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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.

Adolescents Should Solve Most of Their Problems Themselves

In nearly 30 years of teaching school, I have seen hundreds of cases where parents involve themselves in their adolescents’ problems. Sometimes, that’s the right thing to do because the problem is too great for a teen to handle alone. But most of the time, the problems are minor—like when to start doing homework, whether to go to the late basketball game, or who to take to the dance. If kids are allowed to make decisions on their own and suffer the natural consequences of those decisions, they will be better equipped to handle bigger problems when they arise (like whether to smoke that cigarette or drink that beer).

Let’s pretend that Maria decides not to wear leggings, boots, and a heavy jacket to school because she is hoping for warmer weather in the afternoon. The weather does not get warmer. Instead it gets colder and windy. Maria gets chilled when she goes outside. This is the natural consequence, and it will not hurt her. Next time, she is more likely to pay attention to the weather forecast when getting dressed for school. (By the way, it is a myth that you catch a cold from getting chilled. Colds are caused by a virus.) Parents often involve themselves in these decisions which lead to arguments in the morning before school, and their children do not learn about consequences of their actions.

A few weeks later, Maria’s friend Alex tries to talk her into leaving campus during lunchtime even though it’s against the rules. Because Maria’s parents have allowed her to make lots of decisions by herself (like what to wear to school), she thinks through the possible consequences of going with Alex and decides she doesn’t want to take the risk. If Maria’s parents make all her decisions for her, she might not think about consequences of her actions.

The most frequent parental involvement I have had as a teacher is after a student does poorly on a test or project. The parent will call to find out why. This is a student and teacher issue, and in most cases the student should handle this by himself. Instead of getting involved, encourage him to go talk to his teacher himself. It is fine to coach him on how to do it. He should make an appointment to talk to the teacher alone instead of when other students are around (perhaps before or after school). He should ask for help to understand what he missed and why he missed it. He might ask if his teacher can show him an answer that got all the points. He should tell his teacher he would like to do better next time and ask for advice on how to improve. This approach teaches him that he can solve problems on his own. He is a capable person who can figure out how to do better in school. He will earn the respect of his teacher who will be impressed with how mature he is. He is a step closer to independence and self-discipline.

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New Year’s Resolutions for Kids

At the start of a new year, adults often take time to reflect and think about positive changes they want to make in their lives. This is a wonderful time for children to do the same.

Here is a list of 10 simple resolutions that young students can choose from to increase their academic, physical, and social/emotional well-being for the new year.

Students should choose at least five that work for the family:

  • Read (or read together) at least 15 minutes each night.
  • Do a specific chore. On a daily basis, make the bed or take out the trash, match the socks from the clean laundry, feed a pet, etc. A consistent, simple chore helps a young child learn responsibility.
  • Write a short letter (with help, if needed) once or twice a month to a grandparent, favorite aunt or uncle, cousin, or friend. This is purposeful practice of a needed skill while bringing joy to a loved one.
  • Pick up toys. Help your child understand the importance of everyone cleaning their own mess.
  • Drink more water, instead of fruity or sugary drinks.
  • Say “please,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome” more often. Help him understand that good manners count.
  • Share more. Let a brother or sister use toys, books, crayons, etc.
  • Start a word jar. Pick a new spelling word, or word from a story. At least once a week, write the word on a small piece of paper and add it to the jar. Periodically pick a word from the jar, and have your child use it in a sentence.
  • Always brush teeth before bed and wash hands after using the bathroom.
  • Save coins in a jar or piggy bank. Once a month, empty the jar and sort the coins. Then count the coins to find the total number.

 

By helping children make realistic and attainable resolutions, you’re also teaching them a lot about goal-setting and self-discipline—skills that will serve them well their entire lives!

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Many Teenagers Are Making a Difference

“Children have a sense of entitlement these days.” I have heard that said so many times. It is, of course, true for some kids, but not for all. Most of the kids I have taught are thoughtful, sweet, helpful, polite, hardworking people well on their way to becoming responsible adult citizens.

Here is some evidence that most kids are good people: The other day I needed to venture into the seniors’ break room. I have always tried to respect their space and let them know when I am coming in. I knocked and said, “Is it OK if I come in for a minute?”

The answer: “You don’t need to ask. You are welcome here any time. Why do you ask?”

I said, “I respect your privacy and your space.”

“We respect you more than we respect our space” was the reply.

I saw no sense of entitlement there.

Hearthsong Heroes: Honoring Kids Who Help Kids is a program that honors students who have made significant contributions through community service and hard work to make the lives of others better. I am proud to say that I personally know one of these heroes. She has been helping children by making sure they have Christmas gifts for several years. Each year she has collected more gifts for more children. She has trained a successor to take over her program now that she is graduating this spring. She wanted to make sure these children continued to have a happy Christmas.

Do a search on the internet for “teens who make a difference” and read some of the millions of links, such as this one at Family Circle or at DoSomething.org. Find out about projects that teens are leading like feeding hungry people, providing clean water in developing nations, preventing bullying, or providing assistance to the elderly.

Take some time this holiday season to explore some of these programs with your child. The next time you hear something derogatory about teenagers, tell about some of the amazing kids you read about!

For me, another year of blogging is complete. As I look forward to 2014, I am grateful for the community of friends I have grown here at SchoolFamily.com.

A friend of mine wished this for me, and now I pass it on to you during this special season of the year: I hope that moments of laughter come when you least expect them and that moments of peace come when you most need them.

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Allow Children To Solve Problems on Their Own

My second child did not learn to talk as quickly as my first. Like all mothers do, I worried that she was behind, that she might have difficulty in school, and that she would not learn to read. Someone more wise than I pointed out that I was allowing my older daughter to speak for her. When Anna wanted a cookie, my older daughter would come to me and say, “Anna wants a cookie.” Anna had no need to learn to talk because her sister was rescuing her; she was doing her talking for her. I thought about this when I read Tim Elmore’s book, Three Huge Mistakes We Make Leading Kids…and How To Correct Them.

One of the mistakes Elmore writes about is parents who rescue their children too quickly. When parents solve their problems for them, they are making sure their children do not learn that they are responsible for their own actions and are capable of solving problems themselves. Children need to learn this while they are young and making decisions where the consequences are minor. In this way, they learn that the choices they make lead to results—some good, some bad. They begin to develop skills that good leaders need to know—communication, problem-solving, and responsibility.

I took a parenting class many years ago. I have never forgotten one of the examples the teacher used in class. She said, “If your four-year-old loses his quarter and you give him another one, he is not learning about consequences. This is the time to teach him, not when he’s 16 and you are getting a call from the police.” Elmore calls this “parenting for the short-term versus long-term.”

As a parent, it is hard to allow your child to suffer; but some suffering is necessary and normal. When your child comes to you complaining about a teacher who gave her a bad grade or a friend who took advantage of her, resist the urge to solve the problem for her. Teach her communication and problem-solving skills so she can do it for herself. In this way, she learns that life is not always perfect, but she can negotiate her way through it on her own. She is one step closer to becoming a leader.

For more ideas for developing leadership, see “All Children Have Potential to Develop Leadership Skills.” Remember, too, that children begin learning these skills at very early ages. It is important to allow them to learn even when you would like to protect them from every difficult situation.

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Help Teach Your 1st Grader To Listen and Speak Well

Listening and speaking well are two of the most important skills that any person can have. These are also key components of the Common Core State Standards for 1st grade. Learning these skills, early in life, can give your child distinct academic and social advantages…and they are easy to instill!

If your child is getting ready to start 1st grade, or has already started, there are several things you can do to practice exchanging ideas through discussion and conversations and promote active listening and speaking.

  • Have a “no-electronics” night. Use this time to read a story together or play a board game, and then discuss it. Be sure to ask some questions about key details in the story or about the game. This will demonstrate how well he listened or paid attention. Have him go back and check the text or game board for details, if necessary.
  • Have a mealtime discussion about a recent family event that you all attended, a movie that you watched together, or something that happened that day at school or work. Sharing this kind of information reinforces that your child’s opinion is important.
  • Start a parent-child book club. Two or three families should read an appropriate 1st grade book (for example, any of the Magic Tree House books by Mary Pope Osborne), and take turns hosting a book club discussion for children and parents.

For these activities, follow simple and clear rules for all participants, such as:

 

  • Take turns…one speaker at a time
  • No interrupting
  • Respectful ways to agree or disagree
  • Respectful ways to ask questions for clarity

 

Teaching your child to make a conscious effort to listen and speak well embeds good habits. These good habits will continue to enhance their school experience and should continue through their adult professional and personal life.

 

> 1st Grade Academics: What To Expect

> 1st Grade Social Changes: What To Expect

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Why Dress Codes Matter for Teenagers

Adolescents go to school for a number of reasons beyond the fact that they are required to. If you ask them why, it is likely they will tell you they go to see their friends. (They have a different agenda than their parents and teachers.) This leads to why I am writing about school dress codes once again. Dress codes exist to ensure an environment in school where students can learn and not be distracted by what everyone is wearing. In my many years teaching middle and upper school, dress code issues are the most frequent complaints I hear—from teachers because of what some students are wearing, from parents because their child does not want to comply, and from students because they feel it infringes on personal freedom. Why do dress codes matter?

Dress codes are important for a number of reasons.

  • How we dress sets a tone for behavior. When we dress in flip-flops, shorts, and a tank top, we behave like we do at the park. When we dress in business casual attire, we behave like we do at work. This is the same in schools. I have personally witnessed this time and again with my students. On days when we ask students to dress up for a special occasion, they generally behave in more respectful ways.
  • Adolescents want to both fit in and to be different. Often, they individualize by what they wear to school. If their choice is too revealing or distracting, other students pay more attention to them than what is going on in class. Some students wear clothing that meets the dress code when standing and everything is adjusted perfectly, but when sitting down it does not meet code (skin or underwear shows). It is helpful for parents to help their children check for these issues before they come to school.
  • Dress codes are a part of our society. Many workplaces establish them, and employees are expected to comply. Employees who push the limits can receive lower performance reviews or even lose their jobs. If students complain about their school’s code, it might help to discuss real-life situations that require similar attire.


You can help set the appropriate tone for learning in your child’s school by encouraging good choices while shopping for the new school year. And, as I have said before, you should know your school’s dress code when shopping for back-to-school.

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Help Kids Build Resilience, Part 3

My last two blogs have been about building resilience in kids. Resilient kids can deal with things when they do not go their way, and they recover quickly when things do not go well for them. Part 1 on resilience explains that children need an adult in their life whom they feel they can go to for help when needed. Part 2 discusses the importance of helping children take responsibility for their own actions. Today’s blog shows how important it is for children to contribute to the world in which they live.

When children are able to offer their help to others, whether at home or elsewhere, they learn that they are important. Whatever they contribute needs to be genuinely helpful to others, and they need to be reminded that they are helping. Depending on how old your child is, he may be able to contribute in multiple ways.

Here are a few ideas to try.

  • Allow her to help with the shopping. Kids enjoy helping to find things in the store or online. This really saves you time, and most kids enjoy it a lot.
  • Require him to help with the laundry. Kids are quite capable of doing laundry well. I used to think every item had to be washed and folded perfectly. At some point along the way, I realized that it really doesn’t matter for most things! And, with a few instructions on how to load and run the machines, fairly young kids can be extremely helpful. (My own children started doing laundry at 8 years old.)
  • Go with her to help out at the local food bank or soup kitchen. Many kids do not understand that there are many people who are living in poverty and who barely have enough to eat. It is a great opportunity to talk to her about respect, as well. (Just because a person is needy does not mean they are less intelligent or less important to society. And everyone deserves to be treated with respect.)

 

There are myriad ways your child can be helpful to the family or society. When they contribute in important ways, they feel necessary. Caring for others creates a sense of pride and builds self-esteem, both of which are necessary in resilient children. As well, offering genuine praise will build your relationship with your child, which is also an important factor in resilience. If you would like to read more about this topic, you might enjoy Building Resilience in Children, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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Help Kids Build Resilience, Part 2

Last week I wrote about resilient children. Children who are resilient can bounce back after they experience a setback. When Gino failed a test, he was disappointed. But he didn’t stay depressed about it and quickly realized he needed to do something to prevent it from happening again. The most important step to resiliency is having a trusted adult who cares. Gino went to his nonno (grandfather) about the test. He talked to Gino and helped him to make a plan.

There are other things parents can do to help their children recover from difficult times. Another key is to teach them to take responsibility for their own actions. If Maria backs her mother’s car into the trash can, she has two options. She can blame herself for not being careful enough. Or, she can blame whoever put the trash can in her way. If she is allowed to blame someone else, she is learning that responsibility is out of her control. Other people are shaping her life experiences—not her. Everything that happens to her is not her fault. If everything that happens to Maria is because of someone else or just luck (good or bad), then she does not learn how to take charge of her behavior and change things for the better.

There are situations when she has no control over what happens to her. But Maria needs to understand that many times she could have made a difference. This is what gives Maria the confidence she needs to move forward, to bounce back after a defeat. She is a competent individual.

I will write more about how to help your children become resilient in my next blog. Please comment to let me know what you are doing to help your children when they are feeling down. Have you seen a difference in how they respond to the rough times?

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Help Kids Build Resilience, Part 1

All of us go through tough times. Some students have more than their share. Divorce, death in the family, events in the news, high-stakes testing and many other factors add to the normal stresses all kids experience. Children need to learn to bounce back when they are feeling these stresses. Those who are able to bounce back easily are said to be “resilient.” There are things parents can do to help build resilience in their children. I plan to write more on this topic in the next few weeks.

First and foremost is that every child needs to know there is at least one adult in their life who cares about them, who takes care of them, and who will help them when they are feeling low. This adult is often one (or both) of their parents or guardians, but sometimes it can be another adult in their life. It might be a neighbor, teacher, minister, grandparent, or coach. This provides a sense of security—a sense of belonging.

Maria might think, “My best friend is moving away and I won’t ever see her again. But at least I can still talk to Nana Rose.” Because of Nana Rose, Maria has a sense of hope for the future and will realize that there are ways to keep in touch with her best friend. All is not lost, after all. She is able to bounce back and start figuring out ways to make sure she does not lose her best friend just because she is moving away.

I wrote in an earlier blog about failure being a normal part of life and how to help children through it. Experiencing failure and overcoming it help to build resilience. Come back next week to learn more about other ways to help.

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Middle and High School: Helping Teens Solve Their Own Problems

This guest blog post is by Erika Cook, a high school administrator who works directly with parents and students.

Help Teens Solve Their Own ProblemsWhen your teen has a problem at school, what should you do? Perhaps your child has a streak of missing assignments, feels the teacher made a grading error, or just plain doesn’t get along with the teacher. It was easy in elementary school because it was natural just to call the teacher. However, once your child reaches middle school, it is harder to know when to get involved as a parent and when you should encourage your child to speak up for himself at school.

Oftentimes, your teen can see his teacher outside of class to review a grade, discuss learning needs, or schedule good old-fashioned help, which should solve most issues. Most teachers promote the idea of teens depending on themselves for their learning; it’s seen as an important life skill.

When talking to your teen about seeing her teacher, a few of these possible talking points might be nice conversation-starters. (Remind her not to forget to use “please” and “thank you.”)

  • Will you review the important causes of the Civil War?
  • Is it possible to go over the quiz questions so I can learn from my mistakes?
  • Since I have a hard time taking notes, do you have any graphic organizers I could use?
  • I am missing multiple-choice test questions; what advice do you have?
  • Would you look at my paper and give me some feedback on how to improve C-level writing?
  • How would you suggest I study for the test on Hamlet?
  • How do I improve my performance during tryouts next season?
  • What should be my next step to keep improving in this sport?
  • What resources are available for me to get help in biology?

When and where should your child approach the teacher? You might want to brainstorm with your teen about a good time to talk to the teacher. Encourage your child to see her teacher during the teacher’s designated preparation periods or before or after school. Students don’t always realize that their teachers are very busy right before and after class. And help your child figure out where the teacher might be at the right time. Sometimes it isn’t as easy as one classroom; a lot of teachers travel from room to room and have a desk in a shared office.

To help your child practice in advance how the conversation will go, you can role-play and pretend to be the teacher. This could help build up your child’s confidence to address the situation. One important aspect for your teen to remember is to focus on the problem and not skirt the issue.

Ask your child whether he has tried talking to anyone else at school about the problem. This might include a counselor, social worker, resource teacher, or administrator. If it makes sense, you should encourage your teen to make a “friend” at the school to help with this and future issues.

These tips for guiding your teens to solve their own problems, while understanding when and how you should get involved, will hopefully help you and your child solve school issues. Just remember, teachers and parents are on the same team; everyone wants your student to succeed. If you use respect, gratitude, and kindness with teachers, you and your teen should have excellent results.

Erika Cook

Erika Cook holds a PhD in educational policy and leadership and an MA in curriculum. She serves as an associate principal at one of America’s top-ranked high schools, and she spends her days educating parents and students about the high school world. She has taught in classrooms ranging from special needs to Advanced Placement and was the recipient of two Fulbright scholarships.

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The Gift of Family History

In early education, our schools focus primarily on reading, writing, and math. While these are obviously important tangible skills, there are other aspects to educating young children that are much more subtle. How do we teach our children about more abstract virtues such as courage, loyalty, and diligence? How do we instill a sense of responsibility and a sense of pride into young developing minds?
Much of this has to come from the home—from loving family guidance, family expectations, and family examples. A good time to encourage this process is during the holiday season, when senior family members are visiting. Ask the seniors to tell “family stories” to your young children.

All it takes is a few memorable family stories to make a lasting impact on a child. Children love to hear stories about the “old days.” Most can’t hear enough stories about their parents as youngsters. Grandparents are often delighted to tell stories to children about their parents, sometimes to the amusement or embarrassment of Mom or Dad!

Encourage senior family members to open up with questions about what they did when they were younger, and more importantly, why they did it.

For example:

Did you always live in the same house? Did you have your own room or did you have to share?
What did you do for fun in the winter time with no TV, computers, or video games?  Is that why you like to read so much?

Or a child might ask about his own parents:

Did Dad like to play soccer, too?
What did Mom like to do when she was my age?

Young people often find these stories riveting. If possible, video or record the conversations so your child will have a lasting reminder of events. Take advantage of grandparents and other senior family members to give your child the gift of family history.

 

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Fairness Doesn’t Mean Treating All Kids the Same

 

“That’s not fair!” Parents and teachers hear this often. What children don’t always understand is that treating students fairly does not mean treating them all alike. Even adults sometimes say that fairness means everyone gets the same thing. Following that reasoning, if one person in the family gets a wheelchair, then everyone should get one. That, of course, is ridiculous! Only the one who needs a wheelchair gets one.

If a child in my classroom cannot read a test for herself, then I provide a way for her to have the test read to her. If another cannot write the answers, then I provide a way to have the answers written for him. The child does the thinking for himself, but a skill deficit or physical problem should not keep him from succeeding in my class. This is treating students fairly—giving them what they need.

On the other hand, if a child can read and write for herself, it would not be fair to read and write for her. She would not be getting to practice her reading and writing skills, nor would she continue to be independent.

I always need to teach about fairness versus equal treatment when it relates to accommodations in the classroom. A blog post by Richard Curwin, “Fair Isn’t Equal: Seven Classroom Tips,” discusses the concept as it relates to behavior management. One thing Dr. Curwin says in that blog is that you should teach the concept of fairness before you implement it, which is an excellent idea.

Next time you hear “That’s not fair!” use the opening to have an important talk about fairness. Ask “What would be fair?” and go from there! 

More on this topic from Livia McCoy: Fairness Is Not Always What it Seems

 

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How To Discuss the Tragedy in Colorado With Your Children

Dear SchoolFamily.com readers,

With news of the shooting tragedy in Colorado, our hearts are heavy and our condolences and thoughts go out to all affected by this dreadful event.

One of the toughest things parents can face is how to talk with their children about events as horrific as this. Even before we’ve had a chance to right ourselves and react, sometimes our children—even very young kids—have learned the news from television, newspapers, and sites on the Internet.

To help you discuss this tragedy with your children, we're sharing this informative article from the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Talking to Children About Disasters.”

For children who’ve endured and/or are recovering from a trauma or recent tragedy, our article on “How to Help Your Children Deal With Grief,”offers suggestions from experts on children and grieving, which can help you process difficult feelings with your child. 

How have your children reacted to the news in Colorado? Have you found ways to help them cope and process this tragic event? Please share your thoughts with us, and other SchoolFamily.com readers, by commenting below.

Carol Brooks Ball, Editor, SchoolFamily.com

 

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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