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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Difficult Topics, Executive Functions Training, Great for All Ages, Stress Management, The Happy Student Podcast

#101 Emotional Control

It can be really difficult for kids to focus on school work when they’re having social troubles and yet sometimes we have to sit through class or study for a test even though we are going through tough times. We have to be able to control our emotions in order to get stuff done. Learning to control our emotions when it’s hard requires learning how to do that when our emotions aren’t out of control. Fireborn’s got 6 tips to help you help your kid control their emotions when times are easy so that they are easier to control when times are hard.

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Peg Dawson and Richard Guare state that you have good emotional control if you agree with the following three statements:

1.     My emotions seldom get in the way when performing on the job.

2.     Little things do not affect me emotionally or distract me from the task at hand.

3.     I can defer my personal feelings until after the task has been completed.

It can be really difficult for kids to focus on school work when they’re having social troubles, maybe they just had a fight with their friend or maybe they didn’t do well on a test and they feel anxious about it. Those anxious or sad emotions can get in the way of focusing in the current class. It can be distressing to have to wait until recess to talk to your friend to repair the relationship. It’s okay to have those distressed, anxious, sad emotions. It’s normal. It’s natural.

So, emotional control is not about not feeling emotions. It’s about recognizing that you have that emotion, but not letting it get in the way of you doing what you need to do. We do not want our emotions to control us.

Your child is feeling sad because their friend hurt their feelings. But he/she can’t always mend the relationship right away. He/she has to be able to get stuff done even though he/she is dealing with a lot of emotions. So how do he/she do that?

We need to calm down – but I would NEVER recommend saying that to anyone. Saying “Calm down” to someone invalidates their feelings, making them feel like you don’t understand, and so they get further enraged. So instead of saying, “Calm down”, we work on techniques for calming down, like meditation.

  • Practicing 10 minutes of meditation a day when we are already calm helps us to realize when we are getting agitated and need to meditate in other situations.
  • Finding an app like Calm or a CD or activity book for meditation like Sitting Still Like a Frog can help teach your child to notice when their emotions are overwhelming them and can give them strategies to calm themselves down.

Another technique you can teach your kid for calming down is to teach them how to realize when they are flipping their lid. Flipping your lid is one way experts use to describe what’s happening in your brain when your emotions take charge.

  • To describe flipping your lid goes like this…
  • Use your hand closed as a fist to represent your brain. Your palm is the “downstairs” brain – the emotional part of your brain. The downstairs emotional part of your brain quickly determines threats and reacts.
  • The upstairs part of your brain are your fingers covering that palm when your hand is in a fist. The upstairs part of your brain is the logical, problem solving part of your brain. So it works with the downstairs brain to figure out if there is really a threat and what to do about it.
  • When you are calm, your upstairs and downstairs brain are working together nicely to sort through your emotions and problem solve anything that pops up.
  • But when we get overwhelmed, we “flip our lid” – when that happens the fingers rise up and your upstairs brain is no longer connected to your downstairs brain. Your downstairs brain, your emotions, have taken control. And you can no longer think clearly and problem solve.

Then you teach them the trick to getting back to that brain that looks like a fist where the downstairs and upstairs are working well together – and the trick is to BREATHE.

  • Breathing out slowly cools off your downstairs brain and allows your upstairs brain to come back and work with your emotions. So each time you flip your lid, count how many breaths you need to take until your lid has come back down.

Exercise is also always a good option for getting your emotions back in check. There is something about using up all that anxious or angry energy that helps us to re-center ourselves.

Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg recommends that you “Blank it out” which means that you fill in the blank and write it out, dance it out, sing it out, draw it out, or whatever you want to blank it out.

Finally, to prepare for times when you know your emotions could get out of control, role play the scenario at home first.

  • Problem solve ahead of time so that when they get to the scary situation they are equipped with strategies to deal with their anxiety.

To summarize… to help your child develop emotional control:

1.     Meditate

2.     Teach your kids about flipping their lid

3.     Teach your kids the solution to flipping their lid: breathing

4.     Exercise

5.     Blank it out

6.     Role play

Resources:

Calm

Flipping Your Lid

Sitting Still Like a Frog

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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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!

Difficult Topics, Easy Action Items, Great for All Ages, Self-Advocacy, The Happy Student Podcast

#92: A Resolution that’s Actually Good for You

Resolutions are not always good for you. Sometimes they can lead to burnout and feelings of inadequacy. Let’s resolve this year to do stuff that is good for us and for our kids – like get more sleep! A lack of sleep is currently leading to a public health crisis. Let’s help our kids lead happy, healthy, productive lives by helping them (and us) prioritize sleep!

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The Every Mom: “8 Doable New Year’s Resolutions for Moms” suggests resolutions we need. The resolutions are:

  1. “I resolve to put myself on the [to do] list”
  2. “I resolve to put down my phone”
  3. “I resolve to accept the mess”
  4. “I resolve to lean in to fun”
  5. “I resolve to let go of perfect”
  6. “I resolve to treat my body with kindness”
  7. “I resolve to leave space on my calendar”
  8. “Above all, I resolve to give myself grace

The thing about the “hustle” is that it’s not being shown to make people’s lives better. It’s leading to burnout. Do we want our kids to grow up and hustle and burn out? Or do we want them to grow up and have a great work-life balance in which they feel like they are really living a good life? I vote for the good life. Especially because, as I’ve argued before, that good life actually makes you more productive and is better for your career in the long run. And if we want our kids to behave in ways that will promote the good life, we have to too because they will do as we do.

The Washington Post just published an article “Go to Bed! Brain researchers warn that lack of sleep is a public health crisis”. The article says, “The growing consensus is that casual disregard for sleep is wrongheaded – even downright dangerous”.

Researchers are showing that:

  • Preschoolers, so kids ages about 3-5, who skip naps have worse memory than those who take naps. The kids who get more sleep overnight, but who missed naps, still have a worse memory.
  • Poor sleep may be associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s.
  • And bad sleep habits, like those all-nighters, can increase anxiety and feelings of loneliness.
  • As the article says, “’It used to be popular for people to say, ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead.’ The ironic thing is, not sleeping may get you there sooner.’”

How do you get more sleep for your kids?

Prioritize sleep for yourself. Your kids will hear what you say about sleep being important, but if they see that you skip sleep, they will realize that in theory it’s nice to get sleep, but if you have something to do, you should skip it. They will do what you do.

  • How do you prioritize sleep for yourself? Remind yourself what you value. I value a happy, healthy, long life. So when it’s getting close to bedtime and I haven’t put away the laundry or responded to Fireborn’s Instagram comments, I think, yes, those things are important. But deep down what I value is that happy, healthy, long life. So it is time to go to bed. Those things can wait. As The Every Mom says, “I resolve to accept the mess” because what is important is my sleep. I’m also following another of The Every Mom’s resolutions – to put myself on the to do list. I’m sleeping because I am worth it.

Reduce the number of after-school activities your kids participate in so they can take naps or get their homework done earlier so they can go to sleep.

Establish bedtime routines to help your kids calm down and fall asleep easily so that they have good sleep habits for the rest of their lives.

Institute a no-smartphone policy for after a certain hour so that you kids can get uninterrupted sleep. This one is hard with older kids and will require a serious conversation with your kids about the reasoning behind it so that they really understand. They may not like it, but if they understand it they will be more likely to comply.

Let your teens sleep as late as they want on the weekends. It’s a natural part of their development that they want to sleep late. So don’t wake them up early because they are “wasting the day away”. That sleep is not a waste. They need it. Their bodies crave it. Let them have it.

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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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!

Difficult Topics, Easy Action Items, Elementary School, Parent Tips, Parent-Child Communication, School Advice, Social Life, The Happy Student Podcast

The Happy Student Podcast #91: Story Time: Using Stories to Decrease Fears

Getting kids to tell you stories about their day has numerous benefits! Better conversations, better relationships, and kids who feel comfortable coming to you when they need help. If you focus on positive questions, then you also get practice looking for the goods. And if you ask questions that are in line with your family motto, like “How were you kind today?” you show your kid that you value kindness and encourage them to act kind every day. Stories can also help kids develop better memory and it helps them make sense of their experiences, which can help reduce anxiety. But getting kids to open up to you about their day can be tough. Fireborn’s got some tips!

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Ways to get your child to open up about their day:

Change the question you are asking so that it naturally primes your kid to answer with more than one or two words. Instead of “How was your day?”, some options include:

  • What was the best part of your day?
  • What was the hardest or most challenging part of your day?
  • How were you kind today?
  • What did someone else do today that was nice?
  • In what way were you brave today?
  • What did you do today that was inclusive?
  • You can ask questions like what was the worst part of the day today or what was your least favorite class, I just prefer to focus on the positive stuff because our brains naturally focus on the negative stuff, so I like to give my brain more practice looking for those positives.
  • Try playing two truths and a lie, where your kid tells you two things that did happen that day and one thing that didn’t and you have to guess which one didn’t.
    • Gamifying the conversation like this may make your child more excited to participate.
  • You can get your kids to tell you more stories by telling them more stories yourself. This teaches your kid what kind of answer you are looking for when you ask how their day was.

Asking these types of questions encourages kids to specifically remember events that happened during the day and to tell you about those events.

Asking better questions leads to better conversations, better relationships, and kids who feel comfortable coming to you when they need help. If you focus on positive questions, then you also get practice looking for the goods. And if you ask questions that are in line with your family motto, like “How were you kind today?” you show your kid that you value kindness and encourage them to act kind every day.

You can get your kids to tell you more stories by telling them more stories yourself. This teaches your kid what kind of answer you are looking for when you ask how their day was.

What’s really great about asking these good questions or teaching kids how to respond with stories is that it gets kids to think about specific events that happened and to tell you about them, which helps your kid develop their memory muscles.

When we tell our story, it gives us time to reflect on what happened and make sense of it in a way that we may not have if we didn’t take the time to think about it again. So telling stories of our experiences helps us understand our past experiences, which then informs our present experiences as well. As your kids get older, the stories they tell and the meaning may get more complex.

Sometimes kids have bad experiences and don’t like to think about them, which makes talking about them very difficult. But the way we make sense of those experiences is through talking about them. Kids need to be able to tell their story about what happened so they can make sense of it and move on. You can help them tell that story too if they aren’t able to. The more your child can integrate and understand their scary experiences, the more experience they will have overcoming challenges in the future and the happier, less anxious they will be.

Resources:

Siegel, D. & T. Bryson. (2011). The Whole-Brain Child.New York: Random House.

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!