Summer choices  
Start weak or start strong?

Summer is upon us and for many kids that means a summer schedule. After a hectic end of the year, it’s often time for a breather.

But, here’s the dangerous and often tempting thought process:  “Oh, the kids had a tough year.  They need a break.  We will just take it easy…no chores…go to bed late…get up when they want.  No big deal.”  

And of course your children will support this idea. They should argue for the easiest summer possible, as that is their job!  (But that is not your job!)

Start weak this summer and life gets harder!

If you decide to start the summer with no structure and abandon most limits, I suspect that everything will be smooth and sweet…for a while.  The kids love it.  It seems easier and everyone is happy.  

However, as time goes on, weaker limits simply get pushed further and further. The kids will want to stay up later and later.  They will want more and more play time or electronics.  They will fight responsibilities more and more.  Their disrespect or talking back increases the moment you start to ask them to help out a bit.

This is the nature of things.  And of course, you are working harder and harder as the summer goes by.

So why does this inevitably happen?  Children and adults thrive on structure and limits.  Oh yes, we fight it.  Kids fight it.  But the proof is overwhelming.  When we abandon a bit more structure in favor of weak limits and little routine, life simply gets harder to manage.

Start strong instead and your summer gets better!
The secret is to go against the tide.  Instead of starting off the summer weak, start strong.  In the long run, you will have more joy, more fun and more easeful times this summer.  
How do you start strong?  It’s not too complex.  Let’s go over some basic examples.

  • Set clear limits on bedtime (not more than an hour later than school year times).
  • Get the kids up at a standard time, regardless of their whining.
  • Serve breakfast at a regular time, and don’t adjust.
  • Require a few morning chores before games, phone, TV, pool, friends or computer.
  • Be willing to instantly walk away from outings when behavior turns bad.

In order to start strong and stay  strong, two essentials are required.  

  1. Show strength  in how you manage your emotions! If you manage your emotions poorly (i.e., are reactive and easily upset), you will lose the respect of your children over time.  You will see your authority erode, despite your desire to show strength.  If you want a happy, ease-filled summer, do not allow anything to be an adequate excuse for losing your cool. This shows that others ‘own’ you emotionally, and your children quickly learn to push your buttons.
  2. Show strength in how you manage the homeDuring the summer there are goodies everywhere: friends, IPad, the pool, baseball, soccer, playground, biking, camping, TV, phones, computers, day trips…and the list goes on.  These ‘goodies’ represent leverage. It is critical to manage this leverage every single day!  I often remind my clients, “Never give up your leverage!  It’s your key to sanity.”  

That’s why a strong day begins with some structure and chores, BEFORE the children can access their goodies. Focus on control of the goodies…not control of your children.

If they get up, can easily find a game and play it, or turn on the TV for a couple hours or text freely without limits, you have already given up your leverage.  So, when you then discuss picking up breakfast or cleaning their room, you can see it all turns ugly. They are eating in front of a video game, and you can’t get them to move.  This is weak approach, which means the summer will get harder.

So instead, start strong by controlling the goodies every day and watch the summer get easier!  Keep routines in place, and don’t argue or negotiate about that. And NEVER give up your leverage!  

Dr. Randy Cale offers practical guidance for a host of parenting concerns. For more information visit



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