Homework Coach or Enforcer?

March 21st, 2014

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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Thanks for reading,


Get in the ZONE

March 7th, 2014

houseLook around your home; are you happy with the condition it is in? Can you find what you need quickly and easily? Or do you suffer from C.H.A.O.S. (Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome)? Well, stop living in fear of the doorbell (or cancelling play dates) and take back your weekend at the same time.

Often times we feel the “need” to clean the house weekly and many people spend their Saturdays doing just that. The problem with that is, if you have a special event to go to or your child is on a team your Saturday is not your own.  I know you have limited time and that there are lots of things competing for your time and attention – especially your children. Our home is our oasis from the outside world and should be comfortable and relatively stress free – it does not need to be dust free. De-cluttering and organizing are often very helpful and if the family gets involved, they’ll learn habits that will benefit them their whole life. So, here’s a plan that takes 15-20 minutes a day that the whole family can help with.

First: divide your home into 5 or 6 zones. A zone can be one room or a combination of rooms but don’t make it too big. You want to be able to do a bit of de-clutter, organizing and/or cleaning in the 20 minute block. For example, zone 1 for me includes the breezeway (because most people enter there), entry way and ½ bath (which is right near that back door). Zone 2 includes the kitchen, dining room (which does not get used very often) and the foyer. The idea is to create small enough areas that you can work on for 15-20 minutes each night and feel like you are making progress. At the same time you can have the rest of the family doing the DPU (15 minute daily pick up) and picking up and putting away in other rooms or get them to help with the current zone.  At first, you may only have time for de-cluttering, later on though as you keep at it each week, you’ll not only get to clean the areas but you’ll have time to deep clean or go one step further – whatever that is for you.

Next, figure out what time of day would work best for you and the family to take those 20 minutes. Will it be before dinner, before getting the kids ready for bed, after the kids are in bed or different each day? It’s okay if it is different every day but I feel it is important to “plan” it into your day somehow. So schedule it for the first week and then each day work on one zone. Monday is my zone one, so it is the breezeway, back door entry and ½ bath that get my attention. The biggest thing here in the winter is the sand and grit that gets carried in. So, with a shake of the rugs and a quick vacuum (using a cordless stick vacuum because my central vacuum has a 20 foot hose that is just not convenient for me), I change the towels in the bathroom and clean the fixtures and I’m done. One week I also had time to clean out the medicine cabinet and another week I cleaned out the drawers in the vanity. Even if your cleaning service comes each week, you can still de-clutter and organize and save the cleaning for them.

Lastly, only you can decide what things are important in your home. You may want to focus one day on just mail, or paying the bills, or collecting the recycling for trash day. Whatever works for you is what is important and you’ll need to consider why it is important to you. Life is full of so many “shoulds” that we often don’t stop to consider the “whys”.  Why take the time to do this? Only you can answer that.