All posts in Education, School & Learning

Summertime: Easy Living?

In just a few short weeks, kids across the country will throw open the doors to their classrooms and walk out of school for the last time and into – (insert screams of delight from thousands of school kids here) summer vacation (more screams of delight).

  • Later bedtimes and lazy mornings
  • A slower pace and time to “chill
  • More spontaneity and less structure
  • Endless possibilities and oodles of time to explore
  • Forts and food fights, pool time and sunburns, crafts and bug collecting, sleep overs and camp outs
  • Time with friends and more time with friends
  • A family vacation or two or maybe even three

Sounds delicious doesn’t it?

I agree. So I was surprised to hear, over a cup of tea with a few close friends (who shall remain anonymous) what summer vacation means on the other side of the fence.

  • Bedtime battles and stalled out mornings
  • Late, late and more late – to everything
  • Too many choices and too much negotiating
  • No chores, no contributions, chaos and fighting
  • Bad food, late bedtimes, cranky kids, dirty clothes, emergency room visits
  • No time for adult “stuff” until it’s too late to enjoy adult “stuff”
  • OMG – ANOTHER bad family vacation followed by another one and maybe even another one

After we shared a few giggles, we started to talk seriously about the upcoming summer season. We realized that we were painting the worst case scenario – a scenario that none of these savvy moms would ever experience. This particular group of moms has worked hard at this parenting thing (and I have been lucky enough to watch from the sidelines as they continue to develop wonderful relationships with their kids), so the summer will indeed provide opportunities for fun, family and friends.

But for many other moms and dads out there, what could be a season of delight and memory making – will most likely be a season of stress, frustration and a countdown to September.

So here are a few tips on how to make this summer a season full of delightful memories.

  • Write down your expectations for summer and have your kids do the same thing. Do it individually so that no one is influenced by anyone else.

  • Exchange lists without commenting. This is a chance for everyone to see another perspective. This is important.
  • Together, talk about setting realistic expectations that can be met by everyone in the family.

  • Here is an example:

    Mom wants everyone to continue with their daily contributions which are to be done by 7:30 am and 5:30 pm. The kids think they should only have to do them once a week. Setting a realistic expectation about daily contributions will alleviate fights, frustration, confusion and chaos. Remember to be flexible.

  • With this information, create a Summer 2010 Road Map. First, decide as a family what you want to SAY about the summer when it’s over. In other words, create a vision for your summer before it starts. And then use your Road Map to plot a course to getting there. This may take several days or several weeks to create.
  • Post the Summer 2010 Road Map somewhere you can see it. You will use this to inspire, redirect, and remind everyone in the family what summer is all about – according to you anyway.
  • Plan a series of Family Meetings that focus on the areas of the summer that might trip you up. For instance, family vacations, how many sleep overs per week, bedtimes and morning wake-ups, technology use, etc. Create a clear set of agreements and post these as well.

This might seem like a bit of work, but think about how you prepare for any important trip you are about to take. Do you just throw some “stuff” in a bag and hope you get to the airport on time? Of course not. So don’t leave your summer up to chance. Invest a little time up front this year and enjoy each and every day of summer vacation.

Training without a Sticker Chart

take-time-trainingThe illusive, yet necessary training of young children remains a lively and interesting conversation by parents everywhere. Certainly, those of us familiar with the Parenting On Track™ program now available to download, and the idea that self-esteem is developed by contributing in meaningful ways to the family (and by extension the communities we are a part of) are ahead of the game.

Create a Timeline For Training by answering the following 3 questions:

  • What can your kids do that they will do?
  • What can your kids do that they don’t do?
  • What don’t your kids do because they haven’t been trained?


With the first list, remember to acknowledge and notice progress, improvement and what it takes for your child to actually do the tasks on a regular basis with no help from you.

Move to your second list and follow the recommendations I made: Have a conversation, create a list together, ask the kids what they would like to work on first, choose a new skill every week or two, acknowledge progress and improvement and then celebrate. Move to your third list and follow all the procedures you used for the step above.

It’s really very simple. You are creating a system, a routine that you will be used for the rest of your child’s life. There is no reason to make this more complicated than it needs to be. When you make it complicated, the kids get confused and then discouraged and then they fight you about the contributions and you quit and say it doesn’t work.

It does work. And the sooner you create the system and actually use it, the easier it will be on everyone.


This is important. You have to stay in front of your kids. Remember, they are learners. We teach them something new, they master it in 5 minutes and it takes us 4 weeks before we teach them something else. CRAZY. Our job is teach the kids as quickly as they can learn it.

Your kids gobble up life at break neck speed. It is hard for you to stay in front of them AND you may even worry that you are piling on too much. But fear not, soon enough, they will move past that and they will slow down, all on their own. This is called a rhythm. Yes, a rhythm. Your child’s rhythm to be exact. You can not imagine how many parents have no idea what their kids rhythm is and mistake a slow rhythm for laziness or dis-interest. So stay alert.

Keep updating and teaching and remember to include self skills, life skills, social skills and more self, life and social skills. Again, it is a cycle, a rhythm. It never ends. Build on, dive deep, make it juicy.

And finally, so as to elevate any confusion

I used the contributions at Family Meetings to create all of this. I did not have 5 different charts. I had a white board per child. Each morning, they woke up and wrote down, or put the picture of the task on their white board. We did this together. It was a time for me to connect with them. If my oldest had the Kitchen as her contribution, it meant that she: set the table, cleared the table, loaded the dishwasher and started the dishwasher. When my son (who was 5 years younger) picked the Kitchen, it meant: set the table & clear the table. The Kitchen list grew as they did until, when my oldest reached 9 and she drew the Kitchen, it meant the entire kitchen, top to bottom. Done. Easy.

Remember you can’t pour self-esteem into kids with stickers, treats, and praise. Self-esteem is developed along the way, by practicing, messing up, trying again, and eventually finding a solution that works. Relax and enjoy the process!

Applauding Praise? Consider the Danger!

The emails started coming in as soon as the article hit the internet. Along with the link came personal messages ranging from mild frustration to complete outrage.

It took me several hours to finally get to the article in the Burlington Free Press. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t that surprised by most of what I read. Oh, I was upset to be sure, but not surprised. I’ve read 1000’s of articles just like this one in the 20 years I have been teaching.

I did do a bit of research on PBS and I suspect that there is more to this program than what was reported in this article.

The part of this article I found profoundly disturbing was this –

“The approach is succeeding for many reasons, starting perhaps, with human nature. “I think children really in their hearts want to please adults,” Knopf said. “They want to know that they are doing a good job, they want to be recognized when they are doing a good job.”

I could not imagine why an entire school would institute a program that left children at greater risk of being manipulated and exploited by predators all for the sake of “less discipline problems”.

As the mother of 5, I can not imagine anything more dangerous than for an entire school to be training children how to “please adults”. I don’t know any child who can distinguish the adults who have the child’s best interest at heart and the adults who view children as prey.

Here are a few points to consider:

  • If this system works for the teachers in the classroom, would it not work equally as well for the predators within the school?
  • What will happen to these kids who have been indoctrinated with this system when they step into the real world?
  • Does the school think that at some point the kids will understand that no one else will praise, compliment or reward them for doing what is expected of them and that really this was a trick, to “get” kids to behave?
  • Will these kids be trained to demand rewards each time they do as they are told, or follow the rules? At what point is this school going to adequately prepare these children for the real world – or isn’t that their job?

I shudder to think of all the ramifications of this program. In light of all the research based studies suggesting that praise is a danger to children on so many levels, it seems irresponsible, at best, for this school to be instituting something that is clearly a “quick-fix” strategy and is motivated, so it seems, by numbers instead of real lives.

In my Parenting On Track™ program we outline the dangers of Praise and offer a more substantial, long-term, fulfilling way to acknowledge children’s strengths and character traits. Encouragement helps children develop self-confidence, self-esteem and a clear understanding of who they are in the world and what choices they can make to support who they “be”, not who someone wants them to “be”.

Watch Video Sample from Chapter 7 of my Parenting On Track™ program.

For more information about the dangers of praise:

How Not to Talk to Your Kids, By Po Bronson

Punished By Rewards, Alfie Kohn

Five Reasons to Stop Saying Good Job, Alfie Kohn

For more information about my Parenting On Track™ program that teaches you how to help your child develop a strong sense of self and supports you as you identify what it will take for YOUR child to be encouraged and to participate in life, visit:

Purpose of Homework

We just celebrated the end of the 1st quarter of school. By now, many of you have met with your child’s teacher, shared your goals and dreams for the year and invited the teacher to become an ally that supports your efforts in teaching your children about independence, responsibility, self discipline and more.

You have also had ample time to get a feel for how “homework” is playing out in your child’s life.

Here is what one young, spunky and totally committed teacher had to say,

“It isn’t as important that teachers and parents agree completely on the ‘purpose’ of homework. That will continue to be a dialogue between each parent, each teacher and each policy maker for years to come.

What is important is that parents and teachers agree to find what I call a “center point”. It can take some work, several conversations and some compromise on everyone’s part, but in the end this alliance benefits the child/student.

I am thrilled when I find parents who are committed to finding this “center point” and will work tirelessly to co-create it with them.”

So before you wait any longer, make an appointment and become allies with your child’s teacher.

Celebrate Together

Your kids are changing. You know they are, but does the teacher? Sure, they can see the subtle changes that happen within the classroom, but sometimes they miss the big changes that happen at home.

For instance, a child who refused to get up without 10 nudges from mom in the morning is now rising with an alarm clock. Or a child who could noodle away 20 minutes chasing a moth in the house is now redirecting himself, staying on task and leaving the house with a smile on his face.

Here is what one teacher said about the changes happening at home:

“Parents are excited about the changes they see in their children. As a teacher, it would be great to celebrate these growth changes and encourage further growth, or look for ways to use this new information to encourage growth within the classroom. Sometimes it feels like a one way mirror. A quick note to let me know what is happening in the life of a child at home would mean so much to me and help me teach in a much more personal way. After all, we all want the same thing for the child.”

Learn more about effectively communicating your parenting plan to your child’s teachers in the Parenting On Track™Home Program. For more details and video samples visit

Homework – Whose Work is It?

momtvghost2I can’t tell you the number of teachers I have spoken with or conversations I have had with parents around this sticky subject.

Here is a thought from one teacher that sums up so nicely a perspective that supports the goal of creating responsible kids by allowing them to make decisions, experience their results and adjust accordingly.

“It is most certainly a disservice to children, teachers and our community at large when parents insert themselves into a child’s homework responsibilities. Each time a child is denied the opportunity to solve this age old problem, their learning stops. Answering all 24 math problems is not nearly as important as making all the decisions necessary to complete the homework assignment.”

I couldn’t agree more. So the next time you are tempted to jump in and help, remember the powerful words of one 30 year veteran and find something else to do that will enhance the relationship with your child.

Enjoy the free time.

Back to School Routines

back-to-schoolAlong with buying new pencils and notebooks, “back to school” also means a return to routines, alarm clocks, and the responsibilities that many of our children left behind with the last bell in June. I have developed a “top 10” list for making the transition from frog collecting to number crunching a smooth one, for kids and parents alike.

With these pointers in mind, you’ll help your children begin the school year on the right foot.

1. Ask yourself, “What will it take for my children to manage their schedules independently?” Make a list of everything that needs to happen in order for your kids to be ready for the school day.  Access what they can do already, where they need some training, and what they need to learn from scratch. Set aside time each week to practice these life skills, and be sure to acknowledge growth and progress.

2. Allow your kids to establish a routine that works for them, even if they flounder for a week or two.  This means not reminding them to pack their homework or asking if they remembered their soccer gear.  Having to sit out a game or miss recess is a far more effective way for youngsters to learn to be responsible than parents constantly reminding.

3. Have faith that your children can handle the natural consequences of their decisions. If your daughter refuses to do her homework, let her work it out with the teacher, even if her grades suffer. Whereas the grades will come and go over the years, the self-reliance and sense of accountability that she’ll learn by solving her own problems will serve her well for the rest of her life.

4. Show empathy and help your children work through any problems that arise, but don’t be their savior.  School offers a perfect testing ground for kids to learn how to be responsible for themselves and acquire the skills they’ll need in the “real world” after graduation.

5. Set parameters about acceptable dress for school that you and your kids can agree on, and then bite your tongue.  Many schools have rules about attire (such as no midriffs or undergarments showing) that can help you frame this discussion.  You may not love the outfits that your children choose to wear, but showing them that you respect their choices and believe in their ability to select their own clothing is far more important in the long run.

6. Establish a framework for discussing the ups and downs that your kids are sure to encounter as the school year progresses. You want your children to know that you’re on their side, no matter what.  If your son brings home an “A” or scores the lead role in the school play, encourage him by asking questions about the experience. How did he prepare? What did that accomplishment feel like?  Did he need to work hard to reach his goal, or did it come easily to him?  Likewise, if your daughter comes home with a “D” or doesn’t make the hockey team, you can ask her about that experience. How did she prepare for that moment? How does she feel about her grade? Was this important to her? What could she do differently next time?

7. Create a roadmap with your children to help them set goals for the year and begin thinking about what it will take to achieve those goals. Your kids will feel a sense of empowerment as they define and take ownership over their plans for the coming year.

8. Set up a time every week to connect as a family. This could be a dinner, a family outing, or a scheduled family meeting. The gathering does not have to take place at the same time every week, but be sure that it’s on everyone’s calendar so that it doesn’t fall through the cracks.

9. Figure out what you, as a parent, can let go of to encourage your children’s independence. Deciding not to “remind” or “do for” your kids may be hard at first, but in doing so, you are demonstrating to your children that you have faith in their abilities.

10. Go slow. Encourage progress and recognize growth, and remember that you are the best parent for your child.

For another example of getting back into the school routine check out an article we found on the greatergood berkeley site.

For more information on creating Roadmaps and Timelines for Training check out our program details.

How To: Encourage Self-Motivation

how to - boring stuffHave you ever considered encouragement to motivate your kids to do their contributions at home or even in the classroom? Yes?

Great! Encouragement is one more way to rid you and your family or your classroom of sticker charts, bribing, and reminding forever.

This article from The Greater Good Magazine offers GREAT points for using encouragement to increase our children’s self-motivation, specifically when it comes to tasks they are reluctant to perform. (AKA the boring stuff).

  • Show empathy—before you even ask your children to do something you know they don’t want to do. And if, after you have empathized with their feelings, they continue to resist, then ask “what?” Sometimes the answer to the “what” is simple and can be the key to cooperation. For example, instead of constantly reminding, bribing and nagging your children to fold their laundry, empathize with them and their desire to do more fun things, and then ask what makes it so hard to get the job done. You might find out that they just don’t want to go down to the basement laundry room alone—it’s scary. Or you might find out they would happily do it if they were listening to music or watching TV at the same time.
  • Offer a real rationale for motivation—Don’t just say, “Because I told you to.” Instead explain to them why brushing their teeth, or keeping the bathroom clean, or vacuuming the floor will keep them, and the whole family, healthy; give them examples of the things you are free to do now that they are helping take over their portion of the family work. Tell them that you are giving them responsibilities now because they will need to know how to do all of these things, and more, when they are 18 and on their own.
  • Let your kids know that they have a choice, rather than trying to control them—bossiness does not lead to cooperation, period. Your children are much less likely to help out, and will definitely not help out happily, when you use bossy, controlling language. Instead, let your children know that they have a choice in their contribution. Maybe the choice is when; for example, “Would you like to fold your laundry now or after dinner?” Or maybe the choice is whether they will help at all; for example, “Would you be willing to …”. If your children say no, then find out what they would be willing to do, or go back to # 1 and ask what is stopping them from contributing.
  • There are always going to be tasks that our children really don’t want to do (gee, there are tasks I don’t want to do). The key to developing cooperation is how we respond to their unwillingness. Do we try to squash it with controlling language, do we bribe them with rewards and stickers, OR—do we use our power to encourage by empathizing with their feelings, finding out more about the situation by asking questions, giving them real reasons for doing the task, and allowing them some choice in how or when the task is going to be completed?

For more information, see the article, “How to Get Kids to Do Boring (but Necessary) Tasks”, Half-Full: Science For Raising Happy Kids, Christine Carter Ph.D., April 29, 2009,

Homework Hell-p

home work police, helpIn regards to Homework Hell-p!

I read a blog post not long ago by the mother of a 2nd grader who needed some guidance on how to help her child with homework. Without rehashing the entire blog post, here’s the gist of it. Her daughter had an assignment to do, and twiddled her thumbs for hours until mom started breathing down her neck; mom is now afraid that the child will flunk out of college and never learn a thing unless she continues to be the homework police, and, well, forget about dinner!

At the end of her article, this mom still didn’t have a strategy for how to deal with the homework issue. What she did have was a gut feeling that if she didn’t come up with a strategy for both her and her daughter, it could be a long 10 years.

First off, if this mom is anything like the parents who show up at a class I teach, she just might have a belief that children who dawdle while doing their homework will fail in school, won’t get into college, won’t get a good job and will lead a less than successful life. I know, it’s a little over the top, but these “beliefs” that we have can wreak havoc on us and on our kids’ lives.

If you are one of these parents who have strong beliefs about homework, take a step back and remember that this child (or yours) is in second grade and working on the first big homework assignment of her life. Of course she is dawdling—she doesn’t really know what is expected of her yet!

Second, if mom wants to become the homework police—and stay the homework police for the remainder of this child’s academic career—then she did the right thing by breathing down her neck. And she better get good at it because she has at least another eleven years of poking and prodding to do.

Ah, you hadn’t considered this, had you? That’s one of the pickles parents get themselves into. They create a habit, or a short-term solution to a long-term challenge, and find themselves doing things for years that started out as a “one time only” proposition.

What could she (or you) do if she doesn’t want to be the homework police and has better things to do than micromanage her daughter’s life? She could do—are you ready?—nothing. Yup, that’s right—nothing. At least for a while. At least until she begins to understand more about how her daughter views homework.

This little second grader is never going to learn how to manage her time or how she best gets things done without figuring that out herself. Our kids don’t learn time management because we tell them which assignment to do, when to do it and how it should be done. They learn by not turning in an assignment, dealing with the aftermath and then coming up with a plan so that it never happens again. (Okay, if it never happens again at 45, you can consider yourself a success.)

My recommendation to this mom? Relax! Your daughter is only in second grade and has a long time to figure out how to manage her time to get everything done. Let her dawdle and doodle, and let her get a C or an F on the assignment. You can be sure that learning is taking place and, after all, isn’t that what school is for? Instead of standing over her shoulder, you will be free to… do what you like, including having the resources to be happy, friendly and available for your children if they happen to experience disappointment as they learn.

That’s Right. It’s Not Your Routine!

It’s Not Your Routine!How many children have you heard recently talking with glee, pleasure and pride about all the fun wheels, stickers, emergency bags, homework nooks, or checklists their parents have created for them? Right, I didn’t think so.

Routines, it seems, require oodles of conversation among parents. The most popular at the moment seems to be Morning Routines and Homework Routines. This is no surprise as school has just begun, but come the holidays… well, you know, it all falls apart during the hustle and bustle of holiday fun, and then we’re back to the same conversation when the dust finally settles.

Now, if you are looking to read about what other parents say on the subject of routines, or if you have a fabulous story to tell about a clever way you get your kids organized in the morning, you may want to skip the rest of this article. It’s not for you. If, however, you are willing to challenge yourself, your decisions and your intentions about the purpose of your routines, you’ve found the perfect place, and I’m so glad you came!

It has been my observation that, more often than not, parents who talk about all the ways they are “helping” their children “create routines” under the guise of “making the children’s lives easier and supporting them to become more successful people,” are spending time and energy so that they, the parents, have something to feel good about.

If you are starting to balk about where this is all going right about now, go back to the first question I asked – Are your children talking about their routines and “routine helpers” with glee, pleasure and pride?

It seems to me that if parents were really creating routines for their kids, the parents wouldn’t go around talking about it all the time. It seems to me that personal routines, though indeed personal, are mainly created with the wrong people in mind.

Consider this…

Doesn’t it seem reasonable that if the intention behind creating routines was to teach our children how to create their own routines, then THE CHILDREN would be the ones talking about them?

As a mother of 5, I know first-hand the value of routines. The difference is this, what I taught my kids to do was HOW TO CREATE FOR THEMSELVES systems, routines and emergency bags ONCE… and then, I sent them on their way to discover and create the routines that worked best for them. I couldn’t, in all honesty, tell you what those systems and routines are, but I do know this…

My kids have been finishing homework and their household chores, and we have been leaving the house on time and for years. And it ain’t because I decided that I was going to micro-manage my children’s lives for “their own good!”

One of the driving principles of the Parenting On Track™ Home Program is that of raising independent, responsible, resourceful, resilient, problem-solving children. How do you suppose kids learn those skills? By using routines and systems that we create for them? Nope. By trying one, failing; making changes, failing; getting back up, failing; getting back up and finally arriving at the perfect solution, the perfect system, the perfect routine for them.

I ask you which of the two choices below is more important to you – really.

  • Children who brush their teeth every day because they like to get stickers?
  • Children who can manage their time and feel empowered because they figured it out for themselves.

So the next time you think about setting up a routine for your children, ask yourself the following:

  • Who is the routine really for – You, or your kids?
  • Is it about developing a routine or controlling the situation?
  • Routine… did anyone ask the kids?
  • Left on their own, what routine would your children create?

For more information about how to blend training with letting go and empowering your children, learn more about the Parenting On Track™ Home Program today.

Only Fifteen Minutes for Summer Success

Only Fifteen Minutes for Summer SuccessAre you excited by the possibilities of summer fun and the chance to sleep in?

Eager to reconnect with the kids or finish a long-forgotten project?

Looking forward to short day trips or an extended family vacation?

Or are you nervous about child care or too much downtime for your teenagers?

Consider what your summer might look like if you created a plan – a plan that takes everyone in the family into account, a plan that’s created during a family meeting where everyone, especially your kids, are encouraged to participate in its design.

Family meetings are the perfect time to prepare for summer success. If you’ve taken one of my classes, you already know the importance of family meetings. If you have them every week, you are probably already experiencing the benefits.

The purpose of family meetings is to appreciate each other, delegate household responsibilities, solve problems, and distribute money. And at this time of year, they’re a great tool to set the stage and plan for summer success.

The Shocking Truth About Praise

Do you believe that good parents praise their children?

When your child wins a game, draws a picture, or comes home with an A on her report card, what do you say? What are you thinking?

Are you like so many other parents who are in the habit of responding with words like “Good job,” “Nice work,” or “I am so proud of you” without considering how these words will impact your child’s developing self-esteem and self-confidence?

A Different Perspective

A several ago, there was an article in New York Magazine by Po Bronson titled “How Not to Talk to Your Kids: The Inverse Power of Praise” that raised some interesting points. Consider this:

  • Did you know that telling your children how smart they are and offering praise often leads to under achievement?
  • Did you ever make the connection between rewarding your child too frequently and his or her level of persistence when rewards are not present?
  • How about the notion that persistence is also an unconscious response in the brain that intervenes when there is no immediate reward?

Now that you know

  • How will you change your response?
  • What will it take for you to become more creative in your use of language?
  • How will you ask questions that encourage your children to self-evaluate?
  • What observations could you make that would support your child as he learns new skills and faces new challenges?
  • How much discipline will it take for you to resist giving your opinion?
  • Armed with this new information, what choices will you make for you and your children?

Read the article and tell us what you think!