I know many of you may be thinking “I’m going to read this, but it “will never work in my house”…
Bear with me as I tell our tale because I would have thought the same thing if I saw this title 4-5 years ago. We have all the same challenges as any other family, maybe even more in some cases, but we’ve reduced drama and improved family connections but taking these simple steps. For those of you new to our story, we have 3 teenagers. The boys are from my first marriage, and my step-daughter is from my husband’s previous relationship.
We have step-parents, step-brothers/sisters, previous spouses and all the drama that comes with that. Being a blended family is not easy! But we are making it work better now than we did in the beginning. We had our share of forming, storming, norming, etc for the past few years!
We made a decision that we would stop worrying so much about the influences outside of “our” home when we were all together. As many of you have probably experienced, kids will take advantage of the “well mom/dad lets me do”, or “at the other house….”. It can cause friction and division if you let it. So we decided to turn all of our focus in-house and see what would happen….
As a mom, teacher, and coach I can tell you that one of the biggest downfalls in parenting today is allowing bad behavior from our kids. Somehow parents have become worried about upsetting their kids, so they let them get away with things our parents wouldn’t have tolerated for 5 seconds flat. All parents want their children to have a better life, with more opportunities, than they did. It goes sideways when we mistake that desire for enabling them to be less than their best selves. Kids don’t have to be perfect, they never will be, but they do need guidance to help them make good decisions.
Enabling is allowing your child to do anything, or to keep repeating unhealthy choices.
Empowering is allowing your child to make choices with guidance, and with a clear understanding of any rewards/consequences that come with that choice.
Here’s a simple example of enabling:
Child: “Can I go to a party Friday with my friends?”
Child: “Well I already told my friends I would be there, so I want to go. Everyone else’s parents said they can go. Why won’t you let me? It’s not fair!”
Parent: “OK, fine! But ask next time”
The child goes out to party on Friday and frustrated parent allows it.
Here’s a simple example of empowering:
Child: “Can I go to a party Friday with my friends?”
Parent: “Tell me more about it”
Child: “Well I already told my friends I would be there, so I want to go. Everyone else’s parent said they can go. Why won’t you let me? It’s not fair!”
Parent: “I understand you want to go. I would love for you to go and see your friends, let’s see how we can make it happen. Here are your choices for Friday.”
Parent outlines 2 options:
a. The child gets certain tasks done by Thursday to help around the house and spend time with the family. Child provides details of location, time, and chaperoning parent information.
b. The child does not get above tasks done by Thursday, the child stays home Friday, no arguments! Do NOT cave on this!
The child makes a choice and the reward/consequence is within their power!
Despite what kids say, and how they will try to convince you that you are “so strict”, and other parents are “so cool”, kids need to know boundaries. And they have to be CONSISTENT! We all do better when we know the rules and the lines we don’t cross. Only your family can decide what those are, but you must have them in place and let everyone know what they are. This will lower the drama level GREATLY if everyone knows where they stand. I promise you will have less “Fair Or Not Fair” arguments with your kids.
One of the ways we have created structure and reduced drama is by stopping the nagging/arguing about household responsibilities. It became a constant battle of wills to get rooms clean, homework done, etc. in our house before we created “the list”. Here’s how the list works….
Kids come home from school, grab a snack, pick up their “list” and (key component right here) put cell phones in the basket in the kitchen. The “list” is a simple spreadsheet list of chores/tasks on a clipboard. The tasks are basic but critical to keeping our crazy house somewhat orderly and drama-free!
We hang the clipboards in the laundry room so they are always ready to go.
The kids can choose to dawdle over the list for 2 hours OR be efficient and get finished in 20-30 minutes! They have the power to decide, but they do NOT get their phones back until the “list” is signed off by one of the parents. Sadly they are so desperate to get their phones back, that 90% of the time they are done within 30 minutes.
This list has allowed us to stop the nagging cycle that parents get stuck in! Our house is more calm and friendly now that the list speaks for us!
You can download a copy of the list below and customize it to your needs if you want to give it a try!
INSERT FORM HERE
If a child wants to argue about the list or make excuses we just move to a different room or calmly say “come back in a bit when you are done and we can talk more”. Pretty quickly the kids figured out we aren’t going to budge and there are very few arguments or excuses anymore. Once you let your child argue with you, you have given away your power as their parent.
This does NOT mean that you can’t have discussions where you don’t agree, it means they have to communicate calmly and respectfully. You’re not going to always agree with your kids! But you can talk about issues, hear each other’s opinion and then agree to disagree. One of my sons always says to me “but you’re not listening to me” if I don’t agree with him or do what he asked.
When that happens I have learned to say “I hear what you are saying and I respect your opinions about this. That doesn’t mean I can/will do what you want or that I agree”. It is important that kids realize the difference between hearing them out and agreeing to their idea!
We eat dinner together! Every night! Always! This is the time that we spend together every day. No phones! This time is important bonding time and it teaches kids to talk to their parents. It builds skills they need for talking to other adults, being respectful and patient, and focusing on things outside of themselves.
If this is new for you, be prepared for grumbling and excuses! That’s OK, it gets easier. The secret to this is listening to your kids, even if you aren’t exactly “into” whatever they are talking about. You are modeling listening and responding. Ask open-ended questions, you don’t want to end up with a few yes/no answers and be out of things to talk about!
Ex: Did you have a good day? Yep. (Conversation over)
Ex: Tell me what you did in Biology today? Was it cool or creepy? (You are going to get more here)
If they say something random or foolish, just keep asking about it anyway. Kids want to see if you are actually listening.
4. Family Reading Time
This was met with a LOT of resistance at first! I’m not gonna lie! Getting 3 teenagers to pick a book, and sit down to read is no easy task. We let everyone choose their own book. I don’t care if the boys are reading superhero or epic fantasy books, as long as they are reading. We tried doing book club style, where we all read the same thing, and it was a disaster! It took several weeks to get this working, don’t give up! It gets better.
Now, it has become one of the best times of our day! The kids will even ask if it is reading time yet, or what time are we starting reading time.
We usually set this around 7 or 7:30 pm depending on dinner or sports. We tried earlier but this has become our “wind down” time, so close to bedtime works for us.
We all grab our book or kindle and pile up on the couches. Once everyone is there, we set a timer for 25-30 minutes. No phones (unless it has the Kindle app, but then the phone goes on airplane mode)! No TV! Even the dog goes to the kennel so we can just chill out.
This is calm, quiet and relaxing! Everyone is quiet, yet it still feels like great bonding time! Sometimes we sit around and talk about something cool from a book afterward.
We ended up having to set a few extra rules, LOL! No crunchy snacks! Someone eating chips while we are all reading ruins the vibe! You can grab a blanket, a drink or quiet snack!
5. Less Screen Time
Seeing the drug-like power cell phones have over kids today is scary. Kids will sit in their rooms for hours, ignoring family and responsibilities, to be on their phones if you let them! The social pressure and the unrealistic expectations kids have about the “perfect lives” they see on social media is bad for them! There is also a LOT of inappropriate stuff these kids send each other.
Please don’t be naive enough to think it’s not your kid. It is! It’s all of them to some extent. The things they see and hear are too tempting for them to maturely filter for themselves. I have seen some of the things the “scholar-athlete student with a 4.0 and no behavior problems” either have popped up from their phone or has been sent from their phone. They aren’t immune!
Family Game Time!
We try to limit screen time for our kids. But we have to replace it with something else that feels fulfilling for them. They don’t’ have their phones during “list” time, dinner or reading. That was a huge step for us. Since then we have added other family activities as well. On the weekends we do family movie time and we have gotten into family-game night. There are a few card games we play like “65” or rummy. We also love “Spicy Farkle”, “Exploding Kittens” and “Tripoly”.
We’ve even been known to have family poker night with wings, celery/carrot sticks, and ranch dip! It gets rowdy and competitive sometimes, but we are together and NOT on our phones!
We didn’t think we could get the kids engaged in this kind of thing at first, they thought it was lame! But now they ask if we have time for a round or two of games at least 2-3 times a week.
It is scary and sad to me how quickly our kids grow up! We can’t get the time back one its gone! I hope we have inspired you to find ways to bring more unity and less drama to your family time!
Have any ideas you’d like to share? We would love to hear from you!
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