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What to Do When the Family Feels Claustrophobic

There comes a time when even the closest families find themselves too close together. Suddenly, the house seems smaller; the kids are whiny, fighting with each other or acting up in other ways. Worse, you are ready to burst and it becomes clear that your usually peaceful, friendly household is full of people who wish they were anyplace but there -- including yourself.

It's time to get up and get out, advises Martin Goldberg, M.D., a psychiatrist and director emeritus of the Council for Relationships. "People pay too little attention to the need to be outside, to be active," he says.

  • Go for a walk. "It's a good way to be out and active and meeting other people," Dr. Goldberg says. (If the weather is inclement, do your walking at the local mall.)

  • Plan mini-vacations, like a weekend or day trip. To break up a routine that's become monotonous, Dr. Goldberg says, you need new things to look forward to.

  • Invite company over. "It shakes up the cast of characters, and children are always better behaved around company," he says.

  • Create separate space: Mom's night out. Dad's afternoon out. An outing with friends for the kids.

When the walls start closing in and the whining starts, "discipline" can be simply showing your children something new to do, says Maurie D. Pressman, M.D., in Philadelphia.

"There was a time when we told stories, when we used to make things, instead of just sitting in front of the television," says Dr. Pressman. Rein in your children with engaging, imaginative pursuits like arts and crafts, puzzle solving, thought-provoking games or helping you to cook, he says.

"Kids are a great joy," Dr. Pressman says, "but they are very demanding. They need a loving environment, but they also need discipline."

If your children are younger, a "time out" often works to restore calm, says Robert R. Prentice, M.D., a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Time outs should be in a boring place with no distractions, and the child should be told ahead of time how long the time out will be. These are especially effective if you have more than one child and they won't stop fighting, Dr. Prentice says. You can separate them and put them each in time out.