How I’m Helping My Kids Stay on Track for Homeschool During Quarantine

This is a picture of what I’m doing today to keep my youngest girls motivated to stay on task with their school work (it matters to me that they’re motivated, rather than forced, otherwise it’s miserable for all of us!) This has been the best strategy so far.

You don’t have to be an artist to create these simple hand-drawn charts to help track & visualize tasks for kids who are homeschooling.

You need anyb special print-off, just trace their hands and be clear about which actions earn them a sticker to put on them (or just have them color each finger or fingernail as they earn, if you don’t have stickers). You can be super specific or not. Just keep it fun! The girls tasks are breaking down into things like worksheet pages, 15 minutes on the math program, reading a short book, changing their clothes, clearing off their place at the table, etc.

Ten is still a pretty big goal number, so I threw in a little bonus for my littlest when she earned 5 stickers for the first hand, and the girls will earn a manicure from Mommy once they’ve adorned all 10 fingers. This system is better than what we were doing before, because it visually displays how they’re progressing overall, rather than waiting all day for any benefits, or receiving little rewards for each step in the right direction (usually I would just end up enduring the push-pull cycle!)

Traditional weekly fill-in-the blank charts were doing nothing for us, because they proved to be too abstract for a 5 and 7 year old. Of course, a chart will never “do something” for us. Strategies fail quickly when they aren’t backed up by effort. We have to refer back to reminder charts frequently, reminding us to do the “work”. Having a visual strategy can really enhance those efforts, though!

My kids’ school allows them to be self-paced, which has its own challenges, but I imagine visualizing a “countdown” could also be useful for those children who seem to have endless Zoom meetings.

I have a bonus tip which I’ve shared with some of my younger clients: Make tally marks as you listen to online lectures. Use two categories, label them something like, “Stuff I already know” and “Stuff I didn’t know before” ~or~ “New” and “Review”. This gives your brain something to scan for, and scanning requires a lot less effort (and motivation) than active listening does. Think of it like when you’re in an environment with a lot of background noise and you hear your name; suddenly you’re at attention! Your name is something your brain is programmed to scan for, without conscious effort.

Depending on the subject, your brain can be somewhat casually scanning for “novel information or application” in order to try to add up tally marks, which may be used to gauge how well you were listening. Extra credit if you actually write down what the new information IS!!

Have a better day!
Love,
Janina

Quarantine Halloween!

Who says March 31st can’t be Halloween if we want it to be? The world is a little upside-down right now anyway!

The kids ran from the front door to the back, but this could easily be done inside a home, knocking on bedroom doors, etc.

Here’s a craft/activity where most of the effort must be made by the kids! (No neighbors here, they’re all mine!)

I told them the night before that we would be having Halloween the following evening, March 31st, and it was up to them to get a costume ready. When the time came, I just walked between the front door and the back door with an old box of miniature candy canes. The kids had to run all the way around the house and knock on the door or ring the bell. I would open the door as they said, “Trick or Treat!” Then they would take one piece and race for the other door, trying to beat me to it! They wore kind of rag-tag costumes, but who cares? Besides, that’s not unusual for us, even on Halloween. 😂

I got rid of some old Christmas candy (plus a small craft item I found), and they stayed busy making memories for an evening (one day at a time, right?) Win-win for me!

Try it yourself if it sounds like something that would work for you. Let me know how it goes!

How to Ask for Help When You’re Suffering

Author’s note: The bulk of this article was originally written for a stranger who had shared their struggle with suicidal thoughts, but I would give this same advice to anyone who struggles with mental health …or even just really big emotions! It doesn’t have to be extreme before it’s worth paying attention to what’s going on inside us.

It’s important to have someone you can be vulnerable with, even if they are anonymous. Everyone needs someone they can trust to tell their fears to. Many times the people we love feel uncomfortable when we share, so they don’t know what to do. They feel like their only options are to try to fix you, or to protect themselves from feeling so deeply, because it hurts so much. It takes a lot of strength to be with someone who is suffering and just allow it to run its course, even though often it’s the best thing they can do.

When you need to share your anxiety (and you need to) first tell the person what they can do for you. Preface the conversation with something like, “Can I share something with you? It’s awkward for me, and very personal, but I feel like I need to tell someone…” You might even add, “You don’t have to try to fix it or make it go away. All I really need is somebody to listen and be there.” (Or, if you know your Love Language, you could say that you just need a shoulder to lean on, or some words of encouragement, etc.)

This step of getting “permission” can save you from heartache and embarrassment. It prepares them to be there for you, and by answering affirmatively, they have committed to it. You can often gauge from someone’s reaction whether they are interested or cannot be trusted. It’s probably normal to see fidgeting, or even lack of eye contact (they might just need a moment to adjust to the intensity), but someone who scoffs, shakes their head, changes the subject or just plain walks away isn’t ready yet. On the other hand, someone who can maintain their focus, or even increases their attentiveness when they hear your words, is preparing themselves to be there for you. The same people who might seem cruel when they don’t know what to do with themselves have the potential to be good to you if they have enough clarity (and if they aren’t surrounded by negative peer pressure).

Keep in mind you are more likely to get a negative response if the person you are planning to talk to is the person who is causing the problem you’d like to talk about. Sometimes, when you’re feeling stepped on our disregarded, you just need someone else to speak up to them on your behalf. A third party could also help you find the words to be assertive, yet kind. You might share with your trusted confidante that you’re not trying to make anyone look bad, but you would like guidance on how to gently work out the situation. (PS, coaches can be good for this, too!)


The important thing is not to wait until you are near the breaking point. It’s important to tell someone at the first sign of trouble, so you have time for several “failed” tries to share your troubles if you realize you either can’t trust someone, or they aren’t emotionally ready for you. By searching for help right away, there is still time to keep trying until you find someone who understands that you need someone who cares, long before you’re at your breaking point. This is a skill. You will get better at it, and so will they.

Another note: Often adolescents don’t understand how to get our attention, and if you have a very angry adolescent on your hands, consider taking the time to teach them how best to get your attention, rather than just reacting badly when they start badly. Often when they’re being a problem, it’s because they’re having a problem. When you’re prepared, you can respond to them in a helpful frame of mind, you won’t accidentally dismiss a problem or get defensive and start a whole new problem. It is one of the best lessons they can learn, because it helps them get the help they need, now and into adulthood.

I am an avid student of interpersonal communication, and I believe the way we get someone’s attention is every bit as critical as the thing we have to say. Believe that the other person wants to help you. Help them help you.

I pray you will find a trusted confidante. It could a be a sister or brother, maybe you haven’t communicated with in a while. Get their permission before you disclose, and it could be nearly anyone you’d expect you could trust. Be a strength to them, too, when they fall on hard times, as well as when they need someone by their side to celebrate life’s good moments. Happiness isn’t as joyful when you have no one to share it with. Share the joy they have to offer. ♥️

What’s Blocking Your Path?

“I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”

Charles R. Swindoll

The other day my youngest daughter was putting up our play chairs all in a row to make a path for her to walk across. The problem was that her path was blocking my path. As I came up to her creation, my hands were full of things I was trying to carry to the kitchen.

“Great,” I muttered to myself, “now I can’t get through.”

My daughter had “blocked” my way with chairs, and the other end of the table was even more blocked because we’re remodeling. I decided she’d better move her little project somewhere else.

“Wait, what?” I questioned myself, “Did I seriously just say I can’t about this tiny little problem? This obstacle is totally surmountable!”

My daughter came in the room and asked innocently, “Do you like the path I made?”

“Yes, I do!” I proclaimed. Honestly, I didn’t even have to move the row aside in any way, I only had to step over to get to the other side. Fortunately for her, Mommy had been learning about perceived mental barriers, otherwise I might have felt irritated or even overwhelmed. Instead I was excited, and I wanted to share my insight with you!

I felt cheerful every time I saw the “Great Wall of Chairs” that I had to step over, because my brain was continually registering the assignment as impossible, and I kept practicing overriding that thought. It was strangely empowering. I was even motivated to sweep the floor (well enough to take a picture). 😉

Not every obstacle we run up against is so simple. Life is complicated and life is hard, but try to avoid telling yourself, “it’s TOO hard.” That’s called mental resistance. Having mental resistance about a problem we face only makes it more difficult to solve, or more difficult to endure.

Your brain is programmed to protect you from expending too much energy, and it tells you to avoid anything difficult or stressful. That kind of programming can work for us or against us. Don’t be afraid of the effort it will take to tackle a problem that at first seems too hard to face; or to experience a feeling that seems too hard to feel.

Those of us with ADHD experience a LOT of mental resistance when it comes to doing the most ordinary, mundane things. Rather than trying to escape, next time you run up against a wall of something you “can’t” get over, challenge that thought. Doubt what your brain is programmed to tell you, and see if your problem really can be overcome. Perhaps with more effort, and more external support, I hope you can feel empowered to do all kinds of things you never thought you could!

That is one of the great hopes I have for this blog; that it will inspire you to reach and grow beyond your own expectations. Start small, and when you notice an obstacle, you can think of it as an opportunity to practice overcoming.

Share what you learn! I’m excited to see what you come up with, and how a difference in perspective changed an experience for you!

Feel Like a Fraud When You Only Post Your “Best”?

Imagine with me: An artist you know and admire has a big gallery showing. After a successful opening evening, she laments privately to you, “People see my art and they think I’m great, but in reality I make a LOT more half-hearted doodles than I make masterpieces. Some of them are so terrible I just throw them away! My studio is a mess, I constantly forget to clean my brushes or prep my canvas… Last week I was totally late on delivering an order; I’m just a terrible artist! I present only my best to everyone, and it looks as if I’m always nailing it -I might even make it look easy- but it’s not the truth. If people knew the real me, with all my do-overs and mistakes, they wouldn’t be impressed at all. I’m really just a fraud.”

Would you empathetically nod your head and agree? Would you feel disillusioned and think she’s a fake after hearing this? No way! Most likely you would be completely shocked and say, “WHAT!??”

The idea of having such a lowly view of ourselves and backward expectations like the example of this artist seems ridiculous, yet are you doing this to yourself?

Do you give yourself a Pinterest-perfect standard where you aren’t allowed to leave cups on the table and crumbs on the floor (or books layered with crayons and banana peels, depending on your stage of life)? Does your internal voice seem to be saying, “Better Homes and Gardens could pop over any moment for a photoshoot, and girl they are judging you!” I would love to encourage you to have a more authentic standard where you allow yourself to be imperfect, but if you’ve ever cleared off just one corner of the table to take a clean photo of the cute cupcake you made, at least don’t feel guilty about THAT! Go ahead and celebrate what you accomplished, because life is hard enough without stressing about the details you cropped out of the picture.

Was Thomas Edison defined by the fact that he had 999 failed inventions? No, he was praised for his persistence and admired for his success! Baseball players strike out more than they hit home runs. A radio announcer doesn’t always talk in his radio announcer voice (I would hope) in social situations; he needs to be able to relax his voice and and focus more on what he’s saying, not only how he’s saying it. A therapist can’t be expected to practice dedicated therapy with everyone she interacts with, every moment of every day, carefully balancing empathy with impartiality; that would be emotionally exhausting! Remember, Olympic runners still walk from one place to the other way more often than they run. You have to do that, too.

Good parents are still not perfect parents every minute of their lives. It would be fabulous if we could always be an amazing beacon of patience and wisdom and creative memory-making!! The reality is, sometimes you get distracted or irritated and wish you could be doing something else. Children often fall apart after coming home after a long day of barely holding it together, because they are with their family and they feel safe. Sometimes you need to check out and take a break, too, or you’ll burn out and lose your cool. Keep in mind, when you do lose your cool, it doesn’t undo ALL those other moments when you gave it your whole heart. Earlier I used the analogy of a runner; I believe a runner could permanently lose the use of his legs, but he’s still a world record-breaker and Olympic medalist for the rest of his life.

There is hope in being able to create strategies to get to a high performance level more often or more easily, but as humans, we can’t expect to perform all day all the time, then beat ourselves up over an occasional lapse in judgement or performance. Nobody can run at 100% capacity for 100% of the time.

Look at what you’ve created, you should be proud of it! Consider any mediocre efforts as “practice”. We all need practice. Maybe you make doodles and sketches a lot more often than you have masterpiece moments, but that doesn’t mean those moments don’t count.

From bright ideas to dark days, when you have lifted someone else’s burden, or you’ve needed someone else to lift yours, try to accept all those wonderful, complicated parts of yourself. Your impact, like ripples in the water, echoes on and on, first within your circle of influence, then your community, and continues on through time to people unknowable.

Sometimes you may feel like a fraud, the only one hiding your frail humanity, but you’re not alone. You think you’re struggling against the odds to do any good at all, but don’t define yourself by your doodles! Maybe it’s our nature to characterize ourselves by our most undesirable qualities, but if you could take a step back, I wish you could see; You are more than a work in progress, you’re already a masterpiece.