Dear Carolyn: My son got into a program he really wanted, but the global health crisis will not be worked out in time for it to proceed without some limits and compromises. Any suggestion for keeping his deserved happiness alive during these weird times?

— Excited and Fearful

Excited and Fearful: Don’t, maybe?

By that I mean, don’t try. Weird times call for a constantly evolving balance between acknowledging the weirdness and maintaining a sense of normalcy. If you work too hard toward the latter, then your son will see through you — and if that happens, then he’ll feel the added weight of having either to say, “That actually isn’t true/isn’t helping,” or to not say these things in an effort to protect your feelings.

Instead I suggest you follow his lead emotionally, do more listening than talking and act on your more interventionist impulses only if you see him getting stuck.

It is great news he just got, and it will be a disappointment if his program isn't as expected. These two realities can coexist in a healthy way — it's just hard to watch when you've been programmed to respond to downward pressure with “cheer up” countermeasures. Think in terms of what he needs from you vs. what you feel a parental impulse to say.

Hi, Carolyn! You once said in a column, “You can also decide on certain useful responses whenever you’re in [frustrating] situations, to create a positive association. Like a swear jar, but life-size.” I would love it if you could elaborate on this. I’m especially keen on what you meant by “useful responses” and “creat[ing] a positive association” with someone or something difficult. Any sample ideas you have in mind? And I totally missed the analogy, because I always thought swear jars were punitive. Thanks, as always, for trying to keep us sane!

— Anonymous

Anonymous: Swear jars are punitive in that you have to pay up for your mistakes, but in the end there’s that pile of money you’ve fined yourself, which can then be applied to a greater good. So, you have the emotional slip, but in the end that slip … benefits a charity, or buys something nice for everyone, or goes into a savings account. It converts a perceived failing into cash.

So, to apply this, you can check out the column or the original chat or think up your own example of someone or something that keeps upsetting you even after you’ve tried not to let it bother you:

Every time you let a predictable source of irritation get under your skin, and you're frustrated with yourself for that, you attach a beneficial consequence: add five minutes to your workout, or throw money in a jar, or give $5 to charity, or call someone who doesn't bug you and whom you frequently kick yourself for not calling often enough. Stuff like that.

Think of it as holding yourself accountable by diverting your energy toward unrelated, productive action. You’ll either break the irritation loop or get extra cash or reps, win-win.