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Learning Parenting from Video Games

There is a lot of strife and angst in families today around the topic of video games. Part of the issue is that, behind each game, lies a whole industry dedicated to getting the user hooked.

Still, the gaming industry also offers some nuggets of wisdom that parents can apply to everyday life.

The barrier to entry for video games is pretty low because the rules for each game are usually simple and clear. Most users understand how and what they are doing relatively quickly. Then, as the player develops understanding and skills, the game begins to get harder — although not too hard. Gaming companies don’t want to create so much frustration that the user will want to quit. [i]

One of the challenges I have experienced parenting and working with other parents is the path of structure, consistency (do what you say and mean what you say), consequence, and follow through.

But I had a light bulb moment when reading Transforming The Difficult Child The Nurtured Approach by Howard Glasser and Jennifer Easley when I came across this quote, “The secret is simple. Video games have the structure that more and more children need and demand.” [ii](Placeholder1)

 

You can break down video games into three components:

  • Acknowledgment and consequences are reflected in completely straightforward ways. No wiggle room for the child who has missed the mark! [iii]
  • Frequently audible “bells and whistles” and discernable continuous scoring reward the child’s positive accomplishments and steps in the right direction. [iv]
  • Conversely, clear and immediate consequences mark actions that are unacceptable. When the consequence is over, it’s right back to scoring. [v]

 

Let’s begin by taking a closer look at League of Legends, an online game where two teams compete against each other.  The goal is for players to work together to conquer the other team. However, sometimes a player isn’t playing well and loses their cool. If this happens, they can be banned for a period of time. There is no wiggle room, negotiating, pleading, etc… they are done and have to wait until another day or sometimes days before they can play again. I am not a video game consumer but I have learned a lot from students of all ages about how they learned the unwritten and written rules of video games. The rules and expectations are clear and concise.

In the Transform The Difficult Child book the authors highlight that there is no added energy or emotion when a rule is broken – there is just a result or a consequence. What could that look like at home? When my boys were little they had a hard time keeping their hands to themselves which was particularly challenging on long car drives. My husband and I came up with a rule: if they couldn’t keep their hands to themselves, it didn’t matter who started it, we would pull over the nearest parking lot and the boys would both have to do “x” number of burpees. We also implemented something similar to restaurants. We would set the expectations ahead of time and when they missed the mark, outside we went to do the agreed upon burpees.

Ironically, years later, I would learn that I was helping their attention muscles as well as helping them find a productive way to get the “sillies out.” The rule was super simple and clean. The boys knew what to expect and the consequences were easy to implement. In the beginning, we had to pull over into a lot of parking lots and leave a lot of restaurants. But, soon, the rule became unnecessary.

Here is what you can learn from video games: Set clear expectations ahead of time. Be clear on the consequences, which should be immediate and simple. When tasks have been easily mastered, start to make them more challenging. Most importantly, acknowledge when they complete the tasks. When your kids mess up, as they inevitably will, don’t overreact. Instead, take it in stride, and let them have a “re-do.”

 

 

[i] Atler, Adam, Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping us Hooked (New York, Penguin Press, 2017)

[ii] Howard Glasser and Jennifer Easley. Transforming The Difficult Child Shifting the intense child to new patterns of success and strengthening all children on the inside (US, Howard Glasser and Jennifer Easley, 1889), 14.

[iii] Howard Glasser and Jennifer Easley. Transforming The Difficult Child (US, Howard Glasser and Jennifer Easley, 1889), 14.

[iv] Howard Glasser and Jennifer Easley. Transforming The Difficult Child (US, Howard Glasser and Jennifer Easley, 1889), 14.

[v] Howard Glasser and Jennifer Easley. Transforming The Difficult Child (US, Howard Glasser and Jennifer Easley, 1889), 14.
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Parent Communications: The Magic and Power of the Re-Do!

Sometimes it’s fun to be a parent, I love when I get to challenge my boys and make them think a bit harder to get what they want. One evening they came barreling through the door, speaking with raised voices and saying, “You’re probably going to say, no!”

Oh goodie, I was going to have fun with this one. “Hmm…” I said, “It looks like you did the thinking for me, so… it’s no!” Let the stuttering begin. Teehee!

“Let’s talk about your delivery,” I continued. “How do you think I felt when you came barreling through the door, talking to me with raised voices. Then telling me what I was thinking before you gave me a chance to come up with my own answer?”

So, I asked them if they would like to try again with lowered voices and entering more quietly. I sent them out to try again. They got the voices and execution down but again they said, “you’re probably going to say no.” Again, they had missed the mark, so, the coaching hat went back on. The third time was a charm, In respectful voices they asked “can we go back to the Jones house so we can have pizza, play games, and watch a movie.” We didn’t have anything going on that evening, so it was an easy “yes.”

I have been using this strategy of the re-do or the do-over for years. Who knew it was actually based on science? In the book, The Connected Child, Karyn B. Purvis, PhD., David R Cross, PhD, and Wendy Lyons Simmons discuss the power of the re-do strategy. The Re-Do is especially effective with kids with more complex backgrounds and challenges. The Re-Do gives all kids the opportunity to practice “new behavior in a fun and playful way while building self-esteem through success.”[1]

Not only does it provide your child the opportunity to practice and develop new skills, it also helps activate their motor memory. You are catching them in the moment when things are starting to go off the rails, e.g., inappropriate behavior. When you show them and coach them, and have them practice what the appropriate behavior looks like, you are “encoding competency.” “A Re-Do “erases” the muscle memory of the failed behavior and gives the child the physical and emotional experience of substituting a successful one in its place.”[2]

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to redirect the train so your kids can learn what is expected of them and how to achieve it? With kids for whom self-regulation is a big challenge, this is a nice strategy that will give them the opportunity to correct themselves and learn. I have also found it a very empowering parenting tool. I don’t feel like I am helplessly sitting there watching the train wreck. Instead, I can redirect, and teach which enhances my relationship with my kids and turns the situation into a win-win scenario. Are you ready to test out the Re-Do?

 

[1] [1] Karyn Purvis, PhD., David R Cross, PhD.. and Wendy Lyons Sunshine The Connected Child (McGraw Hill Books, 2017) 97.

[2] [2] Karyn Purvis, PhD., David R Cross, PhD.. and Wendy Lyons Sunshine The Connected Child (McGraw Hill Books, 2017) 98.

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Your Kids & House Plants They Both Have Feelings!

In the 1960’s, Cleve Backster, a retired CIA agent, and the inventor of the polygraph was sitting in his office. He wondered if plants have feelings? He connected his polygraph to his office plant. Then, he proceeded to shower his green leafed companion with both positive and negative thoughts. The plant reacted. The polygraph detected electrical impulses from the plant like that of humans. Later, he proceeded to test all kinds of plants to see if they would have similar reactions. If this story seems too ludicrous for you, check out this youtube from Myth Busters.

If plants are reacting to our thoughts, what happens to our kids when they consistently hear what they are doing wrong instead of what they do right?  Acknowledging and reinforcing the good our kids do is just as important as correcting the not so good.

So where do you start?

Here’s a simple exercise to help get you started. Put 10 pennies in one pocket. Every time you catch your kids doing something right, no matter how small, provide them with some specific praise. When you’ve done this, move one of the pennies to the other pocket. At the end of the day, count how many pennies are in the opposite pocket? If the majority of the pennies haven’t moved to the other side of your pants, “Houston we have a problem.”

Why does positive reinforcement work? Research shows that genuine encouragement reduces a child’s stress levels and creates a safe environment where learning can take place.[1]

So take the time to find opportunities to catch your kids doing something right and show your appreciation. By focusing on what the child is doing right you are increasing the likelihood the behavior you are looking for will be repeated. Experiment for a week and see if your kids’ behavior changes over time. And if you are so inclined, whisper sweet nothings to your house plant and see if it grows a little faster or seems a bit fuller.

 

 

[1] Karyn Purvis, PhD., David R Cross, PhD.. and Wendy Lyons Sunshine The Connected Child (McGraw Hill Books, 2017) 146.

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What does it mean to be “done done?” (Getting kids to finish tasks)

Ugh! Yet again I am greeted with my teenager’s glass in the sink crusted with his morning protein shake and a blender with protein goo floating in it. Yes, I am pleased that my teenager is taking an active interest in his health as he is determined to put on muscle weight. At the same time, I grow weary of the evidence of his efforts.

My teen is like an absent-minded professor and I am determined not to clean up after him. Taking care of their dirty dishes and empty cereal boxes would be easy, but I am not training them toward their future adult selves if I take on this task. It is time to teach him one of my favorite strategies, “Done Done.”

I learned this strategy from a Cognitive Connection training session with Sarah Ward and Kristin Jacobs from their “Get Ready, Do, Done and Get Done” Process. The memorable phrase “Done Done” is an evolution of “Get Done.” I have used this strategy with everyone from youths to business owners.

The basic idea is that while there are multiple steps for any task, most of us think of it as a three-phase process:

  1. Get Ready:
    1. Identify the tools or things you need to do the required task
    2. Figure out what you have to do
  2. Do:
    1. Do the task
  3. Done:
    1. Complete the task

But there is also a magical fourth step — being “Done Done.”

What does it mean to be “Done Done?”

Does being done with breakfast just mean you have finished eating your bowl of cereal? Are you really done when you complete your math worksheet? For adults, are you really done with a meeting when the time is up? The answer to all of these questions is NO. There are still multiple steps to complete until you are actually “Done Done.”

For example, how did I have the conversation about being “Done Done” with respect to his shake? First, I mentioned that I liked seeing him take an active role in his health and well-being by drinking these protein shakes. I then described how part of my job is to teach him what it means to be “done done” with a task.  I also briefly asked him to consider the consequence of not completing the task: dealing with flies, mold, and the longer amount of time it would take to clean up later. Next, we went through the steps of cleaning out the blender and where to set it out to dry, and the need to rinse out the glass and put it in the dishwasher.

What could “done done” look like for your preteens?

Since school is right around the corner, let’s consider what it means to be “done done” with homework. Often, kids who struggle with executive function are notorious for leaving their completed homework at home or forgetting to turn it in all together.

The worksheet has been completed but there are still a few more steps.

Where does the worksheet go? Homework folder? Subject binder? Next we need to put the binder back into the back pack. For those kiddos who forget to turn in the homework, you can use bright sticky notes to remind them. Another idea I just learned is have different colored rubber bands which correlate to their different subjects. If the bands are on the right wrist the assignments in those subjects still need to be turned in. But when the assignments have been turned in the bands can be moved to the left wrist or put on a carbineer that’s attached to a backpack. So the kids are “done done” only when the band has been transferred.

For the little ones

For your little kids you can really have some fun with teaching the final steps of what it means to be “done done” with toys. Let your creative juices flow.

Remember, first we have to teach them what has to be done. Then, we need to do the steps with them and after that, let them do it independently — while we stand nearby. Eventually, we can give verbal reminders like, “do you remember what to do when you are done with your toys?” Even better, we can add visual cues. Here are a couple ideas about what that can look like:

  • A photo (or drawing) of your child playing with their toys
  • A second photo/drawing of them putting away the toys
  • The final photo/drawing of what it looks like when all the toys are neatly put away.

Now you can point to the pictures and they have a reference point. You could have their favorite stuffed animal participate and be the supervisor featured in every picture.

Perspective

It’s important to consider where you are starting from. You are looking for the small victories, and a willingness to make an effort, no matter how small. As parents, you will have to work extra hard to find the half full side of the glass, especially on those days where you are tired and exhausted. Trust me, I too have to remember this every day.

At the end of the day, your kids need some positive reinforcement to continue to make progress versus never feeling like anything is good enough.

Being a parent is about teaching, training and coaching through the process. Learning does not happen by accident. It requires understanding and a whole lot of practice, learning to do it poorly and building from there. We all started getting things “done done” somewhere.

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Wear Your Work: Dirty Jobs Teach Lessons

I spent a big portion of my life working in barns and doing manual labor. I always marveled at how people stayed so clean at horse shows or at the barn. I always came home covered in dirt and you knew where I had been; by the eau’d horse perfume. When I was dating my husband, he always joked “how I wore my work.” He was in awe how filthy I got. Even now, when I clean I become covered in dirt. To me, there is a sense of satisfaction that I know I was fully committed and invested in that particular project.

When you work with your hands, you can see what you have accomplished. To this day, I love seeing a barn aisle knowing that the stalls are clean and every blanket and halter is where it should be. As I raise my boys, I am always looking for opportunities for them to “wear their work,” so they too can experience their version of satisfaction. Ironically, teaching your kids how to do the simple task of washing a car or sweeping a porch is developing executive skills.  In most cases, there is an immediate feedback loop of getting to see the results of your labor.

 

Here are some of my favorite examples of dirty jobs:

When my eldest was 9, he participated in a half-day baseball camp while his brother was in a full day camp.  I worked from home and wasn’t going to let him play video games for the remaining half of the day. I love clean vehicles, so I decided that cleaning my truck was a perfect job for him. I wasn’t worried about him damaging my F-150, because it had close to 200k miles and plenty of bumps and bruises. I handed him the hose, a bucket, soap, and sponge and said ‘go to it.’ My husband was convinced the job wouldn’t take him long. Four hours later, he was done. How my husband had underestimated him!

Watching my 9-year-old was like watching a situation comedy on TV. He would squirt the water into the air out of the hose, and become absolutely drenched. He would switch between slapping the truck with the sponge and actually using it. I had a hard time not laughing on my conference calls. But I just let him figure it out. He was soaking wet, covered in soap and even managed a dirt mustache.  Upon inspection, he had missed some spots and had to redo his work but, at the end of the day, he was proud of what he had accomplished.

So far, the best dirty job, I found was when both boys were in middle school. They were given the job of removing a year’s worth of old hay under some pallets to get ready for a new delivery of hay at a local horse farm. They would have to rack huge piles of moldy old hay and then drive a small gator so they could dump it. Then, they had to clean out and sort out the pallets, removing any that were damaged beyond repair.

Why I loved this job: they could do it relatively unsupervised, they were able to drive farm equipment, which they loved. They had to figure out how they were going to work together because they were being paid by the job and it was a huge job. It was hot, so they had to learn what to pack and to ask the owners if they needed more water or drinks. Those boys worked hard, and every time I picked them up they were filthy and a bit stinky. Each day, they would show me what they did for the day and talk about what was easy and hard. At the end of the job, they were both proud of their effort. Both said it was very hard and they actually didn’t mind the work. No, they weren’t interested in it as a permanent job.

So many of our students are struggling with executive function skills, taking the steps to complete projects. Paula Moraine in her book, Helping Students Take Control of Everyday Executive Functions, The Attention Fix, says that the process of learning is never a straight line from lesson to achievement. Instead, “learning requires trial and error, repetition, evaluation, and trying again.”

By doing dirty jobs, you are using the executive function skills of having to figure out how you get started, what’s next and what tools you need. (Organization and planning.)  This also gives your kids the chance to be responsible and in control of how and what they do. (Self-regulation and impulse control)

The beauty of summer is that the sky is blue and the sun is shining. What tasks or projects can your kids do where they can be outside accomplishing something with their hands. It doesn’t need to be perfect, actuality it should be far from it. Instead, the job should be about what they are accomplishing on their own and doing for themselves. You too can have some great entertainment as your son or daughter washes your car or pulls weeds in the backyard. Just make sure it’s not your favorite hydrangeas or a brand-new car. I have lost a multitude of flowers in the process, because I forgot to point them out and the kids assumed they were weeds. Oops.

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The Counter-Intuitive Turtle

I was cruising down a two-lane road on my bike one Friday evening and noticed a little turtle on the side to my right. The little critter was determined to cross the road. There was plenty of traffic and trucks thundering down the road so I decided to do a U-turn and intervene. Every critter counts after all, and I knew the odds were against this one surviving the precarious crossing. I would later learn from my friend Cameron Young, a local snake and reptile conservationist and executive director of The Nature Lab, that my little friend was a female paint turtle. Moving forward, I’ll call her Betsy.

I approached Betsy after carefully laying down my bike and waddling like a penguin over in my bike shoes to pick her up. She began to hide in her shell, which is what I was expecting. As I reached down she made a run for it. I was shocked. Turtles aren’t supposed to run! I thought of walking away and letting her fend for herself but instead, I ran after her which is no easy task in bike shoes. I leaned into my determination and grabbed onto Betsy and was astonished as her little legs frantically kicked against the air and her nails scraped against my fingers. We were off, as I awkwardly walked her across the busy road. When I let her go far from harms way, I realized the rest was out of my control and hoped I had done the right thing. But I knew my buddy Cameron would set me straight.

First, Cameron popped my bubble that turtles hide in their shell when confronted by danger. He told me that turtles, or at least the paint variety, often run. The better news, though, was that I had done the right thing. Saving Betsy was crucial. Based on the time of day, she was most likely off to nest and lay her eggs.  With such low survival rates for baby turtles, it is essential to help female adult turtles keep on laying eggs so we can maintain a diverse eco-system.

Even though I had thought Betsy was behaving counterintuitively when she ran, she was just reacting based on instinct. Ironically, I was the one who had reacted counterintuitively by holding on and by being so determined to see her safely across the road even though she had protested my actions.

 

But, sometimes, there is value in being counterintuitive.

 

In Tyler Durman’s 2015 book, Counterintuitive, he talks about how teenagers aren’t finished on the inside and how it takes a lot of “counterintuitive” reasoning to love and raise a teenager well.

For example, our job as parents is to provide safety and guidance even when our teenagers want more freedom. Most teenagers are not ready for total freedom, as “they’re not done on the inside.”  Teenagers, Durman says, “look to the behavior of the adults in their life to provide reassurance that everything is going to be okay. When the inner conflict between their desire for independence and their need to feel safe confuses parents, teenagers feel more fear, which can lead to anger and a new kind of testing.”

He also discusses how teenagers, “don’t test to win.” When your teen tests you and you’re passive, it is proof that your teen is more powerful than you. Teens fear this discovery. Tyler tells the story of going to check a single-wall construction house to ensure it wasn’t infested with termites. He walked around the structure pushing at it with a mallet because he wanted to ensure the walls were stronger then he was.  “[Teens] are not testing us because they want us to give in,” he says. “They’re testing because their deeper need is to find reassurance we won’t.” By providing clear boundaries you are providing your teens with security knowing that the walls are solid.

In my house there are no phones in the bedrooms. If a phone mysteriously finds its way upstairs, the kids lose the phone the next day. I have heard all the excuses: “I had to show my brother something and I forgot to bring it down. I swear I wasn’t on it.” I do twinge with a moment of weakness but then I remember that this rule is one of our non-negotiables. I simply say, “Our rule is no phones in the bedroom so please hand me your phone and you can try again tomorrow.” All teenagers long for the adults in their lives to stand behind the things they say with consistent strength. And when we do, they will respect us, even when they disagree with our standards.

When your kids push, they need you to stand and lean into your core values and stay consistent with your non-negotiables. I was determined to get Betsy across the road even though her little legs were battering against my fingers. I stayed true to my value of protecting nature and doing my best to make a positive impact even though Betsy would never say thank you.

But sticking by your teens as they bang and push the walls to make sure you are stronger than they are is not an easy task. Modeling vulnerability, dealing with failure, and communicating with your teen is a big part of getting them to the other side of the busy street.  Share your imperfections, your weaknesses and be willing to say things like: “I’m sorry.” Or, “I blew it.”

One of the greatest challenges is to let go and trust our kids to make good decisions.  .  “Like the rest of us, teenagers need a safe place to run when they fail,” Durman says. “They will run somewhere, and the way the adults in their lives respond to failure will determine if they run towards us or away from us.”  A big part of your teens’ development is the ability to make mistakes and learn from them and know that this process is just part of life. Parents make mistakes and learn from them too so don’t be afraid to model this behavior for your teens. It’s about taking ownership of the good, the great, and the not-so-pretty.

Keep being an imperfect human and do the best you can for your kids while you love them through their tweens and teen years. Parenting is a constant evolution and takes patience and time. Their future 30-year-old selves will thank you.

 

 

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Managing Screen Time in the Summer

As a child during summer break, my challenge was to get home before dark. We’d be outside for hours exploring the woods nearby and playing in parks, riding bikes, swimming, and hanging out outside with friends…in person…not through a headset.  Now that I’m a parent, the challenge is often to get the kids to play outside. They still like to bike, swim, and play with friends, but it’s often after negotiating how much screen time they will get after an outdoor activity.  So, how do we encourage more outdoor time and stop battling all summer over technology? Delaney Ruston, M.D., and Screenagers’ Filmmaker has some ideas.

  1. Summer Projects. Come up with a couple specific things.
  2. Set screen time limits and/or encourage more pro-social games.
  3. House help. Fix things, paint things, and help with the cooking and household chores.

“The longest longitudinal study of humans ever conducted is called the Harvard Grant Study. It found that professional success in life, which is what we want for our kids, that professional success in life comes from having done chores as a kid, and the earlier you started, the better, that a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-pitch-in mindset, a mindset that says, there’s some unpleasant work, someone’s got to do it, it might as well be me…I will contribute my effort to the betterment of the whole, that that’s what gets you ahead in the workplace.” ~ Julie Lythcott Smith, former Stanford University Dean of Freshmen, TED Talk.

  1. Creative technology projects like create your own music or movie or learn how to program.
  2. Read! Check out the Screenagers’ website for a list of pre-teen and teen books.

 

And, so how do we get our kids to try out these ideas? Dr. Delaney suggests we start the conversation with these questions:

  • What are 2 things you would like to accomplish this summer?
  • Is there a new skill, like video editing or creating music or coding that you might be interested in learning more about?
  • How much time do you think is reasonable per day this summer for you to spend doing things like playing video games or scrolling social media?
  • What “house help” projects can you come up with that would teach you a skill you are interested in—or at least mildly interested in? Or at least not completely dreading?

Visit Screenagers to read the full text and find more ideas on How To Manage Screen Time This Summer.

 

Photo by Victoria Heath on Unsplash

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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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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!”

 

Hyperlinks:

The Go-Giver Podcast with Bob Burg https://thegogiver.com/2018/04/109-attention-revolution-neen-james/

PMI Symposium http://pmimilehi.org/content.php?page=Symposium

Listen with your eyes https://neenjames.com/pay-attention-listening/

IGen – https://www.amazon.com/iGen-Super-Connected-Rebellious-Happy-Adulthood/dp/1501151983/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1524338626&sr=8-1&keywords=igen+twenge

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