The call came early; the voice on the other end of the line was frantic.
“My kids are making me crazy,” my sister said. “How am I supposed to get any work done with their constant fighting, yelling and arguing?”
I listened and shared stories of my own kids: backtalk, whining, complaining, and in-fighting.
It’s usually around this time that I get a surge of phone calls from friends and neighbors, all of whom are wonderful parents, but who begin to doubt their sanity as the lazy days of summer pass. If you have kids, you know the drill: boredom, complaining, sibling arguments, sassiness, yelling. What’s a parent to do? Below are some tips to help make your summer and your family a little more manageable.
- Have a family meeting. You can also meet one-on-one with each of your children if necessary. Make it clear that bossiness, yelling, and fighting will have a consequence, which in our house means picking out an extra chore from the jar. Extra chores also go to those who whine, complain, talk back and hit. There’s nothing like dog-poop pick up duty to make a 12 year old reconsider talking back! Here’s a twist we use in our house: extra points go up on the white board for those caught being good. Good behavior includes using manners, not arguing about chores, talking nicely to siblings, and doing something without being asked. After 25 points we all go out for ice cream.
- Don’t overbook. If your family is anything like ours, the entire school year is a constant flurry of activities: sports, piano, homework, chores. For us, summer is about taking it easy, as much for the kids as for me. Of course you want your kids to do some fun activities, but if you are constantly driving and feeling anxious, you are doing too much. Remember that allowing your kids down time to read, ride bikes, use their imaginations, or just be lazy is a very important part of their development.
- If you work, plan one fun activity a week you can do with your kids. If you work full time and pick your kids up in the evening, usually everyone is hot, tired, and probably a little crabby. To work around this issue, try to plan one activity each week the whole family can enjoy. Examples can be take-out dinner and a picnic at a park, an evening trip to the pool, a movie night or game night, or going out for ice cream after dinner. This way everyone has something fun to look forward to, and you can use this as leverage if your kids start acting up.
- Plan time away from your kids. Even if you work full time, you still need to re-energize your battery. All parents need a night out with each other, even if it is for one hour to take a walk. If you are a stay-at-home parent try hard to schedule a few hours one day a week with a baby sitter to just get out of your house and away from your kids. There are usually a whole gaggle of middle school girls who would love to earn a few dollars to play with your kids!
- One-on-one time. Lastly, our family has a long standing tradition where each child has a special day or evening to spend alone with us. My kids call it “mommy and me day” (or daddy when it’s his turn). Whether you have one child or five, it is very important for your kids to spend some one-on-one time alone with you. It doesn’t have to be a big ordeal—go out for lunch, see a movie together, take a hike, or go swimming. Kids feel energized by the time that they have your full attention.
By following these rules, we’ve been able to tone down the summer squabbling in our house to bearable levels — and believe it or not, lately I’ve been catching my kids having fun together and even (gasp!) playing nicely!
Since the invention of summer vacation, kids have been making their parents crazy. But even though it can be trying at times, summer is a great opportunity for your children’s brains and bodies to relax. It’s a time to try new activities, declare some independence from parents, learn a new skill, play and just be a kid.
(And if all else fails, remember: school is only a few months away!)
What do you do in your house when the sibling fighting starts? Any tips or questions for Dr. Joan? Ask them here!
About Dr. Joan Simeo Munson
Dr. Joan Simeo Munson earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Denver. She has worked with incarcerated individuals, families, adolescents, and college students in a variety of settings, including county and city jails, community mental health centers, university counseling centers, and hospitals. She also has a background in individual, group, and couples counseling. Dr. Munson lives in Colorado with her husband and three energetic children. She currently has a private practice in Boulder where she sees adults, couples and adolescents.