Patt and Steve Saso are national speakers and authors. The couple runs Saso Seminars, an inspirational organization committed to assisting parents and educators in raising respectful and responsible children: http://www.sasoseminars.com
Ten Tips to Parents for School Success
“What can I do to help my teen be more successful in school?” Marylou complained to me that her son, Terrance, doesn’t do his homework. Last year his grades were horrible. “He's a smart boy and scores in the 80th percentile on his standardized tests. He just isn't doing his work. What can I do?"
Many parents share Marylou’s frustrations asking:
- What can I do to help my child be successful
- How do I get my son to do his homework?
- How do I keep my daughter focused on grades
and not friends?
- How should I respond to my son’s poor report card?
- What should I do when all else seems to fail?
Some parents assume they know what the problem is – he wastes time, she's lazy, he spends too much time on the computer, she has ADD -- and their knee-jerk
reaction is to take away rather than steer toward a more holistic solution.
Aubrey’s father wasn't much different. When she brought home a report card of three C's, two D's, and an F, he exploded. He took away the computer, cell phone and her music. He made her quit band saying she needs more time to study. Aubrey had to come home right after school and wasn't allowed to hang out with friends. Being isolated left her feeling
hopeless. And predictably, her grades did not improve.
Some parents try to motivate kids by comparing them with siblings or friends. "Why can't you get the grades your brother earned?" Or "Your cousin is a good student; what happen to you?" This approach does not work, eit her. Guilt and blame may scar a person’s self-esteem.
Micro managing can backfire, creating dependence on parents. Teens are moving toward independence and too much of a watchful eye sends a message that “You can’t do this yourself.” This may unintentionally thwart their development.
All the yelling, shaming, comparing, pleading, punishing or lecturing in the world will not motivate your child to be successful in the classroom. In fact, increasing anxiety can make things worse. A brain over loaded with cortisol, a stress hormone, will begin to shut down.
What may help is a softer, kinder, more holistic approach to your teen. Here are ten tips to help you parent for school success:
1. Learn to trust your children, believing in their
abilities to do things on their own. Let go of your
attachment to the outcome you wan.t
2. Continue to get to know your teen. She changes
daily and if we have her locked into a stereotype (lazy,
crazy, air-head adolescent) then we will miss seeing
her because we are blinded by our own ignorance.
3. Ask your teen what his concerns are. And then listen
to what he has to say. Value your child’s inner world.
4. Discover what your teen likes and dislikes with total
acceptance. Without judgment.
5. Engage your son in conversations about his future.
Ask about his dreams and desires. Appreciate them no
matter how outlandish they seem to you.
6. Know your daughter’s daily activities. Be involved
and interested in her life. Support extra-curricular
activities, such as speech tournaments, school plays
and concerts, and sporting events. Your participation
in school programs is a great way to support your teen's
success in school.
7. Attend school functions. Make it a priority to attend
school programs, such as Back to School Night, PTA
meetings, and Parent-Teacher conferences.
8. Be a partner in your teen's education. Get to know
your child's teachers and form a working relationship
with them. Engage in dialogue with the teacher to stay
on top of any trouble spots. Use the phone or e-mail to
keep in touch.
9. Give guidance with homework, if asked. Some teens
will not want help. Others will welcome it. Do not force
your help on them, and be sure to work with your
student; do not do the work for them.
10. And lastly, remember your teen is a human being,
not a human doer. If you just focus on grades and not
consider a holistic picture then you, as a parent, may
lose focus. This creates more pain rather than
Even if you do all these things and more, there is no guarantee that your son or daughter will not hit bumps on their path. It is important to keep in mind that your teen's success in school has little to do with you b eing a good or bad parent. It has more to do with the learning style, temperament, talents, personality and life journey that is your child’s alone.
The answer to "Why can't I...?"
Help! My son keeps asking “Why?”
Why can’t I?
Why won’t you let me?
Why don’t you trust me?
It is driving me nuts that he won’t just take what I say as my word and stop questioning my decision as his parent. How do I get him to show more respect for me? - Father at the end of his rope
Dear Father at the end of his rope,
All three of our kids were in hi gh school at the same time and I got “WHY?” from every direction! I remember the frustration. It seemed like I had no energy to keep on battling with each one of them. But I don’t want you to make the same mistake I did. That is - assuming that when your teen questions your authority, it is about disrespect. It isn’t.
When kids ask why, they are flexing their mental muscle. They are in the process of going from concrete thinking to abstract thinking. The questioning is normal and needed for survival. In addition, questioning and pushing the limits is how they break free from mom and dad and learn to stand on their own two feet. If they are compliant, without questioning, then when they are launched into the world they will be ill-equipped to make decisions on their own, having no practice at it.
What is true, is that it would be much easier on us, as parents, if our kids would just listen and do what we ask. But in the real world that doesn’t happen. Expect pushing the limits, expect questioning, expect frustrations and then remind yourself this is a part of growing up and it is a good thing. Good luck, and if you really start feeling stuck, and you feel like letting go of that rope, then give a counselor a call. Setting up an appointment will give you the opportunity to personalize your own solutions.
Teen Q & A
“My son barely talks to me anymore! When I ask him a question, he just grunts or says, “Yeah.” How do I get him to talk more openly? -Tom
“My eighth grade daughter comes home from school, goes into her room, and shuts the door without even acknowledging my presence! She used to tell me all about her day, but not anymore! Please help.”
Dear Tom and Monica,
Keeping the lines of communication open is important, especially during the teen years. Staying involved may become more challenging as your teenager starts talking less to you. This can start as early as 7th grade. The good news is that talking less to mom or dad is normal teen development, although pa inful for parents. Parents often struggle with this predictable change. Many are frustrated as the ommunication gap seems to be widening. It can be uncomfortable and downright scary at times.Many parents are hurt or upset because they feel pushed away by their teen. They may be confused as to how to open a dialogue when their child appears unwilling to participate. As impossible as this all sounds, there are ways to make this a win-win.
ONE: Recognize and Accept this Stage of Development
First, it is important to understand the developmental changes that your teen is going through. During adolescence a teen will talk less to you and want to hang out more with friends. Read “10 Best Gifts for Your Teen” (Saso &am p; Saso) for specific behaviors to expect so that you will be better prepared.
Secondly, do not take it personally that your teen is speaking less to you. It might be helpful to adjust the way you communicate by relaxing more. Accept that what appears to be immature behaviors are part of the maturing process.
TWO: Model Respect
Respect your teen’s need for autonomy and privacy. Talking less does not mean that she is trying to hide things from you. Let her know you will be there when she needs you and then continue to keep your eyes open. When you notice she is struggling, check it out immediately by sharing what you are seeing.
THREE: Practice Listening
Don’t assume your teenager wants you to fix things when he does open up. Often he just needs you to listen and validate his experience. You can let yo ur son know that you hear what he is saying by making eye contact, nodding, and saying, “Uh huh.” If you need help learning how to acknowledge your teen’s emotions without getting hooked, schedule a parent-coaching session with me. I can help.
Communication breakdowns are inevitable during the teen years. Learn how to open up parent-teen communication by practicing these communication tips and you will experience less conflict in your home while building a trusting and loving relationship with your child.
Stop Arguing with Your Teen
How do I get my son to stop arguing with me? He can be belligerent and it seems we always end up yelling. My screaming at him is the only thing he understands. – Upset Mother
Dear Upset Mother,
Think of those arguments not as danger but as needed training ground — a crucial skill that he can use later on in life with friends, partners and co-workers on the job.
The next time your teen starts to argue, use the pause that reflects and take a deep breath, exhale twice as slowly as you inhaled, then try to listen. It may be one of the best lessons you can teach your teen and here’s why. Kids whose parents listen to them, not always agreeing though, learn how to be calm, confident and persuasive when arguing. These same teens are more likely to say “no” to their peers when offered alcohol or drugs.
So mom, first learn to tame your own dragon so not to engage in arguing with your son. Notice what your blocks are to listening. Then work on not being reactive, so that you can stay present and listen to what is being said. When you are able to stay calm it helps your son stay calm. We can’t listen if we are in reactive mode.
Secondly, remember that if you listen to your son, he will listen to you. It seems to me you both are fighting each other and this is exhausting and frustrating for you both. Practice listening and connecting.
Lastly, be open to negotiation. Common areas causing arguments include homework, chores, curfew, and friends. For example, if your son says, “Mom, stop nagging me about my homework. Let me do it so I can prove to you I can handle it.”
Consider his request instead of viewing it as arguing. Besides that, if you are micro-managing your high-schooler’s homework and grades then you are sabotaging your child. The message being sent is, “You are not capable.” And that is a destructive message.
Remember the more you are able to listen and respect your teen’s thinking, the more you are helping him become an independent thinker who will be more likely to resist peer pressure.
How to Connect More and Correct Less
How you interact with and respond to your teen influences their development. The parent-child relationship directly shapes the circuits responsible for decision making, self-control, and planning for the future. Feeling loved and understood, being seen and heard, and beingvalued with a sense of belonging – all of theseassist in developing the mind, particularly the prefrontal cortex (PFC).
What are other functions of the PFC?
-seeing another person's perspective,
-a self-knowing awareness,
-the ability to self-soothe emotions,
-staying calm in the midst of chaos, and
-the ability to pause and reflect before making a rash decision
Between the ages of about 13-25, the adolescent brain is under major reconstruction. The executive functions of the PFC are still developing. This is why teens are capable of such crazy behaviors as risk taking, inability to see future consequences and poor decision making.
Knowing this information might help you understand why your teen is doing what s/he does! It may influence you to shift your parenting away from constantly correcting and move toward more connecting.
Paul and Lisa's sophomore daughter, Amy, is sneaking out at night. Twice they've caught her with her boyfriend, whom they dislike. They want her to concentrate on school and since her boyfriend has been in the picture her grades have dropped.
To focus her in the "right direction," the parents use punishment. They tell her to return home immediately after school, they forbid her to see her boyfriend (like that is really going to work!), and they take away her cell phone.
They are trying to manipulate behavior by dictating external factors. It isn't working.
Less correcting, more connecting
Parents are advised to move beyond fixing problems and learn to see and understand their
child's inner world. Parenting with a positive rapport influences the brain's structure and
functions. Neuroscience research supports this, without question.
One dynamic function of the PFC is the ability to step into the shoes of another person. This is called empathy. Amy's parents are having difficulty doing this. They are more focused on outcomes, like grades. Amy feels unseen and disrespected by her parents and resents them trying to force her to do what they think is best
Dan Siegel, M.D., author of The Developing Mind, writes, "Relationships that involve a respectful attitude and sensitivity to the internal subjective emotional state of the other person are those that promote well-being in both individuals. This respect begins with a sense that the internal subjective experience of another person is important."
Here is what parents can do to connect more with their child and promote their well-being:
1. Practice being kind
2. Be present emotionally and physically
3. Laugh, dream and share together
4. Be aware of your teen's needs
5. Empower your teen with choices
6. Show respect for your child's needs, wishes and requests
7. Step into your child's experience and see it from his or her point of view
8. Continue to be interested and involved in your child's life, even after a divorce
What not to do:
1. Don't shut down communication by forcing your agenda
2. Don't use punishment to manipulate behavior
3. Don't assume your solutions are best
4. Never use harsh criticisms, name calling, or shaming comments
5. Don't automatically side with the other person
6. Don't assume your teen is lying and hiding something
Let's return to the challenge that Paul and Lisa are facing in Amy's sneaking out and dropping grades. What might they do to connect more with Amy's world and interests, rather than simply to focus on results, such as getting her to raise her grades?
Be flexible and less rigid:
They might get to know Amy's boyfriend rather than judge and blame him. By rejecting him they are also rejecting parts of her.
Respect needs and wishes:
They might empower Amy by helping her learn to balance school and a new boyfriend. By being empathic they will understand how important he is to her and reach out with guidance rather than being controlling and fearful.
Encourage talking about goals and dreams:
They might ask Amy what her academic goals are. When parents push what they want for their teen, without the buy-in of their child, teens often push back. Trying to control mostly backfires and both end up losing.
They might try communicating openly about their fears and concerns rather than getting mad or manipulative. Real and meaningful conversations go much farther than giving demands.
Stay present and centered:
They might practice self awareness so that they don't start acting out unconsciously, like taking things away as a method of coercion. Aware parents are usually more understanding and reasonable. Teens need parents grounded in wisdom, not reactivity.
These suggestions, along with personal awareness, will assist you in connecting with the internal world of your child, allowing for a deeper and more meaningful connection. This relationship will promote emotional well-being in your child. Your teen will develop a healthy mind, better decision making skills, and be happier. And who doesn't want that!
Preparing Your Teen to Leave Home
They didn't expect this with their daughter's graduation right around the corner. It caught them by surprise. Isabella has always been fairly cooperative with her parents. In June she is graduating from high school and will be going away to college in the fall. Mom and Dad came into my office complaining that she is being disrespectful and pushing the limits more than they are comfortable with. They are worried because she is changing. For the worse!
What might you expect when you have a graduating senior?
In her senior year Isabella has been more outspoken and combative. She is coming in past her curfew. She has not done many of her household duties and her room is a pigsty. Mom and Dad say they have had enough of her obnoxious and rude behavior. The parents have mixed feelings about her leaving in the fall, wanting her out, yet seriously questioning if she is responsible enough to be
on her own.
Curbing the Disrespect
To control her behavior, Mom and Dad have refused to let Isabella go out with friends, have taken away her cell phone, and have endlessly lectured her on her lack of cooperation and respect. Nothing is working. Isabella shares with me that her parents have gotten stricter this past year. It is confusing. "They are so controlling and unreasonable. They treat me like a little kid. I'm the only senior I know who has to be home by eleven."
It is not uncommon for conflict to increase during senior year between parent and teen. There are a few reasons for this.
One reason is that teens developmentally need to challenge the limits that are placed on them. Why? Because they need to let go of parents and prove to themselves they can survive on their own. Confidence is gained when teens experience handling issues themselves, without parental interference. It is important for them to make their own choices and learn from their own mistakes.
The best time to begin shifting to more personal responsibility is during junior and senior year, while teens are still at home. Then you are able to have a more watchful eye. But sometimes this doesn't
happen. What happens instead is parents become more fearful and begin pulling in more, rather than focusing on releasing.
The other reason conflict increases is because without realizing it, parents unconsciously hang on to their teen. Conflict increases as the teen forces the parent to release by pushing against them. Parents may become fearful and refuse to let go.
Teenagers need more freedom
But many parents have a difficult time with this because they have nightmares about the potential dangers. They are afraid to give freedom because they are concerned that their teen will make a
mistake. Yet the best time for a teen to make mistakes is at home, so parents can intervene if necessary. Kids learn responsibility from making mistakes,
not from avoiding them.
Parent s Keep in Mind the Following:
1. Take the entire year to prepare for your senior's
graduation. Continue to expand limits, giving more
freedom as responsible behavior dictates.
2. Be aware when your fear gets in the way of you
being an effective parent. A clue might be when
you become irrational or overly reactive.
3. Talk with other adults, or a therapist if you want
confidentiality, about your mixed feelings in this
stage in family life: the role changes, the ending
of mothering or fathering as you've known it, your
child not being needed by you in the same way
anymore, their growing independence, trusting the
unknown future and direction your child may take,
new friends, and life away from home. Share with
your teen your feelings and allow him or her to talk
about theirs as well.
The most effective parent is an aware parent.
The more parents are able to identify and talk
about their feelings, the more aware they can
become. If you are not in touch with what is going
on inside you then you may unconsciously act out
your fears. Reactivity, complaining, and fault-
finding make you less effective.
When it is time for your adolescent to leave the
nest, let him or her go and honor this important
transition in family life. Acknowledge to yourself
how hard it is while celebrating your growing
Helping Your Teen Be a Responsible Driver
I remember well that cool gray afternoon in January, risking my life and limb. Our 15-year-old son had gotten his driver's permit a few hours earlier and begged to go practice. Hey, in all fairness, everything went well backing out of the driveway. But after careening around the first corner, the situation began to deteriorate. Glancing over his shoulder to make a lane change our car swerved into the other lane. I lost it.
My knuckles were white clutching the handle above my door and driving shotgun was not a familiar position for me in MY car. We were a quarter mile from home and I was already finished. Trying to hide my fear I said, "Good job, Brain! Let's head back home. This was a great start!" I was thinking to myself, OMG this is just the beginning...this job is for dad.
Our son has since become a full-fledged driver without any incidences. His dad provided him with more than sufficient opportunity to practice dri ving. It is remarkable how much responsibility he demonstrated after getting his license. He set his alarm and got himself up in the morning, willingly driving his sister to swim practice at 7 a.m. He loved the freedom and took this responsibility seriously.
With our second driver in the family the story was not so optimistic. Just today we were saying to friends that we were lucky nothing more serious ever happened to
him. It was very stressful during the years he was growing up.
We were continually worried about his judgment and safety. Returning from an overnight trip we found doughnut skid marks in front of our own home! Even at twenty years of age he lacked the maturity to reflect that just maybe a neighbor might be watching and report back to us. He was so busted. And the good news is he is now extremely responsible behind the wheel, but it wasn' t always like that.
Here are eight parenting tips to help your teen exercise responsibility as a beginning driver:
1. Be a role model
Kids do as we do, not as we say. They learn by
watching and imitating. Be aware of the unspoken
messages you are teaching your teen while you are
in the driver's seat.
2. Practice, practice, practice
The more experience your teen has behind the wheel
honing his or her skills, the safer s/he will be as a
driver. Experience is the best teacher and it helps a
new driver feel more confident and better able to react
to challenging situations.
3. Don't wing it - set goals
Before heading out for each driving session, plan the
skills you want your teen to practice. If possible, make
your goals parallel what your teen is learning in
driver' s education.
4. Know your customer
Know your teen's personality and temperament,
and your own for that matter, while taking into
consideration the driving lesson for the day. Nerves
can get frayed if you and your teen are not prepared
for the more challenging lessons, and it may be
difficult to stay calm, clear and patient.
5. Believe in your teenager
Trust in his or her ability to learn new driving skills.
Believe in your teen and try to recall how difficult and
exciting it was when you started to drive.
6. Converse about expectations
Talk about driving issues before your teen gets his
or her license. For example, spell out the driving
privilege guidelines. Remind him or her that you will
still need to know where s/he is going, with whom,
and what time s/he will be home. You might also want
to talk about who is financially responsible to pay the
ticket when (not if) they get one.
7. Discuss drinking and driving
This will be an ongoing discussion, talking about the
real dangers of drinking and driving. Tell your teen
clearly not to drink and drive. Consider making a
pledge that you will pick up your teen anytime,
anywhere, no questions asked, if he or she calls for a
ride home because they have used alcohol. Safety
trumps all else.
8. Set a reasonable curfew
Discuss and set a curfew before the driver's license is
earned. As your teen gets older you will want to give
more freedom and flexibility.
Driving is a privilege, not a right. Give a friendly reminder to your teen that the privilege may be questioned or revoked if s/he is not fulfilling his responsibilities at home and school. Parents, there will be unexpected curves ahead, but with some straight talk and planning, you can help your teen learn to be a responsible young adult. So hang on and enjoy the ride!
Help! Should my teen go to summer school?
My son has been working very hard this past year. He just finished his 7th grade curriculum. He got decent grades. I say he still goes to summer school. My X says he needs a break from school. What do you think?
- Concerned Single Father
Dear Concerned Single Father,
Your X is not alone in her thinking. With school ending, parents and students want a break from homework and studies. By early June, summer vacation plans are in place for many parents, while others are still earching for opportunities to keep their kids busy. No parent wants to think about the negative impact summer vacation might have on their child’s academic edge. But for many, summer is a time of forgetting. Research reveals that on average students lose one month’s worth of instruction during summer break. Kids typically fall behind more in math than in reading.
+ Knowledge shapes a student and prepares him or her for the future.
+ Knowledge provides a student with life skills.
+ Knowledge builds self-esteem.
If children fall behind, they are usually embarrassed and do not ask for help. Then they fall farther behind and may spiral out of control before receiving the help they need. I think you are on the right track wanting your son to go to summer school. A good summer program can help curtail summer learning loss. One opportunity for your son is SASO High School Prep. Whether your student enters for remediation, enrichment or acceleration SASO can help your child succeed academically. Students are individually challenged and instructed how to master the material. Students who complete SASO programs report they feel more confident and motivated because they have the tools they need to succeed academically. Most earn better grades the following school year.
SASO programs are designed for middle school students interested in getting into a Catholic high school. They offer classes to prepare for the Catholic high school entrance (called the HSPT) as well as classes in Essay Writing , Math and English Grammar. Go here to learn more: http://www.sasohighschoolprep.com