A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

COVID-19 and staying at home: 5 tips to help manage conflict

When you spend more time at home with family or other household members, you may experience conflicts and issues that arise because you’re spending more time together in one space.

“Chaos can ensue and tempers can flare when children and adults have too much unstructured time in their day,” said Kelsie Offenwanger, clinical psychologist at Marshfield Clinic Health System.

Structure is key

A stressed woman looks out a window.

Maintain your routine and set boundaries with you family members while you are “safer at home” together.

As Offenwanger said, children, teens and adults do their best when they maintain a consistent routine. This can include setting regular sleep and wake times, along with creating educational, physical and self-care activities.

“It is healthy to make time for yourself and it supports appropriate boundary setting,” Offenwanger said. “Building ‘me time’ into your schedules – even if it is just a few minutes – is so important.”

As part of that regular routine, she encourages physical and mental exercises.

Studies show that by keeping active each day, people feel calmer, are less reactive and sleep better. To step it up a notch, Offenwanger recommends learning a new sport, setting an intention to identify how many types of trees you notice on a walk, or creating different obstacle courses inside or outside of your home.

Social distancing does not mean social isolation

Even though you should be social distancing, Offenwanger said the people in your home should not be the only people you are talking to. Research shows that social contact is beneficial to our mood.

“Children and adolescents who stay connected with friends, neighbors and extended family members are happier, less anxious and have more fun,” she said. “Adults who have a social support network and regularly talk with others have shown decreased depressive symptoms and increased feelings of self-worth.”

Try adding Zoom, FaceTime, Skype or messenger calls to your weekly schedule.

Keeping anxiety in check

If you are frequently worried, tense or sad, you can consult with your primary care provider, or a mental health worker for help. You should check for these reactions in your children, too.

“We know that stressful times contribute to mental health problems, especially if they existed before these last few weeks,” Offenwanger said.

Confrontation between two people might just be out of boredom or stress. If you are feeling stressed, you can do these things daily to lift up yourself and others around you.

Sometimes it is not “safer at home”

Articles across the country have reported a frightening growth in domestic violence and child abuse cases since the start of COVID-19-related quarantines.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline, which typically receives up to 2,000 calls per day, counted 951 callers between March 10 and 24, who mentioned COVID-19 while reporting their abuse.

“Please reach out for support if you or someone you know might be experiencing unsafe conditions at home,” Offenwanger said, “Remember, you are not alone.”

Support lines available

  • Advocates at the National Parent Helpline are available noon-9 p.m., Monday to Friday, for emotional support and assistance for parents at 1-855-427-2736.
  • Advocates at the National Domestic Violence Hotline are available 24/7 at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) in more than 200 languages. The call is confidential and free.

Planning for the future

We do not know what these next few months will bring, but Offenwanger encourages you to take a proactive and preventive approach to managing conflict at home.

“We can focus on the positives while being supportive and considerate of our family members’ emotions,” she said. “We can maintain open lines of communication among those at home to guarantee everyone’s voice is heard, and we can try to empathize with one another to maintain a home that is full of love and respect.”

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