Families are more aware of risk today than any time in the last 30 years. In our last post, we suggested some ways that families can begin to frame risk, and how to assess and manage risks. In this piece, we look at how to structure family thought and actions around risk.
Risks are anything that threatens the health, well being, and future development of the family. Today, there are risks in simply going to school that we never considered in the past. Families that will negotiate these changing times well will create a system for managing risks, a way to hold family members accountable, and a “playbook” for dealing with worst case scenarios should there be a breakdown in their system.
Developing Your Family System for Managing RIsk
While many of us are concerned with corona, creating a system that works demands that families look at all the possible areas of risk for the family. We need to determine how much risk is wanted in each area (health, finances, social, etc). Next, this system will have some form of controls to ensure that the levels of risk the family has determined it is willing to take are maintained (no one crosses the line). That there is a way to check along with follow up actions when higher risks are taken than aimed at.
In plain english, if you have a teenage child and you want to make sure they are being careful about who and how they spend their time, that will require communicating with them the level of risk you are asking for and why, setting up lines of communication to ensure that those guidelines are being followed and a means of following up should there be breakdown.
DIviding risks into categories will help with this. For example financial risks are very easy to quantify and measure while social risks less so and will need greater thought to organize and manage. Financial risks tend to be framed in terms of the risk of investment versus the return while social risks are often framed in terms of outcomes to be avoided.
Use Your Imagination
To have these “systems” or plans work, engage the whole family. We had a daughter go to college recently and engaged the whole family in a discussion around how do we know when it’s safe for her to return home. Given the much extended social interactions she will be having, she will be taking higher risks. The conclusion of which was she will periodically take a COVID test before she comes home to help us manage that risk. Getting to that conclusion was a twenty-minute conversation about what level of risk is she at really? How different is it than going to the grocery store? Who are we most concerned about getting COVID? And so on.
How will you hold people accountable in your family “bubble”? How will you know that everyone is agreeing to the norms of risk management for the group? Super important question, because anyone who deviates from the family system raises the risk for the whole family. Creating family systems that work involves engaging everyone in the family so that each member has ownership. Avoid “because I say so” as a reason for a system going into place at all costs! First, lay out the risks; “we want to be able to visit grandma and she is at high risk if she gets corona”. Next, we talk about the ways to limit that risk; “We all live together. If one person brings the virus home, we all stand a chance of taking it to grandma”. Then brainstorm ways to reduce the risk together because after all everyone loves grandma and wants her to stick around.
Together, work out ways of reporting and confirming that everyone is playing by the same rules. Explain that at times you may seem like your nagging, but its about grandma after all. It’s going to be your job to make sure that the systems your creating together really work. After all, we all want the same thing which in this case is to be able to spend time with grandma and not have her get sick. You are creating a culture of risk management. Continue to talk as a family about risk in every aspect of your lives together. In so doing, you will reduce fear. There will be less of a tendency to rebel by taking unnecessary risks . Encourage the baby step approach to risk. When we ease into risk in baby steps, we do it consciously, with awareness of the possible repercussions if things happen to not go as planned. Remember, there are no perfect risk taking plans, the odds are that things will go sideways from time to time. When you create a family culture around risk management, things will go sideways a lot less often.
Part of risk management is preparing yourself for when things do go sideways. Teach your children about saving money, for example, having contingency plans. You’re probably already doing this in some ways. When families they go to theme parks they often set a meetup point and time should they become separated for some reason. Take that same kind of thinking and apply it to what happens if a family member finds themselves exposed to COVID? What will you do to make sure grandma does not get exposed? Will you quarantine? Get a test? Have these plans in place so you can avoid major upsets and go to plan B. Things always break down at some point. The more you plan for breakdown, the lower the risk of the breakdown itself. Planning for when a risk does not go as planned is actually a way of lowering risk.