Etiquette Tips to Use When We're Cooped Up at Home

Family-friends Relaxing at Home

Out west we call the situation “cabin fever.”  Or you might say we are “stir crazy.”  Even claustrophobic.  It’s that sense of being in a space that is too small, confined, with not much freedom.

This can be bad for relationships, which is why the goal of civility and etiquette is to connect behavior to values.  We value our family, regardless of size or who you consider to be a family member.  Being closed in offers opportunities even as it poses challenges.

Adjusting to Life at Home

During the current coronavirus crisis, many roles at home and within the family have changed drastically.  Work life and work spaces may now, almost instantly, be at home.  Spouse and partner relationship adjustments may seem to have no end.  Children are required to be home and are adjusting to being in school online. 

Tempers are bound to flare up.  Things can feel weird.  But there are immediate etiquette tools to employ before tensions rise too high.  Consider some of these tips:

  • Pausing in these situations can be invaluable.  If you are tempted to say something hurtful or unhelpful out of anger, frustration, or fear, take a minute and count to 10 (or 100 if necessary) to reevaluate what you want to say and how you want to say it.
  • Express gratitude to those around you in the moment.  Kind and sincere words of gratitude can change the whole mood between two people (or a house full of people).  One example might be, “Thank you for putting up with me.  I know I’m a bundle of nerves.”
  • Be aware that sound (TV, music, video games, etc.) can be overwhelming to those around you who are also trying to cope with the new situation at home.  Check in to ensure noises you are responsible for aren’t bothersome to house mates or family members. Reign it in, if necessary, to promote a calm and harmonious environment for everyone. 
  • If you notice yourself getting agitated, take self-imposed time outs.  “I need to take a break, no offense intended.”
  • Pick up after yourself so someone else doesn’t feel they have to.  The household automatically feels more balanced when everyone contributes.

When cabin fever strikes, bad habits have a way of returning.  Offensive language can be just a word away.  Other behaviors you may be doing subconsciously out of emotions like boredom, agitation, and fear – raiding the common stores of food or overdoing your fair share – can bring personal criticism or conversations that fuel discord in the shared environment.

Family Brainstorming

Being confined at home means that you constantly have the opportunity to observe what is recognizably respectful by others.  Observing “what it might be on the other side of me” can lead all of us to better interactions at home.

A family meeting will help improve communication dynamics.  The goal is to foster civility at home by consciously treating others as you would want them to treat you. 

Consider scheduling a three-question Family Brainstorming meeting with the following guidelines:

  • Ask everyone to put down electronic devices or put them into airplane mode during the family brainstorming meeting. 
  • Give everyone a chance to say things without interrupting or judging others’ ideas, feelings, or thoughts.
  • Focus on one question at a time, choose a designated family leader to pose the questions below and ask someone to volunteer as the family notes recorder.  The leader will ask the questions and the recorder will write down everyone’s answers.  Here are the questions:
    1.  What does/would being thoughtful and considerate at home look like?
    2.  What does/would being respectful of my space/alone time (or me) look like?
    3.  What does/would being respectful of other’s and shared spaces look like?
  • Read back all of the responses to all of the questions.
  • Give an assignment: “Everyone think about what was said and what they would like to get better at.” 
  • Decide on the time for a second family sharing meeting to check in on how things are going and make adjustments as necessary.

Consider these three steps during the follow-up family meeting: 

  1. Each person shares the positives of what she learned from the last meeting. 
  2. Each person shares the ways in which he will be better at respecting others’ space. 
  3. Each person states why it’s true that we should treat others as we would like to be treated.

These family meetings not only open the line of communication between members of a household, they also open everyone’s eyes to how each family member is dealing with the situation at hand.  It is a wonderful exercise for fostering kindness, understanding, and compassion. 

Change is never easy, and forced change is even more difficult to accept.  Ironically, we must learn to work together while in isolation.  Adjustments and healing will occur as we develop a new vision and future for our loved ones - and our world.

“Where after all, do universal human rights begin?  In small places close to home.” 

~ Eleanor Roosevelt

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