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It’s the start of another new academic year. My father always used to tell me that each school year is like a fresh blanket of perfect newly fallen snow.  Either you can create a path of neat footsteps or turn it into slush. There have been some big adjustments taking place in our household as my son has finished school and left home to study abroad and my next child has moved into 6th form.  The family dynamics have really changed as I’m now left with 3 girls, less noise and a lot more food in the fridge. Probably a subject for another blog post!

A new school year is the perfect opportunity to set your child up for success. How can you approach things differently this year, to enable family life to run a bit more smoothly, encourage more independence and less nagging, repeating and reminding?  I could probably write a whole book on this but here are just a few practical ideas.

Be proactive, not reactive

The first step requires a change in mindset.  Focus much more on pre-empting problems and planning so things go right, rather than reacting after they have gone wrong.  Our job as parents is to try and set things up from the start so your children can succeed, rather than just hoping for the best.

Be very clear about your rules and expectations

You know your child better than anyone else and you are probably fully aware of the sticky issues that cause either you or child to get upset.  It could be the morning routine, homework, use of screens, bedtime, table manners, social life etc.

When something is bothering you about your child’s behavior and they are being uncooperative, it could be because of a lack of consistency and even you as the parent are not clear what the rules or routines are.  Sit down with you child and make sure they are crystal clear about your expectations.  Establish rules, boundaries or a routine for any problem areas, involve your child in creating these and then follow through consistently.  For young children in particular, it’s helpful to have visual reminders of what they need to do so you are not repeating yourself.

Think through

Talk through any situations, events or changes to the usual routine in advance so your child understands what is happening and what to expect.  This shouldn’t be a lecture but just a short chat where you get your child to do most of the talking and telling you in detail what’s going to happen and what they need to do.  This is also really useful if you have introduced a new rule or routine, keep talking it through as a reminder of what the expectation is before it happens.  For example, “What is the new rule about using your Ipad during the week?  What will happen if you are really tempted and use it on a Wednesday night?”

Role play

This is a fabulous strategy, particularly for young children who learn more by doing.  Role play things like getting ready for bed, walking into a new after school club where you don’t know anyone, getting dressed quickly, turning off the Ipad the first tiem you are asked etc.

Break tasks down into manageable chunks

This helps situations feel less overwhelming.  You also need to be realistic about your child’s tempo which is probably vastly different to yours.

Solution time/ Family meetings

If there is an ongoing problem or area of conflict in your family, set some time to sit down together to discuss it and find solutions.  Don’t spend too long on explaining or arguing about what the problem is.  The focus should be engaging the children in compromising and coming up with ideas to solve it.  Get the children to do the thinking (mine are certainly more creative than I am), show respect for their thinking and write their ideas down.  For example if you are really fed up with arguing and nagging them to do their homework, call a meeting and explain to the kids you want to start the new school year off in a positive way.  Ask them how they can ensure their homework gets done, so they still have time to have fun and do what they want to do, without you having to constantly remind them.

The key to all of this as I explained at the starts is ‘preparing them for success’, empowering them and involving them as much as possible in solutions to potential and repeated problems.

I would love to hear what solutions your kids come up with whatever their age.