Parents and kids are feeling frustrated and stressed. For many, home is no longer a nurturing oasis but a breeding ground for discontentment and moody outbursts. Before the school year begins, set aside some time for a family reset.

  1. Begin with a Family Meeting.

Begin with a family meeting. Don’t skip this step—it is vital to the success of the reset. Schedule the meeting in advance at a time when family members are not likely to be hungry, tired, sleepy, or rushed. Have weekly family meetings as you work through the reset. Here is what to cover in your first meeting:

  • Create a home mission statement. Talk together as a family and develop a home mission statement. Write it down and post it in a prominent place. Your mission statement is the guiding principle for your home. Here are two examples: “Our home is a place of kindness, love, and support for everyone in the family.” “Our home is a place where we support each other in work, learning, and having fun.”
  • Develop a few family rules. Every family needs a written set of simple basic rules. Try to limit the list to three or four items. Involve every family member in the discussion. Here’s an example of a rule for a family with younger children: “Every family member keeps a safe body (no hitting, kicking, or biting) and a kind mouth (no profanity or bullying).” Here’s a rule for a family with tweens and teens: “Every family member maintains appropriate hygiene, which includes bathing, brushing/flossing teeth, and washing hair.” Here’s another rule that applies to all families: “Every family member is responsible for specific chores so that the work of our home is shared among everyone.”
  • Identify stress points. During your family meeting, brainstorm stress points that your family encounters on a regular basis. It could be your child’s refusal to go to bed or constant interruptions of online work meetings. Once you have a list, choose one or two stress points to target for the following week. You can brainstorm solutions as a group or assign a family member to come up with potential solutions at a future (but specific) time.
  • Develop a “carrots and sticks” menu. Decide ahead of time on rewards for achieving good behavior as well as consequences for breaking family rules. For these to be effective, children must clearly understand the menu, and parents must implement consistently.
  1. Amp up family fun as an antidote to boredom and noncompliance.

During these months of pandemic restrictions and closures, it is easy for every family member to retreat into their own separate devices. This can have a negative impact on mood and behavior. Now is the time to implement new ways that the family can have fun together. Go for a nature walk. Plan an outdoor camping trip. Ride bikes together. Have a hula hoop contest in the back yard. Play board games. Teach your children how to make a family favorite cookie recipe. Build a birdhouse. Plant a few tomato plants for a fall garden. Any activity that is enjoyable, active, and engaging will help.

  1. Develop routines to make life easier.

Write down a morning routine and bedtime routine, including a list of timed tasks. Post in a prominent place. This will make every family member’s life so much easier. It is stressful to engage in a daily negotiation about whether or not your child bathes in the morning or the evening, explain for the 100th time why it is necessary to brush the teeth, or argue that it is time to get off the device and put clothes on for the day. Use routines to help maintain consistent bedtimes and wake up times, even on the weekends. Good sleep hygiene improves children’s behavior, moods, and school performance. Don’t forget to include daily exercise in your family’s routines too.

  1. Get professional counseling if you are worried about family dysfunction or mental health issues.

If these simple steps aren’t enough or a family member is struggling with mental health issues, don’t hesitate to get professional counseling. Even a few sessions can make all the difference. Call your health insurance company for a referral or reach out to your pediatrician. The SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) is a free referral and information service that is open 24 hours a day. They are currently helping callers set up telemedicine appointments with counselors, even if you don’t have insurance.

Brenda Schoolfield is a freelance medical writer based in Austin, Texas.

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