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.

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).

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



10 Strategies to Help ADHD

ADHD cropOctober was ADHD Awareness Month. Each year the media seems to do a bit more to publicize and educate but more can always be done.  There is not enough information out there geared to parents and children. So, I would like to help with some information my students find helpful.

First up, the acronym ADHD which stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder really shouldn’t be the category name for the three types of ADHD (impulsive/hyperactive, inattentive and combined). Teens are often in denial because they say they aren’t “hyper” and so feel that it doesn’t apply to them.

ADHD is a neurobiological condition – meaning it is the result of lower levels of neurotransmitter chemicals that are normally in the brain, which results in lower levels of stimulus in the brain. Non-technical definition: it is a chemical imbalance and not a personality/behavior or motivation problem. Just like near sightedness or hearing loss, it cannot be “fixed” at this point in time but it can be helped.

People of all ages with ADHD that I have met are often very smart, they just have difficulty showing it sometimes. That’s often a combination of the lower level of chemicals and the executive function skills that are slower to develop.

School challenges vary by individual but often ADHD can interfere by making it difficult to get started on a task, stay focused long enough to complete a task, remember when they have a task to do or find the task in their disorganization. It’s easy to see why homework and test taking is a challenge for these kids.

10 Strategies to Help with ADHD

  • Declutter your work space, set up materials you use often in easily accessible places. Rulers, scissors, pens and pencils fit nicely in a mug on the desk. (Organize it weekly to keep it that way)
  • Take everything out of the backpack and pile the “to do” items on the left and as you complete them move them to the right. Then put everything back in the backpack where it belongs.
  • Start with the end in mind. Sketch out what it will look like when completed and work backwards to determine the first few steps.
  • Write it down! Use a planner, smartphone app (Google Calendar, Color note, Evernote, Remember the Milk, etc.), or notepad to keep track.
  • Graphic organizers and mind maps using color, shape, and placement help the brain recall information. Great for study guides.
  • Create a 30 minute play list and reward yourself with a break if you work until the music ends.
  • Keep a notepad nearby and write down any thoughts that interrupt so that you can deal with them after the work is done.
  • Exercise or do something active to increase the dopamine in the brain before beginning (snacks and water help too).
  • Use a whiteboard and don’t erase the previous approach
  • If your child/teen is still struggling then try to change the environment, change the task or change the expectations.

In coaching, we often start by helping teens become aware of how their ADHD is showing up in school. Once they identify that it is really the way their brain functions that is making “x” or “y” difficult, then they are better able to look at it objectively and figure out a strategy that might help. If they continue to do things the way they have always done them, there can be no change. It is only when they start to think about their thinking, that they can really help themselves.

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!

Choices, Choices, Choices

CEleanor-Roosevelt-In-the-long-runhoices….choices are all around us. We make choices consciously and unconsciously all day long. From the
moment we wake up we are making choices about, what to wear, what to eat, where to pick up coffee, which priority to work on at work. Not to mention the choices in the media, on FaceBook, at the grocery store, etc. We are literally bombarded by choices.

What if you could reduce the number of choices you have to make? You would free up working memory space that just might help you make a better decision about something that is important to you. When your working memory is full (it can only hold so much), it lets go of information. We have no control really of what it lets go of. This is also why teens often think they have studied enough, but end up not getting the grades they are capable of.

If we look at all the choices we have we can suffer from decision paralysis, or making the quickest or easiest decision but not necessarily the “best” or “most right” decision for ourselves. Have you ever made a decision/choice that you later regretted or wished you had thought about longer? Is your willpower being drained? Are you moving in the direction of your dreams or are your ever-changing choices getting in the way?

Then it is time to discover your “non-negotiables.” Non-negotiables are those choices/decisions you have made ahead of time and will stick to. You no longer have to even think about them. It is easiest, according to Darren Hardy of Success magazine to start with the things you won’t tolerate or do. Make the decision/choice now before you need it and you can focus on the more important choices. If you made a New Year’s Resolution this year to lose weight for example, and have already given up, then maybe it’s time for a non-negotiable choice of no cookies or 30 minutes of movement a day, or make bedtime a non-negotiable, or being late a non-negotiable. You get the idea, think of how it would change your life and eliminate the drain on your will power. Isn’t time you kept those promises you make to yourself?

Think about how having non-negotiable decisions made ahead of time could effect your teen. What if not completing homework was just non-negotiable? Or studying for at least an hour was “non-negotiable?” You get the idea….we could all benefit from having some non-negotiables before we are faced with another choice.

Just Get Started – From the Archives

doingskills_NO-BARWith the start of the new school year, I thought it was important to revisit the art of getting started previously published on our blog in 2013.

The ability to get started on something is called “task initiation or activation” by the experts on Executive functions (Russell Barkley, Peg Dawson, Thomas Brown, etc). Executive functions are those skills that help us get things done.  Task initiation is just one of these executive skills and it involves the ability to START. Difficulties getting started can be the result of not knowing where to begin, what to do, how to generate ideas or how to problem solve to move forward on something. It differs from procrastination in that it is often not deliberate avoidance but a lack of understanding in knowing what to do to start. It can also show up as a difficulty with transitioning from one activity to another.

In children and teens, task initiation may show up as:

  • Difficulty getting started on homework
  • Struggles with generating ideas for writing
  • Problems with morning and evening routines (often needing excessive prompting to be ready for school)
  • Procrastination or being seen as unmotivated

In adults:

  • Procrastination followed by hyperfocus to meet deadlines
  • Projects that never get started
  • Unpaid or late bills, missed deadlines, and feelings of guilt

Removing the roadblocks:

  1. Is the environment getting in the way?

If your space is cluttered or you can’t find what you need to get going on something then it is time to take care of that. You end up expending more energy just looking for what you need to get started that by the time you do that, you don’t have the energy or inclination to continue. Declutter your work space, set up materials you use often in easily accessible places. Rulers, scissors, pens and pencils fit nicely in a mug on the desk. Set up colored plastic folders or boxes to hold all pieces of an ongoing project. Take everything out of the backpack and pile the “to do” items on the left and as you complete them move them to the right.

  1. Are you not sure what to do?
  • Get help understanding what is expected (call a friend or coworker).
  • Break it down into smaller pieces and pick one piece to start.
  • Work with a friend (use them as a body double to get you started).
  • Have someone tell you what to work on.
  • Use a graphic organizer.

Start with the end in mind. Sketch out what it will look like when completed and work backwards to determine the first few steps.

  1. Nudges, pokes and jabs:
  • Visual timers, alarms, and phone reminders all serve to designate a start time if you use them.
  • Set the sleep timer or automatic shut off on your TV, or use to help shut down other distractions so you can get started on the important things.
  • Set false deadlines for yourself or have someone else set them for you.
  • Put your cellphone in another room and don’t check it until you have worked 30 minutes. Use a timer here so you are not constantly checking how much time has passed.
  • Make a deal with someone that you know has your best interests at heart and ask them to help you get started.
  1. Routines
  • Create a basic week plan so that you know what day you will do what.
  • Students set up a routine for your homework with a break, snack and start time. Then work for 30-45 minutes before taking another break.
  • Start with the easiest to build momentum.
  • Meet your friends at the library to do homework together.
  • Create a mnemonic that helps you get ready to begin and use it daily.
  • Create a play list for the length of time before you need to start and use it daily. The more you listen to it, the more your body and brain will get the message that it is time to get to work as soon as this is over.
  1. If you still can’t….
  • Just start, after about ten minutes you will get into it.
  • Create a mind map or draw out what you need to do. Use colors and shapes to help your brain remember them and pick one.
  • If you are really procrastinating on something, stop and consider, “What is the worst that could happen if I didn’t do this? If it’s not too serious, then let it go or delegate it.

Often times looming deadlines, promises to others and fear of failure will push adults to complete a task they have been putting off. Many students though are not motivated by deadlines, grades or loss of privileges. They need help in learning what is preventing them from getting started and help designing a strategy that will work for them. Our group classes can help them find the strategies that will work for the way they think. Next classes start Oct 7 and 8th.

Back to School Basics – My Five Essentials

planner-150x150Just a quick reminder about some of the basics that  are important for students heading back to school.  It may not seem like much but it can make the difference between your child using or not using the systems and when that happens, not using it can mean not doing well. So here are my top five favorites:

  1. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you have surely seen that I am passionate about planners. It doesn’t matter to me if your child has the greatest memory ever, if they don’t have it written down somewhere then for many of them, it just conveniently slips their mind. It can be electronic or paper as long as it is used. Most schools supply an agenda or planner but fail to help the students learn to use it effectively.  Deadlines need to be where they can be seen, not just written in on the day that they were given. That is one great advantage of using a smartphone app; it will remind you about that project that is due or that upcoming test if you set it to.
  2. Binders that open with one hand or rather one finger. Fill it with notebook paper (not those spiral notebooks that always get stuck) and plastic pocket divider tabs. Some schools require separate notebooks but it is really difficult to put four or five binders into a backpack. Your teen could probably use one and just clean it out each term. I would suggest a 1.5 or 2 inch binder. Label the dividers and leave an empty pocket divider in front for a quick stash.
  3. Homework space that is ergonomic to their size and well lit. I learned that not having your feet on the floor actually raises your blood pressure. The key is to make sure your child’s arms are bent at almost a 90⁰ angle when writing with feet flat on floor or on a stool. Light the workspace rather than the room. Overhead lights often cast shadows on the work area.
  4. Pens and pencils – the good kind. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to get one of those cheap pens to write when the teacher is spewing out the homework. Buy more than you think they will need and every week have them check to be sure they have two pens and two pencils in their backpack.
  5. Create a launch pad area near the door where the backpack will live as soon as it is filled up with the day’s completed homework. Other belongings that are needed for the next day should also be there. It is helpful for younger children to have a picture checklist of what they need or a “here’s what I look like when I am ready to go to school” picture showing everything needed. Putting all necessities in the launch pad the night before allows even walking “zombies” to show up at school prepared.

Attention 101

October is ADHD Awareness Month, so let’s talk about attention. Does your child take a long time to complete their homework? Have you heard things from the teacher like, “your child needs to pay more attention in class,” or “he/she is distracted and needs to focus more?”  Well, it turns out that it is not as simple as “paying more attention.” There are actually three different kinds of attention (according to the all kinds of minds website). I’ve summarized the three types below and added some strategies that might be helpful below that. (I used the pronoun, “they” rather than “he/she” to simplify.)

1. Mental Energy is really about how awake the brain is and how consistent the energy level stays.

  • Alertness –can they concentrate when necessary?
  • Sleep habits – do they get a good night’s sleep and wake rested?
  • Mental effort- do they have enough energy to finish what they start
  • Performance consistency-is their work of the same quality from day to day?

2. Processing Energy is about how well your child can put the pieces together.

  • Can they separate important from unimportant?
  • Do they connect new information to what they already know?
  • How deep do they concentrate?
  • Can they concentrate until they get through the task?
  • Can they put the pieces together even when not interested in the topic?

3. Production Energy is about the consistency and quality of their work.

  • Do they think ahead to what the end result should be?
  • Do they consider different options before proceeding?
  • Is the quality of their work consistent?
  • Do they work fast, slow or just right?
  • Do they learn from previous mistakes?

Mental Strategies:

  • Clear their working memory (use our “brain dump” technique)
  • Get some exercise
  • Create a sleep routine
  • Have them do their homework at the same time daily
  • Help them find what is interesting about their work
  • Let them get creative

Processing Strategies:

  • Use different colored highlighters to separate multistep directions or to highlight important details
  • Use graphic organizers with topic headings so facts can be written in easily
  • Actively preview before getting started and ask why is this important?
  • Work in short blocks of time
  • Discuss what they already know about a topic before beginning (Use kwl charts)

Production Strategies:

  • Start with the end in mind. Have them sketch out what the finished product will look like and work backwards (consider at least two approaches)
  • Design a rubric for homework together and use it to review (students should rate and then explain their scores)
  • Create “strategy sheets” that show the steps of the process to free up working memory space
  • Use graphic organizers to plan
  • Review all work for errors and omissions (work from top down, don’t skip around)

If you’ve had success at using a different strategy and would like to help others struggling with the same challenges, please let me know below so we can learn from each other.

What is the “Common Core” and What Does it Mean for my Teen?

blooms-taxonomy-2In the United States, 43 of the states have adopted the common core and Massachusetts is one of them. That means that teachers and other experts put together age appropriate standards for the common knowledge (skill set) they feel would prepare a high school senior for college and/or entering the work force upon graduation.  Here’s a three minute video that explains more.

In order to test a student’s progress towards that goal, they have designed a new test called the PARCC. Last year many students were asked to “beta” test it and it is expected to replace MCAS this year. The difference is that the PARCC test requires students to problem solve and think critically to use what they have learned, rather than answering simple basic knowledge questions. Click on the link to see an example of a PARCC question for a sixth grader.

So, what is the big deal? Unfortunately, we’ve been asking students to memorize facts rather than to use that information in a productive manner. Teachers have been focusing on the low level thinking skills of memorizing facts (as that was what MCAS focused on) and handing out “study guides” encouraging students to become passive learners rather than active learners. Fast forward to college and it is no surprise students struggle with knowing HOW to study (no study guides here), problem solve, or plan, organize and complete a project.

What to watch for:

  • Last minute projects
  • Short study sessions
  • Poor test grades
  • Difficulty doing homework that requires thinking deeper(or taxes the working memory)
  • Misunderstanding words like, “evaluate, analyze, synthesize, and demonstrate.”

What can you do now to help?

  • Think aloud as you problem solve and encourage your son or daughter to weigh in and support their perspective.
  • Allow “think time” when your teen is stuck with a problem or a decision (don’t provide the solution)
  • Ask questions that require more than a simple “yes” or “no” or one word response.
  • Start with the end in mind….ask, “What will the homework, trip to the mall, or project look like when finished?” Then help your teen work backwards to make an effective plan and problem solve before attempting.
  • Ask questions that encourage critical thinking:
    • “What are the pros and cons of choosing…..?”
    • “What is your opinion about…?”
    • “How would you plan to……?”
    • “What would you predict….?”
    • “How has your thinking changed on…?”
    • “How would you approach this problem?”

Developing thinking skills will help your teen make better decisions, problem solve and communicate their thoughts more logically both at school and in life.

More info on PARCC test items for your son or daughter’s grade level can be found here:

Contact us for help with thinking skills and study skills. We specialize in the thinking and doing skills for learning and life.

Homework Coach or Enforcer?

student-at-deskIs homework a battle in your home? If you find that it has become a nightly battle or that your child or teen has lost interest in school; then it may be time to try a different approach. I will admit I sympathize with teens trying to become independent when often the adults around them are inadvertently taking away their sense of control. If you find that you are constantly asking them if their homework is done or suggesting ways for them to get it done then here are five tips to take you from homework enforcer to homework coach. Remember the role of a good coach is to encourage problem solving skills, develop independence and provide support when needed.

  1. The first and most important step is to realize whether or not you are enabling your child/teen to feel helpless. If you are constantly reminding them to do their homework, get ready for school, pack their backpack, or go to bed why would they need to remember? The same thing applies if you are solving their problems for them or designing their notebook your way. All of these things take the pressure off of your teen and puts it on you. You’ll need to work together to figure out how much your teen can do independently and what he or she might need a little support for. I know it is often easier to keep track of it yourself, but teaching your teen to problem solve, keep track of assignments and get their work done independently are all skills they need to develop for a successful life.
  2. Ask questions that begin with the word, “what” rather than “did” or “is”. Questions that require a simple yes or no answer will only get you the one word answer. Ask a question that requires them to answer in a sentence that gives you some real information. For example, “What homework do you have left to do?” This sounds less judgmental and requires more than a one word answer to reply. Good coaches ask higher level questions that need explanations, rather than simple one word replies.
  3. Start with the end in mind, is a term that Stephen Covey used but is helpful for those having trouble with completing homework. Help your child visualize what that assignment or project looks like when it is completed. Then you can guide them to work backwards to include all the steps necessary to get it to that point. You can also help “backwards plan” long term projects with specific dates to work on the pieces of the project. If necessary, create the plan together and then have certain check ins rather than always asking if it is done.
  4. Discuss with your child/teen what kind of an environment is best for them to work in. Do they like it quiet and away from the rest of the family or do they like to be where the action is? Many younger students don’t like to be alone in their rooms, for them it is easier to work in the kitchen or close by. Use a trifold foam board to create a distraction free zone and keep the TV and radio off and let them use their own music with ear buds. I have read that music can “satisfy” the hungry ADHD brain by providing enough stimulation to help it relax. This is done by listening to the same playlist every day during homework time. It is not picking each song but pressing play once and letting the same music play lightly in the background for about 30-45 minutes. That is long enough to get some work done. Have them take a short break and then get back to their homework and play that list of songs again.
  5. Make sure your children have some “down” time. Everyone is entitled to relax after a long day. In fact, research says that having some down time after working, helps the brain to process what was just learned. Many students are not getting the 8-9 hours of sleep they need to do their best. Those with ADHD will benefit from designing a “routine” for sleep. Start with shutting down electronics at least 30 minutes before bed (the blue light stimulates serotonin the wake up hormone), dim the lights (good for increasing melatonin the sleep hormone) and relax. Add in the other bedtime get ready tasks and aim to have them in bed around the same time each night. Aim for at least 8 hours but 9 is ideal.

Parents, you are your child/teen’s life line.They may continue to need your support throughout school but as they enter middle and high school, it is time for them to develop their problem solving skills. That means they don’t need you to solve their problems or challenges for them but to work with them to come up with solutions together. Stay calm. When stressed, cortisol, the stress hormone, is released into the body and it can literally shut down the brain making it nearly impossible to think. Students cannot force their stressed brain to think at that point and it is best to take a break and go do something active. Exercise increases the level of dopamine and other neurotransmitters (good chemicals) in the brain that can help get them back on track. If the situation gets too stressful, it is best to just walk away. Homework is homework….let the teacher deal with it.

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