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Sheltering in Place & Boundary Setting

By: Meg Six, Clinical Intern Therapist at 360 Youth Services

Families and individuals are currently faced with an unprecedented set of challenges. Some of these challenges are brought on by the necessity of coexisting in a space each day, for the majority of the day. Yes, there are some ways to achieve distance through appropriate walks and exercise, but family members (and partners or roommates) are consistently together.  This proximity means two things:

  • Almost everyone’s schedules and routines have shifted
  • Conflict can develop due to how individuals respond to these changes 

If we think of our family as a system, the system will change in response to a crisis. Some of these changes are altered routines other changes are likely stronger emotional responses and changes in how we communicate. Some individuals may find the stress manageable while some might have a shorter fuse or be more emotionally reactive at this time. These are all reasonable responses to stress. 

It’s important, however families and individuals assess how they’re feeling and reacting, and what might help them. Once these new needs are understood, reflect on boundaries that might help establish some stability and manage conflict. 

For example, many people are now working or studying from home. Family members may misinterpret your physical presence as an indication of your availability to interact when you’re actually busy. This can instigate conflict if one family member is trying to manage professional obligations and the other is feeling hurt that their attempt at interacting was turned down. Each person is trying to adapt to this new routine but is inadvertently stepping on the others’ toes. 

So, how do we manage situations like this? 

  • Think through what you need, communicate your needs and ask others what they need
  • When you ask others about their needs, allow them to fully express those needs before reacting to the request. If you don’t understand the need, ask them to explain why their request is important to them
  • It’s likely that everyone’s needs have changed, talking about these changes can help establish clarity, it also allows individuals to better support each other
  •  Establish boundaries for your day, especially if there are multiple people in the house, creating a daily schedule can be a good way to set boundaries
  •  A schedule can be verbal or you can create a visual for each day or week
  • Set up a routine for checking in to see how your new routine is working for everyone
  • Allow for kids and parents to talk about new or different stressors, or to confirm if the boundaries are helping 

Remember with all of this that a bulleted “how-to” list usually looks neat and tidy, the actual discussion and follow through might not be. If this way of communicating is new to your family, there will be a learning curve. What’s important is making an effort to understand each other, balancing your needs with your family’s needs can take time.

We recognize that there are different levels of family conflict. If you require additional support due to domestic violence, please use the resources below. Support and resources are available 24/7 through these organizations.

Metropolitan Family Services

The National Domestic Violence Hotline

360 Youth Services in Naperville, IL provides substance use prevention education and counseling for youth and families, as well as housing for youth experiencing homelessness.

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