Back to School Battles

Dear Ron:

I am a single mom of 2 young boys, ages 11 and 9. Since school started last month my house has been in total chaos. It seems like everything I ask my boys to do becomes an argument. From keeping their rooms clean to doing homework, everything is a battle. How can I take back control of my home without being the “bad guy?”

— Stressed Mom

Dear Stressed —
You are not alone in this struggle. Many parents find it difficult to balance disciplining their children and maintaining routine and structure.
You stated that you want your rules abided by but you don’t want to feel like a police officer in your own home. My suggestion is to start off by calling a family meeting and explaining to your boys that all three of you need to make changes in order to establish a more comfortable environment. Ask the boys what they think each of you could do to make those arguments fewer and fewer. You might find that coming up with a compromise is easier than you expected.
You mentioned struggling to get your boys to do their homework. Ask them what kind of afternoon routine they would be comfortable with, but also take time to explain to them what the consequences will be if they do not hold up their end of the bargain.
You also mentioned the battle to get them to keep their rooms clean. Help them set up a chore chart with positive reinforcers as the motivation. Stay away from external reinforcers, like money, toys, and material items. Instead have them choose a special activity to do alone with you or with each other.
You will find that you will have established a genuinely safe and comfortable environment when you and your boys work together. As long as each of you hold yourselves accountable for the compromises you have made to one another, you will continue to effortlessly maintain that environment.