Parents are their children’s most important teachers. They are the only people who are with their children as they learn every step in life, A to Z. This is perhaps even more true in the summer months when kids are home. While the absence of chaotic mornings and hectic school schedules can be a relief for both parents and kids, research shows that a long summer break can impede learning and cause a summer slide in abilities. Fret not, parents, there are ways you can help support your children’s learning and it does not necessarily mean assigning schoolwork over the summer.
The Parent Management Training Oregon model is an evidenced-based best practice approach that recognizes the vital role parents play as being the primary change agents within their family. Developed by Gerald R. Patterson and his colleagues at the Oregon Social Learning Center, the model identifies five core parenting techniques that parents can use to teach appropriate behaviors for their children age 7 to 17. These core behaviors are: encouragement, limit setting, monitoring and supervision, problem solving and positive involvement.
Through encouragement, which is the use of positive reinforcement, parents can use the summer months to teach cooperation, routine, and delay of gratification, thus strengthening how the household is managed during the school year.
To teach cooperation, parents can give good direction that is a calm, polite, firm, specific and clear command with eye contact and gentle physical touch. Then, a parent must follow through with verbal or physical praise in the form of high fives, thumbs up or a “Thank you, that was great listening.” All children can and should follow on the first or second try. Be mindful of distractions like having the TV turned on, shouting from the other room or too much time. Other traps of poor directions are sarcasm, asking questions or giving a “stop” command. A good direction sounds like this “Taylor, do ______, now, please.”
Routine and delay of gratification are also important life skills parents can teach and strengthen over the summer. Parents may like the reduction in stress during the summer with less intense schedules but most parents go bonkers when their teens and tweens sleep in until 11 a.m. or don’t do anything “productive.” To teach healthy routines, parents should make a 5-part daily routine. This may include wake up by 9 a.m. (or whatever is feasible and reasonable in your house), make bed, eat breakfast (and put away dirty dishes) and then some learning activities like 30 minutes of reading, math exercise, read a current event article, etc., followed by perhaps some physical exercise like jump rope or a yoga video. Parents should select about five activities. Parents can write them on a chore chart for tokens or points and then determine how many points it takes to earn a reward. A good rule of thumb is that 70% success is a good effort, so perhaps 7 out of 10 points or 4 out of 5 squares on a chore chart is considered a great job well done.
Parents should offer rewards that kids are motivated to work toward such as screen time, the home’s Wi-Fi password, having a friend over, going to a friend’s house, going to the neighborhood swimming pool, or in the spirit of learning, doing some fun activity at a museum, library or educational facility. If you have more than one child, create rewards that will not inconvenience you or your other children if only one of them completes their daily task – offer a reward that one child can have without punishing them for another child’s procrastination or rewarding the other child who has not yet earned their reward. A good routine parents should keep in mind is each child’s skills and abilities – the rewards do not need to be identical for every child in the house. It can be fair in that each child has five tasks even if the tasks on each chart are different.
Morning, nighttime and afterschool routines can make the school year run smoothly and efficiently if they are practiced and applied through the summer.
By setting limits parents can teach another important life skill, emotional regulation. Emotional regulation is the ability to remain calm and composed and respond to demanding or upsetting situations in a socially acceptable way. Instead of thinking of limit-setting as punishment, parents may be wise to consider this an opportunity to teach their children how to make calm, good choices in the face of disappointment or frustration. If a parent notices escalating emotional behavior such as a raising voice, threat of physical contact such as making a fist or any actual physical violence between siblings, this would be a great place to apply a limit. Limits are best applied when misbehaviors are small instead of after dysregulation has occurred. To set a limit, first give a good direction.
For example, if your child begins shouting at a sibling over sharing an object a parent may say “John, use an inside voice now, please” (good direction). If the child follows the direction, the parent can follow up with something like, “That was great direction following” and the issue is done. If the child does not follow the provided instructions, repeat the direction a second time. “John, use an inside voice now, please or go to timeout.” (Do not worry if you think your child is too old for time out. This is not about punishing them like a young child but rather teaching them to take a break until they can compose themselves.)
You may even consider explaining that in a calm manner before an issue takes place. If your child listens here, then give your praise and the issue is done. If your child does not comply then you can follow up with “Go to time out for five minutes.” The time out location should be previously determined, it should be somewhere separate from attention of the rest of the family, where no items can be damaged or destroyed and void of fun like the computer, TV or cell phone. If the child refuses to go to time out, calmly count from 5 to 10 “Go to time out now, please for 5…, 6…, 7…, 8…, 9…, 10 minutes.” If at any point along the counting the child agrees to go to time out, then that is where the counting stops. Set a timer and take yourself to your parental “happy place” either in your mind or in your house so you are not tempted to respond to any parting words or offer any sarcastic remarks of your own.
If your child does not accept a 10-minute time out then apply a longer and stronger limit of privilege loss. You can say, “You did not accept the 10-minute time out so now you will lose your cell phone for 15 minutes.” Do not be fooled by kids who say, “I don’t care” or “It doesn’t matter to me.” What you are teaching them through your consistency and contingency is that it matters to you, that you can remain in control in the face of emotional stress and they will learn emotional regulation either way.
Monitoring and Supervision:
Monitoring and supervision is the act of knowing the who, what, why, where, and how of your child’s inner and outer world. This parenting skill can help parents teach the vital life lesson of trust and responsibility. An example of a responsibility lesson may be teaching your child your expectations for when they are home alone. Set a few rules such as “do not answer the door for anyone,” “do not have anyone over,” etc. Based on your actual child’s age, maturity level and how they handle independence, set them up for a dress rehearsal. You may either leave the house or “fake” leave and then have a friend or family member conduct an in vivo experiment of how your child handles the rules by calling the house or showing up. If your child passes the experiment, you may be ready to take the next steps in responsibility. If they do not, it’s an opportunity to review the rules and try again later.
Another opportunity in teaching trust and responsibility is monitoring and supervising of social media and internet use. Often parents are not informed of the newest apps or online activities. Parents should conduct both random and planned checks of accounts, get an idea of who your kids interacting with, what kind of behavior they are displaying, what the apps are for, why they like them, what problems they see with them and what are their ideas for staying safe. Do not be deterred by a child that says, “My phone, my business.” Politely explain that their internet safety is your business and move forward. If they are not open to it, this may be a sign they are not ready for the responsibility of a smart phone or social media accounts and be prepared to restrict access.
The value of this life lesson speaks for itself. Teach your kids this important skill by creating a goal, brainstorming solutions, ruling out impossible ideas and combining good ones, roughing out a plan and making a contract that everyone signs. Some good ideas for weekly problem-solving meetings may be about what to do on family vacation, where to go out to dinner, how to share the family car, etc. In a family problem solving meeting, there should be some ground rules like no interrupting or teasing, every idea is a good idea, avoid judgmental tones or faces, give each person a chance to share, etc. Set a time to review the goal later in the week to see if the idea still works or needs adjustment.
This parenting technique really just involves doing awesome things with your children. If you are encouraging small positive behaviors, giving physical affection, setting up routines so your family has more fun free time over the summer together, taking your kids on educational trips to museums or land marks, playing games, etc., then you are well on your way to teaching your kids the most important lesson of all; they are valuable special people worthy of your time and attention.
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