To the Graduating High School Seniors of 2018

Another school year is coming to a close and with it the graduating class of 2018 prepares to embark on its next adventure. There are lots of mixed emotions from excitement to relief and some trepidation as these graduates take the next big leap into adulthood.

Your new chapter is just beginning and for those of you who aren’t sure what’s next, I want to tell you that you’ll figure it out. For me, going to college wasn’t so much about the major. Instead, it was a safe place for me to stretch, develop my interpersonal skills, improve my problem-solving abilities and challenge my beliefs.

To be honest, when I was a senior in high school, I wasn’t that interested in college. But both my parents are PhDs and have several master’s degrees under their belts and the idea of me not going to college seemed impossible to them. My mom played her cards right and encouraged me to apply to wherever I wanted and suggested I just go for one year. If I ended up being miserable I could go onto my next adventure.

I turned to my younger brother, and asked him to pick several colleges for me. He did and they were based on his interests.  In the end I selected Ohio State University, OSU. This was ironic because OSU has 60,000 undergraduate students and I was extremely shy and had spent the majority of my education going to small schools.

Here are the reasons I chose OSU:

  • Because I was so shy, I needed to go to a school where I didn’t know anyone. I wanted to be unable to hide behind anyone else.
  • I would either sink or swim and that this was the best bridge to life-after-college for me.
  • OSU had a college dedicated to the undecided called University College I wouldn’t have to declare a major for a couple more years. Yay! I loved that I could be indecisive a little bit longer.

I want share some of the great tips I learned from my freshman orientation many years ago:

  • Don’t eat Buckeye butter. The Buckeye nut is extremely toxic. In a previous year several freshmen thought it would be a good idea to make Buckeye butter and it landed them all in the emergency room.
  • Look around right after registration day: many of your peers will not be there come second-quarter.
  • You can either be a number (some class lectures will have several hundred students) or you can stand out. Neither takes much effort. I took advantage of both strategies.
  • Help is there if you need it. You just have to ask for it and follow through.

Here are some additional insights to assist with the transition to college:

Be curious 

In the book, Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be An Antidote To The College Admissions Mania by Frank Bruni, Howard Shultz, chairman and CEO of Starbucks says:

“Be as curious as you can. Put yourself in situations where you’re not yielding to what’s familiar. I came out of college with a level of confidence and self-understanding that I don’t think I could possibly have gotten from an East Coast school where I would have been among the kind of people I grew up with and lived near.” p. 109

Howard Shultz was from Brooklyn New York and graduated from Northern Michigan University. He got a “glimpse beyond Brooklyn and forced to stand on his own two feet in it.” P 109

Get out of your comfort zone!

Yes, college is a place to develop technical skills for future career opportunities and it is more than that. You have the opportunity to grow and challenge yourself.

For example, I took classes at OSU just to go way outside my comfort zone. I was not a fan of speaking out but several of my classes awarded half the grade based on participation including US Women Writers, Writing Poetry, and Topics of Feminist Studies.  My face would resemble a tomato and I shook from the inside out. But I leveraged this platform to develop a skill that I would need throughout my professional life: public speaking.

Vassar’s president Catherine Bon Hill offers excellent advice in the book, Becoming Self-Determined: Creating Thoughtful Learners in a Standard-Driven, Admissions Frenzied Culture,. “If our students are going to make successful contributions to the future well-being of our society,” she said, “they need to understand how to deal with diversity, and college campuses are a perfect place – an important place to learn that.” p. 119

Can you surround yourself with individuals with differing beliefs, backgrounds, and cultures so you can broaden your horizons? Learning to listen to others, especially those with differing ideas, can expand your thinking.

A few tips to remember:

  • Talk to your professors and if you require accommodations, tell them about them.
  • Go to your professor’s office hours even if it’s just to introduce yourself. You are developing your interpersonal skills with face-to-face communication. For some of you this is extremely difficult and office hours are great place to practice. Plus, your professor will take notice and be more inclined to help.
  • If you don’t understand or are struggling with something right out of the gate, don’t wait! Use the resources that are available to you like writing centers. Writing Centers can be a great place to help you get started on a paper. If you’re not sure about the resources available to you, ask another student. Everyone was a freshman once.
  • In college, you can drop and add classes. If you know on day one that your class is not a good fit make a change right away!
  • Ask questions!

Congratulations on the accomplishment of graduating from High School! As you move to the next phase of your young life, take the opportunity life presents you to experience failure and come out stronger on the other end. What are the strengths and skills you can develop while being willing to get out of your comfort zone?

For parents, this is also a big transition. Before your teen heads off to college, work with them to develop a communication plan respecting how they want you to support them. If they call because they have a problem, don’t solve it for them. Instead, provide guidance so they can develop their own problem-solving muscles. Continue to be their non-judgmental rock as they continue on their journey to adulthood.


Picture courtesy of Honey Yanibel Minaya Cruz of Unsplash Photos
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School Parents and the Challenge of Instant Answers

Below is an article recently published in ExchangeEveryDay that talks about the issues – both positive and negative – that access to instant answers with Technology can have on our children.

In an article on the HealthyWay website, Gretchen Bossio quotes Donna Volipitta, a doctor of education who studies neurology, psychology, and education in relation to parenting, on the new way millennial parents are raising their children:

“‘Millennials, having been raised in the age of technology, tend towards being used to immediate gratification. They want immediate solutions. If they don’t know an answer, they google it,’ she explains. ‘If they need to get somewhere, they Uber. If they need food, they Grubhub. If they want a picture, they Snap it.'”

Bossio explains how access to fast information can be both a challenge and a gift. She explains the challenge this way:

“Although we’re living in the age of fast answers, parenting itself is a slow and steady journey. We get the answer right away, even if that answer isn’t always correct or the best.The immediate, never-ending knowledge base that technology brings ushers in other things, too. Like anxiety. And worry. And misconceptions. Because, after all, Dr. Google doesn’t always properly diagnose, and the internet doesn’t always offer accurate advice.”

As for the gifts technology brings parents, she describes them this way: “On the flip side, the internet is also full of mountains of research, parenting insight, and truth that can lead moms and dads to become better parents… Posting, tweeting, pinning, and sharing photos gives us immediate access to friends, family, strangers…Strangers have become like family, all because of technology.”

Source: “Millenial Parents Are Raising Their Children In A Much Different Way,” by Gretchen Bossio, December 7, 2017


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Why School Newsletters Still Matter

Research shows that students do better when consistent, open communication exists between schools and parents. A myriad of methods and tools are available to schools to communicate with parents such as parent-teacher conferences, websites, email, phone calls, social media, flyers, and the monthly school newsletter. The school newsletter has been around for a long, long time and remains relevant in school-to-parent communications. In fact, it has evolved into a vehicle to connect parents with local (often family-owned) businesses that sponsor schools. This connection creates mutually beneficial relationships between businesses, parents, students, and schools.

Do Parents Read School Newsletters?

Information overload is a challenge in the digital age. Marketers are constantly tracking click-through and open rates in emails. Do parents take the time to read their child’s school e-newsletter?  In a recent survey of parents of schoolchildren in Colorado conducted by The School Newsletter Agency (TSCA),

many parents responded that they refer back to the monthly newsletter three or more times per month and approximately 50% of parents read the newsletter at least two times per month. Clearly, parents are reading school newsletters and often refer to them throughout the month for relevant information.

Additionally, schools are concerned with information accessibility issues. A well-designed e-newsletter

addresses this concern and are formatted for mobile devices, tablets and desktop viewing, while also designed to easily convert to PDF, so schools that still require paper copies to reach parents, can easily print them.

Do School Newsletters Improve Parent Engagement with Schools?

Parents are busy. Well-designed school newsletters have reoccurring, organized content areas so that parents can quickly find what is of interest to them each month. Well-ordered school information, such as sports schedules, special events and testing deadlines, promotes parent engagement. Content matters and schools know it. The right content is key. Reading the school newsletter becomes a habit if done right. Additionally, sticking to a consistent day to send the newsletter to parents each month promotes parent readership.

A group of principals who serve as part of a Education World’s principal focus team, agree that newsletters are a key element in any communications plan. Newsletters offer consistent messages with consolidated and summarized information about upcoming activities, student achievements, menus, fundraiser programs, and photos from school events. Consistent communication from schools in the form of a monthly newsletter is expected and looked forward to each month by parents.

According to Frank Hagen, who has been an educator for more than 30 years, parent engagement is a key component in educating children in the 21st Century.  Parent engagement increases as a result of consistent monthly newsletters, leading to improved student success.  

Do Parents Support Businesses Because of Advertising They See in School Newsletters?

One challenge that businesses face is how to reach busy parents in the community. Advertising in school newsletters allows businesses to reach this niche market of parents, school staff, teachers and students. Links embedded within school newsletters allow parents to access additional information from the school, district, businesses/sponsors and other community stakeholders.  According to TSCA’s recent survey, nearly 60% of parents who responded click on the advertisements in their school newsletters. This click rate is well above the industry average reported by Constant Contact.

In the same survey, parents were asked if they visited or did business with sponsors after seeing the business advertised in their school newsletter. Approximately 50% of respondents say they have visited or done business with 1 to more than 4 businesses after seeing advertising in their school newsletter. Local businesses grow and benefit from sponsoring schools in this way.

How do Businesses Support Schools?

It is no secret that schools are in need of funding sources for anything from extracurricular activities to school supplies. Schools and parent organizations spend countless hours setting up fundraising events and activities and setting up family dinners at local restaurants that give a small percentage of sales back to schools.  School newsletters can be another fundraising vehicle. A portion of the advertising investment from local sponsors goes to support schools. Schools have reported using the funds to pay costs for students who could not afford field trips, prom, and schools supplies. Other schools have used the funds from school newsletter sponsor support for playground equipment, teacher appreciation, and scholarships.

School newsletter sponsorship also supports the design process and reduces the workload on school staff saving staff hours of time better used to directly support students and teachers. Businesses that advertise in school newsletters are building relationships with community parents, while supporting their local schools, and promoting their businesses.  And, many of these businesses are owned by parents who want to support their child’s school, while growing awareness for their businesses.

Is the School Newsletter Still Relevant?

Parents, businesses, teachers, and school administrators say it is. In addition to its traditional role to inform parents about school activities, deadlines, and announcements, it has become a path to parents for businesses. The school newsletter reaches parents on a regular, monthly schedule at an extremely affordable price for local businesses. These businesses are supported by parents and in turn they support their children’s schools, thus connecting communities and growing their businesses, which results in parent engagement and increased student success. While there are multiple tools and methods to communicate with parents, the school newsletter remains relevant and has evolved into a beneficial tool to connect and support the community.


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Turn off those devices: Why you should listen with your eyes

Have you ever heard the same story twice in one day? I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, The Go-Giver with Bob Burg, and he was interviewing Motivational Keynote Speaker and Author Neen James. She proceeded to tell a story about how a five-year-old child can remind us how life really should work. Later, that very same day, as I attended the annual Rocky Mountain Project Management Symposium, I heard the story again when I sat in her session at the conference. I decided the repetition was a sign. I needed to pay attention.

Insight from a 5-year-old

Neen James was sitting with a next-door neighbor chatting over some coffee. Her neighbor’s 5-year-old son, Donovan, kept interrupting their conversation with a string of questions. Finally, he became so frustrated with Neen’s lack luster answers, he put Neen’s face in his hands and told her to, “listen with your eyes!”

Sometimes the greatest wisdom comes from a five year old. “To listen with our eyes” is to listen actively, which means focusing on the other person and what they have to say. We all want to be heard, and that means we also need to be active listeners.

Our reality

In today’s world, we are inundated with distractions from numerous devices. I’m not telling you anything new here. Your kids are the iGen, the generation growing up with devices.

When I’m speaking with my kids and they are on a device or playing video games, I know they aren’t hearing anything I’m saying. The same goes for my husband when we try to talk while he’s on his iPad. Bottom line is that dividing our attention between those we’re with and our little distraction pods is disrespectful.

It’s not just 5-year-olds and parents disgruntled by the lack of attention. In Dr. Jenny M, Twenge’s book iGen, she interviews a 13-year-old teen named Athena, who complains about the negative impact of friends who pay too much attention to their phones when they are hanging out with her. Dr. Twenge asks how it makes her feel “when you’re trying to talk to somebody face-to-face and they’re not looking at you?” (p. 298) Athena’s response says a lot:

It kind of hurts… It hurts. I know my parent’s generation didn’t do that. I could be trying to talk about something super important to me, and they won’t even be listening. (p. 289)

So, what can be done about devices?

Here is what we do in my house:  NO DEVICES WHEN IT’S TIME TO TALK…PERIOD.  When one of us has a question or wants to share, we put our devices down.  When it’s time to eat a meal at the table, devices are in another room.  With the distractions gone and eye contact made, let the conversation begin!

The Benefits!

What has been the payoff from implementing these practices? I know my husband and I are demonstrating and fundamental life skills along with modeling what active listening looks like. If I think about how am I going to get my kids ready for the world, it’s doing everything I can to develop and support good communications skills. Teach your kids to listen with their eyes and you’ll be amazed at the improvement in your relationship. Here’s the thing though, it only works if we do it too.

The point of all this is that my husband and I want to provide a place where our kids can celebrate success and share when things aren’t going well. This is an ongoing challenge for all families. But the gateway to this connection is to take the advice of a 5-year-old and, “listen with your eyes!”



The Go-Giver Podcast with Bob Burg

PMI Symposium

Listen with your eyes

IGen –

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Stop, Don’t Double Dip! Learning Social Skills

My family and I spent a long weekend just north of Burlington, Vermont over Spring break. We stayed in a beautiful yellow farmhouse — a bed and breakfast owned by a friend of mine. Having arrived at the peak of maple syrup season, we were able to check out a maple syrup farm. After we received the tour of the refining process we were treated to small taster cups with fresh maple syrup.

The family and I all had a taste and, it’s true, you can only sip on so much maple syrup. As we gathered around the table with the straight sided jug my eldest, a high schooler, decided he was done with his syrup and poured it back into the jug! Ugh!  I couldn’t believe what he’d done. I pulled him aside and didn’t mince words. So we were back to the double dip debate.

I wish I could say this is the first time this has happened, but it’s not. I frequently tell him that if he’s at a lunch interview with a prospective employer and the boss saw him do that, he could reduce his chances of being hired.

Learning social skills is mandatory part of life. For some of your kids it will be harder than others and will take more time. I still work with my elder son teaching him that it’s not okay to get up and leave a roomful of guests just because he’s tired. I always bring him back to the room and have him tell the guests he is tired and heading to bed and that is was nice to see them.

Social Thinking

One way to reframe our thought process is to think of it as “social thinking.” Michelle Garcia Winner and Pamela Crooke in their book Social Thinking At Work and Why Should We Care? explain that social skills arise from thinking. “Social thinking is about our own and other’s minds.” (p.2) To improve our own social performance, we must be able to figure out what other people are thinking, which means understanding how our own social minds work.

I have always made it clear what I expect of myself and my boys with regards to socially acceptable behavior. For example, one time when the boys were little they had dinner with some friends. The boys were eating pizza at the table, and one of their friends was crawling all over the table. Later that evening, they mentioned I would not have been okay with them having behaved that way. I asked them if they enjoyed dinner when their friend was all over the place. They said no that it was funny for about a second and then became really annoying. I reminded them that part of behaving is making other people want to be around you.

A Tip Or Two

Saying ‘thank you,’ is an especially important social skill as it is a sign of appreciation. To this day, I still have to remind the boys to thank someone right away when they receive something because it makes the other person feel good and causes them to want to do it again. I explain they wouldn’t want a grandparent to stop giving them gifts because they had failed to send thank you notes. Yes, I make my boys write thank you notes. I also model this behavior by writing my own thank you notes because I know how much I love receiving my niece and nephew’s notes.

Life gives us countless opportunities to teach our kids about social thinking and skills. It is vital that we are consistent and teach out kids what this means. If we sit back and just complain, we aren’t setting them up for success. Yes, some people might still struggle with being socially awkward in their adult years, and there are some tips and tricks they can use.

One of the best tips I learned when I was in sales was look around the client’s office to see what they have on their shelves and their walls. If you find a picture of a dog, ask about it. I shared this tip with my boys and their friend as we were talking about I expected them to go knock on the door when they pick up a girl. Sitting and honking the horn would not fly! I could see the terror in their eyes, as they asked what they could say to her parents. I shared this tip and we practiced how to do it. These kinds of interactions are way more fun with my boys rather than explaining why it’s necessary to stop pouring syrup back in the jug. That’s just gross!

Be patient and persistent with your kids of all ages to keep teaching and explaining why “social thinking” matters. How excited do you get when you meet a polite young person? At the end of the day, when your kids show appreciation by saying thank you or holding a door open doesn’t it make you feel better and a little more willing to continue training them?


Photo by Kevin Curtis on Unsplash

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Stuck in the muck? Getting started is sometimes easier said than done.

A big question parents often ask themselves is, ‘why can’t my kid just get started?’ This query causes a lot of angst and frustration in many homes and classrooms. Unfortunately for some of your kids, getting started is hard and can be more complicated than we think. The challenge for us adults is not to pass judgment on our kids’ inability to get started and to assume they are being lazy or defiant. Instead, it’s our job to look past the behavior and figure out why they cannot start.

I remember when my youngest was in 4th or 5th grade and he was sitting at the kitchen table just staring at his work. I looked at him and wondered what was going on. He’s a good kid, I reminded myself. I knew he didn’t want to be spending hours upon hours on his homework. So, I came to learn task initiation was a struggle for him. He had the best of intentions but just couldn’t get started. So, I found resources to help — both books and amazing experts who offered me some great guidance.


Here are some ideas I learned that might help you, too:

Transitions from one task to another may be more difficult for certain kids. Be mindful about what they are transitioning from. For example, video games and YouTube can make the transition to homework oh so painful for all involved. Eliminate this pain by making YouTube or video games the reward for completing the homework.

Does your kid just stare at their computer when they have to write something? Is getting the words from their brain to the keyboard or pencil too big a gap to leap? If you see them struggling, a big clue is whether they can talk about the topic.  If so, you may need to use some tools like voice activation software, or you can simply type word for word what your kid says. Parents: no editing. Let your kids use their own words. As long as you do that, you’re not cheating. Eventually, the kids will be able to write on their own. It is important to meet your kid where they are so they can start to experience the wins of getting the work down.

Sometimes the task can seem so big, that your kid literally doesn’t know where to start. For instance, there are too many math problems on the page. Ask them how many would they like to see, and cover up the rest. Or just write one problem on a separate sheet of paper and have them do one at a time. Again, we are looking for a process that meets their current need so they can feel the success of completion.

Sometimes hearing about problems from the student’s perspective can   help you better understand the weight of their dilemma.  Listen to student Marcus Allen explain why getting started is harder than you think through this video.

It’s hard to watch our kids struggle with getting started. Again, the challenge for us adults is that we have to step up and be willing to experiment, look past the behavior, and be consistent in our efforts. It can be hard to make these efforts, especially when fatigue and the daily grind take hold. Stop and remind yourself that you are training your kiddo for adulthood.

Meet your kids where they are and assume that your kid has the best of intentions and is just stuck. Your job is to reach out and help them learn how to move through the muck, until they have the skill to go around it themselves.



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My Mom Took My Keys: Importance of Resourcefulness:

Many moons ago, when I was 17, my mom and I got into a fight. No one seems to remember what it was about; this was not an unusual occurrence. Regardless, the outcome was my mom took my car keys and license away. No more driving for me.

I had learned enough in my 17 years to pose a few follow up questions. “So, does this mean I can’t go to the barn?” My passion was with horses and spent every spare minute taking care of them and riding them. My friends knew if you wanted to find me call the barn.

Her answer:  I could still go to the barn but I couldn’t use the car to get myself there. Since she was so angry with me she didn’t realize she had just signed herself up for schlepping my brother around again. Part of the deal for me being allowed to drive the car was taking my brother to practice and to his friends.

Luckily, the barn was only about two miles from my house. The downside was we lived near a pretty busy intersection and there wasn’t much of a shoulder. I had some planning to do but was determined to get to the barn.

First, I called the barn owner to see if she could pick me up during the week after school. I worked at the barn, bringing in the horses, feeding them, and watered them most afternoons. Seemed to me she should be inclined to pick me up. In fact, she was able to do that three days a week.  Three down, four to go (yes, I went to the barn every day of the week)!

Next step, I tried borrowing mom’s mountain bike and took back roads and trails to the barn. It took me a couple hours, because I got lost. Luckily, it was a weekend so the timing didn’t matter. The ride home was a little better, yet the indirect route still seemed to take too long.

Riding the main road seemed like certain death so it was time for a new plan. I decided I could walk the ditches or hill sides next to the main road. I made it to my destination safe and sound and in record time.  Just as I happily settled into my new routine, mom handed me the keys as she was tired of driving my brother around every day.

What I learned when my mom took away my driving privileges is how to be resourceful and look for multiple solutions when obstacles were presented to me.   You have to be willing to ask for help, in this case getting a ride from a friend. If that’s not possible strategize other options. Some of my solutions were more efficient and successful than others. Sure, I was super annoyed when I became lost on the trails heading to the barn, but I found my way and I learned.

So, I wonder, how are we challenging our kids of all ages to figure out how to come up with different solutions instead of just depending on us? For example, I taught my boys how to use the bus so they wouldn’t be limited by my schedule. I also encourage them to get on their bikes and ride to wherever they want to go, whether it’s the ice cream store or the rec center.

Yes, it’s scary to give our kids the freedom to explore and discover on their own. But we often don’t give our kids enough credit.  They are capable of amazing things with a little preparation and encouragement.  And a few failures along the way is ok.  The brain develops through experiences, successful or otherwise.

I am always keeping the big picture in mind. The real world provides obstacles and “no’s,” and it’s up to individuals to figure out ways around them. Sometimes, it takes us longer to accomplish our goal — as I got lost on the trails — but that can also ignite a desire to find a different solution.

Challenging your kids in the beginning can be small. For example, can they make their own breakfast? How do they get to the bowls if they are too short to reach them?

If they want to go to the movies and there are a lot of chores to do ask them to see what kind of plan they can come up with. You can use cards for expected chores and plot out a timeline so they have to work backwards to determine when to leave for the movies. Leave the room and ask them to share with you the idea when they are ready. Your job is to ask questions and mention concerns, but let them develop and adjust the plan.

Sometimes you might get some crazy ideas. Go with it and have fun!

One thing I love about being a parent is having the ability to teach my kids how they can get to yes. It brings me great joy to see them put in the effort to figure it out even when I am the one they are trying to rationally inconvenience.


Photo by Daryn Stumbaugh on Unsplash

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Multitasking the “21st century sugar”

Do you ever say any of the following things to yourself?

  • I am too busy to do that
  • I’m always behind
  • I never have time for myself
  • I never get anything done
  • I am a great multitasker!

Believe it or not, all of these thoughts are related.  Many people complain about not having enough time or are constantly left feeling no closer to achieving their goals. They are pulled in many directions and divided between two or more tasks. This is called multitasking. Most of us think we are good at it and that it’s a positive idea. In fact, multitasking is often the source of our frustration and lack of achievement.

Multitasking is doing two or more things at the same time. For example, you might listen to a conference call while responding to emails. But, guess what: you aren’t doing either very effectively. And, every time you allow yourself to be interrupted while working on a project, you are also multi-tasking. Experts call this task-switching but the idea is it impairs your ability to function. There is one caveat; for some, having music playing in the background —white noise—  provides additional brain stimulation to assist with focus.

Successful multitasking is a myth! Your brain is not designed to work that way even though multitasking makes you feel more productive. At the end of the day there is a cost to multitasking in terms of what you accomplish.

But multitasking is addictive just like sugar. Why? It triggers the reward center of the brain thus creating a “dopamine-feedback loop.” And just like sugar, once you start indulging, it’s hard to stop. The cravings only grow stronger.

The Cost of Multitasking 

Multitasking reduces your productivity, effectiveness, and efficiency. It also causes additional stress, and — here’s the big kicker — it leaves you prone to being bored, anxious and depressed. “Multitasking overloads your brain,” according to Chris Bailey, author of the book The Productivity Project. 

If you step back and look at your multitasking you will find you have only partially skimmed the surface of the task you were completing. Most likely, you will also discover you have poor recall of what you did and that, effectively, you have done very little.

With multitasking, you have an experience that may be compared to a sugar crash. After the high of “getting things done,” you are left feeling exhausted and drained. You will also likely find that you are more irritable.

Understand how your brain works

Interestingly, you can hold onto several chunks of information in your mind at once. The challenge is “you can’t perform more than one conscious process at a time with these chunks without impacting performance,” according to leadership coach David Rock. Performance never lies; you always do your work in one of three ways: well, in a mediocre fashion, or not at all. When you try to do multiple cognitive tasks at the same time you’re more likely to fall in the mediocre or “not-at-all” categories.

Getting off the “dopamine-feedback loop”

If you want to accomplish more, begin by asking yourself if you’re willing to step back and see how effective you really are? I know as an entrepreneur I can easily feel that I can accomplish way more by doing two things at once. But when I actually started looking at how I was spending my own time, I realized that multitasking only made me feel frazzled. I also noticed how ineffective my kids were in completing their school work while watching YouTube and snap chatting with their friends. Before I could address my kids’ processes, however, I had to look at mine and figure out what to do. 

Multitask Detox?

Learning to focus on one task at a time starts with putting our phones away, turning off notifications, and creating boundaries. In the beginning, it may seem like the task is impossible. There was a time when we didn’t have cell phones so, trust me when I say it will be okay.  You have to train your attention muscle so start small, with as few as 20 minutes in the beginning. Think of it as the 21st century sugar detox. As with any detox, you will most likely experience anxiety and moodiness.

Even if you aren’t obsessed with your phone, you likely aren’t paying enough attention when you focus on your work. Responding to e-mails, checking your favorite news site, or allowing visitors to distract you while working on a project are examples we can all relate to when at the office.  The key is to set yourself up for success by using a time management method like the Pomodoro Technique to dedicate a specific amount of time to focus on one task. One strategy is to block off time on your calendar to focus on a specific job. Be sure to let others know you are not available. You can also train your attention muscle by practicing active listening, which will also do wonders for your relationships. When sitting down for a meal, just focus on eating (no reading the paper or checking FaceBook), or go for a walk without the ear buds and take notice of how the ground feels under your feet, (This is called  walking mindfulness). Remember to be patient with yourself as you learn to develop the one-thing-at-a-time skill. It takes practice. Keep in mind that creating a new habit can take 66 to 254 repetitions. 

Now, what about your kids? 

First and foremost, we parents have to model the behavior we are looking for. Kids love to point out our hypocrisy so practice what you preach before teaching your kids to single-task.

Set some explicit ground-rules such as doing homework somewhere other than their bedroom, not having the TV or YouTube running and agreeing to when homework should be done by. You can reward them by allowing them to dink around on their devices afterwards. One catalyst for this conversation could occur if your teen is complaining about having no time. I suggest doing an experiment. Have them track how long everything takes with their current process and then have them track themselves with all distractions removed. You will be a part of their support team because they will be going through their own detox; don’t take it personally if they are a bit prickly at first. And remind them of what’s in it for them: they will be done more quickly and have more time to do the things they want. Isn’t that what we all would like?

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Responding to Demands: Wanting A Widget V4

My nine-year old stepson declared some years ago, “I want a beyblade!” I wasn’t too inclined to comply with his request as he and his brother already had six of these spinning battle tops. But instead of saying ‘no,’ I told him he needed to sell me on his pitch.

Zach sat and thought and before I knew it, he was up on stage, performing. With his arms flying akimbo, he declared the importance of his beyblade. I repeated that l had no interest in funding him. So, he pondered, and added a new question, “What if I come up with a list of chores, so I could earn money?” I thought he’d offered an interesting idea. He then turned to his brother for support. And, lucky for him, his brother was on board and they both scurried off to the kitchen to see what ideas could come up with.

I got a kick out of this new-found energy. Once they’d completed their preliminary list, we reviewed and tweaked with the understanding they needed to pitch this to their Dad too. We had to make sure everyone was on board. We all agreed to the list and the dollar value for each chore. The boys also understood it was not my responsibility to make sure they did these chores. For the next week, every morning they were off to clean the baseboards, pull weeds, etc. I have to admit I did find it amusing at breakfast each morning to hear them discuss how they would pool their money and buy the best beyblades. After doing chores they proceeded to research their future purchases. By the end of the week they’d self-funded their growing collection.

How does this back-door approach to teaching skills to kids apply to teachers and parents? Our goal is to raise adults, which means there are many skills along the way our kids need to learn. When your child or teen is driven by the idea of what’s in it for them, everyone is more likely to achieve what they want.

For instance, Jim Carey has a great a great story about a strategy used by one of his teachers to minimize classroom disruptions. Jim was the class clown. Needless to say, his focus on making classmates laugh could render classroom management a little difficult. So, his teacher cut a deal. She told Jim if he completed his work and stayed quiet, he could have a few minutes at the end of every class to do a comedy routine. Both teacher and Jim got what they wanted. The teacher had fewer classroom disruptions and Jim Carey had the opportunity to make people laugh at the end of class.

Another challenge of being a parent is the need to be in multiple places at the same time. One teen wants to go to the amusement park with his friends; his brother wants to play tennis on the other side of city. Even if Mom is willing to drop everyone off she’s not able to pick everyone up at the same time. Luckily, this family lives right by a bus stop, so the parents decide it’s time to train their son to take the bus. Together they map his journey, have him figure out the cost, and teach him to navigate Union Station. Even though both parents might be secretly worried, Dad goes to his appointment and Mom pretends to work. She keeps an eye on the time imagining where he is while she waits for those texts letting her know when he makes it to the first bus. No shocker here. He isn’t exactly diligent about his texting. Mom doesn’t get much done that evening as she quietly paces and grows another grey hair. But when she sees her son — and discovers how proud he is of his accomplishment in getting home— she knows it is worth every worry to watch him gain a little independence.

Raising kids and teens is one of the most challenging and rewarding jobs there is. We are raising future adults, who will be making a place in the world.  By re-framing life’s lessons for our children so they see what’s in it for them and then collaborating on solutions, we can make the process more productive and maybe even a little more fun. The second challenge for parents is letting their kids and teens put the plan into action by stepping back and letting them own the great, the good, and the not-so-pretty.

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

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Try Vs Do

In the immortal words of Yoda, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”  Statements like “I’ll try harder,” or “I’ll study harder” make me cringe.  We often say “I’ll try harder” after falling short of some goal. For example, when your kids do poorly on a test or you don’t achieve your ideal time in a triathlon.  “I’ll try” is vague and there are no actionable steps or commitment to improve. “I’ll try harder” is a cope out; it’s easy to say but hard to define. ”I’ll do…” on the other hand requires commitment and makes you accountable.  It obligates you to be specific and define how you’ll accomplish your goal, turning your commitment into a plan of action.  It’s a skill to learn how to breakdown desired outcomes into actionable steps.  It takes effort and it can be difficult to come up with specific plans to do better next time. It applies to us, the adults, and it’s about modeling and teaching our kids to work smarter too.

Learn to work smarter

I love competing in half-ironman relays on the bike.  My first year competing, I fell way short of my goals. I started each race on fire before petering out and  willing myself across the finish line. I said to myself “I need to try harder,” next year.  But, my results were the same.  With no plan on how to improve, I essentially trained the same way   Then I looked at my process and realized I had been flying by the seat of my pants.  The idea of developing an actual training plan seemed incredibly daunting, but I knew I needed to be accountable to someone beside myself.  So I found a coach. He came up with a training plan with workouts tailored to me  considering that it takes me longer to get fit and longer to recover. I had to email my coach each time I completed (or didn’t) a workout. For me, this step is what I needed to train when I didn’t feel like it.  Come race time, I performed much better and restored my confidence and joy in racing.

What about with your kids?

Let’s say you are checking out your kid’s portal or received a notification (I highly recommend turning these off) about a test grade that starts with either D as in Delta or F as in Foxtrot. This is a great catalyst to sit down with your kid and chat. If they fall into the trap of “I’ll study harder,” this is your cue to put your coaching/Yoda hat on.  Ask them what that means. In the beginning, just one actionable task can be considered a step in the right direction. Walk through their process to get ready for the test and ask them what they think worked and what didn’t. Work with your kiddo to develop a super simple plan of one or two things they might do differently.  Maybe they need to check with their teacher and get feedback, or use a calendar to schedule study time.  Perhaps there are tools they could use like quizlet (or even better, parents) to test their knowledge before tests.  Whatever the plan, your student is now on the road to doing instead of just trying.

If you catch yourself or your child saying “I’ll try harder” stop and ask what that means. How are you going to create action?  “I’ll try” gives you an easy out if things don’t go well again next time.  Develop a plan with actionable steps and you have a way to measure success. If you catch yourself or your child saying “I’ll try harder” stop and ask what that means. How are you going to create action?  “I’ll try” gives you an easy out if things don’t go well again next time.  Develop a plan with actionable steps and you have a way to measure success and something to revisit if you don’t achieve the desired outcome. Remember, missteps are opportunities for growth while continuing to develop your resilience muscle.

(Above Photo by on Unsplash)

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