Are you (and your kids) shutting down?

I’ve been hearing it a lot lately, and it’s not just from students. It’s from teachers. It’s from parents. “I’m tired,” “I’m sick of this,” “I’m shutting down.”

It happens every year, but it doesn’t usually happen this early, so it’s got me a little concerned. Why are we all so exhausted, so impatient, so over it all? And more importantly, what can we do about it? It’s January, just the start of second semester, with 4 months left of school, so how can we change our attitudes in order to get the most out of the time we have left?

Because I need this as much as you and your kids do right now, here are five strategies for starting fresh. Share these with your kids, and practice them yourself when you need to.

1. Force yourself to stop complaining. I know, this is nearly impossible. But our behavior reflects what we say, and if we’re constantly speaking negatively, we will act negatively. Personally, I’ve found myself doing a lot of whining lately, and I’m certain it’s highly unattractive. Plus, it’s doing absolutely nothing to make me feel better about anything. Truly, other than a quick venting session to get things off our chests, it’s really not healthy to spend our days complaining.

2. Stop making the last day of school a goal. Kids’ goals are to learn as much as they can every day in preparation for their futures. So try to avoid saying, “Don’t worry, you only have four more months” because while that sounds helpful on the surface, it actually turns kids’ lives into a big countdown to something better.

3. Shake up the routine and shrug off the boredom. Do something different – and encourage your kids to join you or find their own unique experiences.  Go to dinner in the city, spend a day hiking or skiing, or find a winter activity that will challenge you. After all, your malaise may just come from being stuck in a rut.

4. Make sure you and your kids are getting fresh air and spending time outdoors, even in cold climates. Being inside all day makes kids, especially, antsy and restless. It’s amazing what an hour of fresh air can do to rejuvenate and refresh our spirits.

5. Be grateful. As bad as it may be, we can always find positives. I love the idea of keeping a grateful jar, spending time in prayer each day, or finding some way to reflect on all that is good in our lives. Passing a spirit of gratitude on to your kids is paramount to helping create happy adults.

I would tell you to hang in there, only four months of school left, but I know better. Instead I’ll just tell you to make the most of tomorrow.

For more tips like these, check out my book Teenagers 101.

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3 words that will drive your kid toward success

Ever wonder what separates kids who have a thirst for knowledge and an internal drive for achievement from those who are content to spend their days lying on the couch playing video games? Ever notice the difference between kids who manage their lives with confidence and those who stress beyond reason? While some of what you see is inherent personality – nature versus nurture, as we call it – much is learned behavior that can be altered with the right parenting approach, and it begins with three little words: Do your best.

When parents tell their kids to do their best, it sounds entirely different to kids than the alternative expectations, namely:

  • I expect A’s from you. Nothing less than an A is acceptable.
  • You better pass this class.
  • You can’t afford to mess up your GPA.
  • Do whatever you have to do to get an A.
  • Give the teacher whatever you have to, even if it doesn’t make sense. Just get a good grade.

Have you used any of these expressions in an attempt to motivate your child? If so, you may be doing more harm than good. Stressing grades over true learning and understanding has a number of negative side effects:

1. It creates short term motivation that only lasts until a test is over or a project is completed. When that happens, most if not all of the content is forgotten, begging the question What’s the point?

2. It fosters motivation based in fear rather than accomplishment. Kids do what is required because they’re afraid of the consequences if they don’t. But when you’re no longer there to instill the fear, where will their motivation come from?

3. It creates a stressor in teens’ already stressed lives that actually inhibits learning. Yes, stress can paralyze even the strongest adults; imagine what it does to teens.

4. It creates a “success at all costs mentality,” which can lead to cheating, dishonesty, and a sacrifice of moral character and ethics.

5. It builds resentment toward you that hurts the parent-child relationship and breeds anxiety in the home, the one place that should be your child’s safe haven.

6. It devalues education and learning by reducing it to nothing more than a letter grade. If you want to kill your kids’ love of learning, stress the letter grade.

The other day in class, my students, who are in the midst of SAT/ACT testing, asked me what kind of student I was in high school and how I did on my tests. I wish I could have captured the looks on their faces when I told them my very average SAT score. Here was their teacher, someone they’ve identified as smart, someone with a doctoral degree and a book or two under her belt, revealing that she had a mediocre SAT score. Now they were curious – how did I get into a competitive college, was I a straight A student, and how did I develop such an obvious, infectious love of learning? Why am I so driven? Were my parents hard on me? Did they make me retake the SAT multiple times?

No, I explained. All my parents ever said to me were three little words – Do your best. The emphasis was never on a letter. It was on valuing myself and facing every challenge with the mentality that I would use my strengths and overcome my weaknesses, so that regardless of the result, I would always know that I did my best.

My question to you is, what more can you ask of your child? Is an A more important than your child’s absolute best effort? Are good grades more important than your child’s love of learning?

Ask me how many kids, upon hearing my story of how I was raised, turned to each other and said, “I wish my parents had that philosophy.” You may be getting results from the “You must make A’s” pressure, but trust me, they’re not the results you want.

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In college, my parents added “Have fun” to the normal “Do your best.” I’m just as grateful for that piece of advice. And I still managed to graduate.

For more tips like these, check out my book Teenagers 101.