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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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Mindful Parent to Teacher Communications – Lessons Learned

Sometimes keeping up on school emails, newsletters, permissions slips, activity sign-ups, announcements, and checking data in the online student tracking system, the Parent Portal, can seem a little overwhelming for parents. As a working mom with two active children in two different schools, I often find myself skimming communications from both schools between running from one activity to the next. If I have questions about grades or activities or something that happened at school, I quickly send an email to a teacher.

In the past, a rushed email to a teacher may have come off as impatient or judgmental, when it was more likely just a quick message without much thought put into it at all and sent between a meeting at work, pick up from basketball practice and a grocery store run. I’ve learned over the years to take a few extra moments and slow down and to be more thoughtful in my communications with teachers. I’ve found a few changes in my communication attitude and approach have led to more positive outcomes for my children, their teachers, and me.

Easy ways I’ve found to improve my communications with teachers include: staying positive, checking tone in emails, making appointments, and being open to listening to different perspectives.  

Daniel Patterson is a former teacher and school administrator turned parenting coach. He includes many of the same ideas on how to improve parent-teacher communications in a recent blog post Strategies for Parent-School Communications. Some of Daniel’s key parent-teacher communications strategies include: staying optimistic, respecting hierarchy, making appointments, being direct, considering threats, holding children accountable for their actions.

I’ve tried a few of these strategies over the years and found that every teacher I’ve talked with has the same goals in mind for my children: challenge them to do their best and support them in reaching their full potential.  We can all agree that our great teachers are underpaid for the time and effort they put into their jobs as they meet with parents, plan class time, grade papers and analyze test scores, often outside of school hours. Raising teachers’ salaries and lightening their workload is not something I can do today. However, I’ve learned that just taking a few extra moments and being more mindful in my communications with teachers goes a long way in supporting and respecting their work. 

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Changing Traditions and The Death of the Chocolate Santa Clause

The chocolate Santa Clause first poked his head out of my stocking in 1965. All you could see was that shiny, silvery red head just above those glinty Santa eyes. He’s appeared in my stocking every year since then. That’s 48 years of Santa heads peering out at me. There won’t be one there this year. My family informed me that it is a waste of time, we already have too many sweets around the house during the holidays that are a lot better. (I am willing to concede the second half of this argument but, REALLY, I did not know there was such a thing as too many sweets).

I’ve reluctantly conceded. Santa will be missed.

Tradition is a hard thing to break. Have you ever noticed how “traditions” are romanticized when you talk about personal traditions but professional traditions can be seen as pejorative; as in “mired in old traditions”? I don’t think it is that simple. As a boss when do you give up on doing things the way they’ve always been done? The question is not easy to answer.

Tradition reinforces culture, creates a foundation. I don’t know if the story attributed to Pablo Picasso is true, but it is rumored that he said you must first learn to paint like the masters before you can extend the boundaries of your own art.

As a school communications entrepreneur I continuously challenge myself and my customers to extend the boundaries of their art. So maybe I shouldn’t really complain that the “art” of great Christmas Chocolate has moved beyond stale milk chocolate Santas.

I am going to begin a tradition of dark chocolate peppermint bark.

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Parent portal got you down?

 

 

Ah, the parent portal!   In theory, it offers you insight into what’s going on in your student’s academic life. The portal tells you whether your student is turning in their homework, doing okay on their tests and quizzes, going to class, etc.  You have all of the information to course correct if things have gone off track. Such a useful tool and it seems so logical and pragmatic. Oh, if it was only that simple!

Instead, going through the portal often turns into an anxious, panic ridden experience. Missing assignments, a few failed tests and your mind starts racing with negative thoughts and questions. Then the chronic checking begins. It’s like somehow if you check the portal multiple times a day, things will automagically change.  Then your student comes home and boom, the inquisition begins and she slumps in her chair or goes on the defensive.  Sound familiar?

The picture I’m painting is somewhat exaggerated but my goal is to point out that the trap we often fall into as parents of being reactive and going on the attack is not effective and damaging to your relationship. With the portal, we have more information than ever before, almost in real time, regarding the progress our students are making in school.  This sets up more opportunities than ever before for misunderstandings and conflict. As a result, we need to take what we find on the portal with a grain of salt and use it as a tool.

Have I held my breath when I checked my own kid’s portal? Absolutely! With my youngest son, school has never come easy, but hard work and reading tutors helped through middle school and he was doing well.  With the transition to ninth grade and high school however, we were very aware of the challenges this might bring. We wanted to provide him with the opportunity to succeed on his own but the portal revealed quickly that things were getting out of control, especially in science. Lots of missing assignments and low quiz and test scores.  So, my husband and I started to investigate by talking to him and asking, “What’s up?”  He had given up. He didn’t understand what was going on in class as the lectures were too fast. He wasn’t taking notes and he didn’t have a book to reference. Once he fell behind, he felt he couldn’t catch up and just couldn’t see that trying at this point would make a difference. Fortunately, we caught this early and got him support; a text book and a tutor. We also had him do his homework in the kitchen to avoid procrastination. There was always someone around to check in. He slowly dug himself out of the hole.  We still weren’t sure he was going to pass by the end of the semester so we had summer school lined up and ready to go just in case. Failing and retaking a class offers a valuable life lesson and opportunity to teach your student that it’s what they do with failure that matters.

When reviewing your student’s portal, here are some ways to look for the story behind the grade.  Remember, kids do well if they can and if they are not, there are lacking or lagging skills (Dr. Ross Green).

  • When you see the grade, avoid jumping to conclusions, the grade is the symptom not the root of the problem.
  • Sometimes the portal isn’t always updated; some teachers grade faster than others.
  • Look at effort, your student may be doing the work and just struggling on tests and quizzes.
  • Look at the classes that are going well. This is a great time to receive some student perspective on the positive

As parents, we have the challenge of not letting our emotions take over.  When your student is struggling, find a way to step back and look at the situation rationally.   If you are fraught with emotion, go for a run or workout to blow off some steam before talking about it. You need to be calm and level headed so you can have a productive dialogue and problem solve. You will be doing a lot of listening and asking questions. If you’re driving everything and your student isn’t brainstorming solutions, she isn’t learning anything and it won’t stick.

If your student isn’t sure why the portal shows she’s doing so poorly, this is also a great opportunity to teach self-advocacy skills. Have him reach out to his teacher to figure out what’s going on and work together to improve the process. Depending on her confidence level, you might have her start with an e-mail. If she is comfortable talking to the teacher after class, even better.  You can always follow up with an e-mail of your own to make sure he followed through.

The parent portal is a great tool that allows you to monitor progress and catch issues early.  The key is how you engage your student with that information to make the conversation constructive and productive.  The big tip is it’s about listening, asking questions, and collaborative problem solving.  It’s ok if you don’t have all the answers. When you are just as clueless about what to do as they are, laugh about it and let them know it’s not just them. Just breath and embrace the opportunity to figure things out together.

 

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Helping Kids Get Organized

We have a guest post on our blog today from Roxanne Turner.  Roxanne is a Board Certified Life Coach with extensive training in ADHD and executive functioning, focusing on the process of getting things done. Today she writes about Organization: Helping kids learn how to organize.

Organization! By; Roxanne Turner
When I was little, my favorite thing about school was getting new supplies at the beginning of each year. I loved the new pens, folders, notebooks and getting to figure out how I was going to organize my stuff throughout the year. Each semester offered an opportunity to make changes.  Alas, I was in the minority.  To say most kids struggle with organization is an understatement.  It is a skill that must be learned and practiced.

Knowing their assignments, when they are due, and the resources needed to complete them is over half the battle to being successful in school.  Being organized is the key to that part of the puzzle.  Most kids know how to do the work, but struggle keeping track of everything or knowing where to start.  As parents, our role is to provide the support our kids need without doing the work for them.

So where do we start?  First, kids need to relate to the concept and understand what’s in it for them.  Initially, being organized takes time and effort so we need to reframe the concept so they understand the benefits:  Homework gets done faster, more free time for activities such as sports or video games, less frustration, etc.

Next, tap into how your student organizes things they are interested in such as music, video games, Apps, etc.   Organization comes more naturally when we are passionate about something so leverage that to draw parallels to school work and find tools that work for your student.  Have a conversation with your student to discover what they like about how they organize their things and what works for them.

With my son I gained some interesting insight when organizing his closet. First, I learned he had a strong aversion to hangers so we went out and bought a dresser. This worked much better for him but as he started to put his clothes away I stared in confusion as he put his underwear and socks in the bottom drawer, then his pants/shorts in the next drawer, and finally shirts in the top drawer. This was backwards from how I would have done it but he explained, “I put the clothes in as I get dressed, makes more sense to start from the bottom up.” Once he had the right tool (dresser), putting away and organizing his clothes in a way that made sense to him was no problem.  That information was useful when it came to organizing his school papers.

There are three different kinds of organizational styles: visual, spatial, and chronological.  Here are some clues to what your student’s style might be:

Visual Organizers:

  • Did you see my back pack?
  • When doing homework puts all the items out in front of them

Spatial:

  • Do you know where I put my backpack?
  • Clears off the area when doing work

Chronological:

  • Do you know when I last had my back pack?
  • Stacks homework in a certain order before or after completing an assignment

With a basic understanding of the style or combination of styles your student demonstrates, you can provide more effective solutions. Visual organizers like color coding and other visual cues. Spatial organizers need to have all supplies within reach when doing schoolwork, and a clean work area that “feels good” to them. The chronological organizer can remember sequential steps in some sort of order and keep stacks of paper on their desks that may appear messy.

There is no magic cure for the chronically disorganized. To begin to develop a system, it starts with questions like:  “What do you think about three ring binders?” “How about color coded folders, one color for each class?”  “Do you want a dedicated homework folder, one side for homework to work on and the other for homework to turn in?“

Once you have some input from your student regarding what they like and don’t like, now you get to experiment with different tools and work together to create that daily/weekly 5-10 minute routine to maintain their systems. If time is not being invested consistently, it makes it difficult to see what is and isn’t working. It takes time but stick with it. Small gradual changes at first translate to big changes over the long haul.

Through these conversations, your student will be providing their input and increasing their personal investment. Keep in mind your system may not work for them.  You can use your system as a starting point but if they say no to your ideas, that’s ok and will usually get them thinking about what might work for them.   When you head off to the store, have them take the lead. Don’t be discouraged if they grumble, mumble, and possibly roll their eyes at first. Just provide a friendly reminder about what’s in it for them. A good one to use is that it will get you off their back.

Finding the right solution for your student is an evolution as you and your student reflect on what’s working and what’s not.  The final step for you is to ensure repetition and consistency.  Studies show that it takes 66 to 264 repetitions (Dr. Phillippa Lally, psychology researcher at University College London ) to develop (good) habits.  Don’t expect to have a conversation, setup some tools and see your student become organized.  It will take constructive reminders and follow up (no yelling or accusations) to make it stick.  Be patient, they will get there.

 

Book reference: Organizing the Disorganized Child by Martin Kuschner, M.D. & Marcella Moran, M.A., L.M.H.C

Roxanne Turner, PmP, BCC (CCE Board Certified Coach)

Photo by Luke Palmer on Unsplash

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