Advice to help families cope during COVID-19
Family life has changed dramatically since the outbreak of the coronavirus. For many people, they have had to adapt to new daily routines, where they are spending more of their time at home.
Lopa Vihibkar a systemic couple and adult family psychotherapist at Priory Wellbeing Centre Fenchurch Street and Priory Wellbeing Centre Harley Street, has put together seven tips to help families cope with the increased time they are spending together during the COVID-19 outbreak.
1. Set boundaries and expectations
Try and work out a set of boundaries with your children so that they understand what to expect during this unusual time.
For example, if your child is old enough, clarify your work times, as well as the designated work spaces within the home. And if you have young children, sit down with your partner to define clear, uninterrupted work times for you both. You may also want to think about setting clear boundaries around the following areas:
- Screen time
- Snacking and mealtimes
- Sleep and bedtimes
- Cleanliness and hygiene
By setting these boundaries, this can help to manage conflict within your household, as everyone will have a clear understanding of what is expected from them during this time.
2. Express feelings
Try and plan in weekly family meetings. Work together to set an agenda - this may include discussing new household expectations, talking about the best and worst moments of the week, celebrating successes and planning for the week ahead. Try to keep the family meetings fun and light, so that they work for everyone and keep every person upbeat.
During these conversations, use solution-focused communication. If talk turns to an issue from the week, focus everyone on finding ways to improve or remedy the problem. This can help to manage conflict and allows you work together to reduce similar issues in the future.
Let your children chair parts of the meetings so that they know their opinions are important. These sessions will give you all an opportunity to express how you are feeling and coping with the new version of family life.
3. Use strategies to help your manage your emotions
Many people have dealt with heightened emotions and higher stress levels during the coronavirus outbreak.
Make sure all your family have time for their own relaxation activities in the week. Having ‘me-time’ can help to bring a person’s body and mind into balance and stop any emotions from boiling over and becoming difficult to manage.
4. Learn to G.I.V.E in your conversations
Learning G.I.V.E skills - which are often taught during dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) - can help you to prevent conflict and maintain healthy relationships within your family:
- G – (be) gentle. Think about your words, tone, body language and facial expressions. Responding to people in a gentle manner can result in a person talking to you in a similarly positive way
- I – (be) interested. Really listen to what the person is saying to you. Maintain eye contact, avoid distractions and use verbal and nonverbal cues like head nods to show that you are listening
- V – validate other people’s viewpoints. Let the person know that you understand their feelings, opinions or thoughts. Saying phrases like “I know this is really difficult for you” or “I understanding why you’re feeling sad” can show you have heard and understood them
- E – (have) an easy manner. A soft facial expression and an empathetic yet light-hearted tone can make the person feel comfortable and at ease within a conversation
5. Set up a daily routine
We all had rituals and daily routines before COVID-19, which have likely changed.
As a family, start to think about the activities you would like to continue with or the new ones you would like to instil in your daily routine. That may include:
- Daily walks
- Outdoors and garden activities
- Meal times
- Projects, baking, crafts and games
- Free time
Most people thrive when they have a routine. By constructively filling the hours, with free time included, this can help everyone to stay engaged and content throughout the day. Write down or draw out your daily routine and place it somewhere where everyone in the household can see it, such as on the fridge or on a notice board.
6. Maintain a good balance between home and school
Don’t try and make your home a school. Keep a good balance between education and playfulness. This will be helpful both for you and your children, as it gives them space for themselves as well as space for you to do the work and activities you want and need to do.
Set out blocks of time for education and play within your daily family routine, so that your children are aware of what you expect from them. And remember, be realistic. You aren’t their teacher and they aren’t in their usual school environment. Your best will be enough at this time.
7. Have fun as a family
If you have children, they may feel worried about COVID-19.
Try to have fun with some of the things that we are supposed to do during COVID-19, such as hand-washing. Perhaps set up a daily routine of hand-washing together, and make up a song for you both to sing as you do so. By having a little bit of fun with it, this can help to make this time less stressful and anxiety-provoking for your child.