Friday, May 15, 2015

Taming the Stress Monster ~ Helping Children Manage Stress

Remember the Boogie Man? --That menacing phantom lurking in closets and under beds, robbing countless children of much needed sleep.  As the school year winds down, standardized tests, end-of-year projects, and increased academic and social demands all give birth to the insidious "Stress Monster" who terrorizes both day and night.  Our children are far busier than we were growing up. In every area of their lives, the expectations are consistently high. The emotional and physical demands are only compounded by the difficulties children encounter maintaining friendships and navigating a changing social scene. Like us, our children have their own life journeys, filled with triumphs and challenges. Stress will undoubtedly be a recurring part of it. Knowing how to tame that nasty Stress Monster will serve them well throughout their lives.
Tips for helping children manage stress:

Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Children need nutrient rich diets, 9-12 hours of sleep, and regular exercise to fuel their young bodies for the challenges of each school day. Many studies have shown that lack of sleep and poor nutrition can directly affect academic performance, mood and stress level. Regular exercise provides an outlet for negative emotions. Some studies suggest that it even causes stress fighting physiological changes in the body.

Improve organization. If the source of your child’s stress is homework, consider her organizational tools. Disorganization fuels stress. Are homework assignments logged in an agenda regularly? Are papers maintained in an organized binder or accordion file? Does she follow a daily routine? Consult your child's teacher for strategies if homework seems overwhelming or difficult.

Choose extra-curricular activities wisely. Be certain that your child has regular "down time" in his schedule. Children are happier, more relaxed and less stressed when activities are limited.

Teach relaxation techniques. Prayer, yoga, meditation and breathing exercises are all effective stress reducing techniques. Find the activities that work best for your child and encourage regular practice.

Take care of yourself! The very best way to help your child manage stress is to role model healthy strategies in your own life.
Learning to manage stress is an important skill for the entire family!

~Sheila Adams Gardner, Esq.              

Copyright©2015 Gardener Parenting Consultants, LLC.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Half-Time Adjustments – Ensuring Academic Success

Believe it or not, the first half of the school year has come and gone.  First semester grades are in, parent-teacher conferences have occurred and patterns (good and bad) have settled in. Now is the time for parents to consider ways in which we can bolster our children to ensure a successful end of the school year.

Our children need our continued support to finish the school year strong. For those experiencing difficulty, a triumphant school year remains within grasp if we assist them with setting realistic and achievable goals for the upcoming grading periods. Like many great coaches, parents may now need to make "half-time adjustments" to support their children. To do this, consider using the 3 "R's"--- Review, Renew and Reassure.

Reflect on the school year so far. What worked? What has become a challenge? Planning for future success requires us to look closely at past performance. Discuss with your child possible reasons for her performance. Have homework assignments been recorded in an agenda, completed and turned in on time? Did she have the required text books and supplies at home? Is she experiencing difficulty with hearing, vision or focus? Discussing these issues with your child will cultivate a sense of responsibility and ownership. It will also help you identify areas of concern to share with your child's teacher or doctor.

Renew your home environment so that it promotes academic success. Replenish school supplies and organizational tools. Does your child have a quiet, well lit place to do homework? Review your daily routine to make certain it provides for adequate homework time and rest. Enriched, educational home environments motivate children and foster learning. Update the educational toys and games so that they reinforce concepts your child is currently learning in school.

Children need our encouragement to build faith in themselves and their abilities. Each child will undoubtedly go through ups and downs during the school year. When children experience a series of academic disappointments, they are sometimes left feeling incapable of success. It is critical that we reassure them to build confidence, a sense of optimism and willingness to try. Encourage with words. Tell your child that you love him, are proud of him and believe that he is capable of reaching his goals. Compliment strengths as well as growth in challenges he has been working on. Be specific so that he knows exactly which behaviors warrant duplicating. When discussing your plan to address challenges, be positive. Remind your child that the new year brings with it opportunity for great change, and that you are always there to help. Encourage with affection. A hug, kiss, and even congratulatory high five or ‘fist pump’ can go a long way to reassure a child and build self esteem.

~Sheila Adams Gardner

 2015 © Gardener Parenting Consultants, LLC

Friday, September 12, 2014

Plan for Success!

"A wise person thinks ahead." Proverbs 13:16

Academic success does not happen by accident. Like every successful endeavor, it requires reflection and careful planning. It is never too early to teach children to plan for success through effective goal setting. Training a child to focus his energy toward realistic and achievable targets will give him the motivation and confidence necessary to tackle challenges throughout life.

The beginning of a new school year is a great time to help your child set personal goals. Depending on his age, encourage your child to establish personal goals in the key aspects of his life: Educational, Physical, Spiritual, Social and Financial goals. Write them down. For younger children, make it fun by drawing pictures or cutting and pasting photos representing their goals on a poster board. It is not enough to simply identify goals. It is important that your child articulate why the goal is important to her and list specific actions she will take to achieve those goals. If her goal is to receive an “A” in math, guide her in reflecting on what worked (or did not work) in the past, and list least three tasks she will do to meet that goal. Will she review her math facts daily? Meet with her teacher or tutor before each test? Check her agenda nightly to make sure homework is done on time? Write the strategies down. Place the board in a prominent place where your child will see it often.

As parents, we have our own, well defined goals for our children. Teaching them to set their own goals is challenging as it requires us to step back, listen and guide our children toward choices that are best for them. Your child’s goals must be her own. In order to develop this essential skill, she must take ownership of the goal setting process. This will build confidence and self advocacy skills, while instilling intrinsic motivation.  Give your child freedom to brainstorm ideas before offering advice. Remind him of past successes to help him make connections with what works for him. Guide him in choosing goals that are reasonably attainable within the year. Help him set priorities, if appropriate. For long term goals, focus on milestones that can reasonably be accomplished within the year. Support your child by providing resources and helping her develop skills to effectively organize her time. Make time to review goals periodically to help her maintain focus and make adjustments if necessary.

Positive reinforcement fuels motivation. Remember to consistently encourage your child by acknowledging the progress he is making toward his goal. Be specific when sharing your observations and praise so that he knows exactly what to repeat. When a goal is reached...Celebrate!

2014 © Gardener Parenting Consultants, LLC

Friday, July 11, 2014

Enjoy the Gifts of Summer

During the school year, we coax, push and sometimes carry our children toward the goals set for them. The hustle and bustle during the school year can prevent us from recognizing growth in our children and other changes that may require an adjustment in goals. The summer break gives us the chance to take a quiet look to see changes our children have made, new interests they have developed as well as areas of concern that may need attention. It also ‘gifts’ the entire family opportunities to connect, learn and grow together.

Special one-on-one time is an easy and effective way to connect with your child. Take time on a regular basis to talk, play games, do a craft, or go on special “mom and me” outings. Summer break gives us more time to explore questions, learn something new, and simply laugh with our children. Taking the time to make eye contact and carefully listen will affirm your child, and build self-esteem, confidence and trust; which will diminish power struggles and strengthen your relationship. 

Another great gift of summer is the freedom to investigate your child’s interests.  No time during the school year for a sport, fine art or other new interest? Allow your child to sample them through summer mini-camps or workshops. The value you place on exploring new interests will cultivate curiosity and courage in your child. Who knows? Maybe the seeds of a lifelong passion or future career will sprout in a camp this summer!

Make summer learning a fun family affair through outings to museums, theaters, parks, or historic sites. Studies show that ‘field trips’ improve student development, including critical thinking skills.[i] Enhance the experience by creating scavenger hunts and keeping journals about your experiences. At the end of the break, take note of family favorites for future fun.

Volunteer as a family. Grow closer while working side-by-side to support a local shelter, food bank or library. Allow your child to participate in selecting or creating the service project. This will actively engage your child in a worthwhile family activity while teaching responsibility, compassion, and leadership.

Enjoy the gifts of summer with your family!


2014 © Gardener Parenting Consultants, LLC

Greene, Jay P., Brian Kisida, and Daniel H. Bowen. "The Educational Value of Field Triips." EducationNext 14.1 (2014): n. pag. Web.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Healthy Living = Better Learning!

"The greatest wealth is health." ~Virgil

Did you know that a child’s dietary, sleep and exercise habits can have a significant effect on academic achievement? As parents, it is our primary responsibility to ensure that our children arrive to school physically ready to learn.

Studies have shown that poor eating habits can cause problems with focus and concentration, energy level and mood. In addition, children who do not regularly receive nutrient rich foods frequently experience illnesses, causing them to miss school and struggle to keep up in class.  Children of every age should eat balanced meals, rich with brain building nutrients including omega 3 oils, protein, and complex carbohydrates. Consider serving ‘brain boosters’ like eggs, salmon, tuna, peanut butter, lean meats or iron rich meat alternatives, whole grain breads, steel cut oatmeal, berries, beans, colorful vegetables (especially leafy green varieties) fruits, and vitamin D rich dairy products like cheese, milk and yogurt. Avoid ‘brain drainers’ like sugary processed foods and drinks. Don’t forget to serve lots of water! Water is essential for optimum brain function. Talk to your children about the importance of eating healthy food and encourage cooperation by allowing them to participate in selecting and preparing food.  

Sleep, particularly a lack of quality sleep can also take a toll on student achievement. Insufficient sleep can cause significant problems with focus, memory, behavior, mood and the overall wellbeing of children. Recent studies have even linked lack of sleep to obesity in children. According to the National Sleep Foundation, school aged children (ages 5-12) need 10-11 hours of sleep daily for optimum brain function. Teens need 8.5-9.5 hours. Sleep quality is just as important as sleep quantity. Strive to maintain a routine that ensures an adequate amount of uninterrupted sleep in a comfortable and quiet environment.

Exercise can also affect academic performance. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), citing a growing body of research suggests,"physical activity can have an impact on cognitive skills and attitudes and academic behavior, all of which are important components of improved academic performance. These include enhanced concentration and attention as well as improved classroom behavior" [i]  Children should have at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.  If your child’s school or extra-curricular activities do not provide daily exercise opportunities, make regular exercise a fun family activity.

Developing and maintaining these core healthy living habits will serve our children through a lifetime of learning!

2014 © Gardener Parenting Consultants, LLC

[i] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The association between school based physical activity, including physical  education, and academic performance. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2010. 

Friday, August 16, 2013


“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”~ Benjamin Franklin

Experience is indeed the best teacher.  However, as much as I hate to admit it, I am guilty of having robbed my children of important learning experiences. My nurturing personality, desire to get things done quickly,(and in a certain way) combined with my children’s disarming “cuteness” have often caused me to do things for them that they could and should have done for themselves. (Please forgive my lack of modesty here. Have I ever mentioned that my youngest has dimples?). Making the transition from “manager” to “coach” as a parent is difficult for many reasons. However, it is critically important to build the necessary life skills and self confidence our children will need in adulthood.

To make the transition:

  • Consider your child’s age and stage of development. What can they do? Look for tasks your child is physically able to complete in a reasonable amount of time.  To avoid overwhelming him, decide on a few new things at a time. Give him time to master a skill to build confidence and interest in learning more.

  • Discuss with your child why the chore is important and that you believe she is capable of success. Show her how to properly complete the task by doing it together. This may take several ‘training sessions.’

  • Always acknowledge your child’s progress. Be very specific with your praise to ensure he knows just what he should repeat.

Lastly, step back and watch her work. Resist the temptation to have things done exactly the way you would do them. Keep your focus on the end result. She may have her own style or approach when tackling a problem. Give her the opportunity to stretch herself and practice problem solving. You may even learn a few new things!


Copyright ©  2013 Gardener Parenting Consultants, LLC

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Summer’s Here – Time to Refresh!

“Summer is a great time to visit art museums, which offer the refreshing rinse of swimming pools – only instead of cool water, you immerse yourself in art.” – Jerry Saltz

Summer’s finally here.  Our children are ready for a break, but more than that, they’re ready for F-U-N!  Will they find it in swimming pools?  Probably.  How about art museums?  You’re thinking “maybe”?  Indeed, art museums may hold the elements of wonder and discovery that our children need after a year of worksheets, required reading, and science projects.  BUT, art museums are hardly your only option.  The important thing is that you use this time to help your child reconnect to his interests and explore.  Here are just a few things your child might do this summer:      
Do something new.  Make time for your child to try new hobbies.  Look for workshops your child can take that allow her to try new things without making a long-term commitment.   Local venues, including museums, community centers, sport centers, and theaters frequently offer such opportunities.  

Try new sports.  Summer may be an ideal time for your child to tackle a new sport without the pressure of tryouts during the school season.  Aside from sessions at day camp or sports clinics, consider asking a neighbor who excels in a sport that interests your child to give him some pointers.  If there is an opportunity to join your child, allowing you both to stay fit while having fun together, go for it!  There was friendly camaraderie in our house when my husband and I took up Tae Kwon Do, shortly after our sons started.     

Explore new worlds through reading.  With many reading assignments during the school year, students often find it difficult to catch up on their favorite series or branch out to other areas that interest them.  See if your child’s school reading list offers any wiggle room so that your child can meet her school’s requirements while diving into something that will really spark her curiosity and imagination.  Reading is fundamental for learning across all subjects, so keep those skills sharp. 
Get away.  Whether you take day-long field trips or plan family trips outside of your area, give your child a change of scenery.  It gives your child a broader perspective of life in this world and adds to his store of knowledge which he can apply to his classroom learning.  For example, if he is an American history buff, he’s sure to enjoy the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History, but he can really immerse himself in that era at Philadelphia’s Constitution Center and neighboring historic sites, all within a 4-block range.  The same can be said of many cities around the country, many of which are also in close proximity to more classic summer entertainment like amusement parks and beaches.      

Connect with family and friends.  Not only will you be nurturing bonds with true social and emotional anchors in your child’s life, but your child can learn more about who she is and her heritage through treasured conversations and experiences with loved ones and dear family friends.

Parents – do revel in the time you have with your children this summerYet, it is important to provide balance because school awaits in the fall.  Ultimately, make sure your children find time to:  (1) READ, (2) Practice (math and other skills), (3) Connect learning to real life, (4) Explore, and (5) have fun.  


Copyright ©2013 by Gardener Parenting Consultants, LLC