family rules sign blog A. Coutts

Parent Prevention Plan

Parent Prevention Plan: How to start the school year off by putting out family fires before they begin

The start of the school year in September is sort of the “New Year’s” of families. Everyone wants to start fresh and is determined to make this year better than the last. Hope and motivation are high. Conflict is low. Parents are confident that their kids are “getting it” and the year will go smoothly….

Until it doesn’t. Within a month or two, old patterns creep back in. Tensions start to run high. Eventually, the conflict everyone had so hoped to be gone is back in full force. But don’t despair: it doesn’t have to end up this way.

The key is prevention planning. While I encourage families to go into the school year hoping for the best, I also strongly encourage they prepare for the worst. Here are few tips for preventing family fires:

Develop clear consequences and rewards before issues arise. Did your teen cut class a lot last year? Use drugs? Get in trouble for bullying? If so, don’t just hope for change and assume they will follow the rules this year. Decide as parents how you want to deal with these behaviors before they arise. Tell them that while you believe these things won’t happen again, you want them to know what will happen if they do. It also helps if your kids have a say in the developing the rules and rewards.

Avoid being vague about rules. Saying something like “you’ll be in a serious trouble if you ___” or “I expect respect” isn’t going to cut it, especially with teenagers. What you think is “respect” or “serious trouble” is not necessarily what they think it is. Make sure to be as specific as possible. For example, “Swearing results in a $2 deduction from your allowance” is much, much clearer than “Be respectful.”

Track and post rules and rewards. If completing chores is a problem, chore charts can be a great way to track who is doing what. Thankfully, there an abundance of free printable templates available on the web. Having charts tracking positive behaviors are fantastic too. Kids love to be rewarded. Keeping the family plan publicly posted acts both as a constant reminder and a way to hold both parents and children accountable.

Be consistent. If you don’t follow through regularly on what you’ve agreed upon as a family, don’t be surprised or angry when your child doesn’t either. If you promised an allowance for chores done and don’t give it, it’s not fair to be angry with your child for not doing them. Making up consequences in the heat of anger only causes distress and does not teach discipline. Before you act out angrily, take a moment to check in with yourself and own up to yourself if you might not have been consistent.

Be realistic and patient. Anyone whose tried to set a new year’s resolution like “work out every day” when last year they worked out twice knows that this goal is doomed to fail. The same it true to family goals. Develop small, manageable goals that work towards the behaviors you hope to see. If your child got a D in math last year, working towards a C is a much more realistic goal than aiming for an A. Plus, if goals seem unmanageable, kids are much more likely to give up on them. Be patient… positive change take time, but it goes a long way in life.


Anna Coutts

Anna CouttsFeb-2015


About Anna Coutts

Anna is a youth and family therapist based out of Toronto, Ontario. She splits her time working at an accredited children’s mental health agency and running her online private practice, Coutts Online Counselling.

September 23, 2015

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