By: Dr. Jan Hittelman
While most students strive for academic success, many struggle to consistently perform at a level commensurate with their potential. Each year, so many students start out strong, but as the school year progresses they hit a slump and may even struggle to pass their classes at the end of the school year. Too often parents find themselves relegated to enforcer and chief; frequently checking on progress, providing endless reminders to get homework done and make-up missing assignments, which usually leads to arguments rather than desired results. A more effective approach is to use an empowerment strategy where your child takes increasing ownership of their academic responsibilities, so that when college rolls around, your child has the skills necessary to meet with success. This effort should start early. While some students have unique learning challenges that may require special consideration, by the beginning of middle school if not sooner students should be in charge of their academic life. As parents we play a critical role of providing support and advice, but should not be overseeing everything… that’s their job. Consider the following approach:
- At a positive moment, initiate a discussion with your child about the upcoming school year.
- Allow everyone to share what went well and what didn’t in years past.
- FIRST, offer to change your approach as a parent and encourage your child to provide constructive feedback and more specifically how you can better support your child in the future. Agree to try and implement any/all reasonable suggestions. AFTERWARDS, provide feedback to your child and offer your own ideas and suggestions.
- After mutual agreement/negotiation, agree to an “Experiment” for a finite period of time (e.g 2-4 weeks) to try and implement the agreed upon suggestions, with a feedback session scheduled on the calendar when that timeframe is reached.
- At the feedback session, try and focus first on any/all positives and only then focus on areas in need of improvement. Only make modifications that are mutually agreed to and restart the experiment clock.
By: Dr. Jan Hittelman
Our priorities in life not only drive our day-to-day activities but also directly influence our life goals, thoughts, feelings, and interactions with others. For better or worse, our culture steers us towards achievement, prosperity, and material wealth. Who doesn’t want to live in a big house full of cool stuff? But sooner or later we come to realize that the old adage that money can’t buy happiness remains true. How would the quality of our lives change if we made experiencing joy and laughter a priority? The Mayo clinic reports that laughter not only feels good but also is good for your health. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen, stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles, increases the release of endorphins, and improves your immune system. Laughter also stimulates circulation and enhances muscle relaxation, which reduces the symptoms of stress. Also, in addition to reducing depression, laughter can improve our ability to cope with challenges in life and relate better to others. When people are asked what they would do if they had only six months to live, most opt for doing fun things, not making more money and buying a bigger house. That’s a clue that for most of us, our priorities are out of whack. And while we likely have more than six months, our time is more precious than we realize and we would all be well-served by making joy, laughter, and fun a bigger priority in our lives.
This dynamic impacts family life as well. How much of our family time is joyous? Do we over-prioritize the small stuff like getting to bed on time, brushing teeth, and room cleaning instead? These things are important, but more important than experiencing joy and happiness as a family? Assuming we all just have six months to live, let’s make this, our last Spring Break holiday special. Let’s make our family’s joy, laughter, and happiness the priority this year. And if we are really lucky, maybe we will get to do it again next year, let alone throughout the year. Interestingly enough, if we did so we are also likely to see our achievement and prosperity increase as well. So get out there and have a few laughs and take a moment to appreciate the wonder of life and the joy of family.
By: Dr. Jan Hittelman
As parents, we all share in our child’s roller coaster ride of transitioning up the educational ladder from preschool right up to college. How we transition from one rung to another can be the difference between success and failure. This month’s newsletter focuses on transitions, with great advice inside for helping both elementary and secondary students experience success.
In addition to focusing on transitions like moving up from elementary to middle school, or middle school to high school, our children, as well as ourselves, are all going through constant transition, whether we are aware of it or not. The word “Transition” literally means “The process of change” and transitioning successfully is really about how we adapt to change. While it is difficult to be fully aware of it, from moment to moment, everything is in a constant state of change: our bodies, technology, our planet, everyone we know, everything that exists. At the same time, many people are actually resistant to change, typically because there is comfort in what’s familiar, along with a fear of potential negative outcomes. Moreover, when we struggle with transitioning, it is often because of negative expectations, worries, or fears, like the elementary child panicked about being able to open their locker in middle school. What makes things even more challenging is that most of us have a tendency to focus on the negative more than the positive. Thus negative expectations come naturally and positive ones take effort. The good news is that with just a little effort we can make small shifts in our expectations from negative to positive, which can cumulatively have a profound impact on our ability to successfully adapt to the ongoing transitions in our lives. Our dreaded anticipation of future challenges around the next turn can be transformed into seeing life as an adventure as we head forward into the great unknown.
If you want your child to be confident and successful with transitions, what better way than to model it yourself. Take time to point out the fun and adventure in things. Get into the habit of talking about positive potential outcomes in response to life transitions and brainstorm, with your child, ways to help make it so. Resisting change is like resisting life itself. The more time we take to stop and smell the roses and try to reflect on the changes going on around us, while embracing future possibilities and the blessings in our lives, the better we will be able to enjoy what is, and look forward to what will be.
By: Dr. Jan Hittelman
There’s a big difference between skills and abilities. While we are born with certain natural abilities, skills are learned and require practice to develop. It is important to remember that our children are not born with good social skills, but learn these skills through modeling and practice. There are numerous research studies that highlight the importance of healthy social skill development and their impact on academic development, school success, as well as success later in life. Conversely, children with poor social skills are at increased risk of difficulties in interpersonal relationships, peer rejection, poor academic performance, signs of depression/aggression/anxiety, and are at higher risk of involvement in the criminal justice system as adults. Social skill deficits can also impact school safety and have been a factor in the recent rash of school shootings.
In addition to focusing on developing good academic skills, we must also prioritize our children’s development of healthy social behaviors. Important components of good social skills include: nonverbal communication skills, empathy, problem solving skills, and conflict resolution skills. Here are some strategies parents can use to promote healthy social skill development:
- Importance of good role models: A lot of what your child knows regarding social interaction is learned at home, not just from parents but also from siblings. Making conscious efforts to discuss, practice, and reinforce prosocial skills can make a huge difference.
- Provide opportunities for social interaction: Ensure that your child has plenty of unstructured time to play and interact with others, as well as involvement in structured afterschool activities, will provide them with the critical opportunities for practice.
- Teach Problem Solving Skills: Help your child develop problem solving skills by following these simple steps: Identify the problem, brainstorm possible solutions, predict the probable outcome for each solution, and choose the one that has the highest probability of success; if it fails choose another solution.
- If needed, consider enrolling your child in an effective social skills group: Find a licensed therapist in the community who offers structured social skills training for your child’s age group.
Perhaps we need to start thinking about the four “Rs” in education: Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic, and Relationships. I’ve never met an elementary student who didn’t feel that recess was too short or a secondary student who didn’t wish that they had less homework in order to socialize more with friends. Maybe they’re onto something.
By Jenny Key, LCSW
My earliest memories center on our lively, red-haired family member, Donovan. He was the star of our summer outings, ate too much birthday cake, and made holidays chaotic. He was my constant companion and first adventure buddy. I recall vividly, despite my young age of four, when I realized that Donavan was missing. I walked into my mom’s room as she was making her bed and asked where Donovan had gone. Like most moms, she struggled with how to tell her child the beloved family dog died.
Coping with pet loss can be a difficult, yet cathartic time for families. It is often a child’s first experience of death. Parents struggle with if, when, and how to involve children in this process. Instincts tell you to protect them from the pain of pet loss, while logic argues that they should understand that death is a part of life. The grieving process is unique for each family member, but when approached with openness and patience, it provides an opportunity to become closer.
There are many factors to consider when helping children cope with pet loss. First, remember that you are working through this together. As the parent, you are the guide and model, but it is okay to admit your own feelings of grief. Parents often want to hide their sadness in order to keep from burdening children. In most cases, being transparent with your emotions will give them permission to share theirs. Be mindful that your son or daughter may react differently to pet loss than you do, or even than other children of similar age.
Parents seek to understand age-appropriate ways to incorporate children in the illness and death process. Although developmental stages are helpful, your gut will tell you how much they are ready to know. Most children from the age of two will have a sense of grief that comes with pet loss. While they may not be able to comprehend death as a permanent state until after the age of seven, you should be transparent and truthful.
Most of you can recall a story like Donovan’s: mom panicked and said the pet went to live on a farm. Children sense that this explanation is not plausible, which causes them confusion or perhaps more distress. Because they are learning about the permanence of death, they wonder why a part of the family was taken away. They also may link their actions to the pet’s removal from the house. Reassure your children they were not the cause of the pet’s death. For younger ages, provide enough information so they understand their friend was sick. With older children, give more details as necessary.
Children often react in ways that seem idiosyncratic or inappropriate, but this is especially true for teens. Some may act out or express anger in situations not directly related to the loss. Parents want them to confront their feelings directly by talking about the death. If your child is not ready, offering patience with their emotional ups and downs will better serve them. Refrain from having a timeframe for grief resolution.
Create a Memorial
Make your home an accepting environment for all respectful reactions to grief. Some children may accept death readily, having no reaction. For others, reactions may come at a later time. Involving your children in a memorial can help them find peace. Ask them to do something in memory of the pet, like make a collage together or pick out picture frames for a pet corner in your home. Invite them to write a letter to your pet saying goodbye as a way of helping them express their feelings.
Finally, when your family has suffered a pet loss, allow for extra time together. Going for a drive, taking a walk, or similar activities promote conversation naturally. Respond to their thoughts with validation, seeking to know more. If they choose to be silent, soak up the extra moments with your family, feeling gratitude for the time shared. A pet enters into your life for a few precious moments and teaches your children about unconditional love, but their lessons stay in your family’s heart forever.