Advice to Reduce Family Bickering During Quarantine

As the world shuts down and families take refuge inside their homes in an effort to flatten the curve of the coronavirus pandemic, it is inevitable that family tensions will rise. Everyone feels stressed – although in different ways – and there’s no escape or distraction from one another. We are bound to have short fuses and moments of frustration. Siblings will likely fight and bicker at levels above their normal squabbles. Here are some tips for minimizing the bickering and dealing with the tension in a healthy way when it appears:

Accept these are difficult times.

The first thing you need to do is remember that this is a challenging situation and everyone reacts to stressful circumstances in a variety of ways. Everyone in your household is feeling stress, though likely for different reasons. Even if you don’t think you are stressed, check in with your body… are you having more trouble sleeping, struggling with an upset stomach, getting more headaches, or feeling muscle tightness? These are all signs of stress, and constant stress makes us less patient. Teach everyone in your family to notice the bodily signs of stress and encourage everyone to offer each other more grace than usual. Give each other the benefit of the doubt during this time.

Role model for the children.

Children feed off the energy of their parents. If you are fighting with each other or acting anxious, your children will do the same. Even teenagers are mimics of what they see. So, if you don’t like the behavior in the household, pay attention to how you’re acting. If you can demonstrate healthy ways to cope with stress, your teens will do the same. That might be as simple as walking away for 10 minutes to collect your thoughts or making time for some deep breathing or doing something enjoyable for yourself that reduces your stress.

Establish ground rules.

Sit down together as a family and set some family rules and expectations. That might include a schedule, such as when you expect chores and homework to be done, or it might include a limit on screen time. But, at a minimum, you should set rules for fighting fair. No name-calling, pushing or hitting, personal attacks, sweeping generalizations (you always, you never), or screaming will be tolerated. Explain what the consequence for that type of behavior is and enforce it. When conflicts arise, tell your children that you expect them to use good resolution skills: state the problem, brainstorm all possible solutions, and choose one that works for all parties.

Foster positivity.

It’s easy to get bogged down by negative news and uncertainty about what the future holds, which makes it even more important to foster positivity within your home. Limit the amount of news you allow in your home to reduce the fear and negativity. Perhaps set up specific times for news and the rest of the time focus on happier projects and conversation.

Set up together and alone times.

When we are confined in close quarters with the same people 24/7, we need to allocate time to spend together and spend apart. Both are equally important. We need moments to connect through fun quality time. We also need to give each other space to calm down our mind and senses. Some families have also found it helpful to designate areas of the house for specific activities so that there are locations for privacy, work, and interaction.

Avoid big decisions.

With so much uncertainty, and with so much stress in the family, now is not the time to try to make big or difficult decisions. It will only add to the stress and increase the chance for bickering in the family. Put off any major changes until stress levels are lower.

Teach healthy coping skills.

With every family member’s stress load on high, it’s a great time to teach teens healthy coping skills. Ideas include: breathing exercises and/or meditation; exercise and/or yoga; being creative through artwork; reading; playing or listening to music; and taking a walk around the neighborhood.

Encourage journaling.

Another healthy way to reduce stress is through journaling – writing down your feelings. It’s a great way to process your emotions. Encourage your teens to try this as a way to reduce their stress, but you might need to sell them on the idea with a different strategy… remind them that they are living in a very historical moment right now. Their children and grandchildren will ask them what their lives were like during the pandemic of 2020. It will be an amazing gift for them to pull out a journal and let future generations see history come to life.

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