Why Kids Shouldn’t Sit Still in Class

Why Kids Shouldn’t Sit Still in Class

Third- and fourth-graders at Breakthrough Magnet School in Hartford, Conn., participating in a BrainErgizer movement break during the school day. BrainErgizer

Sit still. It’s the mantra of every classroom.

But that is changing as evidence builds that taking brief activity breaks during the day helps children learn and be more attentive in class, and a growing number of programs designed to promote movement are being adopted in schools.

“We need to recognize that children are movement-based,” said Brian Gatens, the superintendent of schools in Emerson, N.J. “In schools, we sometimes are pushing against human nature in asking them to sit still and be quiet all the time.”

“We fall into this trap that if kids are at their desks with their heads down and are silent and writing, we think they are learning,” Mr. Gatens added. “But what we have found is that the active time used to energize your brain makes all those still moments better,” or more productive.

A 2013 report from the Institute of Medicine concluded that children who are more active “show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed and perform better on standardized academic tests than children who are less active.” And a study released in January by Lund University in Sweden shows that students, especially boys, who had daily physical education, did better in school.

“Daily physical activity is an opportunity for the average school to become a high-performing school,” said Jesper Fritz, a doctoral student at Lund University and physician at the Skane University Hospital in Malmo who was the study’s lead author.

“Activity helps the brain in so many ways,” said James F. Sallis, a professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego, who has done research on the association between activity breaks and classroom behavior. “Activity stimulates more blood vessels in the brain to support more brain cells. And there is evidence that active kids do better on standardized tests and pay attention more in school.”

John Ratey, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the author of “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain,” said: “Movement activates all the brain cells kids are using to learn, it wakes up the brain.”

“Plus,” he added, “it makes kids want to come to school more — it’s fun to do these activities.”

But not all districts are embracing the trend of movement breaks.

“The bottom line is that with only six and a half hours during the day, our priority is academics,” said Tom Hernandez, the director of community relations for the Plainfield School District in Illinois, about 40 miles southwest of Chicago. He said that under state law, the schools provide daily physical education classes and that teachers in the district find ways to give students time during the day to refresh and recharge.

“Kids aren’t meant to sit still all day and take in information,” said Steve Boyle, one of the co-founders of the National Association of Physical Literacy, which aims to bring movement into schools. “Adults aren’t wired that way either.”

Mr. Boyle’s association has introduced a series of three- to five-minute videos called “BrainErgizers” that are being used in schools and Boys and Girls Clubs in 15 states and in Canada, Mexico, Ireland and Australia, he said. A version of the program is available to schools at no charge.

The program is designed so that three to five times a day, teachers can set aside a few minutes for their students to watch a video and follow the cues given by the instructors. In one typical video, the instructors are college students of all shapes and sizes at the University of Connecticut who do a quick warm-up and then lead kids through a mini workout involving movements from several sports: baseball, basketball and a triathlon. That’s followed by a cool-down.

“At the end of the week, kids have gotten an hour or more worth of movement, and it’s all done in the classroom with no special equipment,” Mr. Boyle said. “We’re not looking to replace gym classes, we’re aiming to give kids more minutes of movement per week. And by introducing sports into the videos, giving kids a chance to try sports they may not have ever tried before.”

Julie Goldstein, principal of the Breakthrough Magnet School in Hartford, Conn., said her school has been using BrainErgizers since the spring of 2015.

It’s easy for the teachers to implement, and “easy for the students to follow,” Mrs. Goldstein said. She said the program has “helped them focus and bring up their energy level in the classroom.”

Scott McQuigg, chief executive and a co-founder of GoNoodle, a classroom movement program used in more than 60,000 elementary schools in the United States credits Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative with helping to bring movement and the health of children into the public consciousness.

“We call this the Movement movement,” Mr. McQuigg said. “If we invest three to five minutes for our kids to move in the classroom, we are actually going to optimize the next 45 minutes for learning. That small investment in time has such a big yield for teachers.”

GoNoodle, which offers free and paid videos, aims to entertain kids while they are moving, Mr. McQuigg said. GoNoodle and other “brain break” videos can be found on the website for “Let’s Move! Active Schools,” part of Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative.

“We have purposely not gone after this as an exercise program,” Mr. McQuigg said. “This is a digital generation that expects to be entertained, and we think we can do more good around getting them to move if they are entertained.”

For example, GoNoodle videos have kids running alongside their desks through a virtual obstacle course or following along with dance moves.

Joseph E. Donnelly, professor of medicine and director of the Center for Physical Activity and Weight Management at the University of Kansas Medical Center, said one of the good things about kids being more physically active in classrooms is that everyone is moving at the same time.

“In physical education classes, there is a lot of standing around, a lot of minutes of kids waiting to do an activity, and sometimes kids are only moving for about 15 minutes during a 50-minute class,” said Dr. Donnelly, who co-authored a statement on the effects of physical activity and academic achievement in children that was published last year by the American College of Sports Medicine. “If you do movement in class a few times a day, that can add up to at least an extra 60 minutes more of movement per week.”

Lindsay DiStefano, an associate professor in the department of kinesiology at the University of Connecticut, said the country is due for a major shift toward appreciating the benefits of physical activity in the classroom.

“In 1961, President Kennedy said school kids needed physical activity to thrive, but in the past 20 years, the pendulum has totally shifted the opposite way because schools are feeling the pressure to have students do well on standardized tests,” Ms. DiStefano said. “We are not thinking about the child as an entire person, how physical activity helps them cope with the stresses of school and actually benefits them in the classroom.”

Teachers Quit Principals, Not Schools

Teachers Quit Principals, Not Schools


NBC’s new show This is Us has captured the hearts of America. It highlights the real struggles and triumphs that we as humans face on our journey through life. On a recent episode, “What Now?” Randall was grappling with his father’s death and how much he had sacrificed and given to his job.

“Ten years Tyler.  I’ve worked here for ten years.  I’ve brought in 80% of our clients. I grew this company from a six man operation into a sixty person machine. I’ve given you 20 hour days man and nights away from my wife and children.  My father died man and on the day of his memorial, you sent me pears which I’m allergic to and you know this because at the lunch where you hired me we ate Roquefort salad and I went into anaphylactic shock.  And along with the pears that could have killed me, you sent a card with a one line Hallmark message and a typed out signature from the team. And for all this Tyler I thank you. You see for days I’ve been plagued by this question, “How do I honor my father’s legacy?” And I realize I honor it by taking what I learned from how he lived his life and having it shape how I go on living mine’s and so here it is Tyler.  Um, I quit. No hard feelings man  I walk out of here in triumph.  I came. I saw. I conquered.  Sanjay, It’s all you now brother.  Peace.”

Randall did not quit because he didn’t love his job. He quit because of issues stemming from his boss Tyler. It’s been said many times before, “People don’t quit jobs; they quit bosses.” In education, as pointed out in the New York Times article “Want to Fix Schools?  Go to the Principal’s Office.”, there has not been much focus on the leaders of schools. The principal helps set the culture which helps retain teachers. The brief, “Musical Chairs:  Teacher Churn and its impact on Indianapolis Public Schools” published by Teach Plus stated: “for teachers who voluntarily left a school at some point in their career, 49 percent cited school leadership and 40 percent cited school culture as reasons for leaving.” The principal is the one who steers the ship and when the principal cannot steer the ship in the right direction families and teachers look for a different school environment.

I once worked for a principal who avoided having difficult conversations and avoided dealing with conflict.  At a staff meeting this principal said “Nobody has a gun to your head. If you don’t want to be here leave.” When minority staff complained about other staff members stating we were affirmative action hires, the principal told us we should move on and not worry about it. Although I earned a highly effective evaluation rating and loved the students, I eventually resigned from the school. Working in an environment where the culture is toxic was not good for my mental health. When a teacher’s mental health is compromised, the teacher cannot be the best he or she can be for his or her students.

This is why a strong leader is key. School districts across our country need to invest more resources into developing their leaders. Yes, teacher development is important, but a great teacher under a poor leader is a teacher who is likely to leave and a school that is not likely to succeed.

The school leader also has to be a cheerleader for his or her school. I recently heard Julie Bakehorn speak. She is the principal of Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis Public Schools and the recipient of the prestigious Hubbard Life-Changing School Leadership award. She shared with a cohort of future administrators that they had to be the best pitch person and cheerleader for their schools because no one wants to work at a school where the principal is not passionate. She also shared that you had to have the right structures and relationships in place to operate a successful school. She said, “I don’t want an assistant principal who is waiting for me to retire to become principal of this school. I want to build assistant principals who can go on and lead another school.”

Just like Ms. Bakehorn is intentional about building strong leaders in her building, we need other principals to do the same. We need districts to include improving principal leadership in their strategic plans. We need the community and other important stakeholders to hold schools accountable for developing the best leaders. We know when a school has strong relationships with the community and high student success, there is a great leader leading the charge.

Consider a classroom ‘flip’


Teachers are very good at multi-tasking — responding to different needs of different educational levels and demands of a range of children in their classroom. Even so, it’s hard to provide one-on-one attention all the time. That’s where technological supplements, including tablets, can help.

One of the best ways to maximize the use of tablets is by flipping the classroom.

Flipping is simply doing away with the traditional classroom setup—teacher at the front, rows of desks. Instead, students are able to watch lectures at home, interacting with teachers, and then using that information with other students in the classroom.

Tablets are also a great way to provide individual reading plans to students, as well as offer practice methodologies for math lessons. And tablet use is on the rise, too. Want to learn more about tablets in the classroom? Check out this graphic for insights and helpful hints on using tablets in…

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How Changing My Classroom Lighting Made a Big Impact on Kids’ Learning

Goodbye fluorescents! This teacher says her new classroom lighting benefits her students’ mood, behavior and performance.

Topic: Grades: ,,,,,,,,,,,,:


You know those fluorescent lights found in most schools around the country? I’m happy to say that you won’t find them in my fifth grade classroom at Davis Elementary School in Carrollton, Texas.

I was lucky enough to get my classroom a lighting makeover, and the results are amazing! My students are better learners, they have more confidence and their moods are more positive overall. Let me explain.

The Problem With Classroom Lighting

Last year when I was teaching, my room had two windows and a couple of light switches—a pretty typical classroom setup. But lighting was always a challenge. If I wanted to use my SMART Board, I would have to dim the lights in a certain way and then adjust the lighting from the windows just so. It was a constant battle to get it right.

I also experienced a lot of headaches. I’ve actually always had headaches—it was just something I’d grown accustomed to. Of course, I never thought there was a tie between lighting and headaches—until I experienced it for myself.

Last year, I changed classrooms and had a brand-new lighting system from Acuity Brands put into place. (You can learn more about their classroom lighting here.) In my current setup, we have four main lighting options, which we call scenes. The first is when all the lights are on, though I can adjust the colors and tone. The second is when the lights are dimmed in the front, perfect for when we’re on the SMART Board. The third option dims the lights just in the back, so it’s perfect if someone is presenting.

The last option is my favorite. It’s when the lights are dimmed way down. We use this a lot of times when students are coming back from specials or recess. It’s amazing how it can calm students and get them ready to learn again.

Importance of Mindfulness

This last lighting option goes hand in hand with a big effort my school has been making over the past several years with regard to mindfulness. You hear a lot of schools talking about this, and we are definitely using it and seeing great results.

It can be hard for kids to control their emotions or frustrations throughout the day, and we teach them that breathing and being mindful can help them cope. Telling a student to “get over it” is never going to be the answer. So when you can give them an outlet to calm down, it can make a huge difference. Now combine this with the tool of better lighting, and you can really see a difference.

Bringing New Confidence

Lighting goes beyond mood, though. It has definitely affected academic performance for my students. A lot of my students will say that the lighting gives them better grades. Of course, I tell them it’s not just the lighting—it’s THEM! But it definitely relates.

The kids have more confidence, and this helps them perform better. For example, we have special lighting we use during test taking, and my students absolutely love it. It helps them focus and feel more secure.

And I’ve done the comparison of grades before and after the lighting. It really has led to better grades and test scores overall.

I definitely don’t miss the fluorescent lights. I’ve never seen students take ownership in their learning like mine do. I know it helps them produce their best work in my classroom, and as a teacher, that’s what you want!


Can You Change Your Son’s Attitude Toward School?

Can You Change Your Son’s Attitude Toward School?

Every parent deals with the struggle of getting their kids to go to school in the morning. Anyone who says that their child leaps out of bed every morning desperate to get through the school gates and quickly as possible is either incredibly lucky or is lying through their teeth. What child wouldn’t rather stay in bed than get up in the morning to go to school? This is especially true when it comes to teenagers.

Of course, for most kids, once they’re actually at school things are far less of a problem. They’re around their friends, they’re keeping busy, and most of the time they actually have a pretty good time at school.

However, that’s not always the case. For some kids, the hatred of school extends far beyond the fact that they’d rather spend their day at home in front of the TV. There are plenty of reasons why your son might really hate the idea of going to school every day, but no matter what they are, it can make both yours and their life a total misery every morning. But is that they way that things have to be? Does every morning have to be a total battle? Is there anything that you can do in order to help your son feel more positive about school? 

Well, the answer is a resounding yes! However, it’s not something that’s going to necessarily come easily to either of you. But with some compromise, communication, and commitment, you can help your son have a much more positive attitude towards their education. Try these 5 techniques:

Figure out the root of the problem

Image From Pexels

Before you do anything else, you should try to figure out what the root of the problem really is. After all, the fact that your son doesn’t like school can be down to a whole host of reasons. It could be down to the fact that they are struggling in a particular subject or subjects. Feeling as though they’re behind the rest of the class can make your son feel incredibly frustrated and embarrassed. Kids aren’t generally known for their ability to understand their emotions and so those kinds of feelings can often manifest as anger and aggression if you’re not able to support them as much as possible.  If that’s the case, then you may be able to offer them extra support so that they are able to catch up. Of course, it might be that their studies are totally fine, but they have an issue with a particular teacher. If that’s the case, then it might be a matter of changing their class or discussing things with the teacher themselves. Unless you are able to really get the root of why your son doesn’t like going to school, you’re never going to be able to help them find any useful solution.

Encourage him to pursue extracurricular activities

Sometimes the best thing that you can do is to give your son a reason to want to go to school outside of their everyday classes. Extracurricular activities are a fantastic way of doing just this. They give kids an outlet for their energy, passion, and creativity that they might feel as though their everyday classes don’t provide. The kind of activity that your son pursues will often come down to the kind of interests they have. If they’re a very sporty kind of kid, then encourage them to try out for one of the many sports teams that their school undoubtedly has. If they’re not a big fan of sports, then they might want to try something like the marching band. Not only can this help them to feel happier about going to school every day but it might even help them discover an interest that they never knew they had. Of course, then you need to be ready to for your house to start filling up with the paraphernalia of their new passions. Whether it’s sports kit, color guard silks, or anything else. Of course, very few parents would complain about that when they get to see just how happy their child is once they’ve found something that makes them really happy.

Remind him that bad grades aren’t the end of the world

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There is so much pressure placed on young kids every single day. They are made to feel as though every single grade that they receive is going to have an impact on their future and this makes any bad grade feel tantamount to a death sentence. The problem is that it means that they are terrified of failure to the point where it’s almost paralyzing. It’s your job as a parent to remind them that a bad grade isn’t the end of the world. One of the most important things that a lot of kids simply aren’t taught in schools is just how valuable getting something wrong can be. Doing something badly is just the first step towards being able to do something well. Help them understand that a bad grade isn’t a sign that something is wrong with them, but instead, it offers them the chance to look at what they need to improve upon. If they can learn to treat failure as a learning experience rather than as the end of the world, they will feel a lot less dejected and unhappy about having to go to school every day. In an ideal world a poor grade should spur them to try harder next time or to figure out what they’ve been doing wrong, but really it’s important just to remind them that it’s not the worst thing in the world to get anything less than an A+.

Encourage their friendships

For a lot of kids, their friends are the main reason that they bother to go to school every day. Without the support of friends, school can often be a lonely, unpleasant experience for a lot of kids. Make sure that you’re encouraging their friendships as much as possible. Invite their friends round for dinner, talk to them, take an active interest in the friendships that your son is forming at school. By supporting something that’s so important to your son, you’re in a much better position to encourage them to feel happier at the idea of going to school every single day, even if they’d much rather be doing something else.

Talk to the school

Image From Wikimedia

The other thing that’s incredibly important to remember is that, as much as it might feel like it, you shouldn’t have to do everything by yourself when it comes to supporting your son. If they are unhappy at school, then that’s as much the school’s problem as it is yours. If the school isn’t doing enough to make your son’s experience a positive one, then you need to talk to them about it. Chances are that the school is just as concerned about your son having a positive experience every day as you are and if you speak to them then they will likely want to do everything in their power to make sure that that happens. It could be something as simple as moving them to a class where they would feel more comfortable, or it could be down to offering extra support if they are really struggling in one or more subject. There are specific things put in place in order to help kids who are having difficulties, and you shouldn’t feel like it’s only up to you and your son to make sure that they aren’t miserable every day. If it seems like the school isn’t taking enough of an interest in helping your son feel happy and comfortable, then it’s entirely acceptable for you to decide to complain to the school. If you feel as though you’re fighting against the school then you can only imagine how your son must be feeling.

One thing that is incredibly important is to remember no matter what, there is always going to be a chance that your son will simply never like school. Now, this doesn’t mean that the best option is just to take them out of it and let them stay at home every day, after all, whether they like it or not, the skills that they learn at school are invaluable to their future. Instead, it might just be a matter of talking to them and letting them know that you understand how they’re feeling. By letting your son know that you’re in his corner then he’s much less likely to feel like everything is against him. Of course, as they get older, there will be more and more options available to your son in terms of work and different kinds of education. With things like community college, you may well find that they thrive in education in a different kind of environment than school can offer. It’s not always easy to see your son doing something that they really don’t like, but it’s sometimes your job as their parent to see the long-term benefits of something that they can’t.

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BuildingBoys Contributor

5 Ways to Help Boys Make Good Choices

5 Ways to Help Boys Make Good Choices

Here’s what all parents of sons should keep in mind.

Jennifer L.W. Fink, Contributor | May 15, 2017, at 6:00 a.m.

Boy river rafting with family.

Life’s an adventure, and some risk-taking is normal (and fun). But it’s important to help your son hone the skills needed to navigate thoughtfully and responsibly. (Getty Images)

Penn State student Timothy Piazza died in February after partaking in pledge bid acceptance night activities with the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. His soon-to-be frat brothers plied him with excessive alcohol, drunk themselves into oblivion, stepped over his unconscious body, delayed before calling medical help and then attempted to destroy evidence that might link their actions to his death, according to a report issued by the Pennsylvania Office of the District Attorney.

Clearly, this is not the kind of behavior we want from our boys. These are not the dreams we have for our sons.

Unfortunately, there are other examples of unthinkable behavior by young males having grave consequences for peers. There was the high profile case of the Stanford University swimmer, Brock Turner, who was convicted of sexually assaulting a woman who was passed out by a dumpster. Before that, there was the Steubenville rape case, in which multiple teenage males sexually assaulted a female classmate who was passed out.

These cases, of course, are not typical. They make headlines precisely because they represent aberrant behavior; most males do not behave this way. But if you’re the parent of a boy, you need to know that boys’ biology and social conditioning put them squarely at risk of doing some seriously stupid things, particularly during their teenage years.

Let me explain.

Neuroscience has now shown that the circuitry of the human brain does not fully mature until humans reach their 20s. Importantly, the last parts of the brain to mature are links between the prefrontal cortex, which assists in judgement and problem-solving, and the limbic system, which handles emotion and self-regulation. In other words, teenage brains are not wired for optimal decision-making or response to crisis.

Add the fact that male brains are flooded with testosterone during adolescence, and testosterone increases boys’ propensity for action and risk-taking. Studies show that a certain molecule that’s important in developing a fear response to dangerous situations is less active in adolescent male brains than in female brains and adult males. Research has also shown that teen boys are prone to overestimate the possibility of reward and underestimate the odds of something bad happening, especially when they’re around other boys.

None of this excuses the actions of the boys in that frat house. But it does help explain what we’re up against. As parents of boys, we can’t assume that our boys will make the right decisions. We have to expect that sometimes doing the right thing will be very hard for them, especially in certain circumstances.

So what can we do to build our boys’ capacity to make good choices? Here are five ideas:

Build empathy. Empathy is the capacity to feel what others’ feel, to put oneself in the shoes of another – and it’s in shockingly short supply. According to a study by the University of Michigan, students who entered college after the year 2000 have empathy levels that are 40 percent lower than previous generations of college students.

You can build empathy in your sons by modeling empathy for them. Help others. Express understanding and give others the benefit of doubt. Talk about and name feelings; boys are under so much pressure societally to suppress their emotions. Make sure your boys know that your No. 1 goal for them to is become decent human beings.

Value your son, not his accomplishments. When you go on and on to others about your son’s grades, athletic accolades or starring roles, your child gets the message that his accomplishments are what you value about him. Of course it’s OK to be proud of your son and to share your pride in what he’s accomplished. The challenge is to balance that with acknowledgement of his value as a human being, separate from anything he’s done.

Your son needs to know that he’s loved unconditionally. So hug him. Say “I love you.” Show an interest in his interests, and make time to have fun with him.

Ditch all-or-nothing thinking. This type of mentality is pervasive in our culture. People are good or bad. Drugs are bad. Alcohol is bad before age 21, when it’s apparently fine. Sex is bad; hence, the emphasis in so many sex ed and health classes on scary sexually transmitted diseases and little to no conversation about why someone might want to have sex and when it might be a good choice.

These kinds of messages aren’t helpful to our boys, who know they don’t represent the whole truth and tune out when they suspect they’re getting a skewed message designed to direct their behavior. A better option is to discuss these issues openly with your boys, sharing nuance.

Acknowledge good choices. My sons do about 893 things wrong a day. They leave the milk out on the table, don’t start (or finish) their homework, fail to tell me where they’re going or neglect to feed the dog. I’m sure your boys make their share of mistakes as well.

But while it’s natural to point these out, we need to make sure to acknowledge the good things they do as well. Praise your son when he helps someone else. (Insider tip: Mention his good deed to someone else when you know he’s listening. He’ll be thrilled!) Thank him for helping you with the groceries or yard work.

Accept and encourage efforts to go against the grain. This one is tough, but essential. If we want sons who are willing to stand up to their peers, we need to encourage – not squash – our boys’ efforts to go against the grain. This isn’t easy, because they practice their skills by going against us, their parents.

You may tell your son to do something, and he may say he knows a better way or question why he has to do it in the first place. Boys often do the same thing at school. But questioning authority and asserting independence are essential skills, so tread carefully. Acknowledge your son’s queries. Express pride and appreciation in his efforts to question the status quo. Support him when you see him making hard choices, especially if those choices set him apart from his peers.

We can’t guarantee that our boys will always make good choices, but we can build boys’ skills – and collectively increase boys’ capacity for good.

12 Questions You Should Ask Your Kids at Dinner


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Happy family eating dinner together(Getty Images)

It’s time to eat. Where are the kids?

Parents: Do you routinely sit down to family meals? Research suggests doing so may be beneficial, helping bolster kids’ social skills while improving their eating habits. An American Academy of Pediatrics report in the journal Pediatrics last year noted that regular family meals may help ensure adolescents eat more fruits and veggies, and are associated with a decreased risk of developing eating disorders, particularly for girls. But the benefits may be reduced if you give into distracted dining, constantly checking your mobile device. You must engage – and be thoughtful about what you discuss. To make the most of your time together, parenting experts suggest asking the following questions.

What is something interesting (or fun or difficult) you did today?

Preschoolers in a classroom learning.(iStockphoto)

What is something interesting (or fun or difficult) you did today?

While questions you ask will vary depending on your child’s age, this can be a great place to start. “Sharing what your child’s day was like and what is important to them grows your relationship,” says Dr. Gail Saltz, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. “Then it’s also important to tell them what you valued in your day.” For school-age kids, you might also ask, “What was the most interesting thing you learned today?” This will be helpful for understanding what excites your child, where she may need extra opportunities or help, and in fostering love of learning, Saltz says.

What’s on your mind today?

Wondering boy against chalkboard with a drawing of question marks.(Getty Images)

What’s on your mind today?

Make it clear your children can talk about anything and that you’ll listen. This is not conversational entrapment – getting a kid to spill the beans, only to come down on the child. Experts say it’s important kids feel understood, and can openly share whatever may be on their minds. The topics needn’t be serious or heavy, either. Swap stories to bond, suggests Dr. Shimi Kang, a medical director for child and youth mental health for Vancouver Coastal Health’s community programs in British Columbia. If your child relays difficulties he’s having with certain classes, tell him about subjects you struggled with. And share age-appropriate stories from your childhood.

Who did you sit with at lunch today?

Students eating lunch at school(Getty Images)

Who did you sit with at lunch today?

Experts emphasize parents ask questions that can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” “The reason you need to ask specific questions is because otherwise you will get one-word answers that won’t really let you know how your child is doing,” says Susan Bartell, a child psychologist with a practice in Port Washington, New York. “Kids and teens don’t really want to make the effort to share the details of school, especially when some of the details may be upsetting, embarrassing or unpleasant.” She adds: “Don’t grill your child, but if you hit on something that seems concerning (‘I sat alone at lunch’) it’s important to follow up.”

Can I tell you about something crazy that happened to me today?

Black family eating dinner together(Getty Images)

Can I tell you about something crazy that happened to me today?

OK, maybe it wasn’t that crazy, and you might dismiss this question as merely a request to share your story – but that’s the point. “Kids are developmentally quite self-centered. Learning to care about others starts at home, but only if they are shown how to care about the lives of others,” Bartell says. “It is up to you to show them that it is important that they care about your world. This not only teaches them to think beyond themselves, it also helps them feel good that you want them as an audience. In the same way, you can ask their opinions, especially as they get a bit older.”

What are all the things you’re grateful for today?

A boy with his loyal dog.(iStockphoto)

What are all the things you’re grateful for today?

Nancy Buck, a developmental psychologist based in Denver, recommends using mealtime as an opportunity to talk about ideas, values or principles you believe are important to teach and instill in your kids. “This is not the time to lecture, but instead is the time to get curious and share,” she says. Along with discussing values your family holds dear, experts say teaching children how to express gratitude is important for their development and overall well-being. Research also links feeling grateful – and being able to express gratitude – with improved relationships and happiness.

Do you feel full?

Lovely toddler feeding herself noodles with kid training chopsticks in the restaurant while smiling joyfully(Getty Images)

Do you feel full?

For very young kids, Jill Castle – a registered dietitian and childhood nutrition expert based in New Canaan, Connecticut – suggests alternatively asking: “What does your tummy tell you? Is your tummy still hungry or happy?” Not every piece of dinner table conversation needs to be high-minded. Kids and adults can benefit from paying attention to internal cues, like the feeling of hunger, and mindful eating. “Talking about hunger, fullness and satisfaction helps children become aware of their appetite,” Castle says. This is preferable to relying on external cues – like an adult telling a child he or she must eat a certain number of bites – that can lead to overeating.

What made you laugh recently?

A boy puts a fishing net over his grandfather's head.(Getty Images)

What made you laugh recently?

Understanding how your child is feeling about life requires learning more about the way they experience their days – not simply what happened. “When did you experience joy today?” is another question you could ask, Buck suggests. Just as with language development or math, children must learn how to understand and manage their emotions, such as through interactions with parents, teachers and other adults as well as peers. To gauge whether they’ve had a great day or a lousy one, you might also ask, “How would you rate your day on a scale of 1 to 10?” Then take the opportunity to further understand what’s behind their feelings.

Do you have any questions about what’s going on in the news?

A  girl watches television from a couch in a living room.(Getty Images)

Do you have any questions about what’s going on in the news?

In this hyper-connected, politically charged modern era, kids and adolescents – like adults – are often bombarded with more information than they can handle. This can cause anxiety, and may ultimately lead to concerns or questions they might not feel at liberty to raise. “Kids hear stuff and don’t always understand what it’s about or how it makes sense in their world,” Saltz says. “Asking your child what’s on their radar and discussing their take is useful to correct misperceptions, quell fears [and] be aware of their world.”

What do you want to do tomorrow?

A multigenerational family playing basketball together.(iStockphoto)

What do you want to do tomorrow?

Take time to involve your child in making plans for the family, like determining how to get the most out of winter. By doing so, you can use dinner as a chance to talk about what he or she is looking forward to doing, in addition to reflecting on what’s happened in your child’s life. It could involve discussing family vacation plans or just sticking to how you’d like to spend the next 24 hours. Another approach to capture your child’s changing interests: “What activities do you enjoy most these days?”

How are your friends or classmates doing?

School friends walking in portico(Getty Images)

How are your friends or classmates doing?

Is your child experiencing mostly smooth sailing of late or rougher waters – like being picked on by peers? “Talking about the social environment and understanding and helping with potential social pitfalls is important. This is where you may hear about bullying issues, fights, negotiating friendships and friend groups,” Saltz says. “Providing feedback and even role playing about sticky situations can help your child navigate their waters.” Another question to ask to gauge their social connections: “Who do you talk with most often at school?”

What did you talk about in English or history (or some other class)?

Students raising thair hands in a classroom. (iStockphoto)

What did you talk about in English or history (or some other class)?

Being specific to a particular class may help you get a better sense of what your child discussed versus asking generally about his or her school day. You might also ask, “What did you talk about over lunch?” Expect more resistance to this question from adolescents who choose to be discrete, and more openness from younger kids. “Use open-ended questions that require your child to provide multi-sentence answers,” says Russell Hyken, a family therapist based in St. Louis. “The topic is not as important as building trust and connections. That said, I think it is important to know about your child’s day. This provides insight into their mood, school and social life.”

What was your best success of the day?

Boy learning how to ride his bike(iStockphoto)

What was your best success of the day?

Talking about high points – as well as, “what was the low point of your day?” – is another good way to gain insight into your child’s life. Feel free to talk about what happened to you as well. By interjecting a slice of your life, this puts you and your child on equal ground, Hyken notes – and may lead your child to share a story. Another question, especially if it seems pertinent to their mood: “Are you stressedabout anything? “ “It is always about building connection so when there is an issue, your child will trust you to help them work through their concerns,” he says.

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Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN is the founder of BuildingBoys.net and a writer specializing in health, education and parenting. She’s also the mother of four boys. Jennifer’s articles about boys have appeared in The Washington Post, Parents magazine, Parade magazine and FOX News. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Are Boys Discriminated Against in Education?


April 13, 2016 By Jennifer L. W. Fink
I love talking about boys & education. So when Evan Hanson, a father, writer and marriage and family therapist, invited me to participate in his new podcast series, 936 Weeks to Manhood, I eagerly accepted.

I’m so glad I did. Evan is smart and witty and clearly cares about boys. During our conversation (which is Episode 3 of the 936 Weeks to Manhood podcast), we discussed:

When I first realized boys have different needs than girls
The educational challenges faced by boys — and moms of boys
How disciplinary actions affect boys in school
…and much, much more.

You can listen to and download the episode from the 936 Weeks to Manhood page, or access it via iTunes.

Take a listen, then tell me what you think in the comments below.

Jennifer L.W. Fink is the founder of BuildingBoys.net, a mother of four boys and an award-winning writer. Her work has been published by The Washington Post, Parents, FOX news, Parade and Boys’ Life — & she still spends a significant portion of every day trying to get her boys to put cups in the dishwasher.