There’s a chance that your household has grown in numbers over the past 11 months. The pandemic sparked many to reconsider their living arrangements. Children whose college campus closed, partners or spouses that usually travel for work, adult children who lost jobs, older family members such as in-laws, and anyone who simply wanted to move closer to their loved ones gathered to live under one communal roof — families were suddenly “re-membered.”

Nearly a year into the pandemic, it’s completely normal if your household still hasn’t smoothed out a cohesive way for all its members to flow through their day without stepping on toes. In the name of building household harmony, here’s an exercise that will open space for your family members to voice what their boundaries are and what their preferred daily routine is.

Paint the Walls!

Supplies: Markers, as many colored sticky notes as you have household members, and a clear wall space, floor space, white board, or table.

Prep: Set a time when everyone is free to get together for 1-2 hours. Divide the wall/floor/table space into four columns: Morning, Afternoon, Evening, Late Night.

Game Play:

  1. Hand out the sticky notes, one color per person, and markers.

  2. Give everyone 10 minutes to think about their boundaries and their daily routines. If boundaries is a new concept for any of the adult members of the family, then they are in for a treat — helping someone develop a clear sense of their boundaries is like handing them the swiss army knife of building healthy relationships and spotting unhealthy ones!

Younger kids can (and should) also learn about boundaries, but they’ll need more guidance. You can ask these questions to help them discover their boundaries:

  • “How do you want people to treat you?”

  • “When do you feel like you need something but aren’t able to get it?”

  • “What are some things people do that make you feel respected and good about yourself/disrespected and not so good about yourself?”

  1. Give another 10 minutes for everyone to write down their boundaries and routines on their sticky notes and post their notes in the appropriate columns. Stick to one idea per sticky note (i.e. “early morning shower,” “go for a run,” “no interruptions when I study”). Help the younger ones add their own sticky notes to the pot.

  2. Next, start organizing. Look for cohesion and clash.

  • Cohesion looks like things that can be easily done at the same time without anyone needing to forgo their boundaries or preferences. If the whole house said that they need quiet time in the afternoon to focus on work or school, that’s cohesive!

Put those sticky notes one on top of another to consolidate them.

  • Clashing looks like boundaries or routines that conflict. If four people said that they need 30 minutes in the bathroom in the morning, that’s a potential clash. Group those sticky notes next to one another.

  1. Then, troublespot the clashes. For any potential conflicts, are there ways that people can compromise to have both sets of needs met? Brainstorm together, making sure everyone feels that their needs are of equal importance. You can always decide on a trial-run solution and set a check-in date to evaluate if it’s working or not.

  2. Next, address those sticky notes that didn’t make it into a cohesion or clash category. Give members as much time as it takes for them to explain any boundaries or preference regarding their daily routine that they desire others to be mindful of.

  3. Finally, find ways to support one another through the day! If your child does homework in the evening, do they need an older sibling to help them? If someone wrote down “make dinner,” can anyone offer to share in that responsibility? If grandma needs a companion for her daily walk and someone else has to walk the dog each day, can you combine routines? Keep adding sticky notes to the board to visually build the web of support and allyship that appears!

  4. Now, go have some fun together! After all that heartfelt work, maybe it’s time to cook a meal, throw on a movie, or break out a game. Remember that playing together is part of living together.

Here’s a thought, you can try out one of these card-deck style games designed to help players forge connections with each other: this one helps bridge the gap between generations, this one’s a little dinner table fun with the whole family, and these are a personal favorite and come in nearly as many variations as there are different types of relationships.