Like a lot of us, many kids are having a hard time being cooped up at home during the pandemic. They miss their friends. They miss their soccer teams and Girl Scout troops. They miss their freedom. But even though it makes sense that your children might be moodier or more sensitive than usual right now, constant fighting, disrespectful behavior, and general acting out are still not OK.
Sadly, there’s no magic wand you can wave that will make your family get along 100 percent of the time. Happily, developmental psychologist Dr. Cyndy Karras recommends these five simple steps you can take to make the home front a little more peaceful.
- Start with a steady foundation
Keeping your cool can be easier said than done, but kids are looking to parents and caregivers to learn how to handle these stressful times. As much as possible, make sure you and your family are eating nutritious meals, avoiding too much processed food, staying active, getting enough sleep, and sticking to the most normal schedule possible. All these things help us manage stress and be more resilient in the face of challenges. In other words? The more healthy habits you have in place, the fewer meltdowns you should have on your hands.
- Give your girl language to express herself
A lot of children—even up to the teenage years, but especially younger ones—have trouble putting words to emotions, and end up acting out rather than communicating how they’re feeling. Sit down with your kids and let them know that although their behavior hasn’t been awesome, you want to help make things better. And to help, you need to understand what’s really going on. Be as honest and candid as possible by saying something like, “This is really hard, because even though we love each other, there are times when we don’t all want to be together right now. That can make anybody feel frustrated. Do you feel frustrated?” If your girl says yes, ask her to try saying, “I feel really frustrated right now, I need [alone time, you to stop bothering me while I’m reading, whatever it is they need]” the next time she feels like she’s at her limit.
- Teach her to walk away
We all know from experience that you don’t always get what you ask for—especially when you’d like an aggravating sibling to stop pestering you! So tell her that if she’s asked for what she needs and isn’t getting results, she can always remove herself from the situation. If your children don’t have their own rooms to retreat to, consider setting up a “quiet corner” in your home with somewhere to sit, maybe a comforting blanket, and a book or two to read. Then establish the rule that if someone has gone to sit in that corner, everyone will respect that they need space and a bit of quiet from everyone else. When they’re feeling calm and more able to handle the situation, they can rejoin the group.
- Give her the tools to succeed
Your girl needs you for lots of things, but knowing a thing or two about conflict resolution will help her find common ground with her siblings, make your life a whole lot easier, and set her up for successful relationships with friends and colleagues later in life. Talk to her about how sometimes when we speak out of anger or frustration, we say things we don’t mean that could hurt others very badly. To avoid doing that, she can try taking a few deep breaths, counting to five, or even walking away for a bit before saying anything in an upsetting situation. Additionally, it’s almost always helpful to try to think of where the other person is coming from and what they’re feeling. If she takes the time to think through a frustrating moment rather than blowing up at her brother, she might find common ground and a way to make everyone happier.
- Make respect a must
Your kids love each other, even if they might not like each other from time to time, and the best way to show that love right now is by respecting one another’s need for space. Everyone needs to recharge sometimes—whether that means popping on headphones and listening to music, drawing in the “quiet corner,” or having a sibling-free playdate with a much-missed best friend. The big takeaway? When those moments of “apart time” are prioritized and respected, “together time” will be even more special and fun.