It's almost back to school time. It is so interesting to see how the school year impacts children and families. I find in my practice that during summer time there are fewer power struggles between parents and children. Perhaps because there is not such a rigid schedule to adhere to? Could it be there is no (or little) homework? Maybe everyone is in a different mood because it's summer and there's just less pressure on everyone? Whatever the reason, wouldn't it be nice to have a school year that is less stressful and more positive?
Here are some creative tips to achieve a balanced positive school year:
1. Develop a schedule. Create a white board of activities and schedule so your child knows what to expect during the week. Why? Because it creates a sense of safety and consistency, so you child will know what happens when. So take 15 minutes before the start of the school year and sit down with your child and create a schedule together. What time they wake up, what things they need to do in the morning, what extra curricular activities they have in the evening, what time they can relax and have free-time, dinner time, when they will do chores, when they will do their homework, when they have TV- computer time.
A schedule provides an outline for how to plan the day, and of course it is flexible (you don't want to create rigid schedule dependent children). Why do schedules work? Because they provide a map of when things happen, so the things that tend to be a power struggle, such as homework time and TV-computer time, are clearly defined. Creating a schedule prior to the school year allows you to be proactive and helps your child learn how to take responsibility for their time. You're no longer nagging to get them to turn off the TV and do homework, rather it's part of the agreed upon schedule and if they don't follow through the consequence is clear (no TV for the night, etc). Schedules work- if you follow though!
2. Ask for support. It bewilders me to see parents and children get into power struggles over homework. It's a terrible cycle of the parent nagging and trying to get the child to do the work, and the child resisting the more the parent demands. This cycle never works and it only leaves the parties involved frustrated, angry, and stressed out. I highly recommend that parents seek out help for homework struggles. Hire a tutor, or even a high school or college student, if you are on a budget. This is an example of needing and seeking support. If homework is a problem at a young age start seeking outside help ASAP. The longer homework is an issue between you and your child the less likely he/she will want to receive outside help.
So do your child a favor and start giving them support at a young age. If your child is anxious or nervous about school offer them the same support, find resources where they can practice feeling more comfortable and confident and where they can learn new skills to deal with school stressors. If you provide them with a safe opportunity to explore their strengths and resources you will see a remarkable shift in how they manage the problems that arise during the school year.
3. Play together! I see many families who have a jammed packed schedule of taking their child to sports, or lessons, or other after school programs. They are chauffeuring them from school, to activities, to play dates, and to appointments leaving little time for families just to be together and have fun. When families do land back home it's time to get dinner together, do homework, and other household tasks. When everyone does finally end up in the same room are you all focused on what's on TV? Adding play to your schedule is essential. You model to your child that play is valuable and it's restorative.
You are also teaching them self-soothing skills they can use later in life when they encounter problems. Play comes in all different forms, from going places, to doing fun activities together, to taking a walk or bike ride, to getting a pedicure, to reading together, or baking something for fun. When you play together you are building your relationship in positive ways, you are connecting from a positive place, rather than a place of being a reactive parent. You are also sharing a life lesson with your child- that life is not all about work and "doing", it's about taking care of yourself, about connecting with others, and about honoring your needs. What a beautiful gift to share with your child!
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