Research Supported Approaches for Parents

The Three P’s of Performance

Priming: This term refers to the ways that certain parts of the brain are activated right before carrying out a task. Though it often occurs unconsciously, priming gets us ready to notice certain things and to feel and act in certain ways.

  • Positive emotions broaden the possible scope of action and enhance cre­ativity. Prime happiness by doing homework after a discussion about what went well for you during the day (more on this in Chapter Six). Resist the urge to be drawn into your child’s complaints about school, if any. Do not give advice or tell the child what he or she should have done to improve the outcome of a challenging situation—just listen. Then handle those prob­lems with an adult at school.

Have a small healthy snack during the chat. Whenever possible, control that adrenaline surge and do not rush to get to the next activity. Remember, the way you behave during talks, difficult scenarios, and stressful situations shows your children what you value. Your strengths are your “Values in Action” (VIA).

  • Grouchy parents who hate arguing about homework with their child also need to self-regulate.

Practicing: The idea is exactly what it sounds like—repeating a desired behavior until it is a habit. In addition, you will want to:

  • Record what works and repeat it. This is at the heart of self-efficacy. While a certain amount of change in routine can be interesting and may liven your outlook on life and improve performance, building automatic basic skills provides a platform for more complex learning.
  • Make work first, play later the habit. After all, you do not get paid for avoid­ing focus on work or being distracted, do you? (This ideal also applies to adults, so model the behavior you want your child to emulate—the child is the job, so no cell phone interruptions while talking with your child or at dinner.)
  • Avoid social comparison. At its worst, social comparison can lead to nega­tive emotions such as sadness, anger, or disgust. Be wary of over-scheduling children in an effort to develop them and add value to their college applications, consequently leading to sad college applicants.

Persisting: Stick with it!

  • Take the long view. By the time they reach middle age (the age most parents of high school students are themselves), the majority of “troubled” teenagers in a 40-year study were in stable marriages and jobs, were satisfied with their relationships with their spouses and children, and were respon­sible citizens in their community.
  • Expect high schoolers to do their homework. Various homework research of 9th to 12th graders in the U.S. over 60 years shows percentile gains of between 10 to 30 points on standardized tests when students consistently do their work. Most teachers give credit for homework. Not doing homework can mean the difference between passing and failing.
  • Learn what interests your child and let him or her take the lead. An inter­est or hobby may be a sport, an instrument, or a subject area the kid loves. Interests or hobbies can also be social contact, humor, drama, earning and spending money, the great outdoors, or novel problem-solving. This is at the heart of self-determination, the theory that we all require competence, relatedness, and autonomy as we pursue goals for their own sake.
  • Learn to know when you are winning the battle, but losing the war.