In simple terms, self regulation is the ability to control one’s body and self. Many students struggle to self regulate in their daily lives. For example, students may spend too much time playing video games, and not enough time on their school work because they have a hard time controlling their impulses. As parents and mentors, we help our students develop self-regulation skills in several ways.
Create routines and encourage students to stick to them. Routines will help students form habits, which eventually become second nature to students. Initially, students may need frequent reminders about when to complete their routines. Over time, they form habits and become more independent. Additionally, students will require less frequent reminders of how and when to accomplish these tasks, and they will be able to hold themselves accountable with less external intervention.
Give students space to develop these skills on their own. Just as it is important to stay active in reminding students of their routines, tasks, and behaviors, it’s also important to give them the space to build these routines on their own. By having students plan out their day independently and communicate that plan with you, you can hold them accountable while giving them the opportunity to take more responsibility in the process.
Have students take time to reflect on their progress and habits. Encourage students to reflect on what’s going well for them, what they want to improve, and what actions they will take to work on their self-regulation. Having a discussion about progress gives students a greater sense of ownership in the process of developing these skills. This may look like reflecting on the week each Friday and making goals for the upcoming week based on students’ reflection.
Set clear expectations for your student. Many students who struggle with self-regulation benefit from having clear expectations set for them. Ambiguity around expectations can cause many students anxiety and confusion about what they need to do. Discuss expectations with students. Students may also benefit from time-based expectation guidelines, such as having homework finished by a certain time each night or completing daily chores by a certain time. This creates an environment where the student knows what to expect, and they can have the freedom to execute those tasks on their own while being held accountable. Positively reinforce students. It’s important to acknowledge the areas in which students are succeeding and congratulate them on those successes. Positive reinforcement can help students identify beneficial actions they are taking. This will help students feel encouraged to continue these positive habits and extend them to other areas of their lives as well. Perhaps a student completed their morning routine and got to class on time every day this week. Congratulate them on this success, and ask them why they feel they were successful. When students understand what makes them successful, they can incorporate that mindset into other parts of their routines.
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Students’ energy ebbs and flows throughout the semester, and sometimes they lose momentum. When this happens, we need to remind students that it’s normal, but encourage them to resume their routines without too much time elapsing. We can help students overcome this break in momentum by reminding them to maintain routines, continue healthy habits, and incorporate time management techniques.
It can be easy for students to let a lull in energy lead to procrastination, but routines can help them combat that tendency. Students work best when they maintain consistency, even when their energy is low. This may include waking up at the same time each day and completing the same task after eating breakfast. Consistency helps students start the day off with positive momentum and accomplish some of their easier tasks early on. When students follow the routines in their lives, they feel accomplished and are more likely to follow through on difficult tasks.
Routines apply to all other aspects of students’ lives. Remind students to maintain healthy habits, such as integrating movement into their day, avoiding too much junk food, and getting enough sleep. These positive routines will help students stay energized. When they fall out of their exercise and sleep routines, staying focused and disciplined becomes much more difficult. Help students schedule movement and sleep into their daily lives. Movement routines could look like taking breaks at the same time or after the same activity each day. Remind students to get ready for bed and wake up at the same time every day as well. The more we can help train students to establish and maintain a sleep pattern that feels easy and natural, the more likely they are to wake up and feel ready for the day.
Time management techniques, like time blocking and habit stacking, can help keep students on track—even when they feel tired or unmotivated. Have students start their mornings by time blocking their schedule for the day. Time blocking should include all tasks, including seemingly obvious ones like taking a shower or eating breakfast. Students sometimes forget to account for smaller tasks, and end up running out of time. Creating a time-specific plan that accounts for the big tasks and the minutiae helps the student succeed. Time blocking also helps students keep up positive momentum and avoid procrastination.
Another technique you can help your student utilize is “habit stacking.” If your student has a new project or task added to their routine, they may find it easier to accomplish (and will follow through) if they pair it with a familiar action in their routine. If time blocking is a new addition, start forming this habit by consistently organizing the day’s tasks and times right after eating breakfast. This helps us to solidify routines and accomplish certain tasks to remove uncertainty and keep up our motivation.
It’s normal to feel like there are ebbs and flows in our year, but sometimes we need to pause and remember that there are techniques we can use to avoid letting these ebbs and flows completely dictate productivity.
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Often, we expect students to advocate for themselves, but sometimes they’re hesitant because they feel uncomfortable or nervous talking to their teachers. Developing self-advocacy skills will help your student tremendously—not just academically, but in their life beyond school. One way to help your student develop their self-advocating skills is by encouraging them to build relationships with their teachers. This has been made more difficult in our remote era, but it’s more relevant than ever. You can help your student with this by reminding them that by building those relationships and asking for help shows teachers their desire to learn and their maturity. There is no such thing as over-communicating—sometimes what we’d consider “over-communicating” is communicating just enough.
You can help your student reach out to their teachers by creating a list of possible scenarios and role playing them to get comfortable. Role playing can help students prepare what they are going to say and how they will respond to certain questions or comments. Essentially, you can help develop a script of what to say to teachers. This, in turn, will ease your student’s anxiety around confronting teachers and asking for the help they need.
Developing a script can be helpful when drafting emails as well. Try helping your student form a few standard responses that they can use as templates for corresponding with their teachers. For example: draft one template to ask for an extension, one to ask for help understanding a topic, and one to ask about missing work. This serves several purposes; it removes a barrier in opening communication with the student’s teacher, streamlines the process of asking these questions so the student does not spend too much time agonizing over the “right” wording, and helps students gain confidence when reaching out to their teachers or other authority figures.
A large part of self-advocacy for our students is advocating for their ability to use their accommodations when needed. Some students may feel uncomfortable requesting to use their accommodations, so an email template can be a great way to help with this. Additionally, encourage students to reach out early in the year to discuss their accommodations with their teachers. A student’s ability to advocate for the use of their accommodations when needed can greatly impact their academic success.
Signing up for office hours is a great place to start in building relationships with teachers and open a dialogue. Since this is already set up as time for teachers to support students, the student does not need to ask the teacher to set aside additional time to talk to them. “Going in” for office hours when class is remote is even more important, as this is likely the only time that students can have one-on-one conversations with their teachers. Help your student prepare a list of what they would like to address during this time. Having a list makes students feel more confident and prepared, and they will likely leave office hours feeling like it was a valuable use of their time.
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Spring break is not only an excellent opportunity to take time to reset and refresh, but it is also a great time to reflect and plan ahead for the remainder of the semester. While it is important to actually take this time to take a break, it is equally as important to maintain our routines. While it should be a time to rest and rejuvenate, there are actions we can take to ensure that this time is well spent to best prepare us for the rest of the semester.
For many students, maintaining a degree of consistency in an unstructured time is imperative, not only for their mental stability, but also to ensure that the habits they spent building all semester are not lost. Encourage your students to maintain a consistent daily routine, such as their morning or evening routine. Maintaining a degree of consistency through our morning and evening routines will not just provide necessary structure, but also ensure an easier transition back to school and work. It is helpful to create a plan at the beginning of the break. Make a list with your student about what they want to accomplish and set realistic goals around them. This may mean addressing just one thing with your student every day, or spending a couple of days on any school work they may have so that they can have the rest of the week to relax. Either way, creating a plan and laying it out with your student will allow everybody to be on the same page and ensure that this time is being well spent. This plan should include reviewing grades, goals, and academic progress with your student.
Spring break is an ideal time to have a conversation with your student about where they stand in the semester and how they are feeling about their progress. With finals around the corner, students need to know where grades stand and what needs to happen to meet their goals. This may entail making a list of missing assignments so that your student feels more organized going into the spring semester. It may also mean setting small goals, such as raising grades by 3%, or turning in all missing assignments in math by a certain date.
If your student needs help in a particular class, this can also be an opportunity to help them draft and send emails to that teacher. Opening a dialogue with teachers will benefit your student greatly as they head into finals, as it shows the teacher that the student cares, and allows the teacher to understand where your student is struggling. Talking with your student about a plan for how they will get extra help will allow for your student to feel prepared and confident that they have a plan for how they can succeed.
Spring break is an ideal time to reevaluate where your student stands, what their goals are, and to step back and review what went well and make a plan for the upcoming weeks. Keep in mind that your student may also need positive reinforcement and encouragement during this time, so that they can feel more confident starting the new semester. This is also a great time to assess what the summer will look like!
Does your student need some extra math or writing support to prepare for next year? Do they need to hone in on better study skills? Are you anticipating any credit recovery? Is it time to start talking about college? Untapped’s summer programs can help your student transition to next year, whether they just need to retake a class, brush up on this year’s math, or get ahead with future content!
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Students who struggle with executive function skills often hear what they are doing wrong. These students receive more negative feedback than positive feedback. This can quickly evolve into a negative feedback loop and become discouraging for the student, since sometimes they don’t understand why they’re receiving this feedback or how to change their actions. As mentors and parents, we can help reverse this pattern by focusing on our students’ strengths and helping them see that they are not just their shortcomings. And, their missteps can actually be an opportunity for growth.
Positive reinforcement can go a long way. Instead of dwelling on what went wrong, it’s often more beneficial, both immediately and in the long run, to figure out what went well and make that your focus. Maybe your student studied hard but still got a 50% on a test—they got half of the questions right! Congratulating them on what they did well may help them get up and try again. Not only does this promote positive thinking and a sense of pride for the student, but also challenges them to examine all aspects of their work. This helps them continue to do whatever methods worked well the first time, but it also guides them to find the next piece they need to improve on. Maybe they aced the vocabulary questions but missed the grammar and comprehension questions. This tells them that the way they studied for the vocab worked well, but they need to approach studying differently for the grammar and comprehension sections. It can be helpful to ask your student to write a list of what went well and what went wrong. Even if their list just has a few positives, congratulate them on those successes—it’s important to keep some level of confidence present, as the “bads” can become overwhelming and can easily lead to a feeling of defeat.
Dyslexia expert Sally Shaywitz, of the The Yale Center of Dyslexia and Creativity, said, “Dyslexia is an island of weakness surrounded by a sea of strengths.” Helping our students see their challenges as islands can be a helpful visual. This phrase also allows us to see that even though we may have many “islands of weakness,” they are only islands; the islands are surrounded by many strengths that we may take for granted, and which will help us overcome the areas of opportunity. Having a conversation with your student about their “sea of strengths” may help them realize that their shortcomings really are just “islands,” and that they are doing so many things well. This kind of self-analyzing and self-reflection will support your student in the future by teaching them how to figure out what works for them and how to translate that to other assignments and areas of their life.
Many of our students have a difficult time breaking their assignments down into manageable pieces and understanding what they need to work on. This is the case not only during the process of completing an assignment, but also when receiving feedback. When you receive negative feedback, it can be easy to jump to the conclusion that nothing is going right. This is obviously a very discouraging thought, and this leaves some students not wanting to try again. But if you provide positive feedback and help students focus on their strengths, they are able to understand that with work, they can and will improve, especially since they are already doing so many things right.
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Many of us, whether we realize it or not, have experienced “burnout” at some point. Burnout is the feeling of exhaustion due to overwork or feeling overwhelmed by work, and generally results in the decline of our performance and quality of work. Many students experience burnout at some point in the school year. This feeling of total exhaustion typically peaks mid-semester as assignments pile up, we fall into routines of staying up late and cramming, or we just begin to drag our feet as we work through (what feels like) endless math homework. It’s not always easy to differentiate normal levels of stress from burnout. Typically, a student who is feeling academically exhausted and experiencing burnout will have a decreased interest in both academic and non-academic activities, and may be lackluster in their daily routines or even in reaching out to friends. David Ballard, of the American Psychological Association, defines burnout as “an extended period of time where someone experiences exhaustion and a lack of interest in things, resulting in a decline in their job performance.” Knowing that we may all experience this feeling of exhaustion at some point allows us to better prepare for dealing with it and even being able to prevent it.
How can we help our students cope with and minimize the effects of this somewhat inevitable burnout? There are a few simple actions we can take (and remind our students to take) in order to work past this mid-year dip.
Sleep. Sometimes, when we feel overwhelmed by the amount of work we have, especially as a result of procrastinating, it’s tempting to stay up late to finish our required tasks. While this may feel like the most productive thing to do in that moment, it realistically leads to a greater sense of exhaustion, initiates a routine of staying up late, and therefore inhibits our ability to focus the next day. Instead, it may be most helpful to set the task aside and get a good night’s rest. Not only does this improve mood and energy levels in the days following, but also allows us to resume the task with more focus and stamina. Remind your student to follow their nightly routine and try to be in bed by the same time every night—even if that means setting an assignment aside to complete in the morning.
Knowing when to set work aside and start fresh again is important and improves the quality of work and life. Your student may be tempted to work until their project is perfect or finished, but this can begin an exhausting routine and is not sustainable. Instead, try helping your student by having them set smaller goals. This serves a few purposes: it allows them to feel accomplished and encouraged as they work, but it also provides good break or stopping points, similar to short chapters in a book. Smaller goals allow your student to set their work aside while feeling proud of what they have done. They can then take a movement break, or even rest and go to bed. This will help keep them feeling encouraged as well as give them a concrete place to easily pick up the project the next day.
Just as it’s valuable to recognize when to set tasks down, it’s also helpful to to clearly prioritize to-do lists and assignment lists. Knowing which tasks are most important versus which tasks can be completed later will allow your student to feel more organized and have a better sense of what they need to focus on. This can help the daily tasks feel less overwhelming and create consistency, which will improve their focus and energy. With this in mind, it can also be helpful to intersperse small and realistic tasks between the larger, potentially looming projects so your student can feel a sense of accomplishment throughout their work day, helping them stay encouraged and keep up the momentum with completing their to-do list.
Finally, remembering to incorporate movement into our daily routines is imperative. Taking frequent breaks to get up and move helps us reset and refocus while also improving our mood and energy levels. Movement breaks can not only shake the feeling of monotony in our days, but they provide a consistent and dependable routine—especially when school feels overwhelming.
By understanding that burnout and exhaustion are more common in students than we assume, we can take precautionary steps to prevent it or make informed decisions to help our students cope more effectively. Support your student in getting enough sleep, maintaining consistent routines, recognizing when to set tasks aside, and continuing to incorporate movement into their days to help them prevent or deal with the effects of burnout.
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The spaces in which we work have the ability to impact our mood and productivity significantly. Because we all work so differently, there is no one way to curate a workspace to be the most beneficial, but there are actions we can take to make sure that our work spaces are individualized, efficient, and allow us to be our most productive. When schools shifted to be remote in March, and then again as students and parents geared up for a (primarily) remote fall term, there was a steady stream of articles, blogs, and posts regarding “creating the perfect workspace” for your student. Although some of the work spaces are pristine and Pinterest-worthy, a designated work station in your student’s room is just one of many options. And, it may not be the right option for you or your student! Some of us work better alone, while others work best around others. In a time of remote work and learning, finding the right workspace can be a difference between passing and failing a class.
Many students may actually benefit from working around others. It can be helpful for these students to see others also at work, as this can help them feel more focused and less isolated. For many students, the idea that they’re missing out on events happening around them leads to more distraction. Finding a separate but central place for these students to work is important, as it allows them to have a work space where they can concentrate while also being held accountable and knowing they are not “missing out.” This space could be the dining room table, a desk set up in the living room, or perhaps a desk in an office with another focused worker.
Students easily distracted by auditory and visual stimuli may benefit from a more isolated environment. However, it can be helpful to find a space that is still somewhat central. This allows the student to work in a quiet space with limited distractions while making it easy for a parent to check in. Whether a student works better alone or around others, creating a space that is central but separate can be a helpful strategy in promoting focus and productivity.
Other environmental factors such as lighting, neatness or messiness, and comfort level of a space can all also significantly impact our ability to focus. If possible, have your student set up their work area in a bright and naturally lit space. Not only does this improve the student’s mood, but the light will also help them stay more alert and awake. Similarly, a messy work space can both affect mood and ability to stay focused. Have your student re-organize their space at the end of each day; this allows them to come to their desk in the morning, able to begin their day in a clean and focused environment. It’s also important to make sure that your student is comfortable in their work space and that they have everything they might need to do their work. This eliminates time spent unnecessarily situating themselves in the space or searching for materials they need in order to complete their tasks. However, a space that is too comfortable can be detrimental as it can feel too casual and lead to distractions like watching TV or constantly checking social media.
When a student’s work space is outside of their room, this “climate control” is more achievable and allows for more intervention. When a student is working behind their closed door in their bedroom, it’s harder for parents to hold them accountable and check in since students feel like parents are prying and invading their space. A central workspace also ensures that students won’t work from their beds. This can hinder productivity since we associate our beds with rest, relaxation, and sleep!
No matter how you and your student decide to curate their work environment, remember to take breaks throughout the day that involve leaving the work space to move and refresh. This will improve your student’s focus and prevent the space from becoming stale. Knowing how your student works is the most important piece of information when setting up a work environment for them. It may take trial and error, and it may require a frank conversation about study habits and acknowledging your student’s major distractions. Setting up a space that works well for your student can make all the difference, and taking the time to figure out what works best for your student will greatly benefit them in their academic endeavors.
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Failure is discouraging and difficult to cope with. We’ve all been confronted with failure and felt that devastating, gut-punch feeling. However, our ability to get back up and persevere is what leads us to some of our most successful and rewarding moments.
“The true test of a champion is not whether he can triumph, but whether he can overcome obstacles.” —Garth Stein
Seeing a student experience failure can be difficult, as we can empathize with their feelings. We want to see them succeed as much as possible, but facing challenges is inevitable — whether in academics, sports, or social situations — it’s a part of being human. Helping your student cope with failure and see it as an opportunity for growth will aid them significantly in their future academic, athletic, and professional pursuits. Many students, from a young age, become conditioned to view failure as a negative circumstance in their lives, but that’s not always true. More often than not, failure can be a great teaching and learning moment. Throughout history, great occurrences have been born from mistakes and failures. The acceptance of failure, however, is easier said than done.
Perfectionism: many students with ADHD, anxiety, and OCD face the debilitating pursuit for perfection. Sometimes the idea of failure feels too big and scary for a student to even begin an assignment, let alone turn it in. They would rather not submit their work than face failure in the form of imperfection. A student like this may need support in actually turning their assignment in. Help your student click “submit,” or make sure their paper is printed and ready to go the night before. Encouraging your student to turn in an “imperfect” assignment will help them warm up to the idea that everything they do does not need to be perfect, and that they cannot improve without receiving constructive feedback. By facing failure, you actually take a step closer to perfection. Walking them through the feedback they receive, and reminding them that this is a growth process, may also help.
Mindfulness and the ability to be non-judgemental of oneself is also important when confronting failure. Studies have shown that students who are more mindful have greater resilience and are better equipped to shrug off their mistakes, get back up, and try again with more success. Gently remind your student that their failure is an opportunity, and that everybody experiences failure at some point. Reminding your student that failure is nothing to be embarrassed about will help them cope with it more gracefully and be less hard on themselves—in turn, allowing them to see it as an opportunity to improve next time.
Our setbacks, challenges, and moments of failure are what help us improve for “next time.” Life is not absent of these moments, and the sooner a student realizes this, the more resilient they will become. Knowing that these moments and challenges will continue to happen and can be opportunities for growth will help prepare your student to cope with instances when they’re not successful. At Untapped, we’re all about that concept of “grit!”
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It can be easy to fall into a rhythm of believing that our capacity for learning and accomplishing success is fixed. However, those who believe that their capacity for learning and growth can be built upon, tend to have much greater success and lead happier lives. This is the difference between a “fixed” and a “growth” centered mindset.
A person with a fixed mindset may be more prone to viewing scenarios as black or white: believing people are either smart or unintelligent, good at math or bad at math, kind or unkind, and the list goes on. Someone with a fixed mindset may believe that people are capable of only a certain level of achievement, in any area. A student with this mindset can be challenging to work with, as they easily become discouraged and do not have as much of a drive to improve. But, we can help them develop a growth mindset. If a person with a growth mindset is confronted with a challenge, they believe the challenge is surmountable. A student with a growth mindset may receive a poor math grade, see that they have been challenged, and understand that if they apply themselves correctly, they can improve. This can also apply to social situations; perhaps a student has faced social challenges, but with a growth mindset, they know that they and their peers have the capacity to change which helps them overcome their social fears and anxieties. The idea of a growth mindset was pioneered by the Stanford researcher Carol Dwek.
A growth or fixed mindset is not something we are born with, but rather a perspective we develop on situations. We have some control over the way we approach challenges. So, how can we help our students develop and strengthen their “growth mindsets”?
First, it is important to remind your student that they have the capacity to grow and adapt. When they face a challenge, whether in academic, athletic, or social situations, remind them that they are not stuck in their current situation. Remind them of how they were successful. Maybe they received a 50% on a test, so remind them they knew 50% of that material. Or, you can ask them to tell you how they studied, or how they practiced, and brainstorm with them about how they could improve next time. Also, you can remind them that even though they may find school difficult, they’re not alone— many people struggle but still find success, so they can too.
Parents and mentors can model a growth mindset by talking about our own challenges and how we found opportunities within those obstacles to adapt and improve. Opening up an honest conversation will allow your student to see that everybody faces challenges, and it is our decision how we allow that challenge to impact (or impede) our progress. Discussing this in relation to discipline can also be helpful; although we do not always have the “motivation” to change, if we can practice discipline, we can achieve great success and will see our capacity for growth expand.
Bringing up the idea of a role model other than a parent or mentor in this conversation may also be a great way to emphasize the importance of a growth mindset. Ask your student who they are inspired to be like, and have a conversation about how your student thinks they got there—chances are it was not all luck, and that role model was not inherently born with every skill they needed to have in order to achieve their success.
It is also important to have conversations about growth which are not centered around academics. Your student may have an easier time seeing their success in sports after employing a growth mindset. This can then be more easily translated to academic success and behaviors.
Knowing when and how to apply a growth mindset to situations where we face challenges and failures is imperative to our ability to success. This is a perspective that is not easily taught, but with gentle reminders and examples over time, our students can learn the benefits of a growth mindset.
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Creating a trusting and honest relationship with each of our students is imperative in helping them grow and achieve success. However, this is not always easy, especially during stressful times. How can we work on building more trusting relationships? Routine, boundaries, and communication all play significant roles.
First, it’s important that your student understands the reason that you, as a parent, and their mentor, are sometimes hard on them; it’s because we care so much. Stating this explicitly may seem obvious but is a great way to begin a conversation about accountability and honesty. When students begin to legitimately understand this, they may be more open to receiving feedback and listening more intentionally.
Establishing boundaries and routines is helpful to building trust. When both parties know what to expect, neither the student nor the parent is caught off guard. Part of this means establishing routine. Routine provides necessary structure to your student’s life and will help them stay organized—in turn, reducing stress and underlying frustration. It also allows you, the parent, to have an idea of what to expect from your student and what their schedule looks like. For instance, it may be helpful to have a quick check-in with your student on Mondays and Wednesday, for 15 minutes, at 5:00pm. Creating a consistent communication schedule not only allows the student to know that this is coming, but it will also build a consistent dialogue that opens communication and reinforces honesty. Boundaries may come in the form of notifying your student that you are checking in, but it may also mean refraining from checking in too often. Boundaries might mean sticking to your word: whether that means holding the student accountable for work, or making sure you maintain your communication with them in the way that you had agreed upon.
Verbal communication is the most direct form of communication, which means it’s so foundational in our relationships. The most effective verbal communication with students is positive reinforcement, especially when the language is specific. So many of our students are used to hearing what they should be doing better, or differently. Even if they’re small wins, make sure to celebrate them with your student. Another form of verbal communication is “tough love.” This might look like, “I saw that you missed a deadline in English. I know sometimes things come up, but let’s figure out why you missed this assignment. How can we prevent this next time?” This provides the student room to explain their actions by asking them questions. In turn, the student is more likely to stay engaged in the process and it requires a degree of self assessment. In our verbal communication, it is important to phrase conversations in a way that makes the student understand that you care about them, and that’s why you are trying to hold them accountable.
Nonverbal communication is also important. Our body language dictates how others approach us and communicate with us. When a parent or mentor presents themselves as happy and engaged, the student is more likely to feel comfortable being vulnerable and honest. For example, studies have shown that when you mirror another persons’ body language, they feel more open to communicate with you. We want to encourage as much openness, honesty, and trust when addressing academics because it can become so easy and habitual for students to become closed off or discouraged.
Listening to what your student is feeling, whether about academics or their emotional difficulties, is imperative. When you let them know that you are willing to listen without providing feedback or answers, you are allowing them to share without them feeling defensive. Knowing how your student is feeling will help both you and your student’s mentor guide them in the right direction without closing off the conversation.
In any relationship, communication, boundaries, and good listening are important. Helping your student establish and maintain consistent and easy-to-follow routines will allow all parties to feel a greater sense of organization and reduces stress.
Parents know their students best, which is both a blessing and a challenge. Keeping an open and understanding approach to conversations will help build trust and honesty.