By Dr. Jo Wolthusen, Psy.D.

Wouldn’t it be nice if kids came with an instruction manual- a clear, user-friendly guide on how to successfully navigate the wonderful world of parenting? Perhaps a checklist of sorts on how to raise a healthy, well-balanced human being? Despite parenting often being a “work in progress”, there are some useful strategies to help make your child’s road to adulthood a little less bumpy, while making your role as parent a little less harried.

Creating a good foundation

The best place to start is by having a good foundation with clear expectations for your child. When I work with parents, I have them keep it simple by choosing three or four expectations or rules. It is important to be extremely clear when defining your expectations. Setting a time for curfew is a good example. If you ask your child, “ just be home by dark”, you are setting yourself up for failure since your child’s definition of when it’s dark outside might be quite different than yours! Parents can avoid this common pitfall by clearly stating and defining their expectation, “ You need to be home by 10pm”. By setting a specific time, you avoid arguing over any discrepancies.

Punishment fits the crime

Once you set the expectation or rule for your child, you need to then establish a clear consequence. Consequences should be reasonable, where the “punishment fits the crime”. You wouldn’t want to ground your teenager for a month for coming home ten minutes late. Not only is that consequence unreasonable, but as a parent I wouldn’t want to deal wit a disgruntled kid being housebound for an entire month! So consequences should be reasonable and fair. For example, if your teen is home five minutes late for curfew, then the consequence is for curfew to be five minutes earlier the next evening.

No nagging zone!

Part of the beauty of this simple yet effective rules and consequences system is that it takes parental nagging out of the equation. For example, if one of Suzie’s chores is to empty the dishwasher, then clearly state the expectation as, “ the dishwasher needs to be unloaded daily by 5pm. The effortlessness of this design is that the parent no longer shoulders the burden to incessantly remind their child to finish their chore. Suzie has all day until 5 pm to empty the dishwasher. If she doesn’t, then she gets whatever the consequence is (say, no dessert after dinner). Suzie has responsibility to complete the chore. It is her choice to either do it or get the consequence, and miss that awesome Portillo’s chocolate cake!

Collaborate with kids

A good way to get your kids to buy into their new rules and consequences plan is to ask for their input when first creating it. Have your kids collaborate with you to create a plan that is manageable and fair. Keep in mind that consequences can be positive too.   Ask your child what a good incentive would be for following the rules. So if your child is able to complete all of their chores on time for a week, then they can earn a special privilege that they help to create. Have a good week, then you earn a pizza night, or an extra hour of computer time. Having your kids buy into the process and getting them on board with the plan often creates a more successful outcome.