10 tips for getting through exams

May is just days away, which means that kids are gearing up for AP exams and final exams. At this point in the school year, everything about students’ body language and attitudes scream, “We’re over it!” So how can you help your kids to prepare for exams and stay focused until their last day of school?

Here are 10 tips for testing success:

1. Ask your kids how their note-taking is going. Many kids slack off as the end of the year approaches and need a reminder to take the same quality notes they took at the start of the school year.

2. Make sure they get their sleep. After daylight savings time, and as the days get longer, kids are tempted to stay up later and skimp on their sleep. Encourage them to hit the sack at a decent time, at least until their last final has been put to bed.

3. Don’t be afraid to contact teachers. Kids tend to think that you are over school as much as they are (and you may be, but they don’t need to know that). Show them that you’re still paying attention by staying involved in their progress.

4. Encourage organization, especially when it comes to major projects and tests. What can they do today that will make tomorrow a little easier?

5. Help kids to set goals for the end of the year, and then strategize as to how to reach those goals. Is an A in physics attainable? If so, what does your child need to do to get there?

6. Keep your kids in school. Teachers see a significant increase in absences during this time of year, and many are unwarranted. Stress to your kids the importance of being in class every day and staying focused on their number one job.

7. Offer to help your kids by quizzing them and helping them with test preparation. Whether or not they accept your help is really secondary to the fact that you offered. When parents show an interest in their kids’ studies, it positively impacts kids.

8. Make sure your children are well fed on testing days. Protein, grapes, blueberries, and other “brain foods” really do impact students’ abilities to focus and maintain energy. Breakfast IS important!

9. Reward your kids when they do well or after they have completed a tough study or testing session. It doesn’t have to be monetary; it can just be time to sit and watch their favorite TV program or eat their favorite dinner.

10. Remind your kids that when they have prepared as best as they can, they should take a deep breath and go into their tests with confidence. Mind over matter is significant in determining testing outcomes, so it’s important that they maintain a can-do attitude.

Lessons on forgiveness

In the past weeks, I’ve revisited my friend, Forgiveness.

I’ve seen what refusing her can do to a person, how lack of forgiveness can eat away at the soul, hold you hostage to the past, weigh down your heart with a heaviness that is oppressive.

It occurred to me that Forgiveness is one of those friends we, as parents, often forget to introduce to our children. Manners? Check. How to be a friend? Check. How to get organized? Check. But do we consciously set about teaching our kids how to forgive, whom to forgive, and why to forgive? Do we model forgiveness to our children and would we want them to pattern their ideas about forgiveness after our own?

Because they will. Tomorrow, or a year from now, or 30 years down the road, they will forgive – or not – because you set the precedent on forgiveness. No pressure, right?

Actually, I don’t mind applying a little pressure on this topic, because I’m applying the same amount of pressure on myself. We – all of us – need to think about how we have responded when others have wronged us. We’ve all been hurt by our kids’ words and actions and we’ve all made plenty of our own mistakes in raising them. If words, actions, or mistakes are keeping you or your kids from moving on, apologies and forgiveness need to be doled out in equal measure. As adults, it’s our responsibility to invite Forgiveness into our homes, to sit down with our kids and admit that we were wrong. And when the tables are turned and they apologize to us, we need to listen and learn, we need to accept their apologies with graciousness, and we need to wipe the slate clean and move forward. Harboring resentment, resurrecting past mistakes, and telling kids you can’t trust them after they have apologized and you have granted forgiveness will teach them something, but I’m pretty sure it won’t teach them forgiveness. Bitterness, revenge, and an inability to move forward will be your legacy to your children if you don’t truly forgive and teach them to do the same.

You have plenty of opportunities to model forgiveness in your dealings with your spouse, family members, or friends. Your kids need to see you working through problems, accepting one another’s faults, hugging, and letting go of pain and resentment. They need to see you comforting each other through the difficult apology, communicating about what it will take to move forward, and laughing with each other once the incident is resolved. When you show them this, you are raising them to become people who treat others with patience and respect. You are helping them to see that mature, healthy adults admit their own failures, and you are helping them to understand that the people they love will sometimes fail them.

This Easter weekend, seek your friend, Forgiveness, and while you’re at it, extend some of her love to yourself. Give yourself permission to be imperfect. Humbly admit that you will continue to make mistakes, but vow that when you do, you will learn, and you will move on. Let your kids see, accept, love, and ultimately forgive the imperfect parent you are.

Who are you when you’re not a parent?

“My kids are the center of my universe.” I hear parents say this all the time, and it’s not necessarily a sentiment I applaud. Should your kids really be the be-all and end-all of your life, the sun around which everything else revolves? What does this intense love and attention do to the rest of your relationships and, for that matter, the rest of your life?

Twenty-six years ago, before there were kids in my world, I went on my very first trip with my brand new husband. We honeymooned in Jamaica, a place I have since thought of as paradise, likely because it was my first jaunt out of the country and my first time spending seven full days with my husband. We loved it so much that we vowed that every year on our anniversary, we would take a trip somewhere, just the two of us. Our vacations varied over the years based on work schedules, the amount of money we had in the bank, and our changing desires for different locales, but we never missed a year, regardless of what was going on in our lives.

This meant that eventually, we had to leave our children. The third year, our first child was only 6 months old. I sought the advice of our pediatrician, a wizened, jovial doc with a lot of parent-observation years under his belt.”Do you think it’s okay to leave her at this age?” I’ll never forget his response. “Of course it’s okay. When you take a break from each other and explore other interests, it makes everyone appreciate each other all the more. Go, have a great time, and let your parents enjoy their time with their grandchildren.” I was beyond relieved. Dr. Duckwall (the most perfectly named pediatrician on the planet) gave me permission to have a life outside of my children, to cultivate my marriage, and to relax without feeling guilty for it. It was a tremendous gift for which I will forever be grateful. It shaped my ideas about parenting and no doubt strengthened and supported my marriage over the years.

It saddens me when I meet a woman (my apologies for this gender-specific comment, but the truth is the truth) who has wrapped her entire world around the needs and desires of her children and who now suffers as they grow up just as they should and leave her in their proverbial dust. It hurts me knowing that every day mid-life couples around the world are waking up, looking at their spouses as if seeing them for the first time, and saying, “It’s just us now. I’m not sure how I feel about that.” Their life has focused only on supporting their kids and giving to them until it hurts… their identities, their marriage, and their relationships with other people.

Of course, it’s all with the best intentions. We’re supposed to love our children with a love that can’t be measured. We would give our lives for our kids without even thinking about it. But some parents feel the need to demonstrate the intensity of their love by constantly giving, hovering, and supporting to the nth degree. They can’t leave their kids because doing so would imply a love for other people and other experiences, and this would somehow threaten their special parent-child relationship.

But I argue the opposite. Love is not synonymous with martyrdom. It shouldn’t be cutting yourself into pieces and giving yourself away to others, including your children. It should be balanced giving of what matters most to who matters most, including yourself.  Wherever you may be on the parenting spectrum – a new parent or a veteran dealing with teenagers – take some time to reflect on the energy you put into the priorities in your life, other than your children. These can include your marriage, your career, your ambitions and dreams, your faith, your health, and your other relationships. Are you neglecting them in an effort to give everything to your children? And in doing so, are you setting a good example for your kids?

It’s important for our children to see that “parent” is just one of many roles we play. Give yourself permission to have an identity outside of your kids and your kids will learn to cultivate their own identities in turn.