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Social Distancing = Family Togetherness

5 ways to turn the Coronavirus Quarantine into Building Health Connections and Quality Time

“Mom, I’m bored,” our 11-year-old daughter declared after having stayed inside most of a rainy spring break, and now having run out of things to do.  Luckily a bit of inspiration came as I blurted out my next “punny” dad-joke, “Then how about we play a “bored” game!”  

Social distancing is having serious impacts on both parents and children alike.  Many families are experiencing higher levels of anxiety and depression as uncertainty about world conditions increases day to day.  Disrupted workers and displaced students find themselves with more time on their hands and unsure what to do with it.

As with many things in life, our circumstances don’t dictate our outcome; it’s attitude that influences our results.  Hearing our daughter declare she was bored didn’t cause us alarm, but rather it caused us to see an opportunity to connect with her that we may not otherwise have taken time to do.  So, here are 5 ways to turn the Coronavirus quarantine into Building Healthy Connections and quality time.

1.  Productivity & Home Projects

“I just don’t know what to do with them,” my wife sighed after a couple of days of social distancing.  “Well, how about all those things we wanted to do when we had more time.”  (Easier said than remembered.)  Seems like all of us have unfinished projects, – decluttering closets or garage, building a treehouse with our kids, starting a small garden plot, etc. – things we’ve been putting off for a while.  Better yet we may want to spend some time sharing and teaching our own valuable skills and talents to our children now that we have more time.  Well, it’s hard to come up with the idea right on the spot, so take some time tonight to explore useful and FUN options with your family.  Then, in family council with even the youngest, write them down.  Learn to sew, clean the baseboards, paint the kids room, wash the outside windows, wax the car, organize the basement, plant a garden, learn to play an instrument, study a language together, read that book you’ve been putting off, organize family photos, make a scrapbook, have a “remember when” family night, memorize something new (like the Gettysburg Address by President Lincoln or a great poem).  Then share, share, share and applaud each effort! The key is progress.  When you put projects into timeframes, you’ll end up with tons of progress, a sense of accomplishment and even good memories!

2.           Physical Activity

There’s a good reason why gyms stay open even when they’re so empty.  It’s because we all wish we had more time for physical activity, so much so that we’re willing to pay for the idea of exercising even without using the membership.  While social distancing may not allow us to congregate at a local gym right now, our bodies come equipped with all the weights we need to get a good exercise.  Calisthenics, or exercises done without special equipment, has been the foundation of physical activity for generations.  Push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, squats, or simply just walking is one of the most effective ways to release painful emotion in helpful ways.  While we have all this extra quarantine time on our hands, dedicating 30-60 minutes of physical activity daily can help our families maintain emotional balance.  If you have a family to plan for, lucky you!  Start with exercises that involve the youngest and on up.  Little kids love games that involve jumping, running, skipping, somersaulting, and bending into funny shapes. Great exercises even for grown-ups!  They also love competition.  How about trying some family Olympics!  If you’re self-isolating, you have a wealth of online health experts just begging to walk you through everything from Pilates to senior yoga.  Who knows you may even reach the physical goals set with great hope and zeal around New Year’s time.

3.           Deep Meaningful Conversation

“I’m so sick of hearing about the Coronavirus,” my teenage son yells.  “Me too,” my daughter rings out. “Me Three” I chime in as I keep the quality “dad jokes” rolling.  “Can we pul-ease just talk about something else!” 

What a great opportunity.  It’s not very often that one single subject so totally dominates the social landscape that teenagers become sick of it and are willing to listen to something else- anything else! Then take their social life out of the picture (because of isolation and COVID-19 obsession) and suddenly you’ve got a captive audience!  What a unique time for really meaningful conversation

Ask each person what brings them joy in life right now.  Ask about the qualities they like most in their best friend.  Talk about their favorite superpower they wish they had.  A simple way to get the discussion ball rolling is to play “Would You Rather…”  (Don’t expect this one to be easy.)  If your kids are like most of American kids, they have grown up with texting as their primary form of communication.  They are used to their regular hits of addictive Dopamine.  Understand that your kids are actually being conditioned by the blue light of their personal devices, with a force as powerful as narcotics, as they anticipate that coveted reply text.  Many of today’s youth are so deeply addicted to texting and social media that a face to face, eye to eye, meaningful conversation will, at first, feel uncomfortable for them. That will be true until they experience the long-term, happy hormone, Oxytocin that is released during true, meaningful human connection. So now is your time, parents!  “Remember when..” is such a fun game!  Pick a topic, a fun memory, share a story from your childhood, get vulnerable, laugh together, sing together, cry together, and you’ll all be grateful for this extra time to really get to know the ones you love most!

4.           Family Dinner

The days of the dinner bell ringing and family gathering for an evening meal have long since been replaced by busy schedules and sporting events.  Since the late 1930’s televised sporting events have drawn the attention of families away from each other in the dining room toward a small glowing box in the living room.  Today family dinner is usually only seen on old black and white shows like “Leave It To Beaver” or “The Andy Griffith Show.”  We’d rather tune in to watch other families have dinner than set aside time for us to sit down together for our own family dinner.  There has been no other time in the history of our country when all sporting events were cancelled and even dine-in restaurants were off limits. And, there has never been a better time to rediscover the healthy relationships built around the dinner table, courtesies expressed, manners taught, and gratitude for life’s blessings felt.  Make it fun!  I suggest letting kids take turns preparing the food, making desserts, being waiters, using play money to teach economics, learning a new language for food, having Nations-of-the-World Night – oh, the possibilities are endless!  

5.           “Bored” Games or Board Games

“I’m good dad, I’ll just go play some Minecraft or something.” “Oh no, you don’t!”  I grew up in the Nintendo era and can appreciate the joy of passing off the next level or beating a video game, but today’s games are different.  Back then, single-player video games were very rare. Kids would get together in the same room to take turns playing two player games against each other.  It was a social event that promoted friends bonding even though competing, similar to a board game.  Today’s games claim to offer the same experience through headsets and dim basement lights, but only deliver a counterfeit human connection. Modern technology can actually measure the amounts of addictive dopamine produced in the body during gaming, versus the healthy oxytocin that is produced during a human-to-human interaction.  (Is this sounding like a Hollywood movie of robotic isolation?  Well, it’s pretty close.) That’s why shortly after playing a video game you’ll have an appetite to play again, whereas having a fun game- night sitting around the family dining table, playing “Uno” or “The Game of Life” – even working on a puzzle together- can leave you looking back at that time together with fondness for the next week.  It’s simply Dopamine Vs. Oxytocin.  Dopamine increases anxiety, Oxytocin increases peace and satisfaction.  

“Bored” isn’t a bad thing.  Truly, it isn’t our jobs as parents to entertain our kids, (unless it involves telling “dad jokes,” – then it is our job).  Honestly, kids come with the ability to entertain themselves already built in.  Just observe a young toddler out in nature; they don’t need a screen, or even a toy, to learn and grow in their understanding of the world around them. They simply need rocks, sticks, dirt, and leaves.  Nature provides the solution for boredom in children.  Family provides the solution for boredom in youth and young adults. As they grow and become more intellectually and emotionally interactive, these 5 things become more and more imperative to maintain good mental health and to pass on the wisdom of our predecessors.  Truthfully, there has never been a better time to use social distancing creatively to bring our families together!

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