The Art of Negotiation, How to Avoid Return-to-School Angst

By, Sharon Peruzzi Strauchs

DC Metro Area in August. Cicadas sing louder than ever signally the end of summer for many anxious parents wrapping up last-minute vacations while preparing for the inevitable ring of the school bell. Children begin to plan lunchtime rendezvouses with old and new friends, create new locker designs, even order wall paper (removable, of course) with matching florescent-colored shelves. The race is on…lockers, new clothes, new supplies. While cicadas are humming, store owners hear the joyful hum of cash registers.

Parents know what is coming, class schedules, homework, and new wake-up times. This reality is the most difficult for teenagers. While it may have been nice during summer to sleep until noon after having stayed up most nights playing “Fortnight,” during the school year this is a recipe for disaster. In August is when new bedtime and gaming rules need to be discussed, gradually helping your child ease into a September schedule. Even for those homeschooling, who have taken the summer “off,” September signals a new start and new rules.

A “Plan of Action for Semester One” needs to happen in August. With your child, create a schedule aimed at decreasing the hours of video gaming and increasing hours for sleep and homework. When children are directly involved in decision-making, more cooperation will generally prevail. Along with this plan, make certain to schedule “Rewards” for meeting set goals, which they help create! (I recommend at our school that parents do this on a weekly basis.) Behavioral psychologist, B.F. Skinner, proved that positive behavioral change can occur without punishment, but with rewards attached to specific goals. By involving your child in creating the plan and the accompanying “Rewards for Meeting Goals Chart” there is a much better chance of having fewer arguments over gaming and homework hours. You’ve shown your child respect and, in turn, your child has had a chance to negotiate directly with you, helping create positive household communication.

You’ve taken care of new sleep and homework goals, now on to that which fuels and nourishes bodies and brains. Food choices relate to school success, concentration, and focus. Since your child’s best educator is you, you need to become the chief negotiator, further setting the foundation for good parent/child communication relating to school issues. Start by requesting your child’s input regarding school lunch decisions. Explain that while gobbling loads of sweet treats and chips may be helpful when needing an energy surge to jump waves in Ocean City, during the school year, too many carbs and sugars affect both learning and concentration. This is especially the case for students with ADHD or other learning challenges. (Dr. Kari Miller, ADDA, May 14, 2017) Again, direct involvement with your child in this simple school-related discussion is crucial, so that when problems crop up during the year (and they inevitably do), your child knows there is a compassionate parent ready to listen…and help create a plan.

Educators know that a happy child is a teachable child. The end game is to have a peaceful and productive school year. By negotiating, rather that “laying down the law” with the resultant punishments, means that on the homefront, parents are putting first-things-first. A calm, happy homelife is primary, so that everyone feels secure and can thrive, including the parents! In autumn the cicadas will stop singing, but if you carefully plan now and foster positive communication with your child, by winter the music of a peaceful, happy homelife will prevail.

“Put Down That Pizza–Seriously,” Dr. Kari Miller, Attention Deficit Disorder Association, May 14, 2017.

Since 1992, Sharon Peruzzi Strauchs, Director of Cortona Academy in Northern Virginia, has been leading a team of educators in the application of positive reinforcement techniques to the teaching of all school subjects, from grades 5 – 12. See: 703-464-0034.