Great for All Ages, School Advice, Stress Management, The Happy Student Podcast

#109 Stress-Tolerance

Stress. We’ve all got it. I’ve got it. You’ve got it. Your kids have it. Some stress is good for us – it can help motivate us to do stuff and it activates our brain so that we really pay attention to what we are doing. But too much stress and those benefits go away. Too much stress and your brain starts worrying and stops working. You actually lose IQ points when you have too much stress. This is a problem. We’ve got 7 tips for building your stress-tolerance!

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Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg researches resilience, which requires a lot of stress-tolerance, and he’s got seven tips to help us manage our stress. 

1. Make problems manageable. The more you do this, the more it will become a habit every time something stressful pops up.

  • “Summit one mountain. When fully done, look up then” he says.
  • Have a plan of how you’re going to achieve your goal. It’s much scarier before you have that plan because the obstacle seems so much larger and impossible to overcome.
  • Help your child figure out what the problem is and how to overcome it, step by step, focusing just on one at a time.

2. Actively avoid stress-triggers.

  • Talk with your child about what or who triggers their stress and think about ways they might be able to avoid some of those triggers to make their school days better.

3. Exercise.

  • Anxiety is a bunch of extra energy coursing through your body, so Ginsburg says “we use up anxiety when we exercise.” And that will leave you feeling less anxious when you are done. 

4. Meditate.

  • Breathing, in particular, calms your entire system. And meditating helps to calm your mind. When you are calm, you are much more effective at overcoming obstacles.
  • When I’m stressed, I try to act quickly to relieve the stress. But I don’t always do a great job and then the stress returns. If I can calm myself down, I can go slowly and smoothly – do a good job, and be done faster. 

5. Sleep.

  • We all do better with sleep. We are happier and less stressed. 
  • We often think of sleep as nice to have, but really, it’s an absolute necessity. 

6. Take vacations.

  • Give yourself breaks and make them truly rejuvenating, like practice yoga or go for a walk. Scrolling through an app on your phone is not rejuvenating. 

7. Contribute to the world.

  • It makes you feel good to have something bigger than yourself that you’re working on. This can help protect you from stress that pops up when you are working on achieving it. Or, even when you’re not. 
  • And just because kids are young doesn’t mean they can’t contribute to the world. There are lots of things they can do, like be a bully buster or volunteer. 

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

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Back to School Prep, Easy Action Items, Executive Functions Training, Great for All Ages, The Happy Student Podcast

#33 Back to School On Time

Teaching your kids to make good decisions can be really hard. Developing a family motto can make that a lot easier. Family mottos, such as “We are kind” or “We are inclusive” help kids develop a sense of self. Then, they naturally want to behave in ways that confirm that they are indeed kind or inclusive. When faced with a tough decision, parents can refer their kids to the family motto to then help them make a good decision.

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Without the ability to manage our time, we may spend all afternoon playing and not have enough time to do our homework because we saved all of our homework for later. Without time management skills, we get to school late and then, even if our backpack is organized, we are not able to pay attention to the teacher as she starts her lesson because we are just running into class. 

Here are a few good ideas on how to learn to manage our time. 

Start a morning music routine. 

  • Use a morning music playlist to get up and get ready for school.
  • Start with slower music just to get out of bed. By a certain song, your child knows he needs to be out of bed and brushing his teeth. By a more energetic song, he knows he needs to be out of the shower and getting dressed. By a faster song, he knows he should be eating breakfast. As the morning goes on, the music gets faster. By a certain fast song, your child knows it’s time to be gathering materials. And by the final, very exciting song, the message is to drop everything and run to the car! 
  • Play the same playlist every morning so that your child gets used to it.
  • It also gives your child some freedom from parents yelling at him to wake up. It is 100% up to them if they want to have to rush later. 

Have a seperate music playlist for studying. 

  • Have a 30 minute (or shorter for younger kids) playlist of just classical music. When your child is studying, it should be in 30 minute increments. 
  • Play the same playlist so that your child gets used to it. 
  • Creating this music habit will help your child start working when the music comes on as well as when there is just 5 minutes left, but his mind is drifting, it will be easier for them to come back on task knowing the playlist is almost done. 

Buy an analog clock. 

  •  Analog clocks are really good at teaching children about the passage of time – way better than digital clocks. Kids need to be able to estimate how long their tasks will take them in order to plan when to start their work so that they can finish it before bedtime.
  • Start teaching your children about how long it takes them to do work with the analog clock. Put a sticker on the clock when your kid starts work. Then when 5 problems are done, see what time it is and put on a new sticker to see how long it took to do 5 math problems. The same thing can be done when your child reads a 10 pages of a book. 
  • Another thing you can do with your analog clock is to have “time robber” stickers. This idea comes from Executive Functions expert Sara Ward. Time robbers are anything that take you away from the task you are supposed to be working on. So if you go to the bathroom, get a drink, sharpen your pencil, start daydreaming, or play on your phone, your time has been robbed. Whenever that happens during your work, put a time robber sticker on the clock. This helps your kids remind themselves to do their assignment. Once it’s all done, the two of you can talk nonjudgmentally about ways to avoid the time robbers next time, such as going to the bathroom before work starts.
  • Use analog clocks is to plan out an entire hour. Use a dry erase marker to draw your plan out on the clock so that you see when you should be doing each task. You can put stickers at the halfway marks so you can look at the clock and see if you are over half way done with your time or if you are moving more quickly than expected. 
  • If your child starts late, show on the analog clock how that affects the rest of the hour. Again, nonjudgmentally, just matter of factly. If your child senses any judgment, they won’t let you help them with the analog clock anymore.
  • If your child finishes early, yay! However, they can’t go to the break because that would encourage them to finish their work as quickly as possible and not as well as possible. So instead, they can start the next task or another part of homework for the remaining minutes.
  • Finally, if the work takes more than the time allotted they can 
    • keep working if they are on a roll and you two will re-plan the hour after the work is completed or 
    • they can take a break and go back to work and find time for the other work later or 
    • take a break and go on to the other work and find time to finish later. It’s up to your child. 
  • If you don’t love the analog clock, lots of people like timers. There are some that have a red face that as time passes, the face becomes white, so you can see how much time you have left based on how much red is on the face. 

Another good idea is the octopus watch for younger children. Every time they are supposed to do something, the watch vibrates and shows you what you should be doing.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

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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?

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Definitions, Easy Action Items, Executive Functions Training, School Advice, The Happy Student Podcast

#100 : Work that Memory

Working memory is basically your short-term memory. If you struggle with working memory, you just don’t have the space in your short-term memory to remember what you just read. It can be hard for note taking because maybe you want to respond to your teacher’s question, but the person next to you is making a good point – how do you write down what they are saying while remembering what you want to say? It’s super hard and frustrating! So we’ve got some tips to help you improve your kids’ working memory!

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Working memory is basically your short-term memory. It’s all the information you are storing and using now.

If you disagree with the following statements, it means that working memory is not one of your strengths:

  • I have a good memory for facts, dates, and details.
  • I am very good at remembering the things I have committed to do.
  • I seldom need reminders to complete tasks.

Here are some other things to look out for if you are worried your kid might have weak working memory skills (these are provided by Attitude Magazine):

  • You want to join in a conversation, but, by the time the other person stops talking, you forget what you wanted to say.
  • You consistently lose your keys, cell phone, wallet, or homework.
  • You get lost easily, even when you were just given directions.
  • You have trouble following a conversation because you forget what the other person has just said.
  • You have many unfinished projects because you become distracted and forget about the first project.
  • You plan to do some work at home, but you forget to bring needed items with you.
  • You have to reread a paragraph several times to retain the information.
  • You miss deadlines at work because of your disorganization and inability to follow through on projects.

Tips on improving working memory:

Write it all down

Write down everything. If your kid really wants to use an app for things like a planner, that’s fine, but there is something about actually writing it down on paper that can help improve memory as well.

Break down overwhelming projects into simple, targeted tasks

Write down all of the things you have to do to study – like redo all the old tests and quizzes, redo the old homework problems, and so on. Then do one task at a time.

Reduce multitasking

Multitasking is really taxing on your brain’s resources. It’s much easier for your brain to do one thing and then move on to the next.

Develop routines

Routines make it so you don’t have to think about what you are doing – you just do it automatically. That reduces the amount of resources your brain has to use, freeing it up to spend those resources on other things.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness and meditation help to reduce distractions and improve focus, both of which are very important to improving your working memory.

Play games

Games like Memory, the card game, Uno, Go Fish, Crazy Eights, and Sudoku help you to stretch and grow those working memory muscles. You can also check out CogMed, Play Attention, and Lumosity for some working memory games.

Work on visualization

Have your kid draw pictures of what they just heard.

Have your child teach you the skill that they are working on

This gets them engaging with the information in a more active way than passively listening to the teacher and trying to remember it later.

One big overarching theme is reduce distractions.

Another theme is to help your kid interact with the information by visualizing it or teaching it to you or making it interesting or unique in another way that we didn’t talk about like turning it into a song or something like that.

References & Resources:

Attitude Mag

CogMed

Lumosity

Play Attention

Understood.org

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

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Elementary School, Great for All Ages, High School, Middle School, Parent Tips, The Happy Student Podcast

#99 Bob Sternberg on Wisdom, Intelligence, Creativity, and Success

Psychologist Bob Sternberg joins Fireborn to talk about how there is more to succeeding and thriving than testing well. He says “You don’t have to be the best student in your class to have something to contribute to the world.” That’s an excellent message to get across to kids because in school you are so often assessed based on grades that it may be hard to remember that you have value even if you aren’t the best in your class. In this episode, we talk about how to help your child really take that message to heart.

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What skills are tests missing?

Creativity

  • People need to aware and adept to the ambiance of the rapidly changing world in order to succeed. This applies both for businesses and in social aspects of life.
  • Schools don’t reward creativity, but actively penalize it. School want things done a certain way. For example, if the student does not solve a mathematical problem the way they were taught, but wrote the correct answer, they would still lose points for not following the way they were taught to solve the problem.

What can parents do?

  • The best thing to do is model creativity and not be dogmatic about it. Look for opportunities to demonstrate your own creativity to your kids. Be flexible in your own life.
  • Encourage your child to look at problems in alternative ways and take sensible risks.
  • Help your child realize that when you do things creatively you may get beaten down, but that’s ok, you have to be resilient in the face of objections or resistance.
  • Reward creativity.
  • Sometimes you have to look at things differently from how you have in the past by letting go of the things you may have once believed was true.

Common Sense or Practical Intelligence

  • This means knowing how to respond to different kinds of practical and social situations; such as handling conflict and making judgements of things that our “worth your time.”
  • Common sense or practical intelligence is weakly correlated with IQ type and academic intelligence. “Being a star student doesn’t buy you any common sense.”
  • Common sense or practical intelligence is important. Tests don’t value your ability to navigate the world, however

What can parents do?

  • Make sure your kids are talking to you about their problems and challenges with others.
  • Help them work through the problems they may have (don’t just tell them the answer) by discussing possible options with their advantages and disadvantages. This encourages social problem solving. By telling kids what to do it’s hard for them to develop common sense because then they don’t have experiential basis of what to do.
  • You should model common sense because children are more likely to do what you do, not just what you say.

Wisdom

  • Wisdom means using your knowledge and abilities for a common good. It’s taking the smarts you have and applying it to make the world a better place.

What can parents do?

  • Show that as a parent you value a common good. Show that you care about making the world a better place and you hope they will too.
  • Think about what to do to make the world a better place.
  • Have your child do prosocial things that will help whatever issues you think are important.

Find one’s passion

  • Parents can help their child find the “thing(s)” that’s right for them. This may be something parents did not have in mind. Parents can help encourage their child to find what excites them, whether or not it excites the parents. Just make sure that it doesn’t get them in trouble.
  • Parents may try to impose their value system onto their child, and that doesn’t work. It may not be what’s best for them.

What can parents do?

  • You may try a lot of things with your kids and find that most don’t work. Expose them to different kinds of experiences and interests, knowing that most won’t work.

Parents should show genuine interest and be willing to devote their time and mental resources to kids. When your kids talk, listen to them. When they need help be there for them. Don’t be intrusive and try to take over their life. Invest yourself in making the kids who they can be. This takes time and patience.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

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Definitions, Great for All Ages, School Advice, Study Tips, The Happy Student Podcast

#95: Deliberate Studying

Often kids waste time studying things they already know and then they don’t have time to dive deep into studying the stuff that is challenging them. Teaching them about what deliberate studying is and how to study deliberately so that they focus on the hard stuff can help them use their time more efficiently and effectively!

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Deliberate studying is the term I’m using for what experts have been calling “deliberate practice”. So to define deliberate practice, it is:

  • At least 1 hour of intensely focused practice or study (and no more than 2 hours before a break)
  • Purposeful, focused attention
  • With a specific goal of improving performance

It differs from regular practice, which often includes more mindless repetition. When you are just practicing, you run the risk of reviewing stuff you already know and so you aren’t really learning anything. When you are deliberately practicing, on the other hand, you figure out what you don’t know and you work on improving that specific skill. When we think about deliberate studying, we should be thinking about focusing on the areas that you don’t have a good handle on – things that are challenging. They need to practice those challenging problems and get feedback so they can see where they went wrong and try it again.

Deliberate studying would mean trying the problems they missed on their homework again. If they get them wrong again, it means looking at how to do it correctly and then trying again and practicing some similar problems until they get them right every time and they are no longer challenging.

For English, maybe your child isn’t good at writing essays. Deliberate studying would mean writing essays. It would also require feedback, so you may need to be there to provide some gentle, constructive feedback so they can keep improving. To improve their writing, they may also want to look at recommended outlines for writing quick essays so that they have a template.

How can you help your child learn to study deliberately?

Talk to them about it. You’ll definitely get better results if you can talk to them about it when they are young and still willing to listen to you. If they are older, they may still listen to you if you can say it in a helpful, suggesting way and frame it as your experience.

Simply explain to your child deliberate studying. And while you are teaching them about deliberate studying, it would be extra convincing and helpful if you told them about a time you used deliberate studying. Kids love to know that you struggled too and that they aren’t going through these tough things alone. So sharing your story can be really powerful. It’s also really helpful because it gives them a concrete example of what deliberate studying looks like.

  • “Oh, now that you are starting to take tests, I want to teach you about a trick that really helped me when I was studying. It’s called deliberate studying.”
  • “I see you’re having trouble studying. You know what I did when I didn’t have enough time to study everything and I really needed to focus, I used this trick called deliberate studying.”

Teaching children about what deliberate studying is and how to study deliberately so that they focus on the hard stuff can help them use their time more efficiently and effectively!

Studying References:
How to Study
Study that Vocab!
Tackling Reading Comprehension

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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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!

CHECK OUT THE EPISODE BELOW: 

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?

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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!