As we discussed last week, the number of demands on parents has increased exponentially with the challenges of educating children during tough times.  Children and parents are feeling the stress, and many report daily, increasing anxiety and struggle.  However, while certain aspects of our daily lives cannot be controlled, others can. And if our efforts, as parents, focus primarily on the controllable events in our home, we then can make a substantial difference in how our children evolve and grow over the months ahead.

Today, we will focus on some practical tools for managing the home, to both increase responsible action and decrease anxiety.

The Practical Tools For Tough Times

  •  Consistently Manage Bedtime.

One of the most important, and often overlooked factors shaping your child’s performance, as well as their outlook on the day, is sleep.  Sleep is job one for the brain.  Without sleep, memory fades, motivation wanes, and the mood turns negative. 

And it gets worse!  Because if there is a continuous period of variable sleep (i.e., sleeping in some days and dragging yourself out of bed other days after staying up till 3 am), this produces chronic problems for the brain.  Brain wave patterns change in ways that create ongoing struggles if these sleep patterns persist.  Unfortunately, we are seeing many teenagers living this lifestyle with sleep patterns that vary greatly and no consistency.  

So, how do you manage bedtimes, especially with teens?  First, you don’t accomplish this by riding and nagging them to go to bed.  That method doesn’t work and eventually creates unbearable conflict.

So the practical solution is relatively simple:  what keeps them awake at night?  Most typically, it’s a phone or a computer or a game.  All these electronics are within your control if you seize control.  

In other words, if all the electronics are shut down at 10 pm, boredom eventually takes over, and almost everyone falls asleep soon.  Mastering the bedtime routine then makes the mornings much more manageable, of course.  I strongly suggest that you rely on software to help you with this if you can.  This process doesn’t have to be complicated.

  •  Manage Mornings Consistently

Whether your son or daughter is present in a real classroom or a digital classroom requires consistency in the morning routine.  The alarm goes off at the same time daily, and breakfast is ready at a regular time.  

But again, don’t fight or nag or argue with your children to get them out of bed.  Set the alarm, and give them a reasonable time to get up.  Turn on some music, make some noise and pull the covers while singing along to the music. Be annoying, but not focused on talking to them or arguing with them.

Establish an understanding that they will lose their prime goodie (i.e., phone/game) for the evening if they don’t make it to breakfast at a reasonable time.  (Again, because most kids now care so much about electronics, be willing to leverage this a bit.)   Here is where we must be disciplined and not argue or fight with them.  Let the structure and the consequences teach, even though it might take a few days.  They will get it!

  •  Create Leverage to Build Responsibility.

The consistent use of leverage during the ‘after school’ hours will be critical to your child’s long term success.   Responsible habits involve doing homework and a few household chores before spending hours of downtime on the phone or computer, or playing games.  

The younger the child, the fewer the expectations, of course.  But as children progress in the teenage years, we do not want to ‘hope’ that they will become responsible young adults.  Instead, we want to build the habits of responsibility while we can.  That begins today!

And we do this in one primary, fundamental way:  As parents, we require that the daily responsibilities are finished (with reasonable effort) before downtime or play begins.  We set this up as the daily habits we live, not as something we talk about or nag children to do.  We must live building the constant daily habits of responsibility. 

How do we do this?  It’s again the use of leverage.  Not your words.  Not threats.  Not nagging and yelling.  

But leverage is applied by controlling the goodies that your children care about.  In these times, more than ever, you MUST have control over the electronics as this is the primary source of leverage.   Once children understand that there are no goodies until the work is done, their first job is to whine and complain for a few days.  And they will be quite good at that.  Thus, you must be quite good at ignoring all that.  

Instead, you focus on waiting until the work is completed.  Keep steady control over the goodies, and they will quickly come to accept the daily plan:  Work, then play…every day.  

With this approach, you build responsible habits during easy times and challenging times.  The formula does not change. 

While these three fundamentals will not solve every problem, it will launch your school year on a solid foundation.  Just don’t hesitate or over-think these fundamentals, as you can start tomorrow and begin building those healthy habits right away.