What are your Teen’s Focus Triggers?

Does your teen have a hard time focusing on homework?   If so, they’re not alone!   For most teens I know, staying focused and avoiding distractions during homework is a huge challenge.   In part, this is due to the work itself. Many teens are not inherently interested in the subjects they are studying at school, and depending on how well they are doing in the class, homework can end up feeling uselessly simple or impossibly difficult.   Here are Two Quick Solutions to Combat Missing Homework: This is one of my favorite questions to ask students, because even though there are a lot of things they can't control, we can almost always figure out at least a few things they CAN change. No one likes to feel powerless...and that's especially true for teenagers.  For most students, focusing on what's out of their control tends to increase feelings of frustration and hopelessness. So, encouraging teens to focus on what IS in their control can help them to feel more in charge of the situation and improve their motivation, confidence, and focus. When it comes to homework, WHAT students are asked to do is largely out of their control, and

By |March 30th, 2017|Categories: Mindset|0 Comments

When positive thinking backfires…

"Dream big!"  "Dare to Dream..." "Stay positive!""Believe in yourself..."Everywhere we look, we are surrounded by slogans about the importance of being optimistic, staying positive, and assuming the best. And why not? As anyone who has seen "The Secret" knows, positive thinking leads to positive outcomes!Right?Well, not necessarily.  Optimism and positive thinking do have a number of benefits, but they have downsides, as well. Why too much positive thinking can backfireResearch by Gabriele Oettingen, author of the book Rethinking Positive Thinking has shown that too much time spent fantasizing about the future can actually backfire…reducing motivation, and increasing the likelihood for future depression.Why does this happen? Well, while imagining a positive future outcome feels great, it can also trick your brain into thinking that you have already achieved your goal…which lowers your blood pressure, makes you feel more relaxed, and reduces your motivation to work hard and take action.How this impacts students’ performanceChildren and teens are naturally more optimistic than adults, and while this has a lot of benefits, it can also backfire when it comes to student’s performance in school.When teens imagine that an upcoming test is going to be really easy for them, they typically don’t put as much effort into studying for it...and are frequently disappointed in the results.One of the most common reasons

By |August 3rd, 2016|Categories: Mindset, Motivation|0 Comments

4 Steps to Avoid Summer Procrastination

Even though school is out for the summer, most students still have assignments to do…whether it’s reading 3 books, working through a math packet, taking an online class, studying for the SAT...or all of the above.Left to their own devices, many students end up scrambling to complete these summer assignments in the final week before school starts...which creates a lot of stress & anxiety for them and their families.While this may be the default way students operate, it’s often not what they really want.When I sit down with students to discuss how they'd like to handle their summer work, and discuss the pros & cons of different options, they typically choose one of two approaches..."I want to finish my work as soon as possible, so it’s out of the way and I can relax for the rest of my break!"OR "I want to do a little work each week, so I don't have too much to do on any one day"So, if students don’t really WANT to procrastinate on their work & leave it until the last minute, how can we help them make better choices about how to spend their time?Here are 4 tips to help avoid summer procrastination:1. Put them in charge of making the planStudents are much more likely

3 research-based strategies for overcoming test anxiety

A little nervousness about exams is perfectly normal,  and sometimes can even help performance by encouraging students to pay close attention and focus on the problems in front of them. However, for many students, the anxiety that they feel on tests is anything but beneficial.  Some students feel so nervous when they sit down to take exams that they have a hard time remembering the information they have studied. Instead of focusing on the questions in front of them, a large part of their working memory is pre-occupied with worries about whether they are moving through the test quickly enough or getting enough problems right, and fears about what will happen if they do not do well. Like a computer that freezes when it has too many energy-intensive programs running, students’ brains can freeze up during exams, making it hard to process or respond to the questions in front of them. If your teen experiences test anxiety, or would simply like to go into their tests feeling more confident and prepared, there are a number of research-based strategies they can use to prepare themselves to perform more effectively on their tests. Here are three of my favorites! 1. Write about your stress Before high-stakes tests, students will often try to

By |May 13th, 2016|Categories: Mindset, Study skills|0 Comments

Making the Most of the End of the Semester

Students often wait until the final week before exams to study, believing they will remember the material better if they study it closer to the time of the exam.  It's true that the material will seem more familiar if they have seen it more recently, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be able to recall it on the test.  In order to remember what we’ve learned, we need repeated practice recalling it from memory and applying it to practice problems.This makes sense if we think about how we practice a sport, or a musical instrument.  In these contexts, we intuitively understand short-term “cramming” doesn’t work.  Can you imagine a football team waiting until the week before playoffs to practice, and then staying up late – putting in hours on the field – to “cram” before the big game?  Of course not.  No team would practice that way…and if they did, they would certainly lose the game.Yet, students often attempt to study hard right before their final exams.  In addition to leaving less time to study, “cramming” also causes students to…Feel stressedWorry about the testAdopt quick and ineffective study strategiesStore the material they learn in short-term, rather than long-term, memoryLose

Stages of Competence: Where is your teen right now?

Learning something new can be an exciting experience! For most students, the excitement comes at the END of the process...once they’ve mastered the skill, and it starts to feel effortless. But most of the time, when you're learning something new it doesn’t feel so easy!In fact, it often feels hard, confusing, and frustrating! The fact that learning new skills is hard isn’t a problem...as long as students understand that it’s supposed to feel hard, and trust that eventually their efforts will be rewarded.  Unfortunately, many students have gotten the impression that learning something new SHOULDN'T be so difficult. They believe they should be able to do well without working hard, and that mastering new skills should come easily and naturally.  Students with this expectation tend to get frustrated and disappointed when they're not able to master something right away, and stop trying...concluding either, “I’m no good at this, so why try?” or “Who cares about this? It's stupid anyway." One of the questions I like to ask my students who are in this situation is whether they're familiar with the Stages of Competence.  If they're not, I draw them the following diagram...   Stage 1: Unconscious incompetenceIn the first stage of competence, students aren’t yet aware of how bad they are at this new skill…either because they haven’t tried it yet, or because they haven’t

By |April 1st, 2016|Categories: Mindset, Study skills|0 Comments

Kids do well if they can.

"He knows what he needs to do. I’ve reminded him 10 times already. This isn’t that hard.  Why isn’t he doing it?  Does he just not care?"  I talk to parents all the time who are worried that their kids just don’t seem to care about doing well, because they’re not following through and doing the things they need to in order to be successful.  But when I meet with their kids, what I hear over and over again is that these kids WANT to do better.  They don’t enjoy disappointing their parents…or themselves.  They want to feel proud of themselves, and make their parents happy.  They’re just having a really hard time getting there. So, who’s right?  When kids behave badly, is it because they don’t want to do well? Or is it because something is getting in their way, and making hard for them to follow through? Ross Greene’s quick 4-min video does a wonderful job of explaining the differences between these two philosophies:   What approach do you usually take? If you adopt the philosophy that "kids do well if they want to"…and they’re NOT doing well…that means your job is to make them want to to better. This is where rewards & punishments come from — the idea that kids won’t want to

By |January 29th, 2016|Categories: Mindset, Motivation, Study skills|0 Comments

Why Optimistic Students Earn Better Grades

Is your teen more of an optimist, or a pessimist?It turns out that the answer can have a significant impact on their future. Studies have shown that optimists experience a number of benefits later in life, as compared with their more pessimistic peers, including...Better test scores and higher GPAsLower levels of stress, anxiety, and depressionSuperior performance in a wide variety of sportsMore job offers, higher starting salaries, and more frequent promotions at workLower rates of disease, and higher life expectancyIf your teen is optimistic, this is wonderful news! But what if your son or daughter is more pessimistic, and tends to see the world from a more of a "glass is half empty" perspective? The good news is that optimism is a learned skill, not an innate personality trait! No matter what their initial level of optimism or pessimism, all students can learn how to become more optimistic. Pessimistic vs. Optimistic ThinkingThe first step in becoming more optimistic is understanding what we really mean by the word "optimism". While many of us think about optimism as a measure of how cheerful someone is on a day to day basis, it is actually a measure of how they explain the events in their lives. If a student does

By |October 12th, 2015|Categories: Mindset, Motivation|0 Comments

Is homework taking forever? Try taking more breaks.

 Now that we're a few weeks into school, students are starting to spend more time doing homework in the evenings.  The standard guideline for homework is that students should be spending approximately 10 minutes a night doing homework per grade level.  So, that equates to an hour each night for a 6th grader, and 2 hours for a senior in high school. Unfortunately, many students spend far more time on homework than this, which is frustrating for them and their parents. So, what can we do to help students work more efficiently? Somewhat counter-intuitively, one answer is to take more frequent breaks! Study breaks provide a number of important benefits, including...Less procrastination. When homework seems challenging, students often put off starting it until as late as possible.  However, if they know they're only committing to work for 30 minutes or so, and then they will get another break, it's often easier to get started.  More focus. When there's a clear distinction between work time & break time, it's easier to distinguish between "work time" and "break time" activities (texting, etc.). It's also easier for students to resist tempting distractions if they know they'll be able to to whatever they want on their next break... instead of until

Why students procrastinate (Hint: it’s not what you think)

How does your teen respond to deadlines & due dates? Do they typically...a) Get started on their work as soon as it's assigned?  b) Wait until the due date approaches before they begin?c) Delay starting their work until (or past!) the last possible second? While many students argue that waiting to start their work is "no big deal", procrastinating can actually have some pretty serious costs. For some students, it means they don't have time to finish their work before the deadline...so they're getting low zeros on uncompleted assignments and low grades on tests for which they weren't prepared. Other kids manage to meet the deadlines by staying up late to complete their work...but end up feeling stressed out, exhausted, and coming down with frequent colds & illnesses.  And these are just the short-term costs. In the long term, high levels of procrastination are associated with lower salaries, shorter terms of employment, and a greater likelihood of being unemployed or under employed rather than working full‐time (Nguyen et al. 2013). WHY do students procrastinate? Given all the problems procrastination creates, why is this such a common and widespread problem? Why don't students learn to avoid it?  We used to think that procrastination was due to a character flaw, and that people who put things off until the last minute were simply lazy, or unmotivated. In