Last week, a dad wrote to ask about how to keep his son on track when he's away at work.
"There are times when my 13-yearold son needs to be home alone for a few hours before I get home from work in the later evening," he wrote. "The problem is that he puts off his homework and anything else he's been asked to do until the last possible moment. How can I keep him on track, even though I'm not there?"
Here's what our parent educators had to say:
You say this is only an occasional occurrence, so it may be an opportunity for your son to learn to take personal responsibility for himself. First of all, you need not get involved in his homework at all. Your only job is to provide a quiet, uncluttered workspace, some basic supplies (paper, pens, etc.) and the expectation that there are no screens available until homework is finished.
If you develop the routine that homework and chores are done right after dinner, for example, you have set the tone for what should happen. Of course, this may or may not happen when you are out of the home. If the homework does not get done, you can be sure the school will deal with your child. If his chores do not get done, there will be natural consequences at home. (You may not be free to drive him to a friend's home when he wants, as you have to finish his chores).
If you are not fussed as to when the chores get done, then he should be free to choose when he does them within a time frame. (ie.: The garbage needs to be taken out sometime tonight rather than right after dinner.)
By definition, children and teens are very egocentric and often cannot see the consequences of their more unfortunate choices. Only by living with the outcomes do they come to understand and begin to take responsibility and know that you will not always be there to remind, cajole and otherwise make sure they do the right thing. And you will not jump in to fix things when he has not done as asked. Your job is to hold him close and let him come to terms with the things in his life that do not work for him.
If you must be away most evenings in the school week for work, then you might want to make other arrangements for your son. While he is technically old enough to be left on his own, it is a long time and he will be lonely and may look for things to occupy his time that are not necessarily good for him.
Jean Bigelow Parent Educator
I remember being at home after school when my parents were working. The freedom to be lazy, watch Dark Shadows or turn my music up was fabulous. I would manage to get the table set just before my parents pulled into the driveway.
The unfettered freedom I experienced as a child is one of my most treasured memories and something most kids don't experience today. It's hard enough to get a teen to do chores and homework, let alone controlling them when you aren't even there. Kids don't focus on what adults think is important and so we end up nagging and lecturing. This doesn't work and actually causes kids to dawdle and passively resist us. Actually, nobody wants to be controlled and we would resist somebody telling us what to do with our spare time too.
A respectful approach would involve acknowledging your son's need to relax and be in charge of his own time. Talk to him when you are both in a good mood and connected. You can state your concern about homework and chores, but be careful that you don't cross the line by controlling his responsibility. Homework is his job and doesn't directly affect you. Chores are different, but most kids don't do them when parents aren't there.
When parents approach kids in a positive, supportive way and pull out from over-controlling, kids usually embrace responsibility. Often, parents realize that their expectations are too high or see that their harping is creating resistance. Think of the emotional state that you bring to this issue. Can that use a little tweaking?
Allison Rees Parent Educator LIFE Seminars
My six-year-old son is constantly chewing on his fingers, or sleeves, etc. This has been going on for the past couple of years. How can I help him break this habit?
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