Five strategies to employ with your children as they get more antsy about being cooped up

by Chris Harris on April 24, 2020

It‘s been six weeks since we started sheltering in place, and our lives dramatically changed. While some families are enjoying harmony, I am sure in an increasing number of homes family life includes protests, sibling squabbles, and more overtly expressed emotion about engaging in so much “family time.”

How can we maintain positivity and peace as this sheltering in place continues – longer than we may have anticipated? Here are some ideas that we have employed in our schools at Children’s Health Council that helped our students develop more positive engagement and better self-regulation.

Strategy #1: Schedule a regular time each week to spend with each child individually doing an activity they enjoy within your own family’s limitations.

Scheduling a consistent and regular time to take a bike ride, play a board game, or just have a snack with just one of the kids signals that you care for each member of the family – as individuals. This time should be one that allows real conversation so movies or even gaming are not ideal. You may be surprised how honoring that scheduled time will encourage your child to be increasingly open so you can better understand how they are really feeling about this period in their lives.

Strategy #2: Offer closed ended choices when you need to have something done.

We have found that when you demand a child to follow a directive, they have already figured out that they actually can make a choice. A “no” response to a directive (or some variation of that) is the exercising of that knowledge of choice. It’s better if you pre-plan and then present two options that are acceptable to you as the parent. Allowing your child to then choose one of your presented options allows the child to believe they have made “their” choice and are more likely to “buy in.”

Strategy # 3 Listen without presuming.

Then refrain from immediately responding. Especially now when children are frustrated, overwhelmed, confused or genuinely sad about the predicament we are in, they may externalize and “take it out on you.” It is pent up emotion that they are expressing, and they probably are not expecting you to “fix” the situation, they just need you to hear them out. They may not express it in the most respectful or politically correct manner, but many times they are just “venting” the genuinely intense emotions they are experiencing.

Here’s the caution: If you target your response on how the child is expressing him/herself, then the child may feel that you have diminished the content of their message. This is when an argument can break out. Instead, don’t react immediately. Simply and calmly acknowledge that you have heard them by paraphrasing back the emotion and content you heard.

Strategy #4: Take time to overtly praise the little stuff.

Your expression of appreciation when your child is “doing right” will go a long way towards motivating them to do more of what he or she was doing. We tend to simply assume our children should complete tasks, refrain from arguing etc., but during this period, we specifically need to acknowledge and reinforce their exhibition of even an appropriate behavior. You don’t have to give out a big reward. When people are acknowledged for a genuine effort – completing a mundane task, refraining from “getting into it” with their sibling, etc. – and one recognizes and acknowledges that behavior, it is highly likely you’ll get more of that good behavior.

Strategy #5: Conduct a weekly family “Town Hall Meeting.”

The idea here is to make a plan for the family for the coming week that balances individual and group time ( see strategy #1), work and play time, and considers the desires of each family member and resolves how each will be addressed. This is also a good time to reflect a bit on what went right and not so right during the past week. It will help reduce repeat issues. Ultimately, a weekly plan for the family is posted and then you, the parents, have to stick to it. Establishing routine and predictability in these uncertain times reduces stress and anxiousness because it reduces the unknown and unexpected.

Children’s Health Council has a plethora of resources and more strategies you can utilize to keep your family positive and at peace.

Author note: Chris Harris is Chief Schools Officer at Children’s Health Council and Head of Sand Hill School.

Photo of a tween girl doing science project and grade school boy working on school work are examples only and not part of Children’s Health Council programing.

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