If you’re grasping at ways to help your kids improve their behaviour while stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic—or hoping that older children might start to understand the link between behaviour and family harmony—it might be time to sit everyone in the family down and ask each of them to write a letter.
To their future selves.
Congratulating themselves on the way they acted, the things they learned and the help they provided to other family members during the pandemic.
This idea comes from Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, Happier at Home and numerous other books on the links between behaviour and happiness. As she recently explained on her blog, writing a letter to your future self can help you understand not only which behaviours will help you be happier in the moment, but also how to put those behaviours into practice:
For this “Try This at Home” idea, you write a letter to your future self, to say “Congratulations!” for having achieved whatever you want to achieve. You make the letter as detailed as possible, by outlining the steps that allowed you to be so successful, how you handled predictable challenges, and you include all the changes you made in your surroundings, your habits, and your schedule that made it possible.
This isn’t an opportunity to talk about “I hope,” “I will,” or “I plan,” but rather “I did,” “I accomplished,” “I succeeded.” You project yourself into the future, to reflect on what you did.
Rubin suggests this letter-writing exercise as an activity for adults to complete on their own, but it could also be an excellent exercise for families. If your kids are experiencing a lot of frustration due to self-isolation, shifts in routine and so on, writing letters congratulating themselves for the way they handled the stress of pandemic life could make them better prepared to handle whatever the next weeks (or months) might bring.
Writing down the behaviours you hope to exemplify over the next few weeks isn’t the only purpose of this exercise. It’s also a way of thinking about what family life might be like after the pandemic, and what kind of people you’d all like to be when it’s over. To quote Rubin again:
This is a hopeful exercise to do right now, because it’s a reminder that this terrible time will end, and we will emerge into the world to resume our lives.
So think about what you’d like your life to look like when you emerge back into the world, and what you can start doing right now to be the kind of person who could be congratulated for your behaviour during this unusual and tumultuous period of history—and then ask your family members the same question.