We’re rationing WiFi at our house.

With five students and three adults working from home, our bandwidth is precious. Recently, we enforced a ‘no goof-off media until after 6 pm’ rule restricting online games, shows and videos until the evening hours. So, when my husband walked past our son Gabe, and saw him watching ‘The Office’ at 11 am, he wasn’t pleased.

“What are you watching?” he asked, shouting a little so Gabe could hear him through his headphones.

Startled, Gabe pulled out his headphones and explained ‘The Office’ clips were part of his AP Psychology lesson for the day. He wasn’t on YouTube or Netflix, rather he was firmly settled in Canvas watching his assigned lesson.

Happily, this small conflict was easily resolved, but with everyone at home all day, in each other’s space, it’s easy to make assumptions, speak harshly and overcorrect. We’ve had arguments over someone taking too many meatballs at dinnertime, cheating in backyard games, and even putting puzzle pieces in the wrong way. There’s a general stress in the air. Even for those not concerned with falling ill, the uncertainty of our current life puts people on edge.

The world has been turned upside down for everyone. As parents we can use this time as an extraordinary opportunity to build our relationships by increasing the love and communication in our family, or we can add to our children’s stress. Your children will always remember the year of the pandemic. In many ways, their ability to handle uncertainty, adversity and to act as good citizens of the world will be formed by the example we set as parents right now.

Perfect parenting doesn’t exist. Still, if you can learn to recognize and reduce these five common parenting mistakes, you can model excellent communication for your kids and teens.

  1. Not listening. Too often, parents fail to give kids time to explain. Talking through events and emotions helps kids process their feelings and often helps them find their own solutions. Let your teens talk and avoid interrupting, lecturing or giving orders. Listen with your mouth closed, “Hmmm.” “Uh huh.” “Mmmm.” Discipline yourself to stay quiet while your teens are talking and they will be much more willing to listen to you.
  2. Expecting too much. Nearly every parent expects too much. We want our children to excel and we want to direct them on the path to success. Make sure your teens know they are loved. Talk with your child about their own goals and offer support, not pressure. Also, keep in mind that almost no one is accomplishing as much as they’d like during this pandemic.
  3. Overcorrecting and criticizing. Parents are responsible for teaching and correcting their children, but it’s easy to fall into a pattern of nearly constant criticism. Before correcting your child, ask yourself, “Is this necessary and needful?” If it is, then speak up. I’ve found when I ask myself this question, 90% of the time I don’t need to say a word. My children know my expectations, they do not need constant reminders.
  4. Demanding respect but not giving it. When parents yell or belittle their children, they are acting like toddlers who didn’t get the lollipop they wanted. If you want your children’s respect, speak calmly, act calmly. You are responsible for your own emotions and actions. Be the adult.
  5. Taking themselves too seriously. Laughter is the best medicine, especially for families. Laugh at your mistakes, laugh at the absurdities of life, take time to plan fun activities and make family dinners and family meetings a place of cheerful conversation. Let your kids experiment with humor but guide them away from excessive teasing and hurtful stories. When you lose at a game or mispronounce a word, laugh at yourself. Modeling good humor and humility furnishes your children with valuable life skills.

Our children need us more than ever. No one knows how long the Covid-19 crisis will last. So much is being stripped away and revealing what matters.

At our house, we just have more time to talk to each other, to play games and sing out loud while piecing together jigsaw puzzles. We’re also having some fierce debates, spilled milk and stinging words. In the rush of normal life, we might’ve brushed over those hurts, but we’re taking the time to talk, to truly understand each other. We still have plenty to work on but I know as a family we will come out of this with better stronger, happier relationships. And I know we’re going to need each other for whatever comes next.