Over the past few months I'm increasingly aware of how difficult times are for families during times of physical disconnect and increasingly only connecting with their electronic devices.
I have first hand experience of this and not because my children are gamer's, but because our children are working remotely on computers all day long without moving from their bedrooms. Additionally they are connecting with friends and family online, again more screen time. I know for some families this has really impacted their relationships and in particular sibling relationships. Just when we thought we could adapt and change to all these new rules and restrictions of lockdown, our home becomes a battle ground or arguments and bickering. With little space to retreat, with no daily routine of all going our separate ways, cracks in our relationships are revealed and we have very little escape during this enforced lcokdown.
What can we do? Do we accept things are the way they are and allow our children to incrementally increase screen time until their eyes are square and their brains explode or worse they take out each others eyes!!!! I think not........
So some of my top tips.........
Firstly, remember, RELATIONSHIP FIRST! Always put the relationship before any behaviour. This will increase connections and the chance of parental voice's being heard and words not falling on deaf ears. I explain more about that in the training courses I run.
There is a huge importance to boundary setting so that the whole family knows exactly what is expected of them and are empowered to take responsibility for their behaviours. Start by setting up simple rules that the whole family are willing to comply with. Everyone within the family has a voice that needs to be heard so this should be a joint effort. For example; rules like 'No hitting or kicking, instead, use words to say what you are upset about'. The one at the top of my rule book is always 'no hurts'. I love this because it is so simple yet it encompasses it all, no physical hurts, no threatening words, and no emotional hurts. All adults and children need to stick to this one. Children are quick to pull adults up if they have broken contractual rules.
Also, as a family, think of strategies that everyone can use when they are feeling particularity emotional. We have calm cards in our house that we will turn to when we start to feel a little wobbly. These are cards and strategies we have made together and have all contributed to. Go get creative and find what helps your family.
Next, if you can, get some one to one time in with your children. Spend time with each child individually, even if its only 20 minutes a week. Do something you enjoy doing together, it can literally be anything; bike ride, walking, painting, looking after family pets. I have one condition, it has to be child led. No dominating and taking over. This is your child's special time ring fenced just for them. This enables connection and a feeling of being respected, being heard, feeling important and lovable. All feel good factors which in turn produces feel good hormones.
How about trying some role reversal play. So your children play various roles of the teachers / managers / bosses / parents / telling the parent what work to do. Having siblings on the same side and parents on the other helps to formulate cooperation and camaraderie within their relationship. This inevitably brings them closer together and they may even have forgotten what they were arguing about as they decide that they need to work together to be on the same team.
The other thing is family time where you all play cooperative games and activities together. So you could all sit together and go round adding one sentence each to formulate a story. Or use building blocks and take turns to build a tower. It can be really simple. Remember, any activity can be turned into a team effort. Baking for example where each family member contributes by doing one part of the meal, something as simple as stirring and the next one adds more ingredients or decorates the final product. There are lots of activities that can be turned into family connection time. I have my two help me pick up leaves in the garden and we all race to beat our time from the previous day / week. We are connecting, working together, building bonds and having fun. Go get creative!
You may already be doing a lot of this family bonding but it does take time and repetition before we start to see changes within our relationships and behaviours. Time with family becomes more enticing and important than sitting alone in ones bedroom. If you have a particularly sticky teenager who appears stuck to the confinements of their room, I find intercepting their time with their favourite food, or the offer of time painting their nails, or doing their hair is enough to gain a connection as these are all nurturing activities. Teenagers, just like small children, still need our nurturance and care, but it changes so much compared to when they were little. Nurturing activities help us feel loved, cared for and reinforces positive beliefs about feeling safe within our relationship. Teenagers may retreat again after some time but they need to as their bodies are working incredibly hard to grow and learn and move from childhood to adulthood.
One really important thing about our family home is remembering that our children will play out relationships that they see. Adults need to model how siblings can relate better, be kinder, and be more aware of the impact they have on each other.
Go get creative as a family!