14 tips for staying mentally healthy in a crowded house

March 31, 2020
A family crowds around a dining room table working on homework.

This story was written by Penn GSE Counseling and Mental Health Services  M.S.Ed. student Kehan Bao (Anna) for Penn GSE’s Consortium for Mental Health and Optimal Development.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, many parents worked and children attended schools during the day. The evening was the precious family time when everybody enjoyed the warmth of each other and shared their joys.

However, when people are practicing social distancing and staying at home almost 24/7, excessive family time can trigger boredom and conflicts. Here are some tips for managing family relationships during this time: 

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  1. Give each other space. When possible, try to stay in separate rooms, and give people freedom to do what they want.
  2. Be explicit about how each family member wants to spend time together and how much time they want to spend. 
  3. Norms matter. Have a conversation to create family rules that state clearly how your family wants to look after and treat its members.
  4. Have a personal schedule. Each person writes down a personal agenda. Follow the plan to keep yourself mentally engaged. If it’s not working, make a new personal plan.
  5. Schedule family time. Agree on the times and activities everyone should show up for. Maybe that’s dinner, maybe it’s game time, maybe it’s watching a favorite show. Again, give everyone in the house a voice in deciding what qualifies.
  6. Have hobbies. People can entertain themselves even though they are not around each other.
  7. Take an interest in others’ hobbies. If someone puts time into drawing the house across the street, give them some praise.
  8. Assign and share household chores. Every chore is a “mission” to complete every day.
  9. Be creative in the ways you have fun together. Who says a dining room table can’t be a ping-pong table?
  10. Every talk doesn’t have to be a group talk. One-on-one chats strengthen individual relationships. Even talking for five minutes helps.
  11. Be open about feelings. Families can support each other in managing anxiety during this particular time. Moreover, feelings toward each other should be explicit as well. 
  12. Show appreciation, love, and encouragement through words and affection. This can be as simple as saying, “I love you.” 
  13. Include children in decisions about things like going to supermarkets and food choices.
  14. Share family stories and memories. These can help members appreciate things that aren’t obvious, or that they’ve forgotten.