5 Gifts to Give Your Child For School

magic smallIt’s getting close to the start of school and you can feel the emotions in the air. There is excitement, fear, uncertainty, anticipation, restlessness, and worry and that’s just from the moms! I am guessing that some students are feeling the same emotions. Yes, there is always a bit of fear of the unknown but for kids that have had a “bad experience” going back to school can be scary and demoralizing. As a parent you hope this year will be different and that your son or daughter will get a teacher that understands him/her and can actually help them develop strategies that will get their homework done in a reasonable time and teach them to learn. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Gift 1: First up is to decide whether or not to tell the new teacher all about your child’s struggles and challenges before she even meets him or her? Or do you wait a bit and then provide the teacher with the effective strategies your child developed with last year’s teacher? To tell or not to tell, that is the question. Is it better for your child to have a clean slate and to make their strengths and weaknesses known on their own terms to the new teacher or to provide the teacher with the outside testing, recommendations, and a record of their failings from the past year? Having taught for over 18 years, I just want to say that your child deserves to be recognized for who they are….right at this moment and not who they were last year. As hard as teachers try, they cannot help being overwhelmed by the start of the new year and the many notes and emails from parents tends to “cloud” their perception.

Gift 2: Instead of waiting for the teacher to figure out what your child needs, help your child figure it out. For those students with ADHD and/or Executive Dysfunction challenges it is imperative that they understand that there is nothing “wrong” with them – their brain just thinks differently. They should have a basic understanding of how their ADHD “shows up” and begin to recognize what works and what doesn’t work for them. That way they can advocate for themselves or at least help the teacher figure out a better way to help them. Remember to tell them that it is neurobiological – about the level of the chemicals in their brain and not about them not being smart. ADHD brains are some of the smartest brains around (Richard Branson, Will Smith, Michael Jordan, Albert Einstein, Emma Watson, Zoey Deschanel, etc.) they are just wired differently. One caution, the simpler the strategy, the more likely it is ADHD friendly.

Gift 3: Another gift to give your child is that of a growth mindset. A Growth mindset as defined by Dr. Carol Dweck, “is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts….everyone can change and grow through application and experience.” So, if something is hard, it is only because they haven’t learned it…..”YET!”  With effort they will be able to get it and that leaves their self-esteem intact. Whereas a fixed mindset, according to Dweck, ““Believing your qualities are carved in stone – the fixed mindset – creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. “  So you strive for the good grades in order to feel good about yourself. Then when you do poorly on something, you feel like a failure. Your motivation dwindles because in this mindset, nothing you can do can improve your grade. You’re stuck in a fixed mindset.  (Click here to watch a YouTube video of Dr. Dweck)

With a fixed mindset and a few bad grades, a student will begin to believe that they are not good at a subject. They may carry that perception all through school when in fact they may have missed some key concepts early on, didn’t take the time to memorize their facts or had a teacher they disliked. None of these things should prevent them from succeeding but a fixed mindset may cause them to give up and not try. If they can develop a growth mindset and see failure as an opportunity to put in more work and figure it out, then they can succeed. (Gift 4) They will need to learn how to learn and to develop a toolbox of strategies they can rely on. This puts them in the driver’s seat of their academic life which is ultimately where we want them to be.

Your patience and understanding that ADHD is indeed neurobiological and that all the prodding and why questions will not help them get what needs to be done, done. Gift 5: Your help in getting them to become aware of how their ADHD is showing up and then together….let me repeat that….together figuring out a strategy that can help solve or at least compensate for that weakness is the best way to help them thrive. Set it up as an experiment so that it can be tweaked or tossed depending on its effectiveness. Not judging but evaluating its success helps kids try different strategies until they find what works. An example might be putting a huge sticky on the back door with a list of what they need to bring to school, or having them write test dates on a central calendar and together checking it each day so they build that sense of what’s coming up (help them study at least three days before).

By giving these gifts to your child, you are building their self-esteem while still supplying the support they need without the blame. The biggest problem with ADHD is that the low dopamine level in the brain makes it very difficult to get things done that are boring, difficult or confusing (ie.homework). Kids don’t have the push to just get through it…they need your help.

If you feel that you are too close to the situation and can’t provide your child with the unemotional support or strategies they need and would like to learn how to best support your child then contact us about our “Parenting your Child with ADHD” class or individual coaching services. We are here to help.

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Change Your Mindset – Raise Your Self-Esteem

Mindset, EF's and Self Esteem

What would you do? Things are not going your way and you are having one of those days. You know, the kind of day that you struggle to write that report, meet deadlines, you burn the new recipe, or fail at something that should be easy for you. You have messed up and you and everyone else know it.

What does that internal voice say to you when that happens? Do the ANTS (automatic negative thoughts) come marching in or are you understanding and patient with yourself? Will you pick yourself up and try again or resign yourself to not being “good at” X? Things like this happen throughout our lives and based on your level of self-esteem and your mindset you may either never attempt that again or jump back in with both feet and push through it until you get it.

Imagine that two students have received low grades on their test. Their initial reactions are similar as they are confused and disappointed in themselves. What happens next determines which of them has a stronger sense of self-esteem and a growth mindset. Student A is frustrated and discouraged and hides the test in her notebook and refuses to even look at it. She makes excuses about not having enough time or not understanding because of the teacher. (Empty)Promises to do better will likely not work out and her confidence in that subject will continue to decline.

Student B takes the oppsite approach. Although she is upset, she tries to figure out what she did wrong. She asks a friend about one part and goes after school to ask the teacher about the rest of the test.

How each had studied for the test, really doesn’t matter. They both felt confident going in. Student A takes the failure as an attack on her intelligence rather than on the effort she did or didn’t put in. Student B understands that whatever happened is a matter of the amount of effort she put in.

So if self-esteem according to Webster is: “a feeling of having respect for yourself and your abilities” what would you say about the amount of self-esteem demonstrated by Students A and B? There is a more important piece to this puzzle and it is responsible for that level of self-esteem…..mindset.

Dr. Carol Dweck’s premise is that there are two kinds of mindsets; fixed and growth. “Believing your qualities are carved in stone – the fixed mindset – creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. “  So you strive for the good grades in order to feel good about yourself. Then when you do poorly on something, you feel like a failure. Your motivation dwindles because in this mindset, nothing you can do can improve your grade. You’re stuck in a fixed mindset.  (Click here to watch a YouTube video of Dr. Dweck)

On the other hand, “The growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts….everyone can change and grow through application and experience.” Same failed test causes the student with this mindset to study harder and to work at it until they get it (like Student B in our example). They are motivated to improve and believe there is no limit to what they can do with enough effort. While Student A may tend to give up before they even get started, blame circumstances or others for their failure rather than accept that they are in charge.

Here’s a chart from Dweck’s book, Mindset that clearly shows the differences between the two mindsets.

Fixed Mindset

Growth Mindset

Wants to prove intelligence or talent.

Wants to improve intelligence or talent.

Avoids challenges for fear of failure.

Engages challenges to improve.

Gives up in the face of tough obstacles.

Persists in overcoming obstacles.

Avoids hard labor.

Sees labor as the path to success.

Treats criticism as an attack.

Treats criticism as an opportunity.

Feels threatened by others’ success.

Feels inspired by others’ success.

So, what’s a parent to do? Here are three things you can do right now:

  1. Understand that students do not “try” to fail. Clearly their strategy for studying or learning in class needs help. Rather than taking away privileges, grounding or punishing, which will further encourage a fixed mindset, help your child figure out what went wrong and what they can do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
  2. Stop telling your kids how smart they are. I know it sounds counterintuitive but the smarter they think they are the less likely they are to take risks and so will make excuses to save face if they fail. Notice instead, the effort they are putting in, the attention to details, the creativity and the process.
  3. Once kids are familiar with the two mindsets,(and feel free to talk out loud when you can use yourself as an example) they can give a silly name to the fixed mindset so that it acts like a reminder to switch their thinking. Ex. Oh no Nervous Nelly is here, I need to dump Debbie Downer, etc.

Wouldn’t it be great if we started the new year by focusing on having a growth mindset? There would be no end to what we could accomplish knowing that it isn’t a matter of our intelligence but of our mindset. We could make excuses and run from challenge or we can stand firm understanding that it is all about the effort we put in and the courage to keep at it until we get it. That boost in our self confidence could be felt throughout the day in everything we do and in everything we think we might want to do. You have to believe in yourself (that’s actually the definition of self-esteem) and your abilities in order to succeed. A growth mindset is not just for kids – it’s for everyone!