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SchoolFamily Voices

Join our bloggers as they share their experiences on the challenges and joys of helping children succeed in school.

Tips To Help Develop Responsibility in Your Kids

All parents want to raise their kids to be  self-reliant, hard-working, successful adults. It is not easy to do, because to do so children must take responsibility for their own actions. It is difficult to watch a child suffering the consequences he deserves. Here are some tips that can help you decide what is best for your child.

  • Give your child certain chores to do every day at home. If you have a family pet, it can be her job to take care of it. She can keep her own room clean or help with laundry. Whether you decide to give her an allowance for her part of the work is up to you. The point is that she has certain contributions to family life that everyone can count on her to do.
  • If your child leaves his homework on the printer at home, let him suffer the consequences for his actions. He will likely receive a lowered grade for turning it in late, or perhaps he will have to do it over at school. Regardless, if you rescue him every time he forgets something, he will learn that he really does not have to remember anything for himself. I have personally witnessed parents who make multiple trips to school to bring things to their children. These kids often do not get any better at remembering what they need!
  • Take time as a family to contribute to the greater community. Helping out at the local food bank, helping to clean up a playground, or visiting residents at a nursing home can teach children that they can make life better for others. This helps them to appreciate their own situation and assume responsibility for taking care of what they have. It also develops empathy for others which is a key step towards emotional maturity.


Help your child grow into a responsible adult. Tell him how much you love him every single day, and tell him that is why you are not going to rescue him every time he fails to take what he needs to school. Hold him accountable for doing his chores. Plan some community service time together. Raising children is difficult, but these tips can help your child become a pleasant, caring, responsible teen and an independent, reliable adult.

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Help Your Daughter Deal With "Mean Girls"

Sometimes adolescent girls can be mean to one another. I am not certain why this happens. My mother always said it was because they are jealous. Perhaps so, but whatever the reason for it, it can really hurt. It especially hurts when girls are already feeling bad about themselves. The most effective way to deal with this type of bullying is with humor. This can be difficult, but with practice at home, your daughter can learn to deal with it.

If the “mean girl” says “OMG, look at those shoes. Can you believe she wears those to school?” within your daughter's earshot, your daughter can respond, “You think these are bad? You should see the ones my mom just bought for me!” This should be said in a friendly way with a smile. The worst thing to do is to look upset. This is what the bully wants to see. If the bully cannot upset her, your daughter is no fun as a target. I tell my students to pretend they are not hurt by it, and if they feel like crying they should go somewhere private.

This sounds easy to do, but it is not. This is why you need to practice with your daughter at home. Ask your daughter what comments the bully is making to her. Together come up with some humorous comebacks. (“Talk to the hand.”— “You think so, too?”— “I thought it seemed crazy, too! My sister talked me into it.”) Then, practice the lines. You say the bully’s comments and get her to practice what and how to say her response. If she has been through it several times at home, it is easier to actually do it when under duress at school.

There are other forms of bullying that need a different response, but humor is a great way to deal with hurtful comments. If the bullying is more serious, coach your daughter to seek help from trusted adults at school. No child should feel unsafe at school.

You might be interested in reading a related blog, Simple Tips to Help Kids Communicate Better.

 

> Bullying: How Parents Can Fight Back

> If Your Child Is the Bully

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Honesty Is a Vital Part of Character

Ben Lamm, a vice president at Capital One, spoke last week at the West Point Ethics and Leadership Conference in Richmond, Va. He emphasized the importance of honesty in the workplace. He called honesty a “non-negotiable,” and went on to give some examples that illustrated how important it is to him in his day-to-day dealings with employees. One example resulted in an employee losing his job. This made me think about the responsibility parents and teachers have to teach honesty and integrity to our children.

Teaching children to be honest should be simple, yet it is not as easy as it seems. Last Christmas, I gave my grandson a gift that he did not like. I was a little surprised when he told me he did not want it. My daughter and I were talking about it afterward, and we realized how difficult it is to teach a child how to be polite yet truthful.

In school, students often say they did their homework but left it at home. I cannot tell whether they are being honest with me or not. If they make a habit of this, I require them to do it over in their study hall. It is hard for me to trust them in other situations that are even more important, such as when taking a test. I explain this loss of trust to these students in the hope that they will begin to see the importance of always telling the truth. I would much rather that they tell me they did not do the work no matter what the reason is.

This emphasis on honesty has to start and be reinforced at home. Teachers and parents need to work together on this most important character trait. There are many in the college and workplace who agree with Lamm’s words.

For more on this important topic, read The Parent-Teacher Partnership: A Critical Connection.

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Modeling Respect Leads to School Success

When parents teach young children to talk, listen, and act with respect, they are clearly setting a standard for school success. In our classroom we have five simple class rules. They are:

  • quiet hands
  • quiet feet
  • quiet lips
  • eyes on the speaker (indicating that it’s not always the teacher, sometimes it’s another student)
  • be respectful and kind


Together we brainstorm as to what being “respectful” is all about—and that’s something parents can easily model and practice at home.

One easy way to practice this is to include the word “respect” when setting rules and informal guidelines at home. For example:

  • “We respect our possessions by neatly folding our clothes and cleaning up the mess when we are finished an activity.”
  • If a child demands, “I want a cookie,” gently remind him, “Would you like to ask that again respectfully?” (Please may I have a cookie?)
  • Model how to disagree respectfully. “I know that your favorite board game is Chutes and Ladders, but my favorite one is Scrabble Jr. I like that one better because it helps with spelling. I agree to play your favorite tonight and let’s play mine on Saturday night.” You’re subtly teaching that it is perfectly fine to disagree with someone, and there is always a way to work things out.


When you model giving and getting respect in your everyday family life, children will naturally incorporate this into their school career and beyond.

 

> The Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning

> Social and Emotional Article Archive

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Make the Most of Family Meals

Time spent enjoying family meals can pay off in stronger connections. When possible, it is important to sit down together to talk and find out how everyone is. It's also a time when your children learn manners and respectful behavior toward one another.

Families can really benefit when dinnertime is established as a family value. Remember, too, that your children learn the most by watching what you do. Here are some suggestions for making family meals more meaningful.

First, it can be helpful to establish a “no phones” rule for dinner time. Unless there is an emergency, calls can wait until everyone is finished eating. Teens in particular seem to be absorbed by their phones at all times. But mealtime should be an occasion when you ask open-ended questions and discuss what is happening in each person’s life. (See Getting Teens To Open Up  if you need ideas for how to do this.)

Second, practice basic table manners together. I can remember my mother reminding me to chew with my mouth closed, to make sure there is plenty to go around before taking a second roll, or to ask politely for someone to pass what you need rather than reaching over their plate. These fundamental skills are not taught anywhere else, and poor manners can hurt your child socially and, at some point, professionally.

Spending time together like this brings a family closer. Even during adolescence, when teens act like they don’t want to be a part of the family, they really do need you to show how much you care about them. Most of us are so busy there is very little time for this kind of interaction. I encourage you to sit down together to eat a meal at least once each day. Of course, every family has weeks when activities and homework make dining together difficult. On those hectic days, find other ways to connect, like playing a game in the evening or even just sitting together and talking.

 

> Make Family Meals Count

> Recipes for Quick and Easy Weeknight Dinners

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Don't Worry—Your Teen Is Probably Normal

Several times in the last couple of years, parents have asked for a conference with me. I am always happy to meet with parents, because I see myself as a partner with them to help take care of their child. What these parents really wanted to know was whether the things they were seeing happen with their child were normal. Developmental psychology textbooks don’t really answer the specific questions they asked. The books explain that the teen years are when children begin the process of turning from children into adults, but they often fail to tell you what to expect in terms of family dynamics.

Here are some FAQs about adolescents in middle and high school.

Is it normal that my child doesn’t want to spend time with the family? Your child wants to be independent from you. Every chance he gets, he will isolate himself in his bedroom and play video games, watch television, text friends, or do a myriad of other things that don’t include the rest of the family. The truth is, he still needs you desperately. Physically, he looks like an adult, but he is still a child in many ways.

Why does my child argue with just about everything I say?
This is again part of the process of changing from a child into an adult. She wants to make all her decisions for herself. She is old enough to find herself in situations that can be dangerous for her, yet her brain is not fully developed in order to make the best choices. Arguing with you is her way of letting you know she wants you to see her as an adult. You will have fewer arguments if you allow her to make choices when the consequences for those choices is not too great. (See Adolescents Should Solve Most of Their Problems Themselves for some ideas.) You must stay involved, however, and help her to make the right decisions when the consequences could harm her. Raising teens is hard work! 

Is it normal that my child stays up really late and doesn’t want to get up for school?
The normal sleep patterns for teens shifts later into the night. They frequently stay up past midnight and are sleepy in their morning classes at school. This sleep pattern is perfectly normal. You should encourage her to get to bed earlier, but she may not be able to go to sleep right away. There has been discussion about whether school should start later in the day for adolescents. There are, however, a number of reasons for keeping it the way it is. The current schedule more closely mirrors parents’ work hours, and after school activities like sports and music practice would go too late into the evening hours if school started later. 

My child carries everything he owns in his book bag and doesn’t use his locker. He also forgets to do all his homework. Is that normal?
The part of the brain that governs planning ahead and time management does not fully develop until the early or middle twenties. It is very normal that teens find it easiest to take everything with them rather than to figure out what they can leave in their locker and pick up later in the day. Some teens have a very difficult time with this. (See Executive Functioning—How It Affects a Student in School.)

If you wonder whether your son or daughter is behaving in an unusual way, talk to other parents who have children the same age. It is sometimes hard to tell whether they are behaving like teenagers or whether there is really something bothering them. Talk to them every day, ask good questions, and stay involved despite their desire for you to leave them alone. Once they leave home, they will appreciate that you were always there for them! In the meantime, tell them how much you love them and keep trying to include them in all family activities.

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Teach Kids To Be Active Listeners

In Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives, Peter Johnston suggests a technique for teachers to use that is meant to help students listen better, become more socially aware, and possibly more empathetic towards other students’ viewpoints.

Johnston describes a situation where he watched students discussing their ideas about a question with a partner. The students were then asked to tell their teacher what their partner thought about the question. In many cases, the children could not say what their partner thought because they were thinking only about what they wanted to say. Their teacher then sent them back to their partner to find out the answer. In this way, students were encouraged to really hear and understand what their peer had to say.

I wonder whether this would work in other situations such as when siblings get into an argument about something. Your daughter often complains to you about what her brother is doing. You could ask, “What does your brother think about that? Why is he doing it?” You could then encourage her to find out from him why he was doing it. They might even have a conversation about it that leads to resolving their differences without parental involvement.

The technique of asking children to truly understand what another person thinks by listening and asking questions can be a powerful tool that leads to better communication, greater empathy, and the ability to listen intently to another person. These social skills are extremely important and lead to success in school and later on the job.

 

> Simple Activities To Improve Your Child's Listening Skills

> Simple Tools for Sharp Listening Skills

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Emotional Awareness: An Essential Tool for Back to School

by Eve Sullivan

Getting kids ready to start school may have been simple in the past, but not today. Ads scream “Order this…buy that…and your child will be safer, smarter, happier!” And young people, like retailers, play all too well on our hopes and fears as parents and caregivers.

An essential tool for your child’s back-to-school toolkit, however, is one that money can’t buy, and one only caring adults can provide: emotional awareness. The things our children have—backpacks, lunchboxes, sneakers—and the things they know—which bus to take, the new teacher’s name, where to wait for dad to pick them up—all these are easier to track than what our children feel. Yet feelings may be the most important part of their experience, both in school and out.

Children learn to recognize and manage feelings through interactions with parents and other family members starting from birth. Schools can support this process through educational programs in social-emotional learning, or SEL. Their value is well-documented. As the Social-Emotional Learning Alliance for Massachusetts explains, SEL programs increase adults’ and children’s ability not only to recognize and manage emotions, but also to:

  • develop care and concern for others,
  • establish positive relationships,
  • make responsible decisions, and
  • handle challenging situations constructively and ethically.


Research shows that effective social-emotional learning promotes the “good stuff” as it increases:

  • academic achievement by 11 percent,
  • positive attitudes about self and others by 9 percent, and
  • positive social interactions and social behavior by 10 percent.


And SEL discourages the “bad stuff” as it reduces:

  • behavior problems by 9 percent and
  • emotional distress by 10 percent.


While some schools have initiated SEL programs after cases of bullying (a few with tragic outcomes), the reasons can just as well be positive: “We have a great school and a caring community, and let’s make it even better!”

If you are a parent group leader, ask the principal—perhaps at your first one-on-one meeting—what the school doing in the area of social-emotional learning. Don’t stop, even if the answer you get is that the school is taking care of it. Parents as well as teachers need support in this area as much as (and sometimes more than) students. Parenting education is something schools can and should make a normal part of the menu of parent activities, right along with math night and the annual playground carnival.

It is essential, too, to practice your own emotional awareness. Empathy, like a muscle, may lose strength if it isn’t used. If the back-to-school craziness starts getting to you, give yourself a little time out. Ask for help. Remember to breathe.

 

Eve Sullivan is the founder of Parents Forum in Cambridge, Mass. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is another great resource for information on SEL, as is The Parent Toolkit, with a social and emotional development section launching in October.

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Using Praise Effectively Helps Self-Esteem

Parents are rightly concerned about the self-esteem of their teens. It is important to feel confident and self-assured. Equally important, however, is the need to learn to accept and benefit from constructive criticism. You can help your child develop this skill without damaging her self-esteem.

First of all, it is important to use praise effectively. When you praise your adolescent, it should be when he does something praiseworthy. Teens actually lose confidence when praised for poor quality performance. For example, if your son skips baseball practice the day before an important game and consequently plays poorly, he should not be praised for it. If you say, “Sorry you lost. You did your best,” he will think he must be a really terrible player. He knows he did not play his best, but you just told him he did.

Second, your child needs to connect his success to how hard he works. If he really feels he is a terrible player, then he has no motivation to work to improve; but if he connects his poor performance to the fact that he didn’t practice enough, he will want to work harder. Rather than telling him he did his best, ask him, “How do you think you played today?” Follow that with a discussion about how he can improve next time. In this way, you are teaching your child to accept constructive criticism. If he attends all practices and works hard, his skills will improve, and he will play better.

It is important to be able to accept suggestions for improvement. Obviously, it helps in school when teachers ask for better work. It might not be so obvious that it also leads to higher self-esteem. The secret is in the effective use of praise (only when deserved) and helping children connect their success to their hard work.

 

> How To Help Struggling Students Build Self-Esteem

> 6 Tips To Help Kids Develop a Positive Body Image

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Foster Your Child's Emotional Health

One of the signs of emotional health is being aware of emotions and understanding what they mean. Teens need to be aware of the emotions they are feeling as well as the emotions of others. Unfortunately, many in our society discourage their children from expressing their emotions in healthy ways. I believe this is especially true of boys. Boys are told not to cry because “crying is for girls.” These children grow up thinking they should not have strong emotions or that they are weak if they do. Everyone has emotions, and children need to understand that. They need to recognize and name the emotions they are feeling.

If your son does not talk about his emotions (“I am so frustrated…”), you can help. The first step is for him to recognize that he is feeling an emotion and be able to tell what emotion it is. You can help by providing possibilities—for example, you could say, “You must be really proud [angry, sad, grateful, frustrated] right now.” The next step is to recognize that others feel emotions, too. You might say, “I know you are angry with Terry, but he was really hurt by what you said to him.” Finally, he needs to learn appropriate responses to his emotions. “It is OK to be angry and take that anger out on a pillow. It is not OK to take it out on your friends.”

Middle school boys who are having difficulty expressing their emotions can often write about them. I once asked a particularly rowdy group of 8th grade boys to write a letter to me about why they were misbehaving. I asked them to tell me why they did not like class, why they did not want to participate, and what I could do to make the class better for them. I was amazed to find out that they did like the class, and their behavior was related to a wide range of emotions they were feeling about things going on outside of school. One student wrote, “My grandfather is dying and he is the one person in my life who really understands me.” Several wrote, “I am sorry I have been so bad. I really do like this class.” This was an enlightening experience for me. Once the boys wrote their letters, class went much more smoothly. They expressed their emotions in writing which gave me the information and empathy I needed to support them.

Having emotional awareness is important for developing healthy relationships. Parents can talk with their teens about the emotions they feel and how others might be feeling. Writing about the emotions a teen feels can also lead to better emotional understanding as well as knowing what is happening in your child’s life.

For more information about the importance of understanding emotions and how it affects school, read How Emotional Intelligence Is Linked To School Success.

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Help Your Kids Cope With Stress in Healthy Ways

Tim Elmore, an expert on growing leadership in today’s youth, recently wrote, “…students who are emotionally fragile often struggle with addictive behavior…[a]ddictions [that] often begin as coping mechanisms. In fact, most of us would admit to a small addiction to help us get through our day: coffee, chocolate, television, Coke Zero, alcohol, cigarettes…” [From Addictions: One Reason Not to Take the Easy Road.]  Dr. Elmore is not speaking primarily about drugs or alcohol addiction. He is speaking of addictive behavior. His concern is that we are not teaching our youth how to cope with life’s stressors in healthy ways, so they take actions that quickly relieve the stress. We are allowing them to rely on unhealthy habits or on parents to rescue them. Parents respond so that their children never have to suffer even the slightest discomfort or embarrassment.

Recently, I learned of a student who in the middle of class sent a text message to her mother. Shortly after, someone from the office brought her the textbook she had left in her locker. Her mother had called the school office to ask someone to go get the book and take it to her. I think this is wrong on several levels: First, the student broke the rules by text messaging during class. Second, her mother rescued her by calling the school. Third, the office personnel allowed it to happen. The student learned she does not have to be responsible for bringing her book to class, because her mother will rescue her from suffering the consequences of her actions. Mom has become her coping mechanism—her “addiction.”

Here are three important strategies for developing stronger adolescents who can handle daily struggles in healthy ways.

  • You should expect your child to do a fair share of the chores at home. At the very least, he should keep his own room clean and help with cleaning the shared family spaces. There are other chores he can do, and he should have firm responsibilities at home that he does without fail.
  • Your child should resolve her own conflicts with her friends. Most of the time, teens can do this if they are encouraged to talk with one another. If parents intervene in every squabble, children will never learn to resolve their own differences.
  • Allow your child to suffer the natural consequences of his actions. If he forgets to do his homework, he should be honest with his teacher and admit that he forgot. He can ask for another chance (if it hasn’t happened too many times before), and maybe the teacher will allow him to turn it in late. If the teacher does not, you should not try to rescue him.


When you require your children to do chores at home, resolve their own conflicts, and suffer the consequences of their own actions, you are teaching responsibility. Your children learn healthy coping mechanisms rather than blaming others when things go wrong (“Mom didn’t make coffee this morning.” or “Dad wouldn’t bring it to me.”). They become healthy and emotionally strong—ready to take on life’s daily struggles.

 

> Kids, Stress, and How Parents Can Help

> Summer Chores Teach Kids Responsibility

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Help Students Set Reasonable Goals

Children need to learn how to set reasonable goals for themselves. In the last few weeks, I have worked with several students who were disappointed in themselves and truly upset about how their final grades turned out. Their reactions ranged from tears, to anger, to blaming someone else. After each of us met to discuss their concerns, the bottom line turned out to be that they had set unrealistic expectations for themselves.

In one case, the student wanted to get the highest grades in every subject even though she knew that she was gifted in math and science and not as much so in language arts. Regardless, she was determined that she would also get excellent grades in English. She struggled to interpret the symbolism in the literature, and she placed the blame for that on the teacher and the other students for being too noisy in class. When she got an average grade on the tests and exam, she was angry. When I offered to sit down with her and her English teacher to discuss strategies for next year, she confessed, “I’m not really mad at her, I’m just mad that I didn’t get an A. I have a terrible time understanding the literature, and I really don’t care about it.”

Another student decided that he wanted to move into all honors level classes the following year in the hopes of raising his grade point average. In order to qualify for the higher-level classes, he needed to maintain above average grades in each class. While he was able to do that in some classes, he was not able to do it in all. He was extremely disappointed in himself and felt like he had let others down.

These children had both set themselves up by setting unrealistic goals for themselves. Fortunately, we were able together to see that they had actually accomplished a lot this year, and what they were seeing as huge failures, were not really that bad. In both cases, their grades were really good overall.

It is important to help students set goals that can be reasonably accomplished and to clearly determine what steps they need to take in order to reach their goals. Help them determine what they need to do in order to reach their potential. For example, perhaps they need to more carefully complete each homework assignment, make appointments with teachers, or ask more questions in class. By taking these steps, they may be able to raise their grades and have something to be proud of. Trying to raise a grade up a letter grade is much more reasonable than trying to get all A’s. When their goals are reasonable, the end of the school year will be something to celebrate.

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10 Things New Graduates Should Know

The class of 2014 has now graduated. I always have mixed emotions when students leave after several years of working together. I remember all the struggles along the way, and how they made it through those struggles to graduation day. Most are elated to be leaving and look forward to a new life free from the boundaries of school. It is hard for parents and teachers to let them go, but it is time.

Here is some of what I hope my students learned from their parents, other teachers, and me as we worked together.

  • It is not always the smartest people who are the most successful in life; it is the ones who work the hardest.
  • Always tell the truth, even when you really mess up, because it takes years to build trust and only seconds to lose it.
  • Be passionate about something, for it will be the source of joy in your life.
  • You don’t have to be good at everything, but don’t sell yourself short just because something is hard for you. Some things take years to truly understand.
  • All life is interconnected. It is up to you to take care of the environment.
  • Every person has potential.
  • Listen to the viewpoint of those who disagree with you, for there is truth in both sides of every issue.
  • Friends are important. You need them, and they need you.
  • Be who you are, not who someone else wants you to be. (In other words, it’s OK to say no to a friend.)
  • Say thank you to those who helped you get where you are. These people are still there for you even after high school.


To the class of 2014—I wish you well. Call your parents often; let your teachers know what you are doing and how you are. You will be missed.

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More Healthy Play for Summer Learning and Fun

Summer is the time to have fun while learning! Here are three more healthy play activities to build a child’s coordination and body control, as well as enhance gross- and fine-motor skills.
Walking the line

You’ll need a jump rope or a long piece of clothesline. This activity is best done barefoot, and can be for one or more players. Stretch out and lay the jump rope or clothesline on a grassy, flat area of yard or a park. Then brainstorm the different ways your child could travel along the line, such as:               

  • walking on the rope.  
  • walking backwards along one side of the rope.
  • hopping or jumping from side to side, not touching the rope.
  • walking with one foot on each side, moving without touching the rope.
  • any other creative way that he might want to navigate the “line.”

Plastic bottle targets
This game can be for one or more players. You’ll need six same-size plastic bottles, half-filled with water, and a marker and a tennis ball.

  • Mark a big number in the middle of each bottle from 1-6.
  • Line the bottles on the grass in your yard or in a park.
  • Have your child stand about three feet back, and call out the number of the bottle she’d like to “target.”  She has three tries to hit that number. 
  • Keep playing until all the “targets” have been knocked over.
  • As she gets really good at the three-foot distance, increase the difficulty by stepping back twelve inches to lengthen the distance of the throw.

Water painting
You’ll need pails and small, clean paintbrushes. This activity can be for one or more children.

  • Help your child fill the bucket or pail with water.
  • Take the pail with water and paintbrush outside.
  • Dip the clean paintbrush into the water and let him “paint” the side of the house, garage, or shed with up-and-down and side-to-side strokes. See how much can be done before the first strokes dry. 

This activity was a personal favorite of my children when they were little! It kept them productively busy on sunny days while toning muscles needed for coloring and writing.

 

> The Pleasure of Healthy Play

> Make Learning Fun With Classic Childhood Games

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Returning to School After a Concussion, Part 2

Last week’s blog, Returning to School After a Concussion (Part 1), was about concussions and how difficult it is for students to catch up with schoolwork after the necessary extended absence for cognitive rest. Once students return to school, the doctor’s orders typically include limiting screen time, limiting exposure to bright lights and loud sounds, no participating in physical activity, taking frequent rest breaks, and spending shorter days in school. Some of this is easy to do, but there are some accommodations that seem almost impossible. I want to share with you some of the solutions our teachers have come up with to help these students.

If your child suffers from a concussion, he will need one-on-one help with each teacher when he returns to school. It always amazes me how much you can get done with a student when working in a tutorial setting. Our teachers have been willing to exempt their students from doing every assignment once they feel comfortable that they know the concepts covered in these tutorials. Teachers should select the assignments that are essential and only require the student to complete these.

Some students have returned to school after their required absence and stayed the whole day, but others come in for half days until they are completely well. Students should be allowed to rest their head on the table if it begins to hurt. The students I have worked with this year say that they can work for about 20-30 minutes before they need a rest. When they do rest, however, they can work more without hurting.

If the lights from the interactive projector are hurting their head, they should be allowed to look away from the bright light. Other students can provide copies of the notes when needed, and they can still listen to what is being said.

Limiting screen time to no more than 30 minutes per day is the most difficult accommodation to make. Most teachers expect students to use their computer for watching videos, doing research, writing papers, taking notes, and a myriad of other activities which adds up to a lot more than half an hour. To limit screen time requires some creativity on the part of the teacher to find ways to give equally valuable assignments that do not require computer time. Here are some ideas from our teachers.

  • Work in small groups to do projects rather than each student completing everything. This allows the student with a concussion to be coordinator of the group’s work, conduct oral interviews, hand-write ideas that another student can type, create posters, or make voice recordings instead of typing work on the computer.
  • Take assessments orally instead of on the computer or have an aide read the questions and type the answers.
  • Create a flow chart, outline, or timeline by hand instead of writing an essay at the computer.
  • Work with a partner when doing internet research. Both students can think of search terms and evaluate the quality of the search results. The partner can read aloud what they find, and both can decide what needs to be included in the final product.


As I mentioned last week, the most important thing to do for your child who is recuperating from a concussion is to assure her that you will be there to help. It is frightening to feel so completely out of control of what is happening to you. The best students have a difficult time when they know what they need to do to get caught up, but they are not allowed to do it. As a parent, you need to help her understand that if she follows the doctor’s orders, she will get well faster.

Enlist the help of your school’s counselor or special education supervisor so he can inform all your child’s teachers about her needs. Email her teachers when she has a rough night after spending the day at school. Multiple students have reported to me that they go home after a half day of school and sleep all afternoon because they are exhausted. Teachers need to know when this happens. Additionally, encourage your child’s teachers to read An Educator’s Guide to Concussions in the Classroom. This guide will help them understand that concussions are serious and should not be treated lightly.

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The Pleasure of Healthy Play

Spring equals time for young children to get out there and play! Happy, healthful outdoor play is important for building muscular readiness… and that’s needed for all sorts of gross and fine motor skills used in academics.

Here are six easy suggestions for children to shake off those winter doldrums and get back to their “business” of play:

  • Review rules before starting a game. For example, the “goal” is scored when the soccer ball is kicked between the two rocks in the yard.
  • Have a quiet game follow an active one. Play “I Spy” after a rigorous game of tag.
  • Sharpen eye-hand coordination. Toss a tennis ball for him to catch. Start about 3 feet apart. Then, as he gets good at catching, increase the distance by one or two feet at a time.
  • Couple rhyming with coordination. Help her say poems while jumping rope…or make up rhymes as she jumps.
  • Play hopscotch for balance and number recognition. For younger children go with the classic 1-8 hopscotch grid. For first or second graders put simple addition or subtraction in each box that must be solved before jumping.
  • Play to strengthen social/emotional skills. Hide and seek is a great game for three or more children. Interacting with other children, problem-solving (Where did they go?) and the satisfaction of “finding” can help build confidence and friendships.


Take advantage of the nice weather and let your children be children and play their time away!

 

> Make Learning Fun With Classic Childhood Games

> Creative Play Leads to Learning

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Getting Teens To Open Up

One of the most common questions parents ask me about their teenage child is, “Is she normal?” They are usually concerned because their child, who used to be talkative and cheerful at home, is now surly; she answers questions with as few words as possible and no longer wants to participate in family activities.
Conversations go like this:

“How was school today?”
“OK.”
“Did you learn anything interesting?”
“No.”
“Do you have homework to do tonight?”
“No.”
“What’s happening with Maria these days?”
“Nothing.”

At home, their child stays in his bedroom most of the time and acts like he is very unhappy. The same kid at school hangs around with a lot of friends and constantly laughs and makes jokes. He eats lunch with five or six classmates and is an active participant in extracurricular activities.

No one knows for sure why this happens, but the hypothesis is that teens are beginning to seek independence from their parents. They want their peers to think that they are totally in control of their lives and don’t need their parents any more. They are preparing for the day when they will be leaving home and be completely on their own.

Understanding why teens do this doesn’t make it easier. Parents want to know what is happening in their child’s life, and one word answers aren’t helpful. They want to know their child is happy and has friends.

I encourage parents to ask questions that can’t be answered with one word. Here are some conversation starters:

“What was the most interesting thing that happened today in school?”
“What is your favorite movie of all time? Why do you think so?”
“Why do you not like your math class?”

If your teen seems surly and unhappy, it is very likely that he will eventually start talking to you again. In the meantime, keep an eye on his activities. Talk to his teachers and coaches to make sure he seems happy at school and has friends (or at least one good friend). Most of the time, what you see is normal adolescent behavior. If you should find that he is unhappy at school, too, you may need to seek the help of a professional for advice. You will need to figure out the source of his unhappiness and make a plan for how to get him back on the right track—the insolent, quiet child who is driving you crazy at home track, that is.

 

> Adolescence: A Time of Change and Self-Doubt

> Brain Development in Teens: Help Them Deal With Peer Pressure

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Hard Times Help Prepare Teens for the Road Ahead

Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher, once said, “Out of life’s school…what does not destroy me, makes me stronger.” I recently heard someone talking about school and how hard it is for so many students, and I thought of this quote. It made me somewhat philosophical myself. Generally, I write about specific problems in this blog, but today I “wax philosophical” (as my father used to say).

When I was little, I thought that someday I would know what to do when problems arose. I wished I could grow up faster, so life would not be so hard. Then I grew up. To my surprise, I find myself not always knowing what to do! I tell students this all the time—mostly when trying to help them understand their parents. (Parents are completely unreasonable and place impossible demands on children.) My answer always starts with, “Your parents love you so much. They are doing the best they can to help you grow up to be a successful adult. I will tell you a secret—grown-ups don’t always know the best way to do things. They just do the best they can.” I follow that with the story of myself as a child thinking that when I grew up I would always know what to do. I encourage them to have a heart-to-heart talk with their parents, too.

When talking with parents about their adolescent child, I tell them that teens are seeking independence from them. Many of their decisions are in response to what they feel are unreasonable requests. I usually advise that together we search for what will help their child decide for himself he wants to do better in school. And then I advise them to have an open and honest talk with their child.

Adolescence is difficult, but it’s also tremendously fun. When I walk down the hall at school and hear students talking with one another, I always wind up smiling (or laughing out loud). I encourage you to stop and think about the best parts of life with your kids. And remember that the tough parts are there to make us stronger. We have to experience failure, learn to argue and resolve differences, become internally motivated, and begin caring about others more than ourselves. This is tough and sometimes miserable. But it is important and what adolescence is all about.

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The Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning

In the last few years, much emphasis has been put on revamping academics, including Common Core State Standards and revised curricula. Yet it’s also important for teachers and parents to be reminded about Social/Emotional Learning, and how this significant piece of education helps K-12 students better function in school.

Simply put, SEL means that children can:

  • Recognize and manage their emotions
  • Learn to solve problems
  • Have empathy
  • Appreciate diversity
  • Recognize their strengths and the strengths of others
  • Work in a cooperative manner


Once these SEL skills are mastered, young students have a much greater chance of school success.

How can a parent help a young child develop these critical SEL skills?

  • When a child is frustrated, help him look for behavior “triggers.” Recognizing triggers that cause frustration and looking for patterns with those triggers can help a child manage their reaction.
  • Give opportunities to “figure things out.” For example, when your child is having difficulty working with a more complex puzzle, don’t jump in to help right away. Give simple hints, and see if she can work it out.
  • When reading stories together stop and ask questions like, “Have you ever felt like that?” or “Do you think that character was right, and why?” This will promote empathy.
  • Encourage him to add diversity to his drawings. Take out books from your local library, and read together about different cultures, countries, religions, etc.
  • Catch her “doing it right!” Pay attention, and recognize and praise your child when things are going well. This rewards and helps a child recognize strengths, and builds self-confidence.
  • Have family “chore” time, family game nights, or family readathons where all family members are working, playing, or reading for a certain length of time. This can foster a child’s early sense of “teamwork.”


Paying attention to small details like these also helps young children become more active listeners, and more attuned to the world around them.


> Social and Emotional Resources

> Social and Emotional Article Archive

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The Olympics Teach Valuable Lessons About Perseverance

Singulyarra/Shutterstock

Many families are spending hours watching the Sochi Olympics. It is amazing to see world-class athletes from so many different countries competing against one another. Several of the medal winners relate how important it is that they did not win when they competed in the previous Olympics. They say that losing is why they got better. They were able to concentrate on their weaknesses and work to improve them. They say losing is what made them come back four years later to win a medal in Sochi. I have written about the importance of failure before. Failure is important, but there is more to learn from these Olympic athletes than knowing their past failure led to their current success. It is what happens in the years between failure and success that makes the difference.

These athletes first had to identify where they were weak. Then they had to work really hard to improve the weak areas. As a student, your child may have weaknesses in basic study skills, knowing how to be a student, focusing her attention in class, completing homework on time, or managing her time wisely. Figuring out where she is weak is the first step to improving. Once the weak areas are identified, she needs a plan of action for how to get better in those areas. Finally, she needs to get down to work. It is work ethic and perseverance that lead to success.

Nick Horton, an Olympic coach, tells of others who became successful after going through very difficult situations in Failing Forward: 7 Stories of Success Through Failure. When your child goes through tough times in school, remind him that he can turn it around. It is up to him to change his failure into success.

Check out these related printables about study skills and have your child read about how to become a proactive student.

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Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?

Yes - 31.6%
Sometimes - 25.4%
No - 37.4%

Total votes: 4919
The voting for this poll has ended on: June 25, 2016