April 01, 2020 at 11:30PM
Sheltering in place presents a unique opportunity to spend more time with family than ever before. While that change is something to be grateful for, it doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Trying to work, educate, and have fun together—24 hours a day, seven days a week—will inevitably raise conflicts. So how do we mitigate arguments and tension between our loved ones?
We consulted social and organizational psychologist Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler, Ph.D., who shared four common conflicts families might be facing right now and tips to help quell them:
1. Conflict related to the virus and its risk.
Differences in personality, age, and sources of information can cause family members to feel differently about the virus and its risks. Guess what? That’s OK.
“Extend empathy for the person who feels differently,” Wetzler said, “but also advocate for your point of view.” Meaning, explain your levels of comfort and discomfort, and ask your family members to do the same.
If the disagreement is with a parent or a partner, Wetzler recommends asking that person about their upbringing. “If they generally didn’t take unnecessary risks growing up, they probably won’t want to now,” she said.
For example, would you rather have groceries delivered, or do you feel comfortable going in and out of the grocery store safely? Once you understand their risk-taking habits, it can help you land on a solution you’re both comfortable with.
2. Conflict related to your child’s education.
It’s possible that the new and unexpected task of home schooling has stirred up conflict between you and your partner. To help mitigate those conflicts, Wetzler suggested “directly discussing expectations with your partner.”
This includes your current expectations for each other, and what those expectations should realistically be. “Recognize which parent is working, or how much time each of you can allot to work versus teaching and child care,” she said.
It’s also important to discuss the expectations you have for your child based on their level of independence and behavior as a student. If your kid is constantly acting out or struggling to focus, consider reaching out to their teacher and asking for tips. Don’t forget to thank them while you’re at it—teaching isn’t easy!
3. Conflict related to housework and chores.
With everybody home at once, it’s inevitable that there will be more dishes to do, more cups lying around, and many more messes made. First, accept this as the new normal.
To help mitigate the mess when possible, though, Wetzler recommends creating a chore wheel. “Get creative about how or when those get done,” she said. “Assigning children new tasks can be a real opportunity for them to learn how to be more central, functioning members of the family unit.”
4. Conflict related to space (or lack thereof).
You and your family might feel like you’re living on top of each other right now. Rather than getting upset with each other, try to separate within the home.
“You can assign people to different rooms at different times,” she said. For example, one child can be in the bedroom and another in the living room. After 30 minutes or an hour, they can switch.
To help create effective workspaces, you can assign different rooms to different activities. “Try making the bedroom or the study a quiet zone,” she said, “and leave the common areas for music, TV, or talking.” Bonus: If your quiet zone has a door, tape a sign on the outside letting your family know not to enter until you’re done using it.
“Leave your kids the phone number to grandparents or other family members they should call if a question comes up while you’re working,” she said. This is a good way to keep young kids connected to the elderly right now, too.
How to prevent conflict in the first place.
Your child may have used an “outside voice” while you were on a conference call or left a bowl in the sink rather than the dishwasher. Before arguing with the perpetrator, identify your emotions.
Understanding what you feel—anger, irritability, frustration, to name a few—and why you feel that way can help you come up with an actionable and effective solution rather than lashing out.
Times are stressful, so try to extend a little extra patience right now—both for yourself and for your family.