How Important Are Grades?

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How Important Are Grades?

While grades provide valuable insight into a child’s proficiency in a given subject, keeping scores in perspective is key to your child becoming a lifelong learner. Dr. Hyken recently contributed to an article by parenting and family expert Joanna Nesbit on Mom’s Homeroom, an MSN Living site aimed at helping parents empower their children to succeed in school.

By Joanna Nesbit

These days, many elementary schools use standards-based report cards featuring multiple scores in one subject to communicate a child’s proficiency. If your child’s school is among them, chances are you’re not getting caught up in a grade craze at your house. Still, it’s hard not to spotlight that report card each semester.

We want our kids to focus on learning and work up to their potential. We also hope they earn good grades. So how do we communicate what could potentially sound like a double message? And what happens if we focus too closely on the grade side of the equation?

According to Dr. Deb Moberly, former associate professor and founder of an early-childhood-development consulting service, education researchers examined the use of grades during the 1980s and ’90s and found that grades affected kids’ interest in learning. When graded, children tended to prefer easier assignments and became less interested in learning for learning’s sake. Studies also revealed that receiving low grades did not motivate kids to study more.

Yet somehow teachers must communicate students’ abilities and mastery of academic skills to parents. “But while educators debate systems, standards and assessment measures,” says Moberly, “ultimately it falls to the families to deal with teachers and their own children in grading situations.” Here’s how to keep it in perspective and give your kids the message that learning is more important than acing all their tests.

Understand the meaning of grades
First, think of grades not as a reward, but as a means of communicating with parents. “It’s important to remember that grades are a communication tool with a lot of gray area that varies from school to school,” says Dr. Russell Hyken, educational consultant, psychotherapist and author of The Parent Playbook. In the lower elementary grades, qualitative systems for communicating content mastery work best because kids vary a great deal in cognitive development. For example, a child may know her math facts but not be able to execute them quickly. “Being graded on speed before a child is ready can impede further learning,” Hyken says.

At the fourth-grade level, when children are learning new math skills that can often prove troublesome (fractions and long division), Hyken says a grade may capture the initial struggle a child is having but not reflect the fact that the light bulb is about to go on. “It’s important to understand whether it’s your child struggling or whether it’s a new subject that everyone is struggling with,” he says. Rather than looking to report cards, talking with teachers throughout the year is key.

Get involved with your child’s learning
Because grades may not capture the nuances of a child’s progress, Moberly recommends parents get involved with their children’s learning and become their advocates. She offers the following suggestions to take the pressure off grades:

– Have a conference with your child’s teacher at the beginning of the year and find out what is included in the grading system (e.g., mastery of content, attitude, behavior).
– Ask the teacher what you should be looking for in the papers your child brings home and how you will know your child is on the right track.
– Ask the teacher how you can support your child’s learning, and find out what topics will be taught so you can reinforce the classroom teaching and learning objectives outside the classroom.
– Ask your child how grades are determined (some kids believe grades are lucky or mysterious determinations by the teacher).

Keep grades real
Of course, it’s nice if good grades follow a child’s hard work, but how do you promote the work habits without everyone getting too focused on the outcome? “In my experience, when parents significantly emphasize top grades, kids typically experience anxiety rather than motivation to work harder,” says Stephanie Dethlefs, former fifth-grade teacher and university educator. These are the kids who also worry excessively about grades.

Hyken sees both kids and parents who melt down when a child receives something lower than an A, especially as kids’ middle school classes begin to have implications for the honors track in high school.

“If a student’s motivated to get a good grade, that’s fine, but what parents need to emphasize to their kids is their effort and attitude,” says Hyken. “Keep in mind that once kids get to high school, they might work really hard in a math class and may not always make A’s.” He would rather parents take a step back from grades and teach their children how to advocate for help from a teacher when they are struggling. “There’s a certain skill that goes with self-advocating,” says Hyken. “And then there’s a whole blend of communication and being supportive when a kid does get a lower grade. You can talk about why they got the grade and ask what they would do differently in the future, versus focusing on the bad grade.”

Additionally, to keep grades meaningful and instill motivation, Hyken recommends creating a family culture of valuing hard work by celebrating good grades received on papers or projects throughout the year. That doesn’t mean buying the latest video game or paying for grades, he cautions, but instead making a special dessert or going out to dinner to make the hard-earned grade a family event. “As kids get older, make sure you’re celebrating the right grades — like when your child has a big project and he’s been working all weekend for a couple of weekends and he makes a great grade,” he says. Keep in mind it’s the process you’re celebrating rather than the grade itself.

Put it in perspective
Of course, we love it when our kids earn top scores, but what if they don’t? Here are a few parenting strategies for keeping the big picture in mind:

Stay calm. If your child brings home a low grade, have a conversation. There are a host of reasons for low grades besides laziness. It’s possible he worked hard but the subject is challenging. Asking him to share his insights about his progress helps him see that you value process over results. If he didn’t work hard, ask what he will do to improve work habits next semester, such as not procrastinating, checking work for mistakes or not rushing.

Consult the teacher. Talk to your child’s teacher in a collaborative manner to learn more about your child. He may be academically capable but highly disorganized about communicating his work on paper and in need of extra help. He may be struggling with a concept he’s just about to master, or distracted by social issues. Or you and the teacher may suspect a learning issue that needs to be addressed.

Offer something extra. If a child is bright and understands concepts but isn’t pulling good grades, she may be a deep thinker and just need more time for tasks. Conversely, a distracted child may be bored and need an enrichment activity in class. Collaborate with the teacher about what might work best. If a child is exhibiting signs such as sloppy work or trouble with fine motor skills, or feels too “sick” to go to school, she may need an evaluation to determine what’s going on. A tutor may also be in order.

Consider the whole child. If your kid is making decent but not necessarily top grades, engages in extracurricular activities, and is generally respectful, you’re doing a great job, says Hyken. Spend time with your kids, he advises, because the more you do, the more they’ll be motivated to be part of a happy family.

Joanna Nesbit is a Pacific Northwest freelance writer who writes about parenting, family, travel or any combination of these topics. Her articles and essays have appeared in parent, custom and online publications.

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The Cost of Addiction

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The financial impact of addiction is not limited to costs incurred while an addict is using. Recovery from substance abuse can carry a significant price tag as well. Personal finance authority Erica Sandberg recently featured Dr. Hyken in an article for the leading online consumer credit card news source on the cost of substance abuse rehabilitation and the options available to recovering addicts and their families.

The high cost of rehab: expensive, but attainable

Recovery from addiction requires help — at any cost

By Erica Sandberg

Not every recovering addict can afford a swank rehab clinic on the beach. However, if you’re struggling with substance abuse and want to get clean, there is a place and way for you to overcome your addiction, no matter what you own, earn or owe.

Know what you have to work with

Addictions are horrendously costly in a financial sense (see “The debilitating descent into drug-related debt.”) Recovery can be costly, too, so it’s essential to calculate what assets, if any are left, that an addict can tap to pay for it.

Substance abusers need help beyond in just kicking their addiction, says Russell Hyken, a St. Louis-based counselor specializing in interventions and treatment consulting. They need a third party’s sober assessment of their current financial situation, he says. Those deep in addiction aren’t in the right frame of mind to hammer out the numbers and make critical care decisions.

So with a trusted and capable spouse or loved one:

  • Determine your net worth. Take stock of what you have by subtracting your liabilities (all of your debts, including credit card balances and personal loans) from your assets (such as home equity, a paid-off car and cash in a retirement account). What remains is your net worth, and all or a portion may be used for your treatment.
  • Calculate your cash flow. If you or your partner is working, tally how much is coming in on a regular basis. Subtract the total from your necessary expenses. Again, you can pay for treatment with some of what is left over.
  • Review your insurance policy. “Insurance coverage is great, but everything costs more than you think,” says Hyken. Some rehab centers only accept cash or credit, and you might need to pick up the tab for the deductible, a portion of the bill and time spent after the coverage lapses

Recovery professionals, places and price tags

Treatment options and costs depend on a large number of factors as well as your needs. Hyken offers the following facts and ballpark figures:

Interventionist. Before you’ve acknowledged your chemical dependence as a problem, others around you have been taking note. They may hire a professional interventionist to get you to see the light and inspire you to accept treatment.

Average cost: $2,000 to $8,000, not covered by insurance.

Treatment consultant. Your family may also bring in a personal consultant to coordinate your care. This person will match a treatment center to your finances, personality and clinical needs. After you’re checked in, they will also track your progress and follow up with your treatment to make sure it goes smoothly.

Average cost: $3,000 up to $8,500, not covered by insurance.

Detox. If you need to medically detox, you can either go to a hospital or enter a private detox facility. Insurance typically covers the cost of a hospital, but you may have to wait for a bed. Private detox, on the other hand, is not covered by insurance but you can typically get in right away.

Detox can take up to a week and will set you back a few hundred dollars to $1,000 per day, depending on whether your insurance picks up all or part of the tab or if you head to a private facility that does not take insurance.

Private treatment centers that don’t accept insurance. If you have deep pockets, you might be headed for a luxurious facility. The level of care is high and usually includes detox, intensive individual psychiatry and maximum supervision such as one-on-one staffing. They offer everything to make getting sober attractive from well-balanced food prepared by noted chefs to massages, equine therapy and yoga.

Average cost: $10,000 to $40,000 for 30 days, with 45 to 60 days being common timeframes.

Private treatment centers that do accept insurance. While they don’t mimic four-star spas, treatment centers that accept most major insurance plans are very often just as effective as those catering to rock-star patients. As with those that don’t take insurance, you’ll have access to individual psychological care (though maybe not quite as often) and everything else necessary to get clean.

Average cost: $3,000 to $10,000 for 30 days, with 45 to 60 days being common timeframes.

Court appointed and county care. Some addicts get into legal trouble, and if so, might be ordered into treatment. You won’t have to pay (nor will you be presented with a bill) for these bare-bones Medicaid/Medicare facilities, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t any good. County care, also covered with government dollars, is available Just don’t expect immediate placement, plush surroundings or daily, personalized psychiatric sessions.

Step-down facility. Once out of the treatment center, you may need or want more help to ensure your newfound sobriety.

Cost: A live-in residential home may run $5,000 to $15,000 for 30 days, and is not covered by insurance. An outpatient facility where you check in for support is usually covered by insurance.

12-step program. Want more help to get and stay clean and sober? The 12-step program — as offered through both Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous — is always there for you. Meetings are free, though you are encouraged to pay what you can for the space, and you can go as often as you like. The program is so effective that even entrenched addicts like David Parnell, from Martin, Tenn. who abused methamphetamine for 23 years have used it from start to finish.

Don’t let cost be a deterrent

William Oswald, founder and CEO of the ultra high-end addiction recovery center Summit Malibu, in Los Angeles, says that while the free and less expensive programs may not have the highly credentialed staffers that Summit does, don’t discount them. As long as you do your due dilligence and make sure it follows though on its advertising promises, not going anywhere is the deeper concern.

A great place to start your search is the treatment referral center, Outreach Services, especially if your short on cash. There is no charge for the service, and “they know the county programs,” says Oswald. “It’s not so easy to get free treatment but its possible.”

If you find a facility that feels perfect but is outside of your means, talk to the director anyway. You may be able to negotiate a lower price. “The larger ones have more beds and they want to fill them,” says Oswald. “So don’t be afraid to ask for less. The mark of a good place is that they won’t hang up the phone when you say you can’t afford them, but will find you a different place. It doesn’t hurt to call.”

How to pay: Consider ugly alternatives

In most cases, there will be at least some outlay from you (or your family or friends) to get you clean. When analyzing where the money will come from, explore all possibilities, including painful ones and those not usually advisable for sober people.

Besides income, look to selling assets, such as a car, and applying the proceeds to treatment. Think about borrowing from or cashing in a retirement plan. Yes, there will likely be tax and penalty consequences, but you’ll have to weigh that against your life. You may also consider borrowing from home equity or a life insurance policy.

Many of the treatment facilities offer internal financing to patients and others can help set you up with a loan from a finance company they work with. Ask about these plans during your research, and find out what the loan terms are. You may need a good credit score or a co-signer to qualify.

As for credit cards, Oswald doesn’t recommend them for long-term treatment. The available credit line will likely be inadequate, and you probably won’t be earning an income with which to make payments.

If you haven’t already borrowed from your friends and family members, you can do so now. The answer may be “no,” but if they agree, form a personal contract that outlines what the loan is for, how and when you’ll repay them, and what will happen if you don’t.

It’s only money. It’s your only life.

The ultimate takeaway message: Don’t allow monetary concerns be the reason you avoid seeking help for a substance abuse problem. Your commitment to sobriety is the most crucial factor, says Oswald. “If you’re ready, it almost doesn’t matter where you go.” Parnell agrees. His drug-devestated finances didn’t allow for a glitzy treatment center, and so he relied on faith and Narcotics Anonymous. “I did what I had to do. I got clean,” says Parnell. “It was a long, hard road because I started out with nothing. But it’s not as hard as being an addict was.”

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Summer Humdrums

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As we enter into the middle of another humid July, the excitement of being free from academic structure morphs into the dull days of summer. Kids often become bored and many parents become frustrated. Arguments escalate as parents tell their children to just ‘do something!’ The problem is that today’s youth don’t really understand how to enjoy their free time.

Toddlers enter daycare at a young age where they participate in highly organized activities. Without missing a day, students then graduate to a structured school schedule and spend their free time in adult-guided extracurricular activities such as sports, music lessons and homework clubs. However, there comes a time during the preteen years, many kids choose to simply ‘hang out,’ without really knowing how to entertain themselves.

Parents often need to teach their children how to embrace their leisure time. At some point, every child masters the video game or outgrows the Legos. This is a good thing because it motivates one to try something new like pick up a book, call an old friend, or attempt a challenging task.

The true trick to increasing your child’s leisure-time happiness is to help him find the balance between structure and free time. Creating a consistent schedule with regular sleeping hours is an important first step to a productive summer day. Kids should wake a little later but sleeping too much can cause a child to be lethargic, irritable and make it difficult to fall asleep at night. Most kids need about 10 hours of sleep.

Next, parents and children should collaboratively create a weekly schedule that includes specific events, as well as open times. It can be helpful to brainstorm a list of independent, timeoccupying tasks, but, as the week progresses, parents should let kids figure out how they fill the gaps in their day.

And of course, no article on summertime doldrums would be complete without a strategy to combat excessive computer usage. As much as most parents would like to ban screen time, creating expectations around tech-toy use is a better way to foster summer productivity. Limit when and how much kids can play video games. Mornings should be screen-free times because it forces kids to find something else to do. It also is possible that the alternative activity is so engaging that your child will forget about the computer, at least, temporarily. And make sure all devices are off an hour before bedtime to quiet the mind and allow for a good night’s sleep.

Lastly, your child’s favorite summer pastime might turn out to be harassing his little brother or sister. Many find this activity amusing, and it is often a sign that the sibs are spending too much time together. Structure some activities away from each other, but also consider letting the kids work it out. Discuss with your children how to solve their own problems. After all, if they can’t figure out what television show to watch, then no one will be watching TV. You may not be able to keep your kids from arguing, but a parent can influence their children to argue less.

All kids struggle with being bored, but they also can easily learn how to overcome these tedious times. Further – more, successfully mastering this emotion results in increased self-esteem and greater life enjoyment. Kids who don’t master this mood; however, often engage in risky and destructive behaviors. So spend some time with your kids this summer—but don’t go overboard. Guide your children toward independent activities and watch them flourish and mature.

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Summer Depression

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While summer is generally considered a time to relax and enjoy warm weather fun, for some it can also be a time marked by feelings of depression and restlessness commonly known as the ‘summertime blues.’ This condition can have a range of causes, including disrupted schedules, body image and financial issues, and even discomfort caused by the heat. In this recent segment on KTVI-TV in St. Louis, Dr. Hyken offers some important tips to help viewers beat the blues this summer.

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The Parent Playbook

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Dr. Hyken’s new book, The Parent Playbook, offers parents responsible, practical, easy-to-implement answers to some of the toughest questions they face. In this recent television segment, Dr. Hyken discusses parenting strategies from the book with JiaoJiao Shen of KSHB-TV in Kansas City.

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Preparing for Your Second Child

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All parents leave the hospital with their first baby feeling excited and proud. Most also have many anxious moments as they appropriately worry about everything. Is the baby seat correctly installed? How do we bathe the baby? Is he going to have a happy childhood? Where will he go to college? When the second child arrives, the list of questions grows even larger: Will the older embrace the younger? How will they get along?

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Effective Communication for Boys and Girls

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A recent study published by the University of Missouri revealed new insights into the teen brain and the way boys and girls communicate about problems they are facing. When parenting teens, adults need to understand the different ways boys and girls perceive and talk about challenges so that they can provide the best possible support for their sons and daughters.  In this recent clip from KTVI-TV in St. Louis, Dr. Hyken discusses the communication preferences of boys and girls, and how parents (and spouses) can use this information to make all family voices heard.

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Staying Home Alone

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Age, temperament and ability to reason are all factors which must be taken into consideration before introducing new levels of freedom while parenting teens and pre-teens. But if your children are ready, staying home alone can be an exciting step on the journey toward independence. To make it a positive experience, parents need to be able to identify when their child is ready and what they can do to make staying home alone safe and enjoyable. In this recent segment on KTVI-TV in St. Louis, Dr. Hyken offers tips to help parents know how and when to leave kids safely home alone.

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Developmentally-appropriate Perspectives on Friendship

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Like mile markers along a highway, children pass through numerous developmental stages on their way to adulthood. While most parents are familiar with the physical and mental developmental milestones like learning to crawl, walk or speak, less well-known are the ways a child’s development affects his or her perspective on friendship.  In a recent segment on KTVI-TV in St. Louis, Dr. Hyken explains how children perceive relationships at various ages to help parents offer the best guidance and support.

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When to Hire a Tutor

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My son struggled with his math homework the other night: The cost of two televisions and three DVD players is $1,421. The cost of one DVD player is half the cost of one television. What is the cost of one television? After 15 minutes of deliberation and a trial-and-error algebraic approach, I solved the problem. The next day, my fourth grade child came home with a much simpler solution using the new math.

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