How to Study: Effective Study Skills

How to study for a test or exam? Developing effective study skills can help reduce test anxiety. The following study tips will help you be well-prepared for an upcoming test or exam.

Find a quiet, well-lit study space. Make sure that you have all the materials you need to study at hand (e.g. notepad, pens, etc.). Avoid distractors, such as cellphones or television.

Create a study checklist and a study plan. List all the material you need to study (e.g. read textbook, review notes, etc.). In a weekly or monthly schedule, block time that you will allocate to studying: be specific regarding the subject and what you are planning to do (e.g. Monday 12-2 read and highlight Biology notes). Ensure that you add all of your exams, assignment due dates and other appointments to the same calendar; this way you can see at a glance whether your schedule is feasible. It is important to schedule breaks during your study sessions (e.g. after every 45 minutes). Review your study calendar at the end of each week and adjust as necessary.

Review all materials, handouts, notes syllabus, textbooks, etc. Make notes as you go along. Draw diagrams to see how terms and ideas compare. When you come across material that is confusing, look it up and make a note. You might also find that creating and reviewing cue cards is useful. If you find that your mind wonders while you are trying to study, read information aloud, switch to another study task (e.g. from reading a textbook to drawing a diagram), or take a brief break.

Organize a study group of two to four people. Create a schedule for the content of each study group session. You might find that teaching each other specific topics or creating sample exam questions might help you understand the material better.

Ask for help. You might find it helpful to ask your teacher/instructor to clarify material as well as what to anticipate on the test.

If you have long-standing learning difficulties, undergoing a Psychoeducational Assessment will help to determine what is the best way for you to study and whether you need any academic accommodations.

Good luck!

Addressing Back-to-School Anxiety

Going back to school in September can be very stressful for children. The nature of the child’s back-to-school anxiety will vary depending on his or her developmental level. For example, younger children (i.e. those entering kindergarten or elementary school) might experience separation anxiety from their parents. Older children (i.e. those transitioning from Elementary to Middle School) might be worried about their relationships with friends, sense of identity, increased academic demands and physical abilities. Adolescents who are transitioning from Middle School to High School might be apprehensive about entering a larger and more competitive environment, having more choices, fitting into a social group and experiencing pressure to perform well. The more prepared your child is for the first day of school, the less anxious he or she will feel when that day arrives. Here are some things you can do to ease your child’s back-to-school anxiety:

School:

Visit the school with your child prior to beginning of the school year. This is particularly important for younger children or if the child is entering a new school. Some schools offer orientations, which include meeting the child’s teacher, locating the classroom, locker, etc. However, even tracing the route to school with your child prior to the beginning of the school year can be helpful in alleviating some of the child’s apprehension. For younger children, you can also bring a snack and let them play on the school playground.

Many schools (and even some classrooms) have website pages. For example, websites of schools within the Toronto District School Board can be found at http://www.tdsb.on.ca/schools/tdsb_school_search/. Once you locate your child’s school, you and your child can read about it.

Your Child:

Organize a to-do list before school starts (i.e. what to buy for school, what to pack into the backpack, etc.). Use a calendar to mark events coming up (i.e. first day of school, birthdays, family outings, grandparents’ visit, etc.) so that the child can anticipate and plan for events. Allow the child to participate in organization/planning as much as possible.

Re-establish school routine (if it has changed) at least one week prior to the beginning of school, including going to bed at an earlier time, waking up with the alarm, eating breakfast earlier, etc. This would prevent the child from being tired and overwhelmed the first few days of school.

Discuss with your child what he or she may expect on the first day of school. Encourage your child to ask you questions. Tell them it is okay to be a little nervous when starting something new. Share a story about your own first day of school: share your worries and positive experiences. Younger children might find it easier to express themselves through imaginative play, rather than verbalizing their thoughts and feelings.

Teach your child relaxation skills. One exercise to help your child relax is deep breathing. With a younger child, present it as a game: pretend to blow up a balloon, blow bubbles or blow out candles on a birthday cake. With older children, practice slow breathing with them (on the count of 4 breathe in through the nose, hold the breath and on the count of 4 breath out through the mouth). Explain to the child that you are teaching them this skill to help them relax and that they can utilize it whenever they feel apprehensive (i.e. on the first day of school). Practice on a daily basis.

Arrange social activities for your child prior to the school start as well as in the first few weeks of school in order to reconnect with old friends and meet new friends. For younger children, this can be a play-date and for older children an outing to the movies or an amusement park.

First day:

In the morning, remind your child about what is going to happen during his or her first day of school. Reassure your child that you will pick him or her up after school at a specific time.

After you pick your child up, provide him or her with an opportunity to talk about their first day.

You might also want to consider having a special family dinner that night to celebrate the first day of school.

Children Cursing

Preschool-aged children

When a very young child uses profanity, it is likely that he or she is just repeating something they heard. It is important for the parent not to overreact (i.e. with laughter or anger), and instead, ignore the word. Model the language that you want your child to use; just like teaching children manners, using proper language must be modeled consistently. It is important for all of the child’s caregivers (i.e. parents, grandparents, babysitters, etc.) to avoid cursing in front of him or her.

School-aged children

School-aged children sometimes curse to get attention or they repeat words they hear in television shows, movies, songs or videogames. Try to ensure that your child’s exposure to developmentally-inappropriate content with mature language is limited. Also, as noted above, avoid using words that you would not want your child to use. Whenever your school-aged child says an inappropriate word, state calmly why he or she should not swear (i.e. “it’s not nice”, “it hurts other people’s feelings”, etc.).

Pre-teens and adolescents

When older school-aged children curse, they often do it to feel mature, assert independence, to express strong feelings (i.e. frustration), and fit in socially. Talk to your child about what it means to be more mature and encourage them to come up with other, more adaptive ways they can use to assert their growing independence. When your child swears to express strong feelings teach him or her other ways of dealing with emotions (such as taking deep breaths, slowly counting to 10 or walking away from a frustrating situation). This is particularly effective when parents lead by example.

Ensure your child knows what words are inacceptable in your home and what will be the consequences for using them. Follow through with the consequences each time your child curses (for example, losing the privilege of computer time).

Having a Balanced Life as a Parent

As one boards an airplane, the safety instructions are clear: put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. The same message is true in parenting: a parent must take care of their own needs in order to be an effective parent. By neglecting their own needs, a parent can become stressed, exhausted and irritable. In these circumstances, a parent might still provide for their child’s physical needs (i.e. feeding and dressing), but might not have the emotional resources to be empathic and meet the child’s emotional needs. It is important for the parent to balance their own needs with those of their child.

Self-care starts with the parent sleeping well, eating a balanced diet and exercising. Certainly this is easier said than done, but these are important life skills that you want to model for your child as well.

Try to find some time during each day to do something you enjoy. If you had a hobby or a special interest before you became a parent, try to find a way to resume this activity. For example, a parent who enjoyed gardening can expose their child to this activity as well or, alternatively, garden while their child is doing something else nearby.

It is also important to have some time alone: even reading or listening to music for ten minutes per day can be a welcome break and an opportunity to meet one’s own needs.

Social support is also very important for parents. Whether it is socializing with friends on the weekend, having lunch with a co-worker at work or attending a family function, plan events that allow you to interact with the people you enjoy. You can also plan special events as a family (i.e. a picnic), as a couple (i.e. a date), and with your child (i.e. going to a museum).

In a parent’s busy life, amongst their responsibilities to the child, family, work, etc. it might be difficult to allocate time to one’s own needs. Possible solutions might be to include the child in one’s own interests (i.e. gardening) or to find people to look after the child (i.e. the other parent, grandparents, friends, babysitter, etc.).

A parent might experience a sense of guilt or shame for choosing to meet their own needs instead of those of their child. However, by taking care of their own needs, not only will the parent become more emotionally available to their child, but they would also model to their child that self-care is important. By learning the art of balancing being a parent and meeting one’s own needs will result in one becoming a better parent by being more positive, relaxed and emotionally available to their child.

Playing with Your Child

Play is important to the child’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical development. Through play, children explore their world, develop new competencies, use creativity and imagination. Furthermore, play has the potential to facilitate social skills development, increase self-esteem, as well as enhance a sense of connectedness and resiliency. Often it is difficult for children, particularly the younger ones, to express themselves verbally; play offers a medium through which they can express their internal world.

Although children need time to play alone and with other children, playtime with parents is very important. Through play, a parent can better understand their child (including their perspectives, wishes and fears) and learn to communicate more effectively with their child, which are the building blocks for a stronger relationship. Play also has the potential to allow the child to feel understood by the parent, which might reduce misbehaviors stemming from attention-seeking or frustration at feeling misunderstood.

Here are some suggestions of how to facilitate effective playtime with your child:

Regularly schedule playtime with your child. During this period, turn off television, try not to get distracted with telephone, household chores, conversations with other family members, etc., and instead, allocate your undivided attention to your child.

Sit on the floor. Placing yourself at your child’s eye level allows the two of you to interact more effectively.

Provide your child with toys that encourage the use of imagination. In other words, choose toys that can be used in many different ways, such as puppets, animal figures, building blocks, etc. If your child does not want to play, that is okay – you can just spend the time being together.

Allow your child to lead the play; follow your child’s lead in choosing the theme of the game, making up rules, assigning roles, etc. Through child-led play, children develop creativity and leadership; they are also freer to express themselves. During this time, try not to lecture or teach your child; instead, play along and respond to your child in a way that follows from his/her initiative. Allow yourself and your child to pretend, get into their world and have fun.

At the end of the play time, tell your child when the next play time is likely to be.

Dealing with Anger and Aggression

During a morning rush-hour, in a heavily-populated subway train, a pre-schooler, whose seat has been just occupied, turns to her mother and exclaims “I’m showing you my angry face!”

Every parent, at one time or another, has dealt with their child’s anger. Where anger is a transient emotion that everyone experiences, aggression is often a behavior, an attempt to hurt someone or destroy property (i.e. by hitting, biting, kicking, throwing objects, etc.). A child may react with anger and/or aggression when they are sad, worried, scared, frustrated, unable to control a situation (i.e. parental discord), experience physical distress (i.e. hunger, fatigue, etc.) or are stressed. For many parents it is difficult to know what to do in situations when their child is angry and/or aggressive.

Here are some suggestions of how to effectively address your child’s anger and aggression:

Prevent aggressive outbursts. Reinforce desirable behaviors by giving your child attention and sincere praise; positive feedback should be immediate and specific. Allow your child to expend their energy through physical activities (i.e. running, dancing, swimming, etc.). Avoid situations that may encourage aggressive behaviors (i.e. violent games, toys such as guns, etc.).

Accept your child’s feelings. Let him or her know that it is okay to feel angry, just as it is okay to feel sad, happy, frustrated, excited, etc. Allow your child to express him- or her-self; older children may do this verbally, but younger children might need to do this through play (i.e. puppets) or drawings. Teach your child words (i.e. angry, mad, frustrated, furious, irritated, etc.) which would allow them to express their internal world. Talking about an issue often helps the child to have an outlet for their emotions and to calm down.

Deal with your child’s aggression immediately by telling him or her that their behavior is not acceptable. Remain calm and emphasize that it is the behavior that you disapprove of, and not the child. Do not ignore aggressive behavior. It is important to be clear and consistent with the limits regarding behavior. If your child’s behavior poses a safety threat to himself or to others, hold him or her, or remove your child from the situation until he or she calms down. Consistent and logical consequences should follow immediately (i.e. being removed from the situation, time-out, etc.). Avoid lengthy lectures as well as physical punishment which shows your child that hitting is an acceptable way to behave.

Teach your child more acceptable ways of expressing their feelings. During a calm moment, try to figure out together what caused the anger/aggression. Also, think about more acceptable behaviors that the child can use next time (such as walking away, deep breathing, listening to music, talking to someone, counting to 10, etc.). These ideas can be written down or drawn by the child. The parent can remind the child to use one of these ideas next time they are feeling angry.

Be mindful of your own reactions. Remain calm when your child is angry or aggressive. Model appropriate behavior when you yourself are angry, verbalize your own feelings and how you are going to handle them.

Sibling Rivalry: helping your children get along better

Most siblings argue and fight with each other from time to time. Their relationship is influenced by their personalities, ages, genders, family environment and numerous other factors. At times, they can be great friends, and at other times, their interactions can become quite tense. Here are some things you can do to help your children get along better:

Talk to your children about the benefits of having a sibling (i.e. having someone to play with). Tell them about your own sibling(s), particularly about the fun you had as children as well as the fact that they are still there for you as adults.

Do things together as a family (i.e. bake cookies, play a board game, go to a park, etc.). Encourage your children to engage in tasks that require cooperation with each other. When you spend time with one child (i.e. helping him or her with homework), provide an activity for the other child as well (i.e. give art supplies to your younger child who can draw alongside). In addition, spend some time with each child alone: even 10-20 minutes together will allow you and your child to reconnect, and for each of your children to feel special.

Avoid interfering in minor squabbles to avoid reinforcing this behavior with your attention. Allow your children to problem-solve and negotiate their own solutions, as well as learn how to get along with others. Interfere only when behavior is inappropriate (i.e. physical fighting). If a situation escalates, ensure that everyone remains safe. Listen calmly to each child’s point of view and acknowledge their feelings.

Have rules/consequences that apply to everyone. For example, fighting or shouting results in time-out for everyone; alternatively, a day in which everyone gets along is rewarded by a family board-game or a trip to a park.

Do not compare your children to each other and do not tell them that you love them “equally.” Each child is different; try to treat each of them fairly (based on their individual needs) and tell them that you love them “uniquely.” When asked “why” a sibling gets a special privilege, explain calmly that each child has special things that only they get to do (i.e. later bedtime for an older child, more time with parents for a younger child).

Model the behavior you want to see from your children and pay attention to how you interact with others (particularly family members).

When Children Lie…

Children lie for a variety of reasons. Very young children find it difficult to differentiate between imagination and reality, and may make up stories to express fantasies. Lies may also be used to avoid punishment or to please parents. Older children may use lies as coping mechanisms (i.e. to get attention or to express frustration).

Teaching children to be truthful may be difficult because they often receive mixed messages. For example, children observe their parents tell “white lies” (i.e. saying they are ill or busy to avoid attending social engagements) and are socialized to avoid disappointing and hurting the feelings of others (i.e. acting politely when receiving a gift he or she does not like). It might be difficult for a child to understand when lying is prosocial (i.e. protects the feelings of others and demonstrates social awareness and sensitivity) and when it is not.

It is important for parents to demonstrate honesty in their own relationships with others. Also, talk to your child about truthfulness and trust at a developmentally-appropriate level; explain how frequent lying may affect a friend’s trust and willingness to play with the child. Explore why sometimes people (and children) lie, and consider alternative approaches.

Instead of asking your child questions that invite lying, tell your child what you know and focus on solutions and/or consequences. For example, when a parent knows that a child did not finish his or her homework or got into a fight at school, do not ask questions to test whether the child will admit to the misbehavior. Instead, tell the child that you know what happened and work towards a satisfactory resolution of the situation.

Encourage your child to tell the truth by praising honesty and not overreacting to truthful admissions. Tell your child that you appreciate him or her being honest with you.

Consider the purpose of the lie before reacting and let your child know that mistakes are opportunities to learn. Together, come up with alternative ways of dealing with the issue in the future.

How to Help Your Shy Child

Most children feel shy from time to time; particularly in social situations which are unfamiliar or those in which the child feels like he or she is the focus of attention. As the child grows, the degree of shyness as well as how and when it is expressed may change.

Being cautious and slow to warm up in new situations may be adaptive and allows the child to withdraw temporarily and gain a sense of control in an overwhelming situation. On the other hand, children who are very shy may lack social skills, have few friends and be lonely.

Here are some things you can do to help your child.

Encourage your child to talk about their emotions and try to figure out in which situations they feel particularly shy. Try not to label your child as “shy” or to compare him/her to other children, even when talking to other adults. It is often helpful to tell your child about the time when you felt shy and how you became more outgoing. Also tell your child the benefits of being less shy (i.e. enjoying social interactions).

Teach your child specific social skills. For example, encourage him or her to smile and say “hi.” You can also practice various social situations (i.e. making a friend at school) or role play such situations with dolls or puppets.

Gradually expose your child to different social opportunities. For example, arrange play dates and invite guests over to your home. Encourage your child to get involved in activities with others; engaging in sports or hobbies will allow your child to build confidence and interact with others who share similar interests.

Some aspects of shyness are rooted in personality; whereas others are learned from one’s family and/or cultural environment. Demonstrate the behavior you would like to see in your child: often smile and say “hi” to others and engage in social activities with friends and family. When on a playground, talk to children your child’s age and try to engage your child in the conversation.

It is important to be patient with your child and not to push him or her into a situation in which your child does not yet feel comfortable. Praise your child every time he or she demonstrates desirable social behavior. Through practice and positive experience your child will become less shy.

Discipline: Natural and Logical Consequences

All children misbehave from time to time. The goal of discipline is to teach the child appropriate behaviors, but sometimes it can be difficult for parents to choose an effective and appropriate approach to their child’s misbehavior.

Threats and punishment may be effective in managing the child’s behavior in the short-term, but these approaches do not tend to teach the child to make proper choices and accept the consequences. Consequences are different from threats and punishment in that they are not random, do not negatively affect parent-child relationship and do not hurt the child (causing the child to withdraw, or react with anger or revenge).

Two of the more effective approaches to discipline are natural and logical consequences. Natural consequences occur when parents do not intervene; for example, allowing a child who refuses to wear gloves in the winter to walk from home to the car without wearing gloves – the child’s hands will get cold and he or she might choose to wear gloves the next time. In these situations, it is important to abstain from lecturing (i.e. “I told you so’), but instead empathize with the child’s feelings and assist the child with problem solving for next time.

Natural consequences can only be used when the consequence to a behavior occurs quickly and safely. In situations in which consequences to behaviors are too dangerous (i.e. running into a street) or too delayed (i.e. not doing homework) to be effective, logical consequences should be used instead.

Logical consequences have a logical connection to the misbehavior, teach children to make choices and accept responsibility for their behavior. Logical consequences work best when they are agreed upon in advance. During a calm moment, talk to your child about a recent incident when an undesirable behavior occurred; sometimes it is possible to gain insight into the reasons the child misbehaved by talking to them. State specifically what behavior is undesirable and why. Separate disapproval of the child from disapproval of the behavior (i.e. it’s not the child who has been “bad”, but rather the behavior that has been undesirable). Emphasize problem-solving approach and encourage the child to generate possible consequences that are reasonable, rational and related to the behavior. Although the parent should emphasize cooperation with the child, it is ultimately up to the parent to decide on the appropriate consequences and inform the child of them in advance.

When a situation arises, remind the child of the agreed upon consequences in simple terms (i.e. “if ___ then ___”); this should not be done in a form of an ultimatum or punishment, but rather in a kind and consistent manner. A child, knowing the consequences for his or her actions, then has a choice to behave in a desirable or undesirable way. It is important to remember that the parent does not punish the child, but rather reinforces consequences for the behavioral choices made by the child.

The most effective consequences occur immediately (there is a clear behavior-consequence connection), are relatively short (i.e. not grounding a child for weeks), developmentally appropriate and consistent (occur each time a behavior occurs). The parent should agree only to the consequences that he or she is willing to carry out consistently (for example, if a consequence for misbehavior in a store is an immediate return home, the parent must be prepared to stop shopping mid-way and leave the store with the child).

When following through with a consequence be kind and firm, do not engage in an argument or negotiation, and let the child know that they will have another opportunity to behave differently. It is equally important to have consequences for desirable behavior as well in order to increase chances that the desirable behavior will be repeated next time.

As noted above, consistency with disciplinary approaches is important in order for the child to behave consistently across different contexts. For example, when children behave differently with parents and grandparents, it is often a reflection of different consequences to their behaviors from different caregivers. In such situations, it might be helpful for all caregivers to agree to implement the same consequences for the child’s behavior.