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.




What skills are tests missing?


  • 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 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.


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


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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.




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!


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


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!

Your Teacher Doesn't Want to Fail You
Elementary School, High School, Middle School, School Advice, Self-Advocacy

Your Teacher Doesn’t Want to Fail You

Has your child forgotten to turn in a few assignments?

Were they incorrectly graded on a test? 

If so, these are great opportunities for your child to learn to self-advocate, for your child to go to the teacher and talk about making up work or revisiting test questions in an attempt to improve her grade. However, students often feel uncomfortable talking with their teachers about these issues and so avoid these conversations.

Perhaps they feel embarrassed about missing those assignments and by not talking to the teacher about them, they can avoid directly thinking about how they messed up. Perhaps they are worried that those questions they answered correctly were actually incorrect. Perhaps they do not know what to say to their teacher.

To help them, if they are young enough (i.e., not in high school) and unwilling to self-advocate on their own, you can set up a meeting between you, the teacher, and your child. You will be there to support your child and help if he has difficulty saying what he wants to say.

Before the meeting, talk about how you envision the meeting going and what your child will say (with her input). The meeting will probably go something like this: You will sit down in the classroom together and say hello. The teacher will want to know or reiterate the purpose of the meeting. The purpose of the meeting is to acknowledge that you have missed a few assignments and that has been hurting your grades. You would like to make up the work if possible. And it is your child’s responsibility to say that.

Your child will probably feel uncomfortable. So, you can remind them that their teacher is there to help him learn and wants him to succeed. So even if you can’t make up the work, the teacher will probably help you come up with a solution to make sure that in the future homework is turned in on time. Also, no matter what, this conversation will show the teacher that you care and will gain you some goodwill in the teacher’s eyes. A teacher’s goodwill cannot be underestimated. 

Then you both go and talk with the teacher. If your child is still uncomfortable, you can again say, “[Insert teacher’s name here], I’m sure you will agree with me when I say that teachers want their students to succeed, right? Otherwise, we would not even be having this meeting. So, [insert child’s name here], let’s talk about if there is anything that can be done to make up for the missed homework assignments.”

By reiterating this point in the meeting with the teacher, your child will see the teacher’s positive reaction and feel empowered by it. Then, even if your child cannot make up the work, the conversation has been framed in a collaborative tone (instead of the argumentative tone your child was expecting), which will encourage creative problem solving to help your child do well in this class.

Any time we self-advocate, we want to start the conversation (and hopefully end it) collaboratively. Teachers (and future co-workers and bosses) are much more likely to want to help you when you approach them in a friendly way, as opposed to an argumentative way. If you assume that the teacher wants you to succeed, it is much easier to see the conversation as collaborative as opposed to combative. And that is the lesson we want to impart on our children – that to successfully self-advocate, have a collaborative tone and assume goodwill on the other party’s behalf.

Once your child has gone through this process with you, she will feel more confident self-advocating by herself next time.

How to Not Look at your Phone During Homework Time
High School, Middle School, School Advice, Study Tips

How to Not Look at your Phone During Homework Time

We each have a certain amount of willpower – an ability to not watch TV and instead get to work or an ability to not eat that chocolate cake. And we use up our willpower as the day goes on (which is why it’s much harder to avoid that cake or that TV as the day progresses). We can strengthen and increase our willpower, but it will never be infinite.

Every time your child puts his phone down and starts reading his textbook, he’s used up a bit of his willpower. So, as the night progresses, and bedtime approaches, and homework still needs to be done, he has less and less willpower to keep putting down his phone and it gets harder and harder to actually do his work.

Thankfully, there is a way to avoid depleting your willpower and get your homework done: HABITS. “Things that are habitual don’t tax your willpower” (Barker, 2014).

The more good practices that we can turn into habits, the less we use up our willpower, so we have more of it in reserves for other stuff.

So, if you are currently eating chocolate cake every evening at 9 pm, you could try changing that habit to first eating an apple and having a glass of water and seeing if that fills you up and satisfies your sugar craving. Create a new habit.

Or perhaps, when you get home from work, you know you have chores to do, but you have a habit of watching TV instead and the chores don’t get done. Create a new habit. When you get home and want to go sit down on the couch in front of the TV, lie down on your bed instead (and don’t turn on the TV or your smartphone). You’ll either get bored and decide to just get your chores done or you’ll take a nap and wake up refreshed ready to do some chores.

Or perhaps you have a habit of checking your phone every time it vibrates while you are doing your homework. Create a new habit. Turn your phone off when you start your work. Or put your phone in a different room. Or put your phone on silent. If you notice you start to check it even though it hasn’t vibrated, create a new habit. Maybe you’re checking it because you are bored? Instead of checking your phone, try a new habit of taking 3 belly breaths to help refocus your mind and maintain your attention on your homework.

The more we can help our kids develop good habits, the less they have to use their willpower, the more successful they will be at getting their homework and chores done. The younger you start working on developing these habits with your kids, the easier it is for them to develop them an internalize them.

Modeling good habits for your kids is always a good first step, like doing the dishes right after dinner instead of watching TV first or putting your stuff away when you walk in the house instead of throwing your coat over the back of a chair.

When they are young, when they get home from school, you can insist that before they play they put their backpack away and put their coat in the closet.

As they get older, you can have a rule (that becomes a habit) that they sit down at the kitchen table, have a snack, and do homework right after school.

What’s interesting is that when we have these habits, it can actually look like motivation. It looks like self-discipline. And it is those things, but it takes less willpower to be motivated and self-disciplined when we have good habits. So helping your kids develop good habits will help make being motivated and self-discipline easier for them.

Have your child preview homework and then take a break
Elementary School, High School, Middle School, Parent Tips, School Advice

Have Your Child Preview Homework and Then Take a Break

Sometimes it can be intimidating to start homework if we know (or we think we know) that we don’t know how to do the homework and so we avoid that. But just previewing the homework, we don’t have to really worry that we don’t know how to do it. And then our brain does this amazing thing: while we are having a break doing other stuff, our brain is thinking about how to solve those problems. So by the time we start our homework, we actually have some ideas on how to approach that tough math question or what to write about for that essay.

So often helping kids with homework feels more like nagging them to just sit down and do their homework. That stinks. It’s really no fun for parents or kids. So how do you shift from being the homework nag to your kid’s homework coach? Fireborn’s got 6 tips for you on how to stop being a homework nag so that homework becomes, dare we say it, potentially a pleasant, collaborative, relationship-building opportunity instead of an all out fight!

How do you shift from being the homework nag to your kid’s homework coach?

  1. Preview the work with your kid and then take a break.
  • Do something fun on the break.
  • There is no pressure during this break.
  • While they are having a break doing other stuff, their brain is thinking about how to solve those problems.
  • Now, by the time they start homework, they actually have some ideas on how to approach the tough questions.
  1. Establish a study time habit.
  • Have a specific spot (that your child chooses) to do homework.
  • Have a routine to start the work.
    • Examples: eat a snack, put on classical music, or exercise.
  • Try to start at the same time every day.
  1. Ask your child to just do short bursts of homework.
  • It is less intimidating to do 10 minutes of work than to do all of the work for a subject.
  • “Sometimes just getting started is the hardest part and once your child has started, he can decide that he wants to keep reading.”
  1. Make sure your child gets breaks.
  • “Powering through is not actually a thing. And it’s really bad for your brain.”
  1. Help your child develop intrinsic motivation to do homework.
  • There are three parts to internal motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose
  • Autonomy- the want to be in charge.
    • To give them autonomy with homework, you can try letting them choose…
      • What time or place they do their homework.
      • The order in which they decide to do their homework.
      • What music they listen to.
    • Mastery- the want to do things that we are good at and that we want to get better at
      • To give them mastery with homework…
        • Make sure to celebrate the small wins.
        • Give your child as many opportunities to get better at stuff that they like, both with homework and extracurricular activities.
      • Purpose- the want to do things that matter
        • To help them with purpose for their homework…
          • Have your child set personal academic goals and plans for the year.
            • These goals should explain how and when the child will accomplish these goals. The more specific the goal and the plan, the better.
  1. Assume good will!
  • “Taking a breath and remembering your child wants to do right by you will help adjust your mindset so you can respond more effectively when your child is avoiding studying for that exam.”

By doing these things, instead of nagging your child, you’re actually teaching her strategies for how to study when you aren’t there to nag her.

You can learn more on The Happy Student Podcast Episode#55: How to Not Be a Homework Nag!



No Set Career Plans and Heading Off to College
High School

No Set Career Plans & Heading Off to College

[bctt tweet=” “Does your teen really need to know what they want to do on (or before) their first day of college?”” username=”@SisuFireborn”]

Some kids just know what they want to be when grow up and their academic and career choices just fall into place to make that happen. They go to college, they choose their major on day one, they get the right internships, and they land their dream entry-level job immediately after college. Those teens are the exception. And while it’s great for them that they have it all figured out, it puts some undue pressure on the students who don’t know what they want to do.

Most teens start college not knowing what they want to do when they graduate and that is totally fine. Adults change careers all the time! Why should we expect an 18 year old to know what they want to do for the next forty to fifty years of their life? We teach students to pursue their passions and to be well-rounded, but then expect them to be singularly focused when it comes to their careers – that’s unrealistic and unhelpful.

When you talk to people with a lot of experience, you find that most times the way their career changed had a lot to do with luck and opportunities and maybe even discovering new interests. I know a pediatrician who started college as a math and economics major, only to switch to pre-med after his junior year of college. I know an entrepreneur who started out in the military, then went into human resources, transitioned to finance, and ended up managing radio stations. I know a consultant who is now in marketing. And I know a former teacher who worked in wealth management and then started a nonprofit (me!).

Most adults’ careers aren’t linear.

And that can actually help your career. Sometimes when you are so focused on your one path, you miss out on seeing some interesting connections. The diversity of thought that comes from working in a different industry and being well-rounded can improve the work you end up doing in whatever ends up being your “final career”. People who have lots of hobbies and who come from different industries often bring creative solutions to their new jobs. According to Adam Grant, “Relative to typical scientists, Nobel Prize winners are 22 times more likely to perform as actors, dancers or magicians; 12 times more likely to write poetry, plays or novels; seven times more likely to dabble in arts and crafts; and twice as likely to play an instrument or compose music.” And college is the perfect time to explore all those different opportunities and interests. When else will kids have access to so many clubs and courses and professors? We don’t want to pigeon hole students! So allowing them this time to explore is hugely important!

What freshman college students should do is go to career services, practice interviewing, and work on getting internships. Most college seniors are really bad at interviews, even if they are terrific students and are capable of doing well at any job after school. They do not know how to talk about or promote themselves and their experiences. So even if they truly deserve a fantastic job post-graduation, it is hard for them to convince their interviewer of that. So what is more important than knowing what you want to do after college before you even start college, is going to career services, working on building a resume through various activities you can get involved with at school, and practicing interviewing. That way, you are more likely to get good internship opportunities, which will only help you in future interviews (again, even if they are in different industries – you’re still young, so that’s okay to be figuring it out!). And that will help put you ahead of your peers and prepare you for the next interview when you have figured out what it is you want to do.

Now, if you want to get a job where there are really well defined paths (such as being an investment banker, a lawyer, or a doctor), it may be best to know ahead of time that you want to do that so that you can choose classes and internships carefully to increase your odds of getting those jobs or into the right graduate school. But often during school, kids find that they don’t actually want to be one of those things, or they discover later that they really do want to be those things. And they find a way to make it happen. That’s what’s so great: it may be a more difficult path, but you can figure out how to be what you want to be even if you figure out what that is after you graduate.

Free Play Means Creative Thinking
Elementary School, Great for All Ages, High School, Middle School, Parent Tips, Social Life, The Happy Student Podcast

Free Play Means Creative Thinking

Unstructured after-school activities where kids just get to play is great for kids to develop creative problem solving skills and communication skills. Free play is also great for helping kids relax, fighting anxiety, and reflecting and storing all the information they learned that day. Often kids don’t get enough free play in their lives, so if you find an after-school activity just for play, that’s a great way to help your kid have more fun, be a kid, and learn some really important skills that often get missed out on at school and in other after-school activities!

Finding the right after-school activity can be hard. What if your kid isn’t doing enough extracurriculars? What if she’s doing too many? Does he really need to be doing any at all if he doesn’t want to? In this post, we talk about why after-school activities are great for your kids, how to figure out if your kid is doing too many, and what to do if your kid isn’t interested in them at all.

Why are after-school activities beneficial for kids?

  1. Socializing
  • If the activity is something your child is interested in and what the other children are interested in, then it can help build friendships.
  • Having healthy friendships is important to academic success. If kids feel secure in their relationships and that they have friends, they don’t need to waste time at school worrying about their social lives.
  1. Free Play Means Creative Thinking
  • Free play after-school activities help kids develop creative problem solving skills and communication skills.
  • It also will help kids relax, fight anxiety, and reflect and store all the information they learned that day.
  • Often kids don’t get enough free play in their lives, so if you find an after-school activity just for play, that’s a great way to help your kid have more fun, be a kid, and learn some really important skills that often get missed out on at school and in other after-school activities!
  1. Deep Dive & Deliberate Practice
  • After-school activities can help kids take a deep dive into learning a skill and then work on deliberate practice to help them improve that skill.
  • Deliberate practice: where your child is figuring out where her weaknesses are and working to improve those areas.
  • Once kids learn what deliberate practice is, they can use deliberate practice in other areas, like studying.
  1. A Break!
  • After-school activities provide a break from schoolwork.
  • Breaks can then help them be more productive later, instead of trying to ‘power through’, which isn’t actually a thing according to neuropsychologists.
  1. Teamwork & Strategy
  • Some after-school activities build teamwork and communication skills as well as help develop strategic thinking like “What’s the other team good at? How will we defend against that?”

Why are after-school activities beneficial for parents?

  1. It can help your child develop some important skills, like the ones mentioned above.
  • Your kids develop these skills in a safe environment.
  • These skills include some that the child does not get during a traditional school day.
  1. Your child will be more productive when they come home.
  • This break can help reduce the amount of fights over starting homework.
  1. If the after-school activity is at school, you don’t need to interrupt your day to go get your child to bring them home or to the activity.

What should parents consider when organizing after-school activities for kids?

  • This activity should be almost entirely your child’s choice. If your child is unsure what they want to do, come up with 3-5 options based on their personal preferences.
  • It’s also important to think about how many after-school activities your child is participating in and how long they each go.
    • If your child is constantly exhausted and needing a rest, but not ever able to get one, then he’s probably in too many after-school activities, especially ones that aren’t free play.
    • Fireborn recommends that your child be getting home by 5 pm four days a week until high school.
    • To figure out if they are in too many or too few activities, ask the following questions: Do your kids have time to do their homework? Do they have time to rest? Are they bored? Do they have a ton of energy? Where is that energy coming from? Do they simply have a ton of energy or is it because they are anxious? Do they need to do more active activities or do they need more time to relax? Is my child stressed by the after-school activities or looking for more stimulation? Especially for younger children, you want a good mix of structured activities and unstructured, free play/relaxing activities.

What should parents do if their kids really don’t want to do any after-school activities?

  • If your child does not want to do it, it’s probably best not to force them.
  • You want to think about why your child doesn’t want to do any after-school activities.
    • Is it because they need some quiet time at home after an over-stimulating day at school?
    • Or are they worried about bullying? If they are worried about bullying, find an activity they can get involved in where there aren’t any kids that are teasing your child already and where you kid has the opportunity to meet new kids in a less scary way (think individual sports, like chess, tennis, or swimming).
  • Find an extracurricular activity that your child’s friend is also doing. Have your child try the activity for a week or two. After two weeks, you can circle back and decide if it’s time to find something else to do or something your child wants to continue .
    • Just getting kids to go once to see it’s really fun is often all they need to want to keep going.

You can learn more on The Happy Student Podcast Episode #52: Figuring Out After-School Activities!