Helping Your Child Develop a Plan for a Successful School Year

Helping Your Child Develop a Plan for a Successful School Year

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.

Transitioning Through Life

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.

How To Motivate Teenagers

by: Ryan Dawson, MA, LPC

If you are like many parents, you have at times experienced difficulty motivating your teen for school, chores, family outings, following simple instructions, being nice to their siblings, doing homework, limiting screen time, etc. It’s a fundamental parental question that baffles parents around the world: how to motivate teenagers who seem to have an agenda all their own?

Many parents come to my practice looking for support and someone that can get through to their child. However, in my experience working with adolescents for the past 20 plus years, any influence I have resides in my abilities to effectively utilize the same fundamentals that I recommend to these parents.

Spoiler alert– It is all about cultivating a consistent and positive relationship.

Validation. Let your kid know how amazing you believe they are. I have yet to meet a teen who has escaped the major identity transformation of adolescence without self-doubt. This can become a larger and persistent problem without proper support. Your son or daughter needs someone who consistently reminds them of their brilliance and believes in them. Even if they act like they are too cool to hear it, they are listening. Be prepared to not be appreciated for your cheerleading but know your words are being deposited in the bank of your childʼs resiliency.

Empathy. When negative things happen to your child as a result of poor life choices and strategies, be empathetic towards them. Even if they rebuffed your suggestions along the way, and you feel like reminding them of your sagacious advice, it isnʼt a good time to do that when they are hurting. Empathize with their pain and express sorrow instead of offering an, “I told you so.” Then, when they are ready to hear it, offer your guidance as a consultant. Remember how hard it was to feed apple sauce to a toddler who didnʼt want it? The same goes for advice to a set of ears which arenʼt ready to listen. In summary, always empathize before you educate.

Giving choices. Most humans strive to feel in control of their lives; teenagers included. Presenting acceptable choices or parameters to your child rather than trying to force them to follow your will, will give them a sense of empowerment, independence, and responsibility. Additionally, they are then less able to lay the blame on you if things donʼt work out the way they expected or, conversely, they get to feel the glory when it goes well.

Planting seeds. If you have a desire for your teen that involves how they spend their free time or what might be “good for them”, sometimes the indirect road is the one to travel. Plant idea seeds and let them germinate. Slowly help them to understand the value of your idea. Give it time to grow. Come back to water it with love and warmth and a gentle reminder if needed. Allow them to have control when to implement it (deadlines can be helpful) and let them know that if they choose this path you will be there, without judgment, ready to support them.

Emotional intelligence. This subject isnʼt often taught at schools. Therefore, helping your child to understand what they are feeling and how to deal with it is important. Life often creates internal distress. Unfortunately, happily-ever-after is just a fairy tale. There will be unexpected and unsettling twists and turns on the path of life. Teaching them that they can tolerate negative mood states and still move forward is key to increasing their willingness to try new things. Sometimes motivation looks like moving toward what is important even when we donʼt feel great on the inside.

Ryan Dawson is an expert on issues of teenage psychology. Contact him to learn more about how to motivate teenagers or to discuss your teen’s issues.