10 Solutions to Difficulties Kids Have with Learning
It was report card time at school and once again, my friend felt frustrated. Her three kids often seemed to have difficulty learning and she couldn’t pin down the reason. She understood that there’s a science to learning disabilities and the exceptional education program, but she told me she didn’t think that’s why her kids have difficulty learning. She knew I taught school for almost 20 years and wanted to ask: “Other than diagnoses like dyslexia, what are the most common difficulties kids have with learning?”
I offered a wry smile. It is a question I field a lot from families. Every child, exceptional education or not, A student or C’s and D’s, rich or poor or middle-income, deals with stuff that gets in the way of learning. Not diagnostic, not one-size fits all, but in years of experience, observation, and banging my own head against a wall, the following popped up over and over and are 10 of the most common difficulties kids have with learning.
This is everything from homework not done to pencil not sharp to brain not tuned in to body not rested.
Solution: Be as in-tune with school as you expect your child to be, teach your child to take responsibility in all elements of life, make sure you know what your child needs to know.
Something is more interesting or more compelling than the lesson. Could be the girl in front, or the big game your kid is thinking about, or the fight he or she witnessed before class, or the text he or she wants to send. Learning requires concentration.
Solution: Collaborate with your child’s teacher, identify distractions, identify potential reinforcements, and design a short-term reinforcement schedule to encourage concentration.
Is your kid worried about grades? Did something happen on the bus? Is he or she being bullied? Is there trouble or illness at home?
Solution: Listen, ask open-ended questions, reassure, take steps to intervene.
There may be a dozen reasons a child acts out, is defiant, or disrupts the class. Regardless, behavioral issues have a real impact on learning.
Solution: Learn the “A-B-C’s” of your child’s acting out. A is for Antecedent (What comes immediately before the behavior?), B is for Behavior (What behavior is problematic?), and C is for Consequence (What happens as a result of the behavior?). It is often possible to modify B when we understand (and change) A and/or C. Work with the teacher to establish consistent interventions that reinforce appropriate alternatives.
5. Reading Below Grade Level
Reading difficulties with both decoding and comprehension can compromise learning in every subject area, including math. Reading deficits compound over time if not addressed quickly. Conversely, progress in reading can quickly right the ship and lead to improvement across the board.
Solution: Read to and with your child every day, engage a tutor, talk to the school about a reading specialist.
6. Lack of Motivation/Laziness
This is even common in children who are otherwise good-natured and cooperative. Finding the right motivation and addressing the tendency to avoid hard work will impact the quality of learning.
Solution: Take steps to demonstrate that learning is fun; reward effort, not just results; be a motivated learner yourself.
7. TestingIt’s important to remember that ‘making grades’ and ‘learning’ are not always the same thing.
There is much debate around “teaching to the test.” What remains clear is the fact that too much testing can interrupt the joy of natural inquisitiveness and introduce pressure that is incompatible with learning. It’s important to remember that “making grades” and “learning” are not always the same thing.
Solution: Expose your child to the arts, don’t pile on the pressure, join your PTA, get involved in the conversation, lobby for a well-rounded education.
8. Lack of Sleep
A child who routinely gets less than an appropriate night’s rest will not and cannot learn. Sleep deprivation negatively impacts physical health, mental health, and adequate learning.
Solution: Talk to your pediatrician about what is right for your child, establish a predictable evening routine, restrict screen time in the evenings, restructure bedtime rituals.
9. Poor Nutrition
There is a growing conversation around the impact of “Food Deserts” (areas, especially low-income, that have limited access to affordable nutritious food) in the US. What we discuss less is how many children in homes where good food could be accessible still have low-nutrition diets.
Solution: Become educated when it comes to diet, approach better nutrition as a family, ask for help if necessary, do not assume “full” means “satisfied.”
Continuity is key to good learning. Children who routinely miss school for any reason will have difficulty learning regardless of other mitigating factors.
Solution: Take your child’s school attendance seriously, be a school cheerleader in your own home, become directly involved via PTA and other volunteer opportunities, get to know your child’s teacher.
What reasons have you identified in your children and what solutions have worked?
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4 Ways Using the 80/20 Principle Will Make You a Better Dad
The Pareto principle, or the 80/20 rule, states that 20 percent of what happens causes 80 percent of results. In business, you can track 80 percent of your revenue from only 20 percent of your customers. You might find that the same 20 percent of volunteers complete 80 percent of your church’s volunteer work.
The Pareto principle applies to almost everything, from real estate and mathematics to literature and even the clothes you wear. So, why not apply it to parenting? Here is how to parent better using the 80/20 principle.
Giving 20 percent of your attention will lead to 80 percent of quality time spent with your children.
Your children crave your attention—not all of it; just 20 percent. Your attention is split into multiple areas: work, your marriage, your kids, your side hustle. It spreads you thin. Your attention span may feel under attack when your child asks you to play, come to her softball game, or help him with his geography homework. If you ignore your kids, this creates attention-seeking behavior 80 percent of the time. Instead, offer positive attention to satisfy the 20 percent. Make eye contact, smile, ask questions, listen, and set time aside with just them. You will see their behavior change as you provide positive attention.
Controlling 20 percent of your emotional reactions leads to 80 percent of your child’s positive behavior.
Yelling, screaming, hitting, or other abrupt emotional reactions negatively impact your child’s behavior. Imagine finding a joint in your teenager’s room. If you overreact, chances are your teen will continue hiding marijuana from you. Fear tactics cause emotional devastation resulting in pain. Uncontrollable emotional reactions only work sparingly, but a controlled emotional response even just 20 percent of the time will yield the majority of your kid’s positive behaviors. Call a time-out before reacting, establish firm rules as a family to discuss regularly, or learn to parent with love and logic.
When 20 percent of kids’ experiences are new, those experiences will result in 80 percent of their critical thinking skills.
Exposing kids to new experiences strengthens their brains. By encouraging 20 percent of new experiences, like a trip to a different country, learning a new language, taking on a musical instrument, or listening to random TED talks, you create 80 percent of their critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills. Make “learning new experiences” a part of your weekly tradition as a family. Try new recipes, take a different route to their school, or read a new-to-you literature genre to expand your child’s brain with the 80/20 principle.
Only 20 percent of the time spent with your kids leads to 80 percent of your struggle as a parent.Look at your child’s inappropriate behavior as a ‘lack of skills’ rather than as a personal attack.
The majority of our frustration as parents stems from a small percentage of interactions with our kids. It feels much larger because when you’re struggling, it feels like you’re always struggling. If we change our mindset around 20 percent of challenging encounters with our kids, we will begin to react with more peace and clarity. One suggestion: Look at your child’s inappropriate behavior as a “lack of skills” rather than as a personal attack. This technique will help you parent proactively rather than reactively.
Earn some points: Are you married? If so, share this iMOM article with your wife: 4 Ways to Accomplish More.
Sound off: What do you do 20 percent of the time that yields 80 percent of your child’s affection?
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7 Ways to Have Spoiled Kids
I’ll never forget a playdate my daughter had at a friend’s house when she was in the first grade. At the end of the playdate, as we were saying goodbye, the other little girl was holding a container filled with plastic beads. Her mom suggested she share some with my daughter. “No!” the little girl said. The mother gently pleaded, “Oh, come on sweetheart, share some of your beads.” The little girl again replied, “No!”
At that point, I stepped in and said it was OK, that we didn’t need any of the beads. That could’ve been an isolated incident, and maybe the mom didn’t want to get too firm because she didn’t want to embarrass her child. We’ve all been there! But we don’t want to make a habit of letting that happen because it could lead to spoiled kids. And while spoiled might sound like an old-fashioned word, it really just means children who feel entitled to get what they want when they want it, even if it means being disrespectful and disobedient. If you want to avoid having spoiled kids, then stay away from these 7 habits.
1. Pick up after your kids instead of letting them clean up their own messes.
Sometimes it’s just easier to clean up your children’s messes rather than instructing them how to do it for themselves. It’s hard, but resist the temptation. Instead, set aside enough clean-up time after playtime so you don’t feel rushed. Then give each child one task at a time until everything is put in its place so they do not become overwhelmed. Let them know if they don’t clean up, there will be consequences.You have to let your child know what role you both play. As the parent, you must take charge.
2. Let them boss you around and talk disrespectfully to you.
Spoiled kids can be master manipulators. They use words to induce guilt and to control their parents. As soon as this begins to happen, make sure you put your foot down. You have to let your child know what role you both play. As the parent, you must take charge.
3. Give them everything they want—even if it’s not good for them.
Limits are absolutely necessary for everyone. Your child may not like them, but they are in his or her best interest. Parents must work as a team to draw limits for their children. There should be limits on what they wear, the movies they watch, the video games they play, the food they eat (the stuff you determine is not good for them), the music they listen to, and even the friends they should have. As your children get older, the limits can be extended in certain areas, but until then, parents must enforce the limits or else limits merely become suggestions.
4. Let them drop out instead of sticking it out.
When your child asks to quit an activity or sport, make sure you know his or her motive. Perhaps there is a good reason for the decision, but if children simply don’t feel like putting forth the effort, they should not be allowed to quit. Many studies show that extracurricular activities help children learn valuable lessons or skills and can also help them academically.
5. Excuse their rude or bad behavior as just “kids being kids.”
Since when did being a “kid” mean you can be rude, disrespectful, or careless in your actions? Age does at times go hand-in-hand with certain actions, especially when dealing with developmental behavior, such as crawling and toddlers. However, age should never be a blanket excuse for patterns of disrespect or disobedience.
6. Don’t follow through on discipline.
When we ease off of an agreed-upon punishment or scrap it altogether, we are communicating to our child that our words don’t mean much. So when you tell your child, “If you don’t stop that right now, you’ll go to your room,” follow through.
7. Do everything for them.
As your children grow up, they should become increasingly self-sufficient. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way, especially if they’re used to you doing everything for them. Little by little, start to reinforce your child’s independence and self-sufficiency by limiting the things you do for them. Teach them how to do those things and increase their responsibilities around the home. If they don’t want to comply, limit the time they spend on the computer or watching TV. “He who does not work does not eat” is a good rule to live by in a family.
Sound off: What are a few other ways we shouldn’t spoil our kids?
3 Things You Need to Think About as Your Kids Get Older
On a normal Monday morning, I sat across from a 17-year-old young man for coffee. He was a senior in high school, about to go off to college, and wanted to discuss a few things with me. It became clear that he wasn’t prepared for adulthood. He was concerned about missing class because his mom wouldn’t be there to wake him up. He shared that he got a part-time job on campus but didn’t know how to put his paycheck into his bank account. We are not raising kids; they are already kids. We are supposed to be raising adults.
What does it mean to be prepared for adulthood? Who is to blame for his unpreparedness? As I asked about his parents, he shrugged his shoulders. He said, “They have been checked out for a long time now.” As my heart hurt for my young friend, I thought about my own children. How can I best prepare them for adulthood? Here are 3 things you need to think about as your kids are getting older.
1. What will we celebrate?What gets celebrated gets repeated and what is repeated sticks.
This must be a consistent conversation in your home. What gets celebrated gets repeated and what is repeated sticks. Think about the core values of your family. Gratitude, selflessness, hard work, and grace are a few that we hold onto in our family. When our kids put extra effort into a school project, they are showing that they know that hard work matters. We celebrate this by letting them know that we see them and we are proud of their effort. Write down your family’s core values and look for ways you can celebrate when your kids live out these values.
2. What relationships will they have?
If you wait until they start dating, it’s too late to talk about dating. As your kids get older, you must have consistent conversations about what dating will look like, when they will be allowed to date and how to protect themselves. Also, what kind of relationships do you want your kids to have with other family members? For some, you may need to set boundaries to protect your kids from specific relationships. If your aunt struggles with drug abuse, boundaries in that relationship help you guard your kids against bad influences. For others, you need to make sure your kids are connected to grandparents, aunts, uncles. Lastly, you must ask, “What kind of friend will they become?” Talking about what a good friend looks like and acts like not only helps them to be good friends but protects them from toxic relationships.
3. What will the future look like?
This is a broader conversation than simply helping your kids find a career. What if your kids don’t want to go to college? How long will you support them as adults? What are your (and their) greatest dreams? Who will they marry? So much goes into thinking about their future. As they are getting older, I think we are always thinking about this. But few actually discuss these things with our kids. We must teach them that the decisions they make today will affect their tomorrow. You can’t intend to be healthy tomorrow but not eat healthy today. We can guide them to success but we can’t wait until they are moving out. We must think about and discuss these things as they grow.
Sound off: What conversations do you need to have with your kids to prepare them for adulthood?
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3 Must-Do Milestones for Boys Before Middle School
I worked with middle school students for 10 years and have seen it all. Most of the time, people want to run from these kids because we just don’t know what to do with them. Middle schoolers are growing spiritually, mentally, and physically. In this growth, they learn things that will shape their identity as adults. They’re ready for childhood milestones.
They explore who they are. This is part of adolescent development and it’s normal. Parents can help shape kids by encouraging and equipping them before adolescence hits. Here are 3 must-do childhood milestones for boys to do before middle school.
1. Pressure TestAs men, we grow tremendously when we are put under pressure.
As men, we grow tremendously when we are put under pressure. We either will face it and succeed, leaving us more confident and experienced, or we will fall under pressure, leaving us with lessons learned. Boys need to feel some pressure and the weight of responsibility. A few months ago, I built a treehouse with my oldest son. In the middle of the project, I made it clear that he would drill every screw on the decking. He was nervous at first, but once he realized he could handle it and actually do a good job, his confidence grew. It was hard work with a reward at the end. He is proud of himself and tells every person who comes over that he did it. Boys need a good pressure test before middle school. It provides an example to look back on. Use it later to remind your son of how he made it through. You must find the right test for your boy, set him up for a win, and watch his chest stick out a little further.
2. Independence Try-Out
Independence is a product of trust. The more trust you have for your son, the more independence you allow him to have. And in middle school, boys want independence. They want the freedom to explore but also still want a safety net at home. One of the must-do childhood milestones is giving our boys opportunities to earn trust before middle school. This way, when they ask for independence, you’ve already established the trust you’ll need to give them some. If you wait until middle school, you will find yourselves in conflict. I let my 8-year-old ride his bike to a friend’s house by himself two blocks away. I trusted him and he did a great job. Now that trust is earned, freedom is given. You must look for small and big ways to let boys earn trust and to give them freedom before middle school.
3. Sex Talk
If you do not talk about sex with your boys, they will find out about it somehow—and what they’ll learn definitely won’t be accurate. We have the opportunity and privilege to give our sons a healthy understanding of what sex is. Sadly, I’ve met too many middle school boys whose dads never had the talk with them. One way to start the conversation is to plan a trip with your son. Plan some super fun stuff to do together but carve out time, too, to have the talk. Be honest. Don’t use cute nicknames for body parts and don’t be afraid of questions. When you get back from the trip, be sure your boy knows that the conversation hasn’t ended just because you’re home. Be sure to follow up with him periodically.
Sound off: What childhood milestones would you add to this list?
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5 Ways Giving Helps Kids Feel Less Stressed
The night before the first day of school is always filled with jitters. As a kid, I never could sleep. It’s the same for my kids, but this year was intense. Car line procedures changed, there are now temperature checkpoints, and we couldn’t walk them to class. All of this had us on edge. Add in keeping track of masks, minimizing germ exposure, and—oh, yeah—they are supposed to be learning! Our anxiety levels were palpable.
Every day in 2020 seems to present new challenges like sanitizing backpacks, logging in to another eLearning app, or reminding the kids to keep track of their masks during recess. I often look at my sons and think this is more weight than their little shoulders should have to carry. So how do we help them feel joy when there is so much stress? Here’s the answer, along with a foolproof way to make it happen.
Give in order to survive.
Research shows that humans are born not only with a survival instinct but also with an altruistic instinct that causes us to feel joy when we help others flourish. But it’s more than just, “When I give, I get a warm, fuzzy feeling.” Actually, when we help someone, we tap into the part of the brain that proves that people who collaborate are more likely to survive. If we want to help our children thrive in these “unprecedented times,” maybe it’s time to love and serve in unprecedented ways.
Here are 5 ways tapping into that altruistic instinct can help our kids thrive even while they are stressed. We love Operation Christmas Child, so I’ll use it as an example. It’s a project of Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief organization. They (we!) provide shoebox gifts filled with small toys, hygiene items, and school supplies for children affected by war, poverty, natural disaster, famine, and disease.
1. A tangible act brings tangible joy.
In school, when kids work with their hands, the lessons come to life. Serving is no different. Yes, we should pray for others, but doing something tangible like putting items in a shoebox will resonate more with your kids and they will experience greater joy knowing they touched the items that will be going to the children in need. And a little manual labor does a body, mind, and heart good!
2. They’ll know help is close by (maybe right in their closet).
A lot of people ask if a special shoebox is required for Operation Christmas Child. Nope. Your kids can grab the one that’s sitting empty or storing excess LEGOs on their closet shelf. They’ll discover that they don’t have to go far to find a tool that creates joy—it could be right in their own bedroom!
3. Their toothbrush will feel like a gift.Gratitude is a great antidote to worry.
The gift suggestions list is broken down by gender and age, but all children need basics like a toothbrush. My 8-year-old son saw that a “Wow Item” for a boy his age is a harmonica. You know what my son’s “wow item” is? A gaming system or a cruise. As you pray over the basic items that are considered Christmas gifts for these boys and girls, your kids will notice how much they have to be thankful for. Gratitude is a great antidote to worry.
4. They’ll see that they are one cog in a big joyful wheel.
When we are stressed, it’s good to know we’re not alone. Not only will your child remember that your family is a team, but he or she will see that a project as big as Operation Christmas Child involves countless volunteers who pack and deliver the boxes. Showing your kids that the world is filled with good people who want to help others is a surefire source of feel-good goosebumps!
5. Another dose of joy is never far away.
Handing your filled shoebox gift over doesn’t have to be the end of the journey for your family. You can track the box to learn what country it winds up in and while you wait to find out, you can pray for whichever child will receive it. What a great way to make a one-day service project last for months. When another 2020 stressor pops up (Whadaya got next, 2020!?), you can talk it over, pray for peace, and track that box. Your kids will learn that even though things feel pretty out of control, their actions have the power to make a difference.
Operation Christmas Child is just one way to help out and relieve stress. What do you and your family like to do?