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Spending more time together as a family: Advice from a social worker on how to make it work

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How is your family getting along with each other now that our homes have become so multi-functional? While it’s only natural to get annoyed with the people we live with, it’s not exactly pleasant. Here are some ideas to minimize frustrations and help everyone get along better.

  1. Take care of yourself. If you’re frustrated, anxious or angry, take some time to decompress before joining your family. Moods – whether good or bad – can be contagious, so be a positive influence.

  2. Talk about the little frustrations before they get out of control. If your child habitually doesn’t clear his place at the table, tell him gently. Say something like, “I feel frustrated when you don’t bring your dishes to the sink.” Own your feelings and avoid attacking or blaming.

  3. Make some family time together each day. Play a game, take a walk, make a meal together or read to each other. This helps strengthen your relationship and connect with each other.

  4. Set aside regular time with each child. This may not be possible to do every day, but each child needs and will benefit from your undivided attention. It’s not necessarily about the amount of time, but the intentionality of making time for both your spouse/partner and children. 

  5. Have something to look forward to. Even if it’s a little thing, we all need something to anticipate. Your children may appreciate a new game, face-timing with their cousins or going out for ice cream.

  6. Encourage your children to talk about the best and worst parts of their day. We do this at dinner, where each person takes a turn saying their day’s high, low and “whoa” (something really cool) moments. You may be surprised at what you learn about each other.   It also helps them see the positive moments of a day, even if it was a bit rough.

  7. Help your younger children connect with their friends. Our six-year-old likes to connect with a friend through Zoom, but the two may play separately for a while, then show each other something. Some people have created an escape room experience for multiple kids over Zoom. Get creative.

  8. If your children are competitive, try to address conflict before it escalates. It’s important not to avoid situations where they compete since they need to learn to manage their emotions. If, for example, they’re competitive in sports, I like to play with them. I watch for early signs of frustration such as frowning or their voices getting louder, then I step in and try to help a bit. It can help to set ground rules about the length of time the game lasts so it’s shorter, ending before reaching one child’s breaking point.  It’s also ok to just let them struggle in a situation for a time, especially if you walk them through it and process the situation and their feelings afterward.

We want this time with our families – just as we did before the pandemic imposed restrictions on our lives – to be valuable. We want to make good memories; to teach and learn from each other; and to build trust and love. Modeling calmness and joy helps our children be more relaxed and reassured that we’re still in charge and taking care of them.

Written by Jason Miller, MSW, LSW, CCM, is a social worker who divides his work time between Goshen Health’s acute care coordination and home health care departments. He and his wife have five children: the older four between the ages of 6 and 13, and the youngest, who is two months old and arrived just in time to help entertain her siblings during the stay-at-home orders.

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