How to treat your kids’ spring fever

This week, we ushered in spring with a fervor after most of the nation has experienced a rougher-than-usual winter. The weather has warmed, the blooms are appearing and… our kids are losing interest in school.

Once Spring Break arrives, kids seem to take the attitude that school is essentially over, and it’s harder than ever to keep them interested. Just ask any teacher. Most of us are struggling to stay focused after a long year, so we understand exactly where the kids are coming from. But this time of year is crucial for student success. It brings standardized tests such as SAT and ACT, AP exams, final exams, and the last chance to raise a grade – and an overall GPA – before the final report cards are issued. So kids really can’t afford to slack off.

Here are some recommendations for keeping your kids on the path toward a strong finish in the school year:

  1. Rather than tightening the reins, try loosening them a bit. Just like we can’t wait to get out of work so that we can squeeze in some outside time, kids need time in the sun and fresh air to rejuvenate. Encourage or even insist that your kids spend some afternoon time outside for a brain break and some physical activity.
  2. Create some incentives for the days when kids participate in standardized testing. These tests are usually long and mentally exhausting. Help your children balance out these mind-melting days with something they truly enjoy, whether it’s a nice dinner with the family, playing a sport, taking a hike, or just relaxing and watching TV. These are not days to come home to hours of homework.
  3. Most schools realize the need to reduce homework, testing, and projects during testing times. If this isn’t the case with your school, don’t hesitate to talk to school officials about this. Every bit of research out there supports the need for brain breaks, so you have plenty of ammunition to back up your request. Check out this article:http://psychcentral.com/news/2011/02/09/taking-breaks-found-to-improve-attention/23329.html for a clear explanation of exactly what happens when we focus on one task for an extended period of time.
  4. Reward your kids for their continued efforts. Go ahead and agree with them that these last few months of school are tough and be sure to acknowledge when they bring home good grades or spend extra time studying.
  5. When they just don’t think they can make it, remind them that they can do anything short-term. I DON’T recommend a countdown calendar, as it sends the message that school is something to be endured. I DO recommend positive reinforcement and personalized rewards that enforce and encourage perseverance.

This time of the school year teaches kids to push through with tenacity. Help your kids to discover that they CAN do it, that even when they don’t want to, if they keep going, it will pay off in the end.

No matter your age, you’re still your parents’ child

Going back to your parents’ house is like returning to your childhood. Mom makes your favorite foods, Dad teases you about the same things he teased you about when you were 12. It is oddly comfortable becoming a child again, letting your parents take care of you and leaving the adult world behind.

I spent the last week visiting my parents, an adult myself, but still, forever and always, my parents’ child. I was reminded of this in a multitude of moments – when Mom rushed for the Band-aids when I sliced my finger, when Dad suggested that I take a jacket out on the boat – but one particular dialog perfectly illustrated the parent-child dynamic that exists regardless of age.

Here’s the setting: Mom and Dad are thinking about moving into a different retirement community and we are meeting with the realtor to look at some homes. During a bit of downtime, I step outside to take a call from my editor in New York and when I return, I find Mom and Dad talking about me. Mom is explaining that I’m writing a book about parenting teens, and I’m uber-qualified because I’ve taught teenagers for 17 years. Dad adds that I also have my doctorate, and then mom piggybacks that I was valedictorian and spoke at graduation. The realtor nods kindly and smiles indulgently, and I quickly change the subject and remind everyone that it’s time to go see houses.

My parents were bragging about me. I’m 47 years old and they were as proud of me at that moment as they were when I swam my first lap as a Shaler Seadog at age 6. Nothing has changed in all of these years. To them, I am still their child, accomplishing great things, and they want people to know about it.

The next day, we met up with some of mom and dad’s friends for breakfast. The conversation turned to me and someone asked about my kids. I was thrilled to talk about my daughter, a born teacher who works incredibly hard every single day, and my son who is graduating with a degree in economics and finance and who had a second interview with a great company. My parents’ friends nodded kindly and smiled indulgently, and there I was, beaming with as much pride as I had when my kids took their first steps and learned how to read.

And it’s not just the good stuff that keeps us parenting into old age. I remember not too long ago calling my mother to discuss a concern I had about one of my kids. I said, “When does the worrying stop, Mom?” and without missing a beat, she instantly responded, “Never. I worry about you all the time, every day, and it never gets any easier. Little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems.” We think we’re parents for 18 years and then we’re friends with our kids, and to a certain extent, that’s true. But we’re still parents crying when our 40-year-old daughter gets divorced and shouting from the rooftops when our 50-year-old son makes partner at his law firm.

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With my husband, Mom and Dad, always happy

A parent’s love, concern, pride, worry, and nurturing never, ever end. And really, who wants it to? It drives my kids crazy that although they’re in their 20’s, I still call them “kids,” but some day, they’ll appreciate it. They’ll realize then that being your parents’ kid means that you are loved with the greatest earthly love there is.

Happy travels with teens

Spring Break is just around the corner, and for many, this means travel together as a family. Whether you are taking a short drive or flying thousands of miles, trips with teenagers can be filled with unpredictable mood swings, impatience on everyone’s parts, and a general desire to go back home where everyone can retreat into their own rooms. Traveling can also be a bonding experience filled with laughter, unforgettable memories, and a rejuvenation of communication and love. While a mixture of both is likely, what can you do to tip the scales in your favor?

Well, having just traveled 6,000 miles with 18 teenagers, I can share what I learned to help you to make the most of trips with teenagers:

  • Gentle reminders couched in a sense of humor are much more likely to prompt good behavior than drill sergeant tactics. Standing hands on hips and using a demanding voice may get short term results, but it will also make everyone miserable and resentful.
  • When waking kids up for a busy day, do so in the same way you would like to be wakened. Don’t turn on bright overhead lights and yell “Time to get up!!” and expect your kids to be happy about it. Discuss plans the night before, decide on a time that everyone needs to get up, and then make the process as painless as possible. Remember that everyone needs different amounts of time to get ready and be respectful of those differences.
  • Make less pleasant tasks more fun by singing songs, telling jokes and stories, and bringing along snacks and drinks. Long car rides and activities that are fun for the adults but not so much for the kids can be salvaged by allowing the kids to “do their own thing” while you do yours. Forcing them to trudge through a museum that holds no interest for them will ensure that they will “get you back” with whining and complaints.
  • However, you can alleviate this problem by taking turns doing what various family members want to do. Let everyone pick an activity with the condition that no one will complain. You’ll be surprised how well this works.
  • Keep everyone fed and keep drinks on hand at all times. Particularly in different environments and elevations, water can make the difference between continued fun and a trip to the emergency room.
  • Spend time each evening recapping everyone’s favorite moments from the day. Just five minutes will give the kids (and adults!) time to be grateful for the day’s blessings. Sometimes, you will be truly floored by what mattered most to your kids that day. And you may even find yourself fighting tears when their response is, “Just spending time with the family.”