There is an old idiom that has been attributed to the 14th-century English poet Chaucer, “Idle hands are the devil’s tools.” The implication is that when there is nothing to do, people will get into trouble.
This seems to be particularly true with children and adolescents, yet the reality is that many parents have no other choice but to give them unsupervised time between the time they get out of school and the time that parents get home from work. Many in this situation ask, “How can I keep my child out of trouble after school?”
Keeping Kids Busy After School
While some kids are independent and understand the value of completing homework and chores before dinner, most adolescents are not. Understandably, they have also been in school for six hours and could use a brain break.
One suggestion could be to have them come home, have a snack, and then do some chores to give their brains a break, then tackle homework. Yes, give them chores; it teaches them to be responsible.
When your child needs more structure, checking around for afterschool programs and activities could be a solution. In addition to school sports, music, and other activities, there are often community or other facilities that offer afterschool programs and tutoring.
Many of these programs are available for free or low cost if money is a concern. This is an excellent way for parents to give their children a safe place to be in a world where more and more frequently, trouble comes looking for them.
Take Time to Talk to Kids About Their Plans
While many teens would rather die than talk to their parents, maintaining a positive level of communication with your child has endless rewards. For example, when your parenting is consistent and fair, they are more likely to want to talk to you.
Taking time to check in about their plans helps them to plan ahead and think about their afternoon. You could also talk to them in the morning before school to develop a plan of action with them. These few minutes also offer the opportunity to communicate with you so that you are both on the same page.
When their response is “I don’t know,” or they have difficulty managing their time, creating a schedule with them can help them see how much they can accomplish before dinner, with the obvious reward of having more free time after dinner.
Many kids with disabilities benefit from being able to see “what’s next,” too. Taking this time also lets them know that you care about them, even if they don’t want to admit that. Being proactive, fair, and consistent can help them to become more independent and responsible.
Build a System of Communication and Trust
For kids of any age who come home after school and are unsupervised, it is very reasonable for a parent to ask them to text when they are home safely.
When a child wants to go somewhere or do something with someone else, communicating where, when, with whom, and when they will be home is also perfectly reasonable. Sitting down in advance and discussing this plan for communicating will help to avoid misunderstandings.
When you and your child are able to communicate well about what they are doing, and they fulfill their end of the bargain, then there should not be problems.
Be sure to acknowledge their success with positive consequences, too. They could have extra privileges, increased opportunities to demonstrate trust, or earn something they really want. Positive reinforcement is more powerful than any lecture or punishment you could ever give.
When Trust Is Broken, Rewrite the Rules
Your system of communication also needs to set out from the beginning what the consequences will be if they are caught lying about their activities or whereabouts. Let them know that as trust is broken, there will be consequences.
Consequences such as loss of privileges should be set out in advance. These consequences may even involve locking up video games or devices, turning the wi-fi off until you are home, increased chores or responsibilities, and more, depending on the nature and severity of the offense.
When trust is broken, you may also need to implement more restrictive measures, such as tracking their phone, purchasing a text-only phone for communication, having friends or neighbors check in on them, etc. Make sure that even if they do something wrong, they understand that honesty is still the best policy to restore trust.
How can I keep my child out of trouble after school? Keeping them busy, talking to them about their plans, and building a system of trust in your communication are proactive ways to help them stay out of trouble. When that trust is broken, taking measures that are stated in advance, are fair, and consistent will help them to rebuild trust and responsibility slowly. The programs at Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center are designed to teach kids to be responsible and accountable for their actions. We help families who have kids with substance abuse, mental health, cutting, anger, family conflict, and other issues to heal. We offer extensive parenting resources because we understand that to heal the child, you must heal the family. Contact us at (303) 443-3343 to find out if our Estes Park, Colorado facility can help your family. At Fire Mountain, our goal is to help your family’s fire burn the brightest.