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Let's Make a Deal

Right about now, you and your kids are probably experiencing N.F. - November Fatigue!

On the one hand, it’s two or three months into the school year (depending on where you live) and that feels like an eternity. On the other hand, you still have six or seven months to go, and your carefully constructed schedule - helping kids with homework, getting them to all their events and lessons, doing your own work, getting some exercise, having some time with your significant other, and starting that novel you've been thinking about for the last ten years - is, well, it's NOT HAPPENING!

You're also discovering that the kids' firm resolve to actually do all their homework on time, to break the summer TV addiction in favor of some reading, and to treat each other more like siblings than like warring tribes has also ... well, it's not even as firm as that left-over rice pudding you keep meaning to throw away.

You need a new deal, basically. Or several new deals.

Deals You Can Make with Your Kids

Before you can make any deals with your kids, you have to understand that your kids are dealing with a lot of stuff.

If they're in the primary age group (preschool, up to maybe grade two or three), they're just learning how to be a kid.

If they're in the upper elementary grades, they're anticipating middle school.

If they're in middle school, well, that means puberty, and that means they're kind of starting all over again.

If they're in high school, they're anticipating not being a kid anymore and, despite acting tough, they're probably scared to bits.

A kid starts school with Mom still tying his or her shoe laces, and ends up graduating from high school ready to step out independent of everything except, usually, some purse strings. It's a battle, on several fronts, to achieve self-sufficiency.

Seen this way, instead of trying to come up with a comprehensive strategy to support your kids in each area of his or her life - school, sports, friends, siblings, music lessons, etc. - you just have to realize that, in any given area, your kid needs to take the next step from dependency to independence.

Therefore, your parental system of rewards and sanctions should focus not on the end results - good grades, memorized piano pieces, a clean room, no fighting with brothers or sisters, and safe, positive interactions with friends - but on what might be "the next step" (often a baby step) in each of these areas.

School: Does my kid meet homework / project deadlines without being reminded? Does my kid have the right tools for doing that - a calendar or appointment book of some kind? Does my kid know to make it a daily habit to look over a "to-do" list?

Other Activities: Can my kid be the one to make a regular time for piano practice, and if so, do I hear the piano being played during that time?

Things: Does my kid know the place for everything and that the easiest way to keep order is to return everything to its place? (Thank you, Ben Franklin.) Does the arrangement of things in the house make sense to my kid? (It's easier to keep order when you understand the reasons for the order in the first place.)

Family: How much sibling rivalry is simply a habit? Can my kids learn to address problems rather than simply attacking each other? Again, what is the next step my kids can take toward being their own peace-keepers?

Friends: To what extent is my kid choosing his or her friends, and to what extent are circumstances simply putting my kid together with others? What's the "next step" my kid can take toward really choosing who to hang out with, and for good reasons (e.g., shared interests) instead of poor ones (e.g., image)?

One method: A Peace Treaty

Many kids, especially in adolescence, just want you to "leave them alone." If you manage the discussion correctly, you can help them interpret that to be the same thing you, as the parent, want: Peace. You've probably told your kids, "I don't want to have to yell at you; I just want your room cleaned up!"

Seen in this way - with both you and your kids really wanting peace - you might be able to create a 'Peace Treaty.' The Treaty should be:

  • Specific about what's required. (Remember, it's that "next step" idea, even if that's a baby step.)
  • Time-limited (up for review after a month, perhaps, so that the next step towards independence and responsibility can be taken after the first step is mastered).
  • Specific about the consequences of failing to live up to each of the obligations.
  • Inclusive of what the parents are obligated to do for the kids.

    Now, you might just want to include a lot of "basic" stuff in here - the fact that you feed, clothe, chauffeur, entertain, provide a cable-TV subscription, etc., etc.
    • Your kids might scoff at those things, but having them written down might help remind them that they're already the beneficiaries of a lot of effort and resources on your part.

    • Still, including some specific rewards or "treats" is a good idea, too.
    • Developed with your kid(s).

    • Depending on the kid(s) age(s), this involvement will take different forms. One idea, for kids who are ready, is to have them provide the ideas for the sanctions or consequences of not meeting their obligations under the "Peace Treaty."
  • Notwithstanding the specificity mentioned above, don't let the Peace Treaty process get legalistic. Kids will love the empowering feeling of getting to bargain with their parents. Remind them of two things right from the start:
    • It's the spirit of the agreement that counts. The idea is not for the kids to get "sneaky" and push the boundaries of the written agreement. Rather, the agreement sets out some specific guidelines consistent with a spirit of cooperation and progress.
    • You're still the parent, and that is the "trump card." There is no rule or agreement that diminishes your ultimate parental authority and responsibility.

SO ... Hope you get over your case of "November Fever" soon. We’ll see you again soon, to share some ideas about the December holidays!

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