Tag Archives: homework

Chores and Other Distasteful Words
Child Doing Chores

I hate the word chores, and I can guarantee your kids do too. Asking kids to do chores is like saying I want you to take on this drudgery, this burden. And then when the expectation is that they should do them willingly because of all you do for them—that’s a catastrophe waiting to happen.

First, think of another word. I have heard them called contributions, which has exactly the right intention behind it. Jobs can feel a bit more important than the onus of chores. Do your chores sounds like an imposed sentence.

Second, set your expectations of your kids appropriately. Do not ever expect that your kids will be happy to help. Wanting to help out and having consideration of all you do, comes with maturity. Children are naturally egocentric and care only about their own happiness—frustrating, yes, but developmentally appropriate. They grow into being considerate when their needs are considered.

Third, set your expectations of yourself appropriately. Expect that from a very young age, your children are going to do tasks to be helpful. Just don’t expect them to like it or to think of their jobs without reminders and prompts. The important thing is that they do them, so they learn they are important contributing members of the family. A family is a team. When you are on a team, every player is important to its success.

read more
When Kids Made the Rules: Sandlot Baseball Taught Kids More Than Sport

Remember sandlot baseball? Neighborhood kids got together anytime they could down at the empty lot, out in the street or at the playground to choose teams and play ball. No coaches, no parents, no supervision. The basic rules of the game provided a structure within which the kids decided their unique rules of playing together and the consequences of not following those rules. Sure, there were fights.

Sandlot ball doesn’t happen anymore. Children learn the rules of sports by instruction from adults, many of whom are invested in winning. Adults set the rules, teams, schedules, pressure, and consequences. Parents yell from the sidelines telling their kids what to do. Children have lost the opportunity to make, play by, and problem solve the rules of any game. They must defer to adults all the time. This is not good for our future.

How much time do your children spend unsupervised? How often do they go off in the woods or down the street with friends to create fantasy play? To make up their own rules and consequences?

read more
When Helicopter Parenting Crashes and Burns

In the wake of the recent college admissions scandal, my concern is with the students who are waking up to a whole new vision of themselves. Many of them from fifty known families—so far—apparently knew none of what their parents were up to—until now.

Some received a sports scholarship in a sport never played using photoshopped headshots; some had their SAT and ACT tests corrected by paid off proctors; some even had their tests taken for them. Coaches at the elites took huge amounts of money from an agent of a falsified non-profit who took even more from parents desperate to give their children a prestigious resume and a bumper sticker for their cars. The illegal non-profit allowed the parents to deduct their payments as donations.

Imagine what it must feel like to be that college student oblivious to what got you accepted? What happens to any trust you have in your parents—or any trust you thought they had in you? And then to find out your parents are under arrest for their illegal conduct. How could you not feel inadequate in your parents’ eyes knowing what they did to get you in? How must it feel to assume you deserved admittance only to learn oodles of money was your ticket?

Jack Buckingham was a bit remorseful. Jack is the son of Jane Buckingham, Los Angeles marketing executive and author of The Modern Girl’s Guide to Life. I would question her advice. Her daughter apparently gained admission through bribery to alter her ACT test. Her mother claimed she is “not a great test taker,” and has been arrested on a felony charge for paying an ACT proctor to take her son’s test. Jack told The Hollywood Reporter, “I know there are millions of kids out there both wealthy and less fortunate who grind their ass off just to have a shot at the college of their dreams. I am upset that I was unknowingly involved in a large scheme that helps give kids who may not work as hard as others an advantage over those who truly deserve those spots.”

Two Stanford University students have begun a growing movement on behalf of “qualified, rejected” students and filed a federal class action suit accusing eight schools of negligence.

Then, what of the students who knew all along and who feel perfectly entitled?

“They’re blowing this whole thing out of proportion,” Malcolm Abbott told the New York Post, “I believe everyone has a right to go to college, man.”

One would guess Olivia Jade Giannulli, the daughter of the indicted actress Lori Loughlin, knew what was going on when she posed on a rowing machine. Her parents allegedly passed her off as a rowing recruit, a sport she had never participated in. She told her followers on YouTube that she was there for the games and the parties, obviously not for the education.

Do these kids think they deserve to be where they are? Most have been on an entitled pedestal their whole lives and have never had to experience the ups and downs of success and failure on their own two feet. What of their futures after graduation? I suppose money will keep them on track. But what track? How will they know who they are?

Unethical college acceptance is the bucket of fool’s gold at the end of a long discolored, dysfunctional rainbow of over-involved parenting—or perhaps absent parents making up for lost time with the strings their money can pull. For years, children have been reaping the rewards from parents who snow-plowed their paths to glory.

From presents never denied, to activities allowed to quell fits of rage, inflated grades from a parent-coerced teacher, parent-produced school projects and homework, tutoring and advantages only money can buy, these kids have gotten their way all along. Do they deserve their advantages, or are they just lucky? Is the problem the spoiled, entitled kids who think they deserve anything they want, or the parents who make sure those advantages are offered, or the culture in which money and status have become increasingly necessary?

And how about the 35,000 kids who applied to Yale alone—diligent students who played by the rules seeking thousands in scholarship and student loans—who were denied admission only to learn it could have been stolen by an entitled rich kid?

How does this affect our culture’s moral fabric? What do these kids, both advantaged and disadvantaged, learn about fortitude, work ethic, achievement, and deserving?

As one of my Facebook followers put it, “This is another example of a parent not really seeing their kid, and instead just forcing through their vision of who that child should be, literally no matter the cost.”

If you had the money to make anything happen for your child, would you be tempted to use your advantage if you thought it would put your child on a successful life course? Would you be able to do the “right thing” if it meant your children losing out?

For eons, multi-million dollar donations have been an admission ticket. Money means grossly unfair advantages against people of color and students who play by the rules. But when bribery and cheating, illegality and immorality suffice for college entrance qualifications, the multitude of those denied have a right to outrage.

The job of a parent is to see, listen, learn from and support the child to find her own way over the humps and bumps of getting there, knowing she is capable. How can we be so presumptuous to think we know what is best for our children? Plain and simple–we don’t know. And to think we do, to believe we should because it’s “our job” not only puts us on a very fragile pedestal but truly hinders our relationship with our children.

The question to ask is, How do I support my child in finding his own way? Can you take yourself out of the picture long enough to see your child as separate from you on a path of his own? What if taking yourself (and your influence and money) out of the picture means your child might fail?

The slippery slope starts with harried, tired parents who give in “just this once” to a screaming, demanding child. Or it’s a parent who believes that his child’s wants and needs have top priority. Or it’s a parent who cannot bear to experience her child’s suffering, pain, or disappointment. Or it’s a parent who sees himself reflected in his child’s achievements because down deep he has a message of inadequacy.

This slippery slope for all, not just the wealthy, needs buffering when children are young. Not just so they get used to not always getting their way, but more importantly so you don’t get used to giving it. The more you give, the harder it becomes to withhold, and the meaner it seems to do so.

These entitled kids will not know how to get along on their own. They will depend on others to pave their way. Some will find the pavers; many will flounder. Many will sideline the deserving and underprivileged to get ahead—because they can.

For your children to succeed they need resilience and grit. This means allowing your children disappointment, boredom, argument, anger, and defeat. It may mean failure. But on the other side of defeat is the space where strength and success from achievement reside and where true deserving can be deeply known.

It takes a lot of faith and trust in your child to know that you can allow failure and your child will endure and come out the other end stronger for it.

Let’s hope that the “Me-First” operation (not my coinage, but I love it) has the legs of the #MeToo movement.


We punish our children in an attempt to keep them from pushing our buttons, often escalating the original problem into a cycle of anger and blame. When Your Kids Push Your Buttons is not about what to do to your kids to get them to stop pushing your buttons. This book is about how to be the parent you wish you could be-the parent that only you are holding yourself back from.




Related Articles:

When Life Throws Punches How Resilient is Your Child?

Building Resilience from the Ground Up

What the #MeToo Movement Can Teach Parents

  read more

4 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in School

Of course, you want your children to succeed in school. You do all you can to manage getting their best. But what really is your job? Is it to insure good grades, getting involved in the right sports and extra-curriculars, and diligently doing their homework? If so how involved do you get? And what do you do if they don’t meet your expectations?

Do you know that all your best intentions can undermine your child’s school success and desire to learn?

Children are natural learners. We come evolved to soak up all the learning we can — until it becomes a requirement. Remember when your toddler kept asking you why? until you wanted to scream? How is she doing now in the curiosity department?

Here are four key aspects to help you help your children succeed in school:


1.      Stay Out of It

This makes parenting so much easier, gives you more time for connection, and hands over the responsibility they need to learn. But it’s hard give up managing your kids’ school lives and work, especially if your definition of success isn’t happening.

How did you do in school? If school was your source of competency, then you want your kids to experience the same and will possibly set unrealistic expectations for them that worked for you. If school was difficult for you, you want to save your children from that fate. In either case, you will impose your own school experience onto your kids. It’s all you have. Unless you stay out of it.

The way our system works, most kids think their school success is for you or their teachers — or their failure is your disappointment. Your approval is based on how well they perform. It’s not about them; it’s about you. When you take responsibility for their school progress, then everything they do becomes a reflection of how well you are doing. Your child’s grade becomes your grade.

The best way to kill your child’s love of learning and natural curiosity is to impose your will on how and what he does. Do you nag about homework because you fear he wouldn’t do it unless you make him? Do you use rewards and threats to insure good grades? When you oversee homework and grades, you child becomes dependent on that. He doesn’t have to take responsibility for his homework because you do.

Research has shown that intrinsic motivation, love of learning, is undermined by external rewards and punishments. In study after study, children who are rewarded for accomplishing tasks, accomplish way less than those not rewarded.

Jessica Lahey, author of The Gift of Failure — and upcoming speaker at Conval High School Oct. 23rd — says, “Applying pressure in the form of control is the single most damaging thing parents and teachers can do to their children’s learning. Whether in the form of threats, bribes, deals, surveillance, imposed goals, evaluations, or even rewards and praise, control is the enemy of autonomy.”

When the focus is on achievement and grades, natural curiosity dries up. When kids are force fed learning, it is no longer fun to learn.


2.      Let Your Children Fail

Resilience is built from tough times. When kids are pampered, have the path in front of them smoothed regularly, they lose ambition and come to expect someone else to manage their difficulties.

What do you do when your child complains about a grade she gets that seems terribly unfair? Do you call the teacher, or do you ask your child what she wants to do about it? If homework is not finished, do you take away computer privileges, blame it on irresponsibility, threaten to restrict social time, fight until she tells you she can’t stand living in this family anymore? Or do you allow her to experience the natural consequences of not handing homework in on time or not studying for a test? And without an I-told-you-so attitude.

If your child is controlled by threats and punishments, she will lose faith in herself and stop trying. Then you are even more tempted to use control tactics, the cycle spins, and she becomes less and less motivated. Maintaining your control over your child actually shields her from the far more powerful teaching of natural consequences. Building resilience is put at risk.


3.      Support

Paving the way for a child having a hard time in school, doing most of his homework, giving money for good grades is not supporting your child. Hearing his frustration over grades or teachers’ criticisms, acknowledging his efforts, and using problem solving to help him figure out how he wants to handle situations is supportive.

Fighting over grades, homework, and test scores sends the message that his worth is measured by his accomplishments rather than by his effort and character. The external carrot or stick only prods when you are there to do the prodding.

Talk about what your kids are studying at the dinner table, share your ideas about the subject, show interest in what they’re learning, look up related information together online. Your interest is motivating, your criticism, hovering, or lack of interest is not.

If your child is falling behind in school, spend time and energy understanding why. This requires trusting communication, so he feels safe being totally honest with you. Is the school environment the right fit for him? Are social relationships at risk? Does your child feel disrespected by certain teachers? Does he worry he can’t keep up with the class? Once you get to the bottom of it, then you can problem solve with him to determine what would be most helpful.

When you take responsibility for the problem your child is having, success or failure is up to you. When you listen and problem solve, your child can work it through with you to find solutions. But take his lead. You can make suggestions and offer your opinions but always ask if this would work for him. This is true support.

Each of your children is different. Each requires different expectations. Your support requires understanding what each child needs and never comparing them.

It is important to hand over your children’s education to them; put them in charge. When they sense your trust, and your expectations are set for their success, they are more likely to rise to the challenge education presents and feel proud of themselves with every accomplishment.


4.      Set Goals

Planning ahead is a skill everyone needs. It provides additional focus on what your child wants and thinks about. Telling a child what to do leaves her feeling powerless and provokes resistance. Asking what she wants to do about it, what her plan is, encourages thinking ahead and builds executive functioning and competence.

Try asking your kids what they want to accomplish this school year, what each hopes to gain. Ask your child if she were to overhear her teacher talking about her in the hallway, what would she like to hear. Then ask how she thinks she can accomplish that. Talking about goals with your kids keeps the focus under their control, not yours. When you tell them what you want them to accomplish, they become pawns under your control. Be prepared for either obstinance or compliance — compliance that brings with it mediocrity.

When your expectations focus on everyone doing their best, and when education is important to your family, your children know it. But make sure what you want for each of them matches what they are capable of with a short stretch beyond. When your expectations are unrealistic and set by external controls, your child will believe she can’t meet up, she’s not good enough, she’ll never be who you want her to be.

Imagination, ingenuity, and brilliance means taking risks and making lots of mistakes. It may mean doing poorly in one subject so attention can be paid where there is stimulation. If no stimulation is present in school, talk about where else it can be found.

Make sure your kids know you care far more about their efforts and desire to learn and grow than you do about grades. Your goals for them should be each finding their potential. Your goals for you should be sitting back, supporting, and watching in awe as their minds take off.

read more

Aug. ’18 Q&A – Does your child fit with his school, Disrespect and Test Anxiety

Does your child fit with his school?

Q. Our feisty 5 yo is not settling into school too well, and we have to attend meetings with the teacher due to his misbehaving ways. When asked why he acts out, ie: drawing on walls, running away from the class, ignoring instructions etc, he says, “because I felt like it”. This is quite concerning as he attends a Catholic School and is raised by a practising Catholic mother with very loving and devoted parents. He does not seem to understand what it feels like to be in someone else’s position. We are at a loss after trying to talk to him and discuss alternative ways of behaving with no positive results. Another concern is his lack of concentration as he has approx. 4 mins. of attentiveness before he loses interest and proceeds to do what he wants to do, sometimes ignoring instructions and/or consequences. I have been doing some research and strongly believe he may need some assistance with self-regulating. Do you have any suggestions as to how we can help our strong willed, stubborn child who is loved very much. We very much want him to enjoy school rather than say he hates school and doesn’t want to go?

A. Keep in mind that your son is only five and should not be expected to consider another’s position for several more years. This sounds like a misfit of child and environment. Our job as parents is to provide environments that meet our children’s needs, not the other way around. Your son sounds like a perfectly normal, active, distractible boy. His “misbehavior” shown as running off, not listening, drawing on walls indicates that he is being asked to do what he cannot do at this point. Teachers well versed in child development will know how to engage kids like this – he is by far not the only 5 year old who is not ready to settle down in a structured environment.

The structure of this school may be too restrictive for his needs. If his teacher has unrealistic expectations for him, he will not be able to meet them. They are calling it “misbehaving”, which tells me they must make him change. He will naturally act out in reaction to that. His response, “Because I felt like it” is quite logical. A 5 year old who feels pushed to do what he can’t will naturally find a way to do what he wants — until that aspect of him is punished enough that makes it not safe for him to do what he wants.

What you can be sure of is that he has a hard time sitting still and listening, so he uses his imagination to amuse himself. The problem comes when that doesn’t work in his environment. But isn’t that what we want for our children — to think creatively and imaginatively to solve problems. Of course he can’t do whatever he wants but imagine if his teacher put paper on the wall for him to draw on, other children as well, instead of getting yelled at, criticized, blamed, given consequences, all of which causes him to feel bad about himself, which exacerbates his behavior. When he learns he is bad, he will continue to behave badly. When appropriate expectations are held for him — that he can’t sit still yet like some of the other kids, he needs something to keep his body moving, etc. — then he will respond more cooperatively because he will feel heard and understood. If he cannot hold his attention longer than 4 min., put him in a school environment where that is okay, not one that forces him to be attentive longer than he can be. If his needs are met now, he will be able to regulate himself and follow rules as he gets older. You will have more success if you put him in an environment that accepts who he is rather than who you or the school wants him to be.

He may be loved very much but is he accepted? Do you and his school accept that he is a very busy, distractible, imaginative, 5 year old who cannot yet sit still and keep his attention focused for longer than 4 minutes? Or are you trying to get him to change and be calm, quiet, and attentive? I know you don’t want him to change, so find an environment that understands his perfectly normal, albeit hard to manage, temperament.


Disrespect at School

Q. My 9 year old son is smart, creative and very stubborn. He hates school, refuses to even try, disrespects the teachers and acts out in anger if they try to make him do his work. He is more than capable of getting As on tests but usually gets Ds because he just stares out the window instead of doing his test. He doesn’t do any of his school work during classtime so we have to spend a few hours with him every night catching up on his homework. He is well behaved and lovable when he’s doing something he enjoys but seems to think that if he’s bored, he doesn’t have to try. My husband and I have tried everything to help him realize that, even if he doesn’t enjoy school, he needs to still do his best. We praise him when he does well and try to acknowledge everything he is good at. We have also withheld privileges when he behaves inappropriately at school. Nothing works. He is now meeting weekly with a school social worker. Hopefully he will develop some coping skills. My problem is this – even though we are working very hard to help him be successful, I feel really judged by his teachers. They know he is meeting with the social worker (at their request) but they still phone me to complain about how difficult he is. I just want to burst into tears when I get those calls because I feel totally powerless. Can you give me any tips for how I can handle this?

A. I completely empathize with how powerless you feel when teachers call to complain. I imagine they feel powerless too since your son is not compliant with their wishes. Easy for me to say, but I think everyone needs to listen to what your son is trying to say. It sounds like he’s saying that this school is not the right place for him. Do you have any other options. (see the Q&A above about school fit.) Unfortunately many parents do not have options.

The problem with our mainstream parenting/teaching culture sees his resistance, defiant behavior as him being bad, doing it wrong. So we try behavioral techniques to change the behavior rather than looking to the inner emotional state that is causing the behavior. My guess is that he is responding disrespectfully to his teachers because he feels disrespected (unheard, unimportant) by them. If you feel judged by them, imagine how he feels.

He is smart and he is bored, and his nature will not comply with what offends him — he’s what I call an Integrity Child. But even when bored, children will work for someone who respects and believes in them. He is not happy nor engaged, and is being told that is not okay. When you withdraw privileges you are telling him “Don’t be yourself” and that your acceptance of him is conditional on doing something that his integrity cannot stomach. He will not respond well to that.

What he needs is to know that you hear him and that you want to work together to find a way for him to deal with this school that you know is not meeting his needs. When you tell him that “even though…he still needs to do his best”, you are not listening. You need to start where he is. “You hate your school experience and that must truly suck.” There is no “but” about it. He’s a smart kid and sees through your attempts to tell him what he needs to do. He hears you saying, You have to do it our way. True empathy is seeing his experience through his eyes.

Share your frustration that you feel judged as well. When you show compassion for his problem, and acknowledge the disrespect he feels at school for who he is without trying to change him, then you can talk about the importance of showing respect even for people we don’t like. A different school or home schooling has the potential of making the difference for all three of you—not always an option. Let him know that you find yourself in a predicament with the school that does not feel helpful or supportive and that you have been trying to get him to be compliant to help you with that predicament, and you see that is not helping him.

Then give it time for him to trust that you care more about him than the school. In the meantime, let his teachers know how judged you feel and that you are switching your focus to understand him better rather than pushing for compliance.


Test Anxiety

Q. Do you have suggestions for my 10-year old daughter who has panic attacks during tests/exams? She is generally a happy, outgoing person but tends to flounder faced with adversity and has self-esteem issues. She specifically has panic attacks during assessments at school, which obviously affect her performance. Although she is very able and should in principle do well, during tests she freezes when she cannot immediately answer a question, gets stressed when others are faster than her, and stops functioning altogether. Can you suggest coping techniques she could practice?

 A.Wow this sounds like me! Many children do well in school and panic when it comes to testing. Your daughter will only have self-esteem issues if she believes she is wrong or dumb for being the way she is. The best you can do for her is to assure her she’s perfectly normal. I’m not saying you do this, but DO NOT try to reassure her that “everything will be fine, and she will do well if she just relaxes”. That sends the message that you don’t get it, and she is alone in her worry, which exacerbates the panic.

Point out to her that FEELINGS of anxiety stem from her THOUGHTS. When she thinks, Here it comes, I’m going to fail on this test, she will naturally panic and then clutch. Help her identify the thoughts she has at the time panic hits and how she has control over her thoughts. For instance, “I’m going to fail this test” could change to “I’m feeling really nervous right now.” “Everybody’s going to beat me” could reframe to “I tend to be slower than some of the others. That’s okay.” She must keep it truthful and factual – something she can believe, rather than “I’m going to do just fine.”

The goal is to take the edge off, not to be completely confident going into an exam. Panic can change to nervous. And everybody feels nervous. She could write some reframed thoughts down and read them at the time. You can make suggestions but don’t tell her what she should do and don’t expect her worry to disappear.

Your job is to understand her, not make it go away. Don’t take her pain personally. It’s important for you to know that this is her problem, not yours. If you are upset about it, your upset makes her problem worse. Then she has your upset to deal with too. Your job is to understand her dilemma and to give her support — a non-judgmental, non-advice-giving shoulder to cry on, a compassionate sounding board to unload on. Every time she gets through it, she builds resilience. You must trust that for her.

You might also point out that the reason she gets panicky is because of the high expectations she holds for herself. She cares very much about how she does. Point out the obvious positives — she will never settle for mediocre, she will always strive to be better — and then add the downside — she will be very hard on herself — something she can work on over time.

Mindfulness meditation practices can help. The two of you could practice together a few minutes a day.

Of interest – 12 Ways to Encourage School Motivation


Getting your kids out the door in the morning is enough to ruin your day. Remember these 8 points:

  • Get yourself up in enough time to be relaxed and mostly focused on the kids.
  • If you wake your kids, allow time for hugs and an easy transition from sleep to awake.
  • Do not expect your child to WANT to leave home. Many children have difficulty with transitions. Fine after they get there. Difficult getting there.
  • Talk with your child about all the things she needs to get done in the morning. i.e. brushing teeth, playing, eat breakfast, etc. Make a list out of order. Let her put them in the order she chooses. You can object but let her take the lead. Then list them on a dry erase board with a check box next to each that she can check off as accomplished.
  • Do as much the night before as possible — set out clothes, gather everything for the backpack, put sports equipment by the door, make lunches.
  • Do the best you can to not RUSH. Kids hate to be rushed.
  • When they dawdle, resist temptation to criticize and nag. Getting out the door on time is your agenda, rarely their’s (altho some are hyper-sensitive to being on time – if so, you don’t have a problem here!). They need motivation to help you out with YOUR agenda.
  • For kids who have an especially hard time leaving, about 5 min. before hand, ask your child, “What is one more thing you’d like to do before we have to leave?” “Is there something you’d like to get to take with you today?” Giving them a choice gives a bit of control to a child who feels powerless to do what he wants.
  • read more

    May ’18 Q&A – Confidence, Empathy and Shopping

    Is it lack of confidence or too much control?

    Q. Our 5-year old boy is struggling with confidence. He has difficulty focusing at school and we don’t want him to get behind. There are 22 kids in his class and the school has an expectation of work. Also has trouble focusing at soccer practice/games, anytime things are going on around him. He has no issues interacting with people, kids or adults. I believe he lacks confidence because he is afraid of trying new things. He doesn’t like to fail and gets frustrated easily when he can’t learn fast. He also gets very embarrassed when things don’t go as expected.

    read more

    What Your Teen Wants to Hear From You

    Parents of teens tear their hair out wondering what happened to that child who cooperated at least some of the time, listened once in a while, and adjusted to the limits set some of the time. Now an attitude seems to replace that child and an alien has taken over.

    The thing is, your child is the same child, but she is growing up and pushing out. She must separate from her dependency on you. She must make decisions on her own, take responsibility for herself, and navigate among her world of peers.

    The problem is she’s often not very nice about it and is not terribly capable of doing a good job at any of it.

    Developmentally your teen’s ability to foresee the consequences of her choices, plan things out, and decide what is truly in her best interest is not quite in keeping with her desire to be independent and have fun now. In other words, her brain is not yet developed enough to support the independence she wants and may be fighting you for.

    Meanwhile, you are treading the waters of this new territory with its new and often frightening daily developments. You find evidence that your teen is experimenting in all directions. From vaping candy flavored chemicals (which “may or may not contain nicotine”) to smoking or injecting all kinds of drugs, putting homework and grades at a low priority, and getting few hours of sleep, your mental state is fragile at best.

    Taking advantage of the few minutes you see your teen, it’s hard not to lecture, nag about chores, and express your fears in anger and frustration. But that is the last thing your child needs from you.

    Even though it looks and feels like your teen has discarded you, this behavior must cue you to its deeper meaning. As much as he wants to run his own life, he is scared of doing so. Even though he thinks he’s ready, he knows he’s not.

    Yes, he would rather be with his friends. Yes, he cares nothing about helping out. Yes, he treats you rudely. But he still needs to know you are there. He may hate what you have to say, but he wants you around more than you probably are.

    Lisa Damour (New York Times Dec. 2016) coined the label, the potted plant parent. Her research found that “…it’s great if you and your adolescent get along well with each other, but even if you don’t, your uneasy presence is better for your teenager than your physical absence.” Teens psychological health increases when parents are home before and after school and at dinnertime. Damour explains, “…parenting of a teenager may sometimes take the form of blending into the background like a potted plant.”

    There is never a time in a child’s life when connection is not needed and wanted. It’s just that the nature of the connection must change alongside your rapidly changing adolescent.

    You have the choice of reacting just like your teen ~ or being the grownup, understanding that her behavior is a clue to deeper needs, and not taking that behavior personally so you can remain the influence your teen desperately needs.

    In order to maintain that influence, trust must be present.

    Trust does not mean you are going to overlook the money she took from your wallet. Trust means that you see the impulsive mistake she made that must be amended — but you see a mistake, not an indictment of character. Trust does not mean you ignore the pot smoking happening in his room that must be addressed and handled— but you understand this behavior is filling a hole/a hurt that is present.

    When you take your child’s behavior at face value, it becomes difficult to see the whole child always present underneath the charade that most teens try out before discovering who they are.

    The quality of your connection with your teen is the #1 preventive measure of all you fear. Teens who hurdle the obstacles of adolescence relatively unscathed and come out the other end with resilience are those who feel connected with their parents.

    So do your best to remain the grownup, stay the high ground and give your teen the connection she needs even when snark is her current language of choice.

    Here are a few examples of connective language that can penetrate the hard shell:

  • “You know, what I really admire about you is your ability to….”
  • “I know you have what it takes.”
  • “I trust you can figure this out. Would you like to bounce some ideas around?”
  • “You don’t have to know what you want. Sometimes life is just confusing for awhile.”“I love you no matter what.”
  • “I know you know you made a mistake. I trust that you know what will feel best inside to make the amends necessary.”
  • “I’m sure you know I don’t approve of what you want. I also know that I cannot make you do what I want. You are the one who needs to decide what is right.”
  • “You have such a good head on your shoulders and you care about yourself and your future, so I trust you will figure this out.”
  • “I have to say no to that. My job is still to be your parent and sometimes I have to say things that make you mad.”
  • “I don’t like to be spoken to that way. I will be in the kitchen when you can tell me what it is you want.”
  • “That’s not okay with me. I get it that you want x. I want z. How can we work this out so we both get what we want?”
  • “Of course you wish you could call all the shots and make the decisions. I did too when I was your age. Unfortunately you still have boring parents to deal with for a few more years. Bummer.”
  • read more

    12 Ways to Boost School Motivation

    Discouraged Student
    Do you, unintentionally, teach your children that their school performance is for you—not for them? If so, school motivation will diminish.

    Parents place so much value on grades and performance that the message to the child is, I care more about how you do than what you do. For too many children, school is a prison sentence to endure, and if they don’t do well, they are a huge disappointment to the most important people in their lives. We need to hand over education to our children and let them know they have our support in doing the best they can but not our disapproval if they don’t.

    Jacquelynne Eccles, professor of psychology and research scientist at the University of Michigan, has said, “… motivation and engagement in school on average drops as they move from the elementary school into the secondary school system. You see it in attendance, in getting into trouble, in drop outs from high school and also in dropping out of college.” Dr. Eccles’ perspective of why this is stems from the mindset of the student. She explains, “They don’t think they can succeed in school. They don’t think it’s important; they don’t see its relevance to their lives. It creates too much anxiety. It’s not taught in a way that’s interesting, so it has no appeal to them.” She says, “…students are more likely to be fully engaged in school if they expect they can do well and if they value the learning that schools provide.”

    That’s where parents come in. Eccles goes on to say that intrinsic motivation is essential and is reinforced for students when parents are in active discussion about the relevance of their education.

    Unfortunately most parenting practices focus on extrinsic motivation: giving a “consequence” for undesirable behavior, performance, grades, etc. Whenever rewards or punishments (withdrawal of privileges, phones, freedom) are used by parents in an attempt to motivate better behavior, the opposite is the result. That is because the motivation is external, and nothing intrinsic is learned.

    It is critical to maintain connection with your children through positive relationships based on trust that your children want to do well. You are their rock. Make sure that you support whatever their experience is and believe in their ultimate success.

    Ways to help your children feel motivated in school:
  • Ask each child what they would like to accomplish this year—how they would like the school year to end and how to reach that goal.
  • Ask, “If you were to overhear your teacher talking about you, what would you like to hear your teacher say?”
  • Give your children ownership of their education. Let them experience the consequences of good or bad grades without adding your approval or disapproval.
  • Notice where your child’s effort, determination, and mastery occur. Don’t harp on subjects that your child doesn’t excel at. All kids don’t do well in all subjects. Do encourage and seek help if they are motivated to do better.
  • When grades are given, ask your children what they think—are they fair, are they accurately representative of their effort? Let them grade themselves. If she doesn’t think a grade is fair, ask her what she’d like to do about it. Leave it to her.
  • Greet your child every day after school with physical touch, eye contact and words expressing how happy you are to see them. Save questions about their day for later or wait until they tell you.
  • Trust them to handle their own homework assignments, and do not get involved with the doing of it. Do show interest in their studies and assignments. Offer your help when needed, but do not get involved without being asked.
  • Acknowledge their effort at all times (even when you see little). “That was really hard and you got through it.” When they do well, express that you know how proud they must be of themselves (intrinsic) rather than how proud you are of them (extrinsic).
  • Value school-related activities other than grades and test scores, i.e. being helpful to a friend, interest in something non-academic, relationships with teachers and friends, sports, music.
  • Focus on the process and content of their learning. Take focus off grades and performance. Never compare one child’s accomplishments with another’s.
  • If your children are having difficulty, help them break work down into small bit-sized chunks that can be accomplished more easily. Validate their effort and be understanding of their frustration. Share a story from your past.
  • Never punish (give consequences) or reward performance or grades. Do not teach your children that what you care most about is what they produce.
  • read more

    My Homework Challenge: Being Your Child’s Best Advocate

    Let me guess what your biggest worries/concerns/battles are about when it comes to your child and school.         Homework, right?

    What do you most want for your child? Is it to be happy, respectful, kind, responsible, confident, independent, and successful? Or would you rather your child bring home a great report card, a 3.5 GPA, and high SAT scores? Often we get mired down in the minutia of day-to-day struggles and fears and fail to see the big picture of our children’s lives.

    Do you set expectations for your children’s school year that are unrealistic for your child? Do you spend time worrying about your child failing or at least not meeting up to the students who do the best? Do you harp on homework and end up in battles?

    Certainly a good education is important to gaining happiness and confidence. The question is, does a good education require hours of homework each night. Or is a better education achieved when a child loves to learn?

    A child who loves to learn has spent the better part of his early childhood learning through plenty of self-directed play and who enjoys school—where the school and the child fit. Our current public school system seems to be undermining this process. Competition in the science and math world has trickled down to “No Child Left Behind” requiring standardized testing, grading school performance, and competition for federal dollars. Many teachers’ hands are tied by administrators focused on the success of the school. Teachers are under pressure to teach a curriculum that requires more hours in the day than they have.

    All of this puts pressure on worried parents who try to give their child a head start with Baby Mozart, flash cards and extra curricular activities. Homework is being given in Kindergarten and even preschool. Left in the dust is play.

    The case against homework is outlined in three books, (Kralovec and Buell, Bennett and Kalish, and Kohn), touting it as detrimental to a child’s academic success. But even research in support of homework (Cooper, Robinson, and Patall, 2006) shows that it gives no achievement gain for the child before grade 4, and the gains in grades 4-6 are minimal.

    Researchers have offered recommendations. Cooper, et. al (2006) agree with Good and Brophy (2003) who have “…cautioned that teachers must take care not to assign too much homework. They suggested that homework must be realistic in length and difficulty given the students’ abilities to work independently. Thus, 5 to 10 minutes per subject might be appropriate for 4th graders, whereas 30 to 60 minutes might be appropriate for college-bound high school students.” Cooper (2007) suggested that research findings support the “10-minute rule”: “All daily homework assignments combined should take about as long to complete as 10 minutes multiplied by the student’s grade level.” 15 minutes when reading is included.

    And this article posted by the World Economic Forum tells us that play is the most important activity your child needs to learn complex problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity — the three top skills needed for successful work in this new age. Why do our schools proceed with earlier and more homework ignoring the research? Do we really want our children to hate school for the sake of gaining points on the Chinese? Better that we look to the Finnish.

    Results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2000, a standardized test given to 15-year-olds in more than 40 global venues, showed Finnish youth to be the best young readers in the world. Three years later, they led in math. By 2006, Finland was first out of 57 countries in science. In the 2009 PISA scores, Finland came in second in science, third in reading and sixth in math among nearly half a million students worldwide. The US hovers around the midpoint of all countries.

    Finland’s school system:

    • gives minimal homework only to high schoolers

    • gives only one standardized test at age 16. A Helsinki principal with 24 years teaching experience said, “If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect.”

    • averages 75 minutes of playtime a day

    • has a student/teacher ratio of 1-12 (NYC: 1-24)

    • requires a masters degree for all teachers

    • gives teachers independence in their lesson plans and text books

    Some reasons for their success:

    • teachers have the highest vocational status followed by physicians. The masters degree in education is sought after by 25% of college students.

    • day care, preschool and college are free (although taxes are very high)

    • preschools (before 1st grade) focus on social skills, emotional awareness, and play. Finnish children don’t approach reading until age seven.

    • parents receive 3 years maternity leave and approx. 150 euros per month per child until age 17.

    • educational competition is downplayed.


    This is especially for parents of elementary aged children. Talk to your children’s teachers and tell them your educated knowledge of this research on homework and it’s detrimental effects on play and family time. Tell them you want something different for your child.

    I have included some approaches that you can use to create your own. You might use these guidelines when talking to your child’s K-3 teachers and use “The 10-minute rule” for your older kids:

    ~ Based on research done on homework and the benefits of play to her development, I will not be requiring my child to do homework this year so she has ample time for play. If it is something she wants to do, fine. But I will not be asking her to do it.

    read more

    5 Things Never to Ask Your Child Right After School

    Questions never to ask after school
    You want to interact and make connection when your kids get home from school. Your kids do too but not in the way you might think.

    You’ve missed them, you want to know what they did all day, how they got along, if they had any problems. But questions can feel like an interrogation.


    1. How was school today?
    2. What do you have for homework?
    3. When are you going to do your homework?
    4. What did you get on the test?
    5. What did you learn today?

    They have just spent a long hard day meeting (or not) expectations, doing things they might not want to do, following orders, coping for hours, and hopefully working hard and learning. Probably the last they want to do is go over their day with you. They need a break. They need to know here is the place where I can be myself. They need to chill.

    Each of these 5 questions is filled with an expectation.

    1. How was school?

    What if school was terrible? Your child may or may not want to tell you because he has a picture of exactly how you will react with his answer. Does he want to tell you the truth and upset you and immediately ask more questions? Or does he want to make you happy so you won’t do the above. Even if it all went well, he doesn’t want to go through the details of the day.

    Safest answer: “Fine.”

    2. What do you have for homework?

    Homework is the last thing she wants to think about right now. She might be thinking, Do you really expect me to work all the time? You must think I’m stupid. Get off my back. Your child has many more important things on her mind once she is out of school and it’s likely that none of them have to do with homework.

    Safest answer: “I don’t have any.”

    3. When are you going to do your homework?

    Your child hears from this question that all you care about is homework and grades. Is that true? Make sure you don’t have to police your child’s homework time. Establish ground rules about homework at the beginning of each year. With your guidance, allow your child to determine the best time and place to do homework. Keep it as consistent as possible let him know you’re there for help. But let him be in charge of his homework.

    Safest answer: “Later.”

    4. What did you get on the test?

    Asking about grades on tests sends the message to your child that your approval comes in grades as well. If your child did well, he will be thrilled to tell you without the question. If he did poorly, what does he expect your response to be? Will he get grounded, a privilege removed, extra homework time piled on? If he got a D, do you get a D in parenting?

    Safest answer: “We didn’t get it back.”

    5. What did you learn today?

    Talking about what your child is learning is a subject worthy of discussion—at a later time. Do be involved in your child’s learning, let her know you care and are interested in what she learns, learn along with her, but save the talk until she brings it up or until it is a logical discussion during homework time or perhaps dinner.

    Safest answer: “Nothing.”

    When your kids get off the bus, climb in the car, or come through the door, welcome them back home. A big smile, a hug, a touch and an “I’m so glad to see you” or “Hi sweetie-pie” will give your kids the grounding that home provides with no expectations. Your unconditional happiness in greeting them will create the stress-free, safe haven they need to refuel and relax…and will set up the way the rest of the day goes — and how much you end up hearing about their day.

    A happy greeting can wipe clean any negative emotions left from an earlier conflict that morning. If there was difficulty at school, your child will know that the problem is over for now and he can be himself. And if he’s not interrogated about school, he will feel free to bring up the topic when he needs a sounding board. If you are not always asking questions, you will set yourself up much better to be that sounding board he needs.

    Try a smile, a hug, and a comment about how happy you are to see her period. Maybe tell her about something that happened during your day. You may find that dinner time or bedtime will be full of all the information you want.

    Your child needs a mindset shift, preferably into play mode, after a long day at school. Let that happen. There is plenty of time for what you want to know. Be patient and meet your child right where she is.


      read more