Advice from Mentors: When YOU Create Positive Changes, your Kids Will Follow

Julie Madison Jacoby, M.Ed., Founder also contributed to this article.

As seasoned teachers, and now mentors, who work one-on-one with students in their homes, we have learned so much about what motivates kids and what holds them back. The tools and skills we offer lead to improved grades and positive changes in parent-child relationships, but the greatest challenge and question that guides our work is how can we get each child to be open and willing to take on new habits? Nobody likes change…even adults! So what does it take to break old habits and create positive changes? Here are a few tips that have proven successful with the kids and parents we work with through Adolescent Mentoring.

1. Silence is Golden!
When you first see your kids after they’ve finished a long day at school, they are tired! Their brains have been busy all day. They are socially, emotionally and physically exhausted. All those interactions with their peers and teachers, transitions from one subject to the next, having to sit still for long periods of time, listening, daydreaming and regaining focus and taking notes…this would take a toll on anyone! (We adults feel the same way at the end of our days!) School requires a lot of decision-making, risk-taking and stamina. Now, imagine the child who comes home from all of that mental and physical stimulation and immediately the questions begin about how their day went, what they have for homework, and how they did on the test, etc. They may not be ready or willing to share at all! (Sound familiar?)

Allow them space to decompress and recharge their battery before confronting them, giving reminders or asking questions. You can even create a “No Stress Zone” and set a timer to signal an appropriate amount of time to relax and unwind! (20-30 minutes) Pretty soon you may notice, if you give them that space, that they will open up about their day with the details that you wanted to know in the first place. Our world is so fast-paced that we need to slow it down from time to time.

2. No Talking while Hangry!
When having a conversation with your child, it’s important for both of you to be in a grounded, patient and focused place. It is working against the brain to have an important discussion when either of you are tired and haven’t eaten any protein within four hours. So set your conversation up for success! First, have a snack with at least 9-12 grams of protein and hydrate with water. These are two important steps that lead to more positive conversations and attitudes. You will both be calmer and feel more positive. (Ahhhhh!)

3. Patience is a Virtue!
Our brains are fully formed adult brains so we tend to process thoughts and feelings faster than our children. They need time and space to digest what’s going on and what’s being said. Don’t answer for them. Be patient. Listen. This validates your child, which is really important! They’re trying to figure out how to maneuver their world. It may feel unnatural at first to wait a few seconds longer than usual for your child to respond, but the long-term benefits are totally worth it! Think of the skills you’re enabling them to practice: Verbal expression, verbal processing, and decision-making to name a few. It is really hard to slow down, but vital for healthy relationships. This is a communication skill you can test out today!

Excellent teachers wait 5 seconds before they allow responses from children in classes. This allows the students to process what they are hearing and thinking. These teachers know that children will comprehend information more clearly, which means better understanding and less repetition. (Ever feel like you are saying the same thing over and over again to your children?)

4. Acknowledge, Acknowledge, Acknowledge
Take the time to notice when your children are successful. This includes the smallest action, like remembering to hang their coat up (instead of throwing it on the floor!), to the biggest action, like studying numerous days in advance before an upcoming test. Instead of saying a generalized “good job,” be specific and identify a specific strength that they exhibited.

• “I’m really impressed with how you handled yourself with your dad the other night. You expressed your thoughts so clearly.”
• “Congrats on the results of your science test! You really used great planning skills by studying a little bit each day.”
• “What an improvement on this essay! It looks like you read the directions carefully and included everything your teacher required.”

Also, be mindful to acknowledge your child without uttering the word, ”but.”

• “I’m really impressed with how you handled yourself with your dad the other night but I wish you would do that more often.”
• “You did such a good job on your science test but you forgot to hand in your math.”
• “What an improvement on this essay but I see you still need to work harder on the details of the assignment.”

Your children will not receive your praise because all they will hear is the criticism. There is nothing wrong with constructive criticism. Just make sure to state it as a separate thought and in a separate moment from the positive reinforcement and encouragement that you are providing.

5. Walk the Talk
Take a good look at how you and other adults in your children’s lives set examples. Kids watch, perceive, and feel everything. They are information sponges! (Even when we don’t think they are paying attention)

Some helpful questions to think about:
• Do you say unkind things about people? Family members? People who serve you at restaurants?
• Do you obsess about your things? Do you make it a point to focus on intrinsic values?
• Do you expect the best from your kids in everything they do? Is there focus on enjoyment and the risk-taking or just trying an activity?
• Do you take time to nurture yourself? If your children never see you take time for yourself or say no to people when you are over-scheduled or refueling your energy, they will not learn how to take care of themselves and create boundaries.

Take time to breathe in your parenting. You are the most important person in your children’s lives…even though they may seem to hide this fact from you. Keep this thought with you throughout every single day!

Adolescent Mentoring was created by award-winning teacher, Julie Madison Jacoby, to help adolescents and adults set goals toward reaching their potential. Lisa Podell has since joined the business as a Senior Consultant and Lead Mentor. They travel to homes in both New Jersey and New York City to mentor students one-on-one in the following areas: Executive skills, study skills, organizational skills and creating healthier habits. Julie and Lisa are also co-authors of Mentoring for School Success: Creating Positive Changes which can be purchased on Amazon and through their website at

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