21 May 2009 06:09 PM

Improving Study Habits and Sibling Rivalry

by Dr. Rick

Our guest blogger last week, Kimberly, asked me some questions, which I’m responding to this week.  On Monday I discussed how she could encourage more enthusiasm about school with her reluctant son.  Today, let’s discuss improving study habits and sibling rivalry, shall we? 

Improving study habits can be a benefit for all students, no matter what their academic records are.  We could all improve our efficiencies.  I’d recommend – as I’ve written often before – concentrating on such behaviors as:

  1. Organization.  Make sure your child keeps some sort of planner, electronic or written, to help her keep track of her assignments.  Keep a family calendar in a prominent place that shows important test, long term assignment, extracurricular, and family dates.  Look at this calendar daily with your kids.  Ask, “How’s the social studies project coming along?  It’s due next week, I see.”  Make sure all the supplies are handy, so she doesn’t spend precious time scaring up paper, text books, highlighters, and other materials that should be right at her fingertips.
  2. Routines.  Make sure your child has a time and place for study and homework.  Stick to the routine.  Routines give kids structure, which they need, no matter how much they say otherwise.
  3. Studying with a friend.  Study buddies – or even groups of them – can be especially helpful with older students.  They help your child set goals, provide support, keep her on track, and even add a little competition.  Encourage study “parties” at important test times, but monitor them to make sure the time is spent (mostly) studying.
  4. Communication.  Make sure you’re keeping up communication with the folks at school.  Know when the science fair is being held, when the term papers and other important assignments are due, when the sports games and concerts and school plays are scheduled, and when report cards are distributed.  Let your student know that you’re keeping up on these dates.  Nag when necessary.

If you want, check out some previous blogs I’ve written about homework habits (September 9 and 11, 2008), the “myth of multitasking” (November 25, 2008), tips for studying for tests (October 7 and 9, 2008), and establishing healthy routines (November 7, 2008). 


Sibling rivalry and contention can sure be a family stressor, can’t it?


We know that it’s common – some would say unavoidable – when your family has more than one kid.  Practically “natural.”  But it can also be annoying and – at its worst – dangerous enough to harm sibling relationships for lengthy periods.  So, what to do?  Here are some tips I’ve discovered over the years, some from expert colleagues, some from first-hand experience. 

  1. Try to let them work it out themselves.  Our first instinct is to protect our kids, to shield them from confrontation and conflict.  But allowing them to figure out how to solve problems, to become empathetic, and to avoid unnecessary arguments and ill feelings is a pretty good goal, too.  They’ll call on you to step in, to “make Courtney stop making fun of me,” and to take sides.  Avoid the urge to get involved.
  2.  If you must step in, work with them so they learn peace-making skills.  Quiet them down first by doing whatever you need to do.  But when things are less tense, show them how you have developed skills in patience, persistence, and compromise over the years.  Tell them how you and your siblings got over minor scrapes that seemed major at the time.  Let them know you won’t tolerate destructive, hateful behavior.
  3. Separate them.  Sometimes, you simply have to be a referee, try as you might to stay out of the fray.  A little alone time, away from each other may be just what the situation demands.  In fact, I think it’s important to build time apart into their daily routines.  Disguise it as “study time” or some other name that’s right for your family, but do it.
  4. Don’t fall for the “Blame Game.”  They’ll insist that you pronounce who’s to blame, who “started” the fight, who should be punished.  (A sneaky way to get you to pick a “favorite.)  Stay neutral as much as possible.
  5. Go for a “win-win.”  That’s an overused phrase, but it’s the real goal here.  It may take the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Job, but if each kid feels as if he or she has “won,” you’re a peace maker.  Blessed are the peace makers. 
  6. Give one-on-one attention as much as possible.  It’s amazing to me – still, even after spending all these years with children – how much our kids want to be with us, how they want our undivided attention, how special they feel when we spend quality time with them.  Doesn’t matter if it’s only a few minutes, as long as it’s just the two of you and you’re “there” for them.  Find time to do this.
  7. Have “family time” as much as possible.  Just as important as one-on-one time is family time.  Informal, enjoyable, uncompetitive, relaxed time together lets your kids know you love them, that they’re safe, and their differences make them each unique. (I’m the oldest of eight siblings, and still I marvel at our completely different talents, interests, and accomplishments.  How did our parents do that?)
  8. Create family rules.  Kids like and need to know what’s right and fair.  As a family, when everyone’s in a good mood and not in the middle of a squabble, develop a few simple and easy rules that everyone can agree to follow.   Not too many.  That’s why there are ten commandments and not a hundred.  Review the rules when necessary.
  9. Don’t make comparisons.  It’s unfair and unproductive to remind one child of the accomplishments of a sibling, or to go on at length about your pride in the other child.  Recognizing and acknowledging the strengths in each child is much more helpful. 
  10. Don’t dismiss your kids’ feelings or perceptions.  Listen empathetically, sensitively, and try your best to understand what’s behind the sibling rivalry.  A regular routine of honest, relaxed communication is the best way to do this.

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