Back to School Edition: Tip #9


First let me say that if you have read all of my nine tips in nine days, you are an overachiever, and, also, THANK YOU!  This “little project” turned out to be an ambitious endeavor, and after a few days I thought “What have I done?  This is too much!  No one wants to read my posts every day for over a week!  And how on earth will I keep up?”  But you surprised me, and you did read some posts, and you did send me encouraging messages and new ideas, and I did accomplish my goal.  Hooray for all of us!

In the process of writing these posts, I learned a some things about myself – because you can’t really explore an idea in writing without some deep self-reflection.  I am no expert on anything, really; any advice that I give is just advice that I am giving myself, first and foremost.  I hope that reading these tips led you to some self-reflection, too.

Before we end our series, the teacher in me wants to quickly revisit where we’ve been.  Here are the first eight tips with links in case you missed one or just want to review.

Tip #1: If your first impression of the teacher is negative, keep it to yourself.
Tip #2: Work as a team with the teacher, even if she isn’t your BFF.
Tip #3: Be open and honest about what your child needs.
Tip #4: Make your child’s school experience personal.
Tip #5: Never react too quickly.
Tip #6: Create a plan to help your child open up to you.
Tip #7: Teach your kids to have an optimistic outlook.
Tip #8: Invest time in what matters most.

Which leads us to Back to School Tip of the Day #9

Preserve the memories.  And what this really means is that you have permission to force your kids to (fake) smile for first-day-of-school pictures. In fact, they need to learn that life often requires us to do things that we don’t want to do in order to make someone else happy. Like making coffee for the boss. Or cleaning the toilet for guests. Or smiling so that your mom has a picture from every first day of school of your entire life.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, kids, so say, “Cheese!”

I’m exhausted, so that is all for today, but thanks again for supporting the 2015 Back to School Edition of my blog.  I already have ideas for some additional tips in the coming weeks, but my pace will slow now that my school year has begun.  Since today is the first day of school at our house, and that is like January 1 to us, we wish all of you, whether you have kids in school or not, a HAPPY NEW YEAR!

first day 2015
See, I made my kids do it!  Aren’t they handsome?
I won’t mention that they had to RUN so that they didn’t miss the
bus on the first day . . .  My fault . . .  We are a work in progress, for sure! 😉


Back to School Edition: Tip #7

Fish (2)

Thanks for reading my nine back-to-school tips in nine days!
Missed one?  Start here!

Back to School Tip of the Day #7

Teach your child to have an optimistic outlook. Several weeks ago, my nine-year-old son and his six-year-old cousin enjoyed a fishing adventure with my dad and my brother. For my sons, fishing with grandpa ranks up there with going on vacation, eating cookies for breakfast, and tormenting one another on their list of favorite things to do. They. Love. It.

After this particular fishing trip, my son had a fish story to tell, and he didn’t even need to exaggerate. He had caught the biggest fish that he had ever caught in this particular pond, his largest fish yet and one that exceeded his brother’s biggest catch so far, as well. He was so excited that he proudly posed for pictures (not his favorite thing), you know, just in case the Guinness Book of World Records called.

Fish (1)

Meanwhile, my nephew was patiently waiting to catch a big one himself. So far, he hadn’t been catching anything. When you are six, it’s hard to watch someone ten feet away experiencing success and feeling rewarded when you are working just as hard over here on the dock for nothing. Even adults find that situation annoying. But he waited, and he persisted, and he kept fishing, and it finally happened. The kid felt a tug on his line.

He reeled in his catch, his adrenaline pumping, with great anticipation hanging in the air. Everyone was watching to see what he had caught. Would this fishing trip be recorded in family history as the day that the big fish were biting? He pulled and reeled until the catch broke the surface, and there, on the end of the line, was the teeniest tiniest fish, wildly flipping and flopping, obviously unaware that he was too small for dinner.

Grandpa and Dad and Cousin all paused, wondering how he would react to the little fish dangling on the line. They expected disappointment, maybe tears, because this little fish could not compete with the fish that his cousin had caught. It was tiny.

My nephew looked at his miniature catch and studied it for a moment. The audience held its breath. Then the little man smiled from ear to ear and proudly announced, “This is the biggest baby fish I’ve ever caught!”

And that tiny fish has gone down in history – because it reminded all of us of something important.

That “baby fish” reminded us that the exact same situation can be disappointing or rewarding, simply depending upon how we choose to look at it. And I hate to accept that responsibility! When I am cranky and frustrated, I want to blame my situation. I don’t like the truth – that I actually control my attitude and my response. But my six-year-old nephew reminded me that I do.

I want my family to be the glass-half-full kind of people. I want my kids to see the good in difficult situations – and in difficult people. I want them to look at failures, at school or outside of school, as opportunities to grow. I want them to see struggles as learning experiences and mistakes as chances to recalibrate or change course. I want them to find joy in the smallest successes and inspiration in dreams that seem impossible to reach. I don’t want them to compare themselves to others.  I want them to see the tiniest catch as the biggest baby fish in the pond.

The school year will be full of challenges, but my goal this year is to instill a spirit of optimism in my children. I can’t prevent them from facing life’s challenges. I can’t protect them from dealing with difficult people. I can’t necessarily change the circumstances that they face. But I can do my best to model positive thinking and self-control away from the pond – because you will NEVER find me putting a worm on a fishing hook!  Maybe this is a goal that you can adopt, too.  Maybe all of us could benefit from a little more optimistic thinking.

Only two days left!  
This series ends Wednesday when my own kiddos head back to school!

Back To School Edition: Tip #6


Catching up on this back-to-school series?  Start here!

Back to School Tip of the Day #7

Create a plan to help your child open up. Some kids are natural chatterboxes and delight in sharing every detail of every minute of the school day as soon as they get home. But many other kids, especially older ones, don’t volunteer much information. This leaves the moms of the non-talkers no choice but to consult the moms of the excessive-talkers to find out what is happening at school. (“I can’t believe that the school was on lockdown for four hours and she didn’t even tell me!”) So how can you get a child who doesn’t volunteer information to start opening up?

The truth is that it is idealistic to think that the best conversations are born naturally; teachers and trainers and bosses facilitate successful discussions. In other words, there is a framework in place before people actually start talking. The facilitator may not know how the conversation will develop, but he has thought about where it will take place and how it will get started.

In our family, we have found four types of conversations to be the most productive in terms of learning more about our kids. Maybe some of these will work for you this year, too.

The Dinner Table Conversation

We attempt to sit down at the dinner table every night. Sometimes that means two of us. Sometimes that means three of us. Several nights a week, all four of us get to sit down to eat and talk together. The nice thing about the dinner table conversation is that it can be part of a predictable routine for your child, and some kids are more open and comfortable the more predictable life is. If your family can’t eat together every night, maybe you can set aside certain nights that are nonnegotiable family nights, even if that means eating unusually early or late on those evenings.

Some nights, our dinner table conversations are vibrant, and some nights getting kids to answer questions is like pulling teeth. If your kids tend to give terse answers, try something new. First, make sure that you are asking open-ended questions that require longer answers. A question like, “How was school today?” will most likely elicit a response of “Good,” “Fine,” or “Awful,” and then the conversation has stalled. Try asking questions that require more of an investment from your kid, like “Tell me about something that you wish you could have changed today” or “Tell me about how you helped somebody after you left this morning.” We have also experienced success with asking each person to share a high and low point of the day and with using a conversation jar (a jar filled with interesting conversation starters). I know other families that challenge one another to identify things that they are grateful for each day or people and situations that need prayer. The key is to create a routine and stick to it so that your kids know that these conversations are important, and then experiment with creative ways to glean information so that your kids don’t feel like they are under interrogation.

The Let’s-Go-For-A-Walk Conversation

Last week, I took my boys out to lunch. This should have been a fun end-of-summer activity, but, frankly, we were all a little grumpy. The food was good. The conversation, not so much. The boys were irritating each other just by being alive, and my patience gauge was on E. I was irritated that I had spent money on a special lunch that nobody appreciated, and this just goes to show you that even though we value the dinner table conversations, they aren’t always everything that I hope for.

On our way home, we decided to stop at a metro park where we could walk the trails and get some exercise for an hour. We weren’t really in the mood to spend more time together, but we were feeling the crunch of summer vacation coming to an end, so we did it. We chose a trail that traced the path of the river and spent some time skipping rocks, exploring, and just soaking up the sun. Somewhere along the way, the boys started talking. They talked a lot. They talked about the upcoming school year and a movie we had seen and things that they want to do as a family. It occurred to me that just being on a walk under a blue sky dramatically changed the mood for all of us and opened a line of communication. Lightbulb moment. I think I need to take more walks with my boys.

To sum it up, spend some time outside together. Maybe that means taking one of the kids with you when you walk the dog each night. Maybe that means planning a trip to a park once a week, just to walk and chat away from the hustle and bustle of the neighborhood. Maybe you could accomplish the same goal by going hiking or riding bikes or golfing together. I spent, or actually wasted, some money at the restaurant that day when the best part of our day was free!

The Bedtime Conversation

Every once in a while, one of my kids will open up and want to talk at bedtime. I will admit that this is the absolute worst time for me to have a deep conversation because I am exhausted when everyone crawls into bed. However, I know that if one of my kids starts a bedtime conversation after our prayers and goodnights, something is REALLY bothering him, and he may be so worried that he can’t fall asleep because of it. I usually listen for a few minutes, soothe his nerves, and then create a plan to discuss it further tomorrow. Thank goodness that works for my kids – because I am seriously useless after 9 p.m.

We don’t spend a lot of time talking at bedtime, but I know some moms who enforce early bedtimes so that they can snuggle up and talk to their children at night. If that is the time when your children are most likely to open up, then maybe bedtime conversations need to be part of your family’s routine.

The You’re-Stuck-in-the-Car-With-Me-So-We-Might-As-Well-Talk Conversation

This kind of conversation is becoming more and more useful to me as my kids get older, and I think there are two reasons.

First, as my kids get older, we seem to spend more time in the car. Almost every evening, I am chauffeuring somebody to something, and sometimes that is the only time in the entire day when the two of us are alone. This is a great time to have a heart-to-heart, especially if the day has been so busy that dinner conversation is not an option. If your kid will open up on the way to basketball practice, then it may be worth stepping out of the carpool in order to put that quiet time to good use.

The You’re-Stuck-in-the-Car-With-Me Conversation is also fantastic when you need to talk to your older child about something difficult. I don’t care how open and honest you are with your children, some conversations are just HARD. You know it’s true. My older son and I have had our best growing-up-is-rough conversations and things-you-should-know-before-you’re-a-teenager conversations in the car during the two-hour drive to Grandma’s house. I recommend planning individual road trips with your kids every once in a while and ditching the electronics on the way. If you are brave, let your child ask you anything. This will give you a true glimpse of what is on that kid’s mind and will reassure your child that the lines of communication run both ways.  Try not to seem surprised or offended by whatever comes up; your disapproval is the fastest way to send the conversation into a shutdown.

Aside from the fact that you are stuck, the other benefit of the car conversation is that you don’t even have to look at each other if either of you starts feeling uncomfortable!

If you have other ideas to help kids open up, please leave a comment! Most importantly, don’t be discouraged if your first attempt at starting a family conversation doesn’t go smoothly. It may take some time to figure out what works for your kids, but don’t minimize the impact it has when they know that you are trying!

Join us tomorrow for Tip #7!  Only three tips left!

photo credit: <a href=”″>Set</a&gt; via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;

Back to School Edition: Tip #5

ice cubes

Catch up on the first four tips starting here!

Back to School Tip of the Day #5

Keep it cool. Creating an open line of communication between you and your child is SO important.  Investing time in talking and listening when your son or daughter is young increases the chances that you will have a finger on the pulse of what is happening when that kid becomes a teenager. Listening to your child, whether she is crying about a devastating disagreement with her friends, struggling to make a difficult decision, or just laughing about something that happened at school, shows that you want to hear it all, both the big moments and the small ones. It encourages your child to trust you and to seek your advice when times are hard.

But you already knew all of that, right? This is where things get a bit more difficult. Listening, at least for me, is the easy part; controlling my reactions can be very hard, especially when one of my sons is feeling hurt.

Trusting your child is important, especially if he is feeling unsafe, but it is also important to realize that what he shares with you in the heat of the moment is often shaped by emotion. Respect your kids and listen to them and let them know that you appreciate what they share. Help them to brainstorm solutions and teach them how to navigate the choppy waters of relationships. But also remember that children (and even adults) sometimes allow their sadness, anger, fear, or frustration to give them a biased view of a situation. It’s our job as parents to help our kids see the bigger picture, and sometimes that means that they need to accept some responsibility for the situation at hand.

When your child says that the teacher was mean to her, be sympathetic, but don’t lose your cool and rush to call the local news. When your child says that this is the worst school year ever, be understanding, but don’t immediately leave the principal a voicemail with words that are only allowed on television after 10 p.m. When your child complains about other kids or parents, don’t grab your megaphone and announce it to the neighborhood. Acknowledge your child’s feelings. Breathe deeply. Let everyone cool down. Consult others you trust. Take some time to assemble the puzzle before you say or do something that you will need to apologize for later.

Here’s the truth, friends.  In many cases, today’s drama is tomorrow’s “no big deal.”

Unless, of course, you just went Real Housewives in front of the school’s security camera.  Uh oh.  In that case, you’re on your own.

How can you get your child to tell you more about his day?
Join us tomorrow for ideas!

photo credit: <a href=”″>Ice 9331</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;

Back to School Edition: Tip #4

Post Its

Did you miss tips #1, #2, and #3?
There is still time to catch up and create a mindset for a successful school year! 

Back to School Tip of the Day #4

Make it personal.  This may be the best advice that you receive in this series because today’s ideas came straight from my kids, and they are smarter than I am! I asked my guys what parents can do to help their kids enjoy a successful year. Their answers gave me a “lightbulb moment” – and made me wonder why we adults forget that the strategies that work for us can translate to our kids, too.

Before we dive into the tip of the day, ask yourself this: What is it that allows some people to successfully complete a challenge when others refuse to try or quit before meeting their goals? We like to think that successful people have just had it easy, and in some cases that’s true, but most successful people have overcome significant obstacles to get to the top. They have faced problems. They have experienced failure. They have felt sad and angry and hopeless at times. They have wanted to raise the white flag somewhere along the way, but they didn’t – because they developed resilience. They learned strategies to cope when the goin’ got rough. I don’t know about you, but I want my kids to learn to push through their challenges when they really feel like throwing in the towel, and this requires them to develop a healthy sense of self.

So what will help a child persevere when a school day feels stressful? My oldest son shared that when he is having a bad day, his stress decreases when he pulls something that makes him happy out of his backpack. For example, his math worksheet doesn’t seem quite as painful when he puts it into his Jurassic World folder because that folder reminds him of a fun family memory when we went to that movie on opening night. It warms my heart to know that something as simple as a $1 folder from Target is enough to soothe his nerves when he is threatening to become the next elementary school dropout.


When I saw these Jurassic World folders, I knew that my son would love them, but I had no idea that there was a reason beyond the fact that dinosaurs are cool. It never occurred to me that having something that specifically applied to his interests, something personal, would actually help his self-esteem, but it makes sense. On those days when he feels frustrated or inadequate at school, that folder reminds him that he is smart (because he DOES know a lot about dinosaurs), that he has a family that loves him (because he connects the image to a memory), and that he is more than just a kid who is struggling to conquer a difficult math concept. That simple folder is a triple threat to a bad day!

Maybe this is why he often keeps a few drawings in his folders, too. His vocabulary words may be difficult this week, but his artwork reminds him that he is a talented artist, and that gives him a little boost of confidence just when he needs it. How will my son’s artistic talent help him to earn higher grades in his other classes? It won’t, at least not directly. But his drawings allow him to say, in his head, “I am talented. I can do things. Look at what I can accomplish when I put my mind to it.” Adults create similar reminders in their own homes and workspaces. Why do you think so many diplomas and race bibs and hunting trophies are hanging on walls?

So how can you remind your kids of their uniqueness, their talents, and their accomplishments when you cannot stand beside their desks with pompoms during the school day? The solution is to find ways to stay connected and personalize your child’s experience as much as possible. Sometimes, it’s as simple as buying a folder with dinosaurs on it.  Sometimes, you need to be creative.  Maybe her math notebook has to be plain and red, but you could tape a meaningful photograph on the inside cover for a little inconspicuous pick-me-up. Do you have photographs on your desk at work? My office is full of pictures because they brighten my day and remind me that I matter outside of my work responsibilities. They also reveal that I have a loving support system despite my mistakes and that I have something to look forward to at the end of the day – snuggling up with my husband and kids. Maybe sending a few photos to school with our kids would provide a similar shot of sunshine!


Here are some other ideas! Choose one to give your child a built-in boost on a gloomy day:

  • Write your child an encouraging letter at the beginning of the school year. Give him the note and a lucky charm when school starts, and encourage him to tuck them into a secret backpack compartment. Just knowing that they are always there can be reassuring.
  • If your child has to wrap textbooks, use white butcher paper or freezer paper. Let your child decorate the covers however she wants. She can use stickers, markers, photos, or magazine clippings, ask classmates to sign it, or create a collage of her favorite things to fight that stressful feeling.
  • Buy a mini-notebook and fill it with encouraging thoughts at the beginning of the school year if you won’t remember to send notes on a regular basis throughout the year. Ask aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, and grandparents to fill pages, too. Read through it together and then stick it in a special place in your child’s backpack. Revisit it at the start of every quarter.
  • Stick a post-it note with an encouraging thought on the front door every morning for your child to read and/or take. A little chalkboard by the door is another option. Texting may work well with older kids, if you are able to text outside of class times.
  • Buy the miniature version of your child’s favorite candy. Stick one in his jacket pocket every once in a while for a little surprise from Mom and Dad.
  • Send encouraging notes daily or randomly in her lunchbox.  Watch for a future post full of specific ideas!
  • Within reason, let your child choose the first-day outfit or the lunchbox or the backpack that you would never choose. Let her be an individual. This says, “I like you just the way you are.”
  • Buy an extra folder for your child’s backpack. Label it something like “HAPPY” or “PRIDE.” Help your child choose a few items to put into the folder at the beginning of the year, including photographs or other things that reflect his interests. Throughout the year, suggest that he add items to the folder, like a special note that his teacher gave him or a test that he aced because he studied really hard. When your child has had a bad day, remind him to look through his folder for a mental boost.

Education in our country is becoming more and more standardized and less and less personalized, which would make sense if students were standards instead of persons. Kids need to be reminded that they are valued as individuals, that they are multi-faceted human beings with both strengths and weaknesses, and that they have overcome obstacles in the past and can do so again. Whenever possible, find ways to make it personal!

Tomorrow we will talk about the importance of keeping your cool.
Join us for Tip #5!

Back to School Edition: Tip #3

Light Bulb

Did you miss the first part of this series?
Click here for Tip #1 and click here for Tip #2!

Back to School Tip of the Day #3

Don’t leave the teacher in the dark. Sometimes our instinct as parents is to withhold information that is painful to discuss. We do this with the best of intentions, to protect our kids from embarrassment, judgement, or ridicule. Maybe you have a child who has a history of disruptive behavior, and you are afraid that sharing this with the new teacher will cause her to see your child in a negative light. Maybe your child has had trouble concentrating in the past, but you don’t want the teacher to expect this because you are hoping that this year will be different. Maybe there are things going on at home like a divorce, the death of a grandparent, or a recent move, that are causing stress for your child, but you consider these to be private issues or just find them difficult to discuss. As a mom, I totally understand this desire to protect by withholding, but trust me when I say that YOUR CHILD’S TEACHER NEEDS TO KNOW. He wants to create a smooth transition for your child, and you can help him plan for your child’s success by sharing critical information, such as how your child learns best, how she typically behaves, when she feels most stressed, and what has helped her to be successful in other classrooms.

This information impacts everything from the seating chart in the classroom to the way that kids are grouped to the teaching methods that are chosen for each part of the material to the strategies that the teacher uses with your individual child. Sure, the teacher will eventually figure out that this child is painfully shy and that those two children should never be seated together and that another child feels anxious unless she is close to the teacher, while that child has a tummy ache every afternoon after lunch and another cries whenever she thinks about her old dog that probably will not live much longer. The teacher will eventually figure out the other fifteen students, too. But when the first nine weeks is like a giant riddle, then a lot of time is wasted just figuring everything out.

It is a common misconception that teachers just know things, that information that is given to one teacher one year automatically trickles to the next grade level, but that isn’t always true, especially in the higher grades. Unless your child has needs that have been documented on an IEP, for example, there is a good chance that your child’s new teachers will need you to start from scratch in explaining what might work best. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true. Most schools have not perfected a way to update and transfer this kind of information from teacher to teacher, and I have yet to attend professional development on extrasensory perception, which is surprising since that could be more helpful than some of the PD I have attended throughout my career.

If you have a child in middle or high school, he probably does not want you to talk to the teacher much, if ever at all. He would really prefer that his parents didn’t even know that he has teachers and that his teachers didn’t even know that he has parents. This is totally normal and is a sign of healthy development, really; he should be gaining more independence as he matures. Unless you are planning to be his roommate in college, it is very important for him to start learning to handle some things on his own. This does not mean, however, that you should not communicate with his teachers at all anymore. It just means that you need to learn to operate like a secret agent, and, fortunately for you, e-mail makes that very easy for our generation.

Although older kids suddenly want to tackle everything independently, common sense says that they don’t go from “mom handles everything” to “I’ve got this all by myself” overnight. By the upper grades, your job is to guide your student in addressing her own problems and encourage her to talk to the teacher herself, but it is still your responsibility to inform the teacher of key information and to check in once in a while to see if your child is following through with her responsibilities. In many school districts, you can check your older child’s performance online at any time, which can help you to keep an eye on her academic progress, but that report may not indicate if she spends a lot of time alone, has a negative attitude, or has to be reminded often not to sleep in class. While you might think that those issues would warrant a call from the teacher, keep in mind that the high school teacher may see 150 students in a day, so unless you ask, you may not be notified of a behavior that does not stand out as unsafe, disruptive, or extreme. This is why conferencing with the teacher is still important, even when students are in the upper grades. A teenager who wants to sleep during math class may not trigger an alarm in the mind of the math teacher, but you may see it as a sign that something has changed with your son or daughter.

Here is another reason to communicate openly with your kid’s teacher. When you have limited information and you are trying to solve a riddle, you may make assumptions that are wildly incorrect. Think about this example. You are teaching a high school student who always sits in the back of the classroom. He rarely completes any of his work, doesn’t talk to many other kids, and refuses to explain his lack of effort when you try to talk to him. He appears to be extremely tired day after day and seems to have no support from home. It looks like he just doesn’t care.  You have tried to contact the parents because you are concerned, but you have gotten no response. The same thing is happening in his other classes. What might you conclude? Really, what would you assume?

Did you guess that his father has terminal cancer, that he is exhausted from caring for his father at night while his mom is at work, and that his mother is emotionally overwhelmed and has not had time to return your calls? This information might dramatically change your approach with this student. Every student has a story that impacts his learning, and I, as the teacher, can’t choose the best approach to help him without knowing what that story is. It might surprise you that the school wouldn’t be aware of a story this heartbreaking, but it happens all the time.

We like to think that fair means that all of our children are treated the same, but the truth is that treating everyone the same is not fair. However, your child’s teacher cannot meet your child’s individual needs if you aren’t up front about what is going on in your child’s life. You should know that when you share your private information, your child’s teacher has a responsibility not to share that information with other students or parents. Before you share, you should also know that teachers are mandated reporters, which means that they are legally bound to report if child abuse is suspected, even if that information was shared with them in confidence.

If you want your child to get off to a great start this year, consider sharing any information that might help the teacher meet your child’s needs right off the bat. You have control of the light switch.  Don’t leave the teacher in the dark.

If your child is having a tough day at school, how can you brighten the gloom?
Check out Tip #4 tomorrow!

photo credit: <a href=”″>Create Your Own Light…</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;