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Silence your inner critic

The April 2019 issue of psychology today has an article about silencing your inner critic which parents and teenagers and well, everyone, may find useful. The article constructs believable arguments about why some people seem to have a more vocal critic then others (it could have helped in the past and/or it could be an echo of how we were raised). The inner critic is actually trying to help us on one level, to protect us from shame and failure but in some cases this protection may be illusory and misguided.

The article provides some techniques to minimize this voice which can be taught to your teenager, or yourself at the same time.

  1. Self distance – when thinking about the voice, interpret it’s suggestions by using a non-first person pronoun like he/she or your name instead of I and also constructing a adventure like monologue around it. For example, instead of saying “I failed at the test” say “This is when Ryan learned that studying with a friend at least two days before became essential to passing his math test.”
  2. Self affirmation – when the critic is powerfully persuasive, try to see the evidence to the contrary in your mind. A student who is down on themselves about their intelligence might be encouraged to think of all the successes they have had in their lives and specific examples of when their intelligence carried the day.
  3. Befriend the enemy – by seeing the critic as a protector that has a definite role to play at times but then asking it to step back once it has said its piece and not taking over the brain
  4. See yourself as neither good or bad but as “good-ish”. Having this perspective gives people the room to fail and still fall into the guidelines they have set for themselves. It promotes a more flexible oriented perspective of oneself rather than a fixed one that may be impossible to live up to.

Book Review: Smart but Scattered teens

Smart but Scattered Teens is a great book for parents who looking for a reprieve from the daily homework battles or to help nurture a human to be ready for the world. I recommend it highly but here is a summary of what I learned.

One of the big ideas of the book is that teenagers need adult help to learn executive functioning skills. The lack of these skills are why your teenager forgets to do their chores, or makes impulsive decisions, or acts in risky ways, or seems hopelessly disorganized, etc.

The authors break down executive functioning skills as follows:

  • response inhibition
    • Thinking before doing
      • Checking your emotions, refraining from dangerous sexual behaviour
  • working memory
    • Holding information while doing complex tasks
      • Recalling the steps to a math problem
      • structuring the important parts of your day in your head when you wake up
  • emotional control
    • Managing emotions to complete tasks and work towards goals
      • Asking questions in class although you feel uncomfortable
      • performing well on a test besides having some anxiety
  • sustained attention
    • Focusing on a task despite external factors or internal ones that would stop you (like boredom)
      • Doing any repetitive task like homework
  • task initiation
    • Starting tasks without excessive procrastination
      • going to the library a week before the deadline to begin research
  • planning/prioritizing
    • Deciding on the milestones that have to be achieved and in some kind of logical order to achieve the goal
        • Deciding on the steps in getting a job
  • organization
    • Having a system to manage information or materials
      • Using a planner or agenda
      • Having a home routine in place that gets enacted daily
  • time management
    • Allocating and estimating time for minor and major tasks
      • Establishing a schedule to meet deadlines
  • goal-directed persistence
    • Having a goal and performing tasks, without deviation to meet this goal.
      • Volunteering at the hospital to gain medical experience
  • flexibility
    • Being able to alter scheduled plans in the face of new obstacles or information.
      • Failing a test and going through it with the teacher to learn from mistakes
  • metacognition
    • Being able to reflect on your own behaviour by monitoring your own emotions and actions through a critical lens
      • Realizing that you have a misconception about an event based on your bias and asking others to clarify what happened to avoid this bias. (perhaps it was an argument with a friend and other friends were there)

The book has a worksheet that you can use to identify strong and weak proficiency in the skills above but an attentive parent could probably pick out the major ones to focus on. Just think of your last teenager battle!

Once you have decided on one or two skills to work on the next step is to come up with a plan of how you will teach your child this skill. One of the misconceptions that some adults have is that teenagers already know these skills and that they are just lazy or unmotivated. The authors argue that teenagers DON’T know these skills and you have to be the one to model and explicitly teach them to your child.

Deciding on how much help and teaching you need to provide can be challenging. So the authors offer this statement to use as a guideline:

Provide just enough support for your child to be successful.

In other words, if it looks like the lack of a particular skill is going to get them kicked out of the game permanently or is going to put them or others at risk, then you need to intervene. Maybe even directly. If not, then let them struggle with you on the sideline as a coach and mentor, sharing tips as needed.

Now, some teenagers might not want to be taught. They may actually think they know how to do the skill you have identified as the one to work on. But here proof is in action, not in words. Illustrate specific examples when the teenager failed to use the skill in question, with dates and times! For example, bring up the fact they have two weeks of laundry in their bedroom for the third time since school started. Now, be prepared to create an action plan to teach the skill. Although each skill is different and therefore each plan will need to address those differences, the plans for each skill all have the same basic structure. First, sit down with your teenager and talk about what you have witnessed. Talk from the heart and try not to accuse because this will instantly set an adversarial tone for the meeting. Explain that you need to create a plan to help them with this. Stress that you are trying to help them achieve their goals! Draw in their goals wherever possible. Setup rewards and if necessary, punishments if they fail to meet their targets. Remember, as a parent, you have a lot of power and this is the time to exercise this power but in a magnanimous way. Monitor the plan and meet occasionally to discuss how it is working. Be sure to listen to your teen while you have all discussions with them. You don’t have to incorporate their ideas but just the act of hearing them can often go a long way to engender a respectful dialogue. Use empathic language and paraphrase what they are saying to indicate that you understand where they are coming from.

Before talking to the teen keep the following in mind:

  1. Be prepared to negotiate and compromise
  2. Convey that your intentions are to help the teen
  3. Focus on how the desired changes will boost your teens independence
  4. Be clear in your own mind why it’s important to address the problem.

How far is too far? Parenting involvement in school

So many studies have been done on the topic of how involved parents should be with their children’s schooling and what that involvement looks like. Often, these studies are contradictory. This study, aggregates other studies that investigate the strategies parents use in helping their children academically.  The intention of this is to allow the best and worst practices to percolate forth.

Although all age groups were looked at, I was particularly interested in the section of the study that looked at teens.

For high school students, the ways their parents could have the most positive impact on their child’s academics was:

  • having high attainment expectations
  • organizing academic based learning enrichment activities (science centre, watching a historical movie, reading relevant books)
  • establishing a level of trust with their teen that allowed honest dialogue around school and life issues

The ways that parents could have a negative impact on their child’s academics were mainly through the use of perceived controlling actions, such as:

  • checking of homework
  • homework control (threats or deals)
  • helping with homework
  • outright conflict around school

It would seem for high schoolers, the best formula is to create a safe place for them to discuss anything with you, providing experiences that springboard off of their interests and also keep the bar high. This link can help in that process. Taking a more curious role in your teen’s school life, rather than the drill sergeant approach seems to be most effective. Although,  it may seem that things are slipping out of control without your direct interference, according to the study, the opposite is occurring.

Visualize future and success makes it a reality

 

I think word is getting out there that having a positive mind can achieve amazing results. This is equally as true for students. How can you as a student, or a parent, take advantage of this tool and apply it to school?

The first step is to discuss long term goals with your kids, or if you are a student, write down your goals for the next ten years. Then make a list of short term goals to achieve the main dream.

Now visualize that the short term goals have been met and then the longer term goals. Write down what you see and how you feel. This is a great exercise to do everyday, especially when you feel like slacking off or dejected from poor results from a test or assignment.  

Another time to do this is before a test. I believe you should never study on the day of the test. Rather, this time should be spent relaxing, eating well and staying positive. This means staying away from others who might ‘psych’ you out with their fears.

Now you could also add this visualization exercise on the day of the test. Simply take out a piece of paper, imagine your success on the test. Write down what you see in your mind and how you feel.

This forced positiveness has been shown to have real world results.

Springer. “Imagining a successful future can help students overcome everyday difficulties: Researchers find that disadvantaged students benefit from visualizing a positive future for themselves to manage challenges and stress.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 January 2018. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180124111231.htm>.

The dream is to have a child who is self-motivated. How do I MAKE my kid like this?

 

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What do yelling at your kids, shaming your kids, or micromanaging your kids schooling all have in common? They are all very ineffective ways at promoting self-motivation in your children.

Parents who employ these strategies think that it is possible to foster internal self-motivation in their child through external factors. It is more likely the opposite will incur and a lot of research backs this up.

But you don’t even need any research because I feel like these are obvious conclusions. For example, people who are ruled by fear historically tend to only do the bare minimum to avoid punishment and stop entirely when the fear stimulus has been removed.

Continuing this logical path of questioning, how would doing your child’s homework help them learn their subject or how would making a calendar for them teach them time management? It can’t.

Parents who micromanage their children this way are called helicopter parents and inevitably it creates a child who is unmotivated and completely dependent on their parents. At best!

For these parents they don’t want their child to fail and that is one of the essential ingredients in forming a self-motivated human being. If you reflect on your own life experience and focus on those areas where your motivation was a factor in success, you could no doubt link it to a failure or a chain of them that taught you a solid lesson.

For example, I remember leaving my dishes uncleaned for a week in the sink and when I went to go do them, there was mold everywhere. I was really disgusted and this helped convince me why cleaning regularly was important.

The best you can do to encourage self-motivating is by creating a safe environment in which they can fail. Safe, in this context, means without judgement from you. Allow them to make their own decisions and keep an eye out for the ones that are truly dangerous (like drugs). Allow them to fail.

As Alfred said to Batman: “why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” As hard as it is to see our kids fall, it’s the only way they will learn to pick themselves up.

Queensland University of Technology. “Helicopter parents take extreme approach to homework: Parents who take the overparenting approach, known as helicopter parenting, are possibly hindering their child’s development by becoming too heavily involved in homework.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 February 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/02/160202110726.htm>.