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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Use Your Summer Wisely

Should my child play Pokémon Go?

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 For the past two weeks all people can talk about is Pokémon Go. The news is exploding with stories of people getting hit by cars, finding dead bodies, and getting lured to strangers all while playing this game. So, is this application truly safe for children?  

bigstock-Kuala-Lumpur-Malaysia--th-Jul-138386768.jpgThe 1990s craze of Pokémon has switched from trading cards to an app for smartphones. Pokémon Go is a game where players can catch virtual Pokémon in specific real-life locations. Players are called trainers. The mission for the trainer is to find Pokémon around various cities or towns, battle in locations known as gyms, or hatch eggs to make more Pokémon. Pokéstops are another place where players travel to to receive free items to promote their gaming experience. On the surface it seems like a way to force children to take their video games outside, but it can also put children in dangerous situations.

Continue reading “Should my child play Pokémon Go?”

Easy Action Items, Great for All Ages, Parent-Child Communication, Use Your Summer Wisely

Life Long Learners

As an adult, you know that learning never stops, despite what you may have thought as a child, such as, “When I grow up, I’m going to be an expert and know everything”. While that mindset is cute in a child and that desire is praiseworthy, we actually do not want our children to think that learning stops after school. If learning stops after school, how will they ever learn new skills and progress at work? If life becomes a bit monotonous, how will they start a new hobby without learning? How will they keep their brain active and alert as they age if they stop learning? How will they advance society if they think they already know everything?

Being a life long learner is clearly important. And we want to promote that in our learners.

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To do so, show your learner that you are a life long learner.

  • Challenge your child to a game of Sudoku.
  • Learn how to play Pokemon Go and musical.ly (be careful on the privacy settings with both to make sure people you do not know are not “friending” you).
  • Learn a new skill together, like cooking, photography, or even floral design. 
  • Practice a new sports trick together.

Showing that learning new things is still important for you, an adult, will help your children realize that learning is a life long (and hopefully fun) endeavor!

Avoid the Summer Slide with Art
Easy Action Items, Use Your Summer Wisely

Avoid the Summer Slide with Art

Even though spring has just begun, summer is approaching quickly, which means it is time to start figuring out what kids will do this summer. How will you keep your child learning over the summer months? Reading lists provided by the school? Math packets? Boring. Not to mention insufficient.

While reading and math skills are important and you certainly do not want to lose any knowledge during a “summer slide”, there is more to your child’s education than pure academics. For instance, there is critical thinking, mental flexibility, grit, creative problem solving, and empathy, to name a few. While you can learn some of these skills from reading and math (for instance, reading nonfiction can improve your empathy [Chiaet, 2013]), art and play are great at teaching these skills that support academic success across disciplines.

Dr. Elliot Eisner, an education professor at Stanford University, says, “The arts teach children that problems can have more than one solution and that questions can have more than one answer. The arts celebrate multiple perspectives. One of the large lessons kids can learn from practicing the arts is that there are many ways to see and interpret the world” (Robertson, 2015). And ‘the arts’ teach children so much more than that even:

  • Conceptualization of possibilities
  • Creative self-expression
  • Critical thinking
  • Empathy
  • Fine motor movement
  • Imagination
  • Innovation
  • Mental contrasting*
  • Mental flexibility
  • Organization
  • Planning
  • Practice and perseverance
  • Problem solving
  • Reflection
  • Resource recognition
  • Self-awareness
  • Self-empowerment
(*Mental Contrasting: “concentrating on a positive outcome and simultaneously concentrating on the obstacles in the way” (Tough, 2012, 93); i.e., kids will work on setting goals and having big dreams as well as overcoming challenges they face in reaching those dreams. While working on art projects, kids figure out how to move past being stuck and how to be excited to test a new idea.)

Meanwhile, play helps us think of creative solutions. It allows us to explore possibilities as opposed to adults’ natural tendency to inhibit idea generation, which stops us from thinking original ideas. Play helps us overcome that inhibition. Play is essential to the brainstorming phase of problem solving (T. Browne, 2008).

While improved planning and mental contrasting skills may not directly impact math and reading like the packets do, the skills acquired through art and play contribute to overall long term academic success and intellectual curiosity.

Continue reading “Avoid the Summer Slide with Art”

Easy Action Items, Elementary School, Middle School, Motivating the Unmotivated, Use Your Summer Wisely

The 45 Minute Museum Max

Wish your children were more cultured? Wish they enjoyed museums more? Do you wish you enjoyed museums more? Does the thought of going to a museum exhaust you?

You are not alone. A trip to the museum tends to turn into a day long event of standing, staring, and listening, with breaks of more standing in line to get food as well as searches for seats to rest. These day long “adventures” turn into exhausting exercises in focus that many of us fail. Trips to the museum are no longer seen as exciting, but are rather daunting tasks that are necessary to raise a well-educated child!

The 45 Minute Museum Max

Museum Hack embraces this knowledge and gives short burst museum tours filled with energy and interactive games. However, you do not have to spend money on tours to enjoy your visit – just follow this simple principle:

Instead of making “a day” out of the trip to the museum, make the trip a 45 minute visit, at the most. 

Then, go back and back and back. That way it is still exciting to go each time.

(Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, as my sister likes to point out. If you have a baby Rembrandt who wants to stay at the museum forever, stay as long as you can stand it and still look forward to the next trip.)


Resources:

Belden, S. (2015). Personal communication.

Back to School Prep, Executive Functions Training, Parent-Child Communication, Use Your Summer Wisely

Why Does My Kid Put Off Chores?

What is so hard about taking out the trash? Loading the dishwasher? Making the bed? Why Does My Kid Put Off Chores

Lots of things if you are a kid (and sometimes if you are an adult too):

  1. Parents are always asking you to do chores when you are already doing something else. How on earth are you supposed to stop watching television or playing your game to deal with the gross trash bags? No thank you. I will put that off as long as possible.
  2. Parents are always nagging about the chores. So annoying. If the dishes do not get done, what is the big deal?
  3. There are so many chores to do – I do not know where to start.
  4. If I do not do the chores, then I will not get allowance. Fine. (Until I do not get my allowance… then I am angry).

Furthermore, children whose executive functions are not fully developed yet (this can take a long time – until they are 20 or so) tend to have difficulty with time management, self-regulation, planning, and task initiation – all of which are needed for doing the chores (this translates to school work too).

To combat these issues, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Remind your child to do the chore before he starts doing anything fun. So, before he leaves the dinner table, remind him to take out the trash. Or, when he gets home from school, tell him to do the laundry (wash those smelly hockey clothes!).
  2. Prime your child, just as you would for bedtime. “Dinner is in 10 minutes. In 5 minutes, I need you to set the table.” Then give a 1-minute advanced warning as well. While not fool-proof (nothing is), this gives your child the opportunity to get to a good stopping point and decreases resistance.
  3. Make it a commonly known rule: No video games until the trash is out. Plain and simple. This will require you to consistently communicate this rule until it becomes a habit. It is simply too hard to stop even my husband during video games to carry out a chore because he will “Do it later”. Therefore, if your child knows that fun is within reach and the faster the chore is done the faster the fun arrives, the more motivated they will be done to the chore.
  4. Remind him of how good it will feel to be done. Especially for kids with trouble with executive functions, it is hard for them to see past the unpleasantness of the chore to the good feelings of being done with chores. So they often put chores off. As educational and clinical psychologist Rebecca Branstetter explains, “Some adolescents with executive functioning problems do not automatically visualize a positive emotion of the future, a time when they are finished with the task. Instead, they get stuck on the present negative emotion” (2014, 82). To help them, ask, “What will it look like to be done with this task? What will it feel like?” Help them visualize this great future self when the task is complete.
  5. Do not nag. Repeating instructions is frustrating for both parents and children and they lead to that awful question we have all asked (even if we cringe to admit it), “Did you hear what I said?”. Instead of going down that awful path, Dr. Branstetter suggests asking for your child to repeat your instructions “in a positive or neutral tone (e.g., ‘Can you tell me what I said so I can make sure you got all the information?’) or else it can come off as nagging (e.g., ‘What did I say?!’)” (2014, 117; emphasis added).
  6. If there are multiple chores to do, give your child a choice. List out all of the chores. Label them as easy, difficult, time consuming, etc… and let him choose which one he would prefer to do first. Or give him a choice on timing. For example, “In the next hour, this task needs to be done.” While you are giving him the option of when he does the chore, he still may not start the fun activity until the chore is done (same as #3).
  7. *My favorite*: Separate chores from allowance. I had a weekly allowance, which was wonderful because it gave me some independence and control as well as taught me some financial responsibility. I also had chores. But I was just expected to do the chores because everyone in the family had to help out, not because I would be rewarded for doing so. As motivation expert, Daniel Pink explains so well, “By linking money to the completion of chores, parents turn an allowance into an ‘if-then’ reward. This sends kids a clear (and clearly wrongheaded) message: in the absence of a payment, no self-respecting child would willingly set the table, empty the garbage, or make her own bed. It converts a moral and familial obligation into just another commercial transaction-and teaches that the only reason to do a less-than-desirable task for your family is in exchange for payment” (2009, 189).

In general, we keep coming back to the same themes: communicate clearly with a positive, nonjudgmental tone and develop habits and routines so that tasks become easier. These routines and behaviors will eventually translate to school tasks, such as doing homework (Ward & Jacobsen, 2013). So if you get started now, perhaps the start of the school year will be a little bit easier for your child!


References:

Branstetter, R. (2014). The Everything Parent’s Guide to Children with Executive Functioning Disorder. Adams Media: Massachusetts.

Pink, D. (2009). Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. Riverhead Books: New York.

Ward, S. & K. Jacobsen (2013). Executive Function Skills – Practical Strategies. Cognitive Connections.

Easy Action Items, Use Your Summer Wisely

Read Out Loud

Read Out Loud

As a child, reading was not my thing. I knew it was “good for me” and I wanted to be a good student (yes, I have always been a goodie-two-shoes), but it was hard for me. It was not until I was in college that I was finally tested and it turned out my hearing was not that great. This was a reading problem for me because “reading begins not with our eyes but with our ears, as we hear and catalog speech sounds” (Turner, 2015). Therefore when I read, I had trouble hearing the right words in my head so I had a hard time understanding the words I was reading.

Combine that with my ADHD and my tendency to skip words, well, my reading was terrible.

But it was too late – learning that my hearing was bad and that I had ADHD (a discovery made in high school) did not do me any good. I had already figured out a way around any (reading) setbacks they created. I read out loud to myself. I cannot remember when I started, but I do remember my mom walking in on me as I sat on my bed reading my 7th grade history textbook aloud. She was concerned – reading out loud takes so much more time.

But reading aloud also helped me understand what I was reading, so it was worth the extra time.

When I read out loud, I immediately notice if a sentence I read does not make sense. Perhaps I read a “d” as a “b” or I skipped a “not”, either way, the sentence is weird and I know to re-read that sentence even slower because something was wrong. Those mistakes are harder to find when I read silently. 

When I read out loud, I go for accuracy and understanding, not speed. (This is very different from the reading I did aloud in class, when I most certainly was going for speed and never understood or remembered what I read.) I am reading just to myself, word by word to make sure each word makes sense in my sentence.

I still do this (along with underlining, highlighting, and taking notes in the margins, which is why I prefer paper books to e-books). I do this every time I edit a blog post, read something important, or read something I am having trouble understanding.

So, if your child is having difficulty reaching her school’s reading goals this summer, suggest that she read out loud, perhaps to her stuffed animals, who do not care if it is slow going.
It is worth a shot!


References:

Turner, C. (2015). The test that can look into a child’s (reading) future. NPR:Ed.