Antagonistic Teachers Lower Scores, Hurt Academic Futures

Antagonistic teachers, or teachers who seem hostile much of the time, are a fact of life. We reassure school children suffering the misery of an unpleasant teacher who belittles them. We tell them that not every teacher they have will be amazing, that muddling through the year is just something they have to do. But a new study suggests that having antagonistic teachers not only lowers students’ grades, but affects their ability to learn in future.

Which suggests that the tack we’ve taken all along, as parents, has been wrong. Why would we tell our kids to put up and shut up with unpleasant teachers knowing this will not only affect their grade point average but sour them on learning, going forward? The simple answer is: we wouldn’t. We’d try like heck to get our children transferred to a different class, in order to avoid that awful, no good teacher.

The study, by researchers from West Virginia University, Morgantown, and California State University, Long Beach, and funded by the Taylor & Francis Group, defines the antagonistic teacher as one who belittles students, shows favoritism, or criticizes a student’s efforts. And while the participants of this randomized trial were college students, it seems likely the results could be even more profound among, for instance, adolescents whose brains are still maturing and whose behavior is more volatile as a result.

In this particular study, experts in communication set up a teaching experiment in which around 500 college undergrads watched one of two versions of a videotaped lecture. Half the students watched a version of the lecture in which the teacher antagonized students. The other half watched a standard lesson, without antagonism. The students then answered questions on how they felt about the lesson, and went on to take a multiple-choice quiz on the lesson content.

Lesson With Or Without Antagonistic Teacher

In order to make the student subjects feel like they were in a real classroom, the authors filmed the lecture to show four undergrad students, two guys in the front row, two young women in the second row. The study participants viewed the lectures as if they were students sitting in the third row, behind the students shown in the first two rows in the video. What happened next was very simple, very clear cut: the students who watched the video of the lesson served with a side order of antagonism, performed worse on the test than the students who watched the standard lesson, without an antagonistic teacher.

Just what kind of antagonism did the students face? Some examples:

Antagonistic teacher: “You should already know the answer to that question if you were paying attention to last class.”

Normal teacher: “We went over that last class, so it should be in your notes, but I can go over that with you later if you’d like.”

Teacher modeling positive behavior
Teacher models positive behavior

Antagonistic teacher: “Yup. Well, it looks like some people can keep up and pay attention.” [Looks at student # 1.] “Brian, you could try and be more like Brenda here.” [Brenda is student #3].

Normal teacher: “Yup. Thanks for keeping up and paying attention.”

In the video with the antagonistic teacher, the instructor belittled the students in the first two rows, criticizing their answers and showing favoritism toward one of the students while criticizing the others. It sounds quite bad enough, but the truth is, the antagonistic teacher never raised his voice. The study participants generally rated the instructor as more than “sometimes antagonistic,” but less than “often antagonistic.

And still, the results were significant. Even stunning.

Boy happy to be holding a stack of books
Students do well when they enjoy their lessons

The students who watched the class with the antagonistic teacher scored as much as 5 percent lower than those who watched the standard lesson. The implication seems obvious: students don’t do as well when they don’t enjoy their lessons.

And it would be a rare student indeed who would enjoy being belittled, criticized, or shunted aside in favor of other students. That kind of teacher behavior is arguably abuse. At a certain point, you’d tune out the lesson in order to tune out the abuse. You’d miss stuff.

Anyone would.

Antagonistic Teacher: Long-Lasting Effects

The thing is, this wasn’t just about a student’s score on a single test after one lesson that showed the effects of the antagonistic teacher. The effects were much longer-lasting than that. The students made less of an effort with their learning: after all, if you can’t please the teacher, what’s the point of working hard and doing well? The students with the hostile teacher, moreover, said they would never take part in a future course taught by that teacher, going forward.

Can you blame them?

Study author Dr. Alan Goodboy feels that the long-term consequences of having an antagonistic teacher are the real takeaway from this study. “Even slight antagonism, coupled with otherwise effective teaching, can demotivate students from being engaged and hinder their learning opportunities. So even one bad day of teaching can ruin a student’s perception of the teacher and create an unnecessary roadblock to learning for the rest of the term.”

In Dr. Goodboy’s opinion, teachers must therefore take particular care not to allow themselves to engage in this sort of negative and hostile behavior in the classroom. “Antagonism can come into classrooms unexpectedly and suddenly, even without the knowledge of the teachers themselves,” said Goodboy.

Antagonistic Teachers: Unaware of Their Own Behavior

Asked how an antagonistic teacher could be unaware of his own unpleasant behavior, Goodboy said, “We know that many instructors are unaware when they are misbehaving by antagonizing their students. We know this because they self-report at very low levels of misbehavior (or they don’t want to admit that they do it).”

Goodboy admits there is another kind of teacher who is very much aware of his or her own ill behavior in the classroom. For them it’s a choice. “There are plenty of instructors who are quite aware of their misbehavior and choose to belittle and put down their students in class. These instructors make the volitional decision to antagonize their students,” says Goodboy.

The results of this study, however, are without regard to the teacher’s intention. It’s all about the students’ perspective in relation to nasty teacher behavior, whether purposeful or otherwise. In general, explains Goodboy, the antagonism occurs at “very low levels, but when it does occur, it negatively impacts a learning environment as students do not enjoy learning the content and subsequently score worse on a quiz of that material.”

Dr. Goodboy believes that most teachers don’t engage in this sort of behavior, don’t antagonize their students. But where they do, learning is compromised. The researcher offers a suggestion that teachers be trained in self-awareness: to know when they are beginning to act in an antagonistic manner in the classroom. It’s critical for teachers to recognize and put a stop to this negative behavior that we now know can both damage a student’s grades and his or her attitude to learning in future.

Staying Positive No Matter What

Goodboy also suggests that teachers work at developing positive methods of interacting with students, maintaining an even behavioral keel, even when disagreements arise between student and teacher.

Will the researchers continue to pursue this topic further? Absolutely. The subject is too important to stop here. “These studies focus on instructor misbehaviors in a college context. We do not know that teacher misbehaviors in middle school or high school are similar to those with college aged adults. We believe that college instructors engage in hostility more than K-12 teachers, but without the data this is just speculation,” says Goodboy.

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Taylor & Francis Group. “Hostile teachers can lose students 5 percent on test scores.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 May 2018.

Roots of Empathy: Can Babies Heal Bullies?

Can spending time with a baby prevent bullying? One school program, Roots of Empathy, brings babies and their moms into classrooms. And research suggests that participating classrooms show a reduction in bullying and aggressive behavior.

Is it really just that simple? What is the exact nature of the Roots of Empathy program, and how can we reproduce these results in our own children’s classrooms? Because even one child bullied, is one child too many.

Roots of Empathy has developed a research-based school program for primary school children in which the teaching tools consist, in the main, of a local baby and parent. The program has spread across Canada and to 10 other countries, as well. More than 800,000 children have experienced the program since the nonprofit’s founding, in 1996. Roots of Empathy Founder Mary Gordon, says the long-term goal of the program is to build a “more caring, peaceful, and civil society, where everybody feels a sense of belonging.”

The Roots of Empathy program has local parents volunteering themselves and their babies, coming every few weeks to classrooms, so that children can witness a baby’s vulnerability and development over time. Gordon says she started the program because she wanted to find a way to help children talk about their feelings. “Roots of empathy is a bit of a trick. We use a baby to help children find the vulnerability and humanity in this little baby so that then you can flip it back to their own experiences.

“They realize this sudden universe of ‘everybody in the world feels the same as me. We’re not so disconnected.’

“It’s very hard to hate someone if you realize they feel like you. It’s very hard to be bullying someone if you realize that.”

Lisa Bahar, a licensed psychotherapist in Newport Beach, California, explains that the goal of the Roots of Empathy program goal is to realize that “we” are all the same, “in the sense of wanting to belong, to be loved and cared about. This kind of unique vehicle of bringing a baby into the classroom is what I consider a wonderful way to allow children to relate to someone who is nonthreatening, and who can give a young person the awareness of true connection to other human beings. This creates empathy, sympathy and compassion,” says Bahar.

But is this really something we need to have in our classrooms? Shouldn’t parents be teaching empathy at home? “If we are educating children who can read well and compute well but can’t relate well, we will have a failed society. Learning how to relate to one another requires empathy. You have to understand how the other fella feels,” says Mary Gordon.

Can It Heal A Bully?

Can the Roots of Empathy program help turn around a child who is already a bully? Bahar says yes. “Spending time with a baby activates the senses as we observe the eyes, the responses, the touch, and the expressions of the baby. These sensory impressions can be internalized and experienced through the baby. The pathology that exists within the bully will fight to resist the impact of these sensory lessons, the insight will nonetheless be gained, as the child experiences a sense of connection to another living being,” says Bahar.

Studies from 2000 onward, confirm that the Roots of Empathy program is effective, reducing bullying and aggression over the course of the school year and over time, in general. Children who take part in the program have an increased sense of positivity about the classroom environment. They feel more of a sense of belonging and acceptance. Students are also more likely to engage in “pro-social” behavior, for instance sharing with and helping their peers, and including them in their activities. Perhaps most important of all, the program appears to reduce fighting among classmates by 50 percent, on average. This is notable, since in general, classroom squabbles tend to increase over the course of the school year.

Roots of Empathy and the Root Cause of Bullying

But Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author of The Self-Aware Parent, and regular expert child psychologist on The Doctors and CBS TV, says that as a method of targeting bullies, Roots of Empathy misses the mark. “Roots of Empathy is a truly wonderful and beautiful program that by bringing a baby into the classroom teaches school age children about human relatedness, reading/understanding emotions, and human-to-human engagement. However, they missed the mark for targeting prevention of bullying. Clearly, the creators do not fully understand the root cause of all bullies,” says Walfish, who explains, “All bullies carry a secret that they, personally, have been the target of bullying, mistreatment, and mishandling by someone important within their family. That important someone is usually their father or mother, and in less frequent instances, an older sibling. Often, the mistreatment is abusive—emotionally or physically.

“The child who is the victim in his own family cannot ‘hold’ or contain the hostility and rage, and thus becomes the bully. He goes to school or out into the world and looks for an easy target. Then, he expels his hostilities onto another innocent victim.  It is a vicious cycle,” says Walfish, suggesting that playing with a baby is just not going to cut it, not going to stop that cycle, and is certainly not going to prevent that cycle from occurring in the first place.

Erin Clabough, PhD, a neurobiologist and author of Second Nature: How Parents Can Use Neuroscience to Help Kids Develop Empathy, Creativity, and Self-Control  (December 2018, Sounds True Publishing) sees Roots of Empathy program as, at the very least, a valuable tool in developing empathy, even among bullies. “Being a bully doesn’t mean you are pathological. Everyone can be a bully if they are placed in the wrong kind of situation. Part of our role as parents is to put our kids in roles where they can experience healthy things and feel how rewarding they are. Roots of Empathy is an incredible program that works to increase social awareness in kids and its effectiveness is supported by lots of peer-reviewed studies.”

But according to Clabough, the Roots of Empathy program isn’t enough. “Bringing a baby into the classroom to decrease the incidence of bullying in a school is a great start. But if that’s all we do, it will make as much meaningful change in a person as playing with a puppy for the afternoon. It’s a cute stress-reliever, a great wake-up call, and you can certainly learn a lot about nonverbal emotional communication from a baby, but these kids also need to practice cross-age relationships in an ongoing way.”

Buddy System

Clabough suggests that the buddy system is a great way to provide this sort of relationship practice and provides a means to build on the Roots of Empathy program. “Having a buddy in lower grades that kids see once a week is a great way to do this through the school setting, as is providing older mentors (for example, an 8th grader mentoring a 6th grader new to middle school). Our elementary school (Free Union Country School, in the Charlottesville, Virginia area) does a great job with this—every child in grades 2-5 has a smaller buddy in grades PreK-1. The buddy partnerships change each year, and as the children advance through school, they look forward to the time when they can finally be the big buddy,” says Clabough.

The practical benefits of the buddy system, suggests Clabough, are broad. “This buddy system normalizes having friends of different ages, it allows kids to grow meaningful connections to individuals outside their normal social groups, it creates a broader sense of belonging, and it strengthens every kid’s support network. Perhaps most importantly, it gives kids a chance to practice empathy through both teaching and looking at things from a different person’s perspective,” says Clabough, a mother of four, who concedes that, “The Roots of Empathy program has other components that are worth exploring.”

Is Dyslexia a Gift?

Is Dyslexia a gift? Or is it a curse? Is it a learning disability or a learning difference? It all depends on whom you ask. But dyslexia sure does make it difficult to read. Dyslexia, in fact, is defined as an unexpected reading difficulty that occurs without relation to intelligence, age, motivation, or education.

How could that be a good thing? It makes it hard to read. It comes out of the blue. How can one learn anything without having the knack of fluent reading, let alone attain a high school diploma? How is someone who find it difficult to read going to get through school and get a job?

It is often said that the first three years of school are spent learning to read. After that, students read to learn. Students with dyslexia find it difficult to read, so of course they’re going to find it difficult to learn, right? On the face of it, it sure looks as though dyslexia is a curse, rather than a gift.

Gift of Dyslexia: Superior Understanding

So far, we’re talking facts. Except that there’s another set of talking points on dyslexia that appears to contradict these facts. These alternative arguments say that people with dyslexia just have a different way of learning, that of course people with dyslexia are going to fail if you teach them the way you teach more typical students. This line of thinking holds that people with dyslexia have a superior way of learning and understanding, if only you teach according to their abilities and gifts.

Judy Packhem, a reading specialist, owner and consultant at Shaping Readers explains, “Dyslexia is a neurological disorder that is characterized by problems with phonological processing skills. In layman’s terms, dyslexics have trouble with accurate and fluent word reading, spelling and decoding (sounding out words). Functional MRIs show a difference between the brains of dyslexics and non-dyslexics. Simply put, the wiring in the brain for reading processes is different. But while their reading skills are lacking, dyslexics excel in other areas.”

If you’re a parent of a child with dyslexia, by now, you’re wondering: what are these “other areas” at which people with dyslexia “excel?” According to Packhem, people with dyslexia are creative, out-of-the-box thinkers, which is why some 35% of all entrepreneurs have dyslexia. Packhem recites the usual list of geniuses said to have dyslexia, including Albert Einstein, Steven Spielber, and Bill Gates on her list.

Can Kids With Dyslexia See It As A Gift?

All fine and good. But how do you help children with dyslexia to see their difficulty as a gift? Because if you fail at making them see this, they’re going to feel inferior to their peers who have no trouble whatsoever when it comes to making sense of text. From Packhem’s point of view, the relief that comes with diagnosis solves that problem. “Once diagnosed, dyslexics are often relieved to learn that there is an explanation for their reading difficulty and that they aren’t ‘dumb,’” says Packhem. “They know that having dyslexia means they need to learn in a different way. With the right treatment, dyslexics are able to learn to read. It requires intervention that is multisensory, explicit, language-based, and emotionally sound.”

As far as Packhem is concerned, the gold standard for the effective treatment of dyslexia is the Orton-Gillingham (O-G) approach. “O-G succeeds where traditional teaching does not in that it is able to create new neural pathways in the brain for reading,” says Packhem, who has a master’s degree in reading and literacy and is a certified dyslexia therapist.

But what, exactly, does it mean to “think out of the box?” What does it mean, in practical terms, to learn in a “different” way? For Arvin Vohra, founder of the Vohra Method of study, and author of Lies, Damned Lies, and College Admissions, and The Equation for Excellence: How to Make Your Child Excel at Math, it’s about a difference in vision, in how people with dyslexia see things. “Students with dyslexia often treat letters as three dimensional objects. Just as we consider a pen rotated to still be a pen, they often see a b and a d to be the same thing. This poses a challenge in initial stages of reading, but thanks to the work of many educational innovators, a challenge most students can overcome. But the positive benefits of dyslexia are huge! Students who have that 3 dimensional reading facility have a huge advantage in advanced math, as well as in non-academic areas like sculpture and sport,” says Vohra.

Dyslexia: Gift and Curse

Phil Weaver, of the Learning Success System, doesn’t necessarily agree. “Dyslexia is a gift and a curse. You have chosen a very controversial subject. We deal with that statement every day and know well how emotional people can get around that simple phrase.”

Weaver suggests that you can’t define dyslexia according to a single standard. “The exact definition of dyslexia is wildly disputed. So before saying dyslexia is a gift it would be good to know how the term is being used.

“Many schools and professionals will use the term ‘specific learning disability,’ instead. Sometimes this term is used to circumvent providing necessary programs and other times simply to be more descriptive. In fact, all this vagary of speech is one of the main problems in the space.

“Dyslexia can refer to phonological dyslexia, visual dyslexia, or kinesthetic dyslexia. Phonological dyslexia is a problem with language, which could be either a problem deciphering sounds or a problem with abstractions. Visual dyslexia could be a problem with the eyes which could be treated with visual therapy, or it might be Irlen syndrome*, or a difficulty with visual mental skills such as visual memory, visual discrimination, or visual closure. Kinesthetic dyslexia describes problems with directionality and proprioception. Or, to confuse things even more, any possible combination of any of those, which is actually more likely,” says Weaver.

Children With Dyslexia Need Help Not Battles

“There is a large faction that will claim that only phonological dyslexia is true dyslexia. And they get quite defensive if anyone says otherwise. All of this is ridiculous. These children need help and endless battles are fought over definitions.

“With all of that in mind,” says Weaver, “if we can just go with a basic assumption of some specific learning disability. This means that a child (or adult) has a problem with a specific learning skill, in this case reading, but is otherwise intelligent.”

Building on this idea, Weaver suggests that once we stipulate dyslexia as a difficulty with perception or mental function, we can speak about compensation, which is what people do when they have any sort of deficit. For students with dyslexia, says Weaver, compensation is often seen in the area of social skills. “Students with dyslexia may develop some amazing social skills in the interest of hiding their problem,” says Weaver, who suggests that compensation occurs with a student’s thinking skills (cognition), as well. “When we think we use our internal visual, auditory, and spatial skills. These all work together in such a way that we really don’t notice them. And we all use these skills a bit differently. When one skill is weak, the others will become stronger to compensate.”

In summary, says Weaver, there are an infinite number of ways in which the “gifts” of dyslexia display themselves. “You will hear a lot of generalizations such as ‘dyslexics are visual thinkers.’ The truth is that some dyslexics are amazing visual thinkers. Others may actually have a weakness in that area and that is the cause of their dyslexia. These generalizations all sprout from specific subjective experiences.

All Kinds of Dyslexics

“You’ll also hear many claims of dyslexics being highly intelligent. The reality is that dyslexics span the full range of intelligence. No specific gift of intelligence comes with dyslexia. There are highly intelligent dyslexics. Dyslexics of average intelligence. And there are dyslexics of low intelligence,” says Weaver.

Weaver cautions that while some students with dyslexia do develop their gifts, others never get past the issue of low self-esteem. The low self-esteem comes from feeling inferior to their neurotypical classmates, who have no trouble reading. “If they don’t get past the typical self-esteem issues caused by the disability then it is unlikely those gifts will help much. Some get past it by intentionally developing self-esteem. Others do well by constantly proving themselves.

“For dyslexics to not feel “less than” the neurotypical I think it is important for them to realize that there truly is no “neurotypical.” We all think differently. Some are easier to fit into a box and learn in the standard ways. This just means that their neurological differences are not so obvious,” says Weaver.

Concrete Example Of Dyslexia As Gift: John Crossman, CEO

For John Crossman, however, a 46-year-old man with dyslexia who is CEO of Crossman & Company, the difference is indeed obvious. “I consider dyslexia a gift in that it pushed me (without knowing it) to sharpen my skills as a public speaker. I can now write a speech in my head and deliver it without every writing down a note. I give a speech about once a month and almost never use notes.”

Weaver suggests that what Crossman sees as a gift is part and parcel of learning to cope with dyslexia. “In the context of dyslexics realizing that they have a fantastic opportunity for having very pronounced skills that they can maximize and profit from, talking about dyslexia as a gift is quite healthy. With that realization must come the acceptance that those gifts emerged from a difficulty. With that healthy acceptance, a dyslexic can strive to both maximize the gift, and work to overcome the difficulty,” says Weaver.

Referring to the plasticity of the brain, that the brain can grow connections, improve, and change, Weaver comments, “We are not forced to live with the same brain we were born with. We can change it if we want to. To what extent no one knows. But we can only start with a healthy look at where we are at any given moment.”

*Irlen syndrome is a controversial topic. Some of the studies conducted on Irlen syndrome were in some ways faulty, and it is disputed whether or not the syndrome actually exists.  For more information, see:

Study Strategies for Students of All Ages

How younger students study is somewhat in the hands of their parents. Last week’s post, Homework Help and Advice From the Experts, was all about this topic. This post expands on the homework theme, beginning where we left off, with the younger student, and moving on to high school and college students.

For the older student, homework is different, becoming a far more difficult task than ever before. Now, homework is about long hours of study to prep for difficult exams or for researching and writing lengthy papers. At this point, parents aren’t much help. Students are on their own with this sort of homework. Parents can, however, still gently suggest helpful study methods to their older children. And of course, encourage them.

While some of the advice you will find here applies to the younger student (parents of younger children—don’t stop reading—this is for you, too!), this post is mostly about tried and true homework advice for the older student, from the experts. And if your older child doesn’t want to hear the advice from you, you can always leave a copy of this article on his desk with a no-pressure note: “This is interesting!”

Study by Teaching the Parent

Our first piece of advice comes from Murray Suid, who has served as a teacher to middle school, high school, and college level students. Suid, who has co-authored a number of educational books including, 10 Minute Grammar Grabbers, and How to Teach Writing Without Going Crazy, likes to quote Joseph Joubert: “To teach is to learn twice.”

What does this mean? It means, says Suid, that the best way to learn is to teach. Suid offers the following advice:

“Have the child teach the homework lesson to the parent. If it’s learning to capitalize nouns, the student could tell the parent the rule and then make up a short worksheet for the parent. Same thing if it’s solving an algebraic word problem or analyzing why Napoleon lost the Battle of Waterloo.

“When students teach what they’re learning, they are forced to really think about the lesson and come up with creative strategies for making it clear.

“This method not only reinforces the lesson at hand, but also gives [the student] important practice in communication.”

If the student wants to switch things up, Suid suggests that rather than teach the parent the lesson, the student can summarize the lesson and its purpose, for instance: “We’re learning how pronouns relate to their antecedents. This is important because if the connection isn’t clear, readers may be confused.”

“By putting a homework assignment into his or her own words, students are compelled to think about a task and why it matters. This can make doing homework more meaningful,” says Suid.

Study as if you Expect to Teach the Material

Troy Dvorak agrees with Suid that teaching is a valuable method of learning, or at least studying the material as if preparing to teach it to others. Dvorak, a psychology professor at Minneapolis Community & Technical College, has made a study of the factors associated with student success. He has, in fact, authored a book called, Psychological Keys to Student Success, and is finishing up his second book, Studying vs Learning. “One of the most influential quotations I’ve come across,” says Dvorak, “is ‘Learning how to learn cannot be left to students. It must be taught.’ That has really shaped my approach to teaching.”

Dvorak offers two strategies that students of all ages can use to be more successful. These strategies, he says, are empirically validated. That means it has been demonstrated that these strategies work, whether or not we understand why.Girl at study stretches

“The first strategy is self-testing. The testing effect is a very well-known aspect of learning and is the subject of a ton of psychological research. In order to find out what you know, you must test yourself. There is also robust research on the metacognitive feeling of knowing (the “ya ya ya, I know that” feeling you have as you review something multiple times) – it can mislead students because recognition is not the same as free recall,” says Dvorak, who recommends this pdf file as a valuable resource on self-testing.

“The second strategy is to have students study as if they will have to teach the information to someone else. Studying in anticipation of having to explain the material results in higher test scores than simply studying for a test,” says Dvorak, citing a study that demonstrates the power of this particular strategy:

Nestojko, J. F., Bui, D. C., Kornell, N., & Bjork, E. L. (2014). Expecting to teach enhances learning and organization of knowledge in free recall of text passages. Memory & cognition42(7), 1038-1048.

7 TNT Study Strategies and Tips

Our final series of tips comes from Janet Ruth Heller, Ph.D., president of the Michigan College English Association. Dr. Heller has taught English and American literature, creative writing, linguistics, composition, and women’s studies courses for 35 years at 8 colleges and universities. She has also tutored many students in her office to help them understand concepts, improve their writing, and apply to graduate schools. Dr. Heller has also advised students on how to handle various academic problems. Here is Dr. Heller’s advice for students and their parents about homework:

1) Avoid procrastination. Read your assigned chapters and do your assigned writing and other projects on time. If you procrastinate, you will have to cram too much information into your brain too quickly to process everything. Also, procrastination leads to poorly executed papers, tests, and research projects.

2) Some students benefit from having a study group, a supportive group of students who are in the same class and study together. Study group members can ask one another questions, discuss the most important aspects of a reading assignment, compare class notes to make sure that everyone understands the material, prepare for tests, give one another advice on improving research papers and projects, etc. However, make sure that your study group does not disintegrate into a purely social conversation.

3) Find college students, especially graduate students, who major in your most difficult subject areas to tutor and/or mentor you. Such tutors/mentors can help you to prepare for tests, understand difficult material, give you advice on research, etc. You or your parents can e-mail or phone the chairs of different departments at a local college to recommend the best graduate students as tutors.

4) Feel free to make an appointment to meet with your teacher or professor if you have questions or want feedback. Your teacher can answer your questions about difficult material, look over your rough draft of a paper and give you comments, advise you on the best way to handle a research project, etc. When I was teaching, I respected students who took the time to meet with me because they tended to be more motivated and they often improved their work dramatically due to their extra effort.

5) If your teacher or professor offers extra-credit assignments, try to complete these. Such work will improve your competence and impress faculty members. They will remember this when you come to them later asking for a letter of recommendation.

6) As you work on your assignments, underline or highlight key sentences and paragraphs. This will help you to focus on the most important material and to review for tests. Also, write down questions that you have. Feel free to ask your teachers to answer these questions in class or at a meeting that you have scheduled.

7) For research projects, librarians can be very helpful. Find reference librarians and other knowledgeable staff members at your school library to help you find the best articles and books about your topic.

If your younger or older child is struggling with studies, why not try have the student try at least one tip from this piece to see if it helps? Assuming it works, build on that success by taking on another strategy. The bottom line? We hope these expert tips will send your child to the top of the class!

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Homework Help and Advice from the Experts

Homework is an area in which parents can have some influence over their children’s education. At midway through the school year or any time at all, it’s a good time to think about how we can tweak and refine all things homework. What are the best ways to remind and encourage children to do their homework? How can parents provide the best atmosphere for doing homework?

From an educator’s standpoint, homework is crucial. In order to cement the lessons learned in the classroom, there needs to be a gap in time between one lesson and the next. It is important to have a review of the work in between these two lessons. This is how the information learned in the classroom moves from the child’s short-term, working memory, to the child’s long-term memory bank. It’s how the brain works, how humans build synapses, those connections within the brain that hold the data  we take in.

Some parents, however, are annoyed by homework assignments. They feel that children spend enough hours in the classroom, that afterschool hours should be reserved for free time and play. Other parents feel that while children should do some homework, their children are being asked to do too much homework. These parents are concerned that their children are being asked to do the bulk of their schoolwork at home. It looks to these parents as if the teachers are shirking their responsibility in the classroom—that the amount of homework assigned to their children is unfair.

Then there are the parents who feel that homework, while important, is not their responsibility. They believe that homework is solely the responsibility of the child. These parents may believe in getting involved with homework in the beginning, to get children started on the right track, but feel it’s important to wean children from needing homework help and encouragement as the children grow older. Many parents, however, continue to feel responsible to offer support and ensure their children do their homework, even as their children age.

No matter where, as a parent, you fall within these three categories: responsible, somewhat responsible, or not at all responsible for your child’s homework, it can’t hurt to provide children with the tools they need to get the job done. To that end, experts were consulted for their best tips on making sure that children will want to do their homework and will do it to the best of their ability, with minimal or no fuss.

Eliminate Homework Distractions

Alisa Taylor, of The Lotus Page, designed to help parents keep children safe online, says that one of the best things parents can do to help their kids successfully complete their homework is to minimize distractions. “Create a space that is comfortable, clutter-free and quiet. This includes keeping electronic devices in another room until the homework is finished. Kids may reason that monitoring social media feeds and responding to texts is just multitasking but in reality, those notifications are just distractions.

“A study by Gloria Mark from the University of California, shows that it can take us 23 minutes to get back on track after an interruption. By keeping phones out of the study space, kids will have a greater chance of resisting the urge to satisfy their FOMO* and focus on what needs to be done,” says Taylor.

Parental Engagement

Former school counselor Erica Bley, now in private practice providing therapy to children and their parents, feels that it’s crucial parents engage with their children’s homework. “Engaging in your child’s work is important for boosting your child’s work ethic and self-efficacy. If you don’t care about the work or her effort, why should she? Look through her work for the day and make at least one positive, specific comment on the work, such as, ‘I like the way you added that detail to your writing,’ or ‘Your handwriting is really improving!’ Make corrections and suggestions as needed,” says Bley.

Get It Over With

Jen Henson, a teacher of 22 years before starting her company The Goal Digger, which offers ACT and SAT test preparation, says that parents should have their children do the homework they dread, first. “This allows the student to push through to get to the more enjoyable things,” says Henson.

Much practical advice, as you’d expect from an educator with 40-plus years of experience as a teacher, special-education teacher, assistant principal, principal, and more (!), comes from Nancy K. Gretzinger, EdD.

Get Into the Mood

“When your child comes home from school, change out of school clothes, have a nutritious snack and take about 20-30 minutes to unwind. While your child is having a snack, ask open-ended questions. What did you learn that is new today?

“As a teacher, when I was closing a lesson, I would typically say, ‘Tell your parents you learned . . . today in math,” says Gretzinger.

Set the Scene

“Your child needs a designated homework area with necessary supplies. Pencil, paper, maybe a calculator, a timer, and good lighting. Comfortable chair (no dangling feet—put some type of support so your child’s feet have something to rest on), also a desk and table at the proper heights. If your child is a wiggler, buy a beach ball, slightly inflated, and place on the chair—this allows for movement. If they would prefer to stand, let them. Provide a squeeze ball for the opposite, non-writing hand if it wouldn’t be a distractor.

“Many teachers provide a folder—one side for papers that stay home, the other side for papers to be returned to school. If the teacher did not do this, the parent should,” says Gretzinger, who adds that parents who go to school may want to consider doing homework at the same time as their children to help motivate them.

Keep Homework Manageable

Some children find homework overwhelming. Gretzinger says some children benefit by having a worksheet folded in half or partially covered. Seeing the whole paper at once, says Gretzinger, can be overwhelming. By covering some of the work, the task seems shorter, more manageable. The educator adds that for some children, working in 20-minute intervals, followed by 5-10-minute breaks, seems to help. She suggests setting a timer for 20 minutes, after which parents can check the child’s work and give positive reinforcement for correctly completed work. The child next receives the 5-10-minute break, then back to work.

Homework Warning Bells

Gretzinger says that when a child makes a conscientious effort to complete the work, but doesn’t understand it, and is taking an inordinate amount of time to complete the work, this means it’s time to schedule a meeting with the child’s teacher. “It’s mandatory the child attends, too,” says Gretzinger.

How Much Homework?

In terms of how much homework is appropriate, Gretzinger says that the old school of thought on the proper amount of homework is 10 minutes per grade. If it takes your child longer to complete the work, it may be too much homework, or it may be that the child is struggling and needs more help. A talk with the teacher is indicated here, too.

“If for some good reason (and not too often) work cannot be completed, the parent may consider writing a note directly on the homework paper as to why it’s not completed, adding a signature and the date. There may still be a consequence for your child, however, the note lets the teacher know the parent is aware that homework was not done. When this happens, the non-completed homework assignment should immediately go back into the “stays home” folder and into the child’s backpack,” says Gretzinger.

If all this advice seems overwhelming, why not choose one or two tips and begin there? Over time, you can always try including more of these tips in your child’s daily homework routine. Leave a comment if something you found here made a difference for your child!

*Fear of missing out

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Critical Thinking Skills: Resources for Parents

Critical thinking skills are one of the greatest gifts a parent can offer a child in today’s world of too much information. As a people, we humans are bombarded by information coming at us from our various screens. How we relate to that information separates us into two groups. We are either intelligent, sensitive people, or we are “sheeple.” Sheeple take in the data they see and hear and spit it back out at the world, without stopping to examine or assess the information in the first place.

Being one with the sheeple means being ripe for manipulation. The sheeple drink in false propaganda like it’s water. They’ll happily buy whatever moral code you plug without question and adopt it as their own. They’ll buy any product you tell them will make them happy.

We don’t want our children to be vulnerable to group think. We want them to stop and use their critical thinking skills before buying products marketers claim will make them thin and happy, when no product can replace diet and exercise, or fix their emotional baggage. We don’t want our children to buy into what the media tells them to think, rather we want our children to dig deep, find the facts, and develop their own, fact-based opinions.

Critical Thinking is a Learning Process

Critical thinking isn’t a lesson you’re going to sit down and teach your children at one fell swoop. It’s a process. One that takes time and patience.

Your children are going to demand you buy them pretty, sparkly things, based on advertising. Each time, you’re going to have to point out the manipulation in the marketing. When children come to you with ideas on current events, moreover, you’re going to have to press them regarding the facts. You’re going to have to show them how the media uses suasion to drive home an editorial stance. You’ll need to show them how the story is depicted in a completely different manner on a different website and help them understand how to read between the lines to learn the truth of any given news story.

Critical thinking is about questioning: is this all there is to this story? Is there another side? Am I being manipulated? Will a given product fulfill the promise, the claim of the packaging and advertising?

Is it any wonder that right about now you’re thinking you never signed up for this when you decided to have a baby? All this scrutiny, all this teaching your child how to think! It’s a tall order, this critical thinking business.

Critical Thinking Resources

Lucky for you, there are resources out there to help you do the hard work of helping your child separate fact from fiction. There are actually amazing websites that can help you teach your child the important skill of critical thinking, no matter the topic at hand.

Many of these resources were developed for teachers, but there is no reason why we can’t, as parents, partake of these free tools. Parents, after all, were the first teachers, and remain the go-to source of information for their children. One great place to start is NAMLE, which stands for National Association for Media Literacy Education. NAMLE is sponsoring the third yearly Media Literacy Week (November 6-10, 2017), a cause  near and dear to NAMLE’s heart.

A great place for parents to begin exploring what NAMLE has to offer is this recently released parent’s guide on teaching children how to be careful media consumers. The focus of the guide is on teaching kids to always ask questions. Here, parents can read up on how to have the conversation about fake news, how to teach children to identify scams, and how to guide children in avoiding plagiarizing information found on websites. An invaluable resource for instilling in our children the message of using their critical thinking faculties.

The Newseum, on the other hand, is more like a teacher’s treasure trove, with lesson plans galore for teaching children how to use their critical thinking skills to form opinions. Choose a topic, such as civil rights, women’s rights, the Holocaust, or an election campaign, and you’ve got everything you need to show children all about it. Looking at Newseum’s collection on women’s suffrage, for instance, there are downloadable units on the history of women’s suffrage; how the Suffragettes used media to further their aims comparing these tactics to today’s use of social media; and a unit on the new techniques women used to get the vote and how these techniques are still in use today. There’s a timeline for feminist milestones a map showing how women’s suffrage spread, and search engines to learn about people important to the women’s movement. We can see women’s movement-related government documents and newspaper clippings, too.

Sortable Resources

Newseum has neat things you can download, like a colorful poster with a mnemonic device to aid children in spotting media bias. The various offerings can be sorted according to grade, format, topic, theme, and century. There are even case studies relating to current events, such as this one about First Amendment rights and the cancellation of Milo Yiannopolous’ speech at the University of Berkeley campus. Good stuff here, whether for kids just cutting their teeth on finding their thoughts or somewhat further along with their critical thinking skills.critical thinking skills involve questioning, a girl at a desk raises her hand

Common Sense Media is devoted to providing unbiased media to and honing critical thinking skills in children, and offers resources to parents on media literacy and bias under the heading of “Parent Concerns.” Here, parents can find videos, articles, and infographics to help them navigate the news with children. The Common Sense Media statement at the bottom of the website’s homepage is a pleasure to read, a terrific moral statement:

“Common Sense is the nation’s leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in the 21st century.”

If all this wealth of information seems overwhelming, and you’d rather have everything you need on one page, try this resource at Internet4Classrooms: How to Evaluate News Sources for Media Bias. Written for teachers to use in the classroom, this resource breaks down the various forms of media bias for the student. This article can serve as a kind of checklist for the child who is trying to figure out whether a particular news piece is or is not biased. (Speaking of bias, the piece was written by this author, so there may be some bias in recommending the piece to you, the reader!)

Avoiding Cynicism

Critical thinking is an ongoing learning process. Once you get kids started on the right path asking lots of questions, however, it shouldn’t be difficult to encourage them to continue. Kids have a strong sense of morality and will enjoy applying their critical thinking skills to all situations. Helping them avoid bitter cynicism as they wake up to the deceptive nature of too many media outlets and advertisers, on the other hand, may be a lesson that’s harder to teach.

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Manage ADHD by Developing Skills

You can’t manage ADHD with drugs alone. Anyone who has ever parented one of the 6 million children in the United States age 4-17 diagnosed with the condition knows that. But with school now back in session, frustrated parents and their children may be asking what more can be done to manage ADHD and its symptoms. Because taking drugs isn’t enough, and may not even be the right way to go.

ADHD is complicated. It makes learning difficult. That’s why children with ADHD need a great deal of support from their parents, teachers, and school counselors. A school counselor, in particular, can play a special role in helping students with ADHD by serving as an intermediary between parents and teachers.

With so many children experiencing ADHD, it becomes crucial to offer them some sort of support system that goes beyond purchasing a prescription and hoping for the best. Here, school counselors can fulfill an important function, by serving as the pipeline for communication between parents and teachers. School counselors can also be an important resource for all those who work with children with ADHD, both in and out of the classroom. While most children are diagnosed with the combined form of ADHD, the presentation of symptoms can change over time. The school counselor can offer strategies to cope with changing behaviors as these changes arise.

In order to manage ADHD, however, it is important to gain an understanding of the skills a student with ADHD must develop. The aim of any therapies for ADHD must have, as their ultimate goal, improved impulse control, time management, and the ability to focus or concentrate on tasks. If students fail to develop these critical skills, they will remain in perpetual frustration, become worn out from trying so hard, develop poor self-esteem, and suffer from acute embarrassment, as well.

One practical way to help students with ADHD develop these skills is to provide them with a dependable structure. A student who struggles with forgetfulness, for instance, should be made to do homework at the same time every day. Over time, the student internalizes that homework is always done at 4 PM, so that when 4 PM rolls around, the student knows just what to do and never forgets. A student who tends to forgetfulness can also be instructed to store his schoolbooks in one designated space. Since the item is always placed in the same spot, there will never be a time when the child cannot find the item. These are meaningful methods for developing time management and organizational skills to really address and manage ADHD.

But let’s say there is to be a school field trip at 4 PM on a certain date. That can throw the student with ADHD for a loop, since 4 PM is homework time. The student should be prepared well in advance of any such changes in schedule or routine. Talking about how and when the child will get dressed, do homework, and eat on that day is going to be a necessary conversation that may have to be reviewed several times over several days or weeks. Students with ADHD need lots of help and much spatience in learning to organize their time.

As for developing a student’s powers of concentration and focus, ADHD expert Dr. Edward Hallowell believes Dr. Edward Hallowell, ADHD expertthat staying focused for shorter periods of time is the right way to go. “Kids with ADHD must learn to manage large projects. Break down large topics or tasks into small, manageable bits. For example, a book report might be subdivided into eight steps, or a science project outlined in a dozen doable steps. This helps the child with ADHD not feel overwhelmed.”

Strategies to Manage ADHD

These coping tips and tricks help students manage ADHD symptoms by teaching them strategies that have been proven to work, based on evidence. Such strategies are called evidence-based interventions (EBIs). An example of an EBI would be helping the parents of the student with ADHD to develop and put into place a system of organization to assist the student in carrying out more homework assignments and chores and getting them done on time. Parents might use calendars, charts, notebook or computer, and class syllabi to make it work.

Anil Chacko, a professor for Counseling@NYU’s online master’s in school counseling program from NYU Steinhardt, describes some strategies that school counselors can use when working with students who have ADHD. “School counselors should utilize methods that support students’ time management, planning, and organization,” Chacko says, citing the work of Joshua Langberg at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and Howard Abikoff at New York University’s (NYU) School of Medicine, leading scholars in the field of ADHD in children and adolescents. “I would also encourage school counselors to work directly with parents to create a school-home note system to support cross-setting changes.”

Dr. Langberg developed and published the successful Homework, Organization, and Planning Skills (HOPS) intervention. HOPS is about teaching kids to use physical organization tools, for instance book bags, binders, and lockers, and homework management tools such as writing down assignments and recording them accurately, entering test dates on a calendar, and in general, planning things out.

Dr. Abikoff researches interventions and training in children with ADHD, for instance Organizational Skills Training (OST). OST targets specific organizational skills goals. Here is a description of the OST program from program’s creators:

OST is a 20-session, twice-weekly, clinic-based program, which focused on building organizational skills in four areas:

  • Tracking Assignments: Teaching students a system for consistently recording assignments and due dates in a specially designed planner.
  • Managing Materials: Providing students with methods for storing and organizing their papers and materials through the use of an accordion binder system, materials checklists included in their planner, systems for organizing their desks, and by developing prominently visible checklists for backpacks and other tools for material transfer, as well as other related strategies.
  • Time Management: Helping students become more aware of their use of time and how to plan ahead to structure their time effectively through the use of an afternoon scheduling component in their planners; helping students improve their time estimation skills and their awareness of how much time they need to complete tasks; teaching students to work efficiently by minimizing distractions in their work spaces.
  • Task Planning: Showing students how to break larger projects and goals into steps and create schedules for task completion through the use of task-planning pages in their planners.

OST students are taught that each OTMP (organization, time management, and planning) problem area is the result of a brain “glitch.” Each glitch is depicted as a naughty character who likes to watch children make mistakes due to organizational problems. This concept helps motivate the students and makes the program “lighthearted and fun.” The concept of glitches is also meant to make the issues encountered by students with ADHD less personal. Kids come to understand that it’s not they who fail, but the symptoms of ADHD getting in the way of their academic and social success.

Each organizational skill is taught using the same basic method:

1) The new skill is discussed, defined, and explained. A rationale is given for the importance of the skill. The child hears about the settings in which the skill might be used.

2) The skill is demonstrated

3) The skill is practiced by the child under the guidance of an instructor and feedback is given. The skill is practiced many times. The student is taught to identify situations in which the skill should be used.

Studies as recent as this one from 2016, have found that early behavioral therapy (HOPS, OST, and the like), begun before any other interventions, such as medication, had “four fewer rules violations an hour at school than the medication-first group.” That’s not to say that behavioral therapy takes the place of medication. Medication has proven benefits for children with ADHD. What we should take away from the research is that 1) We shouldn’t begin with medication and 2) Teaching children to develop their OTMP skills even before they reach school age, can really make a difference. In terms of cost, by the way, behavior-first therapy is estimated to cost an annual $700 less per year when compared to medication-first treatment.

Strategies for Teachers

Besides using EBIs like OST and HOPS in their work with children, school counselors can also train teachers to support children who are coping with ADHD in the classroom. A school counselor might, for instance, suggest the teacher give out points or tokens for good behavior. Here are some other practical tips from the National Resource Center (NRC) on ADHD:

For the easily distracted student (predominantly inattentive)

  • Seat the student close to the teacher’s desk and away from distractions such as windows or school corridors
  • Split long assignments into smaller segments
  • Offer more breaks during class time

For the students that fidgets and squirms (predominantly hyperactive/impulsive)

  • Seat the student where the fidgeting and squirming will be least likely to disturb classmates, for instance along the side of the classroom
  • Offer opportunities throughout the day that allow the fidgety student to move, for instance, handing out work sheets.

More Tips to Manage ADHD

Scott Ertl, M.Ed., was an elementary school counselor for 18 years before he became the CEO of BouncyBands, a device to help fidgety students cope in the classroom. Here are Ertl’s top 5 tips for helping students with ADHD succeed in the classroom:

1) The child or teacher, depending on the child’s maturity, should clean out the child’s desk every Friday afternoon so the week starts off as organized and prepared as possible.

2) Allow movement. Let the child earn the ability to deliver a book to the media center, a note to the front office, or a message to a teacher when their work is completed correctly. Bouncy Bands, yoga balls, and standing desks in class are also great ways to allow movement throughout the day. Kids need appropriate ways to release their extra energy without distracting others.

3) Set them up for success. Give them advance notice that you are going to call on them to answer a question in class so they are ready. This works much better than catching them off task as a way to shame them into paying attention.

4) Have specific goals on their desk to accomplish, like: Check over my work when completed, Make sure all of my homework is written down before leaving class, and Raise my hand to ask for help when unsure of what to do in class.

5) Communicate. Give specific feedback during the day when these goals are being accomplished to recognize their improvements. Use them as model in class to encourage other students to improve those behaviors as well.

Teachers who must manage ADHD in the classroom may also want to try using sentences that suggest an order of action, for instance, “First read all the questions, then answer them,” or, “First put your crayons away, then take out your geography book.” In addition, enlisting a student’s help can increase self-worth and help refocus the child’s energy. Teachers and parents should always watch for good behavior and give praise whenever and wherever it happens!

How Can Parents Manage ADHD?

Here are some things parents can do at home to help their children who struggle with ADHD:

  • Use a system to acknowledge and reward good behavior, for instance, a chart with stickers
  • Stick to a home routine with as little deviation as possible (e.g. homework, dinner, bedtime, and etc., are at the same time each day)
  • Create written to-do lists for chores so that the child can cross things off the list as they are done
  • Practice at home, OTMP strategies learned at therapy sessions

Professor Chacko encourages parents to educate themselves. If you have a child with ADHD, seek out information on behavior parent training programs in your area. Some consider these programs to be the most important and most effective means to manage ADHD behaviors both in and out of the classroom. Parents, along with teachers and school counselors, should also be aware that ADHD often coexists (see: Comorbidity and ADHD: It’s Not Just About ADHD) with learning disabilities and difficulties. “The challenges these children face may be more than just ‘ADHD,’” says Chacko.

What do you do at home to help support your child with ADHD?

HIIT Boosts Children’s Brain Power

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), a brief, quick-paced form of exercise, has been found to help school children perform better on tasks involving the working memory and cognitive control.

You always knew that exercise was good for your child’s mind and body. Something about getting blood and oxygen circulating to the brain. Scientists knew it too—knew exercise improved academic performance. Researchers from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, however, decided to check if HIIT (short bursts of high-intensity activity followed by brief intervals of low-intensity activity) would be as effective as more typical, longer workouts. The results of their research were published in the August 2017 issue of eLife.

The study, headed up by Drs. David Moreau and Karen E. Waldie, involved 318 child participants aged 7-13 years and lasted 6 weeks. “Previous studies have suggested that long, sustained workout sessions, performed at a moderate intensity for 30 to 40 minutes, are most beneficial to learning and memory,” said lead author of the study, Dr. David Moreau, speaking to the Daily Mail.

“We wanted to see if short, intense bursts of exercise could also lead to meaningful cognitive improvements in children, and whether the effect of exercise on the brain is different depending on physical health and other individual characteristics.”

To that end, Moreau and his team gave the children six tasks in two categories: working memory and cognitive control. An example of a working memory task would be a game where children have to find matching cards by turning over two cards at a time. Children must remember which cards contain specific pictures in order to make subsequent matches. Cognitive control involves interpreting information without allowing bias or impulse to override the process. An example of a cognitive control task would be to play a game based on the Stroop effect, where children are shown color words (blue, green, red, orange, and etc.) and must read the words without letting the color of the ink bias their answers.

A strong working memory and effective cognitive control are considered important predictors for success in school and later in life, in the workplace.

After finishing the six tasks, the children would then be randomly sent to do either HIIT or play fun or educational video games. Then, the children would do another round of six memory and cognitive control tasks. This allowed researchers to compare performance before and after the activities. It also allowed them to compare performance after HIIT to performance after breaking for a fun round of video games.

The HIIT sessions lasted 10 minutes each. Over six weeks’ time, the  duration of the study, this amounts to a total of five hours of exercise. The kids doing HIIT did much better on the second six round of tasks than the kids who played the video games.

HIIT As Effective As Longer Workouts


This was an important finding because while exercise had been found to boost brain power, aerobic exercise in the middle of the school day would tend to take too much time away from a child’s studies. The fact that brief intervals of exercise of no more than 10 minutes at a time are as effective as longer workouts has important implications. A short break for HIIT is a lot more reasonable than a 40-minute aerobic workout smack dab in the middle of math class.

What should parents do with this information? Certainly share this article with your child’s teacher and with other parents, too. A teacher who is really invested in his or her pupils should be willing to give HIIT a try. Why not? It only takes 10 minutes.

You may find that not every teacher is interested in hearing about such innovations from parents. In that case, use the information here to help your child do better at homework. Here are three HIIT workouts for children you can have your own children do at home before they sit down to do their homework.

When the teacher asks what your secret is in getting your child to perform such amazing homework feats, there’s your chance to explain the benefits of a 10-minute session of HIIT.

Hey. Whatever it takes. Right?

Effective Communicators: Broaden Your Child’s Future

Effective communicators are the kind of people who, when they speak with you in private, you hang on their every word. Listening from the audience as they speak from the podium, you know you’re being silly, but you feel they’re speaking only to you. And it works both ways: when you speak to them, it feels like they’re really listening—like they really hear you. Now you might not have thought about this, but wouldn’t it be great if you could teach your child to have those skills: to be an effective communicator?

It’s true that some people are just born to be effective communicators. That doesn’t mean, however, that good communication skills can’t be taught. And if they can be taught, they should be taught, for effective communicators are the star pupils of every teacher’s class. Not to mention: they’re sought after as both friends and employees.

By teaching children to be effective communicators, parents broaden their opportunities. Those with a gift for communication have wider social circles, and can make all kinds of friends and connections. Their career opportunities will be more varied, with every possibility of rising to the top, no matter what field they choose.

Becoming an effective communicator can begin in infancy, when a parent makes eye contact with a baby, and speaks at just the right rhythm and tempo. It’s not just instinct. A mother knows when baby has had enough speech, when to pull away. The mother reads the baby’s cues and follows them.

That is pretty much the definition of being an effective communicator: reading the cues of your listeners and following them. And sometimes being the listener, watching for and reading the cues of the speaker. And by reading and following cues, as your infant looks on, you are modeling effective communication for your baby.

Teaching children to become effective communicators is a two-pronged process. It’s first and foremost about understanding the qualities that define effective communication. Then, once you know what effective communication is, you can set about showing children the ropes of being effective communicators.

Effective Communicators:

  • Refrain from speaking quickly
  • Are not too loud or too soft in their speech
  • Never interrupt or speak when others speak, but await their turn
  • Practice active listening by making eye contact, turning to face the other person, and responding with comments and questions that show they are paying attention
  • Consider others before themselves, avoiding the use of “me” and “I”-centered speech whenever possible
  • Ask others for their opinions and ideas
  • Never fidget
  • Speak clearly
  • Pronounce words properly
  • Use good grammar
  • Never use curse words in polite company

Use Daily Conversation for Practice

Having everyday conversations with your child is a great way to coach them in becoming effective communicators. Show them that what they say interests you and respect them enough to let them have their say. By the same token, children should listen and respond to you, making eye contact and making sure to face you. Hands and feet should be still. Speech should be clear, never rushed, and not too loud or too soft.

Children are always watching and absorbing, so you can continue the lesson by having polite, effective conversations that clearly express your views with others, such as a spouse, while children are in listening and watching distance. The conversations your child witnesses or takes part in at home, are the foundations for his own developing communication skills.

During daily conversations at home, it’s fine for you to gently guide and correct your child’s behavior. When you are in public, don’t draw attention to your child’s mistakes. This might embarrass your child and cause him to be self-conscious and awkward about conversing with others in public. Note that in correcting your child only at home, he will learn that home is a safe place to learn. By not correcting your child in public, you show him you respect him enough not to hurt his feelings or embarrass him. An exception: if your child interrupts you while you are chatting with someone else, pause and turn to the child and ask him to wait until you’re finished speaking or listening, please.

If children balk at being directed to make eye contact or face you as the two of you speak, explain that doing so shows interest in what you are saying and is a sign of respect. Ask how he would feel if he were sharing an important idea and his friend kept his back to him and played with a toy while he was speaking. Looking away from someone who is speaking is hurtful, which means it is not good manners, since manners are about caring for others.

You can also talk with your child about being an effective communicator. A parent might, for instance, mention getting trapped at a social event by someone who would not stop talking about himself and who was very boring. You can explain how you tried to give the person various cues (looking at your watch, yawning, looking around the room at something else, grimacing), but the person was seemingly unable or unwilling to read you. Discuss this with your child. Ask what he would have done in your place to politely disengage and why he thinks the person didn’t read your cues.

Effective Communicators Mirror

Repeating what people say to us makes them feel heard. Mental health professionals have long known the value of mirroring: repeating a patient’s words back to him. You can play a mirroring game with your child to practice this skill. Here is a sample dialogue using the mirroring technique:

“I was taking out the trash when I saw a raccoon.”

“You saw a raccoon?”

Yes. I was scared at first, then saw his eyes were gentle.

“He had gentle eyes?”

“Yes. I didn’t want to frighten him so I moved very slowly.”

“It’s nice you didn’t want to frighten him and that you moved so carefully and slowly.”

It’s easy to see how the child who saw a raccoon felt validated and warm after relating his experience to someone who cared enough to really listen. That’s how mirroring works. It proves respect and caring for the speaker. You can practice mirroring with your child, taking turns being speaker and listener.

The Um Game

The Um Game is played by having your child speak about anything she likes, such as a favorite teacher, or toy. Time your child to see how long she can go without using “um,” “uh,” “like,” “you know,” or “er.” This game helps your child become more articulate and can even increase vocabulary. It also teaches eloquence. No great speaker was ever guilty of interjecting “um,” “uh” or “you know,” into a momentous speech.

Social Situations

Children should be shown how to enter a conversation in a polite way. The right way is to walk up to the group, smile, listen to what people are saying, and wait until someone speaks to you before joining in. Your child should also learn to gracefully handle the situation when it is the other way around. If someone wants to join his conversation, he should smile and nod to the person. Once the speaker has finished speaking, your child can greet the new person and make introductions if necessary.

Ending conversations in a pleasant way is also part of being an effective communicator. It’s rude to just walk away from people when you’ve been chatting. The child should, instead, learn to explain why he must leave and remark that the conversation has been enjoyable. He might say, for instance: I need to go help my mom in the garden, but it was great talking with you!

Children should also learn what is and is not an appropriate topic for discussion. It’s one thing for the family to celebrate mom’s promotion at the office, but inappropriate for your child to brag about it to her friends. Some things are private. Also, children should learn to draw others out in conversation, rather than speak only about themselves and their experiences. Drawing out others in conversation is  thoughtful, monopolizing the conversation and speaking only of one’s self is rude and boring.

An understanding of nonverbal communication and cues must be taught from a young age, since children only develop a sense for these later on. Yawning during a conversation, speech, lecture, or sermon is rude and children should learn to try to suppress a yawn during these occasions. Rolling one’s eyes or frowning or otherwise making faces while someone is speaking is bad manners, too. Playing with hair, turning away from the speaker, picking at your nails or nose, and looking at your watch while someone is speaking (with the exception of the bore who will not let you go!!) are all behaviors that are considered poor manners because they make people feel bad.

Children also need to be on the watch for nonverbal cues in others. A child should, for instance, learn to understand and be sensitive to signs that a conversation has gone on long enough or that a person needs to leave. That calls for finishing the conversation or winding up a story. Children should also be on watch for signs that a topic makes the listener uncomfortable and learn how to change the subject.

Children catch on quicker than you’d expect, and come to understand that being effective communicator means being polite, but getting the point across and hearing others, too. Learning to be that sought-after conversationalist and friend means developing listening skills, using good grammar, and most of all, sensitivity. In working with children early on, parents help their children grow to become refined communicators who are adept at speaking to anyone in any situation.

Manners: The Comprehensive Guide for Parents

Manners are all about the Golden Rule: “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.” In other words, manners are about caring for others. Children tend to think they are at the center of the world. Teaching children manners helps them to develop empathy: to have real feelings for all those they encounter, and not to only think of themselves.

The most important thing parents can do to teach children manners is to model those manners for their children. Always say “please” when you want something. Say “thank you,” when someone hands you something or does something nice for you. Say “excuse me” when you burp or pass gas, “you’re welcome” when someone thanks you. Ask, “may I” before coming to a child’s assistance or requesting to use something the child is using.

Modeling Manners

Just by being polite, you are teaching your child to be polite. Being rude, on the other hand, even just by omission (such as forgetting to say thank you), will be noticed by your child. Children are always watching you, even when you think they are unaware, so make sure your behavior is always correct.

Children need positive reinforcement. Watch for opportunities to praise them for good behavior. Use those times to reinforce good manners. “I was so proud of the way you thanked Mrs. Smith for letting you play with Timmy, today,” or, “I was so happy at the way you greeted Mr. Lowry when you came home from school and saw he was visiting.”

Children love praise. If you take note and mention their good behavior, they are sure to continue to earn even more praise from you, their parent. Don’t miss an opportunity to encourage them.

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Modeling good behavior for children is important, but not going far enough. Parents must also serve as active coaches to their children, prompting them to say the right words, for example, “Say, thank you to Mrs. Smith,” or to do the right thing, such as not putting their elbows on the table. Correction is often necessary, too. You can do it in a positive way. Instead of saying, “don’t speak with your mouth full,” you might say, “wait until you’re finished chewing and swallowing, then tell us what you want to say.”

General Etiquette

  • Acknowledge guests or family members, when they enter the home.
  • Use a person’s name rather than “you” or “he” or “she.”
  • An adult should be addressed with his title (Mr., Mrs., Dr., Aunt, and so forth).
  • Introduce friends to each other: “Barbara, I’d like you to meet Joe.”
  • When introduced to someone say, “Nice (or “pleased”) to meet you.”
  • Always knock and wait for a response before entering a room
  • Foul language is always inappropriate, especially when used by children in the presence of adults. It is disrespectful and offensive.
  • It is never okay to insult someone, be cruel, make fun of others, call mean names, or otherwise bully others.
  • Try not to burp or pass gas in the presence of others, but go to a bathroom or unoccupied room to do so, if possible.
  • Always say excuse me after burping or passing wind in the presence of others, even family members.
  • Show respect and kindness for others, such as for elders (you might, for instance, suggest an older person go ahead of you in line at a buffet.
  • Be aware of others’ physical space and never stand to close to others or crowd them.
  • Never point at people or things. Like standing too close, this is an abuse of physical space.
  • Those exiting the room always go first before those entering the room.
  • Allow others to pass you by moving to the right.
  • Always say hello or goodbye when entering or leaving a home.
  • When you see someone with disability, don’t stare. Imagine how it would make you feel if others stared at you or pointed at you. Treat people with disabilities as you would like to be treated.
  • When leaving someone you’ve just met, say, “It was nice meeting you.”

Phone Manners

  • When answering the phone, say “Hello.” When the person asks to speak to someone, say, “Just a moment please,” and perhaps, “Whom shall I say is calling?”
  • When calling, say hello and ask for the person you wish to speak with. For instance: “Hello, may I speak to John?”
  • If you are John, you might respond, “Speaking. How may I help you?
  • If “John” is not home, the child should say, “I’m sorry, he’s not home right now. May I take a message please?” In this case, the child should make sure to write down and deliver the message on John’s return.
  • If John is home but cannot come to the phone, don’t explain why but say, “John can’t come to the phone right now, may he call you back?” Then write down the phone number and name of the person calling and make sure John gets the message.

Table Manners

  • When you’re not sure how to use a utensil or which utensil to use, watch your host or hostess and follow suit.
  • Don’t pick up your fork or spoon to eat until your host or hostess does.
  • Spread your napkin on your lap, use it to wipe your mouth.
  • Use your napkin to unobtrusively remove olive pits, bones, or other inedible bits from your mouth.
  • Pass things at table without being asked. If you want something you cannot easily reach, never reach over others, but ask for it to be passed to you.
  • If you must leave the table before the meal is over, ask your host for permission to be excused from the table. “May I please be excused?”
  • Stay seated at the table during meals.
  • Always chew with your mouth closed.
  • Don’t speak with food in your mouth.
  • Never place your elbows on the table.
  • Don’t eat so others can hear you.


  • When asked how you are, say thank you, answer the question, and respond in kind, “Fine, thank you. How are you?”
  • Don’t interrupt, rather wait until that person nods to you or otherwise lets you go ahead. If it is something that cannot wait, begin what you have to say with, “excuse me.”
  • Keep negative opinions to yourself. Never comment on a person’s physical characteristics unless it is a compliment.
  • Always speak when spoken to.
  • Make eye contact when speaking with others
  • Be a good listener. Let the person say all he wants to say. Answer in a way that shows you are listening and caring.

Public Manners

  • If you bump into someone or step on someone’s foot, say “excuse me.” If you might have hurt the person, ask if he or she is okay and offer help. Apologize.
  • Always cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
  • Don’t pick your nose or pick or touch other (even covered) body parts.
  • Hold the door open for others.
  • Offer help when you can.
  • When asked by an adult to do a favor, don’t complain, but smile and do so willingly and as quickly as possible.

Being a Guest

  • If you’re not sure about something, ask permission Examples:
  1. May I look at this photo album, please?
  2. May I play with this kaleidoscope, please?
  3. May I take a cold drink of water from the refrigerator, please?
  • Respect your hosts’ privacy. Don’t touch things not belonging to you without permission. Don’t enter a closed door without permission.
  • Always clean up any messes you’ve made, for instance, put away any toys that were used, clean up after crafts.
  • Offer to help your host or hostess clean, serve, or clear.
  • If served a food you don’t like, take a small amount and eat as much as you can. Don’t make faces or complain. Your host or hostess worked hard to make a nice meal and you don’t want his or her feelings hurt.
  • Never fight over toys. Take turns using things. Share.
  • Always play fair.
  • Be a graceful loser. Smile and congratulate the winner.
  • Keep your hands to yourself. Don’t push, pull, or poke.
  • Don’t hit.
  • No name calling.
  • Don’t overstay your welcome. Watch your hosts to see when it might be time to go home. Do they seem tired? Is it getting late?
  • When invited to an event or someone’s home, always seek out and thank the host or hostess, for instance, say thank you to your friend’s mother at the end of a play date.

Hosting Others

  • Make your guests feel happy and comfortable. Take their coats. Ask if they’d like a drink or something to eat. Introduce them to people you think they’d enjoy knowing.
  • If your guest spills or breaks something, try to make them feel it was no big deal and clean it away as quickly as you can.
  • Thank guests for attending your event or for visiting.
  • Make a list of all those who helped you with your event or gave you gifts. Send them thank-you notes.

Attending Events

  • Always stand when meeting someone for the first time to show respect.
  • Stand for clergy or important speakers
  • It is difficult to sit through a boring speech or performance such as a play or a concert. It is important to sit quietly, however, and pretend to be interested. Keep in mind that the speaker or performer is doing his very best.
  • Don’t roll your eyes.
  • Clap at the end.

Expressing Gratitude

In addition to thanking a host in person when leaving a home or party, thank-you notes are always appreciated as a response to gifts and kindnesses. These should be sent by snail mail.

A typical thank-you note takes this form:
Dear Mrs. Smith,

Thank you so much for the ____. I have always wanted one. I will use it to ________.



If the child is too young to write, the child can draw a picture of using the item and the parent can write out the thank you note in the child’s name. These items can be mailed to the person in question.

Taken all together, this seems like a daunting list, both for the parent who must teach these things, and the child, who must learn them. Step back, however, and see what it is this list is all about: being considerate and kind, nothing more. Discuss this with your child. Ask how it feels, for instance, when someone points at her. Ask how it felt, on the other hand, when Mrs. Smith asked her how she was feeling after she had the flu.

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Good manners can be natural for the person who is caring. It’s just about getting the details straight. Knowing there is a set of guidelines for our behavior in any situation, can be a real comfort for children and for adults, too.

What are some of your best tips for teaching your child good manners?