Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Totally New Approach to Homework

Okay. Long-story short: you must un-learn what you have learned when it comes to homework. I want you to practice this phrase, "I've already passed the 'x' grade, but I would love to help you when you need it - at a reasonable hour." That's the crux of this - when they ASK for your help, you have been invited into their circle. We tend to force ourselves into their world and in so doing can rob them of the opportunity to learn and grow and be accountable for themselves and their work. And when they ask for help, we don't take it upon ourselves to teach but to model and figure things out together. The moment that helping with homework is no longer fun, you check-out.

My dad and I have a long-standing joke about math homework. I have NEVER enjoyed math and it has NEVER been my strong point. I can do what I need to effectively run my household (and I actually can even determine what my monthly payment on a car would be-if I pull out my old college math notes). Aside from that - FORGET IT! Writing on the other hand, I can do. And I have ALWAYS loved it. At any rate, math homework. I vividly remember shakily asking my father for help with math. Help with him always ended in tears and frustration - tears from me and frustration by him. He tells me that for some reason or another, my brain would magically disappear the second he sat down with me. He'd ask me really easy questions to make sure I was paying attention - "Two plus two is three, right?" I would obviously respond, "Yeahh?" Then he would start running his hands through his hair at a rapid rate, he'd start breathing heavy and his eyes would roll back into his head and I would guess that I answered incorrectly. I chuckle to myself remembering these moments. Regardless, I hated getting help with homework because I thought he was angry with me. He wasn't (for the most part - ha!), but it feels that way to the kid. Therefore, when the homework is no longer a pleasant experience, bail. If it isn't to begin with don't even go there -get a tutor. I've been down that road and homework was making me a villain and stressing our relationship; it isn't worth it.

Ultimately, everything we do as parents is about preserving the relationship. That doesn't mean we let our kids get away with murder because we want to be their friends - we ARE their parents and we lay down the law. Kids definitely need well-defined parameters in which to operate and you've got to love them enough to set limits and reign them in when there is a breach. It's all in your approach and making sure they know that what you do is out of love - not power or control or any other reason. And every kid is so different. My expectations for my teen are way different for my tween based on their abilities and personalities and I tailor my approach as necessary. Can you imagine being held to the same expectation or level as the brainiest and most responsible person in your class? Or the angel in your family? Or the naughty minion? We're all different and thank heavens there are brainiacs out there to handle all of the science and math issues in the world because the human race would die off if it's fate lay in the solving of a word problem. Seriously folks. Bad, bad news - I think I have PTSD from word problems. But I digress.

 Honestly, I admit, all conventional wisdom tells us to be highly involved when it comes to the homework load that belongs to our kids (but for some reason we take on for ourselves - like we don't have enough to do?). The level at which we DO involve ourselves depends on the responsibility and maturity level of our kiddos. Unfortunately for us parents with challenged kiddos, they may be lacking in both areas. All I can say is feel this one out and go with your gut. I personally, have done everything else BUT laying low on the homework scene so I have nothing to lose in going with it. In fact, I'll probably be a more pleasant person right off the bat and who won't benefit from that? Also, the price tag  for failure on homework at this point is relatively cheap as grade school grades have little to no impact on my kid's academic future. He can technically fail a class and there will be no lasting repercussions.

Here is the lynch pin to all of this that I didn't consider until now -no one is expected to be good at everything yet we put that out there when we expect straight A's. If your kid is getting a C in English and an A in math, good on them! They are good at math and they struggle with english. Play to there strength - help your kid find his personal strengths and work with that. Let go of the negatives; simply encourage and have hope with them that they can improve and find some understanding in the subjects they struggle with. As I listened to Foster Cline and Jim Fay talk about this on their audio disc for Love and Logic (love it!), they mentioned that adults that focus on their spouse's weaknesses in the end solve that problem by getting a divorce. Nobody wants to always be recognized for what they aren't good at; that fact doesn't change at any age. If you can build your kids self-concept and esteem and teach them to focus on their strengths, their weaknesses will naturally improve - guaranteed. We don't ignore their struggles, we just put the emphasis on the positive. I know with Preston, that his self-concept plays into his schoolwork on a monumental level. If Preston doesn't think he can do the work, he doesn't even bother trying because it will only make him feel like a greater failure and downright stupid - it hurts a lot less to avoid the path that you know is fraught with ticking time-bombs. And maybe that is a big reason why your kid doesn't like to do homework. Anxiety and depression all fall into this cyclical trap as well.

And ultimately, being a good model is going to have the greatest impact. My teen is big into World War II history because he listens to stories I tell, the excitement I have for aircraft from that era, etc. I'm going to guess if you love cars and enjoy fixing-up old cars, your kids know a thing or two about restoring old cars as well and maybe even have developed their own passions for cars along the way. I want my kids to see that I enjoy my tasks and jobs (whether I do or not because somebody's got to do it!) more pleasantness and harumphing. And then to puff up my feathers when I've done my job well; it's a good thing to recognize the fruits of our labors otherwise, why would we do them? That also builds self-concept and esteem - which is one big reason to have kids participate in chores. But that's a different discussion.

Employ and enjoy.  And please do let me know if you notice any big changes in your kids as you focus on their strengths and let them handle their homework loads. For more suggestions from the experts, google Jim Fay and Foster Cline and "Winning the Homework Battle."

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Secret to My Dinner Success (Well, For Now At Least)

Can you tell it's been a long and taxing summer for me given the blogging break I took? Let's just say it was a glorious moment when I opened the door and wished them well for their first day of school. The hectic nature of our day still exists but the dynamic has changed for the better and now I just have to figure out how to keep them all happy for the few hours they are together. With all that being said, we had a huge victory last night in our household and it took place at no less, than the dinner table.

If you have been following along our journey for the last couple of years, you will know that my man Preston is a very picky eater. We have been the rounds with trying to expand this fellow's eating horizons; we've persuaded, forced, cajoled, insisted, pleaded, begged, argued, cried. Dinner time has been a thorn in all of our sides for several years; so sad when it is supposed to be the one thing that brings the family together! At any rate, after our last visit to the pediatrician he gave us some clear boundaries to set with all of the kids at the table as our toddler and once fabulous eater had become equally as picky. Since then, if we stick to the protocol, the family feast becomes much less stressful (for me at any rate, my husband sometimes has a difficult time just letting things take their course).

So, here's the scoop. Choices are offered at every meal, including snack time even if it is as simple as "would you like peanut butter and jelly or peanut butter and honey?" Dinner time however is non-negotiable and they eat what is presented to them; I make only one meal. Now, there is some fun in this in that at the beginning of each week I sometimes entertain special requests. Once at the table, they have the choice to sit and eat. If they are not interested, they may be excused. At first, I struggled with this idea, but in the end I decided that I have the right to enjoy my meal (which is also important for your digestive process) and therefore excuse them happily without continued argument. Now, they are allowed to come back and forth to 'graze' per say until a specific time when their plate will be cleared for the evening. A five minute warning should suffice. After that, dinner is done and plates are cleared.


Here's the clincher - I have within the last two weeks introduced a dessert option every evening. It's not my first choice but in the end, there are several benefits that outweigh the negatives including extra calories and dinner actually being finished. Last night, I made a vegan lentil loaf (veggie meatloaf) to shake things up a bit and in it were lentils, onions, garlic, carrots, apples, flax seed and several other very healthy ingredients. So when you cut into it, there is no hiding that it is all veggies and not much else (but very tasty if I do say so myself). I put some salad and lentil loaf on Preston's plate. He immediately started complaining about how unfair it was that he had no other options because this was just plain un-doable. I remained calm and empathized with him but then gave him the choice to eat or not eat. When he asked if there was dessert, I said absolutely! Ice cream or out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies. This is the killer for me-he didn't complain. He gagged a couple of times and wandered back and forth to the table but in the end, he completed his whole plate. Granted, I didn't give him a huge serving, but I gave him plenty and he did it! I couldn't believe it!

You may be saying to yourself that this qualifies as a bribe and he should learn to eat without bribery. To this I say - nah, it's more like enticement. If the promise of dessert entices that kid to eat anything at all, I've hit pay dirt. For several months he wouldn't even eat dinner. Aside from the fact that I make delicious desserts that contain quality ingredients that I don't have to worry about giving to him or anyone in the family for that matter. It's all good.

Employ and enjoy.

Favorite Tried and True Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe
1 Cup Spectrum Vegetable Shortening
1 Cup Brown Sugar
1/2 Cup Evaporated Cane Juice Sugar
2 Eggs
1 1/2 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
1 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Salt
2 1/2 Cups Unbleached Flour
2 Cups Semisweet or Milk Chocolate Chips

Bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes. Optional, 1/2 scoop Vanilla Sun Warrior Protein powder. I find the protein powder makes the cookies puffier. Without it, just a titch flatter. I just threw it one night and nobody could tell the difference aside from they are just gorgeous cookies. I also only bake enough for people to eat fresh out of the oven and refrigerate the remaining dough to bake up fresh for after school the next day or post-dinner the next evening because cookies are best when they are still slightly gooey in the center. Am I making your mouth water yet?  I've tried this recipe with butter and I've found that butter just makes my cookies flat. I've given up on butter with the exception of a few particular recipes and the one cookie recipe that calls for a pound of butter - now those are good cookies. ;)