Parenting Guide: If/then agreements
Keeping agreements with others and yourself is a primary source of power towards having things the way you want (See earlier article: 1, 2, 3! Self-care & Parenting are just that simple). Constructing agreements between you and your children in an “if-then” fashion provides clarity of expectations and consequences (benefits and costs of meeting and not meeting the expectations).
Parent to teenager: If you get up and out on time every school day each week on your own, your weekend curfew is extended a half hour. Each school day morning you do not get up and out on time, the next “school night” (on Fridays that would be Sunday night) would have a bedtime (and time when “screen time” ends) 15 minutes earlier. For each time that happens (not getting up and out on time) each week it’s an additional 15 minutes earlier bedtime, etc. [So, if kid gets out late on Monday, Monday night it’s 15 minutes earlier bedtime. And Tuesday morning, the kid is late getting out, again, it’s 30 minutes earlier bedtime.]
Same scene but with elementary (and middle) school-aged children:
If you get up, get ready and out on time every school day each week, your Sunday night bedtime is a half-hour later than normal school night bedtime. Each school day morning you do not get up, get ready and out on time, the next school night would have a bedtime 10 minutes earlier (that means the “getting ready for bed” ritual/process begins and ends 10 minutes earlier). For each time that happens each week it’s an additional 10 minutes earlier bedtime, etc. [So, if kid gets out late on Monday, Monday night it’s 10 minutes earlier bedtime. And Tuesday morning, the kid is late getting out, again, it’s 20 minutes earlier bedtime].
A variation on the above is linking each minute “late” with a consequence based on a multiple of that time. If the kid is “out the door” 2 minutes late, (using a multiple of “5” for this example) that night’s bedtime will be 10 minutes earlier. [If likelihood is high that the first number (how many minutes “late”) is going to be large, make the multiple smaller (“3” or “2” or even “1”). The final number must be enforceable and not so large that the consequential bedtime has the child in bed before dinner!] Whatever makes it easier for you to keep track of things is the method to use. It is very important keep your end of all of your agreements with your kids as you expect them to keep their end of these agreements. And another important principle: You must say what you mean and mean what you say.
The above examples use the If…then…template:
“If (fill in task/action) then (fill in consequence- this may be a positive consequence- benefits; or it may be a negative consequence- costs).” Simple (though do not ever mistake “simple” for easy. Easy this ain’t, but you will observe that it is worth the trouble.).
And a friendly reminder: You must say what you mean and mean what you say. So that means you must keep your end of the deal and hold your children to their end of the deal. And saying what you mean and meaning what you say requires consistency. Consistency is a keystone to the communication of expectations, limits and consequences.
Until we are in our mid-20s we blame everything on our parents (“You made me do it!”). However, if/then agreements provide our kids with the greatest opportunity to see the connection between their decisions (all actions are choices; inaction is an action) and the fruits of their decisions. As well, the design of if/then agreements contributes to simplicity of measurement and observation of conditions being met (or not).
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