Are Daily Homework Battles Driving You Crazy?

Here are 11 Tips to Improve the Homework Experience for You and Your Child

HiResDoes your child struggle with homework? Kids who struggle with learning can find homework frustrating and exhausting (as in “tears, excuses, and tantrums” kind of frustrating and exhausting). And of course it only makes things worse when, for struggling students, assignments meant to take twenty minutes can take up to several hours.

Whether you and your child tackle homework immediately after school or a couple hours before bedtime, this kind of recurring routine is exhausting for kids and exhausting for parents, too.

How can you improve the daily homework experience for you and your child? Try following these tips:

Prep yourself

  • Prepare mentally. Before diving in with your child, take a few minutes to mentally prepare. Decide ahead of time what kind of attitude you’re going to embrace, and how you’re going to respond if things get tense or difficult.
  • Do a quick self-check. Before helping your child with his or her homework, take a quick self-check. Are you tired? Hungry? Frustrated about something that happened earlier in your day? If so, take a few minutes to eat a snack, catch a power nap, or do whatever you need to do to decompress. Make sure you are not bringing other frustrations or vulnerabilities into your time with your child. Homework can be challenging enough without someone bringing unrelated grumpiness to the table.
  • Practice mindfulness. If you feel your blood pressure start to rise while helping your child with his or her homework, try this. Turn your attention away from whatever it is your child is doing that is so frustrating, and pay attention instead to what is happening in your emotions and in your body. Observe yourself almost as if you were a detached third party. How are you feeling? Frustrated? Powerless? Defensive? What’s going on in your body? Are you clenching your teeth? Do you feel tension in your hands? Is your stomach in knots? This kind of mindfulness often diffuses the intensity of what you are experiencing and puts you in greater control. What’s particularly cool is that studies show this kind of mindfulness in educational settings reduces teacher burnout, increases compassion, and improves performance in the classroom. Why not reap the same benefits at home?

Prep your environment

  • Have what you need on hand. Pencils, paper, scissors, poster board, markers, calculator… you know the list. When you have study supplies readily at hand, it can reduce tension. Homework takes a significant time commitment as it is. Don’t add to that time by having to spend an hour looking for the slide rule, or having to drop everything and run to the store for poster board.
  • Practice familiar cues. Some kids thrive on routine, and you can create fun habits that can help your child’s brain take familiar paths to settling down and being productive. One writer explained that anytime he sat down to write, he wore the exact same ball cap. Before long, his brain began associating that ball cap with focused writing, and he found himself able to transition quicker into a state of productivity when wearing it. How about a Homework Hat? Or Lucky Math Pencil? What if you had your child write a list of affirmations on an index card and read them aloud every day before tackling homework assignments? Affirmations might include, “I can be focused when I need to be.” “I can do this.” “I’m ready to learn.” “I can do more than I think I can do.”
  • Try a new setting. Routine is good, but sometimes it can also help to shake things up a bit, either as a reward for a productive week, or to see if your child actually studies better in a different setting. How about a local coffee shop? A picnic table beneath a backyard tree? Dad’s favorite leather chair? A blanket tent in the living room?

Prep your child

  • Exercise physically before studying. Exercise is good for the body and it’s good for the brain, too. Instead of insisting that your child start his or her homework the moment after walking in the front door, see what happens if you insist he or she plays outside for an hour first. Studies show that physical exercise improves thinking and concentration, in the long run and immediately as well. In one study, for example, researchers discovered that children who walked or bicycled to school had better concentration for four hours longer than kids whose mothers drove them to school. For that matter, other studies using brain scans show that exercising before an exam has benefits, too.
  • Eat brain-healthy snacks. What are brain-healthy foods? Think good fats, lean protein, and complex carbs. Good fats can be found in omega-3 oils from fish, nuts, seeds, and dark leafy greens. Lean protein can be found in raw almonds, baked chicken, and organic plain yogurt with fresh fruit. Complex carbs can be found in whole grain tortillas, brown rice, and sweet potatoes. How important are healthy snacks for your homework-wrestling kid? Let’s talk about healthy fats for a moment, shall we? The difference between a diet of healthy, unsaturated fats and a diet of unhealthy, saturated fats is huge. In fact, in one study, rats on a diet filled with unhealthy fats developed learning difficulties. Dr. Philippa Norman, writing about that study, explained that “a child eating mostly processed cakes and crackers, French fries and fried meats loaded with trans and saturated fats, will build a different brain than a child who is eating broiled fish, nut butter, salad dressings made with olive or safflower oil, eggs and lean meats.”
  • Stay hydrated. There is simply no way to overstate the importance of getting enough water. Did you know that dehydration impairs focus and memory, causes brain fatigue and brain fog, and is linked with headaches, sleep issues, anger, and depression? And because water gives the brain the electrical energy it needs to function, it doesn’t take a huge water deficit to create problems.
  • Study in productive bursts. No dawdling allowed. Guestimate how long your child can work productively. If it’s ten minutes? Great. Forty minutes? Even better. Whatever the number, set a kitchen time for that length of time. When the timer goes off, take a ten minute break. Do jumping jacks. Visit the bathroom. Get a snack. Do the Hokey Pokey. Shoot some hoops. Now set the time for another block of study time. Over the coming days and weeks, gradually increase the block of time for productive study. What you are doing is helping your child develop the habit of being present and productive, even for short bursts of time. If you don’t teach your child to be intentional about being productive, it’s all too easy for him or her to develop other habits, like wriggling in the chair, pretending to look busy, procrastinating, complaining, dawdling. By allowing your child to sit at the table and practice wasting time, he or she is reinforcing poor habits. Far better to practice being mentally present and productive, even if it is for short bursts of time that can gradually be lengthened.

“I’m the Stupidest Kid in My Class!"

What to Do When Your Kid Says Heartbreaking Words Like These

iStock_000034604652_MediumWhen their hearts break, our hearts break. It’s one of the excruciating mysteries and blessings of being a parent.

We love our kids, and know just how amazing they really are. So when one of our kids is feeling inadequate or discouraged, we want desperately to fix the hurt.

It’s not easy knowing the right thing to say or do. And even when we have a good idea of what to say, it’s not always a quick fix.  Just like the adults who love them, kids sometimes need time to process the insecurities and disappointments of life.

That said, here are some ways you can encourage a child who is feeling bad after comparing himself or herself to peers at school and coming up short.


  • Ask questions. If you child makes a statement like “I’m dumb” or “Nobody likes me” or “I can’t do anything right,” it’s tempting to rush into countering that statement, but consider taking a few moments and asking your child why he or she feels that way. Ask for specific examples. It may give you insights into how to better respond.
  • Explore famously successful failures. Talk with your child about people who experienced great failures in life, and yet went on to accomplish amazing, innovative things. Albert Einstein didn’t speak until he was four and was even expelled from school. Abraham Lincoln experienced failures in the military, business, and politics. Stephen Spielberg was rejected from the University of Southern California School of Theatre three times. Elvis Presley was told by an influential person in the music industry, “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to driving a truck.” Here’s an interesting website listing 50 famously successful people who failed at first that you and your child might enjoy reading together.
  • Don’t believe everything you hear. Did someone say something demeaning to your child? Talk with your child about the spectrum of motives that can drive someone to say something demeaning. The truth is, people say things for lots of reasons, including jealousy, ignorance, the need to elevate themselves, the fact that misery loves company. Can your child come up with other motives? The point is, not everything that comes out of the mouths of others is true or motivated by truth, so allowing ourselves to define ourselves by what other people say is a really bad idea. We can’t control what other people say or think, but we can be diligent gatekeeper of what we receive and internalize. Together can you and your child come up with a list of more reliable indicators of who we are and our true value?
  • Don’t believe everything you think. Just as it’s important to learn how to evaluate what other people say about us and reject what isn’t true, we have to do the same with what we find ourselves thinking about ourselves. What are some common lies people believe about themselves? Consider sharing with your child an experience you’ve had with believing a lie about yourself, and how you came to recognize the lie and embrace the truth instead.
  • Substantiate your praise. When a kid says something like, “I’m stupid,” it’s easy to shoot back with a 180 degree statement like, “You’re not stupid,” or “Don’t say that; you’re very smart.” But don’t stop there. It doesn’t help to simply say the opposite of what your child just said without explaining why. Give specific examples of why you something other than what your child is expressing.
  • Find and develop your child’s strengths and gifts. No one can be great at everything, but everyone can be great at something. Make sure to expose your child to lots of opportunities to discover something he or she is passionate about (because what we’re passionate about, we tend to also become skilled at doing). Knitting? Frisbee golf? Volunteering in the community? Sketching? Electronics? Singing? Horseback riding? Doing random acts of kindness? Being the family “barista” and making the best coffee drinks in the house? Baking cookies? Training the family dog? Knowing we are good at something—whatever that is—is a confidence builder that can keep us from defining ourselves (and feeling crushed by) life’s inevitable failures and disappointments.
  • What are you modeling for your child? Examine your own beliefs about failure. Do you think failure, in your life or in the lives of your spouse or children, is something of which to be ashamed? Or is it a stepping stone to better things? Something to learn from? Even something admirable, a sign that someone is getting out of their comfort zone and trying new things? And while you’re at it, you might want to consider your philosophies regarding confidence, self-esteem, and peer-comparisons in your own life. The point is, are you modeling inadequacies, insecurities, and shame that are similar to what your child is dealing with now? If so, don’t despair. You’re in a great position to model for your child how to rethink limiting beliefs and embrace healthier perspectives instead.
  • Separate facts from shame-based interpretations of those facts. Let’s say your child feels “stupid” because he or she failed an exam. Help your child learn how to separate facts from shame-based interpretations of those facts. Fact: Your child failed an exam. Acknowledge the fact. Don’t sugar coat it (“Maybe it won’t impact your final grade”) or deflect blame (“Your teacher must not have presented the information clearly”).  Accept the fact, but don’t accept a shame-based interpretation of that fact. The fact that your child failed a test does not say anything about his or her worth as a person. It doesn’t mean she is stupid. It doesn’t mean he is a failure as a student or a person.
  • Take an action. Once you separate fact from shame-based interpretations, brainstorm with your child a list of answers to the question, “What can we learn from this experience, and what can we do that will create a different outcome next time?” Make a list of actions your child can take.
  • Consider interventions to remove recurring obstacles to learning. If your child is feeling inadequate or discouraged in school, there may very well be a reason that is beyond his or her control. In fact, studies show that 80% of learning struggles are caused by one or more weak cognitive skills. Cognitive skills are the foundational skills the brain uses to think and learn, and include long- and short-term memory, visual processing, auditory process, and logic & reasoning. Extremely bright kids (and adults, too) can have one or more weak cognitive skills that are making school, work, or life harder than it needs to be. One-on-one brain training is an intervention that identifies weak skills and strengthens them, removing the obstacles and making learning easier. At LearningRx, for typically $200 or less, you can have your child tested and identify any cognitive weaknesses that may be holding him or her back. If cognitive weaknesses are the problem, one-on-one brain training can strengthen those weaknesses in as little as twelve weeks. The improvements can be dramatic, and they are lasting. To learn more about LearningRx brain training, contact a center near you.

Are Your Child’s Learning Struggles Turning You into a Monster?

Five Tips to Regroup

HiResYou’re frustrated and frazzled. You’ve been nagging at your kids for hours. Snapping. Yelling, even. You’re not happy with how you’re acting, but you can’t seem to stop the momentum, pull a U-turn and get yourself off Witchy Lane and back onto Reasonable Avenue.

Welcome to the club.

Every parent has days when life’s challenges feel… well, challenging. And if you’re the parent of a kid who is struggling, those challenges can feel absolutely overwhelming. Stress (as we all know) can bring out the worst in all of us. And if you’re feeling the stress of herding a resistant child through hours of homework, dealing with angry outbursts, or being stretched too thin, that stress can prompt you to respond in ways you know aren’t helpful.

If the stress of being parent has been turning you into someone you barely recognize, here are five suggestions to make you feel more like yourself again:

Attend to yourself. You may have seen the Snickers Super Bowl commercial in which we get to see what happens to Marcia and Jan when they’re hungry. It’s a hilarious commercial, to say the least. But it makes a good point. When we’re legitimately hungry, we can find ourselves responding badly to stresses or obstacles in our lives.

A self-care acronym taught in many recovery groups is H.A.L.T., which stands for hungry, angry, lonely, tired. It’s a reminder to pay attention to your state of mind, especially when you find yourself making choices that aren’t helpful.

If you feel yourself overreacting to parenting challenges, take a quick assessment. Are you setting yourself up for this kind of overreaction by neglecting some of your most basic needs? Would you (and your kids!) benefit if there were a healthy snack or a quick nap in your immediate future?

Put yourself in time out. Time outs aren’t just for kids. When things start getting too intense, take a break. Go to your room, walk around the block, retreat to the kitchen. Go sit in your car for ten minutes if you need to.

The point is, interrupt the escalation by removing yourself from the situation. Turn your attention away from whatever it is your child is doing that is so frustrating, and pay attention instead to what is happening in your emotions and in your body. Observe yourself almost as if you were a detached third party. How are you feeling? Frustrated? Powerless? Defensive? What’s going on in your body? Are you clenching your teeth? Do you feel tension in your hands? Is your stomach in knots? This kind of mindfulness often diffuses the intensity of what you are experiencing and puts you in greater control.

What’s particularly cool is that research has shown that this kind of mindfulness in educational settings reduces teacher burnout, increases compassion, and improves performance in the classroom. In other words, it helps teachers become better teachers. Can it help you become a better parent? Try it and find out.

Try whispering. Is yelling at your kids working? Probably not. In fact, raised voices can sometimes cause everyone to escalate their intensity and volume. Try lowering your voice instead, speaking in a below-normal volume.

It may take a few minutes for your kids to notice that your mouth is moving, but once they do there’s a chance they’ll be curious enough about whatever it is you’re saying to lower their own volume so they can hear. This may not work every time, but it’s worth a try. It really can de-escalate the chaos and create space for a productive conversation.

Give your family a heads up. One woman explained that, when she’s grumpy or stressed and realizes she’s in danger of overreacting, she lets her family know by wearing a particular piece of “comfort clothing.” It’s her favorite tattered old robe, and her family knows that when that robe shows up, it’s in their best interest to give mom a little extra cooperation and space.

If the tattered robe doesn’t do it for you, try simply explaining, “Okay, gang, I’m feeling stressed and don’t want to say or do anything we’re all going to regret later, so consider yourself warned. I need __________” and you can fill in the blank. No arguing for twenty minutes? Everyone working quietly on homework for a spell? Some space to decompress? Fifteen minutes of everyone picking up toys and straightening the house? Be specific.

The simple act of communicating where you are on the “losing it” continuum—and how your family can help you keep that from happening—can make a big difference in the quality of the rest of your day or evening together.

Realize laughter can be a game changer. Another mom tells the story of being enmeshed in a screaming match with her teenaged daughter when her daughter suddenly glared at her, crossed her arms, and said tauntingly, “Don’t tell me what to do. You’re not my mother.” They stared at each other for a moment and then burst into laughter. The mom explains, “Her accusation was so sassy and ludicrous, it immediately broke the tension. To this day, one of us will say to the other, ‘You’re not my mother’ and we’ll crack up laughing.”

Research shows that laughter lowers blood pressure, decreases stress hormones, and relaxes muscles. Laughter also creates a sense of trust and connection. Bottom line, finding something to laugh about together is a great way to immediately change the atmosphere in any interaction, particularly a tense one.

Everybody “loses it” sometimes, but very of us feel good about the experience after the fact. Put these five tips into practice and you just might find yourself “losing it” a lot less.

How Facebook Could Be Working Hand-in-Hand With Your Own Brain Chemistry

Why do you keep going back?

Social networksDid you know that 864 million people use Facebook on a daily basis? Or that the time spent on Facebook per user per day is more than twenty minutes?

What’s very interesting is that much of the success of Facebook can be attributed to brain chemistry.  The way Facebook is set up triggers the release of dopamine, a brain chemical that is linked to pleasurable feelings of reward, and also oxytocin, the “love hormone” that helps us feel close to people we care about.

One of the things about Facebook that releases the feel-good chemical dopamine in our brains is simply looking at pictures of attractive people.  And because these people are usually folks that we know and care about, it can also increase the release of oxytocin.

Looking at pictures of people we care about can also lower our stress. According to Charles Raison, M.D., “One of the few things, I think, that is absolutely clear in the world scientific literature … is this repeated finding that the more social connections a person has that are positive, the better their health is going to be, the less illnesses they’re likely to have, and less likely they are to get depressed.”

The stress hormone that is at the root of many of the negative effects of stress is called cortisol. When we feel supported by friends on Facebook, it can help lessen the pain caused by the release of cortisol.

It’s no wonder Facebook is so popular. After all, it uses our own brain chemistry to keep us coming back!

Eat Your Way to a Healthier Mind

To Lower Alzheimer’s Risk, Eat More of These 10 Foods (And Less of These 5)

Steak BiteAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, with one in three senior adults being impacted by the disease.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that a new study offers hope for people who want to lower their risk for Alzheimer’s.

Researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, have developed a diet plan (which they refer to as the MIND diet) that they say may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by as much as 53 percent. That’s for people who follow the diet rigorously. But even people who follow the diet “moderately well” see results, decreasing their risk of developing Alzheimer’s by about a third.

The MIND diet divides foods into 10 food categories that are healthy, and 5 food categories that are to be avoided or limited.

The foods you should be eating come from these food groups: Green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, wine (one glass a day).

The foods you need to limit are the usual suspects. What’s nice about the MIND diet is that that these foods aren’t eliminated, just restricted. That means that juicy steak isn’t out of your life forever.  Here are the five food groups from which you should indulge sparingly: red meat (limit to four servings a week), butter and margarine (limit to less than a tablespoon per day), cheese (limit to one serving a week), pastries and sweets (limit to five servings to week), and fried and fast foods (limit to once a week).

Introverts and Extroverts Have Different Brains

Where do you get your energy?

PrintMost people think of themselves as either an extrovert or an introvert, and they often think it has to do with how outgoing or shy they are.

And yet introversion and extroversion are actually based on where we get our energy. An easy way to tell if you’re an introvert or an extrovert is to answer this question: After a long week of work, which would you rather do: spend some quiet time alone OR go out with friends? The introverts among us would prefer some alone time, because lots of interaction can be physically and emotionally draining – introverts lose energy through human interaction and need alone time to recharge. Extroverts, on the other hand, gain energy from interacting with others, so at the end of a busy work week, they crave time with friends and loved ones to recharge.

Research shows that the brains of extroverts and introverts actually look different, with each group processing “reward” differently. Compared to introverts, extroverts show greater activity in the amygdala and nucleus accumbens (areas linked to the brain’s reward system) when faced with risky, surprising, or unfamiliar situations. In other words, the brains of extroverts are wired to experience greater reward from unfamiliar situations. These same situations, however, can be overly stimulating for introverts, which can cause them to shut down.

There’s also research that shows that extroverts and introverts also process stimuli in different areas of the brain. For extroverts, new stimulation travels a relatively short path through the areas of the brain associated with taste, touch, and auditory and visual processing. For introverts, however, new stimulation takes a much longer, more complicated path through the areas of the brain associated with planning, remembering, and solving problems.

There is no “good” or “bad” to either side of the spectrum. In fact, extroverted people can be shy and introverted people can love public speaking. What’s important to know is that the brains of introverts and extroverts are wired differently. It’s also good to know how people on each side of the spectrum like to be treated. Check out these graphics for lots of helpful tips on the care and nurturing of the introverts and extroverts in your life!



Chocolate Improves Memory…In Snails!

Can I have a bite?

iStock_000003537039_MediumIn the category of “weird news of the day,” it turns out that scientists have discovered a way to study the impact of dark chocolate on memory skills. But not the memory skills of humans, many of whom would crawl on all fours to be chosen to eat chocolate for the advancement of science. No, the participants selected for this particular study were actually snails.

Researcher submerged snails for 30 minutes in either regular water, or water containing epicatechin, a flavonoid found in cocoa. Whenever the snails extended their breathing tubes, researchers poked them with a stick. The lead study author, Ken Lukowiak, Ph.D, compared it to tapping a sleepy student on the nose every time he yawned in class—eventually the student would remember not to yawn. Would the snails do the same?

Snails in “regular” water remembered the lesson for about three hours. Snails in the “chocolate” water remembered the lesson for 24 to 48 hours. According to Lukowiak, that’s huge. “To go from three hours to 24, you have to have altered gene activity in the neurons that make the memory.”

Luckily for us chocolate-loving humans, there are more pleasant ways to get our flavonoids. We say skip the chocolate bath and go straight for the Hershey’s.

Hello? Can You Hear Me?

How Smartphones Are Changing Your Brain


People who own smartphones often end up using their thumbs—a lot!—swiping through various touchscreens on an ongoing basis throughout the day.

All that thumb action can create physical changes in the brain, researchers say, leaving certain regions more active or even enlarged.

Scientists suspected this might be the case, since something similar happens to violinists. Regions of the brain associated with dexterity are larger in musicians who have played the violin for some time. Would smartphone thumbers show similar changes in brain activity?

Deciding to test the theory, researcher Arko Ghosh hooked 37 people—26 of whom frequently used  touch-screen smartphones—to something called an electroencephalograph. Sure enough, people who had used their smartphones a lot in the previous ten days showed increased activity in the part of the brain related to their thumbs. The eleven subjects who used cellphones with regular keypads did not show that same increased activity.

The moral of the story? We’re not sure what it all means, yet, but Ghosh did sum up his research by saying, “The digital technology we use on a daily basis shapes the sensory processing in our brains, and on a scale that surprised us.”

Liar, Liar

Tempted to Lie or Cheat? Some Scientists Say You’re More Likely to Give in to Temptation in the Afternoon

iStock_000000335618_MediumNot to give anyone an excuse for bad behavior or poor choices, but researchers are saying that “cognitive tiredness” later in the day can play a role in the decision to give in to temptation.

A number of studies seem to reveal similar findings. In one study, folks were far more likely to cheat on a task in the afternoon than in the morning. In another study, they were more likely to cheat after doing other tasks (like memorizing numbers) that left their brains somewhat fatigued.

Other researchers don’t agree. They say the studies that support what some call “morning morality” don’t take into consideration the difference between “morning” and “night” people. Their point is that you can’t really assume someone is more cognitively tired in the afternoon because that person may actually be operating at their peak at that time of day.

Try Brain Training for Yourself!

aAre you ready to give your brain a workout? One of the best ways to boost your brain power is to stress your brain with intense mental exercise, kind of like you might work out a muscle. When you do this, it strengthens the brain’s core cognitive skills, which happen to be the same skills your brain uses to think and learn.

This six-minute video walks you through the first couple levels of a LearningRx brain training exercise. There are many more levels of this exercise that our trainers can get you to. And this is just one exercise! LearningRx brain trainers have more than a hundred exercises and levels to choose from as they customize every workout to give you a faster, smarter, more efficient brain.

Try it and see what you think! And if you can feel your brain working this much just from being prompted by a video, imagine what it would be like working face-to-face with a personal trainer who really knows how to push your brain beyond where you thought it could go!