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Homework. Does it drag on forever? Or, worse, does it not get done at all?  How can you help your child get her homework done without a lot of denial and foot-dragging  – and without actually doing it yourself?

My experience as a parent and a tutor has shown me this: kids don’t do their homework  because they believe their assignments will take so long that there will be no time left for fun or they believe that even if they do their homework they will get a poor grade. Even for kids who “forget” their homework you can trace their absent-mindedness back to one of these two barriers.

This means that we can help children do their homework by teaching them to be more efficient in doing the work and by guiding them to feel more confident of success.

Help With Time Management

The child whose homework takes up too much time needs help with time management. As soon as he gets home from school, ask him to list out what needs to be done and what else that evening he wants to do. Help him decide how long each homework task will take and the right order for doing it (the easiest stuff first or the hardest stuff first – let him decide). Together, plan out when he will do each homework task and how he will fit this in with other stuff he wants to do.

This may seem like a lot of work for you, but it’s the work of teaching. Once your child knows how to do this, you can step back a bit. But it will take time to overcome the habit of dawdling through things. For quite a while, you will have to step in to help this child move things along.

Remember, “work expands to fill the time allowed” but  also “all work and no play” is not good for any child.  Help your child have a balanced evening and feel good about himself, instead of guilty.

Help With Self Confidence

The child who doesn’t do homework because she is afraid of getting a poor grade needs a different sort of help. This child thinks that if she does her homework as well as she can but still gets a bad grade, this can only mean that she’s dumb. It’s safer to not do the homework at all. Better to be lazy than dumb, if you’re a kid. Not doing homework is a way to protect one’s self-esteem.

So this child needs help in doing the homework itself, not just in managing her time. She needs help to realize that she’s not dumb; she just hasn’t learned this stuff yet. Here’s how you can help her:

  1. Never suggest that your child is not smart enough and don’t let other people say that either. Never compare this child to another child who seems to have an easy time in school. Instead say, “This really is hard, but I know you can figure it out. I will help you.”
  2. Help your child be more successful and start getting better grades. This doesn’t mean that you should do the homework for him. Doing that will really send the signal that you think he’s too dumb to learn. Instead, help him understand the material.  It’s okay if you don’t not understand it yourself and have to learn along with him (this is great, actually). Take the time it takes to help your kid master this. Hire a tutor if that’s the only way.
  3. Focus on the subject your child finds the hardest. If your child is failing in many subjects, focus on one. Talk with her teacher and see if there is a bigger problem that’s interfering with your child’s ability to learn. But success in one hard subject will give your child courage to try harder in other, easier subjects.

Many school districts these days offer “homework hotlines” that list the homework that’s been assigned and even offer help by phone or email. If your child says he has no homework but you suspect this isn’t right, check the school’s homework site together and see what you find. Don’t check it on your own, since this sends the message you think your child is lying. Instead, check it with your child, which indicates you want to help him get it right.

And when there is homework, help him to figure out when he will do it and support him in believing he can do it well. Once your child realizes you are on his side and you believe in his abilities, he can start to believe in himself too. It will be safe to try once again.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Look for free downloads on Dr. Anderson’s website at

We all want our children to be better than average. We even want them to be better than average in everything they do. But this is just not possible.

“Average” is a big part of any group and it’s very likely our kids are in that big part. The key lies in being okay with that.

It’s as if the actual numerical average of any quality were the center line of a two-lane roadway. All the pavement that runs on either side of that center line is within the average range. The shoulders that run on the outer edges of the two lanes are the parts that are above and below “average.” Most cars stay in a lane. Only a few cars are on the shoulder. And as long as your car is in a lane – going in one direction or the other – your car is “average.” So if your child’s test scores are “average” then he’s traveling in the lane, along with almost all the other kids.

It’s the same with anything your child might be measured in: height, weight, good looks, dancing ability, or Minecraft success. Two-thirds – two-thirds – of all the scores are in the average range. The one-third of all the scores that are not within the average range are equally divided between the two edges. One-sixth of the scores are above average. One-sixth of the scores are below average. That’s just the way it is. This is what being “average” means.

So it’s very likely that we all are pretty average. And if the population changes – if all children get smarter, for example – then the average changes with it. Being average is not a bad thing. It’s the way the world is.

So, if your child is “just average” what you do?

  1. Be happy. Good things happen to average people. They do well in business and politics, they become engineers and writers, they love and are loved. Most of the people you know, most of the people you meet are average.
  2. Be a cheerleader. If a grandparent or busybody neighbor puts pressure on a child to be more than average, set this person straight. Celebrate averageness and let others know you don’t really care. Don’t let others’ unrealistic expectations make you or your child sad.
  3. Be supportive. If your child dearly wishes to be better than average in a specific area, you can help her get more practice or learn more about how the above-average people got that way. Remember that very little humans do or are is so predetermined that hard work won’t improve things. We can all get better at what we really care about.
  4. Be sensible. Childhood is the time to explore a wide range of talents and possibilities. It’s not a time to specialize. Keep your own dreams in perspective, take your cues from your child, and help your child to set goals that are achievable for the average person.

Average is fine but anxiety is never fine. Don’t mess up your fine, average kid by trying to steer her onto the shoulder of the roadway. If she’s traveling just fine in the lane with everyone else, that’s a good place to be.

© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Look for free downloads on Dr. Anderson’s website at

When something doesn’t work on the first try, what does your child do? Does she stop and figure out what might work better? Or does she give up or ask for help?

And what do you do, when your child attempts challenging tasks but then struggles? Are you quick to step in to complete the task for him? Do you even avoid letting your child try tasks that might be difficult, because you want to avoid the frustration?

Here’s the thing: everything we know how to do we learned the hard way, through trying and failing and then trying again. That’s really the definition of learning, to figure out something we didn’t know before we started. So when we only let children do things we know they’ll be successful at or when we step in to do things for them once they encounter a setback, we derail the very thing we’re supposed to be all about. We derail learning.

Carol Dweck, the noted expert on children’s motivation and learning, studied fifth grade children’s reactions to tricky math problems. She found that some children acted helplessly and quickly quit trying but that other children seemed to relish the challenge and enjoyed applying their thinking to working out a solution. The two different approaches to hard tasks didn’t seem to depend on what we might call “intelligence.” Kids in both groups were equally smart.

What seemed to matter was children’s expectations for their own learning. Kids who think things should be easy for them and who are praised for getting the right answer to easy questions balk at even trying to work out answers to hard questions. This makes sense: if your belief in your ability depends on always getting the right answer, even trying to answer a hard question has the potential to reveal you’re not so smart as you thought you were. But if your belief in your ability depends on your resourcefulness and persistence and dogged determination to solve problems, then the harder the problem, the smarter you feel.

The question for us, then, is how do fifth graders get this way? What went wrong in their past experience to convince them that trying is dangerous? I may not be able to tell you what happened, precisely, but I can tell you when: in their preschool and early elementary school years. Children form their ideas about themselves and their abilities long before we think they do. And we’re the ones who influence those ideas, for good and for bad.

So take a look at the tasks you let your kids take on. Look at their reaction – and your reaction – to struggle and frustration and failure. Make certain you support effort and persistence. Try not to be too quick to step in to help.

At the same time, avoid praising right answers and easy successes. When children think our opinions of them depend on their always being right, they’ll be less daring in tackling challenging problems. Congratulate your child on a good try. Help him to try again.

Do your children love a challenge? I hope they do.

© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Look for free downloads on Dr. Anderson’s website at

As much as I hate to think of summer ending, it is time to be thinking about the new school year beginning. ‘Beginning’ is a concept worth giving thought to. To begin is to start or start again. A new start should not be marred by old expectations.

Whether your kids are going to school for the first time or are in high school, a new school year marks a new beginning. And isn’t it always a new beginning for you as well? New hopes and fears emerge at this time of year.

To start the year off right, pay careful attention to the following:

  1. Stay present and away from inappropriate expectations. Do your best to focus on right now and let go of past mistakes and old experiences. Your child is different than he was even three months ago. Talk to and plan with who he is now.
  2. Maintain strong connection. Especially in the beginning of the school year, keep quiet tabs on what is happening. A change in your child’s behavior may be a signal that something might be going on at school. Many kids don’t talk about their experiences. It all shows up in behavior.
  3. Don’t ask a lot of questions right when they get home from school. The last thing your child wants to talk about at the end of a long, hard day is how it was and what happened. She wants to chill, play, call her own shots for awhile. Be patient. When she’s had her own time, she’ll be in a better place to tell you about her day.
  4. Make contact with your child’s teacher. Even if you don’t have a special needs or strong-willed child, it’s always a good idea to set up a time with your child’s teacher about a month into the year. Talk about how your child responds best at home and what tends to set him off. Be sure to share any family issues that could cause disruptive behavior in the classroom.
  5. Set up a homework schedule and school-day rules and expectations WITH your child. Each year is different. Establish a sit down time to talk about what time and place your child wants to choose for homework acknowledging when you will and will not be available for help. Decide on media times and rules. Make sure to include both your child’s and your desires in the discussion. Whatever you come up with must be agreed on by all parties involved. Create a weekly calendar and a contract if appropriate.
  6. Keep bedtimes and routines consistent. The younger your child, the more important is the consistency of routine. Keep after school activities minimal and consistent. Start the bedtime routine early and keep the order of things the same so your child gets into the sleep mode. Make sure all media is done an hour prior to going to sleep as it stimulates the brain and can create stress. Any roughhousing or physical play should end a half hour before sleep (sometimes it helps for a child to wind up before winding down).
  7. Set goals. Ask your child how she would like to end this next school year. What she hopes to accomplish, what grades she would like to have, etc. Ask her what she would like to hear her teacher say about her if she overheard her teacher talking to someone about her.

Be sure to send your children messages of confidence and competence. Let them know that you trust that they want what’s best for them as much as you do. Give them the opportunity to begin again fresh. We can always begin again.

And don’t sweat the small stuff. Although it may seem huge now, a failing grade, a lost homework assignment, a missing library book, a bad test score is only about right now. Resist the temptation to catastrophize and assume that your child is NEVER going to pay attention, listen to instructions, stop losing things, get organized, care about grades, etc.

What we all want most for our children is that their school experiences are good enough for them to continue imagining, creating and always being interested in learning new things—and having the confidence that they always can.

An old nursery rhyme ends, “Are your children in their beds? For now it’s eight o’clock!” A new study demonstrates that the advice implied in this rhyme is spot-on. A regular bedtime is important in the preschool years especially, for good brain development.

In this study, the family routines of 11,000 preschoolers evaluated. The researchers wanted to know if bedtime, including the time a child goes to bed and how consistent the daily bedtime is, has an effect on later school performance. They looked at children’s bedtimes at three ages: 3, 5 and 7 years old.

The researchers found that for three-year-olds, bedtimes tend to be irregular, with 1 in 5 children going to bed at different times from night to night. In addition, irregular bedtimes at age three was linked to later poorer ability in math and reading in school. The effect of inconsistent bedtime at age 5 and 7 didn’t have so great an effect, indicating that regular bedtimes are most important for younger children.

This is unexpected. We parents tend to think that regular bedtimes are most important once children start school. We tend to be more casual about bedtimes for three-year-olds, especially since children this age often resist going to bed and may get up several times even after they’ve been put down to sleep.

If bedtime is haphazard at your house it’s time to make a change. Here’s how.

  1. Decide on a bedtime. Remember that preschool children need 11 to 14 hours of sleep each night, not including daytime naps. If your family has a regular wake-up time, dictated by the time needed to get out the door in the morning, count back from that time to find a good bedtime.
  2. Allow for the bedtime routine. Now that you’ve got the time your child should be in bed, falling asleep, figure out how much time it usually takes to get him there. Notice how long it usually takes to do a bath, brush teeth, get pajamas on, and read a story. Include in this typical timespan whatever is dedicated to “two minutes more” playtime, to tantrums pitched on the way to bed, and to wanderings out of bed after the child’s door is closed. All of this time is added onto the bedtime you already decided on.
  3. Get your child to bed on time. This may mean your whole family settles down earlier than they have been, so the preschooler can get his sleep. Be consistent. Stick with the regular bedtime every night without fail. It may take several days for the new habits to establish themselves, so give yourself and your child time.
  4. Enjoy your evening! Having a consistent bedtime is good for your preschool child, but it’s also good for you. You might find that you are more relaxed and even sleep better once some of the late-night shenanigans with your child are a thing of the past.

Tonight is a good night to start getting things back on track. Your child’s later school success may depend on it.

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.

If school hasn’t started yet for your children, it will soon. That means it’s time to shift from summer flexibility to a routine that can sustain learning.

Here are eight ideas to get the year off on the right foot.

Early to bed, early to rise. It’s still light late into the evening but getting up in time for a good breakfast, a relaxed send-off, and an unhurried walk to the bus stop requires getting to bed on time. Remember that children need at least 10 hours of sleep every night, so count back from the best time to arise and get kids into bed early enough to fit in 10 hours of shut-eye.

You are what you eat. Summertime lends itself to sugary sodas and lemonades, quick snacks, and sketchy meals. School time demands more. Now is the moment to cut out the junk food and stock the fridge and pantry with nutrient dense foods. Smart kids eat smart.

Sunshine works wonders. One joy of summer should continue straight into the school year: outdoor play. The best way to rejuvenate after a stressful day in the classroom is not to sit still even more in front of the TV or computer. The best way is to get out and play.

Accentuate the positive. Summer’s been a fun and relaxed time and the school year should be as relaxed as you can make it too. Students do better when they are unstressed and confident. So avoid making threats or voicing your own worries about your child’s success. Instead, keep things positive.

Slow down, do less. Starting a new school year is tiring. If a child is also starting a new season of soccer, starting a new class in Spanish, and starting a volunteer project in the community, it’s just too much. Let school be the centerpiece of August and September, not just one responsibility of many. Do less.

Establish strong study habits. Don’t wait for your child to fall behind. Get going right away with a daily review of what needs to be learned, practice time, or homework time. Make studying ordinary – a habit – not a chore.

Make a place for school work. Now is the time to clear off the kitchen table or locate a quiet study table and move the sports stuff off it. Putting summer away is hard, but setting up a space for homework is exciting and motivating. Let your child help you shop for pencils and other tools, a desk lamp, and even a cushion for the chair to make the place for school work special.

Include daily downtime. Make certain that not every moment of your child’s day is scheduled. Downtime is important for creative thinking and even for absorbing material that was learned earlier in the day. Let your child kick back and do nothing without hassle.

The school year kicks off with high hopes. Help those hopes come to reality with a little planning ahead of time.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

If you’ve been counting on your child being accepted into your district’s gifted program… or if your child is already proudly a designated member… or if your child was passed over or not even in the running to be called “gifted” … here’s a news flash: being labelled gifted or even smart isn’t the best thing that can happen to your child. It might even be the worst.

Labels like “gifted” and “smart” are just as limiting as any other labels people hang on children. They imply that a person IS something, all the time and forever. Labels like these indicate that a person is special without ever having to do anything to become special. And that’s where the trouble starts.

As noted scholar Eleanor Duckworth has pointed out, a trait mindset is less useful to a person than a growth mindset. In a trait mindset, a person is just born that way. They are naturally smart or athletic or artistic. They don’t have to work at it; things just come easy for them. Or not. One either Is or Is Not a particular labeled person, now and forever.

This means, of course, that if school comes hard for a child, under a trait mindset he expects it will always be hard. So there is no point in trying and he gives up. And – this is the kicker for gifted students – if school comes easy, there is the fear that someday it will be hard. There’s the fear that someday the child will be exposed as not-gifted and thrown out of the program or denied a prize. The gifted child, too, just like the struggling child, finds it safer to not try very hard. Labels and a trait mindset mean that all students work at less than their full capacity. For some children, labels make them give up. For other children, labels make them play it safe.

In a growth mindset, a person is working towards becoming smart or athletic or artistic. This takes effort and it’s expected that there will be triumphs and setbacks in just about equal measure.  A growth mindset is better for struggling children, who are supported in believing that practice will eventually pay off. But it’s also better for “gifted” and “smart” children, who are supported in taking chances and stretching their learning into difficult subjects.

If your child has avoided being labeled by the school or her teacher, good for her! If your child has acquired a label, either a conventionally positive one or a conventionally negative one, it’s time to take action.

  1. Avoid playing into the label game yourself. If you still have time to make a choice, think long and hard about nominating your child for your district’s gifted program, just as you would think long and hard about a move to any special needs category. In any event, avoid calling your child “smart” or “gifted” in exactly the way you’d avoid calling your child “dumb” or “slow.” All labels are limiting, even ones that appear positive.
  2. Encourage your child to take chances.  Let your child take on tasks that seem difficult. Obviously, you’ll advise against challenges that are out-and-out dangerous for someone of your child’s skill level, but don’t warn your child away from trying the things that might just be challenging. Avoid being overprotective.
  3. Let your child struggle. A growth mindset starts from the idea that a person doesn’t know everything and has things to learn. Learning is sometimes difficult. The road to knowledge is often bumpy. Don’t be too quick to lift your child over the bumpy parts. Let him find his own path.
  4. Reward grit and effort. Some parents want straight-As and blue ribbons, thinking that A students and first-place finishers are the most successful. But the child who must earn top marks to please her parents won’t take on the tough challenges. She will limit herself to tasks that aren’t difficult. This means the straight-A student is often less skilled and less capable than the student who knows how to work hard and relishes stretching her abilities.
  5. Notice when things are in a rut. When your child – or even when you – become complacent, not interested in doing more than the minimum, pay attention. Do what you can to shake things up a bit, especially setting a good example yourself. Remember that your results are not preset, based on a trait that simply Is who you are. Results are achieved through effort and growth.

We all want the best for our children and it’s tempting to believe that what’s best is what’s easy. In fact, the best things in life are never free, but are earned through dedicated effort. Even the smartest child should have to work hard.



© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

How distractible are you?

If you’re like a lot of people, your attention is constantly being pulled this way and that. You may find yourself jumping from the activity you’re engaged in to something else that you’re afraid you’ll forget to do, then trying to recapture what you were thinking before you got detoured.

This is a “normal” part of our busy, complicated lives. Mostly, we’re okay with this. But our kids may not be. During the older elementary school years and middle school grades, children increasingly need to stay focused on the task at hand. The most successful kids have learned how to control their attention.

Now there’s a way to help kids do just that. A study in “mindfulness” with 10- and 11-year-old students has demonstrated that practice in staying “in the moment” helps kids be more focused and less distracted. Mindfulness involves paying attention on purpose, in a calm, relaxed state. It has been shown to reduce stress levels and increase feelings of well-being.

The study was conducted in England with 30 preteens. Kids’ ability to pay attention and stay on-task was measured, then played a computer game designed to improve their level of focus. Measurements were made at three-month intervals to gauge changes over time in students’ ability to stay mentally on-task.

The exercise was a success. Students increased in ability to pay attention and ignore distractions. As the lead researcher said, “The ability to pay attention in class is crucial for success at school. Mindfulness appears to have an effect after only a short training course, which the children thoroughly enjoyed!”

The training helped children actually watch their minds at work and monitor their own levels of attention. The researchers believe a program like the one used in this study could help students who have attention difficulties like ADHD.

Notice that what was used in this study wasn’t just any video game, but one specifically designed to require mindfulness. But parents without this sort of tool can still help their children pay attention to their attention:

  1. Use what’s known as “think aloud” to model paying attention to thinking. When you get distracted, say, “Oh, my mind drifted away. I’ve got it back now. Tell me that again…”
  2. Encourage your child to monitor her own thinking, maybe when she’s doing homework. Help her to notice when her mind wanders off.
  3. Practice doing one thing at a time. Give whatever you’re doing your undivided attention and invite your child to do this too.

The ability to control attention has been shown in numerous studies to be important in children’s learning. Now that you’re mindful of mindfulness, you can guide your child better in developing this essential skill.


© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.