Together At Home: From Chaos To Harmony
What happens when families suddenly have to live together 24x7 within the confines of their home? Could it lead to chaos? Or could families spend this time together bonding in harmony? Find out.
By Nalina Ramalakshmi
Thanks to the coronavirus, my gym is now closed, and all my fitness classes are moving online. At 6 a.m., on the morning of my first online class, I signed-in via Zoom and started exercising as the instructor shouted out instructions - ‘1-2-3-4 - LIFT YOUR ARM - BEND YOUR KNEE…’ Shortly thereafter, I heard my daughter (back home from college due to the corona break), mumbling and grumbling, half asleep, on a bed nearby, “Don’t you get it, mom, I’m trying to sleep here.” - Mathari, Chennai.
The other day I opened the cupboard to grab my favourite bag of chips. All I found was an empty bag with crumbs strewn all over. The culprits (you guessed right) - my little rascals who are at home all day because schools are closed. – Sriram, Bengaluru.
I’m trying to work from home. But my kids want to play on my computer, or they are constantly fighting over something or the other. I find it so hard to focus and get my work done. I can’t wait to get back to the office. – Menaka, Mumbai
Sounds familiar? Take heart! You are not alone! Families across the globe are suddenly having to stay within the confines of their homes to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. They have nowhere to go and no one to visit and they are stuck with each other 24x7. There is a sudden change of routine for everyone. Parents have to work from home, some children have schoolwork to do while others are on vacation. Even stay-at-home moms find their space invaded and their routines disrupted.
But, not to worry. Here’s what you can do to turn the chaos and conflict caused by this sudden change into peaceful and engaging moments as a family:
KEEP THE CALM
The first step is for you to keep your calm to weather any storm in the house.
Make some me-time for yourself everyday – pray, meditate, do yoga or exercise, nap, read, paint or take up a hobby. Do something that relaxes you.
- Manage the Conflicts
Yes, expect the shouting and fighting between the children, and even between adults and children. When your children fight:
- Stay calm, don’t judge or take sides. Don’t punish.
- Describe what you see – ‘I see both of you are fighting over the remote.’
- Let your children know you understand how they feel – ‘You must be so mad at your brother for not letting you watch what you want on TV.’
- Coach them on how to listen, communicate and find solutions – ‘Can you ask your sister why she grabbed the remote from you? How do you think your sister feels when you hit her? What can you do to make her feel better?’
- Diffuse the situation with humour and play – ‘The remote is mine. Let’s see if you can catch me to get it.’
HAVE A FAMILY MEETING
This is the time for open conversations to understand each other’s feelings and how you can all come together as a family. What can you do to take away the stress of being together all the time and bring in joy instead? If you have young children, keep the meetings simple and discuss age-appropriate, relevant issues. This is not a time to be discussing your financial worries or other career concerns with your children.
- Call a family meeting: Invite all the adults and children in your house to the meeting. Pick a time (at least once a week), when everyone is in a relatively good mood.
- Set up a suggestion box: Encourage everyone to write and share their frustrations and suggestions and drop them in the box before the meeting.
- Have each one talk about the sudden changes that have happened in the recent days and how it has impacted their lives.
- Let each one share what they are feeling – their fears and anxieties, their challenges and frustrations, what they hate or love, or what they are enjoying. This will help all the family members to understand each other and be mindful of each other’s needs.
- Answer any questions that come up regarding COVID-19 virus with facts from trusted sites.
- Open the suggestion box and read out the suggestions. Anyone can share other suggestions to improve things around the house – ‘I need some quiet time between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. in the morning to take calls from work’, ‘Can we each have a specific bath time so we don’t fight to use the bathroom’, ‘Can we have ice cream for dessert every day after dinner’, ‘I need my own space to read quietly without my sister jumping on me’, ‘I don’t want to be woken up before 10 a.m. every morning’.
- Agree on a plan: The goal of the meeting is for everyone to agree on a plan of action that includes a daily schedule, respect for each other’s space within the house, and a making a list of activities for each person to engage in.
MAKE A SCHEDULE
Suddenly, there are no schedules, no routines for anyone. This only adds to the chaos and stress. It’s always a good idea to build some structure or routine into our daily lives to make things more predictable and comfortable for ourselves and our children. But remember to keep it flexible. For each member of your family, you can create a plan and a schedule.
- Have a daily schedule: You can always keep Sunday as a day of relaxation, completely open, without any schedule. Keep adjusting the daily schedule till you find one that works well for each one. Make sure the schedule is tailored to the age and interests of each person. Here’s a sample weekday schedule:
7:00 a.m. – Wake up time
7:15 a.m. – 8:00 a.m. Yoga and meditation
8:00 a.m. – 8:30 a.m. Bath and getting ready
8:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. Breakfast
9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. Study session 1
11:00 a.m. – 11:15 a.m. Snacks and break
11:15 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Activity of the Day
12 :30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. Lunch break
1:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. Study session 2
3:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Snack break
4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. Special interest/hobby/exercise
5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Free Time/family time/chores
7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. Dinnertime
8:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. Reading time/story time
8:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. Bedtime routine
9:00 p.m. Lights out
- Make a weekly plan: You may want to have a special activity planned for each day of the week. Here is a sample:
Monday: Art and Craft
Thursday: Science Experiments
Friday: Design and Build
Saturday: Know Your Culture
- Set Limits: When your child knows what you expect her to do, she feels safer and more comfortable, and it reduces any chance of conflict.
- Together with your child, set simple rules and have appropriate expectations so your child knows what you expect from him – ‘Only 30 mins of TV today’, ‘You need to put away your toys before bedtime’.
- Acknowledge and appreciate your child for following the rules
- Be firm and consistent in enforcing the rules
- If your child repeatedly breaks the rules, be sure you follow through on any agreed upon consequences – ‘You have watched more than the agreed upon screen time today; you will have to give up your screen time tomorrow.’
RESPECT EACH OTHER’S SPACE
The house may suddenly seem overcrowded with everyone in the house all day long. Just when you are ready to sit down to work, you may find your child is sitting on your chair and is busy drawing and painting using your desk. Or, you may be cooking a meal while your children kick the ball around you. Such situations can lead to arguments and conflicts. So why not designate special zones or rooms in your house such as – Quiet Zone, Work Zone, Playing and Jumping Zone, Reading Zone, Do-Not-Disturb Zone and so on. This way, your child knows that if you are working in your Work Zone he cannot come into that space or if it is a Quiet Zone, no one should make a noise in there.
RESPECT EACH OTHER’S TIME
You have that important meeting you have to join online. But that’s when your child wants you to play with her. What do you do?
- No-Disturb Time: You can always let your family know that certain times of the day are ‘No Disturb’ times when you have to work or do other things for yourself. Put up a sign outside your work area that says, ‘NO-DISTURB TIME’. Your children will understand. They too can let you know if there are times when they do not want to be disturbed.
- Special Time: Make each child feel special by spending one-on-one time every day with each one of them.
- Split Time: If you have younger children at home who will need to be supervised, take turns with your partner or another adult to keep an eye on them and keep them engaged.
- Family time: Just as we set aside ‘me-time’, it is also important to set aside family-time, when the whole family gets together – it could be over a meal, or a game, or a planned activity. You do not want to miss this opportunity to connect and bond with each other.
With all the time on hand, children need to be engaged, we need to be engaged. Some boredom is good and necessary to get one’s creative and imaginative thinking going. But too much boredom can lead to lethargy and dullness and this can lead to squabbling and fighting. So, what can you do to keep your whole family entertained and engaged?
- Make a list: Before you decide on activities for your child, have him list out all that he is interested in doing. Give him suggestions, but let him choose what he wants to do. This way he will show more interest and be more engaged in whatever activity he takes up.
- Screen Time: This is one time it’s okay for you to allow your child to play video games, watch TV, engage in digital learning and other online activities. But make sure you limit the time your child spends on TV, computers and online as she must engage in a variety of activities through the day to stimulate all her senses.
Here’s a list of activity ideas to get you and your child started:
Your child can:
- Learn something new – to speak a new language, to code, to make videos, to design graphics, to cook, to paint and more…
- Do something challenging she’s been nervous to try
- Watch movies, videos for entertainment and education
- Do puzzles and play single-person games
- Play video games
- Take online courses
- Explore hobbies and interests
- Read, read, read
- Enjoy listening to his favourite music
- Do Art and Craft
- Write notes or make cards for Grandparents
- Do Science experiments
- Keep a journal or write a story or blog
- Do schoolwork/homework/projects
- Help with chores and cooking at home
- Play by himself with toys and building blocks
- Pull out old cardboard boxes and other stuff around the house and play with them imagining, creating, building
- Do yoga and fitness exercises
- Pretend play - young children love to play dress-up and imitate older people
- Help do groceries and essential errands for a neighbor in need, if your child is older
As a family you can:
- Play word games and number games
- Do puzzles together
- Play multiplayer video games
- Put up a play/drama together
- Put up a puppet show
- Do chores together
- Clean up and declutter your house
- Do a home make over
- Do DIY projects together
- Play board games and indoor games
- Plan and cook a meal together
- Put on the music and dance together
- Do yoga and exercise together
- Get together to pray and meditate
- Have story time - tell stories and read together
- Have a terrace picnic or campout
- Watch movies together
- Grow and nurture a garden – indoors or outdoors
- Learn a new language or learn about a new country or culture together
- Pretend play together – set up a pretend shop, play doctor-patient, play teacher and classroom, make your child your masseur, hairdresser, or make-up artist, travel on a pretend spaceship together, build a house with chairs and pillows and sheets, and let your child’s imagination lead the way.
Now, your children are probably physically disconnected from their grandparents, favourite aunts, uncles and cousins, and of course their friends. It is an unusual time when we need to connect digitally to keep our connections with the outer world going.
- Call, chat: Allow your children to stay connected with their extended family and friends through video calls, messaging and social media.
- Play online: They can also go online and play games together.
- Set Limits on screen time: Just remember to limit the time they spend chatting and playing with friends, so they have time for family and other activities.
Yes, we are in a period of uncertainty and our world suddenly seems to have turned upside down. But look on the bright side. You now have time, like never before, to be together as a family and have fun. It’s time to hit the pause button and re-evaluate your priorities in life. Bring meaning to your life as you rebuild connections with your loved ones. Take the time to appreciate your family, the people in your life and the beautiful world around you. Relish in the everyday little moments and reclaim the joy you deserve in your life.
About the Author
Written by Nalina Ramalakshmi, Founder and Editor-in-chief of ParentCircle, on 23 March 2020.
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