By Anna Maria Mora, Counselling Psychologist
What can be done to improve communication within the family?
I n many cases communication between father and mother needs to improve. Children must see their parents communicating in a friendly and caring manner. Their Children must see them working together. If Mom is tired, Daddy must take up the slack and vice versa. In some families, Mom and Dad sleep in separate rooms, and this reality becomes more visible in a lockdown. Children will observe and say to themselves that: “Mom and Dad are at home but we are still unhappy ”. Parents need to understand that whatever issues they have as adults, the children must not be the ones to suffer. No matter what, if they have decided to stay together because it is cheaper or whatever the reason, they need to bring the children together and both apologise to the children for mistakes made.
To the adolescents, let them know that there is no book ‘ Parenting for Dummies’, and many mistakes were made. Ask their adolescents what they (the parents) can do differently. I am sure that they will hear many suggestions, if the children feel that their parents are open and non-judgemental enough to accept their feedback. I can hear the adults say that this is easier said than done. However, it must be done if the living situation finds everyone at home 24/7, or seek counselling.
Parents need to understand that they were in this world long before their children and they must take the initiative to right the wrongs. There is no other way to do this. Within all of this, they must always let the children know that their parents love them and they want them to do very well in life. Babies need to be cuddled, hugged, and made to feel safe. Parents might not be talking to one another but babies need to be fed, cuddled, hugged, loved, spoken to, read to, and prepared for the toddler stage and preschool. They still need to be hugged, told that they are loved all the way up to adolescence. The older and more aware children are, they can be engaged in chat on an evening after all the online schooling and work from home are done.
Activities that families can do together
A weekly family-time management schedule can be created. Wake up; prayer, preparation for the day; breakfast; time for parents working online; and time for children and their on line schooling. Any breaks that the children have, parents, can take their break at the same time. Snacks would have been prepared. Everyone goes back on until lunchtime; everyone has lunch at the same time. Then the afternoon schedule. It will be easier if everyone is able to be offline at the same time, another snack, maybe a shower and preparation for dinner. Chat around the dinner table about what happened online with the children. Some children might want to know what the parent did. A parent can keep their explanations simple. Time can be slotted in for board games before bed. Another family activity could be the making of a collage. Pictures from magazines or newspapers etc can be used (maybe with themes, Families playing together, Careers, Children can choose themes.) Parents can teach and encourage children to take deep cleansing breaths in the morning when the air is clean before they begin the day. On weekends, families can cook or bake.
All of the above assumes that the relationship between the family members is one of cooperation, collaboration, caring, open communication. Always use a kind and compassionate language no matter what. Always practise gratitude. When around the table or at family time —everyone must say what happened to them today for which they are grateful. There must be something that made them happy during the day. Parents will need to begin first.
Go outside and begin a kitchen garden. If there is no space, use buckets or large PVC pipes cut in half Google ‘hydroponics’ and learn together how to use these. Ask children what fruits, vegetables or seasonings that they might want to see in their garden. Take care of the earth around their house.
Teens can write a letter to their adult self (choose an age), describing how they see themselves at that age. They can share it with their parents or choose a trusted friend/family member/counsellor. There are some children who cannot be open with their parents but they must have someone with whom they can share their fears and confusion. Parents can also write letters to their teens on where they see them as adults; this could be shared at family time and used as a discussion point.
Pre-teens can do artwork or continue the collage exercise.
Do v visualizations. Parents can ask their teens and pre-teens to close their eyes and visualise a peaceful place. Take about five minutes and then share what their peaceful place looked like. Seven and under can do puzzles, draw, read storybooks etc . Puzzles are also a great family-time exercise.
Parents and their children can go outside and look for something in the yard that attracts them and take it up, and come in and say what attracted them to this, and if it could talk what would it say to them.
Have a chat about the importance of sleep, healthy eating, and take a break from all the work that is done.