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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.

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Intelligence, IQ, Tests, and Assessments: What Do Parents Need to Know? What Should They Tell Their Kids?

child-studyingWhat is intelligence? Do IQ tests measure it? What can parents expect by way of results and interpretation? What should parents tell their kids about the results?  How do test results help in deciding on an educational program? These are some of the thorny questions parents ask us about testing and their kids.

It’s a complicated and important topic that we’ve written an article about, published in the September 2014 issue of Parenting for High Potential. You can find the article here: Intelligence, IQ, Tests, and Assessments.

Here are a few of the fundamentals:

Intelligence develops step by step with the right kinds of supports and opportunities to learn. High-level abilities develop when children engage meaningfully in various forms of reasoning and a range of learning experiences, confronting challenges, overcoming obstacles, and developing resilience along the way. Parents can encourage their children’s interests and nurture their creativity and critical thinking. Parents can also help kids build their skills by modeling patience, persistence, and hard work in their own pursuits.

IQ tests have limitations. There are many reasons for test scores to underestimate a person’s abilities, including illness, test anxiety, language barriers, and lots more. Because intelligence tests include only a narrow range of abilities and are limited in many other ways, and because intelligence changes over time with learning opportunities, motivation, and effort, IQ scores are not accurate predictors of anyone’s future success. These scores can provide information about a child’s learning needs at a given point in time, but any comprehensive understanding of a person’s capacities should rest on careful consideration of other sources of information as well. These include observations, reports, and portfolios of completed assignments in different subject areas.

What should parents tell their child about test results? Parents who realize the limitations and temporary nature of test results can be honest with their child. They can provide as much information as the child is interested in, including test scores, as long as they make it clear that the scores are indicators of the way the child answered a bunch of questions in a certain circumstance on a given day, and are subject to change. Parents should emphasize practical implications, rather than numbers, saying things like ‘Your science scores weren’t as good as your language reasoning scores. Maybe we can find science stuff you’d like to learn about.’

“Now what?” When assessment results are thoughtfully interpreted by a professional, they can provide useful information for educational decision-making. They can inform parents about their child’s strengths and weaknesses, indicate practical implications for instruction and learning, and suggest available options. Well-informed parents can make better decisions for and with their child.

 

To discover more about testing—including types of tests, when to test, how to interpret test results, and how to make wise decisions for your kids—check out our recent book, Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids, and additional resources at www.beyondintelligence.net.

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Beyond Intelligence for Book Clubs and Discussion Groups

front cover1Beyond Intelligence works well for different kinds of book clubs and discussion groups. For example, Oscar Peterson Public School in Mississauga is running a series of lunchtime meetings around the book. Toby Molouba, who coordinates this group of teachers, tells us their meetings are generating enthusiasm and stimulating lots of discussion in the community. You’ll see below an adapted version of their schedule of meetings.

We are happy to help you create a plan for your own group, whether you have more or fewer meetings, or different interests. You can invite us to attend one of your sessions—if at all possible, one of us will try to be there!

Beyond Intelligence also makes a great gift for the parents on your list. If you act quickly (December 8), you’ll be able to catch the flash half-price sale at House of Anansi: http://houseofanansi.com/

Read more

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An Interview about Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids

front coverIn an article posted on June 21 at www.educationnews.org, Michael Shaughnessy interviewed Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster about Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids. He asked some tough questions, including what parents’ responsibilities are for nurturing their children’s creativity and intelligence, what parents can do to reduce kids’ stress around standardized testing, and whether parents (or teachers) should be responsible for kids’ developing social skills.

You can see the interview posted here: http://www.educationviews.org/interview-dona-matthews-joanne-foster/

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The Challenge of Giftedness/LD: Frustration, Creativity, and Resilience

gifted/LDThe most frustrated kids I know fit the giftedness/LD profile. They have exceptionally advanced abilities in some areas (aka, ‘giftedness’) and problems in other areas (aka, ‘learning disabled,’ or ‘LD’).

It can take a long time before parents and teachers figure out the giftedness/LD situation, if they ever do. By then, too often, the child hates school, and is deeply unhappy. Her self-esteem is non-existent, she’s having trouble making friends, she feels like nothing’s good in her life. She’s on track for leaving school as quickly as she can, and she may or may not find career fulfilment. Read more

secrets of successful schools

Secrets of Successful Schools: Positive Culture, Strong Teachers, Family Links

secrets of successful schools

The secrets of successful schools have nothing to do with money. Some of the best schools around the world are in poor communities and poor countries. Findings from international research show that a school’s ability to teach its students well doesn’t depend on how much money is spent. Nor does a school’s success depend on the socioeconomic status of the students’ families or communities. Read more

Grit + Social Support = Success

The idea of ‘grit’ is being talked about a lot these days, inspired in big part by Paul Tough’s book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Power of Character. I agree that grit is too often ignored and that it’s hugely important–but it’s also important to remember that grit rarely leads to success unless it’s accompanied by some help and support along the way.

In this article, ‘Success comes from grit–and plenty of helping hands along the way’, Emily Hanford talks about the importance of social success in overcoming the challenges of poverty. Studying graduates of the YES Prep charter school network in Houston (founded in order to help poor and minority kids graduate from college), she wrote, ‘YES data shows that the students most likely to complete college go to schools where there are good support services and often a concerted effort to encourage and retain poor and minority students.’

http://www.edsource.org/today/2012/success-comes-from-grit-and-plenty-of-helping-hands-along-the-way/21768#.UIaYBsXR6uJ

Thank you to Annie Murphy Paul for posting this article on her blog.

Playtime! Possibly the Best Learning of All

February 22, 2012

Children need more unstructured playtime in their lives. They need time enough to get bored. If they’re going to learn and grow and achieve as much as they can in the long run, they need ample opportunities to develop their self-regulation, imagination, self-awareness, and other important life skills.

Over the past few decades, playtime has become more about things—toys, educational puzzles, electronic games, etc.—than about imagination and activities that children invent for themselves. It’s also become a lot more adult-directed, with an eye on academic learning and productive use of children’s time, a lot less child-directed and apparently aimless. Instead of being filled with spontaneous improvisation and discovery, children’s time is increasingly being scheduled by adults and gobbled up by electronic devices.

While many parents think that an increased focus on the productive use of their children’s time will give their kids a leg up in the competitions to get into the best preschools, schools, and—eventually—colleges and universities, there is increasing evidence that it does the opposite. By robbing kids of ample time for imagination, exploration, and collaborative invention, we are taking away essential opportunities for them to develop the skills prerequisite to real achievement and fulfillment over time.

Self-regulation skills include managing and controlling one’s feelings, moods, behaviour, and intellectual focus. Like self-regulation, collaboration skills and self-awareness are key components of emotional intelligence, which is a much better predictor of academic, career, and other kinds of success than IQ or other intellectual or academic ability scores.

Kids who spend good chunks of their time building forts, playing house, or constructing narratives of pirates, paupers, cowboys, and circus clowns are more likely to take ownership of their own learning and their own environments. Interestingly, they’re also more likely to co-operate independently in cleaning up after a free-choice period in preschool. In an interview on National Public Radio in the USA, child development expert Laura Berk reported, ‘Children who are most effective at complex make-believe play take on that [clean-up] responsibility with greater willingness, and even will assist others in doing so without teacher prompting.’ (To see the complete article, go to http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=19212514)

Although it may look like they’re wasting time or doing nothing much at all, kids involved in imaginative play may be investing their time as productively as possible for the long run. When they’re making up their own rules and their own games, they’re learning about themselves and others, exploring and finding out what they like doing, what they want to learn more about, and how to interact successfully with others. So, let’s not insist on giving kids the scripts and the props we think they need for their play, but rather, let’s allow them to find and invent their own ways of playing and learning, at least for good parts of their day.

Children do need planned stimulation and enrichment opportunities—classes, clubs, puzzles, building toys, educational activities, museums, performances, outings, etc.—but their lives shouldn’t be so jammed with these good things that there’s no time left for imagination and unstructured playtime. Somewhat counter-intuitively, too much focus on enrichment and achievement can actually impede their cognitive and emotional development. Do-nothing times can be the most productive times of all.

Wisdom in Children?

October, 2011

Although wisdom is often associated with later adulthood, its seeds are planted in childhood. The most important thing that parents can do to support the development of wisdom in their children is to model these attributes in their own lives. That means taking others’ needs into account, as well as one’s own, and doing that explicitly, sharing the reasoning processes with children.

“Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

I’ve been thinking lately about the importance of wisdom in coping successfully with turbulent times, and realising that wisdom is as important for children as it is for adults. Although it is often associated with later adulthood, the seeds of wisdom are planted in childhood. More than ever, now is a time for parents and teachers to help children learn to make calm, reasoned sense of what’s happening around them, and to make wise decisions in their lives. This is always true, of course, but the urgency of thinking and behaving wisely is accentuated in times of stress.

Think, for example, about the British campaign asking citizens to ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ during the bombing raids of the second world war. This was an appeal to people’s wisdom, and the collective ability of the British population to respond positively to this message was almost certainly a factor in the outcome of the war.

Practically speaking, what can parents do to support the development of wisdom in their children? Because wisdom is an abstract idea like love or compassion, it’s a good idea to start with what it looks like in practice: ‘Wise people do not look out just for their own interests, nor do they ignore these interests. Rather, they skillfully balance interests of varying kinds, including their own, and [others’]…Wise individuals realize that what may appear to be a prudent course of action in the short term does not necessarily appear so over the long term.’ (from Explorations in Giftedness (2011), by Robert Sternberg, Linda Jarvin, and Elena Grigorenko)

So, we’re back to the question that motivated this blog: how can parents support the development of wisdom in their children? The quote at the top of the blog from Martin Luther King provides a clue: wisdom requires well-developed thinking skills (or intelligence), as well as a strongly developed character. I have addressed elsewhere the ways that parents and teachers can support the development of their children’s intelligence, and focus here on the ‘character’ component of wisdom. This is where Sternberg’s description comes in, suggesting that wisdom includes a focus on skillfully balancing interests of varying kinds, including one’s own as well as others’; and an understanding that one needs to consider the longer term, as well as immediate and short term, effects of a decision or action.

The most important thing that parents can do to support the development of wisdom and character in their children is to model these attributes in their own lives, sharing the reasoning processes with children, as they become able to understand some of the factors that are involved. ‘Others’ here is broadly inclusive, from immediate family members, out through extended family and friendship networks, and community, national, and global interests. That means, for example, thinking about the environmental effects of one’s actions. It means treating others the way one would like to be treated, and also being as good to oneself as one is to others. It means making a habit of asking, ‘What would happen if everyone behaved as I do?’

Modeling wisdom also means thinking about the long term consequences of any behaviour or action, as well as possible immediate and short-term consequences. It might be alright to eat one more chocolate bar right now, but in the longer term, too many decisions like that will prove unwise. The family might be able to afford an expensive holiday this year, but perhaps that will mean depleting resources, and having trouble if the roof starts leaking or the car needs repairs. Sometimes a holiday is badly needed—whether for physical or emotional or family-building reasons –and is the best possible way to spend the family savings. Knowing when it’s a good idea to push the limits, and when it’s a good time to conserve, is where wisdom comes in.

Second to modeling wise decision-making, the most important thing that parents can do is include their children in decision-making processes, as appropriate to the child’s age and abilities. This is best if it starts small and personal – should Maria do her homework when she gets home from school, for example, or can she wait until after dinner? By the time a child becomes a teenager, decisions are getting more complex and have bigger consequences, so it’s great if some wisdom has already been acquired. Because children of eleven through fourteen are going through extraordinary internal and external changes, they go through a stage when they may appear to have lost any wisdom they’d already gained, so it’s important that they’ve already consolidated some basics of wise decision-making before that.

Raising kids who are not only smart, but who are also wise enough to make the decisions that will lead to a sense of fulfillment and happiness across the life span, is a serious challenge faced by all parents. This is the challenge that Joanne Foster and I address in our work together, most explicitly in Raising Smarter Kids. We write there about what we think parents’ ultimate goals for their children should be. This includes a feeling of well-being, and, ideally, happiness. Integrity. The recognition that change and challenge can be good. The ability to welcome adversity, and to cultivate resilience in the face of hardship. The ability to think, communicate, and act coherently, responsibly, creatively, and decisively. A collaborative spirit. Ample capacity for fun and relaxation. And, a lifelong love of learning, fueled by a calm, self-assured motivation and drive. Wisdom, in other words.

As with creativity and intelligence, parents have a much larger role in their children acquiring wisdom than many realize. Parents can make a difference by providing the kinds of environments, challenges, role models, and social supports that increase the likelihood of their children making wise decisions, both in the short term, and in the longer term.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

August 28, 2011

The world is changing rapidly all around us, in large ways and small. As I write this, Hurricane Irene is raging up the east coast of the United States, the rebel fighters appear to be making advances into Tripoli and bringing down the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, countless new electronic devices and approaches to health are being invented that will someday change my life, and my daughter has just given birth to my first grandbaby. And who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Joanne and I are putting some finishing touches on some new collaborative work, thinking about the impact of change on the roles and responsibilities of parents. The bottom line for parents, I think, is that although the world around us is changing at a breathtaking speed—we hardly get a chance to recover from one set of changes before the next set presents itself to us—the basic principles of raising children are the same as ever. Children need their parents’ love, guidance, attention, support, and rule-setting.

At the same time, there are specific practical tools that parents can use to help children learn to adapt well to change. That’s very much the focus of Raising Smarter Kids. It’s also the focus of an article I wrote with Rosanne Menna a few years back, called ‘Solving Problems Together: The Importance of Parent/School/Community Collaboration at a Time of Educational and Social Change’. You’ll find that article under ‘Reflections and Opportunities’ in the Resources page of this website.