Setting and achieving a goal can be a powerful and life-changing experience for people of any age! A study in 2015 by Psychologist Gail Matthews showed that when people wrote down their goals, they were 33 percent more successful! One of the best ways to write out a goal is using the SMART Goals method. Any goal is more likely to be achieved if the goal itself first passes the SMART test:
Specific and Small: To pass the SMART test, the goal must be specific and small in scope. A goal that is too big, general, or too far out in the future can cause overwhelm and stress/anxiety. The key is to chunk bigger goals into smaller more specific ones.
Measurable: To pass the SMART test, there can be no ambiguity about what it means to achieve that goal. For example, to “be happy” or “be more outgoing” are not measurable goals. A SMART goal is either achieved or it is not. The action that drives the goal either happened or it did not.
Attainable and Achievable: To pass the SMART test, the goal must be reasonable and within the power/control of the student. For example, being selected to an NBA basketball team in 8th grade is not 1) achievable or 2) within total control of the student. In contrast, practicing basketball for 30 minutes every day is reasonable and within the control of the student.
Relevant: To pass the SMART test the goal must be relevant (or important) to the individual and connected to other life goals, interests, and objectives. If the goal is not relevant, then the motivation and purpose will be lost.
Timeframe with Start and End Date: To pass the SMART test, the goal must have a clean start and end date. Open or floating deadlines can spell disaster for any goal, project, or intention.
SMART goals don’t have to be school-related, and there’s never an inopportune moment to set them. Even during summer, students can set and achieve goals that are meaningful to their own interests and desires! Give it a try! And once your child sets and achieves the goal, don’t forget the most important part…to celebrate!
How are fear and anger connected? This relationship is easily understood by way of “The Anger Iceberg” (a model developed by The Gottman Institute). Only 1/3 of an iceberg is visible above the water – a small peak that symbolizes ”anger.” The bulk of the iceberg hangs below the water – and this represents “fear.” Basically, anger is what we “see,” while fear lurks hidden beneath the surface.
When fear is triggered, the brain and body enter a “fight, flight, or freeze” state (aka survival mode). Anger represents the instinct to fight, serving as a protective factor by signifying strength and power. Imagine the tiny chihuahua who takes on the German Shepard by snarling, barking, and showing his canines. The chihuahua is trying to communicate strength and power to a perceived threat.
“The Anger Iceberg” reminds us that an angry child is a fearful child. So, next time your child (or you) is angry, try to look below the surface…what is the driving fear thought? Fear of not being good enough? Fear of rejection? Fear of looking stupid? Fear of not being loved?
Now that you know anger is driven by fear, you can respond in a supportive and solution-focused way without being pulled into an anger-fueled battle.
Setting boundaries is fundamental to building healthy relationships. We probably all agree on this but may have different ideas about what boundaries are and how to set them. This week, I want to discuss some pitfalls of setting boundaries, and then offer some alternatives and other tips.
A boundary separates one person’s thoughts, feelings, and actions from another person’s. In other words, it defines where you leave off, and I begin. Different kinds of relationships have different boundaries.
Boundaries fall along a spectrum:
Enmeshed Healthy Rigid
(too close, ill defined) (clear, appropriate, comfortable) (too far apart, inflexible)
1.Pitfall #1: Trying to change someone else’s behavior.
- In reality, we set boundaries by changing our own actions, not by coercing or manipulating others.
2.Pitfall #2: Using words to set a boundary.
- Actions set boundaries, not words. Oral demands lead to power struggles.
For example, if while playing a boardgame, a child cheats, asking the child to change her behavior crosses boundaries and doesn’t work. Instead, put the game away, and do something else.
You teach people how to treat you – with your actions (not your words).
- You are always doing this.
- It’s best to set boundaries early (the sooner, the better).
- It’s easier to relax firm boundaries then tighten flexible/unclear ones.
Ever ask your student, ”How was school?” and all you get is “I dunno” or “fine”? It has been my experience that both parents and kids/teens crave a more meaningful discussion but are not always sure how to make it happen. This week, I want to share 5 ways to connect with your student of any age:
1. Change the Way You Ask: Rather than asking, “How was your day?” try phrases like “I wonder if…” or “Tell me about…” or “What was something funny that happened today?” or “When did you laugh?” or “What was hard about today?” You can also get more specific, such as “Who did you sit by at lunch?” “What was for lunch?” Or “What was the topic in history class?
2.Model How to Connect: Share details about your day first. Describe a situation at work and how you responded. Share a funny story about your boss. Share a proud moment or achievement. Describe something you learned. Share what you had for lunch and who you sat next to.
“Every good conversation starts with good listening.” – Unknown
3.Create an Open and Receptive Atmosphere. Turn off the radio. Put the phone away. Talk less. Listen more. Embrace moments of silence. Genuinely pay attention to the response your student gives. Follow up on a previous bit of information to show you really care and do remember.
4.Fine Tune Your Active and Reflective Listening Skills: Don’t problem-solve. Don’t rescue. Don’t teach. Just listen. If you’re unsure how to respond, just try reflecting back what your student shared. For example: “That sounds frustrating.” Or “Seems like you put in a lot of effort.” Or “You sound sad.”
5.Routinely Use a Theme: When your child climbs in the car, during dinner, or at bedtime, consistently use the same theme to open up a discussion. One theme I use with clients is “Petals and Thorns.” A petal is something positive while a thorn is a disappointment, struggle, or challenge. You could also use successes and challenges, hits or misses, Thumbs up/Thumbs down, or any other variation of this theme. Consistently using the same conversation starter can help prompt topics and may get your student thinking about it even before you ask!
Try these out and see how they work. Practice patience – and remember that success takes time. All good communication starts with good listening.
Self-advocacy is a highly useful skill. For this conversation, advocacy refers specifically to a student’s ability to speak up in order to get a need met or a problem solved at school. (I am not referring to expressing ideas or imposing viewpoints on others. This is a different skill set and a different type of advocacy).
“When you really listen to another person from their point of view, and reflect back to them that understanding, it’s like giving them emotional oxygen.” – Stephen Covey
So… how exactly do we help students develop effective strategies for representing themselves and gaining access to what they need?
Step one: Create a safe space for the student to speak up and share thoughts, needs, and desires. Students will make requests for help when they feel supported, heard, and safe.
Step two: Help the student identify and clarify what specifically is needed.
Step three: Explicitly teach self-advocacy skills, such as by exploring different formats for speaking up, what to say, how to say it, and when to say it. You might roleplay conversations, identify specific opportunities or times of day, or help compose emails. Effective self-advocacy comes in many forms – and the form chosen must suit the advocator!
Step four: Process through any barriers. This may involve simply validating how difficult it can be, identifying shame triggers, or using concrete solution-focused problem solving/brainstorming.
Step five: Reinforce and celebrate even the smallest of victories. For example, maybe the student didn’t speak up today and ask that question in class, but they thought about it!
Step six: If student continues to avoid speaking up, dig a little deeper and circle back through steps 1-5. What is really preventing them from communicating their needs and wants?
Try out these tips… see what works… and have fun! Join us for the next podcast, where we’ll continue to “learn about learning” and share ways to help your student (and yourself) live a more positive and fulfilling life.
Today we’ll look at the last piece of the R Solutions for Everyday Living. As previously discussed, each R Solution targets one or more area of executive functioning (EF). This week’s R Solution is: Review and Recharge.
Now is the time to take a break from our EF work, look back at our journey, and review progress! If your students set a S.M.A.R.T. goal, did they accomplish it? Where did they excel, and and where did they get hung up? Parents and students can do this together. Just remember, this should be a positive, constructive process. Just because there’s always room for improvement doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate successes along the way.
Here are some areas to Review: Did our S.M.A.R.T. goal target the real EF deficit? What went well over the previous weeks, and what didn’t? What times or activities caused anxiety, frustration, or “blow-outs”? When/why did things not get done? What tasks or activities on our checklists could be added, deleted, or moved around? Are there any skill “gaps” that got missed? (Tip: Use “I’m wondering…” as a conversation starter)
Recharge: Recharging looks different for everyone, and everyone needs it! Developing and using EF strategies are hard work, and for some, the use of EF strategies will always feel upstream. Therefore, it is important to determine how your child recharges (which they show us through their actions and interests) and build that activity (or that “non-activity”) into their rhythm and routines. (Tip: Put “recharge” on the student’s to-do list!)
Hope you’ve enjoyed this series! Join us for the next podcast, where we’ll continue to “learn about learning” and share ways to help your student (and yourself) live a more positive and fulfilling life.
This is the fifth segment in a series about executive functioning (EF): our “5 R Solutions for Everyday Living.” In this episode, we discuss how and why “Rewards and Reinforcers” can alleviate problems with EF.
Rewards and reinforcers are an important and valuable component for supporting children practice and develop EF skills.
By definition, a “reinforcer” is something that increases the likelihood that a desired behavior will increase. Positive reinforcement is an extremely powerful tool—arguably the most powerful tool you have in your toolbox as a parent or teacher! And the research says positive reinforcement produces faster and longer-lasting results than punishment!
Rewards and reinforcers come in many forms, including “edibles,” experiences, tangibles, activities, and social interactions. Another powerful reinforcer is affirmations! Rewards and reinforcers do not have to be huge or cost money. They can be very simple. Examples include putting a marble in a jar, a sticker on a chart, or keeping a weekly log in a journal. The reward for a completed task or goal could be relaxing with a movie, or spending one-on-one time together with someone special.
When I bring up rewards and reinforcers, parents and teachers are sometimes resistant to the idea because they are not on board with “paying kids” to do things they should be doing anyway. I can totally understand how it might feel this way at first. However, it is human nature to seek what is pleasurable and avoid what hurts. We are wired this way! So, use this innate part of human nature to help your children and students learn skills, build strategies, and find success! And don’t worry, once a strategy or skills is established and integrated into daily living, the need for the reinforcer will fade away.
In addition to serving as an incentive, rewards and reinforcers also help a child self-monitor and mark progress. If you recall, self-monitoring and completing “the final lap” are both EF skills. Reinforcers help the child monitor and mark that a task is complete. For example, when the morning check list is finished, a marble is placed in the jar. Five days of morning checklist completion leads to five marbles. And five marbles might equal an hour of game time with Dad!
In summary, the importance of rewards and reinforcers cannot be overstated. They tap into a fundamental trait of human nature: the tendency to seek pleasure or happiness, while avoiding things that are less enjoyable or lead to suffering. Rewards and reinforcers motivate the behaviors that we want to see in others (rather than punish the behaviors that we don’t want). And, when used correctly, they help an individual monitor progress towards an end-goal. Give these a shot and see what a difference positive reinforcement can make in your child’s life!
This is the fourth segment in a series about executive functioning (EF): our “5 R Solutions for Everyday Living.” In this episode, we discuss how and why “Rhythm and Routine” can alleviate problems with EF.
You can create Rhythm and Routine for any segment or transition in your day that is challenging or causing unnecessary stress and conflict. I prefer Rhythm and Routines to “schedules.” Schedules are based on specific times, such as start times, length of time, and ending times. Rhythm and Routines allow for more flexibility while consistently ensuring the same tasks (and sequence/order of those tasks) are always stays the same.
Let’s look at school mornings. Take a minute and reflect on your morning routine from wake-up to drop off at school—how is that going? Do you have a routine or established rhythm? How consistent are things remembered versus forgotten? How often do you have to circle back home (tire screeching) to grab a mask, lunchbox, or homework? School mornings are often a stress-filled sprint for families. By creating a set morning routine that follows a stable and predictable rhythm, the habit of chaotic mornings can be completely transformed!
There are 4 keys to establishing a successful morning:
1) Identify all the items that need to be done (your child should help with this).
2) Chunk the items into smaller segments based on where in the house they take place, and put them in order based on the layout of your house and logic (brushing teeth and combing hair are in bathroom and brushing teeth happens after breakfast).
3) Create a checklist with visuals that follows the order/sequence (put this list in a plastic sleeve so that items can be checked off with a dry erase marker each morning—checking it off the list is part of the routine).
4) Create and implement a system of rewards and reinforcers (more on that next time).
Be sure to check out our latest podcast/video (embedded above) for more details about Rhythm and Routine!
This is the third segment in a series about executive functioning (EF): our “5 R Solutions for Everyday Living.” In this episode, we discuss how and why “Reduce” can alleviate problems with EF.
I love this R Solution because it can address all six clusters in Dr. Brown’s Model of Executive Functioning (Activation, Focus, Effort, Emotion, Memory, and Action)! The goal here is to help the student reduce to a single point of focus, which will help the student focus and sustain attention, prioritize, reduce overwhelm and frustration, activate with a starting and ending pointing, etc. There are so many strategies (too many to list in one short article) that really work…so I hope the takeaway is that when in doubt, reduce, reduce, reduce. Below is a list of 5 strategies that really work for students, parents, and teachers:
1. Set a timer and work on one task for a set amount of time. The amount of time will vary depending on the student and the task ,and you may have to experiment to identify the optimal number of minutes (could be 20 could be 55). This strategy reduces attention and productivity to a single point of focus, helps activate and prioritize, reduces stress and overwhelm, reduces load on working memory, chunks larger tasks, and provides a method for self-monitoring and time management. This can be especially useful for ”studying,” “practicing,” and completion of long-term projects. For example, if I say, “study your test.” What exactly does this mean? Setting a timer provides a quantitative measure for a qualitative task. It also promises relief (it will be over in 20 minutes) for mentally fatigued and exhausted students.
2. Declutter. Remove visual, auditory, and tactile clutter in the the learning environment, workspace, bag, folder, planner, desk, room, etc. If the mind is ”cluttered” or disorganized, the environment must be orderly. Also, if you notice increased clutter in the student’s space or belongings, it is a good indication they are overwhelmed.
3. Tighten up your Message: When giving instructions or directions, eliminate unnecessary and only loosely related information, words, and directives. In other words, talk less and stick to key actions and objects. Avoid overtaxing their working memory, diverting their focus, and overwhelming their senses.
4. Give Big Picture (or punch line) First. When giving instructions or directions provide a clear idea of where the activity is headed, when will it be done, and what is the point so that the student can focus on key details, prioritize, and maximize their worming memory capacity.
5. Set SMART Goals. SMART GOALS are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Reasonable, and Time-specific. I love SMART goals because they help direct focus, break larger goals into smaller goals, set timelines, reduce overwhelm, and help students self-monitor progress. I also love setting SMART goals with students because the aspect of the SMART goal they struggle with, reveals their specific area of executive dysfunction. For example, if the goal is identified as “Work on my Science Project,” I might suspect this student has trouble prioritizing, planning, chunking, sequencing, and self-monitoring.
If you like these strategies, pick one or to work on this week, and see how they go for you. We recommend you don’t try all 5 at once. After all, the point of these is to reduce – not to overload yourself! – Dr. Katen
A Series on Executive Functioning
This is the second segment in a series about executive functioning (EF): our “5 R Solutions for Everyday Living.” In this episode, we discuss how and why to “Reframe and Redefine” problems with EF.
Before we can implement an effective solution in any situation, we must first accurately define the problem. Before we can help a student with any struggle, we must first identify what is really going on. Once we correctly call it what it is, we begin the process of solving the problem without blame and shame and with accountability.
For example, there is a common belief that procrastinators are simply perfectionistic, and the fear of not being perfect interferes with their ability to get started and get it done. There is also a common belief that procrastination is deliberate avoidance. While these might be true sometimes, often there is a different reason—a skill deficit.
So if perfectionism and deliberate avoidance are not the causes…what is going on?! In many cases, the true culprit is a deficit in executive functioning, and specifically in the area of activation.
Correctly reframing and redefining the root of the problem helps (1) avoid blaming and shaming, (2) sets problem-solving in the right direction, and (3) creates space for accountability and success.
Activation is one subset of EF skills and includes getting started, organizing, prioritizing. A deficit in activation is essentially a broken “start button.”
Obviously, the solution to a broken start button (or deficit in activation) is very different than the solution to deliberate avoidance or perfection anxiety. If the start button does not work properly, then that child’s brain needs an override. The override can be internal, such as panic or strong interest. The override can also be external, such as support from a person or a change in the environment (more on this next time).
Before we can help a student with any problem, we must first accurately reframe and redefine the true nature of the problem. There is always more to a student than what we can observe. Behavior is communication. And… when the root of the behavior is mislabeled, we miss what the behavior is trying to tell us, which often leads to unwarranted blaming, shaming, and continued failures.