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School’s Closed. What’s Your Plan?

You’ve just been dealt a big blow, haven’t you! Schools are closed for anywhere from 2 weeks to a month. So now what?

You’re already seeing lots of tips for how to entertain kids and keep them active during the coronavirus outbreak. You can also look online for ideas for active indoor play, what to do if you can’t go outside, etc. You don’t need these kinds of tips from me. What parents are saying to me is:

“OMG! They don’t listen! This is going to be hell!”
“Screen time isn’t a great option – my kids get mean when we turn it off.”
“I have to work from home. That means I have to WORK!”
“The ideas I’m seeing online aren’t working. What good is a pillow fort if all my child wants to do is just destroy everything?!”

So let’s go back to basics.

If you’ve done a program with me, you already have this foundation in place. But if I know anything about parenting, it’s that good practice can easily fall by the wayside when times are tough. Especially if things have been going well for you, you may now be relaxing on some basic points. So let me remind you of the three basics: Parent Leadership, Contribution, and Collaboration.

1. Parent Leadership: YOU ARE IN CHARGE. Your child NEEDS you to be in charge. If they feel you are not taking on that role, there will be chaos. If you’ve done a coaching program with me you already have a clear, simple, non-punitive consequence system. So USE IT. Use it every time they don’t listen. Use it. Every. Time. This reduces the arguing, the frustration, and the despair. If you haven’t worked with me, hopefully you have some kind of consequence system in place. Tighten it up – make it clear, make it simple. Make sure you are unemotional and non-punitive when you use it. Use it every time your child doesn’t listen. This is the foundation that makes all other parenting strategies possible. This is not about punishment. It isn’t really even about accountability. It’s just that parents need to lead and kids need to follow your lead.

2. Contribution: Contribution is the second main strategy I teach in my coaching programs. We need everyone to contribute to the success of the family. It starts with self-care. If you are able to put your clothes on yourself, put your clothes on yourself. Pick up your stuff. Put your dishes away. Put your laundry away. Then it expands to doing things that truly serve the whole family.

If you’re not familiar with this strategy, Contribution may seem like just a nice value-add, but it’s actually much more important. We use Contribution for two reasons. One, it raises expectations. And two, Contribution leads to cooperation if you incorporate this strategy into daily family life.

You might think that this current “crazy time” is a time to just let the kids do whatever. But actually, the opposite is true. Now is the time to RAISE expectations. You get what you settle for. Low expectations means you get less. With higher expectations, you may not get everything you asked for but you’ll get more than you would have gotten with the low expectations.

So expect more. Require more. Do you want to watch a movie? Great. You may watch a movie after you clean the bathroom sink. Do you want to play basketball? Great! We’ll play basketball after you vacuum the living room.

(I said above that Contribution leads to cooperation if you incorporate this strategy into daily family life. I don’t want to go into detail on this now, but I do want to say that this is another reason it’s such an important part of my coaching programs and not just a random healthy-living tip. When kids are managing their own self-care and contributing to household operations, this contribution creates a shift where kids and parents are more of a team – everyone’s in this together. And when kids have a genuine experience of working together as a team, this encourages a mindset shift where kids are more inclined to cooperate. This doesn’t always happen overnight, but it always happens, and we include it as a strategy because this mindset shift is key to kids’ long-term behavior change.)

3. Collaboration: Collaboration is the third main strategy I use with my clients, and Collaboration is important because it gives kids a voice. Everyone behaves better when they have some control over the outcome, and this is especially true for strong-willed people.

If you’ve worked with me, you already know how to collaborate. So get your notes out, review the rules, and do it every day. Make plans with your kids. Plan the day. Plan the meals, plan the work, plan the fun. If you haven’t worked with me and you don’t have a structure that guarantees successful collaboration, give it a go anyway – and here are 4 items that will really help. You should always include these steps:

A. Brainstorm. You always need a brainstorm phase, where everyone shares ideas freely and parents just write the list of ideas down — without comment or judgment.

B. Making the decision. if you start fighting and can’t come to agreement, pause the decision-making. And the parents’ rules stand until the family changes them together.

C. What if someone doesn’t stick with the decision that was made? In your plan, include a “What if we don’t” clause. Children often change their minds about their part, or want to change the plan as it’s being executed. If you let them do this without some kind of consequence, they won’t learn to keep their agreements and you won’t actually be able to collaborate with them.

D. Take the plan seriously. Even if your kids are not trying to get out of what they agreed to, follow the plan exactly. If it’s not the best plan, change it in another planning meeting – not on the fly. This communicates the importance of the collaboration process and the agreements that were made.

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And that’s it. Parent Leadership, Contribution, and Collaboration. These are the basics, they’re foundational, and they provide the bedrock and support that allow the more specific activities like the mini-trampoline or the indoor pillow fort to work.

And I’ll also be posting fun activity ideas on my Facebook page, and the page can be a great place for you to ask questions, get support, and connect with other parents who are in your situation.

You can do this! This is a great time for connection and collaboration. It’s not easy, but it is well worth the effort!