End of School Reviews: 14 questions for children and teens about their year

End of School Reviews: 14 questions for children and teens about their year

These days part of my role involves supporting a team of people to work it with young people.  This means I get to read delightful publications such as the Harvard Business Review - something I never imagined myself doing many years ago!  However it seems I can't take off my "clinical psychologist hat" - while I'm reading these articles thoughts often come to mind about how the concepts apply to working with young people in the therapy room.

For instance, I've just been reading about what organisational psychologists call: "Post implementation reviews" which from my (albeit limited) understanding thus far seem to be the process of reviewing a project with a team after it is completed.  From the length of the article I'm assuming there must be more to them than this (?) but apparently doing a PIR (yes - there is an acronym :)) after the completion of a project significantly improves the performance of the team in their next project, even if the projects are unrelated.

This has made me think about the "PIR's" we do with children and teens about their school year.  As it draws to a close, I regularly spend time with the young people I work with asking them to reflect on what the year was like for them and what they'd like to do next year.  I believe these conversations often help them - socially, emotionally and academically - in the following year.

I think these conversations are worth having at home too.  

Here's how to do your own PIR (see, now it's part of your vocab too) with your child/teen. 

1. Set up the conversation

Many kids and teens are not initially particularly interested in a conversation about their school year (as you know many kids/teens are fairly focused on non-school related excitements).  So as adults we need to make the process worthwhile for them and help motivate them to do it.  We can do this by explaining it's potential benefits and also making it worthwhile for them in some other way.  Here are some example comments you could make to do this:

I'd like to have a quick conversation about the school year and how you felt about it.  I'm really interested in how it felt to you, how I could support you better next year and what you think you'd like to keep doing - or do differently - next year.

Could we talk about the year?  I'd like to know what it was like for you.

How about we go out for hot chocolate/go for a walk/go for a drive to (child/teen's favourite spot) to talk about what you thought worked well for you this year at school?

I always find I learn something from thinking back on the year and how it went, I'd like to do this with you - it won't take long - do you have any ideas on when or how you'd like to do this?

Another equally workable option for some kids and teens is to not introduce the conversation at all - but just to find some time together and ask the questions and see how many they can tolerate before you have to leave it and try again another day.

2. Don't turn the conversation into a lecture

Kids and teens are pretty sensitive to picking up when conversations have "lectures" sneakily hidden in the middle.   They often then feel annoyed or switch off.  It's important therefore to not use this conversation as a way of providing lots of our own advice or opinions.

This is not to say as parents/carers we won't have anything to say or offer - but if we really want to help them develop their own self reflection skills, it's important in this particular conversation to do much less of the advice giving, and much more of the being curious, interested and supportive.

3. Prepare questions to ask

Kids and teens are not always skilled at reflecting without specific guidance.  This means it is helpful for us to have some questions ready to go.   I'd like to help out here with some ideas and I've listed them below.  

You'll see if focused on two key areas worth reviewing in relation to the past school year for young people - their peer relationships and how they managed their learning.

I've included some sample phrasing for teens as well as for children in primary school Obviously just adjust to your own child/teen's level of communication.

Reviewing the past year in relation to social and peer relationships

Sample Questions for children

  • Tell me about two fun or enjoyable times you had with friends this year.  What were you doing or talking about in these fun times?
  • What could you do to have more fun or enjoyable times with friends next year?
  • Tell me about two times you felt frustrated, hurt or sad with friends or classmates this year.  What happened?
  • What did you do to fix or feel better about these situations?
  • Is there anything you could do to avoid these situations happening next year?
  • Think of someone in your class who is a really good friend - what did you learn from them this year about being a good friend?
  • What would you like to do or say more or less of next year which would help you have better friendships?

Sample Questions for teens

  • Who did you feel closest to during the year?
  • How have your friendships - and you as a friend - changed over the last 12 months?
  • What were the tough times you had with friends this year?
  • What did you learn from those tough times?
  • What would you like to do more or less of next year - to help you have better friendships at school?

Reviewing the past year in relation to learning and school work

Sample Questions for children

  • What two topics or subjects did you most like learning about this year?
  • Why did you like these?
  • Could you tell me about a project/assignment/test/piece of work you did this year that you felt proud of?
  • What did you do or say that helped you get a good result?
  • Could you tell me about a project/assignment/test/piece of work you did this year that you were disappointed in?
  • What did you do or say that didn't work well?
  • Tell me two things you'd like to do more or less of next year to help you feel better about your school work. (If children are stuck for ideas, prompt them with these prompts:  how about when you are sitting on the mat, working at your desk, doing homework, working in groups)
  • Can you think of something your teacher did or said this year which helped you learn or think?
  • How often did you ask for help this year when you were stuck or confused?  Is there anything that stopped you from asking for help?
  • Can you remember a time when you forgot to finish something or bring something you needed home/from school?  What could you do next year to help you remember things when you need them?

Sample questions for teens

  • What two topics or subjects did you most like learning about this year?
  • Why did you like these?
  • Tell me about a project/assignment/test/piece of work you did this year that you felt proud of?
  • What did you do or say that helped you get a good result?
  • Could you tell me about a project/assignment/test/piece of work you did this year that you were disappointed in?
  • What did you do or say that didn't work well?
  • Could you tell me a couple of things you'd like to do more or less of next year to help you feel good about your learning? (If teens are stuck for ideas, prompt them with these prompts:  how about when you are listening to teachers in class, working on computers/in your book, in homework, working in groups) .
  • Which teachers did you have the best relationships with this year? Why was that?
  • What did you do or say with those teachers which helped you have a good relationship with them?
  • How often did you ask for help or clarification with something this year?  What stopped you from doing this?  Is there anything you could do next year to ask for help more often?
  • Could you tell me about a couple of times when you forgot to do something/bring something to school or home that you needed?  Is there anything you could have done to have avoided that happening?  Do you have any plans for next year to help you remember these things more often?

    And finally, a couple of final questions about parent/carer-student relationships

For children...

  • Is there anything you think I don't understand about what school is like for you?
  • Is there anything I can do to help you feel better about school and your learning next year?

    For teens
  • Can you remember any times when you felt I was understanding and supported you during your school year this year?  Can you remember any times when you didn't feel I understood or supported you?
  • Is there anything I could do next year to be more supportive and understanding?  Is there anything you could do to help me act this way towards you?

    4. Don't take full responsibility for this conversation - or their learning journey

Remember, as parents/carers it is not our responsibility to manage every aspect of our young people's learning.  Of course as parents we do have a responsibility to coach them through it, provide opportunities for them to reflect on their learning and help them get better at learning skills - but at the end of the day - this is their journey.

Good luck!

Kirrilie

For those of you with primary aged children and who are members of Calm Kid Central, I have an "activity" sheet for children with the questions above preprinted on it, which you can download/print out for children to complete if you like.  If you are not a member of Calm Kid Central, click on the button below to find out more.

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4 ideas for parent/carers with children who worry a lot

4 ideas for parent/carers with children who worry a lot

I’ve just looked at our clinic calendars and despite us seeing 200 young people this week, our waiting lists for new clients are currently stretching out to around 2-3 months.  More than ever, there are children and young people facing challenges – and families who are looking for support and answers.

One of the major issues facing young people is anxiety.  Anxiety is the most commonly diagnosed mental health condition in children – and certainly it makes up a large proportion of the families who work with us.

Unfortunately, services can’t always keep up with demand for services in supporting kids with this issue – and getting help for children and young people who experience anxiety can take some time.

The good news is that there are many things parents and carers can do at home which reduce anxiety and worry in children – and slowly over time – increase their confidence.

If you have a child who struggles with worry and anxiety – and you are either not able to get to an appointment or not sure whether you need it yet – consider the following ideas

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This week I've felt disappointed and worried about various situations.  One of my kids was sick and I was worried about him.  I had a disagreement with my partner and felt frustrated. I felt overwhelmed by my task list at work.

In other words, I'm a (fairly :)) normal human being who had a pretty normal week.  As humans, we all experience difficult times - and negative emotions - most of us at least weekly, if not every day.

One of the strategies most adults instinctively use to cope with negative emotions is to generate calm, reassuring and positive sentences to say to ourselves to give us another perspective on our situation.  I've written about this before but as a reminder, I'm talking about sentences which provide an alternative perspective to our anxious thinking.  For example, mine this week were:

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Helping children through separation and other big family changes

Helping children through separation and other big family changes

Some children find family separation or other big family changes to living arrangements - pretty hard going.  They might feel sad, worried about the future, irritated, guilty or frustrated.  Sometimes these feelings creep out into tricky behaviour.

However, other children manage separation and family changes really well.  For some children, the new situation is a change for the better.  For others, they experience a "bump" but move on quickly.

Fortunately we know how to make potentially significant life events like these easier on children.  There are many different ways families manage well.  Here are some of the most common helpful steps I see families take:

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"I'm fine!"

Do you hear this phrase a lot from your kids/teens - even when you suspect your child/teen is *not* actually "fine" at all?

Many children and teens find it hard to tell us how they feel when they are upset, angry, worried or embarrassed.  

This is not surprising.

It is not easy for us as adults to describe negative emotions, what might have caused them and what we would like to happen differently.   It's even harder for young people, with less developed brains - and sometimes bigger and more powerful feelings which interfere with communication skills anyway.

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“AAARRRRKKGGGH”

This was (roughly speaking - I may have got the spelling wrong) the word *Josh yelled when a leaf blower was used outside our office in a session last month.  At the same time, he put his hands over his ears and ran to the corner. 

Josh hates loud noises and gets really distressed whenever they occur around him.  It’s especially hard for him when they are sudden.

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To the Bone (yes, Netflix does it again)

To the Bone (yes, Netflix does it again)

Last night, I settled in with my large hot chocolate on the couch to watch the movie on eating disorders - “To The Bone”. 

For those of you who haven’t seen the shorts – this is a movie about a young woman with anorexia who gets treatment for an eating disorder.  She has a short stay in a group home facility, meets others with eating disorders, has some family therapy, a short romantic relationship with another person with an eating disorder and ponders whether she really does want to get “better” and overcome her eating disorder.

Having worked with many kids/teens with symptoms of disordered eating and struggles with body image over the last 20 years, I was keen to see whether this was going to be a useful movie I could recommend to families.

Unfortunately, I don’t think it is. 

But as usual when it comes to these kinds of issues, I have mixed feelings.  Here are my thoughts.

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Sexting: Guide for Parents and Carers

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The data suggests that 20-30% of teens have sent or received a sexually explicit photo in the last 12 months.  This means the average secondary school will contain 150 -200 students who have recently sent or received a naked or semi naked picture of themselves.
Given the prevalence of this issue, we can’t bury our head in the sand.  Teenagers everywhere are doing this.

There are a couple of big problems with sexting.  First, Australian laws as they exist today allow teens to be charged with distributing child pornography if they send or receive a sexually explicit text – even if this photo is of themselves.  Being charged with distributing child pornography can lead to being labelled as a sex offender and the consequences of this are very serious.  This is clearly a ridiculous situation and the laws must be changed.  Nevertheless, it is a very real risk for young people, and the police visit hundreds of teens each week.

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Five Ways to Help the Perfectionistic Student

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A frustrated Mum sad in my office this week,  describing her 10 year old daughter: “Jess has always been very capable at school but she is constantly anxious about getting things wrong.  If she can’t do it perfectly, she won’t do it at all.  She digs in her heels and it doesn’t seem to matter what I say to her.  Getting homework done in a reasonable time is a daily battle.”

I very often see students who struggle with perfectionism.  Here are some typical behaviours of perfectionistic young people:

  • Unwilling to put up their hand to answer questions in case they get them get wrong
  • Reluctant to start tasks until they are 110% sure they know what to do
  • Unwilling to start homework tasks because they feel they are not going to do it “right”
  • Being dissatisfied with a standard of work which others see as acceptable
  • Get very upset if they get work wrong/receive low grades/make mistakes
  • Work very slowly in order to be excessively neat or to not make mistakes
  • Starting over repeatedly in order to make work perfect
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Teens get down just like adults do.  They feel sad, miserable and depressed.  For some teens these times pass fairly quickly.  For others, they last a long time.   In either case, parents are crucial in helping sad teens cope.  Here are six ideas to consider.

1. Sympathise and don’t try to “talk them out of” being sad

It is hard to see teens feeling sad.  We feel upset to see them suffering.  And because they often act irritably when they are feeling sad, we get frustrated.  For both of these reasons, we often try to “jolly them out of feeling bad” or minimise their sadness.  We say things like “you'll be okay” or “don’t be upset”, “it's not that bad” or similar.  

Unfortunately while meant well, these kind of statements can make teens feel worse.  It can suggest to the teen that it's not okay that they are upset, which makes teens feel like no-one understands or cares.

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My friend is really depressed and I don’t know what to do

My friend is really depressed and I don’t know what to do

Teenagers are often worried about their friends being depressed, in fact in some surveys teenagers rate “teenage depression” as one of their top 3 concerns.  This doesn’t surprise me:  Teenagers quite frequently talk with me about not just about their own depression, but about the struggles of their friends.

Sarah, 16, had been working with me for a while on coping with her Mum being really sick and the stress of Year 12.  One session she wanted to talk about her friend, Eva.  She said that Eva broke up with her boyfriend a few weeks ago and since then had been acting really depressed.  Eva had told Sarah that she had been cutting herself and she didn’t want to talk to anyone at recess or lunch.  She was often crying and wrote things on Facebook like “I hate my life”.  Sarah was worried about her, and said she was thinking about her all the time.  She said that sometimes she felt frustrated with Eva, and sometimes she felt hopeless.  She really wanted to know what to do to help her. 

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Helping Kids when They are Very Angry

1. Empathise

See the anger as distress.  Be present with them for a minute and care about them, without immediately trying to "fix it" and without trying to insist they calm down.  You might say things like: 

  • I’m really sorry you are feeling ………..
  • Oh, I really wish we could change it so that you COULD have/do/be……
  • It really sucks that ………..
  • I think I would probably feel …………. too in that situation
  • Oh no, how disappointing and frustrating….
  • This is obviously easier to do if the child is angry at something/someone other than yourself.  It is harder when they are angry at you: but still possible.  Sentences which might work include:
  • I wish I could decide differently about that…
  • It would be great if I could just let you….
  • I’m so sorry you are feeling like this…
  • I can see how upset you are, I wish it was different…

In the heat of a full on tantrum….

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Tips for what to do if you suspect your child is being bullied

Try to stay calm when talking with your child about their situation.

Watch what you say in front of them about the bullying.  If your child sees or hears you being particularly anxious or angry about the bullying, they will often feel more anxious themselves.  Some children also feel guilty about worrying adults, if they think we are overly upset or angry about the situation.

Be caring and understanding.  

There are many different ways of helping a child who is being bullied, but the most important one is this: Your child needs your kindness, support and compassion.  Resist the temptation to “jump in” with all the answers.  Wait until you have as much information as possible before offering advice.

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Getting scared is a normal and important part of child development.  When children get scared they learn to understand risk, evaluate threat and manage emotions.  They learn these skills regardless of what they are scared about.  In other words: Children being scared about the dark are in training for managing fear as an adult.  Here are 8 ideas to keep in mind about fear in children.

1. We should explain (many times) to children that fear is a normal part of being a person.  From time to time, tell children that all adults (including their mum and dad) get scared sometimes.  In a matter of fact way, talk about what happens when people get scared – their hearts beat fast and they breathe quickly and sometimes their hands shake a little bit.   

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Parents report that fights amongst brothers and sisters are one of the most painful parts of parenting. Some research has found that, depending on their age, on average, kids fight for about 10 minutes of every hour they play together.   There are no quick and easy solutions to sibling conflict, but I've listed a few key ideas to keep in mind.

1.  It's normal

All siblings fight. Actually, all animals fight. We have a built in instinct to fight to get what we want and to try to be dominant in some way. Adults have similar feelings of annoyance and displeasure with people, it is just that we have learnt to hide it! So if your children argue, bicker and fight with each other, you are not alone.   And your kids are normal. 

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Research shows that adults often underestimate how often kids get worried and sad – most children experience anxiety and sadness on a regular basis, some more than others.  This is not all bad - getting worried and sad helps kids develop important skills.  However adults need to coach them to develop these coping skills. 

Here are some of these strategies.

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Helping Children through Separation

Helping Children through Separation

Separating parents almost always feel worried about how their children will cope with their separation.  Our instincts as parents are to want to protect our children and it makes sense that we feel anxious about anything that might hurt them.  Whilst some worry is normal, it is important to try to remind ourselves of two things:

  1. Many children experience their parents separating. It is something that thousands of children can, and do deal with, very frequently in our society.  
  2. While most children do experience some (often mild) sadness, anxiety and adjustment difficulties when their parents separate, they can survive it, learn from it and some aspects of the separation can become positive elements in their life.

Five ideas to help minimise children's distress are below:

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How to Help Your Teenager Get Enough Sleep

In the last 100 years there has been over 32 national sets of guidelines as to how much sleep we need. The scientific evidence about exactly how much sleep need is still being debated, and it certainly varies quite a bit between people.  However, almost all sleep experts recommend that teenagers need between 7.5 and 9 hours of sleep each night.

How do you know if your teenager is getting enough sleep?  The best guide is sleepiness.  If teens are sleepy in the morning and have trouble waking up and feel sleepy during the day, this is a good indication that they are sleep deprived.  To be honest, most teenagers I meet are sleep deprived - and they know it and feel it on a daily basis.

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Helping Grieving Teens

Helping Grieving Teens

Some ideas to consider for teachers, parents and other professionals working with young people who have experienced a loss.

There is no “correct” way to grieve

Some teens cry lots. Some cry infrequently. Some teens feel angry. Some don’t. Some teens feel guilty, others don’t. Some teenagers want life to be “back to normal” ASAP, some don’t want life to go on as usual. All of these coping mechanisms are usually okay.
 
Sometimes teenagers don’t want to talk

This doesn’t necessarily mean a teenager “is not coping”. Teenagers are less prone to analysis and self-introspection and often don’t want to have lots of conversations about how they are feeling, thinking and acting.   This is generally okay.

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Tips to Help Teens use Social Networking Safely

Tips to Help Teens use Social Networking Safely

The advent of email, instant messaging, mobile phone calls and text messages has generally resulted in more efficient and broad based communication for our society.  Teenagers have taken up these new methods of communication with great enthusiasm. 83% of Australian teens have a mobile phone (most prefer to text than to make calls), nearly half don’t turn their phone off at night and nearly a quarter will answer a text message during the night regardless of the time it was received (one New Zealand study found that 10% of teens are woken every night by a text message). 86% of Australian teens are regular users of net based communication (eg via email, MSN, Facebook and MySpace) and one quarter communicate via the net at least once daily.

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