After the recent months of being cooped up inside, many of us feel ready to let go and have some freedom. However, when we honestly look back at your children’s lives, many have had little structure and much freedom. With summer rapidly moving along, it is important to begin thinking carefully about what will benefit your family in the long term.

Fall will come, and good habits will be the salvation of your children’s future. So, what can you do NOW to keep the kids on track, so you maintain good academic habits, and even build responsibility during the summer? Rather than ignore the importance of this, let’s create a healthy-habit plan for the rest of the summer! It’s not too late.

1. Pick Out Basic Responsibilities For Your Children & Teens. Call this ‘Work.”

You will build responsible, healthy habits by design—not by accident. During the school year, healthy habits are reflected in a daily routine that typically includes homework, perhaps some practice on an instrument or some sport, and then hopefully a chore or two.

In the summer, you can easily nurture academic success with academic activity for 45-60 minutes daily, perhaps as part of “kids work.”. This could be reading (most schools have summer reading lists), working a few math sheets, studying a science book, or researching a topic of interest. This will continue their involvement in the learning process and keep their academic skills sharp. This prevents that summer academic loss and puts your children in a position to excel as school begins.

Critical point: Children also benefit from learning to take responsibility as part of the family community. It is a serious mistake to nurture the belief that they can grow-up getting all the “good stuff” and never have to contribute around the house. Change that now! I suggest you consider a few chores as part of the daily “kid’s work.” This can include room cleaning, doing the dishes, putting away laundry, or working in the yard.

Just make sure, as the kids complain about this process, that you ignore all that. Completely, and unapologetically…ignore it all. Remember: We’re not asking for much…perhaps a total of 90” to a couple of hours out of a full day of fun.

2. Next: Get Prepared for Fall with a Summer ‘Work, Then Play’ Approach.

Once you have the list of daily ‘work,’ you can then inform the kids that they must do their daily work responsibilities before they can play. Write it down and have it on the wall every day, so you don’t have to discuss it.

And what’s play? Play is everything they want to do: phone time, games, videos, texting, playtime with friends, ballgames, swimming, trips to the park, movies, and so forth. If the kids are at childcare or camp during the day, their work may need to be done when you all get home in the afternoon and could be abbreviated if it’s a full day camp. If you’re at home with your kids or a sitter is with them, they can do their work first thing in the morning (this is the best approach!).

3. Let The System Manage Behavior. Not Your Voice.

How does this work? It’s simple: Don’t enforce this by trying to control your kids. Don’t keep reminding them or bugging them. Instead, control the goodies they care about (play).

With the ‘work-then play’ structure in place, ignore them if they complain or procrastinate. Remind them (only once), “Work first, and then play.”

If you must lock up every electronic gadget and every toy—do so. Don’t battle over the control of the goodies. Instead, lock them down if you have a defiant child. If you have sent friends home or show up late to the pool or to a sporting event—do so. You’ll only have to do this sort of thing a few times, so don’t worry. The kids will get it.

Children don’t learn from nagging, but they learn quickly from the consequences of their choices. Most kids get the message within a week, and the rest of the summer will be a breeze—even as you are building responsible habits. Enjoy the rest of the summer, and trust this simple structure! It’s the secret of an easeful, yet responsible home.