Archive for January, 2011

You look at her in disbelief as she tells you that you must go NOW and purchase the project board for the science project!  She has to turn in the “first exhibit” which is a rough draft of sorts of the whole project.  If it is not turned in tomorrow she will lose a letter grade on the project.

You remember clearly when you had to make an emergency trip to the public library because she left the book for the book report in her locker at school.  She promised to let you know these deadlines in advance so you could successfully schedule your time and not have these unexpected “emergencies”.  These unexpected “emergencies” wreak havoc on your schedule.

So now here’s your key:  When you’re so frustrated and have smoke coming out your ears you probably want to scream “Why can’t you just tell me BEFORE the last minute?” STOP!

Take as many deep breaths as you need (don’t hyperventilate now) and get calm and quiet.  Remember she did not create this crisis on purpose.  Instead of those upset words you were going to blast her with just ask yourself:  “What makes me GLAD about her?”  Maybe she is a great friend.  Maybe she has a generous heart.  As you focus on this wonderful quality in the very child who has just destroyed your evening schedule your feelings will shift.  (The smoke coming out of your ears will stop.)  Now that you are centered and calm you can best deal with having to redo your evening schedule (or not.)

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You have probably noticed that your child responds better to a particular teacher or coach than some of the others.  Did you think it was great that she seemed to work much harder for that teacher and the hard work was the cause of the good performance with that teacher?  Yes, of course when the student works harder results will improve.

But there is a lot more to the story.  When your child has positive feelings about a teacher or coach and the work they are doing together there is actually a dramatic difference in how well the child’s brain is functioning.  Good feelings actually “light up” different parts of the brain and the students capacity to perform is substantially increased.  This is now proven in the latest neuroscience.  A marvelous just released book on this topic is “Shine” by Dr. Edward Hallowell.  It is an easy read and very informative on this topic.

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I know it may seem unlikely that your child could have a positive feeling about doing homework but there is a simple thing that can be done to move things in that direction.  This does not mean that if your child hates reading and it is a tremendous struggle for him, he will suddenly love reading. 

Here is a simple strategy you can use that will make any student feel better about doing homework.  Notice the goal here is for the child to feel better.  If you give your child some choice in exactly when and how things are done he will feel better about doing it than if all the terms are dictated and he has no choices.  You can allow choice about what order he will do things in.  (Of course everything has to get done and TV first is not on the list of choices unless he has demonstrated a high level of performance on work being done after TV.  That particular choice does not work for most students because they are tired and a bit dulled by the TV watching and the homework usually suffers.)  But he could choose whether to do a household chore before or after homework.  He might choose an activity to do before doing homework or just take a brief break and knock out the homework in time for a favorite TV show. 

You want the choices to be small things related to the homework so there is a feeling of having some control regarding the homework itself.  The feeling of having some power and control over the homework will help diminish resistance to the task.

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The simple scout saying of “be prepared” has a lot of powerful effects.  We often overlook the real root causes of procrastination and so fail to really deal with the base causes.

Not having a clear view of the real causes can leave us uncertain and tripping over the same old stumbling blocks over and over again.  This can be especially frustrating when the answer is so obvious to you, the parent as you watch your child struggle over and over again.

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Well … yes … and no!  This is always a frustrating answer but it can become an easy 2 step process.

Example:  Your 6th grader is constantly forgetting where he wrote down the homework.  Well that’s ok (sort of) because the teacher usually posts the assignments online.  You go your computer and pull up the teacher’s website.  There it is!  So far so good.  So he is now ready to get started.  Right?

Not so fast.  His teacher told them to use the rubric she gave them last week.  His is .. well, no where to be found.  So can one simple procedure fix this problem?

Yes.  Sometimes.  You start with a system of having him ALWAYS write down every assignment complete with all directions in his assignment book.  If he now has only one place for assignments and directions and he always follows that PROCEDURE you’re done.  Step one got it done.  Great!

If you are still experiencing snags you go to the next level for completing your solution.  Step 2 could be this.  Since he showed great improvement by always witing down the assignments in the assignment book, this is a big step up.  Be sure to celebrate that progress.  You notice that he seems to have pretty good notes on directions too.  You can see he is really putting in effort to meet this challenge and solve his problem.  A few days later he is ready to do the Spanish assignment and needs to look at an example the teacher gave in class.  He is still a bit foggy on the grammar skill for tonight’s homework.  He can’t find that paper.

This additional snag will require an additional procedure.  Next we will look at how to do some customization of your child’s system to fit his particular situation.

Stay tuned.

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You look at the caller ID and see your daughter’s teacher is calling AGAIN!  She called last week for the third time this year!  Your jaw drops as she cooly informs you that your daughter did not turn in the Math homework today.  How could this be?  Yes, she got home and was not sure which problems to do but she called the “study buddy” all on her own and fixed that with ease.  You asked her if she finished all the homework including the Math and she assured you it was all done.  And you believe her because she can be trusted to tell the truth.  She may be forgetful but she does not lie.

The teacher goes on to inform you that these zeroes are badly damaging your daughter’s grade and even though she gets excellent scores on the tests (usually A’s if not high A’s) but these zeroes are about to make her best possible grade a B for the semester even if she scores in the very high 90’s on EVERYTHING from here on out including the final exam.  She wanted to be in the honors Math next semester and this will eliminate her from consideration for the  honors program.

What will it take for this very bright girl to fulfill her potential and make her A in this Math class?

Could there be a surprisingly simple solution?

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If you are watching your child or teen struggle with getting assignments turned in on time there are some very concrete things you can do.  You want to start with some big crayon general strategies and then add more detailed and case specific elements as needed.  We recomend starting with the broad and general techniques first because this allows you to see how many problems are solved by the initial actions and any remaining challenges will reveal needs that may be more specific to your child.  If you need to add more custom tailored strategies to supplement you will be addressing the nuances of your child’s personal and specific needs.

An example would be:

The student sits down to do Math homework but is not sure which problems to do.  She knows they were assigned to every 4th problem but she is not sure which ones exactly she is supposed to do.  Is her uncertainty likely to cause her to delay or avoid doing the assignment or to complete all the problems on the page to be sure she has included all the required problems?  (If your child jumps at the chance to do 4 times the required amount of work for the same assignment grade you may have a different kind of problem from the usual!)

A possible solution for the Math assignment “which problems were assigned” concern, a nice general starting point strategy would be to set your child up with a “study buddy” who is very good at correctly writing down all assignments and any accompanying instructions.  If you do not have someone you know in mind for this role it is very likely you could contact the teacher and get her assistance in locating an appropriate fellow student of your child to fill the role of “study buddy.”

This is an example of a general strategy which could be a good starting point to deal with the particular challenge of supporting your child’s certainty that she is working on the correct Math problems for that night’s homework.  That certainty will go a long way toward helping her get the assignments completed and turned in on time.

If a general strategy such as the setting up a “study buddy” to solve the “which problems to do” question does not completely solve the problem of getting the Math homework turned on on time…

Tune in tomorrow when the teacher calls and says …

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We can make it simple or we can make it hard.  Getting your child prepared and organized for a  school day requires some work (sometimes a LOT of work) on the front end.  In the long run that effort to plan and prepare will pay huge dividends with less stress in the short run and will lead to lifelong success habits for your child.

Is there really a difference in the activity patterns that lead up to these two situations? 

Situation 1:  Your middle school or high school student has waited until the last minute to start that book report or paper. 

Situation 2:  Your 25 year old son or daughter was late to a presentation for a new client at work.  S/he also forgot some key notes from research done last night that the boss needs to use in presenting the proposal to this new client in this meeting.

There is always a price to pay for doing work sloppily or in a half way manner.  What habits is your child forming  as s/he goes through each school day.  Getting organized and doing things at the right time creates confidence and certainty in the child that s/he is CAPABLE of getting things done on time.  That is a huge benefit for both now and later.  It will reduce the stress of the school days and lay the foundation for a lifetime of successful actions.

It takes at least 10 times as many repetitions to replace a bad habit with a new one!  Why not get right the first time?  That time is now.  What are you and your child doing today to form those successful patterns of activities which will become lifelong habits?

“Good work habits help develop an internal toughness and a self-confident attitude that will sustain you through every adversity and temporary discouragement.”  – Paul J. Fleyer


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