Secrets to Helping Kids with ADHD

ADHD, is it a superpower or kryptonite at home or at school? The truth is, it is probably both depending on the situation. All students want to learn, they often feel a great deal of pressure to “learn” and be able to show that learning when it is called for. How can you help your child learn to use their ADHD as a superpower and minimize the effects of kryptonite? Here are three ways to ensure better outcomes.

ADHD and the Brain

    1. Understand that ADHD is a chemical imbalance in the brain. That means that without enough dopamine and other neurotransmitter chemicals, messages are disrupted on their way from one side of the brain to the other. When everything is working the messages make it, but often they make it half way or more likely, they vanish – sometimes temporarily and other times, without a trace – forgotten.

Probable causes: interruptions, distractions or brain and body are trying to make their needs known. Working memory is responsible for holding onto all the information we need at the time to complete a task or solve a problem. When it is working at capacity and something or someone interrupts, something has to go. Sometimes it is easy to get it back and other times, your child has to start back at the beginning adding more time and stress to whatever they were doing.

When an ADHD brain is hungry, thirsty, tired or fidgety, it is best to stop and give it what it needs. The brain is always monitoring and sends out signals to get noticed until the problem is resolved.

Suggestions: Make sure your child or teen gets enough sleep, eats healthy, is active and has a snack with protein before beginning homework. Praise their effort. Remove distractions that you can and save your questions for later.

2. Impulsivity is often a kryptonite side effect of ADHD. It is like the pause button is broken, or that little voice in your head that warns you before you get in trouble or hurt, is asleep. I have also heard that it is a way the brain seeks out more stimulus because it is feeling like it doesn’t have enough. Impulse control is an executive function that isn’t fully developed until age 25, yet we ask children to control it long before then. Whatever the reasons, kids need a way to help themselves before they get in trouble.

Suggestions: One way to separate the impulsivity from the child is to call it something. Give it a name that you can refer to that separates it from your child’s sense of self. (Ex. The Cracken, Kevin (from the movie UP, Wacko Willy, etc.) Use humor when they show up and discuss what else Wacko Willy might have done instead.

Set clear expectations on behaviors before going somewhere. Make sure your child has a fidget in their pocket and use this 3-step model taken from Sarah Ward called: Stop, Think, Act.

When you notice emotions are building up, your child needs to: Stop (Take a few breaths, walk away, go outside, or chill in their room). Then have them think what started that, or what happened right before they got upset? Now, problem solve and brainstorm ideas that are more appropriate and use them to act next time.

3. Motivation is a challenge. An ADHD brain struggles with tasks that are boring, complex or difficult. If you are trying to motivate your child to complete something that falls under one of those categories, it may be as frustrating for you as it is for them. No one wants to mess up but, often those with ADHD are seen as messing up more often than their peers. The most common ways teachers and parents try to motivate is to take-away privileges. Or promising rewards so far in the future that the child feels they will never get it anyway. Rewards or punishments have little effect other than making children feel “bad” about themselves. This causes the brain to become stressed and a stressed brain cannot think clearly. That seems like a no-win situation.

Suggestions: According to Additude Magazine, “When you praise your child, it creates dopamine — the neurotransmitter his or her brain lacks, which causes the ADHD symptoms — and the dopamine helps to better control behavior. So, he or she can do more wonderful tomorrow.”  Increase the positive/negative ratio as it takes 3-5 positives to outweigh 1 negative.

Learning happens when students are willing to learn, and have strategies that work for them. However, most important is that they feel good about themselves. So, use lots of praise (about their effort), humor and help them understand how they learn best. If school is a positive experience, then their superpower may one day make the world a better place.

Want to learn more strategies to help your child or teen succeed with ADHD? Then join our next Thriving with ADHD in the Family Parent Class.

School’s Out – Preventing the Summer Slide

metacognition and the summer slideTeachers talk about the summer slide all the time. That downhill slope that learning often takes during the summer months. We all lose some level of skill when we don’t keep using it. For students, the summer slide can set them back a month or more having to review what they have already learned.

Now, I am not talking about the facts they have memorized, but the process of being able to figure things out through understanding themselves and problem solving. In other words, thinking about how they think or metacognition. This is the real skill they need when it comes to learning.

So, what you can you do this summer to help minimize that summer slide?

              • Keep them reading. Find books that they are interested in (not just the ones on their summer reading list) and set aside some time each day for reading. After lunch, after dinner or before bed are great times and even better if you are able to read at that time too. Don’t forget to ask them about what they have read.
              • Going to camp or on outings? Let your children plan what they need, figure out the route or buy the snacks. Any way that you can get them thinking about how to approach the task of being ready is helpful. What have they done in the past that is similar to this and how can that help?
              • Take a walk in the woods, go geocaching, identify birds, flowers, rocks and trees. Get outside and play. Visit the tourist sites near you. What will they be studying next year? Is there an historic site that relates? Take in a museum or zoo.
              • Teach and/or reinforce skills through baking snacks, helping with meal prep, doing their own laundry, organizing their room, and/or writing a grocery list or their daily plan. Create a menu of fun activities they want to do. It is easier to check the menu than to come up with something to do in the moment. Do they want to learn something new or improve a skill?
              • Weekly (or more) game night. Play games that use math and reading but also keeps their “playing with others” skills active. Building with legos – have a competition. Puzzles too.
              • Keep some structure in their day. Kids thrive when they know what to expect. Having morning, mid day and evening routines can break up the day and make it easier for them to switch activities or come up with new ones. Try a 30 minute “quiet time” after lunch. It works great if you want to swim after lunch but really should wait a bit. It’s a great time for reading, doing puzzles, word searches, or reinforcing weak skills through activities (although I am not a fan of the worksheets), things like math war, or memory games and even flashcards help.

Learning is a process and it takes time. So, start small and scaffold things where you start with lots of help and then less help as they become more capable. Focus on the process of learning and not the outcome. Keep a growth mindset in mind where they are capable with effort even if they can’t do it “yet.” Allow choices it fosters ownership. Reflecting on what they have done leads to metacognition so be sure to use some of their successes to remind them when they are struggling.

Lastly, and most importantly, it is so easy to supply solutions to children’s statements and complaints like: “I’m hungry” or “Where is my bike”, or “I’m bored,” but when you do, you take away the opportunity to develop problem solving skills and encourage independence. (Also developing agency).

Encouraging your children to problem solve with your help and building on their confidence develops agency. Isn’t the goal to raise lifelong, independent learners with the confidence to handle anything? And, it can be fun!

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Developing Agency Leads to Independence

Celebrating agency up high on a mountainThe word “agency” keeps popping up in articles I read or podcasts I listen to so I thought I would look a bit deeper into it. Hope you find it helpful.

Agency is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “the ability to take action or to choose what action to take.” It is the belief that you have control over your choices and can affect change through the choices you make. How often do you feel that you have an impact on your life through the decisions and choices you make? So, what is agency?

Without Agency

  • Unclear goals
  • Emotions drive beliefs (whether true or not)
  • Indecision
  • Fear of Failure
  • Lack of confidence in your abilities

With Agency

  • Growth mindset (you believe you can do it, maybe just not “yet”)
  • Metacognition (you think about your thinking)
  • See learning as a process and yourself as a learner
  • Self-efficacy (belief in your abilities)
  • Ask open ended questions to problem solve

Agency isn’t just important for adults, but also for children to develop. Students have been through a lot of changes over the last three years and most of them adapted quite well. Some did not do well with the challenges and the constant changes. What do you think makes the difference, between a student who is resilient and adapts quickly and those that become more needy and less capable? Is it fear of failure, lack of confidence, or learned helplessness that interferes with a child’s development of agency?

Opportunities to problem solve and figure out what steps to take next have been replaced with the answers and solutions in order to save time (Ex. Study guides instead of study skills). Think about it, when was the last time your child came to you with a problem and you told them what to do? You may have missed an opportunity to help them develop agency and confidence in their own abilities.

I was surprised to read this article that discussed the increase in a child’s anxieties when you constantly solve their problems for them or make accommodations to diminish their fears. This line jumped out at me. “Kids look to their parents to see who they are, Dr. Leibowitz notes. So, when parents reflect back to them that they are helpless in the face of anxiety, and need to be protected, that’s what kids learn to feel about themselves.” That goes for problem solving too. They question their own abilities and instead rely on a parent or teacher to “save” them.

Learning is a Process

  • It takes time
  • Start small and scaffold with help
  • Focus on the process not the outcome
  • Allow choices – develops ownership
  • Self-reflection leads to metacognition
  • Growth mindset (capable with effort)
  • Leads to self-efficacy (belief in your abilities)
  • Which then leads to agency – knowing you can impact your life through the decisions and choices you make

Encouraging your children to problem solve with your help and building on their confidence develops agency. Isn’t the goal to raise lifelong learners with the confidence to handle anything that comes their way (depending on age of course)?

As an adult, you know yourself best and should keep that in mind when solving a problem or developing a strategy that will work for the way you think. We can’t always predict what success will look like so designing an “experiment” gives an opportunity to try things out without fear of failure. Make sure to think about what could get in the way of your success. Thinking about possible obstacles and then creating a plan for them, helps ensure greater success of your experiment. Each experiment provides more data (more clues as to what will work) even if you don’t get there on the first try.

Each experiment whether successful or not helps you learn more about who you are and who you want to be. It builds on your strengths and helps you find strategies you can use in other instances. This builds your “toolbox” that you can use in other situations. In the end, we don’t set the goals or do the tasks for the “fun” of crossing them off the list, we do them to show ourselves we are capable and in control of ourselves and our actions – and that develops agency.

If you’d like to learn more about helping your children develop agency, then join our Thriving with ADHD in the Family Parent Class starting Thursday, April 27th, 2023 at 7pm ET via Zoom.

Top Three Challenges (and Solutions) for Back to School

The kids are back in school. YAY! Take a moment to celebrate the start of the new school year with all its possibilities. September is often a great month for establishing new habits and routines. If you feel that the mornings are rushed or you are frustrated when it comes to homework time, then read on for some solutions to help.
Three common challenges once school begins:
Challenge 1: How do I make morning routines work so I am not guiding or coercing my children and teens every step of the way?
        • Start with a set bedtime and figure out how much time it takes your children/teens to get into bed (this helps them wake up rested)
        • Have a prep time before bed when kids put their clothes out for the next day, pack up the backpack and place it near the door and decide what they want for breakfast, lunch and/or snacks. Find the water bottle and rinse out. Charge devices in a central spot and not in the bedrooms
        • Put alarm clocks in their rooms and show them how to set the alarm for a reasonable time to wake up (we don’t want the slow movers to have to hustle – but you also don’t want too much extra time for them to get distracted)
        • Set a timer as a warning for the bus (Alexa works great for this)
        • Depending on age, create a list, picture or have a mirror for them to check that they have everything they need to be ready before they head out the door. No slippers allowed
Challenge 2: How do I get my kids to get started on their homework?
      • Everyone needs a break after school. It is a great time for a snack break and a little physical activity. Both of those things will help stir up the dopamine needed to reactivate the brain for homework. Usually, 30-45 minutes is plenty.
      • Take the time to find out how their day went while things are still fresh in their mind. Don’t try to solve their problems but show them that you are truly listening and hearing them by using reflective listening.
      • Set a specific start time for homework and have a reminder timer set so they can hear it
      • At the beginning stay close by (and pretend you are working on something) just to see if they can get themselves started or if they might need help
      • If a timer is motivating you can ask your child how long to set it for and then allow them a short 5-7 minute break when it goes off. (Set the timer for the break too)
Challenge 3: How do I get my kids to finish their homework in a reasonable amount of time?
      • Most homework subjects can be completed in 30 minutes or less so setting a timer for about the same amount of time makes it easier to take a break after one subject is completed
      • Reduce the distractions – Move the cellphone away from the work zone just enough that your teen will need to get up to check it. After a while, they will turn the notifications off and/or stop getting up to check it. That also means no TV on in the background or younger siblings making loud noises nearby. It is hard enough to concentrate on homework without wondering what they are missing out on too.
      • Don’t book an afterschool activity every day of the week. Kids need a day that they can recharge and have some fun before they hit the books.
      • If your child struggles to stay focused, think about creating a buddy study time with a friend. It works like a “body double” where they have a better chance to stay working as long as their friend is working too.
      • Timing is key. Homework done after dinner takes longer to do as the blood that should be in the brain, is busy digesting dinner in the stomach. Homework done 2+ hours after school, has interrupted that “student” mindset and can take longer to get back into the “work mode.” Ideally, within 45-60 minutes after arriving home is the best time to get focused on homework.
      • For elementary and middle school students, homework should be able to be completed by dinner. That gives the rest of the evening for R & R. When teens feel they have the entire evening, until bedtime to complete their work, they often find it takes them that long or longer. Then they wonder why it is difficult to fall asleep when their brain is still processing the last 30 minutes of work they did. Setting boundaries/limits around homework time and keeping to the same start time each day will help your children get more done in less time.

If routines, habits and homework are constant battles in your home, and you would like to increase cooperation, communication and lower the stress level in your home – then let us help. Contact us today about coaching.

Back to School and Life Edition

Are you prepared for another school year? I recently looked at the list of supplies that some schools are asking for and it can easily become overwhelming – especially for the students to keep organized.

Preparedness – what does that mean? Webster defines it as, “the quality or state of being prepared.” To be prepared, means you are ready to do or deal with something. Let’s use that as our “working definition” for back to school. What does your family need to do to be prepared for back to school?

Let’s break it down into three big categories:

1. Routines

2. Organization

3. Supplies

Routines

  • Let’s start getting kids to bed earlier and waking them up around the time they will need to get up for school. Sometimes we like to use just enough time to get up and out the door and others need wake up time, time for meds to kick in or just a slow wake up – so make sure you allow enough time for whatever your kids need.
  • Morning routines are easiest if there is a set order to the actions the kids need to do and they have memorized that order. Having a list that they can check if they forget, may save you from repeating yourself (fingers crossed). Also, it is better to ask, “what do you need to do next?” instead of telling them what to do. You might want to set your alarm a bit earlier than that so you have time for yourself to get ready or enjoy that first cup of coffee.
  • A homework routine that begins around the same time every day and a space to do it in. Doesn’t matter where it is, but it should have access to supplies they might need so there are fewer distractions. Minimize distractions and be sure to have a homework buddy your kids can call for help. This is a great time for you to “body double” with kids that have a hard time getting started on their work. Use this time to deal with your paperwork within sight of where your kids are working. Kids can create their own homework routine in our Super Skills for Students Class starting October 4th for Middle and High School students.
  • Set up for tomorrow including setting clothes out each evening, repacking backpacks and putting them near the door. Figure out what is for snack and/or lunch and breakfast. Make sure ice packs are back in the freezer. Are you heading to work? Pack up what you need and make the decisions tonight rather than in the morning.
  • Weekly clean out routine on Sunday as you prep for the week ahead. Everyone needs to know what is going on in the next week and having a family meeting can help. A good time to clean out your pocketbook, backpack or bag and maybe a quick check of the car too – how’s the gas level?

  Organization

  • Key organization tips are to have a landing pad near the door where backpacks, jackets and shoes can be left the night before. Good place for your keys, bag and anything leaving the house.
  • Set up the bedrooms so that kids can easily find their clothes. All clothes should fit into storage whether that is on a shelf, in a bin or basket or in a drawer or closet. The easier to grab, the more likely they will. Too many clothes can often make it difficult to make a decision – help them put together 5 outfits for the week and use a sweater hanger in a closet. Hooks are very handy for sweatshirts, sweaters, etc.
  • Calendars with the schedule of activities, where everyone can see it and it can be reviewed for those kids that don’t like surprises. Advance notice of what is coming up each week and reminders or a visual schedule in a place to be easily seen. Talk about the upcoming year – listen to your child’s concerns and take them seriously. Visit the school if they are switching to a new building – make sure they know where the cafeteria is and the bathrooms on each floor and the fastest way to their locker.
  • Make sure all supplies fit EASILY into the backpack – kids will not fuss with lunchboxes they need to stuff into their backpacks – they are more likely to leave them somewhere. They do not need to take the entire package of #2 pencils with them. Keep the reserves at home along with extra paper, project board, markers, etc. that might be needed for a project. That will save you a trip to the store at the last minute.
  • Charging all devices in one spot each night.
  • Write down the necessary passwords and log in steps for accessing grades and homework as well as, remote learning if needed and have your children do the same (get a copy of those).

 Supplies

  • When buying supplies don’t look for the cheapest, but look for the most durable. Kids are rough on their supplies, especially binders. The binders should open easily with one hand, not two and be no bigger than 1.5 inches (it can hold 350 pages)any bigger and it is difficult to fit into the backpack and it weighs more. Backpacks should not weigh more than 10% of your child’s weight.
  • Food – Breakfast ideas that kids can prepare for themselves or make ahead ideas to easily grab.
  • Have handy snacks, drinks, and lunch supplies or set up the school account (have reserves of their favorites)
  • Medications for colds and flu, and also covid tests, to have on hand. Masks too, just in case we revert back.

Celebrate by taking a picture before they head out. (Taking an “after” pic might also be memorable.) At the end of the day, celebrate by doing something special but keep it low key as they will be tired. For kids, it is like starting a new job, there are a lot of unknowns but it is also a fresh start and the opportunity to shine. Keeping the stress level down in the home can make it a smoother year. Good luck!

PS Other articles from our Archives you might find helpful

5 Things Your Child Needs to Know Before School Starts

Change Your Mindset – Raise Your Self-Esteem

Five Super Strategies to Knockout Stress

Helping or Hurting? The Dilemma of Enabling vs. Empowering

Clothing, Closets and Drawers, Oh My!

Decisions, decisions, decisions. Are you overwhelmed by the decisions around what to wear today? When was the last time you said, “I have nothing to wear?” Yet, are your dresser drawers and closets overflowing? Let’s talk about taking care of all that “inventory” and how you can make it less stressful.

Clothing and taking care of it can often be a pleasure and a pain. “The average family of 4 completes 8-10 loads of laundry per week. Depending on how often the wash is done, the time spent will vary, but, on average at least 8-hours will be spent on washing, drying, and folding clothes”. If you or your kids have more than a load of laundry each, twice a week then you might want to reconsider your options.

How much is enough? Only you can decide. If you like spending your time doing laundry and all the clothes can fit in their storage spaces, then don’t worry. If, however, you can’t fit all the clean laundry in their storage spaces or you find yourself constantly with a backlog of laundry – then maybe you have too many clothes. I once had a client that complained about always being behind on the laundry. She found it difficult to “catch up” because that meant 6 loads of her clothes and many more for her husband and children and the household (sheets, towels, etc.). If the laundry was able to be completely caught up, she would not have had space to put it either.

Marie Kondo suggests collecting all your clothes in one pile and then deciding whether to keep it or not (does it spark joy?) Since we wear 20% of our clothing 80% of the time – why are you allowing the other 60-80% to clutter up your life? How frustrating is it to look in the closet and not find anything you WANT to wear?

Adults

  • Do I wear it?
  • Do I like how I feel and look when I wear it?
  • How many do I have?
  • Do I have space to store it?

If you hesitate to pass it along, then store it for a few months out of your closet but still somewhere where you can access it. If it is out of sight, it is not stressing you out or making your decisions more difficult when you are trying to get dressed in a hurry.

If you are not ready to tackle your own closet….

Kids grow fast. Why not start easily with clearing out what no longer fits or what your child does not wear. For younger kids, be sure to ask if it is easy to put on and take off. (As an educator I saw many students struggle with a stiff jean button when racing to the bathroom).

Kids probably need about two weeks’ worth of every day clothing. That way they have enough to change during the day if necessary and still be able to make it longer than a week before laundry needs to be done.  Kids want to be able to see what they want to wear quickly and easily – here’s where the Marie Kondo method of folding can be helpful. All shirts can be seen at once and pulling one shirt out does not mess up the rest of them. Rolling is another option that can also be helpful.

Drawers are complicated. There are too many steps for them to put clothes away or even to grab clothes to put on. Often, you’ll find the drawers stay open and the pile of shirts is a mess from where they pulled out the shirt on the bottom. The same thing applies to the closet. Do you know how many steps are involved in hanging something up?

Also, a hamper filled with clean clothes often does not get put away and ends up becoming the laundry hamper again – and the cycle continues (except that this is unnecessary “do-over” work and added wear and tear on the clothes).

Kids

  • Do they fit?
  • Does my child wear them (Easy to put on?)
  • Does my child like them?
  • Is there storage space for all their clothes?
  • How much do they really need?

Once you are able to reduce the “inventory” you will see that the workload decreases as well. What would it feel like to start the week with all the laundry done? Then it may be a matter of doing a load of laundry here and there throughout the week in order to have just a bit to finish up on the weekend. Some organizers suggest a load of laundry a day – but I know somedays are busier than other days. Trying to get the load all the way to finished (meaning put away) can be a challenge. Pick days and times you know you can get it all the way to completed before you start. Also, do you know how long it actually takes for your washer to complete a cycle? Figure that out and you can plan better – same for the dryer.

Clothing is one of the more challenging things to organize and maintain. You may have noticed during this past year+ of pandemic that you tend to wear the same things. Take advantage and cut down your inventory and you may find you have more to wear than you thought.

Reduce the Stress in Your Home TODAY!

Monthly vlogs and blogs on what to declutter seem to be “trending” these days so let’s talk about what you can do in September. Now that the kids are back in school it is important to put structure and routines in place to reduce the stress of this transition. No matter what your “pandemic” situation has been, this is a chance to get back some normalcy. That often starts with decluttering.

Where did this clutter come from? Was it impulsive buying for that quick shot of dopamine – felt good in the moment and now you trip over it every day? Was that what you wanted? Or was it to quiet the kids you had to take to the grocery store? Look around – what is this costing you? And I don’t mean moneywise, but emotionally, socially, psychologically, physically and in your relationships with your loved ones. Clutter makes you grumpy.

WebMD says, “Researchers have found that being around disorganization makes it harder for your brain to focus. It can be especially tough for people with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).” “Some people who live in cluttered homes have a poorer “working memory,” according to research. Your brain is wired to be able to keep track of only a few details at once for a short period, so it can get overloaded when there’s too much going on.”

Clutter causes stress and conflict and undermines the lessons you want to be teaching your children and worst of all it takes up your time and mental bandwidth even if you do nothing about it. Constant stress reduces your lifespan according to researchers at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare by 2.8 years.

More research: Children who live in homes that are “chaotic,” that are noisy, overcrowded and have a lack of order, have significantly more challenges than kids who don’t.  Research has found that kids who had homes like this, “tend to score lower on tests of cognitive ability and self-regulatory capabilities, have poorer language abilities, and score higher on measures of problem behaviors and learned helplessness than do children raised in less chaotic environments” (Jaffee, S., Hanscombe, K., Haworth, A., Davis, P., and Plomin, R., 2012).  They also have, “lower expectations, a lack of persistence and a tendency to withdraw from academic challenge” (Hanscombe, K., Haworth, C., Davis, O., Jaffee, S., and Plomin, R., 2011).

So, can we agree clutter is bad?

Let’s start by clearing one category of toys – baby toys. By baby toys I mean all those toys, books and games that are no longer age appropriate for your children. Electronic toys that make sounds or have lights but otherwise don’t do much were meant to help stimulate a baby’s brain while it was in its early developmental stage.  It is through play that children learn, explore, use their imagination and problem solve. (If you don’t have kids, then look around at your own “toys” and hobbies – what have you outgrown?)

Start collecting the baby toys and those odd little things that have been randomly picked up while out or only served their purpose for a short time. Anything that your children played with before kindergarten and no longer play with REGULARLY. Things that are not really toys but mementos from events. Really how many foam fingers and blown-up superheroes do you need? Push or beginner ride on toys, chubby crayons, finger paints and stuffed animals are in this category as well. Legos and building blocks are not.

Are all the pieces together? (Puzzles, games, stacking rings, etc.)
Is it in good shape to donate? (Cradles to Crayons, Big Brother Big Sister)
Was it a gift? (No obligation to keep it)
Is it sentimental? (Create a time capsule to save it out of the mainstream)
Is it broken?
Can it be recycled?
Is it really just trash?

Once you have collected all of these and decided what you are going to do with them – get them out of the house. Not in a closet or in your trunk but delivered to their final destination. According to Joshua Becker of becomingminimalist.com, with fewer toys your kids may ” learn to be more creative, develop longer attention spans, establish better social skills, learn to take better care of things, become more resourceful, and less selfish. He also says, “True joy and contentment will never be found in the aisles of a toy store. Kids who have been raised to think the answer to their desires can be bought with money have believed the same lie as their parents.”

Wouldn’t you rather spend time playing a game, then clearing a space to play?

  • Collect and remove all age-inappropriate toys
  • Trash, recycle, repurpose or pass on
  • STOP the inflow of new toys and trinkets
  • Spend more time with your children
  • Help children put toys away before bed
  • Make a space for storing like toys together
  • Contain what you can

 

Hey Students! Organize Yourself for the New Learning Environment (Whether it is Remote, Hybrid, In Person, or Combined)

Back to schoolThere is so much to think about as the new school year begins. With the pandemic continuing, each town has devised its own plan for what “school” will look like this fall. For some that may include half or full days, or a combination of two days in school and three remote or every other day or every other week. So many options, I cannot begin to cover them all. However, many of the schools are starting two weeks later than usual. Don’t let that fool you. It’s time to get organized! Where to begin?

The toughest part of any hybrid learning model is going to be staying organized. There are in person assignments to organize and remote work as well. Fluctuating schedules to keep track of, technology to keep charged and log in information to organize. Then of course there is organizing oneself for this new method of learning. Whew!

Let’s start with the easy stuff. Where will you work? You want to have one place to work where you have all the supplies and space you need. It needs to be comfortable, but not too comfy. Make sure the lighting is good and that you are not working in your own shadow. Get a comfortable chair where your feet can touch the floor. Keep it distraction free – but hang photos that make you feel good. How will you keep track of everything? Do you use your phone or a paper planner, or sticky notes? The best one, is the one that works for you. Make it a habit to put everything in it though, so nothing can fall through the cracks.

Next organize your technology. Make sure you have all the log in information for the websites you need to log onto and the password information. Set up folders for each subject on your device. Create a reminder for turning assignments in as that is often a step that can easily get missed. If you have a way to track what is passed in, then if it “gets lost” you have proof. Move the chargers to your new space so that your equipment does not have to be moved to be charged. Turn notifications off by putting privacy settings on while you are doing your homework. You can spend all night working or you can get it done effectively and have some well-deserved downtime for yourself. Which would you rather do?

Now your materials will need to include hand sanitizer and masks as well as all the standard stuff. Chances are you will have less paper to keep track of this year so why not go with a small notebook or binder that has room for all your classes. If you keep it cleaned out of the completed topics you should easily be able to fit a full term’s worth of papers in a 1- or 11/2-inch notebook. That should hold between 200 and 300 pages. That does include the necessary weekly clean out of papers no longer needed. Maintaining your supplies is important too. You may need reminders to carry a spare mask or two with you or weekly refilling of your hand sanitizer and a disinfecting spray of the backpack and wipe down of your tech.

To organize yourself, may end up being the most challenging part of this school year. You have an obligation to yourself and your family to do your best to stay healthy. That requires regular health habits including sleep which can be difficult for teens. It will mean keeping your materials clean and switching out your mask daily. Students need to find time to be active, whether it is playing a sport or shooting hoops in the driveway, something that keeps those synapses happy.

You will need to realize that this is probably not the way your teacher had hoped the year would start out either. Teachers are working extra hard to juggle all the pieces of the hybrid plan and have to be flexible enough to adapt if things should change. They have families too and may not be as available as they would normally be for providing extra support. You will need to take that responsibility on yourself. Make sure that you understand the concepts that are being presented and don’t wait to discover you did poorly on the exam before looking for help. Can you explain the key points of the topic to yourself? Then spend time studying what you DON’T know. Take good notes in case you need to use them to teach yourself.

How much time do you spend doing your homework? If you allow distractions to interrupt you, you are taking away from your focus and adding about 20 minutes more to your work time to regain that level of focus. Take short breaks in between assignments and give your brain some nourishment and process time. It will thank you by working more efficiently – saving you time and energy in the end. Also take five minutes to put everything back where it belongs when you are done working.

Good luck, stay healthy and stop the spread by doing your part. This will be a year unlike any other!

What to Do When They Won’t Change Their Mind

I once had a student that was having difficulty turning in his homework. He would do it, but when it came time to pass it in, he could not find it. He had a “homework folder” where all of his finished work was supposed to go, but his work was not there. When asked, “Where else did you look?” He was unable to answer. In his mind (we later discovered), if it wasn’t in the homework folder there was nowhere else to look. Does this sound familiar?

This is an example of cognitive inflexibility – difficulty changing or shifting your mindset when the most logical answer does not bring results. Needless to say, upon further searching, other homework papers were found at the bottom of the backpack, stuffed inside a text book and also on his desk at home. All papers exactly where he had left them, yet he had no recollection.

Cognitive inflexibility is real. It is one of the Executive Function skills that develop in the pre-cortex of the brain. It can be measured on certain IQ tests and on the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functions. It has two components: a cognitive shift and a behavioral shift. Simply put, if your child cannot change their thoughts or their behavior when they realize something is not working, then it may be from cognitive inflexibility.  You may have seen it when they get “stuck” on their math, or they don’t know what to do, but won’t accept your help because you, “don’t do it like the teacher.” Or have you ever noticed their perspective of what happened, does not quite agree with the other person’s perspective? All related to cognitive inflexibility.

As an Executive Function skill, cognitive flexibility will continue to develop but, in the meantime, it can cause some issues. Try to help your child see other people’s perspectives. You can explain how things are not always “black and white” (another sign of this underdeveloped skill and often related to ADHD), and that there are always other possibilities. They can help themselves by starting with some simple questions.  A research study indicated that there was a close relationship between cognitive flexibility and inner speech among both children and adults.  It appears as though inner speech may increase top-down control during shifting of thoughts (i.e. flexibility). https://mentalhealthdaily.com/2015/07/26/7-ways-to-increase-your-cognitive-flexibility/

Try having your child ask themselves these questions:

Before starting:

“What do I already know that will help me?

“What should this look like when it is done?”

“What should I do first, second and third?”

During: “How am I doing?”

“Am I on the right track?”

“Is there another or better way?”

“What do I do if I get stuck?”

After: “What strategies did I use?”

“Did I get stuck or have to change my thinking?”

“What did I learn from this?”

Developing this ability to shift thinking or shift behavior can also be improved through games and activities. Games to encourage the development of cognitive flexibility include: Set, Othello, Connect 4, Mastermind, and Gobblet. Activities include: Stroop (where color words are written in different colors and they must say the color they are printed in), optical illusions, maps with multiple ways to the destination and Tower of Hanoi. Other activities include changing up routines, learning a new skill, exercise, getting out in nature, and video games that have multiple streams of information that have to be manipulated simultaneously.

For more strategies: Check out our blog, Stuck? 12 Ways to Encourage Cognitive Flexibility


 

 

The Pros and Cons of Talking to Yourself

Do you talk to yourself? It’s okay to admit it, it is perfectly normal and research says it can even be helpful. Talking to yourself can help you focus.  For example, if you are looking for your keys and you keep repeating “keys” “keys” you are more likely to find them than if you did not say anything.  Talking to yourself can help you slow down your thoughts so that you are able to process them more completely and come up with better solutions to problems. It can also help you process strong emotions and lessen their impact. Of course, listening to what you are saying to yourself is important too. That inner voice pulls from a knowledge base that is often hindered by the noise of everyday life. Used in a positive way talking to yourself can be your cheerleader, motivator, problem solver, self-esteem booster or devil’s advocate.

However, if that voice is negative, it can eat away at your self-esteem and actually have more of a negative impact on whatever it is that went wrong and on your feelings about yourself. We may not think that it has an impact but when your brain hears it, it cannot discern whether it is true or not, so it tries to justify it -often making the real solutions difficult to see.

So, listen to the words you use and how you communicate with yourself. Keep it in the positive and the results will be positive. Let it go negative and you may need several positives to cancel out the effects of that one negative. Don’t let others impact that voice that you hear and help your children learn how to best talk to themselves.

Use this information to guide your child/teen into thinking about what they are saying to themselves and pay attention to the tone and words they are using.

  • If they are talking in a negative way their brain is listening to what they are saying and it often seems that it tries to “justify or make” it true
  • Negative talk can interfere with their growth mindset by taking away that focus on effort and learning and focusing on what they can’t do or on failure instead
  • Negative self-talk impacts your child’s self-esteem and can have long lasting effects on how they feel about themselves and their abilities.

Instead, help them listen to themselves and redirect those negative voices.

  • Name that negative voice. Maybe Negative Nelly or Disappointing Dan will help them recognize when that voice shows up.
  • Have a mantra or saying they can use to rid the voice of its influence.
  • Teach them the power of the word “yet”. I am not good at math….yet, but with more effort I can be.
  • Encourage them to speak positively to themselves and to use that inner voice as their own cheerleader.

Self-talk can help us become more creative, it can solidify memories, and it can help us problem solve. Of course, if you are talking out loud and there are others around you, it may also cause people to look at you strangely:-). Do not worry about them, they probably haven’t experienced the positives that can come from talking to themselves – but if they call the “white coats” – run:-)