with your partner. Create a schedule for e-learning while school is shutdown. Having things in our schedule to look forward to is important as weekdays and weekends can feel mixed up and blend together when we’re quarantined.
Practice good sleep hygiene. It may be easy to let our kids stay up longer with schools being shut down, but sleep is important for overall wellbeing. Studies show that going to bed later and waking up later can affect mood and long-term health compared to children who go to bed early on a regular basis.
Talk about your “high” and “low” for the day or week. This practice can help you decompress and provides a time to connect on what’s going well and what has been challenging. Celebrate each other’s wins and support each other through the downs. This is a good activity for mealtimes. Shuffle in themed questions that promote couple or family bonding; you can find these online.
Be patient and have an empathetic ear. Children and teenagers who want to see their friends or relatives may think that they can be super careful and that you are being unreasonable for not trusting them. Let your kids know that you totally understand their pain and would let them hang out with their friends if their lives wouldn’t be at risk. Tell your kids it is also painful for us parents to be in this position and to see our kids hurting. Repetitive empathetic responses can go a long way with our children, rather than getting into a debate or power struggle, to drive home the fact that we’re trying to keep them safe. You may find yourself having to stay in repetitive empathic response mode for a while. The main point is to connect with our children and let them know how much we understand in order to not let the conflict get the best of us during this pandemic.
Practice gratitude. There’s a lot to be thankful for and doing so can impact our wellbeing. Be intentional about expressing your gratitude to your family members. Try focusing on gratitude while doing this time capsule activity and capturing memories of this difficult time we’re living through.
Stay connected to friends and family through technology. Apps like Marco Polo, WhatsApp, and Messenger Kids fill our needs for socializing while staying safe.
Go outside for walks while being mindful of social distancing to get fresh air and not be so cooped up in the house.
Carve out alone time. Find a corner of your home or a room to yourself and do some self-care. It’s important to take care of yourself and fill your cup with joys.
Look into telehealth options for individual, couples, or family counseling. Counselors are still available to help you, and now might be a good time to prioritize your mental health and build new coping skills. You can request an appointment online with a Village therapist, or contact your local office.