SchoolFamily Voices

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

Lessons on Respect From To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, passed away on Feb. 19. Most children read To Kill a Mockingbird, in 8th or 9th grade. Many, many students cite it as the best book they ever read. To honor her, I had my students watch the scene from the movie of the book when Atticus Finch talks with his daughter, Scout, about the importance of understanding the perspective of another person. Atticus says, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.” The current political discourse (or lack thereof) demonstrates to our children a lack of respect for others. That is not meant to be a political statement, because it happens within both parties.

One way to talk to your children about respect and empathy is to watch and discuss this video clip with them. Here are some suggested talking points.

•    What does Atticus mean when he says, “…climb in his skin and walk around in it”?
•    Have you ever tried doing that? When? How did you feel?
•    Does this apply to us on a daily basis? Can you think of some examples?
•    What is the difference between empathy and sympathy? (You might be surprised by your child’s reply.)
•    If someone treats you badly, does that give you the right to treat another person badly?
•    What are some ways to show genuine respect for others even when they are different from us?

Children learn respect from the adults around them. The adults in their life should choose their words carefully and never belittle others in front of the child. Our children need to learn that we can disagree about important matters without disliking the person who disagrees. What you say makes a difference. How your child sees you treat him and others makes an even bigger difference! I encourage you to spend some time with your child watching this scene from To Kill a Mockingbird.

You might enjoy reading a related blog post, The Power of Positive Attention for Teens.

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Why Sports Can Help Kids With School

Research suggests that students who participate in sports tend to do better in school. Some say it is linked to the physical activity. That makes sense; even a small amount of activity can increase blood supply to the brain and help you think better. I believe participating in organized sports offers more than just the physical benefits. Here is a list of what I see kids learning from being on a team.

  • There are rules to follow—team rules and rules of the game.
  • You have to work hard for a long time to become a winning team.
  • Working hard makes you tired and sore; but, that is what makes you stronger.
  • Sometimes you work hard and still don’t win.
  • You learn the most when you lose.
  • It is easier to display sportsmanship when winning; the best players take responsibility for a loss, too.
  • It’s the coach’s job to make decisions for the team.
  • You need to listen to your coach.
  • You have to work together as a team.
  • True leaders think of others before themselves.
  • The best teams plan for their future by helping the newest players learn the skills of the sport.
  • Talent is good, but it’s not the only important thing.
  • Most problems on the team are solved by communicating with each other.
  • Sometimes you have to sit on the bench.
  • It’s important to finish what you start.

Each of these lessons by itself is important. As a group, they set a person up for success in college and later on the job. If your child is not athletic, other extra-curricular activities can teach similar lessons. Participating in drama, music, robotics, and many other team activities are excellent ways to build character and teach important lifelong lessons. Students should participate in a few really worthwhile activities and not overbook themselves.

Participating on a team is one that should be considered because of the many life-changing lessons that can come from it. Commitment to a group working toward a long-term goal is what is important.

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Helping Teens Make Their Own Decisions

Recently, I was talking with a 10th grader about an academic concern. We chatted for a while, and I offered her a couple of ideas as solutions to her problem. Then I said, “What do you think?” Her answer was, “I’ll ask my mother what I think.” This made me concerned about her future. In the next few years, she will be selecting a college to attend and leaving home to be on her own. She needs to be making some important decisions now. It is likely she will make some mistakes, but the adults in her life can help her when needed. She will have practiced the decision-making process with help from parents. When she is living on her own, she will more likely make thoughtful decisions.

If your teen is not used to making decisions on her own, you can help her learn how. A popular decision-making strategy uses risk-benefit analysis. Here are the steps:

  • Clearly identify the problem to be solved. This seems obvious, but often kids try to solve the wrong problem. For example, I have heard students say, “My teacher doesn’t like me.” After carefully talking through the reasons why they feel this way, it often becomes clear that the issue is that the student is socializing with friends during class and is frequently asked to pay attention. The real problem has nothing to do with the teacher.
  • The next step is to come up with more than one possible solution. Perhaps the student needs to move to a different seat. Another possibility is to discuss the problem with the friends she is socializing with and ask them to stop talking to her in class.
  • Each possible solution should be analyzed. Identify the positives and negatives for each solution. If she starts sitting in another seat, she may not be tempted to talk with friends, but she might feel isolated. If she discusses the problem with her friends, they might not actually quit talking to her in class. On the other hand, they might respect her more for trying to do better in her class.
  • Finally, she can make the best decision. She may decide to stay near her friends and ask them to help her by not talking in class. She might think that she can always change her seat later if this doesn’t work.

This risk-benefit strategy can be used for almost any serious decision. If deciding which colleges to apply to, the list of positives and negatives for each school will likely be pretty long. It is important that parents allow their children to make big decisions on their own. It is fine to offer options and to participate in the process, but your children will be better off in the long run if they learn how to make important decisions by themselves. Of course, some decisions still need to be made by parents; but look for opportunities to involve your children in the process as much as possible.

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10 Tips for Reinforcing Good Manners

The holiday season is a magical time when family and friends get together to enjoy each other’s company. And it’s is also a perfect time to help a young child learn and practice good manners. Helping young children develop good manners is important because it gets them noticed in a positive way! It costs nothing, but adds tremendous value to the quality of your child’s life, and to their perceived image outside of your home.

Here are 10 ways to help young children make manners a natural part of their character:

  • Model good manners yourself, and point out other examples: “That was so nice of that lady to hold the door open for us.”
  • Encourage your child to say “please” when asking for something.
  • Practice saying “thank you” when she receives something requested.
  • Help him say “you’re welcome” when someone thanks him. (Personal pet peeve: When did “no problem” take the place of “you’re welcome”?)
  • Make good manners a habit. If your child uses good table manners at home, she’ll most likely use them when she’s a guest.
  • Teach your child that when he seeks adult attention, he should not interrupt. Say “excuse me” (unless, of course, it’s an emergency).
  • Remind her not to talk with her mouth full.
  • Ask him not to reach and grab for things. Instead, ask them to be passed.
  • Give gentle reminders of how to act before going to a friend’s or family member’s home. For example, “Let’s not forget to help clean up the toys before we go home.”
  • Help them draw or write thank-you notes or emails for all gifts received.

As a parent, teaching your child to think, talk, and act respectfully is one of the most important gifts you can give!

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Signs of Cell Phone Addiction

Someone sent me a link to an article called How To Get Students To Stop Using Their Cellphones in Class. I was particularly interested in it because kids have a hard time putting their phones away and ignoring them. I was hoping for some strategies to share with those who really need to be paying attention in class rather than being distracted by their phones. Unfortunately, what stood out the most in the article was a statement from Larry Rosen, a research psychologist and professor emeritus at California State University, Dominguez Hills.  According to Rosen, “In experiments, [he] has shown that students' heart rate and other vital signs spike when they hear their phones ring and can't answer them. He says that putting the phones in sight, but out of reach, even when turned off, will only increase that anxiety and the distraction that comes with it.” This worried me, and made me wonder if students really are addicted to their cell phones. Up to this point, I had dismissed that thought as somewhat alarmist.

WebMD lists the signs of drug addiction. Some of these signs are eerily like what I see in my students (and, yes—me, too). This list is only part of the longer list on WebMD. I chose the ones that seem to relate to possible cell phone addiction.

  • You need more and more of the substance (in this case cell phone use) to get the same effect.
  • You feel strange when not using it.
  • You cannot stop yourself from using it.
  • You have a hard time setting limits on its use.
  • You’ve lost interest in things you used to like to do.
  • You drive or do other things you should not be doing while using it.
  • You have trouble getting along with others.
  • You need more and more of the substance (in this case cell phone use) to get the same effect.

It is easy to see how cell phone use relates to each of these signs. Perhaps as parents and teachers we need to begin thinking of ways to help our children take charge of their phones rather than allowing the phones to run their lives. Personally, I have started purposely leaving my phone in the house when I am working outside and limiting how much I stay on it. When at work, I only check it once an hour rather than every few minutes like I used to do. I must admit, it was hard at first, but it is much easier now that I have been doing it for a while. Read through this list of symptoms and think about your child. Is it possible he is addicted? He may need to be encouraged to change his behavior. I believe it is worth taking action to improve!

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Teaching Kids To Be Honorable Students

The school where I work has a lovely ceremony each year when all students and teachers sign the Honor Code. Many teachers ask students to “pledge” their work, signifying that the work is their own. We teach students to cite their sources when they borrow the ideas of others. To sign a pledge that says—“I shall not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate others who do”—seems cut and dried. In reality, it is complex. Interpreting individual cases can be difficult. There are times when parents should help their children figure out what is the right thing to do in a given situation.

Your son may work with another student on homework. Teachers encourage students to help one another when they are having trouble figuring out how to answer a question. In most cases, this is fine. The difficult part is deciding how much working with a friend is OK, and at what point it is no longer your child’s work. There are some teachers who do not want students working together at all. These teachers feel that homework is the way to know which students have mastered the concepts. I would suggest that your son ask his teachers what their expectations are for homework. If there is confusion, he should err on the side of caution—he should do it alone.

Another difficult area is when your daughter is writing a research paper. Changing one or two words in a paragraph from one of her sources does not make the work hers. Even changing whole sentences and paragraphs is not enough. She must give proper credit to the person whose ideas she is sharing. This is extremely hard for students to understand, and if your daughter makes a mistake she could be accused of plagiarizing, even though she feels she wrote it herself. It is probably a good idea to help her decide whether an idea needs to be cited, especially on the first few papers she writes. It is always better to over-cite than to not give credit when you should!

There are times when students cheat and they know it. This usually stems from feeling desperate for one reason or another. Perhaps they are over-scheduled and simply did not have time to do an assignment. It is possible they do not know how to do the work and won’t ask for help (perhaps they’re embarrassed to ask). Maybe they are about to lose a privilege at home if their grades drop. For whatever reason, these cases are clearer and normally result in punishment. Even so, parents can help identify the reasons their child felt the need to cheat. It may be possible to adjust their schedule or arrange for tutoring support, if needed.

All parents want their children to grow up to be honorable. The school’s honor code and how it is implemented can be helpful in teaching what it means to have integrity. Children make mistakes. When they do, take time to figure out what happened. Were they working with another student on homework and thought it was okay? Did they use another person’s ideas feeling they came up with them on their own? Or, did they cheat out of desperation? For whatever reason, take advantage of the situation to help your child learn how to do it better the next time.

You may be interested in reading Honesty Is a Vital Part of Character for more on this important topic.

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5 Quick Tips: Helping When Your Child Isn't Fitting In

We all want our kids to have friends and enjoy going to school every day. When that doesn’t happen, our hearts break and all we want to do is make things better for them.

Before you do anything, take a moment and read these quick tips to help get you through this tough time.

1. Empathize, but don’t overreact 

2. Get the facts before taking action 

3. Respect your child’s personality 

4. Offer guidance on how to pick up on social cues from others  

5. Seek help if problem persists 


We have lots more resources to help. Check out:

Help Your Child Adjust Socially 

Social Development by Grade Level 

Bullying: How Parents Can Fight Back

Help Your Daughter Deal With "Mean Girls"

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Let Your Kids Try—Even if They Might Fail

Sometimes, your child might want to try out for a sport or take art lessons, even when you know she really doesn’t have the aptitude for it. It is tempting to discourage her from trying, because it is hard to watch your child try but not be successful. A friend of mine, who I taught many years ago, recently posted to Facebook a particularly thoughtful way to think about how to handle this situation. The following is what he said (edited for clarity and used with his permission):

“I watched a dad on Saturday be the father I hope I can be. His son had a [physical] disability--not sure what it was, but he had muscular issues. The son wanted to try out for a fall baseball team. The coaches worked with his dad to find him a bat he could swing to give him a chance. The dad didn't say, “No son. Don't try. You can't do it.” He said, “Just try and do your best.”

When did we stop letting our children try because we are too afraid they might fail? The father told him to try his best and hope for the best…That has stuck with me, and the more I think about it the more I smile. I think about my parents who always pushed me and let me try. Did I fail? Of course I did, but I learned to fight harder and want it more.

I just wanted to share this with all parents….Let's push our children to make sure they do their best. They might not succeed, but we shouldn't crush their dream because we are scared they might fail. Not succeeding isn't the worst thing. Not letting them try is the worst thing!”

Parents need to offer their children support by encouraging them to try new things, work hard, and do their best. The most successful people are the ones who work the hardest and experience some failure along the way. As Michael Jordan said, “To learn to succeed, you must first learn to fail.” Let your child know that no matter how well he does, you will be proud of his effort and hard work. And, don’t forget to tell him every day how much you love him.

Best wishes to all as we begin the 2015-16 school year! May it be the best one yet.

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Behavior Management, From Classroom to Home

We as adults have come to know actions involved in doing a good job or behaving. As teachers all over the country start a new school year, one of their first priorities is to establish a good, workable behavior management environment for their class. Four key elements in setting up a behavior plan that have always worked for my classes are:

  • Be specific
  • Be consistent
  • Have follow-through
  • Be kind yet firm

Young children don’t have our adult basis of comparison. Often, they don’t know where to start when asked to “be good” or behave. Parents can set up a simple yet very effective behavior management system for home by following some of these simple guidelines that work in classrooms.

  • Keep requests clear and simple. Consider describing exact behaviors expected. Don’t say “Please be good at Nana’s house today,” as that might be too vague for a child to process. Instead say, “Today at Nana’s house you need to pick up all your toys as soon as she asks you.”
  • Consistency. If your child’s bedtime is 8 p.m. on school nights, try your best to stick to it. If he’s resistant or needs to calm down, try reading a book 10-15 minutes before as part of the routine. You can be more flexible on weekends, vacations, etc.
  • Follow-through. Follow-through is the most important piece of any successful behavior management plan. Make consequences fit the expectation, and focus on the positive. For example, “If your homework is done by 5:30, we will be able to play catch before bedtime.” Presenting a child with a consequence and following through helps ensure that your child will take you seriously, and know that you mean what you say.
  • Be kind, yet firm. Children recognize when they are not following the rules.  Kindness is often an unexpected and powerful response.

One of my favorite quotes is by Mark Twain, who wrote, “One can always show kindness, even when there isn’t fondness.” Responding with a simple, “I’m very sorry that you feel that way, but this is what we have to do.” Or neutral phrases, stated firmly and then calmly repeated, such as “Oh, we don’t do that in room 9” can be very effective.  
Be specific and don’t mince words. If your child clearly understands your instructions when presented in a calm and direct manner, the chances of cooperation are greatly enhanced!

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Why School Dress Codes Matter

Many families are getting ready to go back to school. It is important to give some thought to appropriate clothing to wear. Most schools have a dress code; and, most adolescents don’t like it! Schools have dress codes for a reason, and it helps to understand why. Here are some ideas for talking with your child if she does not agree with the school’s code. Understanding why dressing appropriately is important can make back-to-school shopping easier!

First and foremost, ask her, “Why do you go to school?” Generally, kids will say two reasons in this order—“to see my friends” and “to get an education.” The social aspects of school are extremely important, which is why attire is so important to teens. Your conversation can center on the primary reason for school—to prepare her for her future, whether that is college or career. School is her job right now, and most places have dress codes for their employees.

Second, talk about the importance of first impressions. It can be the deciding factor of who is chosen for a job or elected to an office. I like to find pictures online of people dressed up for a party, dressed for working in the yard, dressed for a casual get-together with friends, and dressed for the swimming pool. Ask your son why the people are wearing what they are wearing. Ask him what people would think if he showed up wearing his swimming suit at school or the clothes he wears while mowing the lawn. Ask him to pick out a successful businessman and why he chose the one he did. The bottom line is that how you look makes an impression on others and that impression can affect success.

Last of all, make the point that the way we dress affects how we behave. Talk about what happens in school on “dress-up” days. We have a spirit week when students choose themes each day such as dressing like your favorite super hero or wearing school colors. Students enjoy each theme and love that the dress code is relaxed to allow hats, flip-flops, and ragged jeans. Teachers report that it is difficult to get students to take their learning seriously when Iron Man and Batgirl are sitting in class or one student is wearing a bright green hat with blinking lights on it. On normal days, when students are dressed for school, students settle down to business much more quickly.

Dress codes do matter. It is a part of our adult life as much as it is life in school. Getting an education is your child’s job right now. Dressing appropriately sends the signal to others, both peers and teachers, that your son or daughter is there to learn as much as possible and that they take their jobs seriously. Take time to examine the school’s dress code and to have this conversation before shopping for school clothes.

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Over-Praising Your Kids Can Hold Them Back

In her new book, Getting Real, Gretchen Carlson tells a story about her son. His hockey team had just won a tournament, yet he didn’t seem as happy as his mom expected him to be. He told her that everyone on the teams got the same medal—even the fourth place team received the same medals as his team did. This has been a common practice for many years in children’s sports, because parents do not want their children to be disappointed or to experience failure. Carlson goes on to say, “Losing is hard, but it’s as important for kids to experience having to cope with failure as it is for them to win. When we praise mediocrity and give everyone a trophy, children don’t learn how to deal with setbacks.” When children are protected from ever experiencing failure or disappointment, they might feel they don’t need to work as hard. It doesn’t matter as much, because the end result will be the same.

Here are some ideas for ways to encourage your children to do their best in all situations.

  • Praise only when it’s merited. Adolescents in particular can see through false praise. When your son hurries through a homework assignment that barely meets the minimum requirement, don’t tell him you are proud of him. Instead say in a non-judgmental tone of voice, “Is this the best you can do?” Follow that with specific suggestions on how it can be improved, and ask him to work on it again. You might say, “The assignment says to write a paragraph, and this is a paragraph. It would be a better one if you included some examples and details to support your ideas.”
  • Encourage resilience. When your daughter fails, encourage her to give it another try. Let her know that failure is a normal part of growing up. If she doesn’t get a part in the school’s musical, she needs to figure out why. She can talk to the director to find out the reason. If she learns that she must know a few basic dance steps to be in the school’s musical, then she can work on that. Perhaps she needs some voice lessons. Be careful that she accepts the result graciously and knows that it does not mean anything about who she is as a person. It just means she didn’t get selected for this one part. It is important that she try again if being in the musical is important to her.
  • Help set reasonable goals. It's good for teens to have goals. They often need help, however, in coming up with goals they can actually reach. A child with attention issues should not set a goal that he will never talk to his friends in class, because it is unlikely that he will be able to do that. He can say that he will move himself away from his friends in class and work to reduce the number of times his teacher has to call on him to be quiet. He may need help figuring out how to measure his success. Perhaps he can ask his teacher to give him feedback once a week. In weeks when he does not meet his goal, discuss it together and encourage him to keep trying.

Parents can help their children learn to work hard. Learning to praise only when it’s well-deserved is an important step. Teaching them to be resilient—to keep trying even after a failure—will help them understand the need for hard work. Finally, parents can help their children set reasonable goals and encourage them to work hard to reach their goals.

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The Power of Positive Attention for Teens

Human beings need the attention of others. We need to interact with one another and to feel accepted and loved. When teens misbehave, they often do so to get the attention of their peers or the adults in their lives. Years ago, an acquaintance talked for 20 minutes about how awful her daughter was without ever saying anything good about her. I asked her, “Do you ever just put your arms around her and tell her you love her?” She said that she didn’t do that because her daughter didn’t deserve it. To me, it partially explained her daughter's behavior. She needed to feel loved by her mother and to have her mother’s unconditional love. Since she couldn’t get that, she at least got her attention by misbehaving. There are times when parents must discipline their children, but children must know that their parents love them despite their poor behavior. How can parents let their kids know how much they love them even when they need to change their behavior?

First of all, parents and teens need to talk to one another often. Ask your son his opinion about important decisions you need to make or what is going on in his life. Ask him probing questions that require more than a one-word answer. Tell him how important he is to you and how much you care about him. If talking to each other like this is normal, then talking about his misbehavior won’t be so stressful. He will already know you love him, because you have told him so many times before.

Second, be aware that your daughter hears what you say about her to your friends. If you need to discipline her about something, do what you need to do and move forward without continuing to talk about it. Tell others about the positive things she is doing and how proud you are of her. When she gets positive attention from you and hears you telling your friends about the good things she does, she will know that you forgave her and that you still love her. This will encourage her to behave well because she gets lots of attention for it.

Finally, learn about ways to manage your son’s behavior effectively. There are many excellent books about how to change behavior without using humiliation or other extreme measures. My favorite is Joanne Nordling’s Taking Charge: Caring Discipline That Works at Home and at School. Nordling outlines a behavior management system based on consequences tied to the behavior you need to change. She also recommends that you carefully choose which behaviors get attention and which do not. Very deliberately, you effectively shape your son’s behavior in positive ways.

Teens need the attention of their parents. If they don’t get enough, they might do something wrong to get negative attention; negative attention is better than no attention. To change this dynamic and strengthen your relationship with your child, talk often, use effective disciplinary techniques, and choose your words carefully when discussing family business with others. Most important of all—make sure she knows how much you love her.

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Internet Safety Tips for Teens and Parents

Many experts warn children about the dangers of the Internet. We teach our children to never give their name, address, or phone number to anyone online. We watch them while online to make sure they do not visit inappropriate websites. As children become teens, we tend to back off and trust them to be careful while online. There are great risks for teens, however, and parents need to continue to watch diligently what their adolescents are doing online. The risks do change, but are just as dangerous as when our children were younger.

Teens often know as much or more than their parents do about their electronic devices. Step number one for protecting your teen is to learn what the risks are and what control you have over them. Here are some of the risks I often see affecting the kids I teach.

Lack of sleep. If adolescents take their tablet or smartphone to bed with them, they are likely communicating with their friends throughout the night. The culture now is to answer every tweet, posting, or message the second it goes online. Lack of sleep leads to poor performance in school, drowsiness while driving, and even to depression. It might not be easy to get him to agree, but your teen should turn the devices over to you before bed, and you should keep them with you overnight.

Online bullying. Bullying used to happen during the school day or before and after school. Now, it can go on 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. The effects of bullying are deep and devastating. It is important to monitor your teens’ online communications with other kids, and keep an ongoing dialogue about their activity there. If possible, connect with them on their social networks so that you see the comments as they are posted. Parents of all the children involved need to work together in positive ways to resolve the issues.

Becoming addicted to online video games. When your child needs more and more of something and it affects his ability to function normally, then he is addicted. We tend to think of drugs and alcohol addictions, but I have known teens and adults who are addicted to video games. For kids in school, their grades suffer, they are sleepy in school, and they frequently get into trouble because they are using their devices inappropriately in class. One defense for parents is to cut off the supply of funding for the games. To be really good at most of these games, the player must spend money to buy the advantage to win. If there is no money available, the game is not as much fun. Additionally, keeping the electronics away from them at night is important. If your child does not respond to these restrictions, he may need to see a psychologist who specializes in adolescent addiction.

Parenting teens is hard work. It is important to maintain diligent efforts to monitor your teen’s activities online in order to prevent serious consequences. Your child can perform poorly in school, have serious health consequences, or become addicted to online games. If you do not feel that you have adequate skills to know how to protect your child, sign up for a class or form an alliance with other parents of teens. Contact your child’s school to see if they are offering support, as well. Kids are healthier and happier when their parents work together with other parents and with the school.

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Keys To Helping Your Child Be Successful in School—and in Life

In a few short days, I will watch another class of seniors walk across the stage to receive their high school diplomas. It is always an emotional time, because I have worked with many of these students for several years and seen them grow from insecure middle school students into self-confident seniors. What can we do to make that journey smooth and productive?

First of all, parents should stress the importance of being on time to school and attending every day unless really sick. If you allow your child to stay home every time she feels tired or doesn’t want to take a test, you are setting up a pattern of negative behavior that will impact her college and career success. If she feels anxious about school, it is important to find out what is making her anxious and to help her face her fears rather than run from them. If allowed to avoid it, she will become more anxious the next time.

Second, parents, teachers, and students need to communicate frequently with each other. If parents do not let teachers know when there are problems, then teachers can’t do anything to help. Conversely, if teachers don’t let parents know, then the parents can’t do their part to help. Typically, experienced teachers have seen similar problems and have suggestions for what needs to be done in a given situation; and parents are usually ready to provide support at home when they know it is needed. Adolescents should be contributing to the discussion, as well, so that they can understand the issues and do their part to correct them.

Finally, both parents and teachers must hold students accountable for their actions. Of all the educational issues I have seen that harm children, this is one of the worst. When your son chooses not to do his homework, he should suffer the consequence of having a lower grade for it. This is true even if he had a great reason for not doing it. For example, if he is on the football team and had a late practice after school, he might be very tired and choose not to do his work. The consequence for that choice is a lowered grade. He might have been able to change that situation if he had planned ahead and asked his teacher for an extension. But just choosing not to do it is not the best decision. Parents should not try to intervene to lessen the consequence for the decision. In this way, children learn to make the best choice and to be responsible for their actions.

The path from adolescence to adulthood can be rocky. Parents can help their children traverse it by encouraging good attendance, communicating when there are questions or concerns, and holding their children responsible for their actions. When it is your turn to watch your child walk across the stage at graduation, you will watch a young adult who is ready for life after high school—one who is independent and can be successful in college or career.

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Help Your Child Deal With Worrying News Stories

Parents need to be mindful of how their children are feeling when the news is full of frightening events. Stories about violent protests, natural disasters, and political turmoil are prominent on every news source. Adolescents are at an emotional point in their development, and parents need to be aware of the effects these stories have on their teens. It is very important to talk to your children about these events and others they worry about. Here are some tips for how you might approach these discussions.

  • There are many people who protest in peaceful ways. The media often does not focus on these protests; perhaps you can spend some time with your child showing him news stories that are focusing on the peaceful, more effective protests. Also, read about Martin Luther King Jr., who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 amid the racial tensions of the 1960s.
  • When natural disasters occur, adolescents need to learn that their actions can help alleviate the suffering of others. One person might not make a huge dent, but many working together can. You can encourage your kids to lead or participate in an effort that will directly provide aid to the people they are hearing about in the news. This helps change your child’s emotional response to the news from fear into compassion for others.
  • People can disagree about politics (or anything else) and still like one another. Unfortunately, that message is not the one portrayed by candidates running for office. With my own children, I tried to point out that there are risks and benefits for every choice we make. During political campaigns I encouraged them to read each candidate’s platform before deciding who they support. In this way, they can have an informed discussion with their friends who support a different candidate. This same approach can work when discussing any news story because the chances are great that you are not hearing the full truth. One must seek the other side of each story before deciding what to believe.

Adolescents in particular are affected by events they hear on the news or read about on the Internet. Parents can help alleviate their fears by talking about them with their children, helping seek the full story in each case, and providing some guidance for positive ways to make a difference in the world. I believe that most teens are good people. With parental help, teens can become analytical thinkers who are equipped to make a real difference in the world.

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Help Keep Your Kids Safe Online

Teens spend a lot of time on social networks. We have all heard of Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook; but have you also heard of Whisper, Vine, and Yik Yak? It is difficult to keep up in the digital world when it is changing daily and our children are purposefully trying to find networks parents do not know about. It can seem daunting and scary. For this reason, it is more important than ever to keep informed and teach your children how to stay safe online.

According to the experts on social media and teens, the major concerns remain the same as always. First of all, there is a very real chance that teens will use the sites to bully others. It is so easy to “say” something online when it is not so obvious how much the words hurt another person. I personally have witnessed anxiety and depression that relates to online aggression. An additional concern is that kids are exposed to images, videos, and vulgar language on most of these sites. A quick search on a site will reveal how likely it is to find inappropriate content. A third concern is that adolescents measure their self-worth by how many of their friends and friends of friends “like” what they post. Their posts become more and more outrageous to get the attention of others. Additionally, people tend to post the good things that happen to them, which gives the impression they have a perfect life. When your child experiences normal failures and rough spots in life, she may become depressed that her life isn’t like everyone else’s. Finally, privacy remains a concern. If your son posts personal information online, predators can more easily find him. Organizations like Commonsense Media can help. Their article on 15 sites and apps that teens often use is helpful and presents the pros and cons of the sites.

Children need to learn how to protect themselves and others when online. It is not possible to watch what your child does at all times. Firewalls and parental control software at school and home provide a level of protection; but, they are far from perfect. Parents need to stress to their children that their online safety depends on them making good decisions. Personal information they give online is not necessarily private, even when they think they are only telling their friends. Pictures and videos they post now will be online forever. Colleges and prospective employers routinely search a person’s online presence when vetting a potential student or employee. How a person behaves online also affects their relationships with peers when in person. There can be unintended consequences to something posted even when there was no intent to hurt others. Sri Sathya Sai Baba, an Indian spiritual leader, once said, “Before you speak, think—Is it necessary? Is it true? Is it kind? Will it hurt anyone? Will it improve on the silence?” I tell kids that everything they post online needs to pass this test. You can protect your child best by becoming an informed parent and teaching your child about online safety. 
There are many organizations that provide cyber safety information for parents and students. Some of my favorites are the FBI, Commonsense Media, and Netsmartz. Pick one of these sites or a similar one to inform yourself. Your child needs your help to stay safe when online.

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Teens and Marijuana Use: What Parents Should Know

When students smoke marijuana, they typically do not do well in school. I was curious about whether the recent state laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use have affected the number of teens who smoke it regularly. A recent study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health analyzed the results of the Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance Survey taken before and after the laws were passed. This study determined that the use of marijuana by teens did not change significantly after the laws came into effect. What surprised me, though, was the number of students who report using marijuana in the last month is around 21 percent—two out of every 10 students!

Many teens feel that marijuana helps them deal with the stress of being an adolescent, and it is not dangerous. There is a lot of research that suggests otherwise. Marijuana affects the hippocampus, the part of the brain where certain types of learning occur. This can lead to problems studying and learning new things, and it affects short-term memory. Recent studies show that regular use causes a significant drop in IQ which does not come back after quitting. Marijuana also affects the cerebellum which is the control center for balance and coordination. This causes poor performance in activities such as sports and driving. The third area of the brain that is impacted is the prefrontal cortex, where high level reasoning and problem-solving occur. This explains why people under the influence of marijuana can make poor decisions and engage in risky behaviors.

The effects of smoking marijuana start quickly and last for several hours. Long-term use may impair brain development and lower the IQ. If your child changes from a sweet, cooperative teen who cares about himself and others into one who seems more argumentative or paranoid, it is possible he is smoking marijuana. Other signs are a sudden drop in grades and uncharacteristically poor hygiene. (For more information, see NIDA for Teens.) If you suspect your child might be using, it is important to find out. The first step is a visit to his doctor. Once you know, you can get professional help for your child to help him learn to cope with normal adolescent stress in healthy ways.

See Help Kids Learn To Manage Stress for ideas about healthy ways to deal with stress.

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Some "Tricks" Can Help Teens With Anxiety

In the last few years there seems to be an increasing number of kids who suffer from anxiety. I wanted to learn more about anxiety and how to help these kids. My journey began with a workshop with Dr. Michael Southam-Gerow, a professor in clinical psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, and reading his book about adolescence and anxiety. Recently, I had an opportunity to meet with Dr. Nancy Macconnachie, an expert on working with teens who are anxious. Dr. Macconnachie explained the biological basis of anxiety and her strategy for working with these adolescents.

According to Dr. Macconnachie, when information enters our brain it first goes to the limbic system, which is the emotion-regulating center. From there it moves to the prefrontal cortex, where we reason and problem-solve. If too much information enters at once, the emotion center becomes overwhelmed and the information is not sent to the thinking system. This is a biological description of anxiety. An anxious person is emotional and cannot reason through the situation. Once this happens, everything becomes a crisis because the student is overwhelmed by emotions. Dr. Macconnachie says we have to teach our students how to handle these emotional times in order to allow the thinking brain to do its job. She says we must “give students a bag of tricks.”

There are some fundamental tricks that all of us need. Number one, according to Dr. Macconnachie, is to get plenty of exercise or active play. Exercise increases the oxygen level in the bloodstream and relaxes tense muscles, both of which reduce adrenalin levels and allow us to function. The second “trick” is to develop a social network of support. Perhaps a parent or close friend can provide emotional support that helps get through the tough times. Other strategies include things like having a creative outlet such as art or music, caring for pets, participating in a spiritual activity like church, or doing community service. Every person’s “bag of tricks” is different. When Dr. Macconnachie works with adolescents, she has them begin to explore what relaxes them and helps them to get through the emotional crises and move to rational thinking and problem-solving.

Being an adolescent is difficult.  Physical changes occur, and teens begin to seek independence from the adults around them. All adolescents are emotional because of these changes in their lives. It is important to develop healthy ways to handle the emotions such as exercise and spending quality time with friends and family. If your teen is experiencing anxiety, it is important to help them develop their personal “bag of tricks” to handle their emotions. Too much anxiety can lead to serious depression.  If you feel your teen is overly stressed, seek the help of a professional who knows the best ways to help.


> How To Reduce School Anxiety

> Help Kids Learn To Manage Stress

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Help Your Young Child Build Good Conversation Skills

During the holidays, did you notice that it’s often hard for a young child to keep a conversation going? When visiting family or friends asked a question, did you hear mostly one-word answers?

Young children need to learn that good conversation skills are an essential part of growing up. These skills build confidence and enhance school and social success. Here are five simple ways to help your young child become a good conversationalist:

  • Make sure she understands that good conversation includes listening, speaking, and asking questions. Then practice together. For example, when you ask “Did you have a good day at school today?” and she answers “yes,” ask “What was the best part of the day?” Questions like this keep the conversation focused and flowing.
  • Model active listening by nodding or commenting. Encouragingly say, “Tell me more! It sounds like that was really fun.”
  • Stress the importance of eye contact when having conversations. I tell my 1st grade students “If I can see your eyes, then I know you are really listening.”
  • Remind him not to interrupt. He should wait for his turn to speak until you are finished talking.
  • Model how to clarify and respond in conversations. For example, “I didn’t know that you were already learning to skip count. Do you like it?” Or, “How do you know so much about dinosaurs?”

The ability to demonstrate good listening skills, and to exchange thoughts in meaningful conversation, will get your child noticed—in a very positive way!


> Increase Your Child's Emotional Intelligence

> Good Social Development Equals Early School Success

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Help Your Young Child Handle Stress

Managing stress is just as important for children as it is for adults. Stress can affect anyone who is overwhelmed, especially during the holidays—and that can include young children.

Some stress triggers might be scheduling visit times for blended families, separation from a parent, the high expense of the season, or dealing with the loss of a loved one. Even if these are not communicated in words, children are sensitive to changes around them. Often, stress that children feel is reflected in a change of behavior or mood.

Here are five simple ways to help alleviate family stress.

  • Take time to exercise. Physical activity is a great way to let off steam. Take 15 minutes to go for a walk together, toss a ball, or play tag. You’ll both feel better for it.
  • Incorporate some downtime. When visiting family or friends, let your child take along a favorite book, puzzle, or game, and give her free time to enjoy the activities that help her relax.
  • Retain your normal routine as much as possible. When children know what to expect a level of comfort and safety is created for them. For example, if you read a bedtime story together every night, try to maintain that structure.
  • Make sure your child gets plenty of sleep. Loss of sleep due to excitement, family gatherings, or staying up later than normal can contribute negatively to a child’s willingness to cooperate.
  • Plan for good nutrition. The holidays are a time when extra sugary treats might be allowed. Compensate for this by planning healthy meals and snacks at home and in school lunches.

Stress is a normal part of life. In small doses, it can motivate and challenge us to do more. When you plan for stress-coping strategies early, you can help your young child build the resilience to stay focused and healthy—for the holidays and the whole year through.

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

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

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