Those two terrifying words for a parent. High School. Roughly a month from now my son will be starting his freshman year of high school. I’m not going to lie, last year was tough. Academically he did fine, but his executive skills are just not there yet and I felt I was constantly on his case to remember to bring his homework to school, or reminding him to study for an upcoming test.
But after reading The Gift of Failure, and understanding that we have so little time left to mold our son’s habits and skills to help him succeed not only in school, but in life, I wanted to take a more autonomy supported parenting approach this year to allow him room to grow and feel comfortable with himself and his abilities.
Our children have had chores they are responsible for completing for as long as I can remember…truly since early elementary school. As they’ve gotten older, their home responsibilities have grown too. At one point they were even making their own meal plan, grocery shopping, and doing their own meal prep…all before they were in high school. Score for independence! My 14-year-old can make an awesome baked chicken and better-scrambled eggs than me.
But then there was school where I tended to hover a bit more. If they left their lunch or homework at home I was not one to drive it over to the school…I let them deal with the ramifications. But every night you’d find me reviewing grades and asking for a complete rundown of homework requirements and upcoming tests and projects in an effort to make sure nothing was overlooked and protecting grades.
This year, however, I’m stepping back even more. Of course, I’ll be here to answer questions or give guidance where requested, but I’m getting out of the nagging game. And somewhere between the drive from Maryland to Alabama on one of our many summer trips, I had an ah-ha moment and thought “Why don’t I give him a Full Focus Planner?”.
Now, we’ve tried multiple methods of tasks management in our household…paper checklists on the fridge, fun apps on the phone, and even Nozbe which my husband and I both use religiously. But none of those systems seemed to work without constant reminders from us parents and were tired of the nagging game.
I personally started using the Full Focus Planner about 9 months ago and the daily ritual of planning my day and really thinking about what I need to do has been a real shift.
What makes the Full Focus Planner different than the typical planner that school students are provided, is not only identifying what needs to get done but WHY it needs to get done.
So I ordered one for my son and when it arrived I took him to the local coffee shop where we chatted about how to use it over lattes. The first exercise I had him complete was the annual goal setting. My hope that by setting his own goals and motivations for those goals, he would start to take ownership of achieving them too. These can be achievement goals like “finish freshman year with an A average” to Habit Goals like “Practice Spanish for 15 min every day”. Not surprisingly his goals centered around lacrosse and academics…the two big parts of his life.
For him, the next thing we focused on were the rituals. Rituals are the series of events you consistently complete as part of our daily routine. For example, when he gets up he might brush his teeth, put on deodorant, get dressed, feeds the dogs, and put on his running shoes. Then he might go for a run followed by making breakfast, cleaning his breakfast dishes, and then taking a shower.
And here is the first place we made a change. He was getting his summer running in, but for whatever reason, he’d forget to text his coach each day to let him know he was done (the coach’s requirement to count the workout). Maybe it was getting up so early during the summer, maybe it was his excitement at getting the rest of the day started, but either way, this key step was missing in his routine. So we added a step in his post-run ritual to text the coach. Now as he is going through the day, the quick reference to his ritual helps him remember to send that text message.
Each Sunday he has been sitting down to make a plan for his upcoming week based on his goals and commitments. He has enrolled in a challenging course load for 9th grade and so he had a decent amount of summer homework to complete which he had mapped out with a plan to complete it more than a week before school starts. Then he had 4-5 cross country workouts to complete. And home chores.
In the morning he can use the combination of the rituals, and weekly plan to outline what needs to get completed that day. Any appointments (like attending a coach’s practice or getting his hair cut) will go on his day plan as well. And while we are still working on time management, far less seems to be slipping through the cracks.
Now back to the summer homework. Early in the summer, I had thought I’d have to be on him every day to work on the homework, check his progress, fuss at him for not getting enough done. But after reading The Gift of Failure, I stepped out. I let him know that it was up to him to get his summer homework done and before school started, and that if he needed help planning it out I was happy to help. And then I let him go. And something surprising happened…he started working on it, really working on it, without any interference from me! Not only that, but he is excited to not only show me how much he has completed but talk all about what he is learning from doing it (AP World History is an awesome conversation starter).