Executive Function Coach Seth Perler on What Is & Isn’t Working in School

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Today I’ve got a great episode with my friend, executive function coach, and frequent guest of the pod, Seth Perler. I wanted to have a frank and honest conversation with Seth about what is and  is not working in schools right now, especially as we are once again in that back-to-school season. Of course there have been many changes in education since the start of COVID, including the inclusion of technology in almost every aspect of learning and the increased testing that students are being subjected to since returning to campus. And we know that neurodivergent kids tend to be impacted by these changes more than other students. So what can we do as parents? Where should we be putting our energies? That’s what Seth and I get into in this episode.

I also crowdsourced questions from the Tilt community before talking with Seth, and I got through as many topics as I could, including how to help kids with ADHD who are checked out of their school day, navigating the dance of technology and distraction, school refusal, and much much more. 


About Seth Perler

Seth Perler is an Executive Function Coach and Consultant with extensive experience addressing extraordinarily diverse learning needs. Seth was a teacher for 12 years, working with a diverse range of Gifted and Twice Exceptional (2E) students in charter schools for 8 years, and teaching students with ADD, ADHD, Dyslexia and other executive function challenges, as well as students with developmental disabilities. He’s been an Executive Function coach for middle, high school and college students since 2010.

Seth has a passion for meeting the highly unique needs of individual students and places heavy emphasis on addressing social, emotional, lifestyle and executive function issues in order to help students experience success. His specialty tends to be working with twice-exceptional learners. Seth designed ShineOn Educational Solutions as a service to meet with families in order to provide highly customized guidance to meet the complex needs of learners.


Things you’ll learn from this episode

  • Seth’s opinion on what is working and what is not working in schools right now
  • Advice on how to push back on the increase in testing that has started since students returned to in-person lessons
  • What Seth would say to parents who have kids with ADHD who are checked out of their school day
  • Ideas for getting educators on board in shifting the paradigm
  • How to collaborate with a student who insists executive functioning strategies don’t actually work for them
  • Practical strategies or ideas for parents who are dealing with that challenge of technology being useful but full of distractions and how to tailor the approach if a kid is showing resistance
  • Seth’s thoughts on school refusal and children’s mental health


Resources mentioned for What Is & Isn’t Working in School


This Season’s Sponsor: Outschool

I don’t know about you, but I’m always on the lookout for resources that can help differently wired kids build skills in areas like executive functioning, emotional regulation, and better understand how their brain is wired, especially during the back-to-school season. So, I love that Outschool offers tons of live classes like The Power of Impulse Control, Sketchnoting for the ADHD Brain, Mastering Math with Minecraft, Autism Lego Club, Executive Function Skills for Success, Friendship Skills, and much more.

In these and more than 150,000 other classes on every topic under the sun, Outschool takes kids ages 3 to 18 beyond the classroom through small, live classes taught by expert teachers, all through an accessible online learning platform.

CLICK HERE to learn more about how Outschool can support your child’s learning journey, and use the code TILT to get a $20 credit towards your first class.

Episode Transcript

Debbie Reber  00:00

Tilt Parenting is proud to partner with Outschool this podcast season. Outschool’s unique approach to education empowers differently wired kids ages three through 18, to dive into their interests in small live classes designed to foster a love of learning, create connections and cultivate independence. Learn more at outschool.com/tilt

Seth Perler  00:21

The thing that I like to say a lot of times is go for the C. And what I mean by that is, unfortunately, we have this system where you jump through certain hoops, and then you’re evaluated on those things. Did you complete the homework? Or the answers? The right answers? And did you do the essay was turned in on time, you know, there are these things. And a lot of their resistance often has to do with that they don’t know where to start. It’s very emotionally overwhelming. It just feels big, whatever the homework is, or the assignment is. But the goal for the C is just an example of one way of what I’m really talking about, which is how to alleviate some of the pressure.

Debbie Reber  01:03

Welcome to Tilt Parenting, a podcast featuring interviews and conversations aimed at inspiring, informing and supporting parents raising differently wired kids. I’m your host, Debbie Reber and I have got a great episode with my friend, executive function coach and frequent guest of the pod, Seth Perler. And I wanted to have a frank and honest conversation with Seth about what is and what is not working in schools right now, especially as we are once again in that back to school season. And of course, there have been many changes in education since the start of COVID, including the inclusion of technology in almost every aspect of learning, and the increased testing that students are being subjected to since returning to campus. And we also know that neurodivergent kids tend to be impacted by these changes more than other students. So what can we do as parents? Where should we be putting our energies? That’s what Seth and I get into in this episode, and I also crowd sourced questions from the tilled community before talking with Seth and I promise you I got through as many of those topics as I could, including how to help kids with ADHD who are pretty much checked out of their school day, navigating that dance of technology and distraction, dealing with school refusal, and much, much more. And if this is your first time hearing from Seth, here’s a little bit more about his work. Seth is an executive function coach and consultant with extensive experience addressing extraordinarily diverse learning needs. He was a teacher for 12 years working with a diverse range of gifted and twice exceptional or to ease students in charter schools for eight years, and teaching students with ADHD dyslexia and other executive function challenges. He has been an executive function coach for middle high school and college students since 2010. And again, I’ve had Seth on the show a bunch before and you can find links to those episodes, they are all worth a listen on the show notes page for this episode, which you can find at tilt parenting.com/session 300 Also, as this episode comes out, Seth fantastic free online event. TEFOS stands for the executive function online Summit. It starts in just a few days. And fantastic is not an exaggeration. I think this is the third year for TEFOS and it just gets better and better with each event. And I know from talking with Seth during the planning process throughout the year that he is focused on sharing with parents and teachers truly practical, actionable strategies that can help us support our kids who struggle with executive function. Here are just a few of the 30 people Seth is sharing through the summit Tosha Shore, Dr. Joy Lawson Davis, Debbie Steinberg Kuntz, Eric Tivers, Rosetta Lee, Dr. Nicole Tetreault, Julie Skolnick, Amanda Morin, and many, many more. I am also speaking in this summit, but I will also be right there with you learning from all of these amazing folks. So it all starts this Friday, August 5, and runs through Sunday, the seventh, the event is totally free. And if you want to have lifetime access to the recordings plus get some great extras, you can do that too. There’s a special early bird rate that ends this Thursday on the fourth. So you can learn more by going to tiltparenting.com/TEFOS. That’s Tilt Parenting.com/TEFOS. Okay, and now let’s get to my actual conversation with Seth about all things school.

Debbie Reber  04:41

Hello there, Seth, welcome back to the podcast.

Seth Perler  04:44

Hey, Debbie Reber. So good to be here. I’m excited to chat with you today.

Debbie Reber  04:48

It’s been a while to I’m just realizing since you’ve been on the show and listeners I’ll just say again, please go back and listen to the episodes that Seth and I have already done together because we’ve done some very deep dives into executive function into resistance did a great conversation between Seth and Asher about resistance. So there’s a lot there. But for this conversation, we want to talk about school, what isn’t isn’t working for school, and we’ll kind of see where it goes. But as a way to get started, I guess I’d like to know kind of what’s on your mind right now, like you and I were friends, we collaborate, we support each other in our work and personal lives. And so this conversation came up because you were feeling like you were seeing some things and just even in school, and I will just say for listeners, we’re recording this, as we’re wrapping up the 21/22 school year, this will be released leading into the 22/23 school year. So I’d love to know what’s on your mind right now with regards to school specifically, and what’s happening for our kids.

Seth Perler  05:53

Yeah, I don’t have a list in front of me or anything. So I know that we have a lot of questions to go through, but some of the things that concern me, are not things that just concern me lately, and some of them concern me lately. So I’ll start and I’ll be real brief. But I’ll start at the beginning things that just generally concern me about school is that we now Debbie, and I live in the United States. So if you’re in another country, I’m sure your school systems are a little bit different. But generally speaking in the school systems here, they’re very outdated and in a lot of ways now I want to preface everything I’m gonna say right now, with this, for all of you teachers out there, if I am not teacher bashing, Debbie is not teacher bashing. And we I guess, the way that I look at it is I was a teacher for 12 years. I love teachers. I so appreciate teachers. Teachers are under-resourced, underpaid, underappreciated, absolutely, positively under present. And I feel like teachers are like these sort of saviors for the whole system. So you have this top down system, what a top down system is, is a system where you have sort of is almost like a hierarchy or a family tree or something you have like the very, very top, which are supposedly like the most important people, you know, your superintendents, then your principals, then your teachers, then your kids. And it’s sort of this illusion of it’s the way we designed it. But what I want to share here is that, at the top of the system, there’s not a lot of heart, and that there’s a lot of value, you know, there’s the term, and not everything that’s measured matters. And not everything that matters is measured. There’s a lot of value on data and grades and scores, and performance and school performance. And all of these metrics that these people look at to determine if a school is doing its job and blah, blah. A lot of it is just complete bullshit. Because what happens is you get good teachers in there. And good teachers. Yes, they have skills. Yes, they know how to teach all these different subjects. Yes, they know how to dance different dances, like how does the teacher dance, the dance of doing what they need to do for the principal in the district and the dance of shutting their classroom door and doing what those kids need for their life? And, you know, how does the teacher build their artistry and teachers are not valued as artists and creators, but they are they create curriculum, they create learning experiences. And but they’re not seen as that, you know, they’re seen as people who should regurgitate curriculum, because if you do that, then you’re going to get the right scores, and then that’s going to show that everything blah, blah, blah. So I just wanted to say if it ever if during this conversation, we say something about teachers, that’s negative, that’s because there are teachers who shouldn’t be in the classroom. And there are teachers who don’t, especially for neurodiverse kids who just don’t get it, I’m just gonna be very direct about that. But the vast majority of teachers are just miracle makers, miracle workers, unsung heroes, and just can really save kids lives and change the trajectory because I so want to start with that. But some of the old problems are just that. For me, it’s letter grades, I think that letter grades are immoral and outdated and archaic and should be done away with and that we should have more authentic forms of assessment. I think that the inequality on so many levels for so many, not just neurodiverse kids, but so many diverse types of kids in all different ways that there’s just so many things that are just not not equal, not equitable. I was working with a school district about 10 years ago, and they did away with their whole equity program in a progressive city. What’s going on class sizes, brilliant teachers are magic. I mean, they could, they can, you can have a professor with a group of 500 people who can do magic, but generally speaking, to put 25 or 30 or 35 kids in a classroom and expect one person to serve them. That doesn’t make sense. The lack of interdisciplinary education or cross curricular education that involves multiple subjects, you know, we tend to think, Okay, you have the math class and the science class in the social studies class and they’re broken up. That’s not how life works, too. To not have sort of more involved project based interest based curiosity based democratic classrooms that allow kids to be a part of creating the curriculum, not teaching teachers how to create curriculum that involves what the kids say they want to do, and how to empower teachers to have really interesting neuro diverse, diverse curriculum that allows people of all different abilities to, you know, we’re so dependent on these grades and structures, that it really doesn’t empower us to think that way even. And something that I see more now than before, is that the pressure and I guess this is probably a good overarching thing, and then we can move on. But the pressure that I see that is on kids now, as compared to five years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, the pressure on their backs, the expectations to do all the things manage all the things, the social, the emotional, the personal, the self care, the academic, the extracurricular, social media expectations, and pressures, there’s just so much pressure. And something else that’s more new, which I also think is a pressure is the demand on their attention, having addictive devices and things that have never existed before, that demand attention. You know, you only have whatever 16 waking hours a day, and we get to choose where we want to put our attention, our time, our energy, our resources. And there’s so much pulling on them and pushing on them, that for them to find out who they are and what they’re made of, and how they fit into the world and how they want to contribute to society and the world and the planet and their communities and their families and their friends, and how they want to build skills and talents and interests and like find what matters to them, you know, and how to like, take this young human being and empower them to like just shine, there’s so much pulling and pushing on them, that I feel like, it’s hard for them to just be in this world and just sort of kids don’t have to be bored. Some of them don’t know what it feels like to be bored. They aren’t getting outside. And they’re not interacting with nature. They’re not looking at the clouds drift by so I’m just seeing a lot more deeper problems, deeper depression, deeper anxiety, more addiction problems, not just with technology, but real addiction problems, real emotional problems more intense in them not knowing where to go. Now, on the other hand, oh my god, Debbie, we are so fortunate. Like, there’s so many brilliant teachers, there’s so many amazing ripple makers, you know, you know, you look at the Goliath of like school systems, curriculum and standards and Common Core. And like in textbook companies like these are guys, right. And then you have these little ripple makers. And there’s so many amazing authors and people who just have chosen a little passion because they care about some aspect of helping kids or families. There’s so many people who’ve done such amazing work around things out there that you couldn’t really find enough resources to figure out, you know, if you’re the type of parent or whoever’s listening teacher, whatever that wants to dive into it, it can almost be it can be overwhelming. And there are so many passionate people who really have spent years of their life diving into an area to serve people. Like if you’re struggling with something people have already figured out useful answers that you can find. So that’s a really good thing about today.

Debbie Reber  13:34

Yes, so I did crowdsource questions for this from members of the tilt community. So I did want to just say one of the comments I got was, since we’ve returned to campus, there’s been a huge increase in testing student progress. I think it was implemented mainly to measure learning loss, but it is a lot more pressure on students, especially as many times and disruptive to the regular classroom schedule, the teachers are doing their best to encourage students and decrease pressure. But the teachers aren’t don’t seem thrilled about the testing as well. So that’s just feedback that I got from a listener. Is there any advice that you have for how we can push back on this? Because it is a lot of pressure for students and teachers who were frankly, just burned out?

Seth Perler  14:18

Yeah. Oh, my God, so many teachers are leaving. More than 50% of teachers leave by year five. You gotta imagine this person took four years of their life a lot of money just to become a teacher and pay for their college. Then they did it, then they did it for a few years, got burnt out and left. And then we’re replacing them and just and then we have shortages and substitute long term subs like crazy. Like it’s just, I don’t know the answers to these questions my thoughts, you should be angry, and you should connect with other people who are angry and you should make a ruckus, whatever that looks like in your community or your town or your school. Oh my god, Wu and I hear so many of the same stories from parents who feel like they’re the only one. We hear so many stories from teachers who feel like they’re the one only one going through this, somehow we’ve created a culture where people feel so isolated and like they’re the only one. But you and I hear a million with the same stories. So get together with those people and make a ruckus and speak your voice in and come together, I do what I can do. And this is just the work that I choose to do. And I try to do what I do on my blog, or many summits or my podcasts I’m on or whatever. But that’s like my way of trying to contribute, but nobody can do everything, but get together with other people to speak your voice and know that if you speak your voice, and you feel like it wasn’t heard, and like you were invalidated that do not listen to that, and validation. Because I think a lot of times parents and teachers feel like if they err something, and they’re told, You’re crazy that they’d say, Oh, am I am I crazy? No, you’re not listening to your gut. You know, you’re not the only one going through this. There’s a very narcissistic nature to a lot of things in education. And again, I’m not saying this about everybody, this blanket statement does not mean that this is everywhere, other amazing schools, amazing, cool innovations happening. But this is not uncommon at all, but speak you voice and you know, as far as the tests, some of the tests, you can opt out to find out if you can legally opt out, that’s the thing you can do. And find out if there are other people who want to opt out with you, you know, I mean, teachers are at risk of if they do certain things, they might be able to be fired or not renewed, and parents, you know, there’s pressure on parents to conform. And I wish I had better answers. But I think we’re far from it, I think we are so dug into the systems that we have, there are people who are invested in keeping things the way they are and not changing things. And the people who are making major decisions about this stuff are not educators. So we have a very serious problem when we don’t value educators. And then we have people making big decisions, who are not educators about what educators should be doing. And the stakeholders are the parents and teachers and the kids.

Debbie Reber  16:58

Well, let’s pivot and talk about some specific questions that were asked, I got a lot of questions about ADHD, no big surprise, because ADHD and executive function challenges so hand in hand, but a lot of questions surrounding how ADHD kids can thrive in an environment that’s really not based on their interests. We were talking about the traditional school model, it is rote, it’s repetitive transitions can be really hard if they’re really invested in something. And they’re always needing to pivot around things that they don’t really care about often. So what would you say for parents who have kids with ADHD who are just kind of checked out of their school day?

Seth Perler  17:39

Well, I think that the most important thing is, and you and I’ve probably talked about all this. But the first most important thing is that relationship and just really working on building your relationship, doing your own self care as a parent, doing your own deep inner work as a parent, being the best person you can be for yourself, the best parent, you can be for your kid, and really taking time to invest in yourself. Because the better you are for yourself, the better you are freakin those sorts of things, and really learning and taking time to learn about relationships. And you know, I like attachment theory and things like that, but learning about, you know, the nervous system. And so I guess that’s the first thing is sort of just remembering that they relate to your relationship with your kids, the most important thing no matter what happens in school, that preserving and maintaining and building that relationship, which is most important. Second is the enrichment idea or enrichment models from like, you know, gifted and talented world usually, but the the idea is, is that whatever happens in school, be sure that you are building your kids strengths, building on their interests, their passions, their curiosities, the things that they like, giving them time to really dive into learning things that may not have anything to do a school enriching activities, you could call them, but it’s really, you know, it could be things that you all are doing anyway, hobbies that you do with your kid places you go, you know, whatever you guys do, but just building on those interests and passions and strengths and talents and gifts and things like that. So no matter what happens in school, always give plenty of time every week, to allow your kid to invest their time and energy into Enriching types of activities, discussions, and things like that. These do not have to be formal. It does not matter if they’re formal or not. It can be with their play, whatever they’re, they are interested in, you know, there’s so much learning going on all the time, right in front of you notice it, and there’s something in teacher world called teachable moments like find the teachable moments and help your kid realize that even the things that they’re doing for fun are things to grow and build. The next thing is is that regardless of what’s going on in school, trying to more consciously build like executive function skills with that child in ways that are easy and normal and natural Well, in your family, you already have calendars that you use, you already have to do lists or color coding certain things for yourself or whatever. But just really thinking about what do you do? And what does your child do even naturally, like, look at what your child’s into, if they’re interested in social media or video games, they do organize, they do manage time, they do manage their attention, they do focus, they do pay attention, they concentrate, they do ignore distractions, like if you’re calling them to dinner, and they’re playing their video game, they’re ignoring you that well, that is executive function, you know, so sort of creatively looking at how can you help them build systems that they’re going to be using for their whole life, but in a conscious way, so I would be looking at that. Next is the advocacy piece, and I would be reaching out to teachers and being the squeaky wheel, you’re gonna get teachers that, you know, get an email from your conversation from you, and they’re like, oh, my gosh, thank you so much for telling me I was unaware of this. And, and I can do this, this and this, or, and you’re gonna get those teachers that are rigid and inflexible, and that don’t get it and don’t want to get it and don’t stop advocating with them either. There are definitely ways to try to be heard. And the other thing is, is, there’s something when I’m working with my students directly, like thing that I like to say, a lot of times is go for the C. And what I mean by that is, unfortunately, we have this system where you jump through certain hoops, and then you’re evaluated on those things. Did you complete the homework? Or the answers? The right answer? Did you do the essay was turned in on time, you know, there are these things. And a lot of their resistance often has to do with that they don’t know where to start, it’s very emotionally overwhelming. It just feels big, whatever the homework is, or the assignment is, but the goal for the C is just an example of one way of what I’m really talking about, which is how to alleviate some of the pressure. You know, like if I’m working with a kid and like, let’s, let’s just go for the C and that relieves the pressure, where they can be like, Okay, I can just do that what happens is they get a beer in a anyhow, but they’ve let go that pressure on themselves, and they’re just trying to get enough done. Now I do not like doing work, busy work or stuff just for compliance, you know, but sometimes that’s what has to be done. But they don’t have to get an A, and the parents got this stuff out. Like I There are different types of parents who have different types of expectations with this stuff. But I’ve noticed over the years that a lot of parents are very focused on getting it done, getting it done, right getting it completed. And I talk a lot about what is complete enough, you know, like, if if your kid is not having time to develop their furniture and stuff for time with you, and family, and they’re like, even if you’re like, Yeah, but my kid does three hours of homework, and they should only be doing 30 minutes, because they waste all that time and they just string. Listen, if it takes them three hours to do something that should take 30 minutes, and then it takes other kids that do 30 minutes, they don’t have the executive function to do with being asked to do for whatever reason. So you know, really looking at how can I help them to figure out how to navigate these things enough, you know, well, my see, especially at the end of the semester, when my students are, let’s say they have a D or an F in a class, and we’re trying to get them to pass and we’re looking okay, yeah, you have 18 zeros. And mathematically, if we turn these in, and you do five of them, and you go for the C and you just get them done enough and turn them in, you’ll actually have a C in the class, mathematically, let’s just do that and be done. And parents really want their kids to finish all the homework in the lesson, but But you have to really wait things out and like, really even reward them. And sometimes you’ll notice that counter intuitively that you’re like, Hey, do you have that homework, and at least got it turned in. And I’m really proud of you. This is here all the awesome things, the right things that you did tonight, and just get the stupid thing turned in, you know, you often are gonna get a lot more traction in the long run in the long game with the good feelings, the good connection, you’re making it through your kid around that stuff, helping them feel seen for that metacognitively telling them what they did well, which helps them to identify in a more strategic way the next time they do it, oh, I can do this, rather than just sort of unconsciously throwing spaghetti at the wall, which is what most of these kids with executive function challenges do. So I’ve listed several and now I can’t even remember the question.

Debbie Reber  24:31

For you answered the question and more for sure. And what came up for me I love that you said go for the C. Good enough. You know, the question was how can ADHD kids thrive in an environment and what came up for me and because I’m living this as a parent as well. And hearing your answer is that I think we often have this idea in our mind about what our kids, you know, we want them to thrive obviously we want their school life to look and be a certain way and part of If this is also being okay ourselves that it’s not going to be that way. And so I love that you talked about enriching and doing these other things and focusing on relationship and just remembering that we may not get to a place where our kids are really thriving in the school system that they are going through and that that’s okay. Okay. Yeah, yeah. So I just wanted to thank you for that. I think that’s just such a good point, because many of us aren’t going to get there, and our kids aren’t. And so it doesn’t mean all the things that we might make it mean, if their school life doesn’t look a certain way.

Seth Perler  25:35

Yeah, yeah. Almost like shifting the focus that we are so focused on these things need to be done, but we want them to be happy, healthy people in life and, and they may not go to college, they may they may flail around for five years after high school, blah, blah, blah, they may fail out of high school, they may get a GED. What I think you want to be asking yourself, or what, at least I’m asking myself, and I’m maybe speaking for Debbie too, probably because we know each other pretty well. But does this kid feel good? And in his or her skin? Do they have peace of mind through that peace in their heart? Do they have good relationships, good people around them? Do they have joy? You know, the sum of the practical? Are they able to manage finances? Are they able to manage their home or apartment or whatever? You know, like, that may sound silly, but like these are, life is complicated. But yeah, like life is also simple. Like, the things that we need that I want my kids to have is peace of mind. Joy, connection, stability. So to me, the objective is really like at the end of each day, is your child going to bed at night? Sort of cleared? Like are they lingering thinking about my parents mad at me because I didn’t finish this. Like you want them to be resting their head every night. Okay? You want them to feel at peace, like you’ve resolved things. And you’re connected. I think that that relationship connection is so important. But every night when they go to bed, like the connections established, there’s peace, in their mind, peace in their heart. Generally speaking, I think that’s really focusing on that.

Debbie Reber  27:13

Yeah. And I love that sense of security, our kids feeling safe. Tina Payne Bryson and Dan Siegel talk about showing up for our kids helping them feel safe, seen, soothe and secure. So to me, I always come back to that. So thank you for that. 

Debbie Reber  27:29

And now, a quick break for a word from our sponsor. I don’t know about you, but I am always on the lookout for resources that can help differently wired kids build skills in areas like executive functioning, emotional regulation, and better understanding how their brain is wired, especially during the back to school season. So I love that Outschool offers tons of live classes like the power of impulse control sketchnoting for the ADHD brain, mastering math with Minecraft, autism, Lego club, executive function skills for success, friendship, skills, and much more. In these and more than 150,000 other classes on every topic under the sun, Outschool takes kids ages three to 18, beyond the classroom, through small live classes taught by expert teachers all through an accessible online learning platform. Learn more about how Outschool can support your child’s journey at outschool.com/tilt. And now back to the show. 

Debbie Reber  28:32

Let’s pivot and talk about technology. I get a lot of questions. A big surprise about tech. You mentioned earlier just because of COVID, our kids are being asked to use devices that can be even more distracting. So many of us have kids who pretend to be doing work on their iPad or their computer. But unless we’re hovering over them and watching what they’re doing, they’re doing their art projects, or whatever it is that they’re doing. So playing a game. So do you have any practical strategies or ideas for parents who are dealing with that tech challenge?

Seth Perler  29:06

Yeah, I hate to say it, but I don’t have great answers. I mean, I wish that somebody would create an you know, you remember that there was that thing where you can have your Mac be a Mac or Windows computer, I wish that there was something where the device could just have the school related stuff when it was in a certain mode. And it wouldn’t even allow other things. And it could be framed really positively and the kids could have choice in whatever like designing the parameters around some of that stuff. But I wish something like that existed but as far as I know, it doesn’t. So it really is just a struggle. So here’s what we’ve done is we have created learning situations where we say here’s the expectation we have of you doing these things on this device that has way more interesting things. So ignore the interesting things. The more interesting things ignore the more fun things ignore the things that really activate your brain and, and your addictive brain and focus on this thing, and jump through these hoops, again, with all these questions to answer, and then we’re going to evaluate you. And so it’s just a difficult situation. Now, having said that, there are some practical things I do on Google Chrome. But you could do this on any browser, but I love the bookmarks bar, the way that I think about it is, your child can get to their interests, links, or games, or whatever it is, in a fraction of a second, we want to reduce the friction of getting to the important school, you want to make what’s easy, hard and make what’s hard, easy. And you obviously want buy-in and ownership and connection with them and, and sort of re looking at the desktop of the computer and all the things and what’s on it, and so on and so forth. You don’t again, just want to tap down be like we’re gonna delete this from the computer, or we’re gonna put this blocker on like you want them to be a part of it and know, hey, this is for your life, would you like to make school easier? Would you like to have more freedom, more fun, more choices in your future, but really authentically helping them under connect the dots around how that stuff works. But what the bookmarks bar does is, you can get it so that all of your important links for the grade portal or the class portals or the school homepage or the teachers web page, or, like I have kids, sometimes they’ll have like Google Classroom Schoology Infinite Campus, they’ll have like, it’s so confusing. It’s such a mess. It really is. It’s confusing for me. And I’ve seen, I’ve just seen it from so many different students. And it’s so confusing to find what they need. So anything you can do to reduce the friction, have their calendar, their Google Docs, all of the things right there in the bookmarks bar, there’s a thing that you can do on Chrome, where it opens certain tabs automatically. So I like to put them in order, where it opens the calendar in the first tab, their email inbox in the second tab, because these kids are usually horrible about checking their school email, and then their class portals or their grade portal. So every time you open the browser, it opens those first. And then I like to get kids to find a blocker that they like and set it up so that they’ve decided these are the times I want it or don’t want it, this is how it works. These are the things it shuts down. But again, you know, a lot of these kids, they can figure out how to bypass the blockers they can. I have a student right now, he could get around everything his parents put in place, everything the school put in place, he could pack any of it. Now, you also gotta give this kid credit, how much executive function did it take this kid to learn the skills to be able to do those are valuable skills. Like this is not just like, Oh, you’re doing the wrong things like these, these are opportunities for helping them connect the dots and helping them build passions, you know, but those are some of my tips. Oh, I also love customizing Google Calendar and color coding it, I put it on the month view for almost every kid I work with, because it’s just for what I teach them, it’s just usually the best view, we color code things you can have, you know, homework that is not done could be in red. And then once it’s done, and because it’s not done until it’s done. But they could change the color of it to green, you know, but you have to also keep these things simple for kids. So like I teach kids shorthand with this stuff like Google Google Calendar, you have to understand, they don’t have to write out a lot of details like you just need to get them started, then you can worry about more of the quality later. But I love Google Calendar. I like Google Keep for project management for them.

Debbie Reber  33:51

You know, you just shared some really good tools and digital tools, calendar, bookmarks bar Google Keep. There are some teens who insists that because of their ADHD, that quote unquote, typical executive function tools don’t actually work on them.

Seth Perler  34:07

Oh, that’s a great question. I love that. Yeah. 

Debbie Reber  34:09

So what do you say to a kid who’s like, no, that’s not that it doesn’t work on me?

Seth Perler  34:13

Well, first you hold space for them. You’re curious, you’re like, Tell me more. Tell me more. And I want to understand and you really, sincerely try to understand what they mean. And then you try to get buy in and ownership and you say, what would work for you? What do you like? Who have you? In course, depending on the level of resistance, you’re gonna have kids that say, well, nothing ever, blah, blah, blah. And I definitely get that I definitely get students like that. So when you are trying to help somebody implement something, and they’re saying, This doesn’t work for me, and you know, they’re quote, wrong, you know, that is not an accurate statement. You know, it’s a fixed mindset. This doesn’t work for me. There’s Carol Dweck. There’s the growth mindset of how can I figure out how to make this work for me. Ways that can work for me are ways that can somewhat work for me. But when we’re dealing with mindset, I mean, I really want to hear them. I really want to notice their emotional state, you know, like, they might say, Yeah, this doesn’t work for me. And they may do a squint their face in a certain way. Now say, Oh, I noticed you just squinting your face in a certain way. You said that didn’t work for you? Like, yeah, well, one time I had this teacher who blah, blah, blah, or one time, my dad blah, blah, blah. And they were trying to make me use the planner like this. And, and you can really hold space, and help them explore the emotions that go round with their narrative and their story and their, their, that why this doesn’t work for me. And then once that connections reestablished and they feel heard, and they can now be present with you, then you say cool, can I can I help you figure out a way that might work for you. And know that your way and their way may not be the same like you know, especially if you’re a very linear structured parent, like just because you have a system that works doesn’t mean that’s gonna work for your kid. But I always talk about the principles, the principles underneath are what you want to look for. So for example, if you’re like, oh, yeah, you should use this planner, this is the best planner, I’ve always used this one, you know, it’s the principles. It’s not the planner. So the principles underlying the planner, for example, are, do we have a method of planning that is reliable? Do we put it on the desk or the table or in a place? That’s good? Do we have the colored pens or markers or whatever that we need are highlighters, can we reliably track so for example, I teach kids shorthand, sometimes kids in their shorthand, especially younger kids will like use one or two letters. And I’m like, what does that mean? And they’re like, I don’t remember. And I’m like, well, that’s not useful shorthand. But the principle of shorthand like, you should be, quote, lazy, when there’s times to be lazy. That’s called efficiency. That’s a smart thing. Actually, when you have a very linear parent or teacher who tells you to write out the entire assignment with all the details and full words, don’t do that. Why? The put as little as you need to, now if you’re writing an essay, yeah, you’re gonna do that. But if you’re writing your homework, put as little as you need to, to get the details that you actually need, but being realistic. And I’ll give you one concrete example, when I’m helping kids who say, you know, this doesn’t work for me, I want to chunk it down into the simplest thing. Listen, you have to be looking at the long game. This is not about the short game. This is not about getting them to use a planner. Well tonight, this is about can I get them to Can I make it so easy for them? That they and I’m just playing? There’s just one example, can I make it so easy for them, that they can do it and then we can add to the complexity later? Listen very carefully to me say that again, please. We want to just get a little buy-in so that they can have a quote, success experience, or what I call micro successes, we want to give them an experience of success. And then we can add to it later. So if I have a kid who can’t doesn’t want to use an analog planner, or digital planner, nothing, they don’t want to use any plan. The way I back it up, it’s okay, fine. Can you at least stick a note card in your pocket, carry it around all day. And anytime a teacher says something, try to jot something on it. You know, and then if they wrote one thing out of eight classes, and you know that they missed eight, do not focus on seven, do not focus on the seven that they missed. You take that one and you be like, Oh my gosh, that’s so awesome. You did one look at this. I love how your handwriting was my handwriting sloppy that Yeah, but I think it’s cool. And Alicia, you know, whatever. But you have to really help them have almost a visceral experience of success around hey, look, you pulled out of your pocket. Like you just got to start there. And then you can start building on things. Now I will tell you parents, if that sounds daunting, the good news is, once you get some momentum, you will get to a point where you can get a lot of momentum. So now they’re taking the note card every other day, they put two or three things on it. You know, you’re building, building, building, and maybe two months later, all of a sudden, there’s like a breakthrough and you now can like it starts to gel. But you just have to understand that this the brain takes a while for the neurons to connect with these big, really very large skill sets.

Debbie Reber  39:32

That’s great. And I just want to add something for parents. One of the things I talk a lot about is looking for the bright spots. I love how you just highlighted that little win. That’s not just a win for your kid. It’s a win that you as a parent or caregiver should acknowledge and celebrate and because we often can expect things to look a certain way we don’t notice the micro successes ourselves. I want to wrap this up but I do want to look at school refusal. I got a couple of questions of out this both from a kid perspective and from a school perspective. So schools often their hands are tied, because if the child doesn’t come to school for a certain amount of time, they don’t get the funds that they need. So schools are sometimes prioritizing the child’s attendance over the kids’ mental health who are struggling as well. They’re feeling extra anxious, depressed, all of those things. I’m just wondering what comes up for you? What thoughts do you have around that?

Seth Perler  40:27

The first thought that comes up for me is that when somebody refuses to go somewhere, and don’t even think about a kid in school refusal, just think about you, why not wanting to go somewhere, you’re supposed to go to an event, or you’re supposed to go to a family thing, or you’re supposed to go to something, or you have to stand in a line and bureaucracy for two hours, or whatever it is. Imagine the somatic experience that your body goes through when you have to go somewhere, you don’t want to go to that place, because it doesn’t feel good, it feels unsafe, it feels threatening, it feels yucky, it feels bad, whatever. The first thing I think of is that these kids are not refusing school because they’re bad kids or they’re, they’re making bad choices, or but they’re refusing because it feels that bad. Now why? I mean, it’s different for every story. But we have to start from understanding that this human being is being asked to repeatedly go through and experience that for some reason. And we may not have all the we may not know how they’re being bullied or what’s going on, maybe they’re telling us maybe they’re not. But we have to understand that if they’re refusing to go to school, their nervous system is on fire saying this is not a safe place for me or a safe thing for me. And I don’t this is we could talk about this for hours, because that’s something I’m thinking about all these complexities around it. So I want to say this is very, very, very complex. But to start off, it does not feel safe enough for them to go, it’s unsafe, they’re having an experience in their body that says, this thing is threatening me, you know, I’m going to be attacked, I’m my safety might be threatened. my well being, like, I just want to make that super clear. And this is something I’ve seen more lately than I think this relates to the pressure, there’s so much pressure on them to be something they’re not to do other things, or from other students or, you know, from adults in their life, whatever. There’s so much pressure, that I love this thing called polyvagal theory, if anybody’s interested in researching stuff, but in polyvagal theory, there are these three main places that our nervous system goes. And there’s sort of this top level safe and social, connected, creative, open space. And that’s where, for example, Debbie and I are right now. And then there’s this fight or flight. Now fight and flight are both active fighting is active and flighting, running away from something as active, they’re both active energies there, they’re angry, they’re agitated, they’re there. And then you have sort of this freeze or this lower this shutdown this close. And that’s how I imagined the school refusal. It to me, it’s an A maybe fight or flight, but it to me, it feels like just this, my nervous system, I just don’t want to go there. I just want to shut down and get away for I cannot go in that place. It does not feel safe and social does not feel open and creative. It does not feel. So that’s my first thought with that school refusal, then if the question is like a parent saying, how do we get them to go to school? I mean, you have to deal with that, that they don’t feel safe. And this is not an overnight matter. I mean, you have to figure out is it other students? Is it feeling shame from teachers? Is it feeling pressure from tests? Is it feeling stupid? Is it feeling like they’re not enough? You know, what are their narratives and stories? I would say? Probably almost 100% of school refusal situations, they probably need actual counseling, actual therapy, real help professionals who understand because that’s a pretty, pretty unsafe nervous system to refuse to go to school, you know. So to figure out what’s going on, I mean, and I think kind of what you said at the beginning of our whole conversation is like, things don’t have to look the same, like if they refuse to go to school, and you need to pull them out of school and start a different course of their life and, and try to put back all the pieces. So be it, whatever your kid needs, for their mental health, that is not mentally healthy for them to be forced to go. Now then you have the question of the school, you know, the school saying, Well, how do we get this kid to go to school and then I would think that you have sort of a spectrum of functional and dysfunctional school and school policies and things like that and hope Willie, you have a more functional school staff and policies that say, Wow, this kid really doesn’t feel safe. How can we support scale? What do we need to do in that actually have the time, the money, the resources, the expertise to take it seriously? And you know, that happen? And systemically, I think it’s just a sign of how it’s just a dinosaur of a system in a lot of ways. And that the level of reform that’s needed is so it’s huge.

Debbie Reber  45:31

Yeah. So Seth, as always, we’ve talked for a while, we could go on for hours. And we did do a live webinar a few years ago that I think went on for three and a half hours. But I just want to wrap us up. Is there anything that we haven’t touched upon, or any last thoughts that you want to make sure that you impart before we say goodbye.

Seth Perler  45:52

For parents, the relationship and the fun, and the joy and the love and the connection and ending every day on a high note, like don’t, don’t let them go to bed angry and without things resolved, like do your best to help them understand how incredibly beautiful and awesome and amazing they are, every day, no matter what happens, help them understand how valuable they are every day, and build on their strengths and their interest in their passions and their the enrichment type stuff like just no matter what happens in school, keep finding what they what their strengths are, and what their gifts are and what their interests are, and just keep building, it’s okay, if they go in a million different directions, it’s okay if they want to do piano for one week, and then ballet for one week, and then play in the dirt for one week. And then look at the clouds where we can, whatever. So I guess that’s the what I would say for parents and for teachers, it’s really to work on creating learning experiences that are really differentiated, creatively differentiated to really accommodate all sorts of diversity, diverse brains, diverse personalities, diverse backgrounds, all sorts of different types of kids, and what your goal should be to use the word should and other semantic use don’t shoot yourself, what you should do when you’re creating, you know, these learning experiences is try to create curriculum or learning experiences, or themes or units that are so beautifully constructed. You teachers are artists, okay. And this is not easy. I’m not saying that this is easy, but try with your art, your creation of learning experiences, to create learning experiences, that empower every student to be, quote, successful. In other words, imagine every student in your class gets an A plus. And for those of you that are like, that’s not realistic, it is. Or imagine it is if you don’t believe it, but have the intention of creating learning experiences where every single kid can feel like whatever level they did on whatever levels of the unit was that they were successful, not because the result, but because of the effort, engagement, the being willing to try things and take challenge, you know, all the things that what they are doing is successful for them. And they can feel that, you know, they can feel successful.

Debbie Reber  48:20

It’s so funny right before you said that I wrote down because I always scribble a ton of notes I wrote the way they feel. That’s what it’s all about. So thank you. That’s such a wonderful note to end this conversation on. So much to think about. We talk all the time. I learned something every time we chat. So thank you so much for just what you do, how you show up for kids everywhere, for our community and for everything that you shared today. So great.

Seth Perler  48:45

You too, Debbie. Debbie Reber is amazing. Debbie contributes to the world; she just gives so much and you’re awesome. She knows I mean that I really mean that. She’s an incredible human being.

Debbie Reber  48:59

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