Monday, September 24, 2012

'Four Roles for Parents of Teens' Guest Article by Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D.

For the next few weeks, I am hosting guest articles by Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D. He is the author of the famous 1-2-3 Magic series used by parents and teachers of young children. He has recently written a book called Surviving Your Adolescents. In this post, he provides some valuable advice to parents of teens.

Four Roles for Parents of Teens
by Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D.

When something about your teenager is bothering you, stop and think for a moment before doing anything. Remember that adolescents take very unkindly to unnecessary intrusions into their business. Shooting from the hip can cause a lot of trouble.

You need to ask yourself two questions:

1. Does this problem really need my attention or intervention?

2. If it does, how involved should I try to get?

Four Possible Roles

There are basically four roles a parent of a teen can consider when responding to a problem. These roles vary, of course, in their level of intrusiveness. From least intrusive to most invasive they are: 1: Observer; 2: Advisor; 3: Negotiator; 4: Director.

As an Observer, you stay out of the trouble and merely watch what happens. This is an appropriate role, for example, for the Minor-But-Aggravating (MBA) types of problems, as well as other issues which you want to let the teen handle himself. MBAs can include the teen’s use of the phone, a messy room, musical preferences and sometimes not wanting to eat dinner with the family. Observing, of course, does not prevent you from being a good listener. With some minor problems, you may sometimes need to get involved if the situation gets worse.

As an Advisor, you express your opinion to your child, but not more than once (which is known as nagging!), and you are ready to accept the possibility that the teen may not take your advice. Perhaps you have some words of wisdom about study habits, or your daughter’s treatment of her boyfriend, or your son’s dress when he’s leaving for work. Don’t open your mouth, though, unless you think your idea’s pretty good and you’re sure you haven’t shared it before.

If you choose to be a Negotiator, you are going to sit down, talk the problem over, and try to come to some resolution. Negotiating is more and more appropriate as your kids get older. And remember one cardinal rule: rarely can you successfully negotiate with a teen right on the spot. Bringing up a problem on the spur of the moment is a great idea only if you want to start a fight! What do you do instead? You make an appointment. That’s right. Sound too business-like or shrink-like? Too bad. Make an appointment or start a war.

Finally, if you take on the role of Director, you are going to impose a solution—whether the teenager likes it or not—when you feel a problem is serious and your adolescent is not handling it well. Perhaps your 15-year-old daughter is smoking in her bedroom, or your son’s grades have all just dropped significantly, or someone is not respecting his or her curfew. Even though the kids are older, there may still be times when a parent has to put her foot down.

How do you decide which role to take? Let’s assume that you are in reasonably good emotional shape (if you’re not, you’d better not deal with a troublesome teen). After that consideration is taken care of, several others should be kept in mind.

1. All in all, how well is your child functioning?

In general, the better your child is doing, the less you need to be involved, and the more you can stay with Observer or Advisor roles. As the kids get older, they also should also be growing more independent and competent, so you will treat a seventeen-year-old much differently on some issues than a thirteen-year-old. Kids who are having a lot of trouble, however, will usually need more involvement. This does not mean, however, large, regular doses of the Four Cardinal Sins: Arguing, Lecturing, Nagging and Spur-of-the-Moment Problem Discussions!

2. How good is your relationship?

If you get along well with your teenager, any kind of intervention is easier.

The child will accept advice from you more easily, and it is also easier to talk things over when negotiation is necessary. You won’t need to take charge as much. A bad relationship, however, may mean you have to be a Director more often; negotiating and advice may become almost ridiculous or impossible. If your rapport with the teen is really bad, make sure you don’t open your mouth unless you have a very good reason.

3. How serious is the problem?

With less serious difficulties, you should be sticking more with the less intrusive alternatives. Keep in mind that your level of aggravation about a problem is not always the measure of the real seriousness of the problem. Examples? Six earrings on only one ear, jeans with holes, messy rooms, sibling rivalry, occasionally eating junk food and other MBAs. On the other hand, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, ADD and conduct disorder are serious, and these problems justify concern as well as more parental intervention.

In trying to decide what role to play, therefore, your general philosophy should be to stay out of the kids’ problems unless it is necessary for you to get involved. The teens are at the point in their lives where they are supposed to be handling things more and more on their own, and inappropriate attempts at direction from you can cause useless irritation and conflict.

Some people refer to this issue as “problem ownership.” Whose problem is it, really, and do you absolutely have to make it yours? If you have a teen who’s generally doing well academically, for example, but who is currently getting an F in Spanish because he hates the teacher for some weird reason, perhaps you can legitimately stay out of it. Or you have an average child who is dragging his feet in looking for a job, or wearing some kind of weird t-shirt to school. Maybe your “help” isn’t needed and you can let the big, bad world instruct your youngster.

Getting Mixed Up

A lot of trouble can occur when a parent decides to take one role and his child assumes that another role would be more appropriate. Sixteen-year-old Michelle, for example, plans to go on a double date on Saturday night. She and a girlfriend and two guys will go from a suburb to Chicago on the train to hear a concert in the evening. The four kids will return together afterwards on a train that departs from the big city at 11:30 p.m. In the middle of the week, however, the plans change. It turns out that neither of the guys can go. Michelle informs her father that she and her girlfriend will go alone. Dad says, “No way,” and a royal argument ensues.

Part of the problem here is the role each of the combatants thinks Dad should take. Michelle thinks Dad should be only an Observer—or at most an Advisor. Dad, on the other hand, thinks he should be a Director if necessary. A lot of arguments take place when this unspoken difference of opinion occurs. These “discussions” are very confusing because two things—the actual problem and the parental role—are being talked about at the same time.

What to do? If you’re the parent, make up your mind what role is correct in the first place and then stick with it. Tell your teen what role you are going to take. If you have chosen a less intrusive role, such as advisor or observer, stay with it even if you get anxious or angry.

Your son, for example, is a junior in high school. He has just purchased a CD that consists of some of the most repulsive rap “music” you have ever heard. You decide, however, to shut your mouth and merely be an Observer. (Actually, you don’t even want to listen to the stuff.) One night, though, you and he start discussing his musical preferences. You express the opinion that his CD choices bear no resemblance to music and that they are also obscene. He says your music is sappy and has no real social message. One thing leads to another and you forbid him to play his junk in your house anymore.

This is a mistake. Anger has pushed you from Observer to an inappropriate Director role.

By the way, who was right in our other example, Michelle or Dad? The answer is Dad. His choosing the Director role was what he should have done. Two sixteen-year-old girls are not going downtown to the big city and back by themselves on a Saturday night.

# # #

Adapted from Surviving Your Adolescents: How to Manage & Let Go Of Your 13-18 Year Olds, Third Edition by Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D. © 2012 (available both as a book & an audiobook). Nationally recognized as an expert on child discipline and Attention Deficit Disorder, Dr. Phelan has practiced for over 25 years and he appears frequently on radio and TV. Over 1,300,000 copies of 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 books, videos and audiobooks have been sold (Spanish versions are also available). Visit your local bookstore for Surviving Your Adolescents, 1-2-3 Magic or any of Dr. Phelan’s other books, or call toll-free 1-800-442-4453 or at

 Dr. Thomas W. Phelan is an internationally renowned expert and lecturer on child discipline and Attention Deficit Disorder. He appears frequently on radio and TV, including regular appearances on "Fox News in the Morning" on WFLD-TV in Chicago. He has been quoted in numerous publications, including Parents Magazine, Reader's Digest, Today's Parent, Ladies Home Journal, and The Wall Street Journal.

A registered Ph.D. clinical psychologist in private practice since 1972, Dr. Phelan has produced many video, book and audio titles for parents and teachers.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Review of 'Be the Star You Are! For Teens'

Be the Star You Are! For Teens is a recent collection from teen empowerment expert and life success coach, Cynthia Brian. It is a collection of 74 stories designed to empower and inspire teens. At least half of the stories are penned by Brian herself. Others are written by other motivational speakers and writers, as well as several teenagers. It is endorsed by teen celebrities.

Each story is designed to demonstrate how to achieve a particular goal, be it achievement, communication, imagination, serendipity, volunteerism, etc. Following each installment is a page of exercises that can be done to achieve each goal, as well as an inspirational quote. It is extremely bubbly and happy, almost sugary sweet, which is designed to elicit a positive response in the reader.

The book is not meant to be read in one sitting. It should be attacked one concept at a time, then digested to allow for understanding and reflection. It may help for readers to maintain a journal while making their way through the book, so that they can chart their own successes and track what still needs to change.

Teenagers who want to find meaning in their lives are going to be more likely to pick up this book and read through it. Others aren't going to want to let anyone know that they are reading a self-help book. For these teens, casually place the book in a basket of reading material in the bathroom or other out-of-the-way place. In the utmost privacy, they may just page through it and pick up some tips here and there. Don't call attention to the reluctant teen reading it, as that will guarantee it is set aside and not touched again.

Parents, teachers, and other mentors to teenagers can read through the book to choose stories to share to elicit conversation with their own children or in groups. It could be used in clubs, sports, or youth groups as a conversation tool.

Adults can also find some benefits by reading through the entries. It is never too late to start making positive changes in your life.

Cynthia Brian is a motivational speaker who can be heard on the radio on a weekly basis. Proceeds from the sale of this book will benefit her charity Be the Star You Are! which promotes literacy in people of all ages.

Visit her website at and the charity at

Purchase in paperback

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Monday, September 17, 2012

'Kids, Porn, and Parents' Guest Article by Mary Jo Rapini

Mary Jo Rapini is the co-author of the book Start Talking: A Girl's Guide for You and Your Mom about Health, Sex, or Whatever. She is also a widely published psychotherapist, who is dedicated to improving the parent-child relationship. In this guest article, she tackles the topic of porn and kids.

Kids, Porn and Parents 
by Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC

Gone are the days when parents used to find a Playboy magazine hidden in their son's room. Whether it was under the mattress or hidden among the trash, mom had an intuition about it and knew. Today's porn is different and it's a lot more dangerous. It's unlimited and teens don't have to buy anything to view it. The porn is on their phone and they are capable of making their own porn.
Husbands may get caught viewing porn, but the kids never do. They don't because they are more adept at creating their own porn websites and covering up their tracks. Sue Berelowitz who is a Deputy Children's Commissioner in London reported that kids are watching porn and enacting it. It's not only happening in the UK. It's happening in the U.S. and in many other countries.  Parents have no idea because kids can get into anything they like on their phones, and they are geniuses with technology compared to most of their parents. Viewing pornography at such a young age changes adolescents' ability to understand what is normal. The porn teens are making is violent, sadistic and very ugly, reports Berelowitz.
There is no way to know what our adolescents will end up acting like if they become addicted to porn at such a young age. We do know that outrageous pornographic video clips are becoming a more common social activity among teens. According to Norman Doidge in, "The Brain That Changes Itself," porn must grow more shocking to please the viewer because once the brain views it, the porn loses its ability to excite as much. The brain grows numb with the same stimuli after awhile. These are kids, and kids aren't able to understand the fact that what they are engaging in now will have negative consequences on their life later. Teens have always looked for more outrageous ways to stand out among their friends, and if they can make a deplorable forbidden or disgusting video they may feel "socially accepted" even if it is for creating something disgusting.
Teens who are addicted to porn become socially anxious, depressed and awkward with reality. They aren't able to secure a "real date" or even know how to flirt in real life with someone. Many of them end up with erectile dysfunction while still in their teens. If all you view is pornography and unrealistic sex, you won't be able to function normally, and we have no idea how long the effect of this will last.
Perhaps the worst part of all of this is that girls (and boys) within a couple years age difference are the ones being emotionally and sexually exploited. Many of them are sending nude photos of themselves, as well as video clips of them doing violent acts with one another. Teens can coerce teens to do things that they would never do with anyone else, and all of this happens with the parents having no idea.
If you are a parent and you have a pre-teen or teen, your ability to monitor whether they are viewing porn is limited. They use incognito websites, and they know how to erase histories of where they have been. However, it is wise to raise your awareness and to begin the discussion with your child. Telling yourself that your child would never do this only heightens the chance that they would, could or are.  If your child has a phone, they do have the opportunity, and being a teen they have the "know how."
Suggestions to begin the conversation would start with monitoring your child's phone. However, due to the skill level of teens hiding the information, opening a dialogue will be the best approach.

1.  Begin a dialogue (a conversation) and stay away from threats and shaming. Parents have a belief that if they attack or make their child feel guilty the behavior will stop. Teens addicted to porn are getting rewarded by watching it and the social accolade they get from their peers. If parents attack rather than talk, the child will become more anxious and resort to using porn to comfort that feeling.
2.  Encourage your child to seek other ways to cope with stress, their moods, and their feelings. Things such as exercise, getting outside, connecting with others in person, meditation, and focus on being there more physically will help them to cope.

3.  Teens are hugged less often by their parents than in any other stage of their development. The teen years are some of the most challenging, and therefore teens need more, not less, hugs from their parents. Hugging your teen can help them feel reassured that they aren't bad; they are suffering from an addiction.
4.  The worst part of a porn addiction for a teen or anyone else is the withdrawal from others and the isolation the addiction demands. Since it is virtual and not real, it is not fulfilling on an emotional level. The addicted person begins to feel separate and they begin withdrawing from others they were once connected to.

5. Talking to your child about a real relationship and reinforcing real relationships with them can make a huge difference. Explaining to them that porn actors or people who partake in porn are creating illusions. They aren't interested in long lasting, safe, intimate, and loving relationships. Talking to your children about this will go much further in helping them resist peer pressure and manage a healthy sexual curiosity than shaming or ridiculing them for watching porn.
Families who are engaged and talk together discourage porn use naturally. Encourage your child to ask questions and be there to help answer them. Take at least one day a week for family dinner and make sure your presence is felt in your child's life. Also, something as simple as being a good example or mentor of what a loving, intimate relationship looks like with your child's other parent can help.

The teen and pre-teen years are a challenge for everyone in the family, but no other time in your child's life will offer the opportunity to influence your child as much with a healthy, loving relationship.
Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl's Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever. Read more about the book at and more about Rapini at

Friday, September 14, 2012

'Side by Side: 20 Collaborative Projects for Crafting With Your Kids'

Crafting is always more fun and more meaningful when it’s shared with those you love. Discover the joy of working alongside your child while creating arts and crafts that inspire. With these twenty whimsical projects in a variety of mediums, you and your child will find fun ways to work collaboratively and independently—together on the same project, or side by side on related projects. Create Giant Newspaper Snowflakes that take traditional paper snowflakes to magical new levels. Create surprising monoprints that take glitter glue to new heights. Explore the versatility of embroidery with a child-friendly version that uses a leaf as the canvas and a more advanced version that uses a child’s drawing for stitching inspiration. Get out in the garden and plant a Living Willow Teepee that will be a perfect playhouse and retreat for years to come.

Some of life’s best moments are spent simply doing things in the presence of the ones we love, not necessarily doing the same thing together, but being together and working side by side. The craft projects in this book will help you to create just those moments with your child.

Print Editions:
Format: Paperback
Publication Date:August 14, 2012
Trim Size:7 1/2 x 10
List Price:$19.95 USD

Promotional information provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

'Language is Music: Over 70 Fun & Easy Tips to Learn Foreign Languages' Review

Language is Music: Over 70 Fun & Easy Tips to Learn Foreign Languages by Susanna Zaraysky is a beneficial compliment to any language learning program. In it, Zaraysky provides tips that she used to assist her through the years while she learned to speak English, Russian, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Serbo-Croatian.

She relates the learning of language to that of learning music. You have to tune your ear to hear the melodies of different languages in order to recreate them. Pay attention to the tempo, tone and emphasis within each syllable, just like you would to the notes in a song. Practice the language daily, just as you would practice playing an instrument daily. The new language is your instrument.

Immersion is the best way to learn a new language. Zaraysky recommends listening to music, watching TV, and viewing films in your target language. Listen to phrases again and again. Practice repeating them until you can mimic the intonation and pronunciation. Make vocabulary lists of new words. Practice translating. Create flashcards. Listen, watch, write.

When you start getting comfortable in the new language, try to converse with others in that language. Ideally, you would look for someone who is a native speaker in the target language, but any exchange is beneficial. Perhaps you could help someone learn English as you learn his language. Practice in person or online. Zaraysky provides numerous online resources and tips for local resources, throughout her book.

Make yourself perform daily tasks, such as balancing the checkbook, by using the target language. The more you make it a part of you and your routine, the more likely you are to remember it.

Language is Music is not going to guarantee that you memorize grammatical structures and vocabulary quickly for an upcoming test or exam. It's not a quick shortcut to make you the star of the class. It's designed for people who are seriously looking for a way to become more proficient in their foreign language studies.

Keep in mind that languages come easily to Zaraysky. Some people are gifted in that regard. Nevertheless, she has had to work hard to develop fluency and has found these techniques to work a better than the rote memorization found in traditional foreign language classes. Applying her techniques as a supplement to what you are already doing will allow you to use different parts of your brain and achieve greater success in your foreign language endeavors.

Purchase in paperback

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Monday, September 10, 2012

'10 Easy Tips to Help Your Teen Study for a Test' Article by Ann K. Dolin

Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed. is the author of Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework. In this guest article, she offers parents suggestions as to how to help their teens prepare for tests.

10 Easy Tips to Help Your Teen Study for a Test
by Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed.
Helping your child study effectively for tests is vitally important in the elementary years. When the groundwork for good habits is set early on, students are more likely to experience success and have increased motivation. You can make a difference in your child's academic performance now and in the future by trying some of the following tips.     

  1. Use a Dry Erase Board

To practice for an upcoming test, write a few math problems on a small dry erase board. Kids love using dry erase boards and many prefer them over traditional pencil and paper. Try out different color markers; color increases attention, so don't be afraid to use bold hues. 


  1. Play Beat the Clock

Print out math facts that need to be memorized for an upcoming test from websites such as or These sites allow you to select specific areas to concentrate on such as multiplying with fours or addition of twos. Practicing one fact pattern at a time leads to quicker mastery. Jot down the time it takes your child to work through the page. During the next practice session, set the timer for that amount of time and say, "I bet you can't beat the clock!" Keep decreasing the time as your child progresses.

Practicing for Spelling Tests


  1. Try Rainbow Writing

Kids love Rainbow Writing for spelling words. Instead of writing the words over and over to practice, they trace the words with two or three different colored pencils. Using color helps kids to remember their spelling words on test day and this method is far more fun and interesting.


  1. Play the Piano

Often, when children learn with a hands-on approach, they are better able to lodge the information into long-term storage. Instead of asking your child to spell out loud, tell them to play the words on the piano -- not a real piano, but to pretend his fingers are the piano keys. For example, one difficult word for kids to spell is "because". Have your child tap his right pinky on the table and say "b", then tap his right ring finger, and say "e", and so on. Encourage him to pause between syllables so that it sounds like "b-e-/    c-a-u-s-e". 


  1. Make Up Silly Sentences

Sometimes, common sight words don't follow phonetic patterns. The word "friend" is one such example. Teach your child a silly sentence such as "Fri your friend to the end" to teach these tricky words.       

Preparing for Science and Social Studies

  1. Utilize Acronyms

Researchers have found that using acronyms can help students improve their memory skills by connecting to-be-learned information to what the learner already knows. One common memory aide is HOMES, which is an acronym for the Great Lakes -- Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior. This strategy is flexible; it can be used with virtually any type of rote memorization. Once students are shown how to use this technique, they come up with all kinds of catchy acronyms to make retention easier.       


  1. Let Your Child Hold the Cards

If your child has flashcards that he needs to study, let him hold the cards and quiz you. Studies show that merely allowing the student to hold the cards and take on the role of the teacher increases time on task and retention of information.              

  1. Draw a Picture

Another easy way for a student to increase memory when using flashcards is to add a picture. By simply drawing a picture next to the to-be-learned term, the student is creating a mental image in his mind's eye, which triggers the definition. For example, if the vocabulary word is "docile", his drawing might be of his dog, who is good natured and easy to train. 


  1. Try Out a 3x5 Card

Encourage the use of a 3x5 card so that your child can quiz himself and review independently. When your child has a study guide or an old quiz from which to study, he should read the question, cover the answer with a 3x5 card, and try to recite the correct response. If he gets it right, he checks it off and goes to the next one. If it's wrong, he practices a few more times until the information is down pat.     

And Most Importantly...


  1. Plan Ahead

Breaking down study time over a few days is far better and a lot less stressful than studying the night before. When your child has an upcoming test, help him break the study time into increments. Have him write these simple tasks in his planner or on your family calendar. For example, if there's a science test on Friday, he may jot down "practice flashcards" on Wednesday and "review study guide" on Thursday. 

By teaching valuable study skills now, your child will be able to reap the benefits of better grades, a deeper understanding of the material, and increased confidence.

Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed., is the founder and president of Educational Connections, Inc., a comprehensive provider of educational services in Fairfax, VA and Bethesda, MD. In her award-winning book, Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework, Dolin offers proven solutions to help the six key types of students who struggle with homework. Learn more at or

Friday, September 7, 2012

'Be the Mom: Overcome Attitude Traps and Enjoy Your Kids'

The role of mom is often described as the most important job in the world. Rightly so, for so much is at stake during children’s early years and moms are central in shaping character and personhood. However, when the going gets tough (the endless diapers, the continual messes, the endless conflict resolution, the complete lack of personal time, etc.), moms are often tempted to quit their “mom-job”. While few would endorse an outright abandonment of motherhood, others may recommend that a woman treat her role as secondary to personal desires in order to combat feelings of discouragement and/or unfulfillment. The enemy has laid intentional traps cleverly designed to discourage and redirect a woman towards self rather than family. Moms need to know how to recognize these traps . . . and avoid them. Be the Mom: Overcome Attitude Traps and Enjoy Your Kids explores and validates the life of a mom who makes her family a priority and introduces the reader to seven Mom Traps that may be preventing them from a full, joy-filled life.

Print Editions:
Format: Paperback
Publication Date:August 01, 2012
Trim Size:5 1/2 x 8 1/4
List Price:$12.99 USD

Information provided by the publisher via NetGalley.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Review of 'Second Chance: The Story of a Father's Faith, a Mother's Strength, and a Child's Will to Live'

Second Chance: The Story of a Father's Faith, a Mother's Strength, and a Child's Will to Live by Kip Moore is a heart-wrenching story of one family's struggle with E.coli illness in their young eighteen-month-old son, named Chance. Mr. Moore has chosen to share their story, in the hopes of promoting awareness of the problem, and to help families in similar situations to keep the faith.

It all started when the Moore family was on vacation, spending a day at Mount Rushmore. After a random TV interview at the historic site, they decide to go to a local restaurant.

Soon after, Kip found himself feeling quite ill, with flu-like symptoms, lack of appetite, and diarrhea that lasted for ten days. His doctors told him he probably had a small case of food poisoning. Chance became ill the same evening, vomiting repeatedly. The next day, he began to have massive amounts of diarrhea, and even started to pass bloody stools.

The first trip to the pediatrician simply gave Chance some fluids to rehydrate him. When symptoms didn't improve the next day, the Moore family was instructed to take him directly to the Children's Hospital. And thus began a month-long roller coaster ride.

Tense moments, close calls, amazing people, and medical miracles fill the following 100+ pages. Even those who do not have their own children cannot help but feel the pain of a family waiting with baited breath to see if their precious baby is going to live or die. Their unwavering faith and devotion to each other, as well as reengaging with a higher power is inspirational.

This is a book that parents should read, especially as problems with E.coli and other forms of contamination are running rampant today. Chance's parents were not educated on the symptoms of E.coli infection and the outcome could have been quite different. The book also teaches parents how to find faith and to believe in miracles, while also fighting for the rights of their children. No one knows a child better than his parents, and parents need to be their child's biggest advocate.

The book also provides up-to-date information about E.coli, with links to the latest research and organizations. Again, the goal of the book is to arm readers with information, in the hopes that other families don't have to go through the same horror story that the Moore family faced back in the summer of 2005.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, September 3, 2012

'Launch Your Child for School Success' - Guest Article by Ann K. Dolin

Ann K. Dolin is the author of the book Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework. In this guest article, she provides tips for parents, just in time for back to school.

Launch Your Child for School Success
by Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed.

Michael is a freckle-faced fourth grader always on the move. He loves to read, write and do well in class, so his mom was surprised when Michael's teacher reported that he was not handing in his daily homework. She certainly checked every night to make sure it was done.

A visit to the family's home after school one day revealed the source of Michael's problem. School papers from all three of her high-energy children were strewn randomly throughout the house. One backpack was in the hallway, another was on the dining room table and a third was on the kitchen floor. Mom said getting all three kids out the door on time with everything they needed for the school was a challenge. It was apparent that no matter how many times she reminded Michael to pick up his things and get ready for school, he was leaving home without his homework in his backpack.

I suggested Mom try a simple yet powerful solution: the “launching pad”, an approach that helps ensure that children go to school equipped with all their things -- backpack, lunch box, library books, etc. A “launching pad” can be a box, large basket, dishpan or any container big enough to house your child's school items. Put it in a well-traveled area, preferably near the door your child exits and enters going to and from school.

All school-related items should be expected to stay in the “launching pad” when not otherwise in use. Stray school papers or notebooks should be placed it in the bin by other family members who find them lying around. Permission slips and weekly folders signed by a parent should also be placed there. Michael also agreed to place his homework that needed to be in his backpack in the “launching pad” by a certain time, such as 8 p.m., each evening. By instituting this routine, Michael would have his completed work and all necessary materials to take back to school each day. Mornings will become less stressful and school-related clutter will be greatly reduced.

Mom followed my suggestion and put a “launching pad” near the side door that Michael uses. She later reported that it worked so well that all three children now have labeled bins side-by-side.

The “launching pad” is one of several simple strategies parents can use to help their children study better at home. Setting up a designated area for each child for homework is also important. Try and make sure it is relatively free of distractions. Agree with your child on one or two potential study areas.

It’s also crucial to gather school supplies into one central location so that time is not wasted searching here, there and everywhere for pens, pencils, or paper. Label a shoebox with the child's name, or better yet, purchase a shower caddy or tackle box. If the homework location must change for a night or two, this ensures that supplies are portable. Each student will have supplies specific to his grade level, but basics include: lined paper, a calculator, pencils, erasable pens, highlighters and a ruler. Many students also like having a hand-held electronic spell checker at their fingertips. The Franklin Ace is a great tool to help kids check their own work without having to ask you the correct spelling of each word.

The best routines and systems are neither complex nor arduous. By implementing simple easy-to-use strategies you'll help your child along the road to academic success.


Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed., is the founder and president of Educational Connections, Inc., a comprehensive provider of educational services in Fairfax, VA and Bethesda, MD. In her new book, Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework, Dolin offers proven solutions to help the six key types of students who struggle with homework. Numerous examples and easy-to-implement, fun tips will help make homework less of a chore for the whole family. Learn more at or