Kimball Lewis, CEO of empoweringparents.com, shares insights on parents working with student motivation for learning at home. He identifies the need to create a structure that many students find in school but don’t associate with being at home. Kimball also addresses dealing with kids’ opposition to required “work.”
Subscribe to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast on iTunes or visit BarkleyPD.com to find new episodes!
Steve [Intro]: 00:01 Hello and welcome to the Parent Wellbeing and Student Learning During School Closures Edition of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. With the extended closing of schools, we as parents have entered into a new territory regarding what we have known as “school learning.” With this and future podcasts, I’ll look to share my experiences as a teacher, educator, parent, grandparent, and continuous learner.
Steve: 00:33 How to keep kids motivated learning at home. On today’s podcast, I am excited to introduce our listeners to Kimball Lewis. He is the CEO of empoweringparents.com. And Kimball, welcome. Thanks for joining us. Would you take a minute or two, tell us a little bit about yourself and a little bit about empowering parents.com.
Kimball: 01:02 Sure. I’m married have two kids, two teenage boys, 19 and 17. Actually homeschooled them from sixth grade.
Steve: 01:10 It’s a big credential having two teenage boys.
Kimball: 01:13 Yeah, I know. I know. It makes you an expert, actually. It really does. I mean, because when you have parenting issues, it’s not – I mean you see a counselor, but it’s not a mental health problem. It’s more of a – you know what I mean, it’s more of a how do you manage a kid’s problem? So, I mean you go to mental health experts for this, but it’s not a mental health problems generally. But anyway, so I got involved with Empowering Parents about five years ago. And before that I was a technology executive and empowering parents is a – it’s a website, empoweringparents.com, and we have hundreds of articles, free articles, on parenting written by child behavior experts. And we’re also the home of something called the Total Transformation Program which some people might have heard of before.
Kimball: 01:52 It’s been around for a little over 10 years and it’s a sort of a, how to guide a step-by-step guide for managing child behavior problems. And it was created by a gentleman named James Lehman, who was a therapist, had a 30 year career and realized that parents who have kids that have behavior problems, they just don’t have the tools that child development specialists have. And that if you could just give some basic tools to parents on how to deal with child issues, that the experts know people that work in group homes, because he worked in James Lehman, worked in group homes, worked with troubled teens, that if you give parents some of those tools that it would help the situation a whole lot better. So sort of our flagship program is the total transformation program.
Steve: 02:36 So to start us off Kimball, what would you say are some of the issues that have arisen from the quarantine and and students learning at home with their parents?
Kimball: 02:53 Yeah. So I think that the hardest thing for parents and the biggest issue that they’re not used to is that when a kid goes to school, there’s a structure that’s put together by the administration and all the teachers. And they’re very thoughtful about this structure. And if you’re a teacher, you go through training, like you learn how to control a classroom. You learn how to adhere to the structure. Most kids behave and follow the structure fairly well. But that structure doesn’t exist at all and it never did. They grew up in a home where there wasn’t, you know, when you’re a toddler, there’s not really structure, you just do what you want. So when your school day is at home, you have to be able to convert to, we’re not in the school day anymore, we’re in a structure and the parents – it’s really helpful ahead of time if you can come up with what that structure is going to be, teachers are trained in this. The parents aren’t necessarily.
Steve: 03:38 So it sounds like the parents creating that structure has the parent playing a different role and I guess that means the the youngster having to adjust to their parent playing a different role.
Kimball: 03:53 Yeah. Yeah. And also the youngster viewing home as school. Because home is usually like – it’s free time for the kid. They come home from school, it’s like free time. Actually, that’s one of the troubles with homework in the evening is kids view their home as a place for free time and for playing and for doing their electronics. So there needs to be a way to like clearly distinguish this is the school day and then this is a home day. This was one of the challenges I had as a homeschooler.
Steve: 04:18 It’s interesting that I hear you say that because when I talked to some people who did home schooling, they told me that one of the pluses was that they didn’t have to deal with homework. In other words, they created the structure when the school day ended for them and their student it ended. And so it was different from what they were used to dealing with homework at home.
Kimball: 04:44 Yeah. My kids never felt like they had homework. They just had schoolwork that they did.
Steve: 04:49 Yeah.
Kimball: 04:49 You know, one of the best, that’s just the thing – one of the benefits of homeschooling is that it’s flexible and being at home is a little bit flexible. That’s a benefit, but it’s also the challenge, which is you gotta have some structure around it.
Steve: 05:01 There are some kids who actually did better during the quarantine time in their learning and from what we’re uncovering, part of that, of them doing better was that they had a little bit more control and autonomy. And for some kids, it was terrible but for other kids, it actually motivated their learning further.
Kimball: 05:22 Steve that’s a great point. Not all kids are the same. Some are going to be easier than others. Some need more of a structure than others do. I have an acquaintance friend of mine who has two kids and we’re in Orlando, Florida, and the school was set up so that you can go to school if you want, or you can remote learn. You can go like three days a week or you can remote learn. One of his kids wants to go in and needs that needs it and the other one’s doing much better at home. So they, you know, it really depends on the child.
Steve: 05:51 Yeah. Interesting. So what are some what are some thoughts that you have about how parents can best motivate students to take on that independent focus that they need for learning at home.
Kimball: 06:08 So this is one of the things that they teach in a Total Transformation Program, where they they’ll go through and they’ll explain what techniques work and what don’t work for parents and also why kids are doing what they’re doing. And the truth is like, most kids are not going to be motivated to do schoolwork. They just don’t – like, it’s not what they want to do necessarily. So it’s not important to them, but it’s important to the parents. And it’s important for the parents because they know it’s good for the kid, even though the kid doesn’t want to do it. So what we recommend is, you need to link something that’s important to the child, to that thing that’s important to you, which is getting the homework done.
Kimball: 06:53 So for me, like when I’d go to work, I own my accompany now so I don’t – I am my own boss, but most of my career, I worked for someone else. That person I worked for cared about his company way more than I did. I mean, I worked for him and I did all the work, but he got me motivated to work for his company by paying me and aligning my incentives with his or her incentives. So with a kid who’s not motivated to do homework, you need to align the thing that they are motivated with, which is like doing electronics or being on their phone, or hanging out with their friends, with their homework. And you do that very clearly by linking the two, which is that you don’t get those things until you get your homework done. And you make the link very clear. It’s like, if you don’t go to work, you don’t get paid.
Kimball: 07:33 If you don’t get your homework done today, electronics doesn’t start and it doesn’t begin until that homework is done. And the link is – you need to make the link very clear. We actually recommend the parents that they write this down on a refrigerator. You know what the rules are about this and it’s written down. And that has a couple of things. One is, it makes it very clear the child what the rules are. It also helps eliminate arguments because, and this is a tactic, this is a great tactic. The child’s going to want to argue with you as a person over whether or not they need to do their homework. You can separate yourself from the rules. You just point at it, you go, t”hose are the rules.” So in a country we have what’s called the rule of law. We don’t have the rule of people.
Kimball: 08:19 We have the rule of law.Law is the rules. So you establish that in your home and it works really well. You can point to the refrigerator, you go, “kids, that’s – those are the rules. We follow the rules in this household. That’s the way it works.” It helps to cut down on the arguing between the parent and the child. And so they’re going to argue about the rules, but that’s a separate discussion. You say, if you want to argue about the rules, we’ll schedule a time and a couple of days, and we’ll sit down and go over that.
Steve: 08:45 Renegotiation, huh?
Kimball: 08:45 But right now, the issue is you need to do your homework. These are the rules, and that’s it. And you can actually stop the argument at that point. So it’s very helpful to have this stuff written down.
Steve: 08:57 And also I think builds in the opportunity to almost point out to the child that they are in control in that, when they meet whatever that requirement is, then what they’re looking to have happen is going to happen. So as long as the parent stays consistent in following through with what they said they would do.
Kimball: 09:18 And when the child’s dragging you into that argument over, I don’t want to do my homework, they’re not looking for a solution to the argument. The argument is their means to get out of doing the homework. They try to wear you down. Do you know what I mean?
Steve: 09:30 I got ya.
Kimball: 09:30 Here’s something that has never, ever happened in the history of the world. Your child says, “I don’t want to do my homework. I want to play video games.” And you very logically explained to them, if they don’t do their homework, they’re not going to do well on their test. If they don’t do on their test, they’re not going to get a good grades. If they don’t get good grades, they’re not going to get into college. If they don’t get into college, they’re not going to get a good job. And then 10 years down the road, you can’t pay your mortgage because you didn’t do your homework tonight. Never in the history of the world has a child said, “oh, I get it now. I’m going to go do my I’m going to put my video game down and go do the homework.” It just doesn’t work that way.
Steve: 10:04 That’s a great example.
Kimball: 10:07 Their brains just don’t actually work that way. So that argument and the child’s not arguing because he doesn’t understand, the child’s arguing as a technique.
Steve: 10:19 To get the result that they want.
Kimball: 10:20 Yeah. As they would say in Total Transformation, the child is actually trying to solve a problem. The problem is doing
homework makes me feel uncomfortable and it’s hard. And I want to solve that problem. The way I’m going to solve it is by arguing and getting out of it. And it actually works. That’s why they do it. It works.
Steve: 10:40 Well, all the time I’m arguing, I’m not having to do the homework.
Kimball: 10:43 Oh my God, I used to wear my mother down. I could wear her down by arguing and I’d end up getting what I wanted. Like that was the – Anyway, so that’s the mentality of the kid that they’re not like you can’t explain it logically to them. They needed to do their homework. It’s their responsibility. That’s the explanation. If they really care about the bigger explanation scheduled time and a couple of days, and then you could go over it.
Steve: 11:06 If they’re still interested in a couple of days, then you know it’s worth sitting down and renegotiating.
Kimball: 11:11 Let me clarify – some kids care, but the kids that you’re having an issue with, they don’t care. Theu just don’t want to do their homework.
Steve: 11:16 The kids who care have figured it out on their own.
Kimball: 11:20 Yeah, they’re fine. You know, like a large group of kids figure it out on their own. They figure out – and here’s what they
figure out is, they figure out if they do their homework, they actually feel better, right? The kids who are responsible and get their homework done, if you did a test, sometimes scientific tests, those kids are probably happier on average, right? Once you start getting your work done, you have a little bit of success, that actually motivates you.
Steve: 11:47 It’s certainly easier going to school with it done or with the task completed.
Kimball: 11:51 Yes. It’s easier to play video games when you know, when your parents ask you if you did your homework. Yeah. It’s all done and then you’re done. Like, I have I have one child who’s more self-motivated than the other. And the one that’s more like gets his work done on time and one procrastinates a little bit more. They both get their work done generally. But the one that procrastinates a little bit more is not – he’s probably less happy. And we’re all like that, right? We all feel better when we don’t – no one feels good about procrastinating.
Steve: 12:17 Kimball, I read a article that you have posted on your website entitled “Life skills: Five Tips to Help Your Children Make it in The Real World.” And as I read through your five tips, it struck me that this time of the pandemic and the quarantine probably is creating increased opportunities for helping kids learn those life skills.
Kimball: 12:48 So I, you know, one of the things I actually, this occurred to me as I was raising my kids, I think we underestimate what our kids are capable of. So you’ve got a 12 year old, he can make dinner. He can run the dishwasher. You can actually have your kids running you know, doing laundry, if you want. Like basic life stuff that you consider your parent’s job. But like I had my kids doing their laundry at a fairly young age. You know what made me think about this was, I tried to play video games with my kids when they were like eight. Have you ever played – I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to play their games with the controllers and stuff. They are very complicated. They’re really hard. They were a thousand times better than I was.
Steve: 13:29 With the grandkids. They get frustrated with me.
Kimball: 13:30 Oh my gosh. And I’m playing the games and I’m thinking to myself, if they can figure this out, they can figure out how to do the laundry. And so I started like, you start having them like, do the laundry. So like basic life skill stuff, like do the laundry. You can have them cook dinner and you can do it from a reasonably young age, or probably much younger than people realize.
Steve: 13:53 I grew up on a farm. So we got tossed into life skills rather rather early.
Kimball: 14:04 Hey, you’re driving a tractor at like age 10 or something.
Steve: 14:06 Yeah. And it was interesting that you say that because I recognized raising my daughter in the suburbs that I had to think almost differently and purposefully to make happen for her, the things that just happened naturally in that in that farming environment.
Kimball: 14:25 Yeah. It’s actually not that you were allowed to drive the tractor, you were probably required to drive that tractor. And in fact, at age 10, like if you can teach a ten-year-old how to play these really complicated video games, they can operate a tractor. And I would actually go as far to say that a ten-year-old might actually might be more responsible on a tractor than a 16 year old, because at 10, at least I’m doing normal stuff at 16, I might be doing something anti-social, right? Like it might occur to me to do something bad on the tractor. Who knows?
Steve: 14:59 Quite a few educators who have been writing about the fact that one of the discoveries during the quarantine was that teachers actually raise their expectation of what kids were capable of doing independently and on their own and a need for us to make sure we don’t lose that focus when we bring kids kids back into the classroom. The kids could direct quite a bit of their own learning and in too many classrooms, we probably weren’t giving them enough chances to do that.
Kimball: 15:37 I think their brains academically, and from a learning standpoint, actually from a learning standpoint, their brains are way better than ours. Like, my wife, my wife wasn’t born in America. She came here when she was seven and her first language is Arabic. She’s completely fluent. All of her siblings were like age 14 and above. And came at the exact same time. They all have accents. They all came at the exact same time. She just happened to be the youngest and she’s completely fluent. You’d never know she was born and her first language wan’t English. Everyone else has the accent. It’s because their brains learn incredible at that young age. So we underestimate that. What they don’t have skills in is executive functioning. So they don’t have good skills in, put the video game down and study. And if you help them through that, you help them, it’s sort of that executive functioning.
Kimball: 16:30 They can learn a lot of this stuff on their own. And you do that by giving them responsibility, not by taking it away. You know what I mean? Like, that’s part of the life skill things which is get your kids used to talking to adults. That’s a huge thing. Like, my son applied for a job at McDonald’s when he was 16. Which actually, if anyone ever like looked down on a McDonald’s job, go try working the drive through at McDonald’s on a busy day, on your first day of work, it’s the most stressful thing in the world.
Steve: 17:01 I’ll bet.
Kimball: 17:01 But anyway, the hardest thing about that job was for him to walk into the store as a dopey 16 year old, who’s not used to talking to adults that he doesn’t know in a position of authority and asking for a job. Like, even getting those words out is difficult and it creates anxiety and I had to like, tell him, you have to go in there and like talk to the person. He’s like, “what do I say?” I would be like, “here’s roughly what you say, but you’re going to mess it up the first time and you have to do it and you’ll get used to it after awhile.” And that that’s one of the big life skills that’s in that article, which is knowing how to behave appropriately with adults.
Steve: 17:38 Kimball, I really appreciate the the time you’ve given us here today. I’m wondering if you have one thought on a kind of one of the most important parenting strategies or behaviors that parents and caregivers should be conscious of during the the pandemic and quarantine that in many cases, has students spending much more time at home.
Kimball: 18:06 So if you’re having trouble with your child at home, getting them motivated to do their homework and you’re having fights, usually the people that come to our site, they’re having fights with their kids constantly and they’re getting frustrated. And one of the most important things that we teach is that you don’t have to attend every fight that you’re invited to. So if your child starts dragging into a fight about not wanting to do their homework, you don’t have to attend that fight. You can just say these are the rules. You need to do your homework. And here are the consequences if you don’t do it and then you disengage. You don’t take part in that fight anymore. It’s very powerful to disengage like that. It’s also very powerful to use very direct statements.
Kimball: 18:54 The communication aspect is critical when you’re trying to get your kids to do stuff. You don’t want to engage in those arguments. And then you want to have what we call our effective consequences. Effective consequence isn’t a punishment. It’s not – you takes something away for a week. You don’t want to do that. Taking something away for a week like a phone doesn’t do any good, because if it’s gone for a week, you can’t take it away tomorrow because it’s already gone. That’s your currency. So you take it away, once you do your work, you get it back. And then you’re very dispassionate about it. You don’t want to get into a fight about it. This is a kid just trying to learn how to be responsible. You don’t want to take it personally, as a parent. They’re not doing their work as a personal front. It’s not disrespect to you. Don’t take it as disrespect. They’re not doing their work because they haven’t figured out how to solve that problem of doing work when they don’t want to. So don’t attend the fights, just disengage from the fights, have reasonable consequences that allow them to earn back their free time or whatever it is through just getting their work done.
Steve: 19:53 Again, I really like your, your concept of when the work is done, you get you get it back. So again, you’re communicating back to the student, the child that they’re that they’re in charge.
Kimball: 20:04 Yeah. And the key is consistency. You don’t have to ratchet up the consequence every single time, you just apply it consistently and they come around. And when they come around, when they realize that they’ll start doing their work once in a while, and then they’ll feel better and like, “oh, I feel better that I got my work done.” And then that builds that builds their esteem. That builds their confidence to get the work done is that they’ve seen and experienced a little bit of success. And it feels better than the alternative, which is the fighting, which the kid doesn’t really like either. They’re just doing it because that’s what they know how to do.
Steve: 20:38 Well, Kimball, thank you so much and I will I’ll place the link to your website into the lead-in to this podcast. But am I correct that anybody can find it at empoweringparents.com?
Kimball: 20:55 That’s correct.
Steve: 20:57 Alright. Well, have a great day. Thanks for joining us.
Kimball: 20:59 Thank you, Steve. That was great. Thank you.
Steve [Outro]: 21:02 Thanks again for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.