By Bill Corbett, author of the Love, Limits, & Lessons: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Cooperative Kids book series and the founder and president of Cooperative Kids, www.CooperativeKids.com
1. Adjust Summertime Leniencies. As school approaches or starts, set up a family meeting to discuss the rules that will change at home: bedtimes, homework, TV time, removing entertainment electronics from bedrooms, having to turn in social media devices, and friend sleepover rules Allow your child to voice her concerns over these changes, negotiate until agreements are reached, adopt the policies, and implement them on a specified date. It’s also a good idea to document the changes and post them where all can see them as a reminder of what everyone has agreed to.
2. School Supply Shopping. Sit down with your children and determine together what supplies they are going to need for the coming school year. Take your younger children shopping and let them be in charge as they retrieve all the items on the list. Give them a set amount of money to spend to accommodate all that’s on the list. You’re the guide and the coach, so remain calm if extra items make their way into the basket. Allow your children to pay for the items at the checkout and carry the bags to the car.
3. The Work Space at Home. Collaborate with your children as to where homework will be done. You can take turns coming up with the ideas, and if the kids suggest unreasonable locations—such as in front of the TV—allow them to be placed on the list at first. Go back through to review the list and remove any locations that are not agreeable to both of you. Collaborating with your children is a way of helping them feel respected and learn problem-solving skills, but you’re still responsible for setting healthy boundaries. Set up the space that was decided on, and help your children organize the supplies that were purchased at the store.
4. The Homework Schedule. Each child is different when it comes to doing homework, so this next exercise will require patience. Help your children individually determine when they feel that they are best able to work on homework. Some children can do it as soon as they get home, and others need a break before starting it. Coach each child into establishing his own schedule, make it clear and defined, and then document it. Your job will be to help reinforce what is decided.
5. Control of Entertainment and Distractions. If you have never previously done what I’m about to suggest, announcing it to your children could be a challenge, so remain calm and be patient. I strongly encourage you to announce a rule that any and all entertainment electronics and handheld social media devices are to remain off or be turned in to the parents during the established homework times. This new rule should be in effect on school days (Monday through Thursday), even when there is no homework, and during weekend homework time. Removing the temptation to check electronic devices during homework time can help children focus attention on the tasks at hand. I have heard many stories from parents who did not implement this rule and had their children come home after school reporting they had no homework, only to suddenly and mysteriously remember a homework assignment later that night at bedtime.
6. The Bedtime Schedule. It is not your responsibility to get your children to fall asleep. That must happen naturally, and your children are more in charge of that than you are. Your job is to create an environment and an atmosphere that is conducive to your children getting sleepy and eventually falling asleep. You can define when bedtime will occur, ensure that it happens, and remove all distractions from their bedrooms, such as video games, televisions, cell phones and computers.
7. Nutrition. Many children (and adults!) find it hard to choose broccoli over candy bars. This is where you come in as a parent. You can ensure that your children have healthy foods to eat and control and minimize the least healthy foods when possible. This means making sure that your children have healthy dinners at night and nutritious foods available to them for breakfast and in packed lunches. I have seen many families where the family dinner experience is gone and everyone fends for themselves. Even if you are not always able to eat together, you can make sure that healthy foods are available for family members to choose from.
8. Being Available. I have heard from many parents who face challenges that make it hard to implement these suggestions: single parents who work long or evening hours, families in which both parents work in another city and don’t get home before 7 p.m., families with multiple after school activities that make it hard to be home and enforce a set schedule for dinner, etc. Do the best you can to be available to ensure that agreements are upheld and, more importantly, to provide help with homework and other assistance whenever necessary. They can’t do it on their own and need you to coach and guide them.