girl looking into camera

Helping Kids Thrive in Middle School or High School: Parenting through Opportunity and Challenge

girl looking into cameraSo much is changing all at once for teenagers—their bodies, feelings, brains, perspectives, identities, relationships with others, and more. During early adolescence most kids begin to spend more time with friends than with family. They can appear to reject their parents’ values, and seem not to need or want much by way of their parents’ time and attention.

Early adolescence (11-14) is a time of vulnerability and possibility, and whether they realize it or not, young people need their parents as much as they did as toddlers. Kids are moving toward independence, but parents still have an enormous role making sure they are safe, and increasing their chances of creating happily productive adult lives for themselves. Here are ten suggestions to help your teenager flourish:

  1. Be available. The transition to middle school or high school can be tricky, and your child may need more reassurance than usual. Be available to listen, spend time together, provide quietly invisible support, or actively engage in addressing his concerns.
  2. Establish and enforce reasonable guidelines. This is a period when your child’s ego is fragile. Treat her with respect and understanding, but also be ready to stay firm, and keep her safe if she goes off the rails.
  3. Yield control. You can avoid power struggles by allowing your tween or teenager to make as many decisions as possible. Unless you anticipate serious long-term consequences of an impending decision, provide guidance only as requested.
  4. Allow your child to suffer the natural consequences of his actions. This can be hard for parents, but is essential if you want him to grow into a responsible, competent, confident adult. For example, accept that he’ll fail a course if he doesn’t do his homework.
  5. Support her developing intelligences. Middle school is a time of rapidly changing, often confusing, and steadily escalating intellectual, social, emotional, and sexual demands. Encourage your teen to process her experiences with others, and help her make sense of what’s happening. Be alert to the possibility of bullying, whether online or in the real world.
  6. Help your child develop good coping strategies. Be honest about what works for you, and what doesn’t. Help your child identify when he’s feeling stressed, and chat about options he might find useful for dealing with his stressors.
  7. Make time for physical exercise and outdoor activities. Exercise and time outdoors are two of the most valuable tools for physical and psychological health. Encourage your young person to integrate these into her schedule.
  8. Support extracurricular interests. Whether it’s music, public speaking, volunteering in the community, athletics, or something else, pursuing an interest can provide excellent opportunities for developing competence and confidence.
  9. Help your child find balance. Be a positive role model, and support your child in establishing better habits concerning sleep, nutrition, recreational activities, and social media.
  10. Be a thoughtful advocate. The more your teenager can take on her own advocacy role, the better. Allow her to solve the problems she can, but be ready to work together to resolve troubling situations at school, home, or elsewhere.

We address all of these ideas in detail in Beyond Intelligence, Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids (House of Anansi, 2014), as well as in our blogs and published articles. See www.beyondintelligence.net

And for additional information:

Inside Your Teenager’s Scary Brain, by Tamsin McMahon (Maclean’s, January 4, 2015)

Age of Opportunity: Lessons Learned from the New Science of Adolescence, by Laurence Steinberg

The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, by Jessica Lahey

Kids Now  A Canadian organization offering extracurricular skill-building programs for students in middle schools.

girl with ipad

Make It a Happy Start to School: Our Top 10 Secrets

girl with ipadAs children think about starting back to school, they often have questions, and so do their parents. Here are some ideas that will ease your child’s return to the classroom at the end of the summer.

  1. Plan ahead for the basics. Make sure your child has what he needs for school success: the necessary supplies, a quiet place for homework, good sleeping and eating habits, and ample physical exercise.
  2. Listen and be observant. Know what’s happening in your child’s life. Listen carefully to her worries and concerns. Think about the highs, lows, and rollercoasters of previous years, and how they might have an impact this year.
  3. Nurture creativity. There are many ways you can foster your child’s curiosity, encourage his imagination, and support his critical thinking skills. (See Beyond Intelligence for ideas about how to do that.)
  4. Be reassuring. Provide the reassurance your child needs as the school year begins, as he encounters different academic challenges, and makes new friends. Help him learn to trust that (with your support) he can find his way through tough times.
  5. Make real-world connections. Your child will be more engaged in learning if she sees the relevance of what she’s being asked to do—that is, why it matters—to herself and to others.
  6. Encourage exploration. Look together for ways to expand your child’s world, whether it’s sports, reading genres, cultural activities, second and third languages, museum trips, or something else. Encourage him to ask questions, and to find answers from various sources, including people, books, online, or elsewhere.
  7. Support good work habits. Now is a great time to focus on building a strong foundation for learning, including organizational and time management skills, effort, and persistence. (And of course, the best way to teach these habits is to model them yourself!)
  8. Make time for play. Unstructured play is where children consolidate what they’re learning and discover what they’re interested in. Talk together about how to make sure there’s enough time for free play in your child’s schedule.
  9. Find a healthy balance. Kids need challenge, stimulation, and a broad range of physical activities and learning opportunities. They also need time for reflection and daydreaming, even if that means limiting their time with technology.
  10. Advocate as needed.Thoughtful advocacy can go a long way toward making good things happen at school. By building bridges with your child’s school, you can ensure that meetings with teachers and other professionals are as fruitful as possible.

We address all these ideas in more detail in Beyond Intelligence, Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids (House of Anansi, 2014), as well as on our blogs and in our published articles. For more, see www.beyondintelligence.net

boy who played with fusion Book-Jacket-copy-199x30

The Boy Genius and the Genius in All of Us A review of The Boy Who Played with Fusion, by Tom Clynes

boy who played with fusion Book-Jacket-copy-199x30In The Boy Who Played with Fusion, Tom Clynes tells a fascinating story about a boy’s pursuit of a passionate interest in nuclear physics, and draws some surprising conclusions about the nature and development of genius-level intelligence. Clynes considers the roles played not only by innate ability and environmental factors such as parenting, teaching, and mentoring, but also by temperament, motivation, culture, and politics.

The Boy Who Played with Fusion chronicles the remarkable childhood and adolescence of physics prodigy Taylor Wilson, now 21 years old. Taylor did his first enormously successful TED Talk at the age of 17, and has already investigated such arcane topics as magnetic confinement fusion, radioactivity, and gamma ray lasers. He has several inventions and patents under his belt, including a specialized particle accelerator that could revolutionize the production of diagnostic pharmaceuticals, at one-thirtieth the cost and one-tenth the floor space of conventional methods; and a portable neutron detector that promises to counter terrorism. He is a young superstar who has attracted attention from Nobel prizewinners, Barack Obama, and the media.

The Boy Who Played with Fusion is also a book about parenting and education in America today. Clynes raises important questions about the nature of genius, and how best to nurture its development. He concludes that parents are the most important catalysts of each child’s intellectual development. “The challenge is to find the outlet that best fits a person’s unique set of interests and characteristics,” he writes. “As a start, give kids lots of exposure to different experiences in their younger years, and pay attention to what they pick up on.” (p. 273) He recommends pulling kids out of school if that’s the best way to give them authentic learning experiences in areas of deep curiosity. He observes that attendance and grades are a lot less important than actual learning, especially in the early years.

Taylor Wilson thrived at the Davidson Academy for highly gifted learners, but his brother Joey, who scores higher than Taylor on intelligence tests, did not. After thinking about this, and talking to a number of gifted education experts, Clynes concluded that gifted education needs to be individualized; a one-size-fits-all gifted program can’t possibly work for everyone. Educators better serve children when they focus on (1) encouraging kids to discover and explore their values, goals, and interests; (2) helping kids develop talents into fulfilling careers that will provide a foundation for a happily productive life; and (3) encouraging the kind of intellectual risk-taking that moves a field’s or a society’s knowledge and practice forward. Specific educational approaches that worked for Taylor at Davidson that Clynes argues should be applied by all educators include individualized learning, targeted acceleration, dual enrolment (high school and university simultaneously), and the acceptance of every kind of diversity.

Amazingly for such an erudite subject, The Boy Who Played with Fusion is a pleasure to read. It’s beautifully written, in an intelligently thoughtful and accessible tone. Clynes enlivens challenging intellectual concepts with personal observations, concerns, and questions. Seamlessly, he weaves into the story informal conversations with all the players in Taylor Wilson’s story, as well as with a wide variety of educational and psychological researchers, including Carol Dweck, David Henry Feldman, Susan Cain, Ellen Winner, Scott Barry Kaufman, Joan Freeman, Barbara Kerr, Dean Keith Simonton,and David Lubinski, among many others. “Take your kids places,” writes Clynes, summarizing the extensive and growing body of evidence that suggests that a lasting capacity for creativity is enhanced by early exposure to unusual and diverse situations. “Early novel experiences play an important role in shapingthe healthy development of brain systems that are important for effective learning and self-regulation, in childhood and beyond.” (p. 75)

Although the subject of this book is extraordinary in many ways, Clynes’s attitude toward talent is not exclusive, elitist, or person-centered. He is aware of the confluence of circumstances required to nurture the development of giftedness and talent, and remarks that “the latest research suggests that nearly everyone has the capacity to achieve extraordinary performance in some mode of expression, if each can discover opportunities in a domain of expertise that allows his or her unique set of personal attributes to shine.” (p. xv)

Clynes makes it clear that talent development is not about money. As Taylor Wilson’s story illustrates, optimal child development experiences do not need to be expensive: “Whether we use it or not, we have the recipe…parents who are courageous enough to give their children wings and let them fly in the directions they choose; schools that support children as individuals; a society that understands the difference between elitism and individualizededucation and that addresses the needs of kids at all levels.” (p. 281)

The Boy Who Played with Fusion is an essential contribution to our understanding of the most important underlying questions about the development of giftedness, talent, creativity, and intelligence. It is urgently relevant to every parent, teacher, psychologist, educational administrator, and policy-maker who cares about children’s learning and about the future of our civilization.

For more:

The Boy Who Played with Fusion, by Tom Clynes

Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids, by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster 

Father Holding Daughter's Hand

Raising Happily Productive Kids in Every Kind of Family The Same Rules Apply Whether You’re Divorced, Single, Gay, or ‘Normal’


Father Holding Daughter's Hand The principles of wise parenting are timeless, and apply across all situations. What works to support children’s optimal development works, whether you’re raising your kids in a traditional family, in the midst of divorce, part of a gay couple, or doing anything else that doesn’t look like ‘Leave It to Beaver.’ Here are ten rules for raising happily productive kids, no matter what kind of family you’re creating.

Yes, alternative family compositions bring unique challenges. Families going through divorce are in a vulnerable and potentially volatile restructuring process. Single parents usually have fewer resources to help them through times of trouble. Gay parents can experience prejudice and criticism, and so can their kids. Adoption brings its own set of challenges. Raising kids across more than one culture or religion can be dicey. But lots of traditional families experience problems too. Abuse happens in every kind of family, as do alcoholism, mental illness, and economic pressures.

Family composition is less important to children’s long-term development than kindness, boundary-setting, and meaningful learning opportunities. A single mother or two gay fathers can provide everything a child needs to become a happily productive adult. Such parents need to find sources of emotional and social support, but so does every other parent, no matter the situation.

I’ll briefly describe some current research on three non-traditional family groupings. Then I’ll outline the ten basic rules for raising happily productive kids, rules that apply to all parents in all kinds of families.

Divorce and child development

As with other changes in a family’s structure, there are many possible effects of divorce on every aspect of a child’s development. Kids can become depressed, suicidal, or angry. They can become antisocial or excessively social. They can become mistrustful of close relationships, or hypersexual. Their grades might plummet, or the child might throw himself into schoolwork to the exclusion of everything else. Kids can develop eating disorders or any number of other psychological problems.

None of these effects is inevitable. In fact, the preponderance of current research shows that most children are beginning to function reasonably well within two years after their parents’ divorce. How the parents handle the divorce makes a big difference in how well children get through it, very much including the support the children get in navigating the inevitable period of disruption.

Divorce can actually bring benefits to children, especially those whose pre-divorce experience included fear, chaos, unpredictability, or abuse. Children can begin to thrive when one or both parents create home environments that are calmer and more dependable. Children who feel loved and supported through the divorce process and whose parents negotiate custody amicably can become more competent and capable. When one or both parents move on to create fulfilling lives for themselves, divorce can help children learn about coping with changes and setbacks in their own lives.

Single-parent families

It’s normal for single parents to experience a sense of overload at least some of the time. They struggle to find enough time, energy, and money to do everything that needs doing. Regardless of the financial situation, it can feel overwhelming when there’s no other adult with whom to share the joys and worries of parenting, as well as the daily tasks of life—shopping, cooking, reading bedtime stories, cleaning, taking kids to appointments, and all the rest of it.

Single parents do best when they develop networks of social support. Friends and relatives who care about the children can ease the burden, as well as providing alternative role models and adult confidants for the children.

Single parents need to pay attention to their own physical, intellectual, and social needs if they’re to do the best possible job with their kids. This is no more or less true for single parents than others, but it can be harder to make it happen when there’s just one adult trying to handle all the tasks of the household.

Same-sex parenting

Same-sex parenting has been controversial for some time, but as the research accumulates, it becomes increasingly clear that gay couples can raise kids just as well as other couples. Researchers at Columbia Law School have launched a project that pulls together all the peer-reviewed studies in this area. They’ve concluded that, in general, kids with gay parents do just as well as others.

Depending on where they live, the children of same-sex parents can experience social pressures that other kids don’t. They can be subject to bullying and prejudice similar to that experienced by mixed-race families in previous years (and in some communities still). There is an additional stressor placed on same-sex parents to ensure their kids feel safe, confident, and well-informed, but at the end of the day, the same factors that apply in situations of divorce, single parenting, and adoption apply in families where there are two parents of the same sex: love, support, and guidance make a much bigger difference than who’s doing the parenting.

Raising Happily Productive Kids: Ten Basic Rules that Apply in Every Kind of Family

  1. Practice loving attunement. Parents in non-traditional circumstances who realize the power of being present to their kids—patient, loving, engaged—are well on their way to overcoming any obstacles their family structure might entail. As frequently as you can through the day, make time to listen to your children, with love.
  2. Set and enforce dependable rules. Kids need reliable boundaries in order to feel safe. This is particularly important in alternative family situations where social and cultural norms don’t apply, and parents are tempted to break the rules in order to compensate for extra challenges they feel they’re imposing on their kids.
  3. Play. Free play nourishes children’s curiosity, self-awareness, and imagination. It also strengthens self-regulation, autonomy, decision-making, conflict resolution, and friendship skills.
  4. Hug a tree. Spending time in nature—even urban nature—reduces stress, increases optimism, improves health, stimulates the senses, frees the spirit, and enhances creativity. It also improves attention and focus, thereby increasing academic and other kinds of achievement.
  5. Discover enthusiasms. Help your kids engage in exploration and discovery activities in as many different areas as possible. Support them in developing their curiosities into passions.
  6. Daydream. The restful neural processing that occurs in daydreaming is essential to self-discovery and self-actualization. Busy kids need downtime in order to replenish their spirits and find their creative wellspring.
  7. Breathe. Mindful breathing helps kids manage stress, sleep soundly, and focus their attention. Mindful breathing helps them concentrate on tests and exams, and cope with challenging situations.
  8. Welcome setbacks. Teach your kids the importance of hard work, persistence, and patience. A growth mindset—welcoming setbacks as learning opportunities—leads to well-being and productivity in every area of life.
  9. Turn it off!  Most kids are spending way too much time on electronic devices. By limiting screen time, you’ll free up time for outdoor exploration, unstructured play, daydreaming, and self-discovery.
  10. Be grateful. People who actively appreciate what’s good in their lives feel better, happier, more energetic, more optimistic, and are more empathetic than those who feel entitled.

These ten parenting practices can help your children thrive, no matter your family structure. Temperament and other personality factors can also contribute to how well an individual child manages alternative parenting situations. Those with growth mindsets and positive attitudes to problem-solving do better at coping than those with fixed mindsets or dependent personalities. And those who seek and receive social support are more resilient than those who feel they can sort out their own problems.

If you follow these ten basic rules, you’re supporting your kids in making happily productive lives for themselves, both now and in the future.

For more on these ideas:

 Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids, by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster

‘Optimal Development across the Life Span,’ by Dona Matthews in The Creativity Post

‘26 Simple Gifts to Last Forever: An Alphabet List of Inexpensive Holiday Treasures for Children,’ by Dona Matthews

‘Play, Run, Skip: Physically active children are smarter, happier, and healthier,’ by Dona Matthews 

‘Ode to Positive Constructive Daydreaming,’ by Rebecca McMillan, Jerome Singer, and Scott Barry Kaufman)

The Science of Raising Happily Productive Kids,’ a podcast with Dona Matthews, by Scott Barry Kaufman

Is Divorce Bad for Children?Hal Arkowitz and Scott O. Lilienfeld Scientific American

‘The Challenges of Single Parenthood,’ Healthy Children

‘Single Parenting and Today’s Family,’ American Psychological Association Help Center

 ‘Single Parent? Tips for Raising a Child Alone,’ by Mayo Clinic Staff

‘What We Know—Really—About Lesbian and Gay Parenting,’ by Nathaniel Frank

‘What Does the Scholarly Research Say about the Wellbeing of Children with Gay or Lesbian Parents?’ by the Public Policy Portal of the Columbia University Law School

 

girl at window

Ten Steps toward Parenting for Happy Productivity Forget the résumé: Focus on self-actualization and legacy virtues instead

girl at windowAccomplishment, achievement, and recognition are good goals for our children, but being loving and happily productive on one’s own terms are better. For my children and grandchildren, what delights me more than any prizes the world might offer is a confident integrity; a radiant inner light; a life lived with love, kindness, courage, happy productivity, and appreciation.

David Brooks recently wrote a column in the New York Times called ‘A Moral Bucket List.’ In it, he distinguished between résumé virtues and eulogy virtues: ‘The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?’

Brooks goes on to write that although most of us see the eulogy virtues as more important than the résumé virtues, it is the latter—the attributes that bring wealth, status, recognition, and success in worldly terms—that we put the heaviest focus on through our culture and education. Kids are given more support for developing the skills and strategies they need for getting into top universities and making lots of money than for establishing the character strengths that lead to a life of happy productivity, love, and fulfilment, the kind of life that creates a meaningful legacy.

What can parents do who want their children to radiate the inner light that’s a symptom of self-actualization and the legacy virtues?

  1. Slow down enough to be loving and attuned. Too often, parents’ patience gets lost in the flurry of their busy lives, but loving attunement is the most powerful tool they have for supporting happy productivity across the life span. As frequently as you can through the day, make time to listen to your children, with love.
  2. Ensure ample time for free unstructured play. Free play—invented and managed by kids, both solo and with other kids—enables children to nourish their curiosity, self-awareness, and imagination. It also strengthens their self-regulation, autonomy, decision-making, conflict resolution, and friendship skills.
  3. Spend time outdoors. A daily dose of outdoor time—preferably in natural settings—reduces stress, increases optimism, improves health, stimulates the senses, frees the spirit, and enhances creativity. By improving attention and focus, it also increases academic and other kinds of achievement.
  4. Help kids find their passions. Provide opportunities for exploration and discovery in the arts, the sciences, architecture, gardening, and more, as widely as possible. Support your children in developing their curiosities into passions.
  5. Welcome daydreaming, do-nothing times, and boredom. The restful neural processing that occurs in daydreaming is essential to self-discovery and self-actualization. Busy kids need downtime in order to replenish their spirits and find their creative wellspring.
  6. Teach your kids to breathe. Kids who learn mindful breathing techniques are better able to manage their stress, sleep soundly, and focus their attention on cognitive, emotional, and physical activities. They can concentrate better on tests and exams, and cope better with challenging situations.
  7. Model a growth mindset. Reinforce your children’s awareness that abilities develop step by step, with hard work, persistence, and patience. Holding a growth mindset—including realizing that intelligence and creativity develop incrementally, and welcoming setbacks as learning opportunities—leads to higher measures of well-being in every area of life.
  8. Limit screen time. Yes, there is a time and place for electronic devices, but most kids are spending way too much time on them. By limiting screen time, you’ll free up time for outdoor exploration, unstructured play, daydreaming, and self-discovery.
  9. Restrict homework and other structured activities. Yes, it’s important to support kids’ interests and abilities, but somewhat counter-intuitively, play and downtime are more important for happy productivity across the life span than more hours of homework, extracurricular lessons, organized sports, practice, and other good things.
  10. Say thank you. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. It’s the opposite of entitlement, and people who actively appreciate what’s good in their lives experience higher levels of well-being, happiness, energy, optimism, empathy, and popularity.

In the end, parenting for self-actualization is probably all about balance. The first step—loving attunement—is the most important, and should come before everything else. After that, you can start with any one of the remaining nine steps, take it where it goes, and then try another. The ultimate goal is to integrate all of them into your children’s lives, in balance.

For more on these ideas:

‘The Moral Bucket List,’ by David Brooks 

‘Optimal Development across the Life Span,’ Dona Matthews’ blog in The Creativity Post http://www.creativitypost.com/authors/list/162/dmatthews

 ’26 Simple Gifts to Last Forever: An Alphabet List of Inexpensive Holiday Treasures for Children,’ by Dona Matthews

‘Play, Run, Skip: Physically active children are smarter, happier, and healthier,’ by Dona Matthews

‘Ode to Positive Constructive Daydreaming,’ by Rebecca McMillan, Jerome Singer, and Scott Barry Kaufman 

Scott Barry Kaufman interviewed me recently for a podcast in his series for Scientific American called ‘Beautiful Minds,’ where he explores intelligence, creativity, and the mind. We talked in some detail about the science of raising happily productive kids

In Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids, Joanne Foster and I consider most of these ideas in more detail: www.beyondintelligence.net

 

Photo by Aikawa Ke, Creative Commons, Flickr

Four Ways To Help Kids Address Their Mess (With Less Stress!)

boy with arms crossedWhen kids’ clutter gets out of hand, what can parents do, and what should they say?

Kids often CAN but WON’T do things – like tidying up their rooms– and often CAN and DO come up with reasonable explanations for avoiding tasks. Perhaps they’re taking their time weighing options, or planning, or reflecting on the process. Or maybe they’re overwhelmed or uncertain where or how to begin.
Here are four ways kids may justify their actions (or inaction), when it comes to cleaning up their clutter, along with some suggestions and reasoning for parents who aren’t quite sure how to respond.

Example #1:

Child: “My room is a mess but I LIKE it like that.”

Response: “Okay. YOU have to live in it. Please make sure there are no crawling things, or health hazards, and that your mess doesn’t filter through the house where the rest of us are.”

Reasoning: Kids have to learn consequences—sooner or later. If your child can’t find clean clothes to wear, or the bedroom floor is getting crusty, or the bed feels and smells more like a dump than a place of rest, then he’ll probably eventually start thinking about clean up possibilities. Offer to provide what’s necessary, like garbage bags, organizing bins, cleansers, air freshener, a laundry hamper, and so on – and maybe a hand if you’re so inclined. (As in assistance, and perhaps applause.) Don’t admonish. Do encourage. (For more on consequences and how to ensure that they’re reasonable, see the related article listed below by parenting coach Marcilie Smith Boyle.)

Example #2:

Child: “I can’t tidy my room because I’m busy. I’ve too many other things to do..”

Response: “It’s great that you’re taking on responsibility. What ONE clean up activity can you add to your list of things to do today please?”

Reasoning: Don’t push too hard to get everything straightened up all at once. One step at a time will create progress. It helps if tasks seem manageable, and aren’t too tedious. Reinforce effort that your child does put forth. And, remember to use the words “please’ and “thank you.” They can be impactful. Positive outcomes don’t just happen, they come about as a result of action and accountability—starting out with a single proactive contribution or step in the right direction, which can lead to feelings of accomplishment, and the impetus to harness momentum.

Example #3:

Child: “I’ll clean up my room when I feel like it, not because YOU order me to.”

Response: “I’m not ordering. I’m not scolding. I’m suggesting. It’s your room, your choice. But maybe we can chat?”

Reasoning: Don’t get drawn into a confrontation or power struggle. It’s counter-productive. De-escalate tension and finger-pointing by staying calm and trying to appeal to reason. Nobody likes to be ordered about, and your child may feel you’re being too demanding. You can talk about that. But keep it short and to the point. For example, you might say you don’t want to be unreasonable, you simply prefer to live in a home that’s relatively neat, and would like that to be respected, in the same way that you respect your child’s preference for certain foods, clothes, and extracurricular activities. If a calm candid chat doesn’t work then you may have to settle for a clean house with one messy room for a while. Take a deep breath and close the door.

Example #4:

Child: “Your desk is not so tidy. I shouldn’t have to straighten up my mess if you don’t clean up yours!”

Response: “You’re right. I’ll try and deal with it. Let’s each set aside some time to tackle our spaces, then maybe we can do something fun together during a break.”

Reasoning: Kids look to their parents to set an example, and you can’t expect them to be neat if they see you’re sloppy or take little pride in your own living or work space. It may seem like they’re being oppositional, but be honest with yourself—is there truth to their claim? When parents demonstrate a willingness to improve their own organization skills and efficiency, it can turn a negatively charged situation into a productive one. And, offering to do something enjoyable together works as incentive and provides opportunity to spend quality time with one another.

For more reasons why kids put things off, and what to do about it, see Not Now, Maybe Later: Helping Children Overcome Procrastination (Great Potential Press, 2015). You’ll find over 250 suggestions for parents. And, here are links to a few more articles that relate to the reasoning I’ve suggested here.

Related Articles:

 – Struggling To Come Up With “The Right” Consequences? Try This! by Marciie Smith Boyle

http://workingparenting.com/struggling-right-consequences-try-this/

 – What I Did When My Children Refused To Make Their Beds: Choosing My Battles by Sara Dimerman

http://www.yummymummyclub.ca/family/kids/what-i-did-when-my-children-refused-to-make-their-beds#sthash.3R8rHjV7.dpuf

 – Get Those Kids To Pitch In! Tips To Get Some Kid Help by Elizabeth Sturm Hanatuke

http://www.yummymummyclub.ca/home/inside-your-home/get-those-kids-to-pitch-in#sthash.zqe3VTuE.dpuf-

 – Clean Bedrooms—It Can Happen At Your House – Amy McCready’s Positive Parenting Solutions

http://www.positiveparentingsolutions.com/parenting/clean-bedrooms-it-can-happen-at-your-house#more-16286

– Encouraging Children to Participate in Household Chores by Ariadne Brill, Positive Parenting Connection

http://www.positiveparentingconnection.net/encouraging-children-to-participate-in-household-chores/

 

By Joanne Foster, EdD.

Joanne Foster is coauthor (with Dona Mathews) of Being Smart about Gifted Education, 2nd Edition (Great Potential Press, 2009) and Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids (Anansi Press, 2014). Dr. Foster also wrote Not Now, Maybe Later: Helping Children Overcome Procrastination (Great Potential Press, 2015).

http://www.beyondintelligence.net

joanne.foster@utoronto.ca

http://www.facebook.com/notnowmaybelaterbook   not-now-maybe-later-cover-book-page

 

child building

Young Children and Game-Playing: Ten Suggestions for Parents and Care-Givers

child building

Kids lead very busy lives. There are so many books to read, places to go, people to see, things to do, and games to play.

Games help to fuel children’s creativity–and vice versa.

Here are ten suggestions for parents, babysitters, camp counsellors, and other care-givers to consider when thinking about games for young children:

  1. Keep it safe. Children should feel comfortable within their environment. A safe and properly supervised setting is necessary for free-spirited play, and also allows adults to step back a bit and let children work things out for themselves—and then feel a sense of accomplishment.
  2. Encourage both independent play as well as interaction. Sometimes kids like to be on their own. However, connecting with others can lead to wonderful opportunities for learning and discovery, help children develop relationships, and give them a chance to practice important skills like sharing, listening, and taking turns.
  3. Make it fun. Don’t be fussy. Get creative! Involve the senses. Let play be unstructured, and if possible take the activity outdoors so everyone gets some fresh air.
  4. Boredom is okay. It lets children figure out what they want to do next, and what interests them. Don’t feel you have to fill a child’s every waking moment with activities.
  5. Keep a bin with lots of stuff handy. Arts and crafts supplies, dress up clothes, boxes, blocks, books, and what ever else might capture children’s imaginations and enable them to create their own games.
  6. Give children time and space. Don’t pressure children into adhering to time frames that short-circuit their game-playing. When it’s time to wrap things up reassure them that they can still continue whatever they’re doing another time.
  7. Respect children’s preferences. If they’re not interested in a particular game, set it aside. Don’t force kids to play a certain game just because you like it. Perhaps it will be more appealing another day. Talk together about other options.
  8. Make it developmentally appropriate. That is, not too simple as to be a drag, and not too complicated as to be overly challenging or to cause consternation. However, it’s okay if kids confront setbacks along the way because that’s how they learn resilience. Even the simplest board games are designed to show children that they can recoup if they hit a snag or move in the wrong direction.
  9. It’s not about winning. It’s about the pleasure of participating in something that is enjoyable, and potentially a learning experience.
  10. Cultivate curiosity. Harness spontaneity, including seizing the moment and trying something different or innovative, and let children take the lead and show what they’d like to do. For example, it may be something technological (fine in moderation) or something totally silly, or cerebral, or artsy, or low-key, or somewhat rough-and-tumble.

Above all, be supportive—of children’s choices, interests, abilities, and creative impulses.

For more information see Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive  Kids by Dona Matthews, PhD and Joanne Foster, EdD (House of Anansi, 2014) and visit www.beyondintelligence.net.

Links to related articles that focus on play and child development:

Help Children Develop Their Talents and Creativity Via Play – by Dona Matthews

http://expertbeacon.com/help-children-develop-their-talents-and-creativity-play/#.VMTxlt77V-V

Six Ways to Protect Our Child’s Play Time – by Andrea Nair

http://www.yummymummyclub.ca/blogs/andrea-nair-button-pushing/20140305/protecting-our-childs-playtime

Stressed Out in America: Five Reasons to Let Your Kids Play – by Katie Hurley

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/katie-hurley/stressed-out-in-america-5-reasons-to-let-your-kids-play_b_4869863.html

 

 

 

 

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For Smarter, Happier, Healthier Kids, Keep Moving! Eighteen Reasons to Ensure Your Kids Participate in Regular Frequent Activity

Child_swingingChildren who are physically active do better than others on virtually all developmental measures. They’re not only healthier, stronger, and more resilient to illness, but they’re also happier, more confident, more academically successful, and more creative than others. They sleep better, feel better about themselves, and become healthier adults.

Kids of all ages need frequent daily opportunities for physical exercise. Too many kids are spending too much of their time on screens or sitting at their desks, and not participating in the activity their growing minds and bodies need.

In a review of the research on young children and exercise, Brian Timmons at McMaster University and his colleagues concluded that frequent regular exercise is associated not only with better physical outcomes—motor skills, cardiometabolic health, body fat, bone health, etc.—but also higher scores on measures of psychological, social, and cognitive development.

In international comparisons of educational outcomes, Finnish students do exceptionally well compared to others in spite of the fact that they don’t start their academic education until the age of seven, and their school days are less than six hours long. One of the most potent success factors appears to be that they allocate fifteen minutes out of every hour to unstructured outdoor play, or recess.

Why is that? Here are eighteen evidence-based reasons that kids who are physically active do better than other kids on pretty much every measure of development—social, emotional, cognitive, academic, and physical. 

Eighteen Reasons to Ensure Your Kids Keep Moving

  1. Concentration, focus, attention. Exercise increases the flow of blood to the brain, delivering the oxygen and glucose required for keen concentration and focus.
  2. Memory, accuracy, and reaction time. When kids are active, their short-term memory and reaction time improve. Those with higher aerobic fitness are able to complete challenging cognitive tasks faster and more accurately.
  3. Academic achievement. Exercise stimulates brain cells to grow, branch out, and connect with each other, resulting in a greater openness to learning and capacity for knowledge.
  4. Creativity. Kids who exercise frequently have greater cognitive flexibility, the ability to shift thinking and produce creative, original thoughts.
  5. Strength, flexibility, and endurance. Kids need to exercise regularly in order to become strong, flexible, and resilient.
  6. Sleep. Children sleep better if they get at least thirty minutes of exercise a day.
  7. Weight. Kids who are sedentary tend to consume more caloriesthan they burn, resulting in extra weight. Active kids are more likely to maintain a healthy weight.
  8. Bone health. Just like muscles, bones grow stronger when physically stressed.
  9. Motor skill development. It’s only by moving that kids’ muscles and gross motor skills can develop.
  10. Heart health. Like all muscles, the heart is strengthened and its functioning improves through exercise. Exercise also helps to lower blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart problems later.
  11. Stress. Exercise increases norepinephrine and endorphins, reducing stress and enhancing mood.
  12. Energy. Regular exercise makes people feel more energetic.
  13. Diabetes. Exercise prevents sugar from accumulating in the blood by triggering muscles to take up more glucose from the bloodstream and use it for energy.
  14. Immune system. Frequent regular exercise improves the body’s ability to get rid of toxins and fight disease. Fit kids are less prone to colds, allergies, and many kinds of disease, including cancer.
  15. Confidence and self-esteem. Exercise improves children’s sense of well-being and their appearance, both of which contribute to confidence and self-esteem.
  16. Social skills. Kids who get frequent daily breaks learn how to cooperate, communicate, and compromise.
  17. Emotional well-being. Children feel calmer and happier when they’re getting frequent regular exercise. There are many reasons for this, including the first 16 reasons on this list. Additionally, though, exercise stimulates beta-endorphins and serotonin, which are associated with feelings of well-being.
  18. Health and happiness across the life span. Kids who get into the exercise habit early are a lot more likely to stay fit across their lifetimes.

It’s never too late to get moving. Studies of previously sedentary children who participated in increased levels of physical activity showed improved functioning in all these ways. Fifteen minutes of playtime every hour gives kids’ brains a chance to reboot, so they come back to their studies fresh and ready to focus.

For the research behind the reasons:

Systematic Review of Physical Activity and Health in the Early Years, by Brian W. Timmons and colleagues

How Finland Keeps Kids Focused through Free Play, by Tim Walker 

Kids and Exercise, by Kids Health 

The American Heart Association’s Recommendations for Physical Activity in Children, by the AHA

The Benefit of Exercise on Your Kid’s Brain, by Raise Smart Kid

Exercise for Children: The Cognitive Benefits, by Gwen Dewar 

Ten Benefits of Physical Activity, by Jane Forester

How Exercise Benefits Your Whole Body, by WebMD 

Five Ways Exercise Affects Sleep, by Cleveland Clinic’s Brain and Spine Team

For more ideas like this, see Beyond Intelligence, Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Ten Strategies to Help Kids Who Procrastinate

not-now-maybe-later-cover-home

Many very capable children procrastinate. They may choose not to do chores or homework or clean up their rooms, or they may avoid something else altogether. It’s not that they can’t—it’s that they won’t. And it can drive parents crazy.
In Not Now, Maybe Later: Helping Children Overcome Procrastination, I discuss reasons why children put things off, what parents and teachers can do about it, and how they can help children and teens develop a sense of industry. Of course, every person is unique, and every set of circumstances is different. However, as a starting point to helping kids get down to business at home or at school, here are ten strategies to try. (And, many of these can be adapted to apply to adult procrastinators, too!)

1. Keep goals manageable, meaningful, and attainable. Clarify expectations, and celebrate small achievements. Finding pleasure in reaching goals can be motivating, leading to fulfillment, excitement, and pride.
2. Talk with (not to) children about why effort is gratifying. For example, it’s instrumental in building strengths. Encourage kids to reflect upon how they feel when they’re successful, and how they can apply their know-how next time they confront a challenge.
3. Teach kids about a growth mindset. Help them appreciate that accomplishment is a step-by-step process that demands time, perseverance, and resilience. Model this pathway to productivity in your own daily life.
4. Encourage children to plan ahead. For instance, they can list the steps involved in what they’re going to do, gauge how much time they’ll need, and acquire in advance whatever materials they might need. They can also try to anticipate obstacles in order to be better prepared to deal with them.
5. Reinforce children’s attempts to overcome their procrastination tendencies. Focus on the initiative and the process, not on the end result. The best kind of feedback is genuine, direct, constructive, and immediate.
6. Offer assistance as necessary. This might be at the outset of a task (when kids may first procrastinate), part way through (if they slow down), or toward the end (when they may need a little boost).
7. Rely on routines. They can be calming. Routines help a person feel organized and in control of what’s happening, and able to set a suitable pace. Strive for balance by leaving ample opportunity for breaks, relaxation, exercise, and play.
8. Help children and teens recognize their capabilities and limitations. Be attuned to their successes and their concerns. Help them develop good study habits and time management skills, and to recognize times of day when they work best—when they’re most energetic, and less likely to be interrupted or distracted.
9. Pick your battles. Not all procrastination is bad, and not all tasks are pressing. Be circumspect about what to ignore, and when to be patient. Don’t get caught up in power struggles. Sometimes kids just have to face the consequences of their actions—or inaction.
10. Sorry is not a strategy. Apologies for recurring procrastination quickly wear thin. Being repentant is best indicated by specific action that remedies the situation. Convey confidence in children’s abilities.
For more ideas about how to understand, manage, and prevent procrastination tendencies see Not Now, Maybe Later: Helping Children Overcome Procrastination (Great Potential Press, Jan. 2015).

http://www.beyondintelligence.net/books/not-now-maybe-later/

http://www.greatpotentialpress.com/not-now-maybe-later-helping-children-overcome-procrastination

 

Books by Dona Matthews, PhD and Joanne Foster, EdD:

Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids (House of Anansi Press, 2014)

Being Smart about Gifted Education, 2nd Edition (Great Potential Press, 2009)

Website – www.beyondintelligence.net

 

26 Simple Gifts to Last Forever

26 Simple Gifts to Last Forever An Alphabet List of Inexpensive Holiday Treasures for Children

26 Simple Gifts to Last Forever

26 Simple Gifts to Last Forever

Simple inexpensive gifts can form the memories that will nourish your child when you’re not with her to remind her of your love. Companionable walks through a wintry wood, car rides singing together at the top of your lungs, laughter shared when everyone’s being silly, these are the treasures she’ll take with her through times of happiness and times of trouble, long after she’s grown up and started a family of her own.

Here’s an alphabet full of ideas for simple holiday treasures that won’t cost much money, but just might last a lifetime:

  1. Appreciation poster. Using words or pictures or objects, make a poster that shows how you appreciate your child: his contributions to the family, his enthusiasms, his questions, his own special ways of thinking and being.
  2. Books. My favourite childhood gift was the well-chosen book I could curl up with. Whether fact or fiction, biography or mystery, travel or adventure, think about how your child might enjoy having her world expanded, and find a book to do that.
  3. Compassion. The holidays are a wonderful time to share with others who might not have so much. Make time with your child for compassionate actions, and help him experience the spirit of the season.
  4. Dance. Take a few minutes every day through the holidays for a happy dance. You might feel silly and self-conscious to begin with, but your daily happy dance will soon feel as great for you as it does for your child.
  5. Enthusiasm. Think about what fills you with enthusiasm, whether it’s cooking, watching movies, or writing a book. Share that with your child. Talk with her about your enthusiasms and hers.
  6. Forgiveness. There’s no parent or child who doesn’t mess up sometimes. This holiday season, clear out any misdeeds or disappointments that have been building up, both yours and your child’s. Ask for and grant forgiveness as needed.
  7. Gratitude. Help your child put the emphasis on all the good things he already has, rather than all the things he wants. Find and express an attitude of gratitude inside yourself, and encourage that in your child.
  8. Health. At this time of excess, remember to pay extra attention to your own health and to your child’s. Try to make time for enough sleep, nutritious food, and outdoor play.
  9. Imagination. Include your child in designing and creating low-cost gifts for family members and friends. She’ll feel much happier with the gifts she gives, and learn something about true value.
  10. Joy. Look for the joy in your life and in the world around you. Express that out loud. Help your child feel the warmth that fills a person up when she smiles from the heart.
  11. Kindness. At a rough point in my family’s life, I asked my young daughter to perform a daily mitzvah, a random act of kindness with no hope of personal gain. It was transformative, and shifted her attitude from entitlement to appreciation.
  12. Laughter. Just as good for you as a daily dose of Vitamin C, try to ensure a daily dose of laughter. At the end of the day, ask your child if he’s laughed enough yet, and work together to make sure you’ve both met your quota.
  13. Music. Music can enrich a life in so many ways. Think about a musical instrument, some music lessons, sheet music, or CDs, depending on your child’s age and interest. And be sure to include music in your holiday activities, too.
  14. Nature. Consider giving your child the gift of nature, perhaps in the form of a weekly outdoor experience you enjoy together. Discuss possibilities like a walk in a nearby woods, a hike on a trail, or building a birdhouse together.
  15. Optimism. Talk to your child about what she can look forward to and work toward over the coming year. Help her find ways to develop her strengths and believe in herself.
  16. Patience. Patience is a gift in the morning when everyone’s getting ready for the day, and all day long with your child’s attempts to master things for himself, even if you could do it so much faster.
  17.  Quiet Times. Especially important at this busy time of year, your child and you both need quiet do-nothing times for contemplation, reflection, and recharging your batteries. Talk about how you can give each other this gift.
  18. Resourcefulness. You might make resourcefulness a family challenge this year, looking for ways to be both economical and environmentally friendly. With decorations, food, and gifts, think about ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
  19. Slow it down! Doing things more slowly will calm you down and help you breathe. And somewhat counter-intuitively, it will also help you realize you have all the time you need to do what needs to be done.
  20. Time. Keep your schedule as flexible as you can, so you’re free to go skating with your child, take him to a movie, play Monopoly, or make popcorn and watch TV together.
  21. Understanding. Work actively to listen to your child, to attune to his moods, needs, feelings, and ideas. Do what you can to understand who he is, and celebrate that without trying to change him.
  22. Vitality. Don’t hold back on your vitality. Spend all your energy on your child each day. It will renew itself tomorrow, and each today will be vibrant.
  23. Wonder. Celebrate your child’s sense of wonder, and cultivate your own. Take time to savour the sound that snow makes on a crisp winter day, the taste of golden raisins, the lengthening sunshine that follows the darkening gloom of the winter solstice.
  24. eXcitement. Cherish your child’s excitement every day, and especially at this time of year. Try to find your own spirit of seasonal excitement too.
  25. Yesterday. Take time to affirm your family’s traditions. Talk about the people no longer present, the sweet and funny things your child did when she was younger, and your own childhood holiday memories.
  26. Zest. No matter how exhausted you are, try to find some zest to flavour the memories your child will take into her adulthood.

And finally, if you’re looking for a gift for a parent on your list, think about Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids. In this book that I wrote with Joanne Foster, we talk about these ideas and lots more secrets for raising kids who grow up into happily productive adults:

For more:

How to Stress-Proof Your Parenting for a Happy Holiday Season, by Ariadne Brill 

‘Children, Gifts, and Holidays,’ by Dona Matthews 

Finding the Wonder in the Ordinary, by Dona Matthews 

 Music by Raffi