By Dr. Jan Hittelman

As the summer winds down, it is time to be thinking about the upcoming school year and how we can set our family up for success. Too often, the school year brings renewed conflicts about homework, studying, curfew, chores, screen time, the morning routine, etc.

Now is the perfect time to be proactive regarding the issues that your family struggles with and develop an effective strategy for the upcoming school year. Regardless of the age of your child or the specific challenges that you face, using an empowerment strategy is key to reducing conflict. As parents, we are often reluctant to give our child a voice in the discipline plan because we fear that we will lose control. Ironically, the opposite is true. Until your child is invested in the discipline plan, he or she will likely fight your rules and resist your authority. If, on the other hand, your child has some ownership of the decisions, they will take far more responsibility for their behavior and be less able to project blame on you for being the bossy tyrant.

To utilize an empowerment strategy with your child, consider the following steps:
1. Identify the specific behavior that you want to work on. Try to choose just one behavior to start and make sure that it is something your child is capable of doing if motivated.
2. At a positive moment, engage your child in the discussion. Let your child know that you don’t like fighting about this issue and are eager to hear their opinion on why it happens and how you can work together to improve it.
3. Whenever possible, use your child’s suggestions by creating an “experiment” to see how it works. Make sure to put the agreement in writing and have everyone sign it.
4. After you put the plan into action, take every opportunity to provide positive feedback regarding your child’s efforts.
5. If the agreed upon system is not working, create another opportunity at a positive moment, to rethink the system together and improve it. Instead of getting angry, try to calmly work together to brainstorm alternative solutions.
6. Once you have identified a mutually agreed upon revised approach, follow the steps above.

Remember that the end goals are not just getting homework done or going to bed on time, but more importantly teaching your child to take responsibility for their behavior and helping them learn how to solve their own problems, while at the same time modeling effective conflict resolution skills. An empowerment strategy is the best way to accomplish these goals.