Strategies for Creating an Effective Home Plan
Since the day your daughter left for boarding school, you’ve anxiously awaited her return. You’ve attended every workshop and family therapy session, you’ve made changes at home – and though the whole family waits in nervous anticipation, you’re ready to come together as a family again.
There’s just one important step left: creating a home contract that lays out the rules, expectations, privileges and consequences that will govern your daughter’s behavior at home.
Therapeutic boarding schools like New Leaf Academy in Oregon bring about profound changes in struggling pre-teens, in part by setting clear rules and enforcing them with consequences. Home contracts give parents the opportunity to take the structure their child has grown accustomed to at school and tailor it to the home setting.
“Home contracts help parents put structure in place before their child comes home,” explained Cathryn Perkins, a therapist at New Leaf Academy in Oregon. “Because everything is spelled out in writing, there are fewer misunderstandings, fewer arguments and less boundary-pushing.”
Preparing for the Return Home
At New Leaf Academy, the therapists help prepare both students and their parents for the return home. Students have multiple home visits to practice their new skills and communication strategies, and they create personal codes of conduct to guide their own expectations for themselves.
As the students approach graduation, every girl receives a detailed aftercare plan. This plan often includes individual and/or family therapy, medication management, occupational or physical therapy, tutoring, mentoring and other supports. It is helpful if the student can meet with her new therapist a few times before graduating so that the transition is smooth and she never feels that she can’t talk to someone.
During their time at New Leaf, the students are used to staying busy with a wide variety of extracurricular activities. Perkins recommends that parents do the same at home, whether through sports, volunteering, music classes or whatever their daughter’s passion may be.
“Some of the problems our students face come about because they are bored,” said Perkins. “To fight boredom and get the girls focused on things outside themselves, we introduce them to all types of activities.”
Parents can enlist their daughter’s help in filling her schedule with healthy, esteem-building activities. If a child complains about being bored, parents can ask her to create a list of things to do rather than watching television or getting into trouble. Parents can refer back to this list and show their daughter that there are a number of options that will keep them entertained.
For students who need more intensive treatment after they graduate from New Leaf, the staff works with the family to create a long-term plan and ensure that the transition to the next treatment program is smooth.
Home Contract Basics
The following are a few of the areas that should be covered in a home contract:
- Chores and obligations at home
- Academic performance
- Expected behaviors (for example, being respectful toward parents, avoiding drugs and alcohol, or not swearing)
- Going out with friends
- Shopping, allowance and money management
- Clothing, make-up, piercings and other appearance issues
- Use of free time
- Curfews and bed times
- Time spent on the computer, Internet, cell phone or in front of the television
Perkins recommends that parents start with tight limits, as kids are less likely to object to loosening the rules than tightening them.
“This is an opportunity for parents to look ahead at the issues that are likely to come up and get firm on them before their child comes home,” said Perkins. “The rules can loosen as the child grows older and becomes more mature emotionally, but there have to be clear rules in place from the start.”
Parents may also want to consider deciding on consequences with input from their child, ensuring that minor violations have minor consequences (such as room restriction or writing an essay) and reserving more severe consequences for the more serious violations (such as losing cell phone or car privileges or restrictions on visits with friends). Once the home contract is in place, Perkins advises families to schedule regular family meetings to assess how things are going.
Enforcing the Contract
Upon graduation, some students feel that they’ve done the work at private school and now they are entitled to relax and go back to the way things were before. They want to be treated like “regular” kids who automatically have the trust of their parents and fewer rules to abide by. It’s up to parents to provide structure, show their child what is expected of them, and remind them that trust has to be rebuilt by living up to the home contract.
“Home contracts are only effective if parents enforce the rules – and it’s not just about enforcing negative consequences,” advised Perkins. “Parents should also provide positive feedback and more privileges as their child proves they can live up to their parents’ expectations.”
Home contracts are one tool that parents can use to make sure their daughter understands what is expected of her and what the consequences will be for inappropriate behavior. With both parents and children on the same page, the family can begin to rebuild their relationships and work together as a family again.