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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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14 Things Successful People Do Before Breakfast

 

At the world economic forum, one topic discussed was what successful people have in common with their schedules. Looking at the list, one thing is certain, they get up early and take advantage of every second. Another clear item is that they take time for themselves with exercise, family and “passion projects” high up on the list.

Looking at this list, it reminds me of the schedules many school Principals work under. Although to make it complete for them, you have to add another list of the 14 Things School Principals do After Dinner!

The School Communications agency gets up before dawn and wants to help your school be successful. Contact us to find out more about how we can make the school’s parent communications newsletter work for 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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Summer tips & tricks for readers

School is almost out and everyone is excited about the prospect of no more homework. Alas, summer reading is the new homework. For some of your kids that means intensive reading interventions; for others, it means setting an intention to read several days a week.

Sometimes, summer reading creates its own intense range of emotions if your child is struggling with a summer reading assignment. Your kids may tell you that they just want to relax and that reading encroaches on their “me” time.

I have received some amazing guidance and resources from reading specialists, special education teachers, and even from my kids’ high school teachers as to what my job as parent is in supporting my kids in reading and writing.

Here is what they suggest:

Your job is to make reading fun. Let the specialist do the hard stuff, which includes sounding out words. I know that advice was music to my ears. I always had a hard time sounding out words because English was my second language and as a result of my own dyslexia. I am only too happy to leave sounding out to the professionals!

Find books that are of interest and appeal to your kids, here are some favorites of my kids:

  • Zach Files
  • Brandon Mull series
  • Ghost / Marvel Comics– I grew up loving comic books (This is how I fell in love with reading) so my youngest and I read them together

Read aloud to your kids. My husband has a knack for doing voices, which the kids loved. I also tried recreating voices for my kids, but at the end of the day their Dad was the one with that talent.

Use technology for extra help. If your kid picks a book that might be above his/ her grade level, no worries. While your kid reads let them listen to the audio. You can use tools like Audible or Learning Ally. If there was a movie based on the book, use the movie as a reward for completing the book.  We could then compare and contrast the two media, which deepened the learning.

Set expectations for the following day and review them with your kids. Write them out. Block out where and what they are doing. If there is an opportunity for choice, ask your kids “would you prefer to read at 9 am or 7 pm” and then block the activity on the calendar. Your job is to make sure they follow through.

Set reasonable time frames for your kids, taking their age into account. If they are young a minimum time might be 10 or 15 minutes. They can keep going or stop. If they chose to stop, avoid coaxing. When you attempt to convince your kid to keep reading you have changed the rules on them and you have made life a lot harder for yourself the next day.

For older kids, first review what they have to read and learn and how long it will take to complete. I like to print out a calendar and have them mark in pencil:

  • Date school starts back up?
  • What days are out-of-the-question for reading?
  • What day do they want to start?

Then look at the book and the number of pages. Are they going to break it down by time or pages per day? Plot out how many days it will take on the calendar to complete all of the reading.  This visual can be very helpful for kids who have unrealistic expectations of the time required and help avoid procrastination.

At this stage in the game, you have an advantage because they have created a plan, which you can point to throughout the summer.

Of course, the temptation to procrastinate is still there.  Your job is to reinforce their plan, not to nag.   If they are behind, have them re-draw the calendar to visualize how the work is piling up.

Be patient and be realistic with your expectations. In the beginning, reading may feel like a chore to them. Just keep finding ways to make it fun. Most of all, model the behavior you are seeking. Are you reading or listening to audiobooks? If your kid happens to have a favorite author ask them if they would recommend the book to you. If they do I encourage you to read it. Yes, sometimes I had to work to get through the book, but the reward of getting to talk about it and understand their world always makes the exercise worthwhile.

 

Photo by Lê Tân 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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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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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 Understood.org 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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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 rawpixel.com on Unsplash)

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Want a different outcome? Start with communication basics

Communication skills matter. Yet when it comes to our loved ones, sometimes we forget how to do it. Our choice of words, tone, and body language are the difference between productive conversations and the explosive ones where everybody shuts down.   We sometimes forget that our kids, even the teenage variety, are still children. They are not small adults. It falls on us to teach them effective communications skills by modeling the correct behavior. Some kids can be more challenging than others but when our conversations are full of emotion, no one is listening or learning. So where do we start to ensure the communication basics are always top of mind?

Step one is dealing with feelings. Listen to and acknowledge your child’s feelings, don’t dismiss them, even if you don’t understand them. As Elaine Mazlish explains in her book How to Talk so Teens will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk, you have a better chance of being heard if you start by letting your kids know they have been heard. This is actually the case for adults too.  Acknowledging your kids’ feelings creates a safe place for them to talk by letting them know you are in their corner. This can be hard to do when they are irrational, acting out, or being disrespectful, but that’s when it’s most important keep ourselves from escalating and making things worse.  These behaviors are merely symptoms of an underlying problem or frustration they are dealing with but can’t figure out how to communicate.

Getting things done

Ok, so I have heard and acknowledged my child’s feelings, now what? As you know sometimes it’s just about getting things done like chores or participating in packing for a trip. It is vital that our kids learn the skills of taking care of themselves, their surroundings, and helping out their family.  Here are some more tips from How to Talk so Teens will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk  that both my husband and I utilize with our teens which have made a positive impact in our family dynamic:

  1. Describe the problem and leave the accusing comments at the door. Last summer we entrusted the boys with the job of painting the fence in the backyard.  Instead of using the utility sink in the basement, they decided to clean their brushes in the bathroom.  Needless to say, there was paint splattered on the walls, floor, counters, and sink. I wanted to say “What is wrong with you?  Look at the mess you made!  That wasn’t very smart.”  Instead I pointed out the mess, calmly explained that the bathroom is not where we clean paint brushes and asked how they would rectify the situation. They both agreed to clean up their mess and use the utility sink in the future.  No fuss, no muss and they happily finished the job with no further incidents.
  2. Say it with a word or a gesture. Less is more. In our house, it can consist of just saying: “Sam, dishes” after which Sam usually says “Oh, yeah” and then puts his dishes away. I have explained why putting the dishes away is important before but the teenage brain likes to forget.  There’s no point rehashing the why and getting into a lengthy exchange that just results in eye rolls and unnecessary animosity.    A quick reminder is all that’s necessary and its mission accomplished.  With all the repetition, he has learned breakfast isn’t over till you put your dishes away.
  3. Describe what you feel without attacking or mocking your student. We have a non-negotiable rule in our house that there are no phones in the bedroom at night, yet somehow my youngest “accidentally” brought his to bed a few times one week recently. This really pushes my buttons because I consider this sneaky and deceitful. So I told him that I was upset and felt that finding his phone again in the bedroom made me not trust him. He proceeded to explain that he had to show his brother something and then forgot to bring his phone back downstairs. My response was simply, “Ok, but that doesn’t change the rule of no phones in the bedroom when it’s time to go to sleep. My job is follow through and if I make exceptions, what’s the point of the rule.” He understood how I felt and handed over the phone and that was it. In this case, by explaining how his actions impacted me before simply taking his phone, we avoided certain conflict and hard feelings. Moving forward the phone stayed in the kitchen when he went to bed.

Communication is an art form that when perfected elicits positive relationships with those around us.  When spoken to with respect, kindness, and patience, we are fulfilled and open to one another. Some days I am better than others in modeling this behavior. When I misstep, I take a breath, apologize if I bungled it, and try again. By sticking to the basics we build a connection with our kids instead of alienating them. The goal is that they know they can come to us for anything when life hits them hard. What can you do to improve to the dialogue with your kids so you too can have better results?

 

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

 

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