Just yesterday I was talking with a client about the start of the school year. She mentioned the importance of a new routine and the challenges that presents. I shared with her my own family’s experience of getting ready for the school year. I hope sharing our family meeting and family guidelines will help fellow parents think about the best ways to create structure within their own busy households.
It all started because my husband (who also has ADHD) admitted he can’t remember what all of our “house rules” are, which prevents him from being able to enforce them consistently. To his credit, the rules do change year to year as the kids mature and can demonstrate more responsibility and independence. And with no homework over the summer, a lot of those rules got chucked out the window. But now the school year is back in full force with homework, after school sports, music, theatre, parties, and all of the extra responsibilities these activities bring.
So, a couple of Sundays ago, we had a family meeting and brainstormed a list of what we thought were realistic expectations of our children. These are non-negotiable and while some seem pretty obvious, they had to be written down. For example, “Complete all homework on time” means that all of the homework for all of the assignments needs to be completely done in accordance to teacher directions and turned in by the time it is due.
We then outlined the lists of chores for each child. Together we decided how they could be divided and what tasks were age-appropriate. My 13-year-old can realistically handle more than my 8-year-old, yet the total amount of time it takes for them to complete the chores is about equal.
Finally, we made a list of privileges for each child. These are directly related to meeting all expectations and completing all chores. For example, using a cell phone or watching Netflix is a privilege, not a given. Writing down all expectations, chores and privileges on one page makes it easy to see the relationship between them and avoids discussion. After typing up the list, everyone got to read it. Some questions came up and together we made changes for clarification. Since everyone was part of the process, everyone is on board. I printed up the lists and posted one in the kitchen and one in the kids’ bathroom. Now we can all refer to the list and there is nothing to argue.
In addition to the guidelines, we also have a monthly family calendar. Some families prefer a digital solution, but my husband and kids wanted a giant visual poster-sized calendar they could easily see and work on. Every Sunday, we go over our plans for the upcoming week, put anything that affects the whole family on that calendar, and discuss any challenges they may present. This gives us a feeling of “we’re in this together” and we are all on the same team rooting for each other. We are all equally important if we are going to succeed.
Below is an example of a family might structure expectations, chores, and privileges:
Teen & Child Expectations:
• Do your best in school
• Complete all homework on time
• Practice piano at least 4x week, 20 minutes minimum
• Show up on time and dressed for breakfast and dinner
• Plan and follow schedule to arrive to school and get to bed on time
• Respect your brain and your body
• Put dirty clothes in hamper
• Tidy up room, floor all clear
• Bring plates to sink
• Help walk dogs as needed
• Instead of backtalk, give feedback to ensure understanding & practice good communication
• Having to repeat directions more than twice will result in a time out
• Clean cat litter box (during the week, evenings only)
• Feed turtle
• Feed dogs dinner + fresh water Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays
• Bedtime (lights out) by 9:30 on school nights
• Collect mail
• Put out garbage/recycling and bring in empty bins (Mondays and sometimes Thursdays)
• Feed dogs dinner + fresh water Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays
• Bedtime (lights out) by 8:00 on school nights
• Cell phone after all homework is done and on weekends
• Horseback riding lessons maximum 6x month
• iPad maximum one hour sessions on weekends
• Movies/TV can be added on weekends only. On Fridays, these can be substituted for iPad time.