Q: I'm having a hard time with my children (ages 10, 14 and 16). They "chilled" all summer, and now that school's in session, they push back on everything. I have to nag to get them on the bus! It was so easy when they were young.
A: It's time for a refresher in boundary-setting. Albuquerque, N.M., parent/educator Jane Bluestein, Ph.D., hears this question a lot after a summer of "anything goes."
Bluestein, author of "Parents, Teens and Boundaries: How to Draw the Line" (Health Communications Inc., 1993), suggests you focus on "positivity, clarity and follow-through, the three biggest problems most parents face when establishing limits."
-- First, think positive. "Many parents confuse boundaries with threats," says Bluestein. "'If you don't do your homework, you're not watching a video' isn't really a boundary; it's a threat."
Threats provoke resistance, passive-aggressiveness or flat-out defiance. Switching your emphasis to a positive consequence avoids a negative reaction or a competition for power. Reframe your goal positively, she advises.
"'Of course you can watch the video -- as soon as your homework is finished.' This is a tiny, simple shift that changes the energy in the contingency," Bluestein says. "It allows parents to retain authority without disempowering kids. It builds responsibility and accountability and honors their need for autonomy. They now have the power to get what they want by doing what you've asked."
-- Clarity is important. It's hard to cooperate if you don't know what the other person wants, so be specific. What do you mean by "a clean room" or "a reasonable hour"? When you ask your kids to do their chores, is your mental list the same as theirs?
"Write down the list of chores or the definition of a clean room," says Bluestein. "The more specific you can be, the more likely you'll get what you want."
-- Follow-through is key. Kids won't take you seriously if you're wishy-washy and inconsistent about consequences.
"If you say 'no TV or video games until all assignments are done,' then cave when your kids whine or threaten, you're teaching them, 'This is how you can get what you want.' Be prepared for more of the same," Bluestein warns. "By the same token, if you only allow access to the TV, game console or computer after a specific task is done to the criteria you have made clear to them ahead of time, then you're teaching kids the importance of earning -- and maybe even appreciating -- the privileges they have."
-- Communicate boundaries before a conflict occurs. Bluestein says to spell it out. For example: "You may go to the mall as long as you've finished your report by Saturday noon," or, "You may ask Caitlyn for a sleepover once you've finished the chores that are your responsibility, and I've checked to see that they are done properly." (For more examples, advice and boundary-setting tips, go to www.janebluestein.com.)
Before next summer rolls around, create a plan with your kids to add structure, home responsibilities and jobs to the break. Letting them "chill" another summer does them a disservice.
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)