Thursday, November 12, 2015

Talking about The Report Card

It is important to talk with your children about their report cards!  The way a parent leads and manages the discussion will determine if it is beneficial for the child - which is the goal!  

Middle and high school students (and some elementary students) may receive their report cards online or electronically through a parent communication portal.  Be sure to check with your child's school if you are not familiar with the process for receiving or accessing report cards.  Most schools will have report card dates and procedures posted on their websites, as well. If it has been awhile since you have seen a report card, you should take the initiative to find them!

I recommend that parents review and think carefully about their child's report card before discussing it with children.  Today's report cards can look quite different from a parent's own childhood report card memories. Many schools have begun using Standards Based Report Cards which do not utilize letter grades, but rather a rating scale that ranks the student's ability to independently perform the listed standards.  These report cards will explain the rating scale, but you may need to read and study this information to correctly interpret your child's marks.  One mistake that parents make with Standards Based Report Cards is to try to equate the numbered ratings with letter grades.  They don't correspond, so read the fine print or call your child's teacher if you are having difficulty understanding how the report card is designed and what it really means. 

One other mistake parents can make when looking at their child's report card is to see it as a reflection of their parenting.  Doing this will cause you to look at the report card with a focus on yourself rather than your child as a learner.  The report card is a reflection of your child not you. Don't forget the ultimate goal of parenting is to teach the children to be functioning, independent people. Allowing them to "own" their report card is an important step in this direction.  

When my boys were growing up, I always dreaded bumping into parents who carried their child's report card around with them to "prove" their great parenting skills.  Don't be that parent!  I believe children should be allowed to decided if and how the report card will be shared with others.

Here are some steps that I think will help you prepare for the discussion with your child.
  1. Look at the report card as a whole to understand it deeply and get the big picture of your child's performance for this grading period.   
  2. Identify some strengths and weaknesses that are demonstrated in the marks and teacher's comments.
  3. Think of no more than three open ended questions that you will discuss with your child.  For example, 
    • "I see that you have improved in your math computation skills, what did you do to accomplish this?"
    • "I see from the report card that writing is sometimes difficult for you, why do you think this is so?"
    • "Which of these marks was the hardest for you to accomplish and why?"
    • "Which of these marks do you feel you can do better in and how?"
  4. Finish by asking your child if there is anything else they would like to discuss about their report card and let them lead any further discussion.  If they are done, that is fine. Be a good listener and refrain from lecturing or doing the most talking.  
Following these tips will allow you to develop a trusting and positive pattern of communication with your children and make report time beneficial for you both!  

If, as a parent, you are truly alarmed or concerned about report card marks, contact the teacher with an understanding and supportive attitude.  When a child is truly performing below grade level expectations, parents should work cooperatively with the teacher to help their children.  Below, I have posted a couple of related articles that may be helpful.

Monday, September 28, 2015

When Siblings Fight

In most homes, the children share all their toys, laugh out loud as they play together, and give each other spontaneous hugs throughout the day.  Aah, no. 

As a parent of two boys who were 17 months apart in age, I dreamed of them treating each other as special lifelong friends -  buddies that would be there for each other through thick and thin...  

I received a pretty dramatic dose of reality as soon as the youngest was mobile. They were territorial, competitive and sometimes down right combative!  I was continually amazed as I observed them develop their crafty skills of manipulation to achieve their own individual goals.  

I realized I needed to develop some conflict resolution skills and set some limits, but I could see this was going to consume serious parenting time and effort over the next eighteen years, or so.

Sibling relationships are the school-room for developing positive communication, compromise and friendship skills.  Parents can and should set limits that will keep your home a safe and happy place in which the children can grow up. Here are some ideas you might want to consider to set these limits:
  • Set the expectation that hurtful words and actions will not be tolerated. Siblings will not be allowed to physically or verbally mistreat each other. Setting and holding your children to this expectation will make your home a happier place and will prepare your children well for transition into the school setting.  
  • Require your children to use a calm and quiet tone of voice when they become angry and upset - don't allow yelling and screaming.  This is an enormously important element of self control that your children will benefit from in every aspect of their lives. Honestly, I had to work on my own self control to be able to help my children learn self control. I knew I needed to practice what I was preaching to be effective. 
  • Communicate that you expect the children to solve their arguments on their own as much as possible.  They need to be able to learn from their mistakes and experience the whole gamut of emotions that comes along with getting along.  
  • Set up ground rules for times when they are completely unable to resolve a problem on their own.  You can listen as they explain the situation, and make the decisions fairly and impartially.  At this point, the children have given the problem over to you. They must, therefore, accept your decision without resistance.  Sometimes you may want to explain your thinking and how you have come to your decision, but the children should understand that if they bring a problem to you, they will no longer have any say in how the problem is resolved.  
Don't expect every problem to be solved with happiness and hugs.  Life brings challenges, conflicts and difficulties to all of us. Learning how to respond in healthy ways to disappointments and disagreements is essential to building positive relationships at home, school and work. Don't give into the temptation of making everything perfect for your children. Doing this will rob them of important opportunities to develop coping skills they will need as adults.  When your child is upset by the outcome of an argument, communicate your empathy and suggest a coping skill they might use, like moving on to some other activity in the day.  
Well, my boys are all grown up now and enjoy something close to my dream of them being special lifelong friends!  Here is a link to some other ideas on sibling relationships.  I hope you find this post and the link helpful.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Eat Your Veggies, Reggie!

Meal times can be one of the most important ways to build, strengthen and enjoy family relationships!  As parents, we often think of good nutrition as the main reason for family meals.  I would suggest that nutrition is less important than enjoying pleasant family conversation and connection.  

As parents, you can choose to keep meal times less stressful and more meaningful by deciding not to force children to eat certain kinds and amounts of food.  Sounds radical, right??!  Not really.  Explain the following things to your children:
  • The most important thing about meal time is being together as a family.  Eating is less important.  
  • Children will be able to choose what and how much they will eat from the food provided at the table.  If they choose not to eat what is provided, they may wait until the next meal to eat - which might be breakfast, but they must remain at the table to participate in the family time.
  • Parents also may choose to allow children to eat whatever fruits and vegetables are on hand, but will not prepare additional food because children choose not to eat what has been prepared and served. 
  • Explain that the family will talk calmly about a wide variety of topics such as, books the children are reading, memories of family vacations, dreams, jokes, wishes, world problems, news stories, school, the "old days" and funny experiences.  Keep the conversations light, but also full of deep content.
You may be wondering about good nutrition.  As a rule, children will eat what is most available to them to get the nutrition their bodies need.  When you transition to a focus on family relationships, you also might want to reduce the availability of low nutritional food options that are present in your home.  It would not be healthy for children to refuse the nutritious food you provide at dinner and then snack all evening on cookies, cakes and candy.  Instead keep celery, carrots, peppers, mushrooms, apples, oranges, bananas and other nutritious foods available. 
You can adapt this concept any way you want to make it work for your family.  Send me some comments to let me know how it works in your home.  I have attached a link with some statistics that are enlightening about this topic.  Bon appetite!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

I Hate You!

"I hate you!"  These words can cut straight to the heart of any parent when uttered by their child.  However, parents don't always need to take this statement seriously. Children of all ages can become emotional and angry when parents set healthy boundaries for them.  Parents have wisdom that is beyond what the minds of youngsters can understand.  Wise parents set limits regardless of their children's response, and they stick to them.

Children carefully observe their parents and know the best tools to leverage to get what they want.  Hateful words are a tool that some children use to influence their parents to give in to the child's demands. Children also test their parents' boundaries to see if their word can be trusted. When parents stand firm even in through hateful, disrespectful words, children learn they can trust their parents. This trust can help in building strong positive parent-child relationships. 

Here is another take on maintaining the limits.  When you set limits for your children, you give them a proactive way to respond to negative peer pressure. They can cite your rules for not participating in risky behaviors as their reason for not going along. Any parent would be happy to take the blame in this instance, right? 

So... how should you respond to this type of outburst from your child?  First of all, remain the calm, healthy adult who will not get sucked into the child's loss of control. Hold on to your self control, no matter what.  When you do, you will be more credible and believable.  You need to be in control of yourself when your child is out of control.  You want to show that you care about the child, but will not give in to the demands.  Keep your voice quiet and utter one or more of these phrases:
  • "I'm disappointed to hear that because I love you very much."
  • "I can see that your are unhappy about my decision, but it will stand."
  • "You are angry.  We can talk about this when you calm down."
  • "Those words hurt my feelings, but I will not change my mind."
  • "I love you too much to argue with you about this.  We can talk later when you are calm."
  • Any other phrase that rolls off your tongue in a calm and caring tone will be effective.
You might want to choose just one phrase and repeat it over and over again. This is called the "Broken Record" technique.  It can help you avoid an argument that escalates and goes in a myriad of directions.  Here is a link with some additional thoughts on this topic.  Hang in there parents! Prove you love your kids enough to provide them with healthy, reasonable limits.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Growth Mindset? What's That?

Recently Teachers have been reading, learning and talking about Growth Mindset, and they are really excited about it!  All the buzz is related to a book called Growth Mindset,  by Carol Dwek.  Carol Dwek, Ph.D., is one of the world's leading researchers in the field of motivation and is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University.  Her research has focused on why people succeed and how to foster success in people.  Parents and teachers are alike in their desire to see children grow, learn and succeed.  This research is worthy of our attention and consideration.

In brief, her research suggests that how adults praise children can encourage or discourage them in terms of their ability to work though challenges, to accomplish goals and learn from their effort.  

As adults, we know that most important things in life require work, time and effort.  However, we often praise children for things that come easy to them. We say, "Wow! You got and "A" in math.  You must be smart", or "You are a talented basketball player!"  

Dr. Dwek found that when children are praised for their intelligence or abilities, they are significantly less motivated to put forth effort to succeed.  On the other hand, when children are praised for working through struggles and challenges, they develop positive attitudes about the effort required to accomplish goals.  

Teachers across the country are implementing many of Dr. Dwek's principals to help their students see that putting forth effort to learn is a necessary skill that can be developed and used throughout their lives.  

Resilience is the ability to accomplish a goal or task even when it is challenging and difficult.  All of us need resilience to be successful in our careers and our personal lives.  I hope you will go online to look up more information about Dr. Dwek's research.  I have added just one of the many  links to videos in which Dr. Carol Dwek explains her findings with greater detail.  

And...I want to thank you for persevering to the end of this blog post!!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Happy Homework!

Homework happiness - is it possible?   Over years parents have asked me many questions about their children's homework.  They want to know if they should help with homework and if so, how much.  They want to know what to do when their child won't or can't do the homework. Sometimes, parents want to know what to do when they don't know how to help their children.  All parents want to support their children to develop good homework habits and become independent with their homework.  

Remember, the purpose of homework is to provide your child with additional learning and practice opportunities.  For this to happen, it must be the child who does the thinking and the work. When children to do the thinking and the work, they benefit from their effort which builds confidence, perseverance and independence.  Here are a few ideas to keep in mind with assisting your children with homework:                                   

  1. Hold your child accountable for knowing what the homework is and bringing it home. If your children "forget" a homework assignment, don't rescue them from the consequences at school.  Instead, say, "Hmm...I sorry that happened.  I bet it will be difficult trying to explain this to your teacher tomorrow.  Don't worry though.  I'm sure your teacher will figure out a way for you to get the work done."  Then leave your child to ponder the situation.  In the long run, this will help your child grow in responsibility and independence.
  2. Make sure you have allowed your child to have dinner or a snack prior to homework time.
  3. Some students need to engage in active play before settling down to their homework, and some want to get it done first to have the rest of the evening free.  
  4. Set up an appropriate time and space for homework completion.  Make the area comfortable and remove distractions like TV noise, electronic devices and other toys.  
  5. Help your child get organized and ready to work by assisting them with a plan for getting started.  Ask your child to determine the order in which the homework tasks will be done.  Keep this short and positive.  Drop a final reminder about what they can do after the homework is completed correctly.  
  6. 6.  Refuse to get over involved when your children say they don't understand the work or don't know what to do.  Gently suggest that they use their books for help or recall what the teacher said in class.  If you have a slow starter, if might be helpful to do one problem or question with your child, but resist the temptation to do more than that. Remember the homework is only helpful if your child does it by thinking, recalling and working through the challenge.  
  7. If homework becomes a daily battle that is negative in tone and causes lots of conflict, contact your child's teacher to create a plan that will help your child become more independent and responsible with homework.  Plans that work best are plans where the teacher, parent and student are working together to overcome unsuccessful homework behaviors. 
  8. Don't forget to smile and praise your child's effort and work when it is done.  

Take a look at this website for more ideas about helping with homework.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Does Your Child have Soft Skills?

In recent years, business employers have been reporting that young, new employees need better "soft skills".  Soft skills??   What are soft skills?  Do you remember taking courses in soft skills when you were in high school or college?  Probably not.  

The employers are saying that young people are coming into the work force with solid career knowledge and abilities.  For example, young engineers seem to know about engineering.  However, in soft skills, like communication, teamwork, initiative and resilience, they are lacking.  This is causing them to be less successful in their jobs and less productive for their employers.  Ultimately, some young adults are experiencing failure and loss of employment early in their careers because they lack soft skills.

Soft skills can be thought of as personal characteristics.  They are about how people manage themselves as they work with others.  Soft skills relate to how a person responds to those who are in superior, collaborative and  subordinate roles to them.  It also refers to how an individual responds to criticism, failure and ambiguity.  Stated simply, soft skills are how a person gets along with others and demonstrates the ability to solve problems in the workplace .                                                

Today's employers are looking for workers who understand social skills and can work productively with others, as well as, independently. They want workers who are collaborative and who can overcome adversity and difficulty.  
Parent power to the rescue!  As parents, you can help your children develop soft skills!  Do you allow your chldren to work through their own problems?  Have you taught them to consider the needs of others before their own?  Do they know and practice common courtesies like good manners, respect and kindness?  Have they ever experienced the feeling of working hard to accomplish a task or skills?  Do you hold them to their commitments when they join a team or take up a hobby?  Are they allowed to be a productive part of your family by taking full responsibility for assigned chores? Doing all of these things will provide your child with life experiences that prepare them for success in the work place and will help them grow into workers that are valuable employees for the companies that hire them.     
Please click and read the following article from about soft skills that are highly valued in today's work place.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Let's Ride the Bus!

Should you drive your child to school or let them ride the bus?  Regardless of your child's age, this decision can have a significant impact on your child's school day.  Consider some thoughts about this question:

1.   Traveling by bus is safer.  Students who ride the bus are about 20 times more likely to arrive at school safely than when driven by parents.  Students who ride the bus are about 50 times more likely to arrive at school safely than when they drive themselves or ride with friends.  

2.  Catching the bus provides structure and timing for morning routines.  Students are more likely to get up, get dressed and eat breakfast if they know they must catch the bus. Buses are predictable and consistent but, if the bus is late, your child will not be counted late at school.

3.  Students who ride the bus have better school attendance and are tardy less often.

4.  Riding the bus makes separation easier for young students. Getting on the bus creates a quick and less emotional goodbye.

5.  Parents can set expectations for safe behavior while on the bus.  As a principal, I always told the students to remember; "Seat to seat, back to back and feet to the floor". When students are sitting down with their back resting on the seat back and their feet pointed toward the floor, they are in the safest position for riding.  This posture also helps the driver scan quickly to make sure all is well.  

6.  The purpose of the bus ride is more about getting to school safely, and on time, than it is about socializing.  Offer your children suggestions for how to use the bus time productively, such as, reading, checking their homework or studying for a test.  Older students can use their cellular devices to make the traveling time more productive and entertaining.

7.  Be sure to let the bus driver know that you support all rules and procedures for student behavior. The driver can do her job best when the students comply with safety rules.  Can you even imagine what it would be like to drive a vehicle with 50 or 60 children on board?  

I really hope you will click on the link below.  It had great statistics and information about current bus safety features.  Please feel free to post a question or comment, if you wish.

Monday, August 24, 2015

School Talk!

As a parent, I always wanted to hear about my children's school day.  However, they didn't always share my enthusiasm in discussing the details of their school lives. This post is written in response to my own experiences as a parent and a great many parents who have mentioned this to me over the years.

Q.  Why won't my child share details of his school day with me?

A.  Children of all ages benefit from having conversations with their parents. When parents and children can talk easily with each other, kids develop strong trusting relationships with their parents.  However, not all kids are willing to talk about their school lives.  Here are a few things to keep in mind when inviting your child to talk about school.  

Some children need time to relax and take a break from school before being ready to talk about the day.  Respect this need.  Try different times of the day to see when your child is most responsive.  The tone for discussions about school should be non-confrontational and light-hearted.  

As a parent and adult role model, you may need to engage in some self-examination before talking with your children about school.  You should set a positive goal for the discussions.  Your purpose should involve supporting, encouraging and uplifting your child.  Try to keep the focus on your child rather than other children in the class.  

Once you have determined the purpose for the discussions, be sure to ask specific questions that require more than a yes or no response such as, "Tell me about what you are learning in math class."  If you get a short response, prompt with, "Is this something new you are learning or do you remember it from last year?  Continue on with this manner of questions until you feel that your child is no longer interested in the discussion.  At first, your conversations may be very brief.  Using this patient questioning technique, over time, will help you develop a positive conversational relationship with your child about school.  

Additional positive topics are; art class, music class, PE class, and special classroom projects. Eventually, you will be able to prompt deeper conversations such as, "What do you still need to learn about long division?" and, "Why is _____ your best friend at school?"

It is very important to avoid asking questions with a negative tone like, "Was anyone bad at school today?", and "Did you get in trouble today?"  Asking negative questions will put your child in the difficult position of talking and thinking about themselves, classmates and staff members in negative ways. Children want to please their parents, so they will relate negative information if you ask negative questions.  Remember to use your conversations to build up your child and others in the school.  Doing so will help your child develop positive attitudes and enjoy school more which will lead to increased school success.  

I am including this link with more ideas about talking with your kids about school.

Six Steps to a Great Start at School

Every child wants to have a great start to their school year.  Parents want their children to learn well and be happy at school.  When I reflect back over many school years, as a mother and an educator, there are a variety of things I have learned about helping children have a great start to a school year. Here are my top six (not in order of importance):

1.  Think of "failures" as great learning opportunities for children! Failures can be the springboard to personal reflection and positive change for children and adults alike! Mistakes are not the end of the world!  Let them know that you don't expect perfection, but you do expect them to learn from their mistakes.

2.  Set healthy boundaries and routines.  This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is really important in helping students do well in school!  Children feel safer and less anxious when they have predictable patterns and routines in their lives.  Well established routines at home for personal hygiene, bed time, play time, and chores will help them adapt to school routines and expectations with ease.  
3. Speak highly of your child's school and its teachers.  Let your children know that you trust the teachers to help them grow in academics and in character.  Children respect and emulate their parents' opinions.  When children trust and respect their teachers, they enjoy school more.  

4.  Teach your children that being kind is important.  Being kind to others will help them be successful at school by making friends easily.  When children are kind to others, they are well accepted and respected by their peers.  Kindness can be displayed in many small ways, like allowing someone else to be first in line and helping others pick up dropped items.  When kindness is a valued characteristic at home, it will be easier for children to be kind at school. 

5. Avoid trying to "fix" your child's mistakes and problems.  Adults can help their children gain confidence by allowing them to cope with their own mistakes.  Try saying this, "Hmm... I'm sorry to see you struggling with this mistake.  I know you will find a way to work this out and solve this problem". Then walk away and give your child time to think.  Expressing empathy and communicating that you believe they can solve the problem builds independence and confidence. It also helps them learn that they have control over their own lives.  When children feel confident in dealing with and resolving their own problems, they will be happier and more confident at school.

6.  Last, but most important of all  - keep their home life happy and supportive. Providing your children with a happy home, where they are always loved and cared for, is possibly the most important thing you can do to ensure their success and happiness at school.

Here is a link to another article with more ideas on this topic.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Separation Anxiety

This post relates to another question that parents have asked related to helping their children start school successfully.

Q.  How can I help my child with separation anxiety?

A.  Many children feel uneasy when separating from their parents in a new or unknown place.  Several things can help your child with the important transition into a classroom for the first time.  
Parents, be sure to conquer your own separation stress before you begin to help your child.  If you are anxious, your child will learn from your example and share your anxiety.  You want to be the healthy, strong example that can model having a positive outlook on changes that lead to growth and success!  Being able to adapt to change is a huge factor in living a successful life.

Be sure to talk about the transition in positive ways.  For example, instead of saying, "Are you nervous about the first day of school?", say this, "Are you excited about the first day of school?"  Your words are the first impression that your child has about school. Be sure to make that first impression seem exciting and fun.  Using positive words will teach your child that you expect the separation to be easy and happy for her. In addition, be sure to take your child with you to any beginning of year events at the school such as, Open House or Meet the Teacher Night. This can be a powerful way to reduce fear of the unknown.  

Most importantly, keep your goodbyes brief, happy and unemotional.  Long, drawn out, tearful goodbyes will always make the separation more difficult. Allow your child to ride the school bus, if possible.  Once they are on the bus, the excitement will naturally take over and reduce fears. If you take your child to school in your car, drop her off at curbside with a quick hug and kiss.  Don't make the mistake of hovering in the classroom doorway.  Tell your student you can't wait to hear about her great day when she gets home.  Don't allow tears or pleading to delay your departure.  I can't tell you how many times I have seen a child go from tears to smiles as soon as the car is out of sight!

I am including a link for further reading.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Starting the School Year Successfully!

I love the start of school!  It is like a bright and shiny new penny!  It comes with hopes and expectations for our children to grow academically, socially and in wisdom.  There are a few things that parents can do to help their children have a successful start to the school year.  This is the first in a series of posts related to questions that parents have asked me over the course of my 24 years as a public educator.  I hope you find them helpful to resolve some of the early concerns that can present themselves.

Q.  What should I do if my child says he doesn't like his teacher?

A.  First, ask your child to tell you more about this without using leading questions.  Simply ask why he doesn't like the teacher and then listen carefully. It is helpful to express sincere empathy, but best to resist the temptation to jump to conclusions or try to resolve the concern for your child.  Instead, communicate that you have great confidence in his ability to learn how to adjust to the classroom.  Children deserve to be able to learn from situations like this that will prepare them for adulthood.  This could be an important learning opportunity. The reason a child might express this concern could arise from something minor that will easily resolve itself within a few days. In this case, your child will learn to give other people a second chance and know that a "bad" start doesn't always mean a "bad" ending!  It helps them develop persistence, resilience and perseverance.  

If your child persists with this concern, you may want to reach out to the teacher (not the principal) for assistance. I recommend that you make this contact without telling your child beforehand. When calling the teacher, approach her with an open mind ready to hear a more complete picture of what is causing your child's distress.  Perhaps the teacher is unaware that your child is having difficulty adjusting to her classroom.  Ask the teacher if she has suggestions you could use to help your child to be happier at school.  The best possible situation is one where the parent, student and teacher are working together collaboratively to solve the problem.  I don't recommend requesting that your child be moved to another classroom. It is much healthier for you child to be allowed to work through this challenge and make a successful adjustment to his new learning environment.