How to Get Kids to Do Their Homework

girl with books-01If it seems like you are always fussing at your child to get his or her homework done, it’s because you are always fussing at your child to get his or her homework done. There are more than 2000 school days in your child’s life, all of which seem to end with homework. Over time that means you need to inspire your children to do about 4000 hours of schoolwork at home, when friends and screens are calling their names.

I, of course, have a few suggestions on how to get that mountain of homework done with less argument and frustration:

First, establish the habit of homework long before they actually have any. When they are little, arrange time in the evening when the TV is turned off, activities are done, and you as a family can sit and read, build things, or play games that involve a little brain work. Do this during the two hours before bed and the kids will also sleep better.

Keep the goal in mind. What do kids gain from doing homework? We want them to learn the material, of course. More importantly, we want them to learn how to learn, and to love doing it. We want to furnish them with skills that will prove useful in real life. If homework can teach your children to examine facts, explore knowledge, organize and take personal responsibility for their work, and manage their time efficiently – what might he or she accomplish in life? These are the very skills that form a foundation for success.

Where to do it? Choose a place. There is no “right” place. If your child learns better in a quiet environment, a desk in his or her room would work well. If she needs a little supervision, the kitchen table might work better. Wherever you choose, turn off the TV, videogame, and cell phone (quiet music is usually fine, and sometimes can even help children concentrate). Make sure they are comfortable and the lighting is good. Have the supplies they need – pencils, paper, calendar, dictionary? – nearby. Get rid of any distractions.

When to do it? Pick a time. Again, there is no “right” time. Some kids will do better right after school; some will need to blow off steam and may do better after dinner. Choose the time that works best for your individual children, involving them in the decision. Then make this schedule a routine, because children’s brains accommodate habits well. Kids don’t argue over something they have done every day for years; they argue endlessly over change and unpredictability.

Give your children a warning a few minutes before their free time is ending, so they can finish whatever they are doing before you drag them away.

Order homework by subject. Start the hardest subjects first; position assignments which require memorization (spelling, math?) early and repeat after breaks.

Keep your expectations appropriate for your child’s age. As a general rule of thumb a child should have about 10 minutes of homework per grade level. Children in elementary school will need help organizing their work and staying on task; teenagers should be able to do their work without supervision. If all goes well, somewhere in middle school they learn to take responsibility.

Since you as parents won’t always be around to supervise, let your teenager fail in high school when they make poor choices. Summer school is cheaper and immensely less life altering than flunking out of college; repeating algebra is torture, but less traumatic than loosing a job.

Expect problems. Approach problems with diplomacy and respect for the person who is your child. Label the problem: “You get distracted by your cell phone.” Don’t label your child: never “You’re lazy.” Be willing to compromise with your child to solve the problem. “If you will turn off the cell phone while you do your work, you can have 5 minute breaks between subjects to catch up, call and text.” Agree to the compromise; it is a contract with your progeny. If you need to, write it down and both of you sign it. Read my blog on How to Fight with a Child.

Rewrite this contract when the first one flops, until you find an arrangement that enables your child to learn and you to not run screaming from the room.

Allow the child’s input as much as possible. Let him decorate his workspace up to the point where he puts in distractions. Let her decide subject order, as long as it works. Let them choose their break activity, up to a time limit.

Reward success. We as humans are hard wired to respond better to rewards than to punishment. How long would you go to work if you did not get a paycheck?

Sadly, it is not realistic to expect a better grade to be your child’s only reward. That grade is too far into the distant misty future, over a mountain of hard labor.

Rewards work best if they are small, and given for small increments of good behavior. A hug, a smile and pride in their accomplishment is all they need when they are small. When they are a little bigger, take time to read a book together or play a game. Keep rewards simple, small, and frequent.

Older children also need small, frequent rewards, though probably not as simple. They always have items that they want, but don’t need; these items make great rewards. Study time, completed homework and test grades can all earn them points toward a want. There is no need for an argument when he or she doesn’t do their work before picking up the phone; they just won’t get that essential point.

Homework is training for life. Choose the place and time, working with your child to fit it to your family routines, your child’s personality, and his or her age. Endeavor to teach self-discipline, time management and responsibility equally with reading, writing, and arithmetic. Reward success. Keep in mind that the goal is not to learn how to spell that list of words, but rather to inspire a love of learning which will propel your child to succeed, now and into the future.

DomesticatedMomster
The Blogger's Pit Stop

Che, Che, Che, Changes… and Children

Change- just aheadBack-to-school season is the perfect time to think about how change impacts children, how to help them through it, and the positives that come when kids learn to be flexible and resilient.

Humanity is naturally comfortable with routine. We are confident in our ability to get through the day when we have done it all before. We are secure, and safe. We don’t have to particularly think about anything. To varying degrees, we all like to know what to expect–whole books are written about it!

This need for routine and stability is far more pronounced in a child. A toddler has no real sense of time–they live in the moment, and the future is a complete unknown. Older kids may have a better sense of time, but surprises can still incite strong emotion. Teens have so many changes going on already that seemingly small transitions can make them feel overwhelmed and out of control.

Yet change is inevitable, and the pace of change increases every day.  Parents today change jobs and geography more than did any previous generation; divorce is more common; the 24 hour cycle flings news at us continuously from around the planet.

Improvements in technology and rapid changes in our cultures remake our world the minute we turn our backs. So…

How to help children cope with change:

  • Be a good example. If you take things in stride and don’t appear worried or scared, they will imitate your reaction.
  • Build strong relationships. If they know they are loved and secure, a move or loss will not be so overwhelming.
  • Stay Healthy. Eat nutritious food, exercise, and get enough sleep. Everything is easier to deal with if you feel good and are not tired.
  • Warn them that change is coming. Imagine if even something as wonderful as Christmas happened without advance warning. There’s a tree in the living room, Dad is dressed up in a crazy suit, everyone is excited, and all the normal routines are suspended. Scary stuff! Let them know what is coming, and give them time to process.
  • Explain what is happening, and why it is happening, at their developmental level. Answer their questions. Give them information about the changes that are coming, and explore the possibilities. Imagine the good things that could happen as a result of the change as well as the bad and scary stuff.
  • Keep to routines when you can. Morning regimens, family meals, and bedtime routines are the foundation of a good day. Nothing feels safer than snuggling up with someone who loves you and a bedtime story.
  • Allow them their feelings. Don’t discount them. If the thing they are angry about the most with Grandma’s death is that no one will give them Tootsie Rolls anymore, nod solemnly and say you understand.
  • Expect bad behavior. Kids will regress with transitions, and will act out if they feel insecure. Discipline them in exactly the same way you would have before the change, because if they get away with bad behavior it will heighten their anxiety. If they still get a time out for saying that bad word, then things must not be that different. Bad behavior successfully disciplined establishes new borders and validates their security.
  • Let them have an impact on the change. Let them choose some flowers for an event, or the color of their new room for a move. Humans feel better when they have done something, no matter how small. Action shrinks fear.
  • Carve out time every day for a little one-on-one. ‘Nuf said.
  • Allow time for relaxation and fun. Laugh. Listen to music. Renee Jain, MAPP has a few excellent mindfulness activities for children here. I especially like her practice of “dissolving a thought.” Kids can devolve into what is called catastrophic thinking and spiral downward into a place where nothing is right with the world, and nothing ever will be. Mindfulness practice can stop that spiral and bring them back into the moment.
  • Avoid activities that increase stress, like competitive sports or games. This is not the time to play Monopoly. Simplify your schedule, and let things go.

Change is inevitable; learning to deal with it is a necessary skill. Kids who can adapt to new situations are better at everything from learning vocabulary to making friends to succeeding in the workplace.  Being able to manage your emotional responce to change is part of being a grownup. Knowing when to accept change and when to insist that you have an impact creates a fulfilling life. Last, seeing the good that can come from a transition is how you grab an opportunity.

The ability to adapt is one of the things that made humans special since we first started using that opposable thumb. Encourage your kids to learn it.

 

Domesticated Momster

 

The Blogger's Pit Stop

Nutrition Facts: What to Grow in a Kid’s Garden

girl with plantIn Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy wrote “Spring is the time of plans and projects.” Plans and projects keep children out of trouble–or at least involve them in safer, more manageable trouble.

What could be better than digging in the dirt and playing in a spray of water on a hot summer day? What more creative than an adventure in the wilds of your back yard? Add in sunshine, fresh air and exercise, and planting a garden becomes the springtime activity of choice.

One of the best ways to coax kids into eating what is good for them is to involve them in its preparation. They are far more likely to eat the lunch they prepared with their own two hands than one you slaved over. If they help you peel and cut up carrots for dinner they will try them, and brag about their contribution while chewing.

Extend this a bit and you reap the miracle of children eating their vegetables because they grew them in their very own garden. They planted the seeds, watched over them, watered them, and cared for them. They will proudly eat the fruits of their labor and proclaim their tastiness.

Children need a variety of vitamins and minerals in order to function and grow, and the best place to get those nutrients, along with carbs for energy and fiber for bowel function, is in fruits and vegetables. Some, like beans and peas, are even excellent sources of protein. Many of them can be grown in small plots or in containers on a porch.

Carrots can be grown easily from seeds bought in your local garden store, and are very high in Vitamin A. Vitamin A helps with eyesight–especially night vision–which is why your mom always told you to eat lots. Watermelon, peas, peppers, beans, and tomatoes also have bunches of Vitamin A.

Tomatoes, peppers, and beans are high in B complex vitamins. B vitamins like riboflavin, niacin, thiamine and folic acid are tiny machines that allow your body to function. They help with everything from making blood cells, to generating energy from carbohydrates, to scavenging free radicles and protecting you from cancer.

Strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries are high in Vitamin C, which is necessary for collagen synthesis and wound healing and is an effective antioxidant. Without Vitamin C, people get scurvy.

Minerals are also easily come by on the plant side of your plate.

Calcium to build strong bones can be found in beans.

Potatoes, beans, corn, and mushrooms are high in iron, which helps carry oxygen around your body.

Potassium, necessary for muscle contraction and to maintain your heart rhythm, is present in potatoes, berries, peas, beans, and peppers.

Essential minerals like magnesium, phosphorus, copper, and zinc are all available in fruits and vegetables.

I’ve never seen a child turn down a pea fresh from the pod, or a strawberry plucked from the plant. Find a plant catalogue, pour through it with your child, pay attention to what will grow in your area and how much room the plants need to grow, and choose. Consider what you have room for: will these be container plants on the porch, or can you spare a patch of yard? Do you have space for a tree, or are we looking at a mushroom kit in the closet?

Some of my favorite kid friendly plants are peas, beans, peppers, tomatoes, and the ever popular carrot. Melons, pumpkins, and cucumbers are great if you have a little more room. Berries come in all sizes, from tiny strawberry plants fit for containers with pockets down the side, to raspberry vines best grown on trellises, to fat thorny blackberry bushes. Tires can be stacked up and filled with dirt in a tower as potato plants grow, then harvested by taking off one tire at a time.

Growing a few plants allows you to spend time with your children, get some exercise, and build some vitamin D of your own from all that sunshine. Have a conversation about science and nutrition while you are digging in the dirt. Money can be earned and financial lessons taught by naming the watering and weeding of those plants “chores.” Other lessons can be taught without any conversation: responsibility for life, the fruitfulness of hard work, and pride of accomplishment. Don’t miss this opportunity for spring plans and projects!

Domesticated Momster

Top Ten Reasons to Let Your Kids Fail

Astronaut child

Even the possibility of failure is anxiety provoking.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could just do everything right the first time?

Need me to do that radio interview? No problem–bring it on! I’m not scared of that microphone, and the questions for which I might not know the answers, and the fact that I might sound like an idiot or give someone the wrong information… cue the heart racing, chest clutching, palm dampening anxiety.

If you haven’t experienced the fear of failure you haven’t pushed past your known limits and tried, and without trying you will leave possibilities on the table.

We want our children to catch their dreams, so when it is safe, and when failure does not have lifelong consequences, we need to let them try.

It is hard to sit back and watch our children fail–yet failure is good, and essential to success. Below are ten things to think about as you stand aside and watch your child drop that ball, and learn lessons the hard way–through personal experience with bruised knees and lost friendships:

  1. Failure is on the job training–a learning experience in what does not work and what not to do. Fail that test? Next time they will study.
  2. Failure is an arrogance tamer. Arrogance will not attract true friends.
  3. Failure teaches empathy. Empathy does attract true friends.
  4. Failure is proof that your child is trying. Good to know they got off that couch, right?
  5. Failure gives us direction. If we are lost, we look at a map; failure draws the route on that map. If our child was terrible at hitting or catching a ball, but loved running the bases? Maybe we should sign him or her up for track. Failure gives us a better idea of who we are and what we are actually good at.
  6. Projects are more likely to succeed if preceded by a series of failures. All those errors make us more careful, so we pay attention and catch mistakes before they happen instead of pushing through and assuming all will go well.
  7. Life’s hardest, most important lessons can only be learned through failure. People truly do “not know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”
  8. Lessons learned through failure stick. We joke about how our children always have to learn things the hard way, but such is human nature. We can give them our knowledge and experience, but it will never be as memorable as a moment of abject embarrassment in front of their classmates.
  9. Success feels so much better after failures. ‘Nuf said.
  10. Experience teaches that failure is not fatal. John Sinclair said “failure is a bruise, not a tattoo.” It’s good to have learned in childhood that you really can try again, and perhaps succeed. Failure is not permanent until you give up and shut that door.

It is better that they learn these lessons in childhood while you are still there to catch them when they fall. Break out your box of bandaids, security, and absolute love and acceptance. Even though they might not make the team, they know that you will love them anyway and they will be secure enough to try again.

Every single time your children fail, they have overcome fear to try, and how amazing is that? Even if they have not succeeded at acing that interview, they have succeeded at beating fear to give it their best. Their dreams await.

 

Back to School: Time for Homework!

girl with books-01There are more than 2000 school days in your child’s life, most of which will end with homework. Over time that means you need to inspire your children to do about 4000 hours of schoolwork at home, when video games are calling their names.

I have a few suggestions on how to get that mountain of homework done with less argument and frustration.

First, establish the habit of homework long before they actually have any. When they are little, assign time in the evening when the TV is turned off, activities are done, and you as a family can sit and read, build things, or play games that involve a little brain work. Do this during the two hours before bed and the kids will also sleep better.

Why do we need homework?

Consider the goal of homework: what do we want our child to gain from doing it? Of course, we want them to learn the material. More importantly, we want them to learn how to learn, and to love doing it. We want to furnish them with skills that will prove useful in real life. If homework can teach your children to examine facts, explore knowledge, organize and take personal responsibility for their work, and manage their time efficiently – what might he or she accomplish in life? These are the very skills that form a foundation for success.

Where?

Choose a place. There is no “right” place. If your child does better in a quiet environment, a desk in his room would work well. If she needs a little supervision, the kitchen table might work better. Wherever you choose, turn off the TV, videogame, and cell phone (quiet music is usually fine, and sometimes can even help children concentrate). Make sure they are comfortable and the lighting is good. Have the supplies they need – pencils, paper, calendar, dictionary? – nearby. Get rid of any distractions.

When?

Pick a time. Again, there is no “right” time. Some kids will do better right after school; some will need to blow off steam and may do better after dinner. Choose the time that works best for your individual children, involving them in the decision. Then make this schedule a routine, because children’s brains accommodate habits well. Kids don’t argue over something they have done every day for years; they argue endlessly over change and unpredictability.

Give your children a warning a few minutes before their free time is ending, so they can finish whatever they are doing before you drag them away.

Keep your expectations appropriate for your child’s age. As a general rule of thumb a child should have about 10 minutes of homework per grade level. Children in elementary school will need help organizing their work and staying on task; teenagers should be able to do their work without supervision. If all goes well, somewhere in middle school they learn to take responsibility.

Start the hardest subjects first; position assignments which require memorization (spelling, math?) early and repeat after breaks.

Since you as parents won’t always be around to supervise, let your teenager fail in high school when they make poor choices. Summer school is cheaper and immensely less life altering than flunking out of college; repeating algebra is torture, but less traumatic than loosing a job. To paraphrase: give a child an organized notebook, and he will pass one test; teach him how to organize and he will have a skill for all of his life (sorry, couldn’t help myself).

Expect problems; they give you a subject of conversation to share with your child! Approach problems with diplomacy and respect for the person who is your child. Label the problem: “You get distracted by your cell phone.” Don’t label your child: never “You’re lazy.” Be wiling to compromise with your child to solve the problem. “If you will turn off the cell phone while you do your work, you can have 5 minute breaks between subjects to catch up, call and text.” Agree to the compromise; it is a contract with your progeny. If you need to, write it down and both of you sign it. Read last week’s blog on How to Fight with a Child.

Rewrite this contract when the first one flops, until you find an arrangement that enables your child to learn and you to not run screaming from the room.

Allow the child’s input as much as possible. Let him decorate his workspace up to the point where he puts in distractions. Let her decide subject order, as long as it works. Let them choose their break activity, up to a time limit.

Reward success.

We as humans are hard wired to respond better to rewards than to punishment. How long would you go to work if you did not get a paycheck?

Sadly, it is not realistic to expect a better grade to be your child’s only reward. That grade is too far into the distant misty future, over a mountain of hard labor.

Rewards work best if they are small, and given for small increments of good behavior. A hug, a smile and pride in their accomplishment is all they need when they are small. When they are a little bigger, take time to read a book together or play a game. Keep rewards simple, small, and frequent.

Older children also need small, frequent rewards, though probably not as simple. They always have items that they want, but don’t need; these items make great rewards. Study time, completed homework and test grades can all earn them points toward a goal. There is no need for an argument when he or she doesn’t do their work before picking up the phone; they just won’t get that essential point.

Homework is training for life. Choose the place and time, working with your child to fit it to your family routines, your child’s personality, and his or her age. Endeavor to teach self-discipline, time management and responsibility equally with reading, writing, and arithmetic. Reward success. Keep in mind that the goal is not to learn how to spell that list of words, but rather to inspire a love of learning which will propel your child to succeed, now and into the future.

Domesticated Momster