I’ve worked with many parents and children caught up in power struggles in the home—they argued over bedtime, homework, curfew, video game time—you name it, they fought over it. And the more these parents fought with their children, the better at arguing and manipulating situations their children seemed to get. Mothers and fathers came to me exhausted, frustrated and desperate to stop the constant tug-of-war going on in their homes. Toward the end of every summer, I could be sure to hear from parents who were worried about getting their children back into the school routine, and many were anxious that any ground they’d gained the year before had been lost over summer break—which I believe is a very valid concern.
It’s a big waste of time and energy to spend September working out the problems you’ve already solved last year.
Often, the time off that kids have from school in the summer time is a period where they get out of the routine of going to school full time, as well as the habit of taking care of all their other family and social responsibilities. When school starts again—with many parents trying to get kids back into their schedules the week classes begin—it often results in a power struggle. It really is a big waste of time and energy to spend September working out the problems you’ve already solved last year. Here are some suggestions on how to avoid those power struggles—or at least, how to work through them effectively.
Back-to-School Routine: Start the Daily Schedule Now: Start the school schedule a month ahead of time. Write out the schedule on a piece of paper. Using that as a guideline, list the time your child will get up, have breakfast, leave for school, and what time they’ll get home, have dinner, do homework, have free time, and go to bed. Then begin by slowly implementing that schedule 30 days before they start school. For children with ODD, Attention Deficit Disorder, and other behavioral issues, implementing a plan is a must, although they may be resistant. It’s important to stress that if your child has these kind of behavioral issues, getting into this routine may very well reduce their stress and anxiety, even if their initial reaction to it is negative.
Get Them in the Habit of Waking up on Time: 30 days before school starts, at least once a week, have your child set their alarm clock and get up at the regular school wake-up time. If you can, make it a special morning. Maybe take an early outing, or have a pancake breakfast, or arrange a board game tournament. While using the outing or breakfast as the reward for getting up, make sure they understand that getting up as practice for school is what is being rewarded.
It’s important for kids to know that when something’s important to you as a parent, you want it to be practiced and rehearsed. There’s a difference between something being important to you as a parent and kids knowing that something’s important to you as parent. Raising their level of awareness is often crucial for them to learn your values and what you consider good or wrong.
Each week as school gets closer, increase the morning routine to two days a week, three days a week, and then four days a week during the week before school begins. Needless to say, you won’t be able to make all of these mornings special, but perhaps you can take one day a week to recognize your child’s progress in a special way.
Get in the Bedtime Routine, too: Several weeks before school begins, start implementing the evening schedule in its entirety each evening, except on weekends for school-aged children. Replace homework time with reading, game playing, videos, or computer time. And by computer, I don’t mean computer games or instant messaging. The goal is for your child to adjust to a certain time period every night which is not characterized by over-stimulation and excitement. Be certain that you implement bedtime in particular, as this becomes a big sticking point at the beginning of the school year. During the summer, your kids have gotten out of the habit of going to bed at a regular time. Be forewarned that this transition may be very difficult for adolescents.
• Use Bedtime Tools: I always recommend that parents get kids technical wake-up tools such as alarm clocks. I think you can start using one when your child goes to pre-school or even daycare, if he or she goes for a half or whole day. Be sure to pick one that has an alarm which is not startling (which will actually raise the child’s level of anxiety) but will still manage to get your child’s attention. In the evening, show them how to set the clock. And in the morning when the clock goes off, if you still have to wake them up, have them get out of bed and shut it off themselves. So what I’m suggesting for parents of younger children is that you show your child how to set the alarm clock at night. Then, the next morning after the alarm rings, you go in to wake your child up. Once your child is awake, have them get up and turn off the alarm. (Do not teach kids how to set the snooze control!) This way, children are working with an alarm long before they have the capability of using it exclusively as a wake-up tool. Of course, if your child is anywhere from a third grader up to a high schooler, the learning process where you wake your child up after the alarm goes off should be shortened. For younger kids, you should go in and wake them yourself for two weeks after the alarm goes off, and for high schoolers, do it for just three days. After that, your child should be held responsible for getting up with the alarm and held accountable if they don’t. That being said, kids of any age need to be checked in on during their morning routine to make sure they’re staying on task and not distracted by something else.
Although a lot of resistance can be expected from children, it’s better to deal with it before the pressure of the school schedule routine actually occurs. As parents, we can’t always choose what kids are going to be resistant or reactive about. But It’s more convenient for us if we can choose the time when that reactivity occurs. For instance, if we know a child is going to react negatively to something we have to say, we shouldn’t tell them at the mall, we should tell them when we get home. If you can, try to choose the time they’re going to be resistant or reactive.
I hope these suggestions are helpful to you as your child starts the school year. I have found that easing your child into the back-to-school schedule helps to make it a less stressful, smoother transition for everyone—and a good way to start the school year off on the right foot.
Note to Empowering Parents readers from the editor: Are you going to start your child’s back to school schedule early? Let us know what how it works for you. And, if you have ideas for future articles on the power struggles you’ve experienced with your children, please email them to