All posts in Education, School & Learning

Tips for a Smooth Summer Transition

We’ve said ‘adieu’ to the lazy days of July, a month that marks the middle of summer. Barbecues, days at the beach, road trips, summer camps, late nights and even later mornings.

During these months many of us let routines and schedules slip away as we allow for a more spontaneous, “go with the flow” groove to emerge and define the early days of our children’s summer vacation. But as we welcome August, a month that traditionally gets our engines revving as we consciously or unconsciously begin to prepare for school, a summer of mindful memories can be lost with this small shift in focus.

This time of year also brings a rise of inquires from parents wondering how to maintain the gentle summer flow with kids through August and avoid the stress that’s already permeating their minds. Unlike our children who have the ability to remain in the moment, right up until the first ring of the alarm clock marking the first day of school, we are entering the planning phase of summer and with that comes additional, but unnecessary stress.

When my own children were young, I made it a practice to surround myself with friends who had older kids. Why? So I could leverage their wisdom, common sense and advice. Now that my children are out on their own, I want to share a few tips for keeping the energy high and the stress low as we dive into August and the upcoming school year

First, make a list of what “fuels” you.

For instance:

  • Slow, mindful breakfast with the kids
  • Sleepy babies cuddling on my lap in the morning light
  • Baby, toddler, school age or teenage morning breath
  • Giggles over chocolate chip pancakes and milk mustaches
  • Fresh berries picked the day before
  • Birds at the window
  • A new flower budding in the garden
  • The sound of the lake just beyond view
  • The smell of the ocean

Obviously, the list is endless. These are just a few I thought of that take place before teeth are even brushed. In August, it’s easy to lose site of what “fuels” us and keeps us grounded in the here and now, something our children are experts in, as our minds drift toward the upcoming school year. Continue making a list for yourself and tack it onto your fridge or make a large poster (with the help of the kids of course) to anchor you in the here and now and get the most out of every remaining day.

What’s equally helpful is to write a list of what “depletes” you.

I doubt you need any suggestions from me and I don’t want to give this list any energy, but if you take just a few minutes and write down three, four or even five things that could potentially interfere with your ability to enjoy the last remaining, gloriously abundant, days of summer, do it now.

Ask yourself if you can let some of these go. Really challenge yourself and listen to your internal dialogue, which might be trying to convince you that it’s time to jump into gear and be proactive. If it feels right, rip the list up and toss it. Or keep it as a reminder of the things that take you away from what you want most from the summer – time to connect with kids and the memories that will make up the fabric of your lives together.

I can tell you that even if you wait until seven days before the first school bell rings, all the major retailers will still have plenty of shoes, backpacks, notebooks, pens and anything else you think necessary for your child’s upcoming school year.

Look for more in the following weeks to help you transition easily into the new school year and keep your kids in the forefront of the process.

Here’s to another jump in the pool, round of backgammon on the deck, or walk in the woods.

Cheers.

Be Patient. Your Child is Remarkable.

This is a personal story and for those of you who know or have been following me, you know that I don’t share much outside of the classroom, and can appreciate that this is a rare occurrence. However, I think sometimes those of us with older kids, can share a bit of our experience to help younger parents along the parenting path. I know how much I cherished hearing about the ups and downs from the parents I respected who had older kids.

So Here Goes

Brady SlidingOur youngest son has always marched to his own drum. He is a maverick of sorts. He does not care in the least if people are mad at him, he isn’t easily influenced by the normal social pressures. He trusts himself more than anyone else, he never complains, blames, or makes excuses. He owns his mistakes and his successes. He is nearly impossible to read, but has a gentle and giving heart that is easily broken by injustice. I was one of those parents who thought it would be super cool to have a kid like Brady, until I actually got one and then I was like “what the hell do I do now?’ because none of the rules, none of the guidelines, none of the strategies work to influence this kid.  So, I did what I always do – I put all my eggs in two baskets. The first was on maintaining and cultivating a healthy, respectful relationship with him and the second was to foster his independence in any way I could and that meant backing off – which (if you know me, you know) isn’t easy for me.

Determined Resolve

Before I get to the punch line, here is a little background. School came easily to Brady. He figured out by the 5th or 6th grade that he could just listen in class, or read the assignment without ever doing the homework and pull an A on his tests. He determined early on that if he could understand the material and prove that by acing the tests and contributing to class discussion, it didn’t make sense for him to do the homework, so he didn’t. Of course this caused chaos at school. We were told that he HAD to do the homework, that his grades were based on the completion of homework. We argued, but in the end, we lost that battle. We tried to convince Brady to play the game as it wouldn’t take him long to knock off the homework, but he wouldn’t budge. In the end we backed him up and told his teachers they would have to find a way to work with Brady. They could ether find a way to motivate him, punish him for his decision or decide that understanding the material was more important than passing in homework.

We had hoped that by early high school he would change his attitude and decide that it was worth doing the homework if it meant getting in to a reputable college and qualifying for some serious scholarship money. In fact, in some of our dreams we imagined him going on to get his Masters and then a PhD and then perhaps teaching at a prestigious college. By the end of his sophomore year, we were living firmly in reality and in senior year he announced that he was done with his formal education and would be leaving school. GULP. He talked and we listened and we knew that his decision was made. We were not going to fight with him and so we agreed that if he was willing to get his GED and take the SATs on the off chance that one day he might want to go to college, he would have our support. And so he did and at 17-years-old he left for a four-month trek in Nepal. (Read more about this experience – here.)

Nepal to California

He relished his time in Nepal and on returning he promptly packed a suitcase and announced that he was moving from our small town in Vermont to Berkley, CA to live with his older brother. Wow. We were shocked, and a bit disheartened that he hadn’t changed his mind about college and yet, just a wee bit hopeful that when he got to Berkley and was surrounded by all those intellectuals, that his passion for learning would kick in and he would announce that he was applying to a University. Nope. He wasn’t interested in anything other than working and playing, but mostly working – in kitchens. Any kitchen. He started off at Subway because that is all he could get and he wasn’t even 18-years-old. He moved from there to a little diner that served mediocre diner food. He picked up a second job and began working between 60 and 80 hours a week. He didn’t have a car so he hoofed it, rode a bike, got a taxi or took the BART. No college, but industrious as hell. Other than getting mugged a few times he didn’t ask us for anything. He managed his finances, his friends, his family, his leisure time, his hours and his work schedule.

At about 20-years-old he hit the wall. He was tired, discouraged and well, confused. We talked and he pitched the idea of going to culinary school. Why YES, yes indeed, what a great idea. And so we jumped through hoops, he enrolled and just when it was time to send in the tuition check, he let us know that he wasn’t going. He let us know that he had pulled himself out of his funk and had found a new job he was excited about and that would be his culinary education, in the trenches like so many other chefs before him. We were deflated but not defeated. This kid is resilient. No, he is more than that, he is everything a person can be who can get up off the floor, battered and bruised and move himself into a new and exciting adventure with not a single look back. Remarkable to behold.

My Parenting Goal

I have said for years, that when I was parenting I had one goal in mind. That goal was to ensure I did everything I could to enhance the relationship I had with my kids so that when they were adults, and they had the choice to call and share big news with me, they would call because they wanted to, not because they felt obliged to.

Brady is now 22-years-old and a few days ago he called with big news. He had just left an interview for a sous-chef position with a four-star restaurant in the Bay area and he wanted to share his excitement with me. He was on the BART traveling home and so we texted back and forth. Me with my questions and he with his excitement at the possibility of working in a stellar restaurant with a more than decent salary and the potential to become a head chef by the time he was 25-years-old. I cried as I typed. I thanked every force out in the Universe that helped me stay true to parenting Brady in the only way that made sense for him. I thanked all those parents with older kids who kept encouraging me to trust him, to let him pave the way and for me to follow quietly behind. It wasn’t always easy. In fact, he challenged me in a way none of my other kids did. I am surely a better parent and person because of him.

Be their Champion

So here’s the punch – you, parent out there, reading this crazy blog, you are living with children, who are remarkable. Right now, just as they are. Whether they are making you crazy or pushing you to your limits and making you shake your head because you cannot figure them out. Trust me when I say, your kids know what they are doing. It may not look like it to you and me, but these kids know and if we can stand behind them and be their champion, they will surely share this adventure with us and it will make all the uncertainty and confusion and chaos worth it.

Take a look at the munchkins living in your home and ask yourself, what are you willing to do today to ensure you get the phone call with the big news? Because if you don’t start preparing for that day today, you will surely miss it.

End of the Praise-Junkie

praise v encourage

What’s a Praise-Junkie?
A Praise Junkie is a child who depends on his/her parents to give constant feedback on what a “Great job she is doing” and “How proud they are of him?” It’s the child who asks “Do you like it?”, “Did I do a good job?”, “Are you proud of me?”, “Did I do it right?” kinds of questions.

A Praise Junkie is a child who looks to the outside world for approval instead of looking inside and using an internal compass to answer the question – do I approve of what I am doing and who I am becoming.

A Praise Junkie is a child who is so use to being judged on the end result, that the joy, the mystery and the excitement of being completely immersed in the Process has lost it’s meaning.

A Praise-Junkie is a child who is at risk of being manipulated by someone – out there – who will gladly give the approval and the applause that this child has become addicted to at the hands of well meaning parents.

When I first started studying Adlerian Psychology and began reading about the dangers of Praise, I, like most people I know, felt completely shocked by what I was learning.

“Praise – the feel good strategy of choice, not good for our kids? How could that be?”
I spent years talking with professionals, reading about the effects of Praise, observing how my own children responded to Encouragement instead of Praise and was soon convinced that Adler presented a good argument for closing the door on Praise and keeping it closed.

Read one Mom’s account of her daughter’s experience when her sister said, “I’m so proud of you!” You will see that when kids are raised with Encouragement from their parents instead of Praise, when someone says to them, “I’m proud of you,” it feels awful. It feels as if you weren’t able to do whatever it was that the parent was proud of, the parent would be disappointed. As parents you may think you are helping your child to feel good, but it has the opposite long-term effect.

So if I was going to give one piece of advice to parents it would be this, “Stop praising and telling your children you are proud of them.”

Even today, with all the research available to parents, I still hear – “How can that be? How can saying, ‘Good job’ or ‘I’m proud of you’ be bad? It makes my child happy, it makes me feel good and it’s easy!”

I admit, it can be a hard habit to break and the fact that it “feels good” (to us) only increases our resistance to giving it up.

So what is my alternative to praising? Encouragement of course.

Encouragement is an observation that can be given at any time, to anyone, in any situation. It is an observation, an acknowledgment, a statement that focuses on effort, improvement or choice, and it helps to promote self-esteem and a sense of self-worth in our children. Encouragement implies faith in and respect for the child as he/she is.

Encouragement is when you look at a drawing your child made and instead of just merely saying, “Good job!” you say, “You chose yellow. What about yellow do you like? Why that shade? What were you thinking about when you drew this? Would you do anything different next time?”

If you use encouragement on a regular basis with your children, it will teach your children to:

  1. Create an internal framework for themselves in which to self-assess their own lives, their preferences, and their progress:
  2. Figure out what is important to them;
  3. Spend less time asking the outside world what they think of who they are as people.

More than any other tool, strategy, concept or skill I use, encouragement has been and continues to be my strategy of choice. In fact, I consider encouragement “a way of being” more than a strategy I use. I believe that if parents developed and mastered the art of encouragement, they would experience dramatic and lasting changes in both their children’s behavior and the quality of the parent/child relationship.

If you’d like to learn more about Encouragement, I discuss the strategy in detail in my books Duct Tape Parenting, A Less is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible and Resilient Kids and The Straight Talk on Parenting, A No Nonsense Guide to Growing a Grownup.

Parenting Land Mine

As anyone who knows me can attest, I was a free range parent long before the words helicopter parenting, tiger mom or free range were part of the parenting landscape.

I parented with 2 things in mind.

1. keep the relationship with my kids strong, healthy, honest and robust

2. foster their independence in every moment

challenge

Yes, I received dirty looks from shop-keepers and store-clerks when my kids were allowed to roam inside their establishments unsupervised while I stood outside and waited for them. The scowls turned to smiles as my kids navigated the aisles without breaking anything “fragile” and then opened their purses and paid with their own money for the little treasures they found in these stores. Fostering independence comes with scowls and skepticism. That’s okay. It didn’t stop us.

I got phone calls from coaches who informed me that I needed to make sure my kids had all their “gear” and were at practice 15 minutes before practice – huh? I politely declined their invitation and let them know that I was committed to raising independent kids who could figure out how to manage something as simple as a pair of cleats, shin guards and a water bottle. As far as getting to practice on-time, I
suggested that perhaps they might also like to foster a bit of independence in the kids they were coaching and ask the kids to make sure they were to practice when they were expected to be there.

As the kids got a bit older, I supported their innate desire to wander further from home (and truth be told, I was a bit nervous the first 42 times they suggested it). But with training, some guidelines and practice, I knew it was the right thing to do if I was really going to stand behind my (here it is again) value to raise independent kids who would one day become adults.

Did I take unnecessary risks? Hell no, but I would bet Danielle Meitiv didn’t think she was taking unnecessary risks either time she supported her kids in walking the short distance home from school.

vicki-training kids blog

I find it remarkable that there is a conversation suggesting that these parents be bullied into changing their parenting style because of the fear that CPS will get involved. I wonder where the world would be today if the woman suffrages ran home because they were scared of a little controversy and backlash from the powers that be. If I was inclined, I could probably think of a dozen or more instances in history where people stood up for their rights at the risk of imprisonment, but maybe parenting is different. Maybe in fact, more of us should parent according to what our neighbors think is appropriate or at the very least, parent according to popular culture norms and our biggest fears, which at present seem to be that an organization established to ensure the safety of children might threaten you with taking your children if they disagree with your parenting style.

Am I the only one that sees the intrinsic danger in where this is going? Fortunately for me, my kids are grown. Unfortunately, in the next ten years they will begin their own parenting journey and it is my great hope that as a society we find the balance needed in order to raise a generation of people who can make informed decisions, are invested in their communities and take personal responsibility for their words, attitudes and actions. But maybe that is asking too much as well. Maybe, along with raising independent children, we should abandon these other traits and be satisfied raising compliant children who do what they are told by people who are not their parents.

What is happening to the Meitivs is another example of how extreme and out of balance parenting has become. At one time, there was a code of conduct among parents that read something like: Do not judge, lest you be judged and help out when you can. Simple. Now it’s judge everything, especially if you know nothing about the people or the situation, share your opinions and judgments openly and often with as many people as you can find and turn your back on a parent who in any way parents in a style you deem unacceptable. It’s a minefield out in the parenting world and anyone who claims that parents stick together is living under a rock. Yes, of course there are wonderful tribes to be had, but more often then not, parents are finding themselves alone, judged and changing the way they parent in order to, in the case of the Maryland parents, keep their kids at home where
they are most certainly safer than they would be in Child Protective Services or Foster Care.

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I don’t believe this is happening to this family because of who they are or what they are doing necessarily. I think that the spotlight is on them in order for us to begin a
dialogue about the new age of parenting and how we must all adapt, work together and support each other if we are to raise children who flourish as adults.

With all that has been written about the hazards of over-parenting, helicopter parenting, micro-managing kids, the real crime is crippling children by parenting from a place of fear, guilt, and shame.

Young Adults Leave The Nest, But Not For Long.

 

 

I came up with a motto, a slogan to help me parent. And it was this: It is my job to make sure that when my children turn 18, I have trained them in everything that they need to learn so that they can open the doors, walk over the threshold, and enter young adulthood with confidence and enthusiasm. I have 18 years to prepare them. It is my job to teach them how to run their life so they don’t need me any longer. But so many kids leave home at 18, young adults, and find themselves at college and don’t know how to manage their lives, how to navigate their lives, how to make simple decisions, how to organize. And they’re forced back home. And I can’t think of anything worse for those kids to admit that they couldn’t make it on their own, or for their parents who have to say “come back home,” knowing that in some way it was their fault. If you find a child who has to come home because they couldn’t make it, this is a chance to start fresh. Look back and ask yourself what areas of this child’s life did you do for them because you thought it would be too hard or they would make a mistake or they would make a mistake and it was just easier if you did it for them. And teach them. It’s not going to be fun, because they see themselves as adults, but they already know that they’re missing some of the life skills that they need to be successful. Sit down, have a heart-to-heart, make a list start at the top, and teach them everything they need to now. Set a timeline that says, 6 months or a year from now we’re going to try it again. This is not the worst thing that will happen to you. Together we’re going to figure this out. We’re going to get you ready to go this time. And you’re going to give it another shot.

PRE-ORDER your copy of The Straight Talk On Parenting HERE

Tweens, Technology and…..Sexting

Sexting. Some parents have difficulty just saying the word, never mind admitting that their child might – just might – be participating in it.  Our sweet, innocent 3rd and 4th graders have suddenly become tweens and teens and they are growing up in a world very different than the one most of us grew up in – a world surrounded by technology. Many children will not remember a time when they didn’t have instant access to a friend living half way around the world or the ability to see their grandparents each week via skype. These kiddos can receive an immediate and accurate answer to a question about pre-historic dinosaurs and link classrooms and share poems with students in Ghana and Kansas. This invaluable technology has also introduced our children to texting, social media, youtube, cyberbullying and yes, even sexting.  With the awesome comes the not so awesome.

As parents we can stay in denial and try to convince ourselves that we have the ability to protect and shield our kids from internet dangers like sexting, or we can get educated, grab our courage and meet our kids where they already are – cell phone in hand deciding in a split second whether or not to send a racy picture or post a decidedly inappropriate picture on social media. Contrary to popular belief, technology is NOT the problem. 

The problem is our lack of preparation around this issue, it’s the lack of intelligent conversation we have with our kids that is the problem and it is our fear of the unknown that is the biggest roadblock. Remember our job as parents is to teach, prepare and work along side our kids as they learn to navigate the world of technology filled with all the pluses and minuses.

Parents come to me confused on how to handle the issues surrounding their tween/teen and technology. This subject often either leads to power struggles between parents and their kids that negatively impact the relationship and the entire topic of responsible technology use gets lost in the mix of fighting and battling or it leads to a “if you can’t beat them, give up and let them” attitude with no structure, conversation or boundaries in place. It’s not unusual for me to ask a room full of concerned parents this question as a jumping off point: “What do you know about your child to ensure that you have set up a structure that will work for her?” Silence. “Uh, structure?” Often the story is, “My son turned 13 and all he wanted was a phone. All of his friends have them and he was dying for his own so he could text and stay connected.  Now, just a few months later, it’s a mess. The phone bill is sky high, he’s on the screen all the time, he’s neglecting homework and family. It’s a nightmare.”

Okay. Let’s back this bus up a bit and see if an analogy will make it clear where we get tripped up.

Before handing someone the keys to a car, that person has

  1. Reached a certain age.
  2. Passed drivers education.
  3. Practiced driving for hours with an experienced driver.
  4. Proven they can handle the responsibility of paying for a car or gas.

Right? And even if parents are scared to death that their son or daughter will get behind the wheel of a car and be in a serious accident, we can’t stop them.  We know this and so we accept it. We prepare our kids and we prepare ourselves for the inevitable.  We don’t fight against it – we work with it.  And that is what makes the difference.  Unfortunately, the same cannot be said when it comes to preparing our kids to handle technology. In many cases, parents skip those steps and go right to the “car” – then realize that their child may not have the necessary skills to adequately navigate the tricky terrain of internet use.  When parents can reframe the idea of technology and create a plan for preparing themselves and their kids for its inevitable arrival, everyone wins.

With a specific concern like sexting, the situation becomes a bit more serious and as a result, a parent’s fear factor increases. The idea of talking openly and frequently with kids about sex is tough enough, now we are forced to combine sex and technology in the same conversation. No wonder parents are sidelining these conversations until they can no longer avoid them.  Here’s the thing, no matter what you do to prevent it, there is a strong likelihood that your child will either sext someone or receive a sext from someone. The goal is to come to terms with this and do what you need to do as a parent to prepare yourself so you can discuss the situation openly and honestly with your child and prevention, danger, recovery, restitution and healing from a humiliating experience.

Include technology in the conversations you have with your children about healthy and unhealthy relationships – sexual and not sexual. If you aren’t comfortable talking about the topic, how do you expect your child to open up and talk to you about it?  Our kids need to know we have the confidence to tackle any difficult conversation with love, respect and understanding.

Here are a few tips to make the process easier.

  1. First, do what it takes to find the courage, to talk with your tween/teen about the various scenarios that might come up and how she/he might handle them.
  2. Ask questions. Find out about your teen’s cyber IQ. How tech savvy is she? Does she realize once something gets out there in cyberspace you cannot get it back? Or does she really think that once the image disappears from Snapchat it is gone for good?
  3. Work in other areas of life with your child to ensure that he has the tools to navigate tricky subjects. Does he accept responsibility? Does he value himself and others? Does he practice empathy and respect? Does he crave attention and long to fit in?
  4. Come to fair and reasonable guidelines with your child around technology use and include sexting in the conversation. Have a plan and stick to it. Remember your kids need to know they can trust you. Following through on an agreement demonstrates this. They may be mad at first, but the bigger message is – you do what you say, which means you can be trusted.
  5. Respect your child’s privacy. Have faith in your child’s ability to keep the agreements. This doesn’t mean turn a blind eye to what is going on, but it does mean that you don’t have an app that sends all your children’s texts to your phone, too. Finding out what is on your teen’s cell phone is about trust and respect. If you focus on those aspects of the relationship, your teen will invite you in – on her terms.
  6. Demonstrate your understanding that being a teen is hard enough; Let your child know that you understand and that the added element of technology, social media and sexting is one that you didn’t have to figure out when you were 12, 14, and 17-years-old. It’s more than just saying that you’re there if they need you. If your child does get in trouble, it is what you do next that matters most.

Does your tween/teen have the courage make their own choices and not succumb to peer pressure when it comes to sexting? What can you as the parent do to support your child’s independence in this area?

 

Does Duct Tape Stick to Homework?

social interest

Over the last several months, as Duct Tape Parenting continues to make its way into the homes of parents across the country I’ve started to hear from moms and dads who are homeschooling their kids and wondering if there are different strategies that might apply to their unique situation.

The most common concern these parents have is this:
Because our children don’t attend a traditional school, the lessons they could learn from leaving a lunch, a coat or a homework assignment behind or sleeping through an alarm clock because there is no bus to catch are lost. Are there other ways to address these issues that would lead to more organized and responsible kids.

And, from almost every homeschooling parent I heard from they shared this concern – since we are both teacher and parent, the homework issue can be tricky. Any thoughts on how to motivate kids to get it done without fracturing the relationship?

It’s true that homeschooling can present a unique set of challenges, but considering them in a different light is the key to finding the just right strategy for you and your family.

Homework:
There are enough studies that suggest that homework may not be as useful to students as we first thought. Educating yourself on the newest evidence based research will make it easier for most homeschooling parents to address this issue in new and liberating ways. If the goal is to help your children develop a love of learning, an excitement to jump into a new topic or area of study, to commit a certain number of hours each day to developing their intellect, it may be that homework has no place in that equation.

Design your day with both independent study (which would directly replace the homework for more traditionally educated kids) and one-on-one teaching. It’s hard for most kids to stay on task for very long and remaining flexible in your thinking will be the difference between success and increased power struggles. Some kids do best walking around, writing a few sentences or answering a few math problems and then walking around again. What might look like a lack of focus could actually be their brain recovering from a difficult problem solving session of 3, 4 or 5 minutes. They need time to reboot. Nagging the child to sit down and focus is defeating the purpose, which is, for the child to learn how to best work with the brain they were born with and develop it in a natural and healthy way. Talk to the kids on a regular basis about your intention for supporting independent work.

They won’t immediately understand the long term benefits, but an ongoing conversation will lay the foundation for strong study skills when it really matters. And of course, there is always the “As soon as” option which works nicely to help the kids learn to stay on task, and complete those tasks before they move on to “free time” or “choice time”. No, you can’t force them to learn, or force them to care or for that matter force them to pick up the pencil and do the work, so decide before you begin, what your ultimate goal is so you can avoid unnecessary power struggles and maintain both the relationship with your child and cultivate their love of learning.

Life Lessons:
There are other opportunities for kids to learn life lessons that come from leaving a coat, homework or lunch on the counter as they run off to school even if they don’t attend a traditional school In fact, one could argue that there are even more opportunities.

Allowing kids to help create morning routines before “school” will give them some ownership of their morning. For instance, deciding as a family that the kitchen is closed at 8:00 am would encourage kids to organize their morning in order to fill their tummies. Many families include “non-negotiables” in their routines including – everyone is dressed before they arrive at the table for breakfast, etc. In talking with Homeschooling Parents I have found that their is a lack of consistency in their routines. Because they don’t have to get kids to school at a given hour, they allow kids to stay in pj’s, or succumb to whining because the kids are hungry shortly after the kitchen has been cleaned. So it’s the parents responsibility to help create routines that can be supported no matter how upset the child might be that they missed the breakfast timeline.

Many parents admit that they spend a good deal of time reminding their kids to bring coats as they had out to the library, reminding them to bring their snack, a snack by the way, that the kids could be packing for themselves, when they go out for a field trip, etc. So in some cases, it’s as much the parents who are interfering with the child’s ability to become independent, responsible and organized as it is that the kids are resistant to the idea.

1. Design a healthy routine that you, the parent can both live with and enforce, no matter how much push back you get from the kids.
2. Sit down with the kids and allow them to create a routine that will work for them.
3. Without disclosing your design, combine the two to create a routine that supports everyone.
4. Practice for 7 to 14 days and ask the kids to assess. What worked, what didn’t, what made life easier in the morning, what made it more stressful.
5. Commit to the kids that YOU will not be nagging, reminding, etc, but instead you will focus on supporting the routine that you all agreed to.
6. Allow the kids to miss the meal, forget the coat or cancel the field trip if they dilly dally too long.

Life with kids, whether they attend traditional school or not, is an exercise in creativity, trial and error and what often helps parents find that sweet spot of parenting is deciding first hand what they are willing to do and what they aren’t and creating a clear, attainable goal to work towards.

Rick Ackerly Resources

11 reasons- ackerly (This post in reference to last weekend’s Rick Ackerly workshop. You can find great links to articles and posts, below).

Teachers, educators at any level, caregivers, education majors, counselors and parents are invited to come together for a life changing workshop that will help build a better home-school connection.

Here are 11 reasons why you should attend THIS WEEKEND’s event in Burlington, VT.

  1. You want to build a strong, trusting relationship with your child’s teacher.
  2. You want to foster life long learning (via internal motivation).
  3. You want to avoid over commitment to external motivators.
  4. You want to have the courage to say “my kid can handle this.”
  5. You want to encourage mistakes and failures and learn how to fold them into your child’s educational experience.
  6. You want to learn the best way to SUPPORT your child with homework and schoolwork without hovering or interfering.
  7. You want to understand to goal of education and where to focus.
  8. You want to recognize the joy of education.
  9. You want to understand the role of teacher, parent and school in an effective education environment.
  10. You want to support the genius in your own child.
  11. You want  to show your child you trust him or her to become an independent, motivated, cooperative learner.

Bonus: It’s AUTUMN in VT.

 

 

 

 

Talking to Teachers: Homework

worth it

Raise thinking children!

Like any other parent, I was nervous going in and talking to teachers about homework, parent/teacher conferences and parent/teacher alliances.

However, with my oldest child I knew had to dig deep, grab hold of my confidence and the fact that I had thought about my views on all these subjects, had talked to experts in the field and felt sure that if I followed my inner compass, I could support all my children through their academic experience.

I made an appointment with the teacher early on in the year. I took the time to show appreciation for the teacher at the first meeting. I told her how much confidence I had in her as a teacher and was looking forward to the year ahead. I asked if she had any questions for me and of course, she did not. I think she thought that was an unusual request.

I shared with her my views on the following subjects:

  1. I let her know that it was my intention to raise a thinking child and in my short experience with children, I knew that a thinking child is often a messy child. I told her that since she was in the teaching professional I was guessing that she was trying to raise a thinking student. This was my first step in creating an alliance.
  2. I told her that I would be a very hands off parent. For several reasons. The first was that if I was overly involved in “helping” my child at home, in other words, doing more teaching, that she, the real teacher wouldn’t get a proper understanding of my child. I indicated that she would have a much clearer sense of how my child was doing academically if I stayed out of the way. And because I had confidence in her ability as an educator, I wasn’t worried that my child might have difficulty in reading, or math. If my child had difficulty in a particular subject, I was sure the teacher would want to know that so that she could find the proper teaching method for my child. My second reason for staying out of the way was because I would be focusing on the other areas of my child’s education – social skills, relationship development, conflict resolution, becoming independent and responsible. These were my primary jobs I explained and I would be focused on them while my child was with me.
  3. I indicated, that if my child asked for my help with an assignment or a project or with reading, I would be available to them. But I was also clear that I would in no way be involved with daily homework and that if my child waited until the 11th hour to inform me he needed glue sticks for the project due tomorrow, I would not be driving out to find a Ben Franklin that was open.
  4. I indicated that I would not be signing homework logs or reading logs and that I would be giving my child permission to sign my name. And then I told the teacher why. And I was clear about this. I went back to my original statement – I am raising a thinking child and I have no intention of interfering with their thinking by lecturing, nagging, reminding, scolding, bribing or saving them from their first chance at investing in their own educational success. Homework I stated was between the teacher and my child and if there were consequences for not turning in homework I expected the teacher to dole them out to my child. I would support the teacher unless humiliation was involved in the consequence.
  5. I shared my thoughts on the double education that is happening for kids – there are math facts and there are organization skills, there are spelling tests to study for and time management skills being developed. The more I stayed out of the way, the quicker and easier a time my child would have at learning both sets of skills.

And then I wrapped it up. I thanked the teacher again, looked forward to an inspiring year and ended by saying – I encourage my children to get sent to the principals office or to time out or where ever it is you send children when they make mistakes – at least once a year. I told her that I encouraged my children to do this for 2 reasons: The first is so they would know the principal, and would not be afraid of making mistakes and second, so they would develop empathy and compassion for the children who found themselves in trouble more often then not.

And then I left. By the time my oldest was in the 3rd grade, word spread about my role in my child’s academic experience. I had very little difficulty getting along with all my children’s teachers, coaches or anyone else who dealt with my kids. I set my posture. I was respectful, I was committed and I was serious. Everyone knew it. And, as a result, my kids had a fairly stress free educational experience. – Vicki

Talking to teachers about homework can be intimidating. To learn how you can build resiliency, be sure to read Duct Tape Parenting and check out this handy dandy SCRIPT to keep you on track.

 

 

 

Homework Help – How much?

rick-ackerlyEvery year the same question comes up: How much homework help do I offer my child?

What I’ve noticed is that almost all parents who ask this question have 3 things in common:

  1. They don’t have a strategy. (At least not a strategy that provides direction and a goal.)
  2. They have big fat, false fears about what will happen if their child does not turn in homework! (Stay back a grade, flunk out of college, lose scholarship opportunities, become a slacker, etc.)
  3. They sense this could be a growing problem, which is why they want to nip it in the bud. (They don’t like the idea of being the homework police and I don’t blame them).

The Truth is

The homework is not your problem and the only one who can learn to “fix” homework issues is your child. The teacher is who your child can turn to for homework help.

Rick Ackerly, a 45-year veteran and thought leader in the field of Education says (about homework help),

“When you care about it more than your child, it absolves the child of responsibility.”

In his recent post (a title inspired by the wise words of a 7 year old), Overparenting? Why Do Grownups Have to Take Over? he guides parents  through various feelings and beliefs they have about homework help. He also shares a story that I believe will hit home for the majority of our readers who are still struggling with their over-parenting tendencies. In the post, he says to a couple of well-meaning parents,

“Right now, (your son) doesn’t have to do any learning, because you are doing all the work. Your anxiety is a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Up Next: What I said to my children’s teachers that made everything a win-win-win for the kids, the teachers and myself!

 

Back to School One Liners

okeedokeeBack to school is a great time to offer children ownership in their daily lives. When children “get” invested in a system like the morning routine, clothing choices, food selections, homework sessions and so forth, they discover what works for them and in turn, they enjoy the process!

But how do we “get” our kids invested?

We ask!

We find out what their ideas are, what they want to try, when they want to try them and for how long they want to practice. Then we give them space to decide if it’s working or if they’ve discovered the best system for them. And then we say these simple back to school one liners:

Okeedokee kiddo, give it a whirl!

or ALRIGHTYTHEN.

Here are a few primers to get you going:

  • Where do you want to hang your backpack everyday after school? I’ll let you hang the hook. (There? Next to the fridge? Okeedokee, there it is.)
  • Are you going to pack lunches at night or in the morning? (Even if you think, sheesh there’s no way you’ll have time before school! ALLLRIGHTYTHEN– 6am it is).
  • What would you like in your lunch? Let’s go shopping together so you can pack your lunch. (Yogurt + yogurt raisins + yogurt smoothie? Okeedokee I guess you like yogurt).
  • When would you like to get your homework done? After school? After dinner? In the morning? (Okeedokee... homework might not happen because you like playing outside after school).
  • What time do you think you should get ready for bed? What time do you think is good for lights out? (ALRIGHTYTHEN…you think you’ll be able to get ready in 4 minutes, try it.).
  • When are you going to take a bath? Oh, you want to shower? Ok…when? (Even if you’re thinking really? At night? Okeedokee…bedhead.
  • How do you want to wear your hair? Or what kind of pants do you want to wear? (Really, no jeans? Ever? Track pants and shorts for 180 days? Okeedokee, try it.)
  • What time should we be IN the car if we want to be at school on time? How will we remember this time? (You’ll set an alarm to go off in the kitchen one minute prior? Okeedokee – let’s see how it works).
  • Do you have clean socks or would you like to do your laundry this weekend? (Okeedokee you think those four socks will last you seven days? Alrightythen*.).
  • When would you like to have family meetings during the school year? Seriously? Saturday mornings at 7:30? (ALRIGHTYTHEN…no sleeping in…that is until one day THEY realize I’ll be by the sleepover at 7:15…and that’s not gonna work.)

Do you have any favorite back to school one liners?

 

Yes! GO to the Principal’s Office

challengeLet me explain. I truly believe there is value for kids when they are sent to the principal’s office at least once a year. The lessons they learn can be some of the most powerful lessons of the year – and in life!

Lesson One: Cause and Effect

Every year I remind my children. “There may be a moment, when…

  • You oversleep, miss the bus and arrive without a note from a parent.
  • You choose to ditch a class to help a friend in need.
  • You are caught cheating on a test – not because you didn’t know the answer, but because you were curious as to what would happen if you were caught.
  • You thought using fake money for the bake sale was an AWESOME idea and got BUSTED – what a surprise – ( it happened to a friend– he’s almost 40, he still talks about that lesson! He did not become a counterfeiter.)
  • You and your normally rule abiding friends decided to yell in the lunchroom when the lunch monitors called for quiet.
  • You found yourself defending a friend who has been bullied.
  • You walk out of a class when the teacher starts to belittle a class mate.
  • You made a mistake and either stole something, broke something or forgot something

…and you will be required to live with those choices.”

I am a big proponent of letting life teach our kids some of the toughest and most important lessons life has to offer. Learning that they are responsible for their choices and experiencing the consequences of those choices allows children a chance to develop critical thinking skills. It also teaches them to take responsibility for their choices and to live with the outcome of those choices. Those are skills that will continue to develop over time and will make it easier to make wiser, tougher choices later in life.

Lesson Two: Compassion

I know from talking to my own children, how upsetting it is for them to watch a classmate be sent out of the classroom and down to the principal’s office in disgrace. As a collective group, my 5 decided that making that walk of shame personally, would help them better understand how scary, embarrassing and humiliating the experience was, and help them show more empathy, compassion and understanding towards kids who struggled in school. As a result of mistakes, humiliation, encouragement, and inclusion.

Lesson Three: You’re Never Alone

I wanted my children to know that no matter what they did, no matter how much trouble they might be in, I would be with them. I would not save them. I would not make excuses for them. I would not take the blame. But I would always be there for them. And together, we would figure things out. I felt it was important, for me to SHOW my kids the truth of my words and it occurred to me when they were very young, that getting sent to the principal’s office could be a vehicle to prove to my kids that I would be there for them no matter what the offense.

My kids learned it was safe to call their parents. They learned that they would have to figure out a way to make things right. They learned they would have to serve the time (detention, community service, making apologies, and so on.) They learned that their mom and dad had no interest in rubbing their noses in their mistakes. They learned that they could survive the mistakes they made and life would go on.

So this year, consider using the Principal’s Office as a place of learning. Thinking outside the box often provides amazing opportunities for kids to develop skills that will help them grow into amazing human beings (not just to be remembered as a model student.)

Whose Routine? NOT YOURS!

trustIt’s routine time again- structured days that require alarm clocks, showers (more than the occasional dip in the pool) and clean clothing are upon us. This is the time of year when everyone (well, ok, mom and dad) scramble to bring order and organization and system to the unscheduled days of summer.

Here’s the deal:

If you’re chomping at the bit to implement a fresh, genius system of order, organization and routine so that you can reel it in and cruise into the new school year with your crafty ideas leading the way- don’t bother.

Wait. What?

Let’s be real- your system (albeit clever) has nothing to do with your children getting geared up for school. It’s about you trying to bring control back into your homes so that you can get out the door nice and easy and at bedtime…shut the lights off on time, quietly.

It’s not a bad thing to want a clear system or to design one for yourself but just know it won’t work on your children and you’ll find yourself frustrated and exhausted when it doesn’t gel together like magic.

However, if you’re willing to:

  1. Challenge your own thinking (I must implement a system) and
  2. Invite the children to participate (the children can decide for themselves and I trust them)

BY ALL MEANS, HAVE AT IT!

Why?

Because you understand that in the long run, your child’s ability to create routines that support their individual rhythms will help them in EVERY aspect of their life.

Because you are eager and enthusiastic to teach and support your kids as they create systems that work for them – even if you are convinced they wont’ work all that well – which sends the message that you trust them and are behind them. This dramatically improves the relationship you have with those creative geniuses you are raising. Besides, what better way for your kids to learn what DOESN’T work when the stakes are low then to try, try and then try again.

Hint:

Be prepared by having some duct tape near by to squash any attempts at correcting, saving or tinkering with the great ideas your children come up with. They will be late. They will be hungry. And more importantly, they will surprise you with their ingenuity, resourcefulness and resiliency. And aren’t those character traits we want ever child to embody.

Remember:

Routines are about more then just systems for getting out of the house on time. They help kids build the kinds of character traits that will help them create meaningful, satisfying and joyful lives.

What systems have your children discovered work for them?

Kids Learn from People They Like

champion“Every child deserves a champion- an adult who will NEVER give up on them… who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.” – Rita Pierson

Healthy relationships are centered on mutual respect–in education, in parenting and in life. When we focus on what is going RIGHT vs. how others are coming up short, there is power in the message and likewise, an openness to learning, cooperation, hope, optimism, capability and confidence- all pointing us in the direction of our goals.

So, as the new school year approaches, take a moment to watch this clip and then let’s take the time to ask ourselves:

  • What will it take to be a  champion for my child? For my students? For my community?
  • What will it take to focus on what is going RIGHT (the PLUS TWO) vs. the shortcomings (THE MINUS EIGHTEEN)?
  • What will it take for me to connect with my child and enhance the relationship?
  • What will it take for me to show that I am a champion who is invested in, and will NEVER give up on the success and well-being of my own child? Student? Community?

Goal of a Successful School Year

educationDear Parents,

If you’re feeling like the “worst end of school year mom ever”  (we know she’s not!) because you’ve stepped out of the way- giving your child ownership of the past school year- (allowing him to make a mess of his reading log or her  immaculate attendance record or you’ve refrained from “saving” your child by delivering forgotten lunches,  hats and unsigned agendas), well, CONGRATULATIONS!

The school year is coming to an end and we thought we’d rewind to some REAL school related moments that illustrate how independence, progress and confidence are developed in the quiet moments of: trial and error, choice and discovery, slow, realistic skill building and the mastery of small, daily tasks.

The goal with our children is not to cross the school year “finish line” without mistakes or messes. Our goal is to reflect and say:

We learned. We tried. We made mistakes. We will do this or that differently next time. OR say, this worked and we’re sticking with it.

So, tip of the hat to the “worst end of school year mom” for letting it go and of course, to all of you!

Enjoy these little stories that show what real success looks like, straight from our anecdotes & facebook wall posts. Note: these are just random snippets- there are thousands more so please tell us!

Vicki & Team

Making Summer Memories

As summer starts, ask: WHAT DO I WANT MY CHILDREN TO REMEMBER ABOUT THIS SUMMER?

Write it down!

List ideas.

Refer back to it.

This way, when you’re invited or asked to travel or thinking about a staycation– you can alway check in- if doesn’t align with your list of summer magic, let it go. Leave space for the events and time together that WILL support your goal.

Other questions ask yourself as the summer sets off:

  • “What moments did I share today, this week, this month with my children?”
  • “What moment from this summer stands out for me?”
  • “What can I do to create more moments to remember?

This little effort can go a long way in making those memories happen! What are some things you’d like to do with your family?

 

Have FUN with the Kiddos

Summer is almost here and it’s time to get the creative juices flowing and ask: HOW can we have some more fun as a family? What do we want to do? What do my family members find interesting these days? What would the kids like to do with downtime? How will you stay on schedules and find time for fun?

1. TALK about it. Sit down with your family, tell them the problem, and talk about it together.

2. BRAINSTORM ideas for what everybody likes to do; when would be a good time to get out and play together; and how can you make playing together a priority, when there are so many other obligations and priorities pulling you in different directions.

3. PLAN times at the family meeting to play together; follow through with those plans, and talk about how it went at the next meeting.

4. ENJOY each other. Whether you end up planning a backpacking vacation in the Grand Canyon or to simply kick a ball around each night after dinner—consciously enjoy the time you spend playing together.

The Benefits:

  1. Physical– Exercising and getting out!
  2. Mental-Exploring the natural world.
  3. Emotional- Having fun and enjoying each other’s company

What will it take for my family to get more play time into our routine?

roadmap

Focus on What You Want

focusIn a previous post,  we refreshed the topic of “internal” vs. “external” motivators and how they affect children’s learning and thinking process. There is plenty of research, from Ackerly and other experts, saying reward systems are not the way to go if you want self-regulated,(calculated) risk takers, and problem solving thinkers.This applies to home and school – it’s easy to toss a treat, sticker or a bribe but it’s not moving your child in the direction you’d likely prefer. Even if we know this, the question can become, well then what do we focus on?

Learning Organizations Focus on Objectives

In Rick Ackerly’s article,  1st Grade Teacher Shows How to Design an Instant Learning Organization he  showcases one classroom (Janet’s classroom!) that has adopted mission-based learning vs. rule enforcement systems. (Anyone recognize the do not feed the weed similarities here?).

The Outcome: A Problem Solving Community Where Mistakes are Part of the Process

After Ackerly highlights how to create a learning organization, he says: “…by focusing the students on educational objectives rather than rules, Janet has made herself the leader of a group of motivated learners. Now her job is helping them with their mission, rather than keeping them in line.  Furthermore, defining a social “situation” as a problem-solving opportunity, focuses energy where it ought to be—becoming smarter.”To bring this a bit more into the Duct Tape Parenting context, “water what you want to flourish” is essentially a sentiment that can be adopted into the classroom. By focusing the students on a common set of goals, the energy in working together to meet those goals increases, and likewise the “problem” behaviors – those behaviors that “rules” tend to water and bring to the forefront, have far less purpose. When a classroom accepts mistakes as problems to be solved vs. rules that have been broken, children can usefully fold this learning into their personal academic experience.

What Does it Take? Elements of a Learning Organization (Or Mission Based Leadership vs. Enforcement Leadership)

  • Mission – Decide why you want change in your home, classroom, work session.
  • Strategy- What is the thinking / knowledge behind the mission, as it relates to YOUR situation?
  • Design– How are you going to enable this mission? What tools and structures will you put in place? What do the children bring to the mission?
  • Plan– How are you and the children going to execute the mission? What are the actions that will put in motion the change you’ve designed, strategized and established as the mission?
  • Summary– Reflect and notice what you’ve created- pay attention to what is working and what isn’t.

Have you done this in your home or classroom? What does your learning organization – at school or home- look like? Let us know! 

Video: Montessori Madness – The authentic Montessori classroom operates as a learning organization because the focus is on learning through trial and error, interest, self direction and with an objective of discovering a child’s true self in relationship to the world. There is an inherent trust in the child that is found both in the Montessori classroom and in Rick Ackerly’s learning organization.

Key Parent / Educator Questions

Rick Ackerly QuoteIf we, as parents and educators, believe that every child is driven by an internal “genius” – an energy that naturally, without adult steering, will lead toward the discovery of the true “self” – then it is essential to keep asking ourselves, with every activity, lesson or during the daily grind:

  • What is the goal of teaching?
  • What is the goal of parenting?
  • Is the goal to “GET” good behavior?
  • Or is the goal to “foster the unfolding”of the self?

At the End of the Day

If the goal is simply to achieve “good behavior” then it truly doesn’t matter which support systems (internal or external) we choose to implement in our homes and/ or classrooms.

However, if the true goal is to raise thinking children who can, and will show up, discover themselves, solve problems and learn through experience, feedback, mistakes and natural consequences, then we can give ourselves permission let go of beliefs that do not support this goal.

Instead of focusing on external structures like punishments and rewards or rules and authority, we can choose to step back and support the “genius” by trusting the child to learn and grow, even though mistakes and messes are sure to happen.

We can do this because we believe children are driven to find the right path, want to engage with the world and will discover a sense of self without our interference.

At the end of the day, we, as parents and educators, can never stop asking ourselves – what is the goal?

“Focusing children’s attention on a discipline system is a waste of human resources, because all children start off loving to love, create and learn.” – Rick Ackerly

Internal Motivation Infographic

infographic, internal motivation

Click to see the INFOGRAPHIC

Children naturally enjoy doing valuable work and are not afraid to make mistakes- they learn to discover success through feedback from peers, teachers, materials and so forth (not just because they follow rules or get a sticker).

When nurtured, respected and trusted, internal, or intrinsic, motivation leads to the same desired outcome: positive or “good” behavior.

Beyond that, the child has a more enriching experience as he or she discovers the world, vs. discovering how the adult sees the child’s role in this world.

What are your thoughts?

Where have you seen intrinsic motivation in action?