The new school year brings new hopes but also new fears about acceptance and fitting in. This is never more true than for middle school students (though the advice here is good for all grades). Parents can be proactive about talking to their kids about how to handle bullying before it even comes up as a problem.Read More
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Teach your daughter how to study a textbook. Kids think they can just read a textbook the way they read a novel, but although both involve reading, they are really very different tasks.
Here are some guidelines on using a textbook:
Preview all the pictures and graphics (Some textbook companies include information in the pictures/graphics/sidebars, etc that they do not include in the body paragraphs, and often this information shows up on tests). Read the first paragraph, all the section headings and the last paragraph of the chapter. Go over and look up any italicized words in the text. STOP and summarize in your mind ideas like, “This chapter appears to be about…. The material I already know something about is…. The part that looks the hardest is….” READ the review questions at the end of the chapter. Make guesses about what the answers might be. Guessing will help you be on the look out for information as you read that confirms or denies your answers.
Read in sections. At the end of each section, close the book (using a bookmark to track the page) and try to summarize in your mind what you have read. Say any difficult or new words OUT LOUD to try to fix them in your mind. If you are having a hard time summarizing, reread. Finally, when you can generally summarize, take notes and/or draw pictures or diagrams of what you have read IN YOUR OWN WORDS. Only go back to the text to double check you’ve got it right. Proceed to the next section.
After reading: Whether your teacher requires it or not, go back to the questions at the end of the chapter and do them. If none of the questions asks you to summarize the main ideas of the chapter, write a paragraph of 5–7 sentences that will become your quick guide to what the chapter is about.
As you can see, studying a textbook takes much longer than reading a textbook, but when your teacher says, “Read pages 56–61,” she really doesn’t mean read. She means study. You might think, “Oh, that’s just 5 pages. That will take around 10 minutes.” It will not. Once you get good at this process, it will take you around 30 minutes for the before/while/after steps, but when you are first learning it, it will take much longer, so be sure to set aside some extra time.
LOOP YOUR STUDYING
Knowledge in the sciences is accumulative. Subsequent chapters require you to know the information from previous chapters. For this reason, keep your notes from all chapters for the entire year. (If you are taking notes on binder paper, you don’t have to carry the whole year around with you but can transfer previous chapters to a binder you keep at home.) Every time you sit down to study new material, take 5 minutes or so to review old material. Furthermore, a good teacher will ask questions from previous chapters on every test, so set a time in your schedule to go back and review them from time to time.
It can be hard to understand material two or three chapters away from the one you are working on, but there is still value in looking at ahead to those chapters. Look at the titles, graphics and photos. Start getting curious about what it means. Be on the look out in your current and past chapters that might connect to the topics and themes coming up.
Knowing how to be a good student is infinitely more valuable in the 7th grade than any particular knowledge gained of a particular topic. Because grades count relatively little, 7th grade is the perfect time to focus on learning how to learn. That is a skill that you will take with you no matter what classes you take in the future.
EXPANDING THE PARENTING CIRCLE
I LOVE THAT I AM MOM. My daughter once pointed out that she holds the special spot in my life of being the only child to grow in my womb. That does give us a bond that says I am her primary parent. I love being her primary person.
But her dad and I have been divorced since she was three, and her stepmother has been in her life almost as long (and her stepfather a few years after that). That means that while I am her primary parent, Julie has a lot of other parents. And a lot of other parent figures.
Now, that could feel threatening to me. But it’s not. Instead, it is a source of supreme comfort. Seriously. Parenting is a lot of pressure. I can think of dozens of ways—mostly small but some large, too—that I have messed up. On the other hand, I can also think of ways that Julie’s stepmom or aunts or grandmothers or good family friends have gotten it right. They have been able to provide what I wasn’t at the time Julie needed something.
The biggest example of other adults providing help where I couldn’t was when I got remarried. Because I got married in India and didn’t know I was getting married (long story!), that meant that a) the kids were not with us and b) we did not prepare the kids for our marriage in the way that I normally would have. You can imagine the guilt I have felt over that—guilt that was reinforced by how long my daughter stayed mad at me. Thank goodness Julie had my friend Leslie during this time. Julie spent lots of hours at Leslie’s (supposedly to play with Leslie’s daughter, but I know that she saw Leslie as someone who absolutely understood and who (unlike my family) didn’t take my side but just kept agreeing with Julie that having your mom remarry must be really hard).
Think of who the special adults have been in your life. Middle school is a stage where kids begin to examine the world through their own lens. Up until that point, they follow their parents’ views on things pretty closely. I was miserable in middle school. But my school librarian was a big help. She seemed to get me. She was ready to listen to me without lecturing. Even when I complained about my mother, she acknowledged my feelings but didn’t make me feel bad for feeling them. At that stage in my life, I was busy trying to pull away from my mother in order to get some space to figure out who I was. No matter how much she wanted to, she was not the person who could help me at that point. It took an outside, caring adult.
It was just lucky that I found Mrs. Anderson, the school librarian, but I also had my godmother. She was someone my parents had deliberately chosen to be an extra adult in my life. She loved me and cared deeply for me, but because I wasn’t ultimately her responsibility, she could love me exactly as I was. Unlike a parent whose job it is to civilize a child (to set expectations for him, to hold him accountable, to push him beyond what he can see for himself), a godparent’s job is mostly just to be there as a wise advisor. The godparent can give counsel, but the child has no obligation to follow it. That means the child is much more likely to listen (even if the message is pretty much what the parents have been saying al along. Whereas my godmother clucked over her own boys like a nervous mother hen, with me she could be supremely confident that “only nice things could come to such a nice girl.”
Parents can do much to extend the family circle beyond the nuclear family. Obviously, how you interact with adults around you will signal to your child how comfortable you are with particular adults as people. You can go one step farther, though, by helping your children to connect to potential caring adults. Point those people out. Guide your children when they might have an interest in common with a caring adult. Maybe you find out that a teacher at your child’s school exhibits her own art. You yourself don’t know Jackson Pollock from a Kindergarten project. By suggesting to your child that she show the artist teacher her work, you are telling your child that you honor her interest in art even if you don’t know anything about it.
Populating your child’s life with a circle of adults to love and support her is an excellent example of being the architect of your family. You don’t have to do all the heavy lifting yourself, but the design will be yours.
Ask most parents and they'll say, I just want my kid to be happy. But how are they teaching their child to be happy?
That's right. I said teach. Maybe you think that happiness is something that either happens or it doesn't. Not so! Aren't you glad to hear that? Happiness is something you can develop in your child. Why? Because like learning to read or write or draw a picture or throw a ball--or become an effective parent!--much of happiness is built with specific skills. Sure. Some children are born with naturally sunnier dispositions. Does that mean you accept the grumpy kid "for who he is"? Well, no. No more so than you would accept a child who was struggling to read. In fact, it is with the child who is struggling with whom you sit down and break the task into ever smaller and manageable bits.
How do we teach happiness?
Let's look at some key practices that have come out of current positive psychology research.
1. HAPPINESS BRINGS SUCCESS.
As parents we need to rethink the idea that success brings happiness. Current research suggests strongly that the reverse is true: Happiness brings success. So lead your child towards happiness practices and let nature take its course.
2. NOTICE THE POSITIVE.
Is the glass half empty or half full? Help your child learn to see that the glass is half full by having her focus on the positives in her day. Model it by showing appreciation for the little things in life. Here are some positives from my day yesterday: Someone let me pull into traffic in front of him; the weather was the perfect temperature with a slight breeze; I got in an extra walk in the afternoon.
3. AMPLIFY THE POSITIVE.
Research shows that when we feel something, certain neuro pathways are excited. The cool part is that when we tell someone about what excited us, the SAME neuro pathways are re-excited. That's like getting two for one! So what does that mean? It means we need to actively share all our little joys. When I was able to pull into traffic easily because of someone's generosity, I told my friend, "I was afraid that I was going to be late but this really nice guy let me pull into traffic. I LOVE that!" Not only have I modeled finding the positive for my friend, I get to feel gushy all over again. It turns out, my brain doesn't know the difference between the actual event and the relived event!
4. DEVELOP A WIDE POSITIVE EMOTION VOCABULARY.
Research suggests that the richer vocabulary we have to draw on, the greater the variety of positive emotions we can feel. Partly, what you are doing is teaching a child to appreciate a wider scope of emotions as positive. Stuck with just the word "happy" a child develops a very narrow view of what he can count as happy. Teach him delighted, content, elated, or genial, and he can recognize when he is feeling all those things.
5. MODEL GRATITUDE.
Of all the positive emotions we can feel, the super power of them all is gratitude. In general, a life lived directed towards others is a happier one. Feeling and expressing gratitude supports our happiness in so many ways. It reduces stress which improves our health, it causes us to be less materialistic which gives us easier access to a spiritual life, and it improves our relationships by establishing a positive feedback loop.
The very best part of teaching our children happiness skills? By modeling the skills, we increase our own happiness! And if it is not enough for you to be happy, it will comfort you to know that happy people learn better, are more productive and are more resilient in the face of setbacks.
Did you see the article in the Wall Street Journal about Middle School Moms’ Blues?
A new study finds the stress and anxiety Middle School Moms feel is even greater than that of moms of infants!
Well, with the bulk of my teaching career spent with middle schoolers, that is no surprise to me. In fact, I started my business, Joyful Parenting Coaching, because of a conversation I had with the mom of a 7th grader whose daughter was coming home crying every day. This mom felt at a loss, but to me the saddest part was that she did not trust she could share what was going on with other moms in the class. The feared being judged, looked down on or pitied kept her from reaching out.
That broke my heart.
But I don’t think she was alone. The more work I’ve done out of the classroom and directly with parents, the more I see how many of them are carrying the burdens of parenting in isolation.
I would never have survived parenting—any stage of it—if I hadn’t felt like I had trusted people around me with whom to compare notes—or to just let off steam!! I don’t know about you, but I have certainly had days when I could have killed my child. Or at least cheerfully sold her to the gypsies. Of course, I never would, but it sure helped to have close and loving friends who could give me their Amen to That, Sister! rally before helping me find constructive solutions.
The article does not really break down why Middle School Moms are so stressed.
Here is my theory on why Middle School Moms find parenting harder than other stages:
1. As our children go up in grades, the ways society measures their success gets narrower and narrower. Academic ease and performance become key. Sports and Artistic proficiency can provide some secondary credit, but in our get-into-a-good-college-at-all-costs society, measurable numbers (grade point averages, state testing scores, SATs) hold the most weight. Lots of parents start obsessing about those things and find it hard to stop.
2. As our children go up in grades, the percentage of moms who are working full time also goes up. That means as women we spend the whole day talking business, not kids and parenting. Last week I volunteered at the high school for a couple of hours stuffing envelopes (the beauty of working from home, being my own boss and living close to the high school). I realized it was pretty much the same moms I had seen the two other times I have volunteered this year. Their chatter was incessant and far ranging. These moms knew each other well and clearly had spent a lot of hours together. They felt perfectly comfortable airing their dirty laundry—and getting and receiving advice from each other.
But most moms don’t have that. Many moms drop their kids off at school in the morning and pick them up from childcare or after school activities in the evening. Not only does that not allow that mom much time for connecting with her kids, it really doesn’t allow her much time to meet up with a girlfriend and compare notes (and I am not saying you cannot or should not be comparing notes with your spouse, but it is really useful to get the perspective of what is going on with other kids in other households).
3. Perhaps the most significant reason parenting a middle school child is harder than other ages and stages is that the rewards are not as great. With an infant you are exhausted and lose sleep, but then that child smiles at you—or laughs for the first time—and in a moment you are totally in love again. The preschooler balances tantrums with ardent declarations of “I love you, Mommy!” In lower elementary, kids become a lot less work and at the same time still look to you for you insights and views on the world in general and their own worries in particular. But the middle school child? Well, I don’t know how you were in middle school, but I was miserable. I hated school, I basically had no friends, and I was an emotional wreck. On top of all that, I was convinced my mom (who always painted a picture of her friends and fun activities in middle school) could never in a million years understand what I was going through. 8th grade was the year my grades went down, I lied, and I even cut school! My poor mom!
So in middle school we have all the worry, doubt and work of other stages but few opportunities to be our children’s heroes.
Our kids may still need our advice and counsel, but they won’t admit it to save their lives. Furthermore, they need us to step away from our god-like positions and become the wise elders who walk beside them. One of my favorite analogies for teens is that they are on a roller coaster ride; Mom’s job is not to get on and ride with them but to stand on the platform ready to be there when they get off.
For all these reasons that make it especially challenging to parent kids in middle school, that’s why I have created the Middle School Moms’ Mastermind.
Are you familiar with the concept of a mastermind? I am in one for solo entrepreneur women. We are smart, motivated and we face similar struggles. While only our intrepid leader claims to be the expert, we still get a wealth of advice and good ideas from our fellow entrepreneurs. We have a community of people to ask, What do you think of this idea? Or Has anyone of you tried X before? I love this group of brave, creative go-getters. They are at once my role models and my friends, and when I get to share my own advice and experience, it makes me realize how far I have come as a business woman.
We use a Private FB group as the primary means of communicating with each other (though I have also had private phone conversations from time to time with individuals who have a lot to share about a given topic). In twice monthly group coaching calls, our outstanding business coach gives us concrete advice both through direct instruction and through answer our specific questions about our specific situations.
Imagine having that kind of support for your parenting!
That is exactly what I want for you. The Middle School Moms’ Mastermind will bring together a maximum of 15 moms of middle school kids. I will moderate our private FB group where moms can post questions and observations. Both moms and I will post relevant articles that we come across. Moms will be free to post advice for people who ask for it as long as they do so in a way that has no shaming, blaming or judgment. Additionally, I will lead two monthly calls (recorded so you can access them any time). On these calls I will spend the first 15 to 20 minutes educating participants about some topic specific to early adolescents and then the rest of the call is your chance to ask me about your particular needs.
Of course, I do not have all the answers (no one does!), but I do have three adult children and in my 25 years of teaching, I have dealt with more than 3,000 kids between the ages of 11-14. That means I have pretty much seen it all—all kinds of kids and all kinds of families. Working with such a large and diverse sample has taught me how many different ways there are to parent effectively. It is incredibly useful to hear the views and insights of fellow parents. Hearing a lot of different approaches allows you to get new perspectives and ideas for your own parenting.
Could you use a safe haven to share your woes, to compare notes, to get ideas on how other families handle things and to get access to my 25 years of expertise? Let's talk. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 650.248.8916 (Pacific time) to find out if the Middle School Moms’ Mastermind is the tribe you have been longing for!
I am gathering a group of moms who are dedicated to supporting each other in being the best moms they can be. I absolutely believe that you can love parenting your middle school child. I know that I love helping parents find the joy in whatever age or stage their children are, and while I cannot guarantee 100% that you are going to love parenting your middle school children as much as I love teaching them, I do guarantee the fellowship of other women, lots of laughs and unstinting faith that you are the parent your child needs.
Why don't you try a complimentary group coaching call? Our next call is Wednesday, October 19 at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time. (If this time doesn't work for you, let me know what does so that I can let you know when else we are meeting).
I can’t wait to talk to you.
Elisabeth Stitt/ Joyful Parenting Coaching/ 650.248.8916/ www.elisabethstitt.com
IT IS NATURAL FOR YOUNG KIDS TO PUSH BLAME AWAY FROM THEMSELVES
(THEY ARE STILL WORKING ON CAUSE AND EFFECT)
BUT WHEN OLDER KIDS BLAME, IT IS TIME TO TAKE ACTION.
When kids blame others it is often because they have a fixed and not a growth mindset. Jean Tracy, MSS, wrote a blog called “Stop Kids From Blaming Others” (http://kidsdiscuss.com/feature_article.asp?fa_id=184#sthash.UOywUZWA.dpuf), and I wanted to offer my own comments on her ideas. Tracy gave six skills people need to learn in order to shift away from blaming others:
1. Accept responsibility for mistakes
2. Learn from mistakes.
3. Brainstorm better solutions.
4. Choose the best solution and act on it.
5. Become accountable and dependable.
6. Develop a strong moral character.
Skill #1 is Accept responsibility for mistakes.
What makes it hard for a child to do that? The first reason might be that she fears a harsh or very critical response from her caregiver. But even kids with sensitive parents can be reluctant to accept responsibility for mistakes. This is usually a sign of a child having a fixed mindset: She does not need her parent or caregiver to chastise her; she is busy with an internal crisis about her own sense of how capable she is. Remember, the primary concern of someone with a fixed mindset is fear that people will discover she is not as capable (as smart or talented) as people currently think she is. She is, therefore, highly motivated to cover up her mistake so that no one else finds out she is less than they thought before. Not accepting responsibility for her mistake is critical to hanging on to what self-confidence she still has.
Skills #2-4 are all supported by teaching kids to focus on strategy.
How does a parent deal with a child who cannot accept blame because it will damage her sense of herself? The first step is to teach your child about a fixed and growth mindset. Researchers have found that just teaching kids about how the brain works—and especially how it grows when it is learning something new—helps kids to develop a growth mindset. There are lots of videos for kids of different ages to help explain the brain in action. The second step to helping her develop a growth mindset is to ask her what strategy she was using when she made the mistake, why she thought it would work, and finally what strategy she might try next. Focusing on strategy will teach a child how to Learn from her mistakes (Skill #2) and how to Brainstorm better solutions (Skill #3) and Choose the best solution and act on it (Skill #4).
Confused about how to teach kids to focus on strategy?
Some people get confused about strategy, but it is really nothing more than breaking down HOW you do something. Here are some strategies typically used in academic settings, but many of them cross over to other areas of life. The list below might seem overwhelming, but a lot of these are so automatic for you, you don’t even think about them. They might not be automatic for your kids, however:
•Making a List So You Don’t Forget
•Keeping a Calendar
•Identifying Tasks As Beingof High, Medium or Low Importance
•Reading Directions from Top to Bottom Before Starting (recipes, doing arts and crafts)
•Checking for All the Supplies Needed Before Beginning
•Underlining Key Words (and Checking Their Meaning)
•Asking Questions to Check for Understanding
•Repeating Information Back to Check for Understanding and Thoroughness
•Looking at Examples/Samples of What You Are Trying to Do
•Editing and Rewriting (Look at your last paper and see what you got wrong. Did your teacher ask you to focus on transitions? Richer word choice? Providing enough detail?)
•Asking Others for Feedback as You Go Along (Have I provided enough detail in this section? Does my example make sense? Is it clear who everyone in my story is?)
•Double Checking Numbers and Arithmetic (say when doubling a cookie recipe)
•Allowing Enough Time to Work Slowly and Carefully
•Allowing Enough Time to Review Work
•Allowing Enough Time to Print, for the Cake to Cool Before Frosting, for the Paint to Dry Before Transporting
•Recording Steps So That If They Work It Is Not Trial and Error Next Time
•Looking at the Pictures and Graphics for Clues (What is the birdhouse supposed to look like when it is done?)
•Putting the Work/Problem Aside for a While and Coming Back to It Later
•Reviewing Learning to Apply the Next Time (Did you wash a wool sweater and shrink it? What have you learned about wool? About checking labels?)
•Reviewing Successes to Apply the Next Time (Letting each color of paint dry first keeps you from smearing the next color. Grouping the same size plates makes it easier to load the dishwasher to full capacity. )
•Getting the Big Picture Ahead of Time (Look at the whole journey on the map and see it in your head before going to the close up view.)
The Role Metacognition and Critical Thinking Play
In focusing on strategies, what you are really teaching your child is metacognition—thinking about how we think. As you begin to identify strategies, you can then prime the pump before a child gets started by asking, “What strategy are you going to try here? If it doesn’t work or you make a mistake, what is another strategy you will try next time?” Asking the question this way teachers the child to expect that mistakes are a part of getting things right and that a lot of times getting something right is a process of trial and error. You can model for your children that you don’t always get things right by reflecting out loud on your own process and mistakes. You might say out loud, “There was too much heat under the pan for the first batch, so they got a little burnt, but I turned the flame down for the second batch.” Or, “the African violets don’t seem to be thriving on that window sill. I’m wondering if the problem is too much sun or if I am maybe watering them too much.”
Children are learning to think critically from a very young age. Helping them identify what they are doing—especially when they get something right—helps them be more aware of their own efficacy. For example, you might observe to a toddler, “When you rotated that piece, then you were able to fit it in.” Now the toddler learns in a more concrete way that rotation is a strategy when fitting things together. Even just asking the question, “What is another strategy you might try?”—and resisting the need to step in and do for the child—helps a child learn that “trying” doesn’t just mean doing the same thing over and over: Often it means approaching the problem in a different way.
What is your child's core belief about herself?
So, notice how much of getting your child to not blame others is really about fostering your child’s own sense of being capable of figuring things out on her own—along with developing the belief that making mistakes is a natural part of the learning process. You can aide in her learning by giving her opportunities to practice skills as part of her play. For a toddler and preschooler, activities like pouring all sorts of things (liquids, beans, rice, beads, etc) from one container to a next, screwing all sorts of things on and off, putting things on and off shelves, all help her become competent.
Skill #5 is to become accountable and dependable.
Becoming accountable really means a) admitting when you failed to do something and b) figuring out how to make amends or to ameliorate the situation. Kids who are reluctant to admit failure are trying to push shame away from themselves because they do not know how to make amends. Training kids to make amends, allows them to be accountable because it is then within their power to make things better.
Being dependable is essentially a critical problem solving exercise. Kids do not want to disappoint others; it does not feel good. But often they need support in finding the right structures that will assure that they can keep their word. For example, a child who has agreed to put the garbage out on the curb and then fails to might be being passive aggressive (and that’s a whole other blog), but more likely she does not have a system for remembering that Thursday night is the night to put the cans out. She might need your support in marking the calendar in red, setting an alarm on her watch, putting it in her homework planner, etc. Once she has it down as a routine, chances are she will remember.
Skill #6 is to develop a strong moral character.
That, obviously, takes years and years of interactions with your kids. Push comes to shove, though, kids learn by example. One place to look, then, is how much are you modeling blaming vs. taking the blame? If your kids hear you blaming others when things go wrong all the time, naturally they are going learn to do that, too. On the other hand, if you model taking the blame for your part in something—especially when it comes to recognizing how you have contributed to a negative situation with your kids—you will teach your kids to take the blame gracefully. You need to model honoring your commitments and apologizing when you fail to. I used to promise my daughter that I would give her as much advance warning as possible about family social events. Sometimes I would forget and she would get mad—and let me know I had let her down. Well, that was on me. It was disrespectful of me not to give her a heads up about family plans when I had agreed to. I would apologize and resolve to be more considerate in the future.
What’s the bottom line?
Helping kids develop a growth mindset is central to getting kids to stop blaming others when things go wrong. When they see themselves as being “in process,” they are able to cut themselves some slack for their mistakes and failures. That, in turn, allows them to own up to their role in the situation and to look for ways to make the situation better. Making things better—or using critical thinking to make a plan to assure that things will go better next time—washes away a person’s shame or guilt. That makes it much easier to take the blame.