A Crisis and An Opportunity

By Nadja Streiter, LMSW

The COVID-19 pandemic is presenting challenges at every level of society, including home and family life. This is uncharted territory for everyone: fear and uncertainty about the virus, coupled with anxiety over supply shortages, economic instability, and perhaps a 90-year-old parent isolated in a nursing home.

Beyond worrying, there’s little you can do about any of that. What you can—and must—deal with is having your kids at home indefinitely, with endless hours to fill, while you’re trying to work from the kitchen table now cluttered with games and art projects. I don’t pretend to be supermom, but following are some thoughts that are helping us manage these less-than-ideal days.

Reframe the Problem

Rather than focusing on the downside, I’ve adopted a mindset that this is a unique opportunity. Many of us, myself included, have been living at a nearly unsustainable pace for the last few years; social-distancing presents a chance to slow down and focus on deeper family connections.

Yes, being home for days is painful at times, especially while everyone is adjusting. There’s bickering, begging, and irritability. But I’ve asked myself how I want my children to remember me during this crisis, and my answer is definitely not as a screaming shrew.

When I feel the tension rising, my go-to is repeating the mantra “KFC”, which is shorthand for kind, firm, calm. Reciting it over and over helps me stand my ground and not overreact when tempers run high. Being prepared ensures a greater likelihood of a successful outcome.

Establish Routines

Now is an important time to create and maintain routines to help provide a sense of certainty and stability. We’re structuring our days (as best we can) so that the kids put in their online school hours, while we’re doing our online work. When school work isn’t enough to keep them occupied, they can take advantage of the endless opportunities for learning that the internet provides. See below for some ideas and resources and make sure to check that content is age-appropriate.

I recommend having a family meeting to get everyone’s input on what the routine should be. Families have reported that breaking the day into chunks works well: two hours of work, an hour break, two hours work, an hour of exercise, etc. It’s also important to factor in chunks for quiet time and personal space.

If your family meeting becomes tense or argumentative, ask everyone to write their ideas and questions on index cards and listen to them one at a time. This is great practice for kids who will someday need to be participants in adult workplace meetings. If there are doubts about parents being on the same page, it is advisable to work through that before the meeting.

Set Expectations

This is also an important time to make expectations clear and establish consequences for breaking rules. Create a list of “if, then” consequences and put it in writing so there is no room for dispute. Beware of going overboard right now though. If the rules you establish are not realistic or it won’t be possible for you to enforce consequences then make the goal to be consistent. It is better to be less strict but consistent than more strict and inconsistent.

Nadja Streiter is a clinical social worker and therapist who specializes in Technology and Video Game Addiction.