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Coping as a family during COVID-19

Kevin's story allows us to explore how families can support each other through better communication and by considering children's needs
1.3
You might notice that it’s not midnight. That’s ‘cause my brothers are outside. I now know the time when mom takes them out so I can be online around that and
14.6
I built up the courage to tell her that there are times in the day when I need to be in touch with people and that I need space to do it. Err, 
27.4
like don’t get me wrong, we’re hardly on intimate terms. She doesn’t even know that I’m gay. Let alone any other mental health stuff, but she seemed to get my need for some privacy. It’s definitely difficult us all being on top of each other all the time, like, it just feels like we’ve gone back in time, like. Some of the roles are just different. Like, I think it’d be easy for me to feel like I’m a teenager again with mum looking after us all like how it used to be. But, we spoke about that a little bit and she said that this isn’t easy for her either and she even asked me how I’m doing so,
82.8
just sometimes I feel like I’m this useless teenager when there’s no work ‘cause they’re responding to some changes and guidance. And then sometimes I feel like. Almost on a second parent, when I leave my brothers for work in the morning.
102.3
Yes, just.
105.6
A bit dizzying

We can see that Kevin is still facing some of the challenges we covered in Week 1. However, there are positive steps emerging in how he interacts with his family and how he is coping in this context.

Last week we touched on the challenges of adapting as a family and dealing with challenging emotions, including grief. Kevin provides another example of challenging feelings, with the dissonance between feeling “like a teenager” again while also feeling like a caregiver and responsible adult.

Encouragingly, Kevin and his mother are taking positive steps to adjust by communicating more openly than they may have previously. Kevin references that they discussed how they were feeling.

This action appears to promote additional solutions. Kevin and his family established needs for privacy and space, and proactively coordinated this between them. This can begin to address the challenges mentioned last week of restricted independence and freedom, or ”being on top of each other”.

Kevin also highlighted how explicitly vocalising and structuring a need for space can allow us to meet our needs without necessarily needing to share everything about our personal lives with family members. This need for privacy is entirely appropriate, especially for adolescents.

The combination of open dialogue and making practical arrangements is highly important for work, caregiving, self-care, and other aspects of home life.

However, we acknowledge that families are hugely diverse and there are too many experiences for us to cover in this step. We would like to focus briefly on a few key strategies that we hope you can apply to your experiences and context.

Building communication

It is possible to take communication with families and loved ones for granted, or it may feel like we’re on autopilot, as this can be familiar territory. However, consciously focusing on the quality of our communication can help us to manage these challenging times.

Practicalities – consider the timing and setting for a conversation, or even plan ahead. Try to have a nice environment and avoid being hungry, angry, or tired if you can!

Language and emotional expression – replacing ‘you’ statements with ‘I feel/hear’ can be more empathetic, as it avoids absolutes such as ‘always’ and ‘never’.

Conflict – this is unavoidable in families and relationships. However, we can manage conflict effectively by noticing what is happening, checking in with each other, and agreeing to address the conflict when there is space to think. Some degree of disagreement will be entirely expected when attempting to carve out space or ensuring balance and fairness, particularly if it involves changes to routines.

Intimacy or emotional and physical connection – this can be developed through physical touch, quality time together, gift-giving and gestures, doing things for others, and statements of appreciation.

Considering particular worries that may arise in families may also help to consciously plan and improve our communication. While these can vary, we have seen certain worries emerging most frequently, as we explored in Week 1.

Illness – what are everyone’s health concerns around COVID-19, and what trusted information is available to keep up to date?

Isolation – how is everyone feeling connected, and what steps can be taken to maintain social contact?

Identity – how do people feel their home and work roles changing, and how can we support one another with this? Even more importantly, how do people communicate around even more important identities such as sexual orientation or gender identity when things are not open, or when views do not align?

Communicating with children

In Week 1 we highlighted this as a challenge. Here are some key steps to keep in mind and tailor to your own family and context.

Agree what is communicated with yourself/partner – a consistent approach is essential.

Have patience and repeat often – take time to ensure that information has been understood and repeat things as needed.

Adapt language – be specific and clear, using short sentences and simple language, while holding age in mind.

Children will often question their own role in challenges between family members, from separation to difficult dynamics. This could also be in relation to the pandemic, such as difficulties with homeschooling and increased caregiving demands. Children may also struggle with school closures or missing exams.

It is important that a child understands, by repeated explanation, that challenges or difficulties are not because of them, while having space to hear and discuss concerns is important.

Other approaches that we cover in this week can also be applicable for families, such as maintaining a routine, organising activities to look forward to, and considering how social interaction and support can be maintained.

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COVID-19: Psychological Impact, Wellbeing and Mental Health

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