Managing a family in these crazy times can be a big challenge! How can families manage with all the chaos? Here are some back-to-basics suggestions to help bring your family together.
With all the pressures on families, it seems two main challenges come up in a variety of ways:
- Maintaining connection and cooperation between parents, and
- Keeping kids connected to the family in ways you can remain aware of how they’re navigating an increasingly chaotic world.
Of course, Covid made everything worse. Schools are filled with kids who struggle to find focus and a work ethic that will help them succeed in school. Also, keeping their eyes on the world around them and off glowing screens is a daily battle in most families. While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, the following suggestions may help you foster connection between the adults in the house and also with the kids you’re trying so hard to raise.
Do Emotional Check-ins
This one can be done between the adults in the family, but you may also want to do it with the kids. It’s a simple process. Carve out time on a regular basis (daily is best, but sometimes that’s not practical).
The goal is to make an authentic empathic connection with the Other. Fine a quiet, private place, turn off all distractions, and find your version of “What’s it like to be you right now?” Be sure to check out our podcast episode on empathy here.
When we try to understand the experience of the Other, we foster empathy, connection, and curiosity. These are the basis of a strong, trusting relationship. We ask, and we listen. When we’re given information, we ask some more.
Here are some questions to get the process rolling:
- “How are you feeling right now?”
- “What happened for you today that felt big?”
- “What do you want me to know about you?”
There are many more options, but the goal is not to channel your “stuff” through their experience, and it’s not to offer advice or evaluation. Ask and listen. Ask and listen. It’s that simple.
Schedule Family Business Meetings
You can have one with kids present too, but definitely consider having one regularly (put it on the schedule) with just the grown-ups. You’re the decision makers and you’re the ones with the perspective and maturity to see things from a larger perspective.
Possible topics in a family business meeting can include:
- Coordinating schedules
- Discussing family finances and spending habits
- Agreeing to the weekly menu
- Checking in on how each kid is doing in school, managing home responsibilities, maintaining their mental health, etc.
- Anything else that feels relevant
The point to having a meeting is that you can discuss these items in a dispassionate, focused way. So often, these topics come up in the context of a problem or argument. The problem here is that we end up discussing important family issues when we’re in fight-or-flight. People can feel judged and attacked when we have these conversations in that context.
A planned family business meeting allows you to take much of the emotion out of it. At the very least, it allows us to discuss and plan at times when we’re all calm. These topics are best engaged when we can respond instead of react when we hear things we don’t agree with.
Write and Post Rules and Consequences for Kids
Child behavior obviously has a big impact on the home environment. When kids are out of control, everyone suffers. Sometimes, ambiguity can make things worse, and some good old fashioned rules and consequences can help us set boundaries for our kids.
First, don’t assume a standard by telling yourself things like “They know right from wrong and how to act in this home.” While they may have an idea, ambiguity is the enemy here. When we can refer to specific rules, it also helps you not be the bad guy. You’re not being mean or unreasonable – you’re just the umpire, identifying when they miss the standard.
Here are a few tips for putting this into action. You actually need two lists: one for rules and one for consequences.
- Write them down and post them somewhere kids can refer to them (bulletin board, fridge, etc.). That way there’s no “wiggle room” about whether they knew or not.
- Try not to have too many rules. Fewer age-appropriate rules that are clear and specific will be easier to remember and follow.
- Think in terms of “Do” instead of “Don’t” when possible. We want to build in healthy behaviors.
- Rule 1 can be a catch-all. I know it violates the “specific” recommendation above, but it can help us when kids try to find the exceptions. When I was a classroom teacher, my Rule 1 was “Do nothing that interferes with teaching or learning in this class.”
I admit that was basically code for “Don’t piss me off” but my kids understood that I was the authority in the room and was therefore the arbiter of Rule #1. It also helped me keep those extra-creative kids who were good at finding ways to disrupt that didn’t technically violate the other rules.
- Remember that a list of rules can change as needed. If you sense that an update is required to help maintain order, do it. Just try not to do it too frequently or regularly if you want kids to remember them.
- Consequences are what happens when rules are not followed. These work best when you are steady and consistent.
- This list helps you enforce rules while being their advocate. “Gosh Johnny, I know you really wanted to play video games tonight, but you broke Rule 2 and your first consequence is no video games for the rest of the day. I know you’re disappointed, but I really hope you get the chance to improve tomorrow!”
- The best consequence lists are appropriate, progressive, and applied with absolute consistency. If the consequence for three infractions is that they’re grounded, which ruins parent date night because you now have to stay home to babysit, that’s inconvenient for you. But, over time it will be less inconvenient that having a kiddo who doesn’t respect the consequence list because they know you’ll bend.
- Appropriate and progressive consequences will help you keep the peace at home. Do whatever you like to manage this: 3-strikes, marbles in a jar, whatever works for your family. But if forgetting to take out the trash immediately results in a harsh punishment like pulling him from the baseball team for the season, the punishment doesn’t necessarily fit the crime and it will just sow division and resentment.
- A well-constructed consequence list means you won’t have to threaten or get creative on the spur of the moment. You can simply remind the child “You already have one strike today. Remember what happens when you get two strikes.” Again, this means you’re not the bad guy so often – you can then be in a position of helping the child avoid consequences instead of being the meanie in the room.
- Sometimes allowing the kids to weigh in on the consequence list will give them buy-in to the system. In my experience, kids often choose harsher punishments than I would have. When this happens, you get to be their advocate by helping them recognize the relationship between behavior and privileges or consequences.
Don’t forget that kids are already used to rules lists fro school. Of course, Covid blew that up a little, but well-crafted rules and consequences can actually be a comfort to kids. They understand them and it empowers them to take charge of their behavior choices to get what they want.
Eat together at the family dinner table
Regularly. Everyone. No TV. No electronics. The family gathers to eat together and talk.
This is an old school answer to a modern problem (several of them, actually). Families are increasingly disconnected, and we’re all more distracted than ever.
Eating family meals together has a range of physical, emotional, and cognitive benefits for kids and adults. There are many benefits of eating together with family. Some of these include:
- Protecting against obesity in some groups
- Improves literacy development
- Improves eating habits in adults and children
These are just a few of a very long list of research-supported benefits to eating family dinners together. It also helps parents stay connected to their kids. You can talk about your day, show your kids you’re interested in them, and monitor their answers for those times parents recognize they need to ask a few more pointed questions of their children and “what happened at school today.”
Now, we know this is hard. Life is chaotic and schedules make it hard to get everyone together for meals. We do the best we can and have grace for ourselves when we can’t get it done. The Family Dinner Project is a wonderful resource for recipes, activities, and ways to foster connection and fun with our kids at the family dinner table.
Preserving the Family
The modern, chaotic world we all live in makes it hard to sustain family connections. Still, I know that strong and healthy family connections are important for the physical and mental health of children and adults.
Of course the steps we’ve listed take effort and may not always be attainable. But, the more we can find ways to foster connection with our family members, the better it is for kids and parents.
What else would you add to this list? What helps keep your family healthy and connected? Let’s connect on Instagram and you can let me know your thoughts. I hope to hear from you!