Difficult Topics, Executive Functions Training, Great for All Ages, Motivating the Unmotivated, School Advice, The Happy Student Podcast, The Procrastination Problem, Use Your Summer Wisely

#106 3! 2! 1! Blastoff! How To Get to Work

If your kid doesn’t believe in getting started on homework as soon as possible; if procrastination is a problem; and if tasks are often left to the last minute, your child most likely struggles with the executive function skill called task initiation. Fireborn’s here to help with 8 tips for building task initiation skills this summer!

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It’s hard to get started working. Most of us have to use at least some willpower to stop doing something fun in order to start doing something not fun, but necessary. 

Another problem that can lead to procrastination is anxiety. If you are scared you don’t know how to do the homework, you may want to avoid it. And then you avoid it for so long that there is no possible way to finish it in time and you’ve done two things: 1. You’ve reinforced this belief that you didn’t know how to do the work, so now you are scared for tomorrow night’s homework. Or 2. You don’t really have to blame yourself because you didn’t have enough time to finish and if you had, then you might be able to tell yourself that you could have done it. Therefore keeping your pride intact. 

The summer is the perfect time to practice building those task initiation skills because the stakes are lower. Once you’ve got some task initiation skills and you go back to school when there is more pressure, you’ll already have some skills developed.

Today we are going to talk about finding ways to practice this executive function skill over the summer. 

  • Your child can practice with any reading lists, math packets, or stuff like that from school. 
  • If your child is going to camp and there is homework or practice for something like a play. 
  • Or maybe your child is taking swim lessons or tennis lessons – practicing at home like juggling a tennis ball on the racket could be seen as “homework”. 

You can set some goals at the beginning of the summer with your child. These goals should be child-generated. Having fun this summer is definitely an important goal. And then you can figure out what your child plans on doing to have fun. From there, talk with your child about some other goals. Just because these are things your kid wants to do, doesn’t mean they will actually be good at leaving video games behind to do it. So it will require practicing task initiation, at least at some point.

You can teach your child these 8 task initiation tips.

1. Use a “Rocketship Countdown”. 

  • Simply countdown like they do with rocketships, “3, 2, 1, blastoff!” and on “blastoff” you “blastoff” and go do whatever it is you need to get done. 
  • Being enthusiastic can be really helpful. 
  • Modeling it for your kid can encourage them to just do it too.

2. Create a music playlist for work time

  • Build a music playlist that does not have any words. Words in the music can take away brain power from reading and other verbal skills you need during homework time. 
  • Every time they are working on something, play the playlist. The playlist will eventually become a habit – it will cue that it is time for work and will help your child get into the working mindset. 

3. Develop routines. 

  • The nice thing about routines is that we don’t have to think about them – we just do them. So, if you can start making some work routines this summer, and the cues are the same in the school year, it can help them just work when they are cued.
  • Cues can be things like… 
    • the time of day, 
    • a sound, 
    • or a set of activities.

4. Work in short bursts with breaks

  • The thought of working for an unknown quantity of time can be intimidating. If your child just has to work until “it’s finished” – that can really dissuade them from wanting to get down to business because who knows how long that could take. 
  • They are also more likely to realize that the work is not as bad as they thought and they might get on a roll and keep going for longer, but maybe not and that’s okay too.

5. Preview the work and then take a break

  • By suggesting that your child just preview the work and not actually do any of it, you remove a lot of potential stress about how difficult the work will actually be. 
  • While they are having fun taking a break, their brain is still thinking about how to approach the work. So then when it’s time to get back to work, they already have some ideas on what to do, making it easier to just get started again.

6. Start using “Brain Breaks”

  • As Stacy Vernon from the Center for Brain Health writes, you need to “take frequent brain breaks to ‘recharge’ your mental energy.” Pushing yourself beyond the point of mental exhaustion stresses the brain. 
  • Building in brain down-time every day helps alleviate the stress that builds up throughout the day and can result in a feeling of mental exhaustion and low-level anxiety. 
  • Consider the 5 x 5 method, “taking 5 minutes of down time 5 times throughout the day.” Spend these times doing something that is relaxing to you! These brain breaks are meant to be times of zero effort thought – not zero thought at all.”

7. Use explicit instructions. 

  • When you have clear goals and steps to achieve the goals, it’s much easier to get started on the first step. 
  • You can help your child by giving them explicit instructions when you ask them to do stuff and by going through any assignments, cooking instructions, engineering project instructions (like Legos) with them ahead of time and answering any questions they have about what they mean, or showing them what those instructions mean. That will give them practice understanding what it looks like to follow instructions or to figure out the steps based on what is assigned. 

8. Figure out if you should do the hard stuff or the easy stuff first.

  • Talk to your child about what you prefer to do and point out opportunities that they have to figure it out for themselves. 

Resources:

Brain Breaks

Center for BrainHealth

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this episode! Comment below or send us an email!

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Executive Functions Training, Great for All Ages, Motivating the Unmotivated, School Advice, The Happy Student Podcast

#94: Just Get Started

It can be really hard for kids to start writing a paper or to work on math problems because “They just don’t know how”. But one of the best ways, is to just get started! That is a surprisingly tough lesson to teach. Fireborn’s got a few tips to make it a little easier!

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This episode focuses on the executive function skill called initiation, which involves  just getting started.

I struggled with writing when I was young. I didn’t understand the usefulness of outlines and I would often get overwhelmed because there was so much stuff that needed to go into a paper. I wouldn’t know where to start. I’d look at a blank screen and that certainly wouldn’t help. But that thought process – that “I don’t know where to start” thinking is the problem. Because you just have to get started anywhere so that your brain starts thinking about the problem and without knowing it, you’ll finally realize that you’ve been writing your paper. Or at least getting some productive thoughts out.

So how can you help your kid just get started writing? I…

  • read the instructions and as I read them, on my blank page, I made a to do list of things that the paper needed.
  • wrote a simple thesis on the page: “This is a paper about ________”.
  • wrote an outline.
  • talked or wrote down my first thoughts that maybe don’t mean much, but that just got my brain started thinking about what I needed to write about. Often, you may think that these thoughts aren’t useful, but you can usually use them somewhere in your paper – intro, conclusion, as part of an argument or evidence. Or maybe you can’t, but it at least gets you started thinking about what you want to say and that’s the goal.

When you give these suggestions, make sure they come across as suggestions. Kids prefer to have the ability to choose how they go about doing things. They don’t like to be told what to do – they get enough of that. So it can really be helpful if you just give options. They may not take those options right away, but they will always be there in the back of their minds and eventually you will get through to them!

So I had a hard time in general with standardized testing especially with math problems. I would read the word problem and if I didn’t know exactly how I was going to figure it out, I would just kind of stare at it for a little bit, not write anything down, and look at my tutor and say, “I don’t know.” It was very similar to how I handled chemistry problems that I didn’t understand. I wouldn’t write anything down and I’d move on to the next question.

I was advised to just start doing some math – whatever math you think is right. Try it out. Even if it doesn’t get you to the right place, it will get you somewhere and that will give you information about where you went wrong. And so despite my protestations and because of my tutor’s patient insistence, I would start trying the math that I knew was going to be wrong.

Just getting started by writing the problems down helped me figure out the right answer eventually. By thinking about the problem only, I was denying myself the opportunity to think more deeply about the problem and figure out where my thinking was off track. But by writing down my first thoughts and reviewing my work and just giving my brain time to think more about the problem, I was able to figure out the answers. Just getting started, even if you start in a place that isn’t right, gets your brain thinking about the problem and helps you solve it.

The best way you can help your kid get started is to sit with them (if they are happy to have you sit with them) and to just gently encourage them to try anything and review their work. By patiently sitting with them, you also show them that it’s okay if it takes time to figure out a problem. By patiently sitting with them, you free them up from that need for speed.  You’re essentially giving them the gift of time to really work on a problem. You are showing them that sometimes it takes time and that’s okay. You can also try telling them about how their brain works.

References:

Executive Functions Overview

The Happy Student #15: It’s Paper Time!


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WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this episode! Comment below or send us an email!

HERE’S HOW TO SUBSCRIBE & REVIEW

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Difficult Topics, Elementary School, Great for All Ages, High School, Middle School, Motivating the Unmotivated, School Advice, The Happy Student Podcast

#51: Turning Around a Tough Year (Updated!)

Sometimes the start of the school year just doesn’t go your way. You missed some things the teacher said; you weren’t organized; you misbehaved; whatever. There are lots of reasons the school year might have started out poorly. The good news is that it doesn’t have to stay that way. The New Year is a great opportunity to turn around a challenging school year! To ease us back into the year, Fireborn’s got a quick four tips to make the rest of the year brighter at school.

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Four tips to make the rest of the year brighter at school:

Find that motivation

The first step is to make sure they are motivated to turn the school year around.

There are three components of motivation:

  • Autonomy: We want to be in control.
  • Mastery: We want to be good and get better at something.
  • Purpose: We want to do things that matter.

To help your kids find that internal motivation, help them set goals that matter to them academically. Let them choose what their goal is (autonomy). Set up a plan for success so that they get some small wins quickly (mastery). Ask your child why they chose this goal and talk about its importance (purpose).

Finding that motivation can be really tough, especially when it may seem like everything at school is just going terribly – at least, that’s how your kid feels. Trying to find a goal may be tough because they may simply just be too beat down by the system right now. If you are worried this is happening to your kid, well – the first thing to do is to think if they are truly depressed or need some professional help.

Another thing to think about is getting them excited about something at school. There are lots of potential goals that can help motivate your kids. Maybe an academic goal shouldn’t be the first priority because if your kid is having trouble socially and doesn’t want to go to school in the first place, going from a C to a B in English probably won’t help that. Maybe it should be finding an extracurricular activity that excites your kid. Having something to look forward to at the end of the day can help them get through school more happily (and maybe help them focus in class).

Get your child’s friends and family (maybe even his teacher!) on board.

Change is hard. Having a strong support system will help. Therefore, encourage your children to talk to their friends about their new goal and maybe even their teacher. Saying the goal aloud increases accountability because friends will ask how it’s going, plus they are there to help if they fall off track.

Find a tutor.

No matter what is causing the difficult year, find someone who can dedicate their time to helping your kids succeed in that area.

Work on developing your child’s grit and growth mindset!

Adjusting their mindset to think this way will help them feel comfortable asking for help and trying harder. Dr. Caren Baruch-Feldman wrote an excellent workbook for teens, The Grit Guide for Teens, to help them adjust their mindset, build their grit, and achieve their goals. Working through the activities in this book will also help develop that motivation (tip #1) to turn the year around!

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this episode! Comment below or send us an email!

HERE’S HOW TO SUBSCRIBE & REVIEW

Want to be the first to know when a new episode is released? Click here to subscribe to The Happy Student on iTunes!

Podcast reviews are important to iTunes and the more reviews we can receive, the more likely we will be able to get our podcast and important messages in front of more parents! I would greatly appreciate if you clicked here and left a review letting me know your thoughts on this episode!

PRIMED FOR SUCCESS
Easy Action Items, Great for All Ages, Motivating the Unmotivated

Primed for Success

“Focus on your child’s strengths to help her overcome her weaknesses.” Heard that before? Probably – it is a great sentiment and can be an effective strategy, but there are plenty of parents who will tell you that it is hard and sometimes it is not possible. If my child is good at dancing, it can be difficult to see how she is going to directly use dancing to improve her math, spelling, reading, or history. Maybe she is not actually interested in learning about the history of dancing or reading about dancing – and then what do you do?

You actually do not have to be dancing while doing math for dancing to improve your math. Instead, what you do before you start working can make the difference. Dancing for 5-10 minutes before starting math will actually improve your math, or history, or reading… Doing something fun before an activity that is decidedly less fun primes you to enjoy and focus for that second project. A dancer will be energized by dancing for a few minutes before working and will be ready to focus on the next topic. However, if said dancer is bored sitting in his chair tuning his teacher out, he is not prepared to transition effectively to solving math problems.

One of my former clients loved to play the guitar. When I arrived at his house for executive functions coaching, he would show off what he had learned the previous week during the first five minutes of each session. Afterward, he was ready to practice scheduling the rest of his evening, to organize his backpack, and to do whatever else we had on our agenda. Without that five minutes of playing, he would be flipping through apps on his phone, calling out to his mother in the other room, showing me a new toy… His ability to find anything to do other than work was amazing, except when he was primed by playing the guitar.

Priming for work by doing something you love first (or at least enjoy) can help everyone reduce procrastination. As Eric Barker describes, you make it your “personal starting ritual” (2015). You decided that you are going to get started on work after doing X. Before working on a big project, you take a walk, grab a coffee, surf the web, do a dance, play the guitar, take a nap (only one of those things!) and then you are ready to work. You have primed your brain to be ready to work as soon as you are done. Just remember to set a time limit!


Resources:

Alvarez, A. (2015). Personal communication.

Barker, E. (2015). 5 easy tricks for beating procrastination, backed by researcher. Barking Up The Wrong Tree.

Signs That Your Learner is Anxious
Motivating the Unmotivated

Signs That Your Learner is Anxious

Exercise #2 in the Motivating the Unmotivated training series. 

I have a hard time with this one. I definitely want to be perfect. If I were perfect, I would never be embarrassed and I would be totally confident. I like that my desire to be perfect helps motivate me to try harder. But I do not like that sometimes I am so worried that I am not perfect that I stop thinking. Wanting perfection creates too much pressure, especially since it is an unrealistic and unattainable goal. I am pretty sure I am not the only person who feels this way.

Sometimes students appear unmotivated to do their work because they are scared of failing (that hot topic we will keep discussing) – they are scared of not being perfect (or even “good enough”). Our feelings of self-worth are tied to our performance. This can result in performance anxiety and a debilitating fear of failure, followed by a decision, conscious or unconscious, to avoid doing work.  

We need some anxiety to help motivate us, so that we do our work and study a little harder for our next test. But too much stress can encumber us (Gladwell, 2013).

If people have too much performance anxiety, “they tend to view more situations as potentially threatening… They have an irrational fear that a catastrophe will occur and feel that they are unable to control the outcomes” (Huberty, 2009). With all of that worry and fear, it is impossible to concentrate on a homework problem.

Even if your learner can concentrate, she may be avoiding work because then she can blame something aside from herself for her poor performance. She creates a self-fulfilling prophecy that frees her from the shame of not doing well: If I do not try hard, that is why I did badly. Not because I am not smart enough. The fear at the root of this thought process is: Even if I tried, I would not do well, and that would hurt my feelings of self-worth. That fear is serious. We need to help our learners deal with it in a productive manner.

Signs that your learner is anxious:

  • They have trouble concentrating, paying attention, remembering information, and solving problems.
  • They are overly sensitive and worried.
  • They have cognitive distortions.
  • They are restless, avoids certain tasks, and withdraws from groups and conversations.
  • They exhibit erratic behavior and irritability.
  • They are a perfectionist.
  • They seek out easy tasks. (They are looking for a “small win“). 
  • They have recurrent, localized pain, a rapid heart rate, flushing of skin, perspiration, headaches, nausea, and trouble sleeping.

Action Items

  • Some General Advice
    • Be consistent.
    • Be patient.
    • Listen.
    • Your learners need sleep and exercise!
    • They also need breaks! When I am overwhelmed, I like to step away from my desk and go to a quiet place where I can be alone. Just by switching locations, the stress decreases and I am able to think of ways to solve the problem. Growing up, I used to listen to music or take a quick “dance party” break. Schoolwork is actually not life-threatening (as my dad likes to say, “No one is shooting at you. So, you are going to be okay.”) and the break helps me remember that.
    • “Maintain a consistent but flexible routine for homework, chores, activities, and so forth” (Huberty, 2009). Consistency is key, but so is being flexible and showing that you understand your kid’s feelings. This means maintaining boundaries, but still finding ways to help your learner achieve his goals, such as making the soccer team or reducing his social anxiety (for instance, by letting him go to a friend’s house during the week even if that is not typically allowed).
  • Do not ask for or expect perfection.
    • Have and communicate realistic expectations and achievable goals. 
    • “Avoid being overly critical, disparaging, impatient, or cynical” (Huberty, 2009). 
      Exhibiting these characteristics hurts your learner’s self-perception. Your learner is learning. Learning is hard work. It is okay (actually, it is good) for the work to be difficult. Praise her small wins, just like you would when she was learning to walk.
  • Focus on and praise effort and growth instead of perfection and grades.
  • If you ask them about their school work and they say things such as, “I’m just not good at that” or “I just do not know how,” this could be a sign of self-talk gone bad, i.e., “predictions of failure, self-degrading thoughts” (Cornell University, “Understanding Academic Anxiety“).
    • Work to improve your learner’s self-talk. This has to do with establishing a growth mindset (another hot topic).
      • “With critical self-talk, identify why you are being negative and focus on making it better. Don’t say: ‘I bombed that presentation.’ Say: ‘That wasn’t your best effort. You need to buckle down now and try harder'” (Bernstein, 2014).
  • View mistakes as learning opportunities. After communicating that it was okay to make that mistake, talk to your child about what they have learned from it.
  • Help your learner develop productive study skills. I read How To Study by David Griswold the summer going into 8th grade. It was painful. But, it has great tips.
  • If your child confides in you that he is stressed or anxious, explicitly recognize those feelings as valid. When anxious, our heart rate increases, we start sweating, and our muscles tense up. When we are too anxious, our fight-or-flight instincts take over. In this situation, it is hard to focus because we feel threatened. For me, I start to think about everything and nothing at the same time. I am unable to problem solve and only able to freak out. If this seems to happen to your learner too, teach him some strategies to calm down.
    • Relaxation techniques
      • Breathing exercises to slow his heart rate down. When we slow ourselves down, we give ourselves the opportunity to think through what is happening and realize that it is not so threatening and that we can deal with it.
      • Focus on the exhale. Make it longer than the inhale. Inhaling excites us. Exhaling calms us down.
      • Practice mindfulness.
    • Organize. I like lists. When I am stressed, I write a list of all the small, individual tasks that need to be done. Then I can accomplish a bunch of the easy ones quickly so that I feel great about myself fast. 
    • Create a routine so that when your learner starts getting anxious, they know exactly what to do:
      • Go to room.
      • Listen to 3 songs on iPhone.
      • Go back to work space.
      • Write down why stressed.
      • Organize self.
      • Get back to work.
  • Review their homework with them. If a question is answered incorrectly, that is okay. Do not express a negative judgment for an incorrect answer. Do not say, “What were you thinking?!” That can be taken as criticism and hurt your learner’s feelings as well as your relationship with them with respect to homework. Instead, you could ask, “So, tell me how you came to this answer?” Work on it like a collaborator, not a superior.
    • Perhaps your learner is having difficulty understanding the question. Help rephrase the question until your learner understands what the teacher is looking for.
    • When I am anxious, I skip the instructions because I want to finish quickly. This is always a mistake. Help your learner slow down and read all the instructions.

One final note: “Often, reasoning is not effective in reducing anxiety, so do not criticize your child for being unable to respond to rational approaches” (Huberty, 2009). This is hard to fully understand and execute effectively. The anxiety they feel is irrational. So before you rationally discuss solutions with them, you need to bring them to a rational state of mind. Criticizing and hurting feelings (even if unintentional) will not help.


Resources:

Bernstein, E. (2014). ‘Self-Talk’: When talking to yourself, the way you do it matters. The Wall Street Journal. 

Bradberry, T. (2014). How successful people quash stress. Forbes. 

Center for Learning and Teaching. Understanding Academic Anxiety. Cornell University.

Gladwell, M. (2013). David and Goliath: Underdogs, misfits, and the art of battling giants. Little, Brown, and Company: New York.

Grohol, J. M. 15 Common Cognitive Distortions. PsychCentral.

Hansen, D. (2012). A guide to mindfulness at work. Forbes. 

Huberty, T. (2009). Test performance and anxiety. Principal Leadership. National Association of Secondary School Principals: 12-16.

I Can't? Or I Don't Wanna?
Motivating the Unmotivated

I Can’t? Or I Don’t Wanna?

“But I can’t! I’m just bad at math” your child proclaims, thus insinuating that she therefore shouldn’t study.

You know she actually can. You’ve seen her study for math and do well on tests before. If you could only get her to start studying even earlier, then she could even do really well on her test.

So you say, “Of course you’re not bad at math! You just need to start studying now.”

Well, any semblance of a peaceful conversation is gone now as your teen yells that “You don’t know anything!” And she doubles down on telling you she can’t. Meanwhile, you are left thinking, I know she can do this. She must know on some level she can do it because it always eventually gets done. She just does not want to do it. She does not want to study math so much that she’s maybe even convinced herself that she really can’t do it.

So now what?

  1. Avoid that very strong urge to continue to tell her what to do because you know best. She’s just going to keep on fighting you if you do.
  2. Say, “Okay. I’m sorry you feel that way. If I can be any help, let me know.” Then, walk away to de-escalate the situation. If you can’t walk away, at least change the subject. When you stop telling her what to do, all of a sudden her priorities start to shift from fighting with you and doing the opposite of what you say because it feels good, to thinking about what she actually should do. Kids like to do well in school. It feels better than doing badly. Therefore, if you give her space to think about it on her own, she will probably come to the same conclusion as you. But what if she is too young or inexperienced to know she should study ahead of time and more to get better grades? That’s a real lesson kids have to learn.
  3. Calmly talk through the issue with her – after you both have had ample time to cool off. Say:

I have noticed that you have been having difficulty with math and that you are anxious about your upcoming test.

I also know what a capable student you are and that you can do well on the test. (Feel free to beef this section up with more specific and sincere praise).

However, because of the anxiety you are feeling, I’ve noticed that you have been avoiding studying and that you have spent a significant amount of time worrying about the test and saying “I can’t” when if you had spent that time studying, you would already have done a lot of work and you would probably be feeling better about the test.

What do you think?  Then wait. Maybe she says, “You’re right.” If so, that’s great! Maybe she will even be willing to discuss her feelings with you further and brainstorm studying techniques. Maybe she will just want to think about what you said and what that means on her own.

Or maybe she will say, “Oh please. You don’t know anything.” In that case, you say, “Okay.” and then you give her some space to think without you there. Chances are good that even though she dismissed what you said to your face, she’s actually taking what you said to heart.

She probably won’t change her tactics too much right away, but you have got her thinking about the consequences of her actions. It takes time to make significant changes, so just continue to have this calm conversation and remind her of any progress she’s made when she forgets.

4.  When your child first comes to you and says, “I can’t do this,” avoid the urge to disagree with that opinion. Do not say “Of course you can!”

By telling you “I can’t,” she is confiding in you. She is telling you that she is worried, fearful, anxious, or any other number of feelings. She’s saying that she needs your support and empathy. If you say, “Obviously you can do this,” you are ignoring her feelings and communicating to her that those feelings are unfounded. And that is where many a fight have started.

  • So what you need to say is: Oh. I’m sorry. Okay.
  • Followed by: Well, why don’t we look at one problem together and see if we can figure it out.
  • Or: Do you want to tell me more about it?

Or, if you have an example of a time when she did well in math recently, maybe not even in math class, but perhaps when she does mental math while cooking, you could say:

Well, you know, these problems are pretty hard. But I still think you’re pretty good at math because of ____________ (insert that example you have here).

So there you have it! Four strategies to turn “I can’t” into “I’ll try”.

(Of course, utilize and adjust these strategies as necessary based on your child’s age and her areas of difficulty. Also, big emotions are natural for teenagers, so do not be surprised if your teen does not calm down right away and also do not be surprised if these conversations are a bit bumpy, at least at first).


Resources:

Ginsburg, K. (2015). Building resilience: Preparing children and adolescents to THRIVE. The Learning and the Brain Conference: Boston.

Minahan, J. (2015). Between a Rock and a Calm Place. The Learning and the Brain Conference: Boston.

Homework Help
Difficult Topics, Motivating the Unmotivated, Study Tips

The Unknown Victims of Homework “Help”

One of my favorite education writers, Jessica Lahey, wrote about the disservice parents do to their children when they basically do their child’s homework for them (2015). Obviously parents have good intentions, as Jessica explains, “We’ve all been there, usually around 11 on the night before a child’s project is due, reluctantly stepping over the line between helping and taking over. It starts out innocently enough, as, “Here, let me help you cut those last pieces out so you can get to bed,” and quickly snowballs into a lie, a Ph.D. dissertation in third-grade handwriting” (2015).

When the child goes to school the next day presenting his parent’s work, he knows it is not his work and the lesson he has learned is that he is not capable of doing the work. Meanwhile, Jessica explains, the child, whose parent did not intervene despite knowing how subpar the project is, has to live uncomfortably with his project for a few hours knowing he did not do his best work. But then, it is over. And the next time he has a big project, he works much harder on it to avoid that painful experience. Therefore, parents, in an attempt to save their child from embarrassment, are actually hurting their child’s self-esteem and their child’s motivation to do better on his own next time.

That is a big deal and a good point. No parent helps their child with the hopes of hurting his self-esteem and drive.

What is missing from this conversation is the other victims of too much parental involvement in homework: the children who did their projects by themselves and deserve an “A”, but who see the projects with parent “help” and do not know that such help has been given. Those children are left thinking that their excellent work is actually subpar and can be discouraged. How can they ever live up to that impossible standard?

And what can teachers do?

Well, teachers can give the deserving students an A. However, those students are smart and have seen the other projects. They know the other children did better. So, even though they got an A, they still think it was not as good as it could or should have been. Their project is still lacking.

Teachers can also, as Lahey puts it, “assess children’s work for what it is — the work of children” so that parents do not feel compelled to improve their children’s work.

And what can parents do?

Try to focus on the long-term goals (internally motivated children with an understanding that they are capable) and suffer through the short-term anguish you feel sending your child to school with a project you know will make him feel uncomfortable.

Both parents and teachers need to recognize, prioritize, and value the long-term goals while understanding the repercussions for all students when parents “help”.

It’s hard, but your children (and the children of other parents) need you to be strong.


Lahey, J. (2015). When a child’s project shows a parental hand at work. The New York Times.