It’s been just over a month since the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States changed the way we work, learn, shop, and interact. So, how are you feeling? If you are like me, you might be going a little stir crazy at home. I’m not used to being home every day all day. It hasn’t been easy. How about for you?
My last blog and a recent article I wrote with Diana Divecha provide some helpful strategies to manage emotions that many of us are experiencing these days –anxiety, stress, and fear. I’ve also delivered a number of free webinars on how to manage emotions during uncertain times.
But what else can we do to make a difference in how we feel?
When writing Permission To Feel, I heard from families that most people want their homes filled with love and laughter, kindness and compassion, joy and hope. But what’s the best way to create a so-called positive emotional climate in our homes?
There’s a tool that can help. We call it the Emotional Intelligence Family Charter (“Charter”). It’s one of the core tools in RULER, our Center’s evidence-based approach to social and emotional learning.
The Charter is a written document detailing how everybody in your home (or “virtual home”) wants to feel. You can do this for yourself, as a couple, or as an entire family. If you have children, depending on their age, they may need help with the writing part. But even young kids can share how they want to feel.
The first question that you have to answer is: How do we want to feel as a family? Some of the words we’ve seen people use over the years are loved, respected, included, safe, happy, calm, grateful, and playful. The second question is: What do we need to do to experience these feelings more frequently?
Building a Charter presents an opportunity to improve the emotional climate in our homes. In many households, this can be a big step forward. For children, it gives them a chance to have a sense of agency over their home environment. It also can benefit parents by accommodating their needs. After a certain hour, adults want to enjoy peace and quiet and no conflicts or excess noise—and so the Charter requires everyone to respect those wishes. It’s a way of reminding children that their parents are human, too, with all the same emotional needs as anyone else. In the long run, that’s an important lesson for kids to learn, but too many parents try to shield them from that reality. As an unintended result, children have a hard time acknowledging adults’ feelings, let alone respecting them.
Putting our emotional needs in writing has a way of making them real for ourselves and everyone else. It serves as a contract — a formal agreement drafted in a moment of calm consideration, to help you during moments when you are anything but calm and considerate. You may feel a little self-conscious posting a Charter on your refrigerator door, or hanging it on a wall. But if you try it, you might find that it works. Below are the instructions for building a family Charter. The same process can be done by individuals living on their own or between a couple.
How to Build the Charter
What will you need?
- Chart or construction paper
- Blank sheets of paper
- Colored pencils or markers
- Or, you can build it on the computer with whatever program you prefer
It’s important to find a time when everyone is feeling calm, focused, and ready to work together. We suggest building the Charter in a comfortable area like the living room or at the dinner table.
Step 1: Ask everyone to write down 5 feelings in response to: How would you like to feel at home?
- Ask each family member to think about that question. (For example, you might want to feel respected, loved, connected, appreciated, and understood).
- Combine all of the words into one master list.
- Discuss each word and notice which feeling words have similar meanings (e.g., appreciated and valued). Can we choose just one?
- Narrow down your list to the “top 5” words and write them down.
Step 2: For each feeling word, discuss the things that would help each person experience more of that feeling.
- What are one or two specific behaviors that could help each family member have the feeling as often as possible? For example, being ‘nice’ is not very specific. But smiling, saying good morning, knocking on the door before entering are specific and even observable behaviors.
Step 3: Pull all the pieces together and create the Charter
- Be creative! Use your family’s talent and have fun. The Charter can be big or small, colorful, or filled with drawings.
- What’s important is that you have a final document that includes the top 5 feelings and the specific behaviors.
- Once the Family Charter is complete, everyone must sign it!
- Display the Charter prominently in your home.
Step 4: Keeping your Charter alive
- Have each family member set a daily or weekly goal to uphold the Charter.
- Schedule weekly or monthly family meetings to review the Charter. What’s working? What’s not? What can we do differently?
- Be creative – post weekly quotes, send out family emails, perform random acts to demonstrate the feelings in the Charter and show appreciation for your family members.
- Revise the Family Charter, as needed. It should be a living agreement.
Putting our emotional needs in writing is a way of making them real for everyone. But the process of building a Charter takes courage and the willingness to be vulnerable. We have to be open to filling the gap between how we currently feel and how we want to feel. And for many of us, that gap can be scary, because it often reveals what’s not working so well in our homes. But look at the flipside: everyone can benefit from having their basic needs of being seen and heard met. I’m almost certain that the benefits of building a Charter will outweigh the risks. Go for it! Let me know how it goes.
With the wisdom of emotion,