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“Tell me and I forget,” an ancient Chinese saying goes. “Teach me and I may remember. But involve me, and I learn.” Throughout the school year, teachers, administrators, and school counselors work on improving the lives of their students in ways that go beyond simply improving their book smarts. Our educators work tirelessly at helping students develop ways to appropriately express themselves, and methods to deal with stressful, emotional situations. Just because school is out for the summer, however, does not mean that those lessons should stop.

Education begins at home, and parents have the ability in the summer to exercise their enormous influence on their children in ways they might not be able to during the school year. Specifically, parents can model certain behaviors and help their children navigate through challenging family interactions. Those lessons in turn can become positive influences that affect children’s abilities to have meaningful relationships with siblings, friends, employers, fellow students, and teachers. Below are a few things parents might consider when continuing their children’s informal education during the summer months.

Sibling rivalries: It is understandable for parents who have been through a long, challenging day at work to want to intervene quickly when conflict erupts between their children. They are entitled to some peace and quiet, after all. But unless there is the threat of real violence, parents should try to stay on the sidelines during these spats. In so doing, parents are helping their children learn how to appropriately work through contentious exchanges. Once the dust has settled, parents can look for opportunities to have a teaching moment. There is no need to reignite the conflict. While it might sound hokey at first for parents to encourage children to think and talk about their feelings, the truth is that open lines of communication tend to directly diminish the likelihood of future angry outbursts. Children are never too young to learn the value of becoming more diplomatic.

House rules: Recently I noted how important it is for parents to be consistent in their application of rules. “Changing the goalposts” — whether done by a parent, teacher, or employer — is unfair to the child, invariably makes everyone unhappy, and can be a serious impediment to family harmony. Even giving in once can be problematic; winning is addictive, the old adage goes, and if that “win” subsequently results in a child’s persistent challenge to the house rules, parents can quickly feel besieged and overwhelmed.

One way to prevent this sort of outcome is to put the house rules in writing. When the child breaks a rule or tries to negotiate a “better deal,” the parent can point to those printed rules. “What is the rule?” the parent can ask, and thanks to the printed house rules, the answer is clear. For parents to do so is not an abdication of their duties. It is more like a compass. “It says here we are headed north.” That’s not being glib; it is merely stating a truth.

Huddle up: We live in a fast-paced, tech-centric, rapidly evolving world. While a great deal of technology has had a positive impact on our daily lives, the fact remains that it can be easy for parents to become preoccupied with all the distractions that swirl around them. When that happens, personal relationships can suffer. “True happiness,” the Roman statesman and philosopher Seneca said, “is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence on the future.” More often than not, that email, text message, or phone call can wait. Why not try setting aside at least one night a week for family a meeting. Create the opportunity of an open forum in which everyone gets a chance to talk about what is important to her, what is going on in his world, what is of pressing concern to them. The family meeting certainly should not serve as an occasion to punish or discipline. Rather, it should be opportunity for parents to listen to their children’s feelings and concerns, and to ask them to listen to theirs. Open and honest communication amongst a family will invariably increase its ability to engage in positive relationships, and will enable them to grow closer to one another.

Some of these parenting tips may well be things you are doing in your home already. And if you were raised in such a home, you are to be envied. The odds are that those memories of your upbringing are fond ones. But it does take work. “To be in your children’s memories tomorrow,” author Barbara Johnson wrote, “you have to be in their lives today.”

June 8, 2016

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