• Give your child a say: The best way to get your child to buy into consequences is to involve him in creating them, said Jennifer Powell-Lunder, creator of the Web forums It’s a Tween’s Life and Talking Teenage.
If you have been struggling to get your child to finish his homework in the evenings, tell him that it has to be done and ready to be checked by 7 p.m. each day, Leahy said. Make it clear to him that if it’s not complete on time, there will be a consequence. Ask him what he thinks would be an appropriate punishment.
You might think he won’t take it seriously, and will suggest something along the lines of no broccoli for a week. More often than not, though, children are harder on themselves than you would be, Powell-Lunder said. Work together to figure out the most appropriate consequences for different rule violations.
• Monitor your tone: When you yell, Sendek said, your child will not remember what you said. He will only remember that you yelled, and how upsetting that was.
“It’s a physiological response,” Sendek said. “When someone yells, your system goes on hyper-alert.”
Instead of yelling, Sendek said, use a stern tone of voice to get your child’s attention and let him know that what you are saying is important. Get face to face with him and make eye contact.
• Stop arguing and reconnect: Take time out from whatever is angering you and spend time reading or playing a game with your child to reconnect, Leahy said. Or if you are fighting about her choice in music, tell her why you dislike it, then ask her what she likes about it. You can always revisit the source of conflict later.
“You’re modeling wonderful behavior to your teens, and teaching them that when you have a conflict there are other ways to resolve it and be successful,” Powell-Lunder said of taking the time to count to three and resisting the urge to yell.
In Hoefle’s house they called this policy “Stop. Apologize. Eat ice cream.”
“I would go into the freezer and get little tubs of sherbet, give everyone a spoon, and we would all take a bite and regroup,” Hoefle said. “Whatever is happening is not as important as the fact that we are family. When we come home tonight we can talk about the problem. But in that moment I want to clean up the mess. It resets the clock.”
• Let go of the small stuff: We all want children with perfect table manners, impeccable hygiene and strong moral character. Sometimes, though, you need to pick what is most important to you, or to your child’s safety, and let some of the irritating, but less dire, behaviors slide, Sendek said.
“Decide what are those things that are very critical to you: drugs, sex, alcohol,” she said. “Those should have dire consequences. With other things, say, ‘Okay, you didn’t pick up your shoes and that drives me crazy, but I can live with it.’ “
• Model good behavior by apologizing for yelling: Even the most patient parents yell occasionally. Kids are hard-wired to push our buttons, and we lose our tempers. If you do yell, the best thing to do is acknowledge the mistake, Leahy said.
Leahy said that when she has lost her temper with Sophia, she will write her a note after her daughter has gone to bed. In the note she apologizes for yelling and suggests that they meet the next day to talk about what happened and why she yelled.
“There’s nothing wrong with saying you’re sorry, ever,” Leahy said. “It doesn’t mean she’ll get what she wants, but it opens the door to communication, which is all I want to do.”