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Joyful Musings--a weekly blog

Joyful Parenting Coaching is focused on clarity, consistency, connection, being an effective parent, finding balance as a parent, and above all being a confident and joyous parent. Topics include communication, having difficult conversations, having constructive conversations, chores, routines, family meetings, 

The Best TV Shows & Movies For Your Kids

Elisabeth Stitt

Parents often feel a lot of guilt over children and screen time, but even the experts do not say to cut out screen time entirely.  When it comes to tv, there are a lot of gems as long as one sticks to the guidelines of limiting tv time, watching it together with your kids, and avoiding "fast-paced..or other highly stimulating children's shows."  

In the guest blog below there are a variety of recommendations--something for everyone.  I especially want to check out Backyard Science, which might provide some inspiration for the 10 Ways to Beat Summer Boredom Challenge.   Click below for the

GUEST BLOG

by Monisha Iswaran

DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS

Elisabeth Stitt

     I don't know about you, but learning to have difficult conversations was a skill I probably didn't learn until I was in my 30's.  For most of my life I was the peacemaker.  I just wanted everyone to be happy.  That meant that telling someone that I didn't want things to be the way they were or that I didn't like how they were treating me was akin to walking on nails.  No one modeled for me how to stay present even when things got uncomfortable.  It was so much easier to just give up or give in.  

Now, of course, there are times when going with the flow is the name of the game, but if you want your kids to learn the balance between keeping the peace and learning to advocate for themselves in a constructive way, they are going to learn that much sooner if you teach it to them explicitly.  Here is my first tip on how to do that.

Tip #1:  Make It Safe for Your Kids to Express Their Emotions

Naturally, we don’t just love it when our kids whine, complain and argue.  There is a strong instinct to shut that kind of behavior down quickly.  Ironically, however, sometimes the quickest way to shut it down is actually to stop and listen—really listen—to our kids and to acknowledge their thoughts and feelings.

Let’s say that your younger daughter is upset because she doesn’t want to sit in the middle seat once again.  You ask her to get into the car and first she whines, “No, I don’t want to.”  Then she complains, “Why do I always have to sit in the middle?  That’s so unfair.”  Finally, she starts to argue, “Brother should have to sit in the middle, too.  That would be more fair.  We should take turns, and I sat here last time.”

Yes, you could just get tense and tell her tightly, “This is not the time to have this conversation.  Right now I need you to cooperate and get in that car this instant.”  Or, you could take the 30 seconds it takes to really look her in the eyes (maybe even bend down to eye height) and repeat back to her, “You are really sick of sitting in the middle.  It really feels unfair to you that you have to sit in the middle all the time.  You would like Brother to sit in the middle sometimes, too.”

I get that you don’t have time to have the actual argument right now, but at least your daughter is going to feel seen and heard.  The next step is to offer a concrete time when you will be able to have an in depth conversation about who gets to sit where when in the car.  If you have regular family meetings, add this to the agenda.  If you don’t, what other time is a good time to discuss things in your family?  For some families, that is as kids are saying good night.  You don’t have to find answers in one sitting.  The first night might just be about brainstorming different ideas.  Deciding which solution to try out might be another night.  That’s okay.  It is enough for your child to know that you are considering the problem from her point of view.  

TIP #2   Open Up Space for Your Kids to Express Negative Opinions

If we are only wiling to let our kids share the good stuff with us a) they are going to stop sharing and b) they are going to stop advocating for themselves.  The trick is to not only teach them how to express negative opinions but to actually invite them.  

Sometimes parents feel that if they ask their kids how they are feeling about things, they are just giving the child a chance to get worked up or to dig in his heals about a thing that can’t actually be changed.  For example, assume that a family has moved and a child has to go to a new school.  At the end of the week, the parent can see that the child is unhappy at the new school.  Now the parent feels helpless as this school really was the best option and there really isn’t anything that can be changed.

The first mistake the parent makes is to brush over or deny the bad parts in a desperate attempt to get the child to focus on the positive.  Perhaps when asked how his day was, Mark says that the teacher hates him and all the kids at the school suck.  The parent hastens to assure him that of course his teacher doesn’t hate him and that there must be at least some kids at school who are actually quite nice.  Mark now has two choices:  contradict his parent and risk his parent getting mad or stuff his feelings and comfort his parent by saying,  "I’m sure you’re right.”  

Unfortunately, when our kids respond with anger, we ourselves are often unwilling to hear it and we over react.  Met with statements of “You ruined my life, and I’ll never forgive you,” we are apt to get up on our high horse.  “How dare you talk to me that way,” we might say.  Or “You are so ungrateful.  We made this move for you.  You have no excuse getting so upset.”  If the child throws more anger our way, the situation can escalate until the child is being punished for talking back and being rude.  Now the child has even more reason to resent us.  

On the other hand, if Mark just quietly agrees with his parents, the damage is still there; it is just hidden.  Next time, knowing that his parent won’t really listen and will just come in with a pep talk when asked how his day was, Mark will mumble fine and try to change the subject.  But that will do nothing to make him less miserable at school.  It will just add to his misery because he will be alone with it and it won’t feel safe to express negative thoughts in the future.  This is the child who tells me, “My parents just don’t get it,” or worse, “My parents just don’t care.”  (Plus the repressed feelings of injustice will pop out somewhere else seemingly out of nowhere.)  

So let’s rewind the scene.  Imagine that the parents starts with, “Looking at your stooped shoulders and those down turned lips has me wondering if you had a pretty hard day.”   This opens up the lines of communication for anything negative your kid wants to share.  The child might deflect by saying, “No, my day was okay,” at which point the parent can double check by saying, “It’s okay to share if you had a bad day.  I know the move has been stressful for all of us, but if something needs fixing, we can handle it together.”  Now you have made it safe for your child to share that his teacher hates himi and the other kids aren’t being nice.  

Now a wise parent goes to his active listening skills and repeats that back to him:  

 “So it really feels like your teacher hates you.”

“She does!”

“That must be really awful to feel that your teacher hates you.”

“Yeah.  I shouldn’t have to go to a school where the teacher hates kids.”  

“I hear you saying  you shouldn’t even have to go to a school where the teacher doesn’t like you.”

“Yeah, it is totally unfair.  I miss my old teacher.  He was the best.”

“It feels unfair to have a teacher who might not like you, especially when miss your old teacher who was so awesome.”

“Yeah, Mr. Green let me read my book when I was done with my work.  Stupid Mrs. Jones just threatened to take my book away if I didn’t put it in my backpack until recess.”  

Notice that this parents hasn’t actually agreed with anything Mark has said; the parent just acknowledged his feelings about his situation.  He could just keep going on with this until the conversation winds down, ending perhaps with something like, “I’m sorry you had a bad day.”  

Tip #3 Support Your Child in Standing Up for Himself.  

Active listening will do a lot to make a child feel better.  Or, the parent might use this situation as a learning experience for standing up for oneself.  After listening thoughtfully, the parent might ask, “What are you supposed to do if you finish your work early?”  Mark might explain, “Go back and check your work, but I did that and there still time until the bell rang.”  Now it is time for supporting your child in learning to advocate for himself.  You might role play with him how to say, “Excuse me, Mrs. Jones, I finished my work and didn’t catch any mistakes when I double checked it.  May I read my book until every one else finishes?”  

Playing the part of the teacher, be difficult.  Role play Mrs. Jones snapping, “No, you just sit there and wait.”  [Side note:  I am not advocating that students get into a big argument in public with a teacher. Coach kids to find a diplomatic, private time to talk.]  Ask your child, what feelings came up when the teacher snapped at him.  Perhaps he felt ashamed or humiliated (after all, his suggestion was reasonable and he asked politely).  Perhaps he now feels angry and disdainful.  Here’s where it is especially important that he role play staying his ground in a calm but firm way.

Have him try something like, “Excuse me, Mrs. Jones, I did not mean to make class difficult for you, and at the same time I am curious about why it makes sense for me to sit and do nothing rather than finding something constructive to do.”  Point out to your child how phrasing can make a difference in being heard.  Starting by saying you did not wish to offend should help.  The wording of “and at the same time” is much softer than “but” (which automatically negates what comes before it).  Finally, expressing curiosity does more to feel less like her judgement is being questioned and more like the student just doesn’t want to waste time.  (At this point it might be useful to brainstorm why the teacher asked Mark to just sit and wait—like maybe she knew she was about to transition the class to a new activity in a few minutes).  

It is also useful to model two endings—one where Mrs. Jones responds reasonably and works out with Mark good options while waiting that meet her needs and one where Mrs. Jones just gets huffier, and it is time for a strategic retreat.  For the latter, one might then help the child brainstorm constructive things to do while seemingly doing nothing but sitting quietly (like reviewing multiplication tables or reciting poems in one’s head).  [It is important to teach your children that while it is good to be able to have difficult conversation, they still might not like the outcome;  the value is in making the try and in at least expressing your point of view.

4. Teach Your Kids to Not Make Assumptions

Something that can make people afraid to have a conversation with someone else is that they make a lot of assumptions about the other person’s motivations (like because a teacher snaps, she doesn’t like a student).  Before they even talk, they build up a conflict where maybe there isn’t one.

 I read recently about a tween girl who came to feel her father didn’t like her any more because Dad had started playing a lot of football with her brother.  When she was younger, she and her dad had had a great relationship.  She loved hanging out with him—going with him to the hardware store or to pick up pizza for the family’s Friday night dinner.  But as she became a tween and developed more of her own interests, she spent less time tagging behind her father.  At the same time, her brother (just 15 months younger than the girl) fell in love with football and demanded that Dad spend time with him throwing the ball around.  The girl did not recognize the reasons for her father’s shift in attention and drew the false conclusion that while her dad loved her (He was her dad, after all), he didn’t enjoy being with her.  She was so afraid of confirming this suspicion, she was afraid to ever say anything.  

Dad, for his part, was also missing his old relationship with his daughter.  He saw her new interest in dance and drama (both time consuming activities) as evidence of her not caring about spending time with him any more.  Although he missed the time they used to just hang out, he figured that she needed space as a growing girl away from her parents.

Both daughter and dad made assumptions about what the other person was thinking, and in each case, the false assumptions caused the individual unnecessary pain.

If Dad had modeled getting curious and sharing his feelings, he might have heard what his daughter was really feeling.    The conversation might have gone like this:

“I see that you are really busy with the play and your dance classes, so we aren’t spending much time together anymore, and what I am telling myself about that is that you need space to do stuff with your girlfriends and aren’t so into hanging out with your old dad.”  

“Yeah, I am busy with the play and stuff, but I really miss our hanging out time.  Besides, you’re always playing ball with Billy, so I thought you just didn’t like being with me that much anymore.”  

“What?!  Of course not!  I totally miss our hanging out, but I didn’t think you’d still want to go to the hardware store with me.”  

“Well, that’s true.  But couldn’t we go to a movie?  Or maybe you would help me practice my lines for the play.”  

By being emotionally vulnerable, a parent makes it safe for his child to be emotionally vulnerable, too, which it turn makes it easy to check for information before assuming the worse. 

Say Yes When You Can, But Don't Be Afraid of Saying No

Elisabeth Stitt

As a Parent, My Goal Was Always to Say Yes 

Where I Could

(Keeping in Mind the Big Picture, 

Including the Needs of the Family As a Whole and the Greater Needs of the Child.)  

 

What do I mean by that? 

I mean that I don't set limits just for the sake of saying no.  In fact, I try to say yes.  When a child wants something, my hope is to say yes.  But my hope to make my child happy is not greater than my responsibility as his parent to know what is good for him or for the running of the family as a whole. 

Most parents understand and are comfortable with this when it comes to safety.  Your two year old may want to climb the wobbly ladder by himself but you know that the risk is too great, so you offer a compromise--she may climb it with you hanging on to him tightly or she may climb her toy slide by herself.  He may not use the big knife to cut onions but he may use the plastic knife to cut bananas or to spread butter.  

Other areas are trickier, however.  Let's say that your seven year old wants to watch Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  Yes, your child is enormously bright and precocious and yes, you had a marvelous time reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone together, and at the same time you remember how much talking through you had to do when it came to 3-headed dogs and attacking trolls.  She is arguing that it is just Harry Potter and she knows it is just a story and she won't be afraid.  She points out that nothing in Sorcerer's Stone gave her nightmares, and if you watch the movie with her she won't get scared.  But your niggling parenting voice is still saying no, she can wait 2-3 years for that--certainly until you have read the book with her. You remember being freaked out by Dementors yourself, so you say no and she melts down into a tantrum.  

Were you right to say no?  

Of course you were.  It is your job as a parent to see what your child cannot see—that the concept of something that sucks your happiness from you and feeds on your worst fears is, indeed, the stuff of nightmares.  And, yes, eventually Prisoner of Azkaban might provide a rich opportunity for you to talk to your child about his worst fears and how we have the power to affect our own happiness.  In the mean time, however, it is worth your child’s disappointment and anger in the short run to say no, we are not watching that tonight.  

Setting Limits Day to Day

Perhaps the most tiresome limits to set are the day to day behaviors like when we want our kids do their chores, be cooperative, and not spend too much time on their electronics.  We want to set consistent expectations.  But the chores could be done later.  Wouldn’t it be okay to go out and play while there is still daylight? And yes, Mom, I will help bring in the supplies from the car, but mayn’t I just do the perishables now and finish the rest later?  And, oh, Dad, you should look at this program I am on.  It is totally cool and is teaching me about how different rates of rainfall affect erosion.  These kinds of situations seem so innocent, and yet saying yes can lead to a slippery slope.  Saying yes can lead to constant arguments and negotiations—exhausting for the parent and potentially confusing to the child (why did you say yes one day and no another day).  

So what’s the best choice?

Ha.  There is no best choice.  It depends on the personality of both the parent and the child and the circumstances of the particular day.  Some parents have an easy time being flexible without getting tense about it.  Some kids can change up their routine—go out and play now and come back and do their chores without complaining later.  If you are a flexible parent with a flexible kid, it is probably very easy for you to say yes freely and often.  If on the other hand, the extra conversations about when something is going to get done or how much longer it is going to take results in you getting that hard, edgy tone in your voice, any benefit in connection that you get by meeting the needs of your child’s personality will go out the window.  

First and foremost, you need to know yourself. Ideally, you and your child will learn to be flexible, and at the same time consistent about meeting the limit.  And over time, most kids can learn to find the balance between meeting your expectations and also getting some wiggle room for themselves, but it takes a lot of practice and maturity.  In the meanwhile, a parent my find herself going back to the tighter expectation.  

It might look like this:

Kid:  Can’t I fold the laundry later?  I want to climb trees while it is still light out.  

Parent:  I’d like to say yes because I know you love climbing trees, and at the same time I am worried that you’ll forget later and it won’t get done.

Kid:  It will get done.  I promise!!

Later.

Parent:  It is almost bed time, and the laundry still is not folded.

Kid:  Oh, yeah, right.  Sorry.  I forgot.  I’ll do it now.

Parent:  Well, get done what you can, but I want you in bed on time.

……..I see you got around half way done, but now it is time for bed.  

THREE DAYS LATER

Kid:  Can I fold laundry after dinner?  There’s still time to climb before it gets dark.  

Parent:  Remember earlier this week when I said yes to tree climbing and you didn’t get the clothes folded until the following day?  That’s making it hard for me to say yes now.  So, laundry first, and if you have time, you can climb trees when you are done until dinner.  We can try play first and chores after a different time.

Of course, at this point your child may pull out every trick in the book—whining, complaining, blaming.  Perhaps now your resentment flairs.  You think, see, this is what I get for being nice and saying yes earlier in the week.  Still, if you can deliver the message calmly, clearly and then not argue any more, your frustration is a wonderful natural consequence.  Your child will learn her parent was willing to give her a yes answer and when she messed up, she had to go back to the previous expectation and suffer her parent’s annoyance.

This cycle might go back and forth multiple times before your child really can follow through on her promises.  Personally, I extend the amount of “consequence” between tries.  So, if the child forgets twice, she now has to do it on my schedule two times before we try again to do it on her schedule.  If she gets another chance and forgets again, I extend the time even more (Let’s try this again next month.  I’ll put it on the calendar and in the meanwhile you and I can brainstorm ideas as to how you are going to remember to follow through on your own).  

All through this process my hope is to say yes, and at the same time, I am going to follow through until my child meets my expectations.  In other words, even as I try to offer some flexibility about how or when something gets done, I am going to hold a firm limit that it gets done.  To some degree my willingness to say yes is in direct proportion to how much I feel I am being played.  With an ADHD child, I know it will take a lot more iterations.  With a less distracted child, I might get the feeling that I am being played and then be less patient.  Even so, in both cases, my goal is to train my children to take responsibility for things without my micromanaging them.  

What about the clearly white areas?  Should I always say yes then?

The areas of parenting I always found the most challenging were the ones which always could be yeses; i just wanted to say no.  What about the request, for example, for one more game of Uno.  What if it is not too close to bedtime, there is time for one or two more games, and your children have been well-behaved?  What if you still want to say no?  Is that okay?  After all, I started this piece by saying my goal as a parent was always to say yes where I could.  What could justify my saying no at this point?  Well, I said, consider the needs of the whole family.  You, Mom, and you, Dad, are part of the family!  If you have already been present and connected with your child by playing a couple of games of Uno, there is a limit!  You do get to consider your own feelings and say, no, I have had enough of that.  You don’t have to make an excuse.  You don’t have to jump up and finish the dishes or do the laundry to justify your no.  It is enough to say no, thank you, I have had enough of Uno for one evening.  I will play again another time.  

Now, if this results in a tantrum, your best bet for teaching your child to control his emotions in the future is still to stay present with his disappointment, to acknowledge it and to assure him that it will be easier to handle his let down in the future.  But, boy, can that be hard.  Those were the times when I found it hardest to be calm and patient.  If my child was losing it because she was hungry or tired or over stimulated, I could handle that.  But when she lost it after I had already spent an hour playing boring card games, my first reaction was often just resentment.  That felt so unfair!  Did being a good parent mean that my kid could suck the lifeblood out of me? (Did you ever think that if you had to read the favorite book again or play Candyland one more time that they were going to be dragging you kicking and screaming off to the looney bin?)  Yes, connecting with our kids sometimes means playing things we don’t want to play—but not beyond reason and certainly not beyond the point where we are not going to have enough energy to get up and to be a good parent tomorrow.  Better to gently say no tonight than to dread seeing your kid in the morning.  It is more than okay for your kids to see that you have your own feelings and your own limits.  (Sorry, no, I am not giving you permission to have a tantrum!  Just to set a gentle limit).  

To sum up?

Have clear expectations, have clear limits, and at the same time look for ways to say yes to your child.  Ideally, they will learn the give and take of family members helping each other out—extending time when it works, and jumping right in when their help is really needed.

Without any follow through on requests (or no expectations in the first place), you are treating your child like an infant, and she is going to have a rude awakening when she gets out into a very demanding world.

Following through rigidly with no exceptions or negotiations leaves your child feeling unseen and unacknowledged—like she is a machine or drone, like getting things done is always more important than her needs or feelings.  This leads to resentment and anger which is likely to burst forth in the teenage years.  

Finding this balance between warm connections and clear expectations is not easy, but as one of the key tasks of effective parenting, it is worth working on.  

Chores for All Ages

Elisabeth Stitt

Why Chores?

There are many reasons to give kids chores (To see a comprehensive list, go HEREKids like to feel needed and capable.  Chores help with both.  When parents set up chores as “In our family we help each other,” kids see their work as being an important part of being a member of the family.  Plus, kids like knowing they are able to do things on their own.  They like being able to know that they were the one who made the living room sparkle or who saw to it that every family member had a sandwich ready to take in his lunch.  When all the family members are contributing, it frees up time for family fun, and parents are less stressed.  Parents have to get themselves ready for work.  If the kids are making lunch for everyone while Mom and Dad are getting breakfast on the table, families end up having a few minutes to sit down and start the day together.  

What are appropriate chores for toddlers? 

With support and supervision, there is a long list of what toddlers can do:  They can  put their dirty clothes in the hamper (they can even learn to sort lights and darks if you have two hampers); they can match socks and smooth and fold washcloths, dishtowels and hand towels; they can put their books and toys away if the bins and shelves are low enough; they can “make” their beds if they are out of their crib and they only have a quilt (no top sheet) to pull up and smooth out.  In the kitchen, they can stand on a stool and wash and rinse cutlery and anything plastic in a bin of soapy water and transfer it to a clean bin of water; they can wash vegetables and fruits in soapy water and put them in a bin of clean water; they can dry cutlery and anything plastic. They can also be handed things to throw away or put in the recycling bin; they can fetch diapers, wipes, bibs, etc. from Baby’s diaper bag, and they can carry cereal or cracker boxes in from the car; Outside they can water plants and dig in the garden. They can sponge up spills and with their own toddler size broom can sweep things up.  

To a toddler, there is no difference between fun and education.  Their developmental job is to learn about the world and to explore their influence on it.  Whether they are playing in the sandbox or mixing the biscuits with their hands, it is all “real” to them.  As long as parents are sensitive to their attention spans and don’t get angry when things go “wrong,” they will be as happy sorting laundry as they are sorting colored blocks.  

What are appropriate chores for Pre-K kids?

As toddlers develop into preschoolers, they will become increasingly competent at the chores you have been training them on and will be able to take some of those chores on as their “own.”  Additionally, they will be able to set and clear placemats, napkins, cutlery and anything that is plastic.  You can teach them to take their dishes directly to the dishwasher after they have scraped extra food and put them in a dish washer.  With practice with smaller vessels, they can pour their own juice and add milk to their cereal.  Put the cereal container in a low cupboard so they can get it and dish out cereal to every one if you have transferred the cereal to a wide brimmed container.  

With support and supervision, they can learn to measure and add and mix things.  If you make the same recipe over and over, even if they are not able to read, you can write it out and draw pictures, and they will be able to make simple recipes.  (Recipes with eggs take extra training—both in cracking and in washing hands carefully and not eating raw egg no matter how good the batter tastes.)  They can use a vegetable peeler and with close supervision, they can begin to use a knife (start with cutting soft things), they can learn to spread things on bread (again, start with soft butter and mayonnaise and move on to cream cheese and peanut butter). Get kid-sized oven mitts so they can begin to get experience with things like stirring the onions as they sauté or even flipping pancakes (by standing behind them with your arms under their arms, you can assure that they do not inadvertently bring their arms down on a hot pan).  

Young kids want to spend time with their parents, they want to be in the middle of things, they want to feel included.  As long as parents can slow down enough to put the emphasis on teaching and guiding and not just getting things done efficiently, kids will think learning all these new life skills are great fun.  If parents are too rushed during the week, they can set aside time on the weekend to train new skills.  As skills are mastered (say loading the non-breakable items into the dish washer), kids can start doing them during the week.  

What are appropriate chores for school-aged children? 

By lower elementary, kids should be capable of doing a whole host of things on their own, including getting up, washed up and dressed on their own.  They should be able to get their own simple breakfast—cereal or toast—or should be helping with the family breakfast.  For the most part, they should be making their own lunches—perhaps getting help with things like heating soup and pouring it into a thermos.  They may now be physically big enough to take out the garbage and the recycling, to help rake leaves and shovel snow, to carry lots of things in from the car.  

The most important new chore or responsibility for lower elementary kids is for them to learn to manage their own materials—their binders, backpacks, water bottles, and sports equipment, for example.  They need to start developing and using systems for remembering things like their library books and permission slips.  Most importantly, they need to become increasingly independent about doing their own homework.  Parents would be wise to limit the amount of homework done per grade even if the child doesn’t finish it all and to resist making the child’s homework be perfect.  If the parent feels it is important to correct the work in the moment—especially knowing many teachers don’t actually correct homework—then take the time to do one thing (say a math problem) until it is perfect, but don’t worry about finishing the page.  The surest way to get into homework battles is to have still very young children sit too long doing academics after school; they’ve been doing that all day.  

By this age, kids are less interested in working right along side their parents, so what might have been pure fun to a preschooler might now feel like a chore.  Still, if parents have kept the emphasis on the idea that chores help the family run more smoothly and free up time for fun, there is no reason they have to become a burden.  

What are appropriate chores for pre-adolescents? 

There is very little a pre-adolescent cannot learn to do.  They can learn to cook, they can do laundry, they can scrub the inside of a bathtub and clean a bathroom mirror.  Parents will get much more cooperation with all these things, however, if the whole family is doing them at once.  Or are doing something along side each other.  Perhaps your child is making the salad while you make the spaghetti sauce—or perhaps your child is making the scrambled eggs while you make the toast.  The parent has the power to keep the atmosphere light and loving, to be using the time to connect with their kids and talk about things they like, or to crank up the toons and dance along as they cook or clean.  The more loathsome the chore (toilets!!), the more a plan for fun afterwards helps motivate everyone as in “As soon as the bathrooms are cleaned, we can leave to the beach.”  

Rotate chores so that no one child feels he has the onerous chore while his sibling has it easy.  

At this point, most chores are neither fun nor educational as kids will have pretty much mastered them.  Parents can create fun and build in family activities as rewards, but let’s face it, most adults do not find chores fun or educational.   Hopefully, however, we do find them satisfying to complete.  There is certainly pleasure in an orderly house and a home-cooked meal.  It is reassuring to know that when you need your “presentation” shirt, it will be hanging in the closet clean and neat and ready to go.  Cooking or gardening may become a hobby, but the time at the stove will be more stimulating than the time cleaning up afterward.  

In families where they hire people to clean or cook or do maintenance like cleaning out the gutters, it is especially important that parents show their respect and gratitude to the workers coming into their home.  They should always value the work being done—whether they are doing it themselves or are paying someone to do it.  I have seen too many children not willing to pitch in and help out because, “That’s not my job” or “That’s what the janitor is there for.”  Worse, I have seen children look down their noses at hardworking people assuming that those people have less value in the world than their doctor father or their lawyer mother.  Parents need to teach their children to respect everyone and to know that every person—no matter his job—has his own dreams, hopes, ambitions, skills, and gifts he brings to the world.  Everyone plays his part in this world.  

What are appropriate chores for teens? 

There is pretty much no chore a teenager is not capable of learning.  Chores are not rocket science.  Teens are big enough and capable enough to figure out how to fix pretty much anything—change a fuse or lightbulb, screw a knob back into place, grease a squeaky door, fix a flat on a bike tire.  They will probably even enjoy taking on a bigger project along side you like installing a new sprinkler system or sewing new pillow covers.  If you have built a loving, trusting relationship with them, they will see the added responsibility as a challenge rather than evidence that you hate them and Just Don’t Understand!!

That being said, most teens today are terribly busy just with the academics, athletics and school commitments on their plate.  My hope for parents is that they seriously try to limit how much their teens take on and continue to ask their teens to contribute to the family.  As teens learn to drive, they may be able to take over tasks like the weekly grocery shopping and the monthly run to the warehouse store.  If you keep your receipts in a program like Quicken, your teens can do your data entry.  If you still pay bills by hand, teens can write out checks, bring them to you to be signed and then stamp and address the envelope.  Teens can keep track of shopping lists and the fact that the family is getting low on laundry detergent.  They can do research for a family trip and given a budget can plan activities for when the family gets there.  

Chores are good for kids and good for families.

At the end of the day, families that work together are more closely bonded.  Kids who can show their competence in helping out at home feel less pressure to be perfect at school (and that’s a good thing!).  They may do poorly on a math test but they can make their parents weak-kneed with gratitude because the kitchen got cleaned.  That contributes powerfully to a child’s sense of self efficacy and power in the world.  In families where chores are done, parents don’t fall into the habit of serving their kids (which is detrimental because it gives kids an inflated sense of their importance in the world).  In my experience, kids who do chores are less anxious.  Their total sense of self is not wrapped up in their grades or how many goals they make at the soccer game.  They are more likely to know their value as a human being.  

How Can You Keep Your Teen From Rebelling?

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

The first question to ask yourself, when considering how to keep your teen from rebelling, is what am I doing to help foster my kid’s independence and sense of autonomy?

What effect does biology have on the teenage brain?

It is a teen’s job to separate from you. As researcher Daniel Siegel says so beautifully, “Going from the dependency of childhood to the responsibility of adulthood requires not just a leap, but a transformation. The brain needs a transformative time to prepare for that” (Q&A: Daniel J. Siegel, neuropsychiatrist, on the power and purpose of the teenage brain | ZDNet).

A child’s biology is set up to help him make that transformation to adulthood. He can do it by rebelling against you, or you can start giving him challenges and opportunities to try out “adulting” when he is a teen by a) supporting him in taking on more responsibility for things and b) encouraging him to engage in “safe” high risk behaviors.

In the responsibility department, a teen should be able to do pretty much any task an adult does once you have trained him on it—cooking, cleaning, laundry, planning, coordinating, advocating for himself, etc. So as you train your teen to do these tasks, request more and more that he take full responsibility for them.

What are "safe" high risk behaviors?

What do I mean when it comes to “safe” high risk behaviors? Anything which feels uncomfortable and unfamiliar will meet the teenage child’s brain for novel experiences. For example, encouraging her to try out for something she hasn’t done before or to enroll in a class she doesn’t think she is good at. Additionally, tasks like making and getting to your own doctor’s appointment can feel very sophisticated. For suburban kids who have always been driven everywhere by their parent, just figuring out and taking public transportation to get somewhere feels very grown up.

If you have a physical child, push her towards challenges with her body. Rock climbing might not feel very safe to you, but it done right it is and it is a lot safer than using drugs or alcohol. It is fine to insist on safety gear, but still let her climb the highest peak and celebrate her (perhaps for doing what you would never be brave enough to do).

Perhaps you have a budding civic activist. Encourage him to use his voice and to speak out—to write letters, to post on social media, to go to marches and rallies. These activities are novel—and powerful in a very adult way.

For teens with the entrepreneurial spirit, guide them through the process of creating a business plan and getting funding, but don’t take over for them and don’t remove the inherent risk either of losing money or disappointing expectations. Let them experience that and help them move through their feelings, so they can go out and try again. Help them develop a growth mindset that successful adults learn from their mistakes and they come up with a new plan.

Becoming the organizer of an event or the leader of a club is a great way to for a teen to stretch outside her comfort level.  Whether it's robotics club or knitting blankets for the local baby ward, having other people depend on you is scary.  Good scary.  The kind of scary that satisfies a teenage brain's need for new challenges.  

Is your child really being rebellious?

The second question to ask yourself is what is your definition of rebellion? As long as your kids are basically on track—going to school and activities, helping out at home without screaming fits, doing okay in school—there is a lot you might consider overlooking. Too much make up? Dyed hair? Earrings opening a hole so wide a submarine would fit through? Listening to music that would make a sailor blush? Using foul language (I draw the line at saying it to me)? Once they are in high school all these things can be handled by a raised eyebrow and a shrug. (For middle school kids, I ask them to put it off until high school as much as possible.)

If you are concerned, do get help

But what if your teen is already engaging in concerning behaviors—drugs, alcohol, pornography, cutting, early sexual activity, etc. I would still look for where you can give your child chances to take actual adult responsibility, and at the same time I would seek out professional advice. The world is a much different place from when you were a teen. The internet means the speed with which things move and change can make it hard for a parent to evaluate the actual risk to a teen. A professional will be able to guide you both on how concerned you should be and what action you should take.

GETTING YOUR TWEEN AND TEEN KID TO SLEEP AT NIGHT

Elisabeth Stitt

What are some bad sleep habits elementary school, tweens and teens have?

•Having their phones in their rooms with them.  Yes, a smart phone makes a good alarm, but not if kids are texting and checking social media all night, so better to get your child a conventional alarm clock.  

•Going fully speed ahead right up until bed time.  People need wind down time.  Just as when they were babies or toddlers, kids should have a routine that calms and soothes.

•Varying their bedtimes by a lot.  While the occasional late night can’t be avoided, sleep experts agree going to bed at around the same time every night is helpful.  

        •Trying to make up for lost sleep during the week by sleeping until noon on Saturday.  

How can parents help their elementary school, tweens and teens break bad sleeping habits?

A big issue here is that parents really aren’t aware of how much sleep their kids actually need, so education is the first step.  Since the recommended ranges are pretty broad (according to sleep foundation.org  between 7-12 hours “may be appropriate” for kids school aged to teen), I have parents rate their kids a) on how independently their kids get themselves up, b) what their kids’ moods are and c) have the children self report whether/when they feel sleepy at school or during the day.  If kids are getting themselves up in a good mood and not feeling sleepy during the day, getting as few as 7 hours a night may well be appropriate for that child.  

       If, on the other hand, the cild struggles to get up, is really grumpy in the mornings, or self reports struggling to stay awake during the day, it is safe to say no matter his age, the child needs more sleep.  Once you have observed and rated your child for a week, it is much easier to go to her and make the argument that she needs more sleep, and it is your job as her parent to help her structure her life so she gets it.  I would start with adding an hour of sleep to whatever she is currently getting.  

Identify what is contributing to their bad sleep habits.

    Once your children are more or less on board with the idea of getting more sleep, identify what is contributing to their bad sleep habits

 If your kids have their phone in their room with them at night and it is pinging at them all night, that is an easy place to start.  Dock and charge the phone in a central place like the kitchen.  

If teens and tweens are climbing into bed with their adrenalin running high, the first place to look is their overall schedule.  Many kids are just doing too much.  Let’s just look at the math.  The recommendation for teens is that they get between 8 to 10 hours asleep.  So if your teen goes to bed at 10:00 p.m. and sleeps 9 hours, that means he is getting up at 6:00 a.m.  If school starts at 8:00, for most kids that should be enough time to get up, dress, shower, eat and travel to school.  (If your child has a 0 period and has to be at school closer to 7:00, that suggests that bedtime is going to have to be closer to 9:00!)   

Now, for the sake of argument, let’s say your kid has soccer from 3:00 to 5:00.  On a good day he is home by 5:30, but Mondays he has piano until 6:30, and with dinner at 7:00 there really isn’t time to do more than unpack his backpack, go to the bathroom and help set the table.  By the time he has cleared the table it is 7:45 and he still really hasn’t had a break today, so while you might think he should settle down to do his homework, he simply doesn’t have the bandwidth, so he fools around for an hour so.  At this rate, it is pushing 9:00 by the time he starts his homework.  Clearly, he is  then going to stay up too late doing his homework because there just isn’t time to do it earlier in the day.  

Parents grossly underestimate the amount of downtime kids need after they have been focusing at school all day long.

Parents might argue that kids aren’t using their time wisely (which might be true), but I find that parents grossly underestimate the amount of downtime kids need after they have been focusing at school all day long.  Many kids are not going to be able to handle a full day off classes, followed by an crammed afternoon of sports or activities and then be able to knuckle right down to their studies.  They need time to hang out and decompress before they start their homework.  The problem with that is they start their homework late and they then need to decompress from homework before they can actually fall asleep.  It is especially important to remember that while sports and activities might be really fun, they are generally still structured, high energy activities.  Unless it is something like a youth group where participants show up and hang out or play whatever games they feel like, it really isn’t down time.  

Often, the only solution is to cut something out of a kid's schedule.  Interestingly, to really get their needs met when revising the schedule, it can help kids if they put the hour of downtime in their calendar first as a non-negotiable.  Sometimes if kids know they are absolutely going to have an hour to just chill, they find themselves using their other time more efficiently.  It is when they feel that they are always going to have too much to do that their need to procrastinate pulls strongly at them.  

Create a soothing wind-down routine.  

Once your child’s schedule actually opens up, it is reasonable to ask him to create a soothing wind-down routine.  He should have at least 30 minutes before lights out, away from electronics, to do his ablutions and then be in his room with a quiet activity such as reading or drawing.  Even with teens this can be a good time for a parent to come in for a quiet talk about the day.  Or I used to lie on my daughter’s bed and read my book while she read her book, which gave us close physical proximity that our busy lives didn’t allow for the rest of the day.  

Let’s work the evening math backwards:

10:00Lights out

9:30   Ablutions/wind down

7:30-9:30 Homework

7:00-7:30 Dinner

6:00-7:00 FREE TIME

5:30-6:00 Home from school

3:30-5:30 Sports

If all your child has is soccer practice every afternoon, this is probably a reasonable schedule.  But what about on game days?  That can mean long travel times and coming home an hour or two later.  Most parents think it is the free time that should then be cut out.  But for your child’s well being, it really doesn’t work that way.  If he has been in a high stimulating environment (like school, then a game and then a noisy bus ride), he really needs time to (as one parent expressed it to me) inspect his navel.  Whether he actually sets aside the hour or wastes an hour on and off getting distracted in the middle of doing his homework, your child’s need to do something NOT on the school/activity checklist is real and important to acknowledge.  Without this downtime, he won’t fully recharge.

If you are keeping your child to one activity—even accounting for some late games or rehearsals—she is probably doing pretty well.  But what about piano lessons and practice?  And girl scouts?  And working on the float for the homecoming parade?  As soon as you add in more things, it is usually sleep that suffers. 

Parents are the gatekeepers.  This is the time to train your kids in balance and self care.  If you sacrifice sleep while buying into the whole getting into college rat race, chances are you are setting your child up for a life time of being chronically sleep deprived.  

Why is sleep so important for elementary school, tweens and

teens?

      My favorite quote on this is, " A teenager with two hours less sleep than he needs is functioning at the same level as someone with a 0.05 blood alcohol level – like someone who has had two beers.”  (http://www.theparentingplace.com/behaviour-and-discpline/five-greatest-challenges-facing-parents-of-teens-today/).  We would never approve a child drive drunk yet we let our sleep deprived children stay up in the name of their education, despite researchers’ good understanding that it is in deep sleep where we full process and store the information we have learned that day.  

The arguments for why  it is so important for kids to get sleep are the same as for adults but even more so because their bodies are experiencing more changes.  

This is a critical place for you to be a leader in your family (and, of course, a model!). 

How Did We Get to Where We Are with Playdates Today and 9 Tips for Structuring Them.

Elisabeth Stitt

 

How did we get to where we are today?

The trend for highly supervised playdates grew over a lot of years, and there are some reasons that even if they change back, they won’t ever be quite the same. 

One of the reasons the playdate came about was that with more parents in the work force, our schedules are simply packed tighter.  We are not home when the neighbor kid comes asking to play, and when we send our child out to play, he finds the streets empty and is bored.  Ironically, the place that kids play the most with the least supervision might well be after school childcare.  There the adult child ratio is between 1:10 and 1:15 depending on the state and the age of the children.  Often these programs are run by young adults who are not caught up in the parents’ constant need to improve and train their children.  All these care givers have to do is supervise and make sure no one gets hurt.  I have talked to kids who like staying late at child care for exactly that reason—it is the one place where they get extended playtime where they are basically left to their own devises.  And as with playing outside in the neighborhood of yesteryear, they have to deal with a random group of kids and find a way to fit in.  

Another reason play became increasingly supervised and children’s roaming got leashed in is outlined by Julie Lythcott-Haims in her book How to Raise an Adult.  She argues (and I find it so fascinating that one event could have such a large effect) that when "The tragic 1981 abduction and murder of a young child named Adam Walsh became the made-for-television movie Adam [and] was seen by a near record-setting 38 million people,” people became much more aware the potential danger to children and started supervising them more closely.http://www.businessinsider.com/the-rise-of-the-helicopter-parent-2015-7).  Knowing the actual facts about our children’s safety should do a lot to put your mind at ease about your children’s safety:  Of the  cases of missing children in 2016, here is how they break down: 

  • 90 percent endangered runaways.
  • 6 percent family abductions.
  • 1 percent lost, injured or otherwise missing children.
  • 1 percent nonfamily abductions.
  • 2 percent critically missing young adults, ages 18 to 20.    http://www.missingkids.com/KeyFacts

Look at those numbers.  Only 2% are non family abductions or a child getting lost or injured (and keep in mind that these are the statistics for the numbers on the list reported as missing; it doesn’t mean they stay missing).  These statistics suggest that it is completely reasonable for you to let your kids play outside—in the front yard, at the park, going to the library or gym by themselves.  And those short chunks of time alone are their testing grounds for them to make mistakes and figure things out.  

What to do with playdates today

As I mentioned above, given how busy we are and little we are home, it is unlikely playdates will ever look exactly as they did before.  But how can we assure that some of the social-emotional and cognitive benefits of free play remain.

Here are my thoughts and biases:  

•Let your fellow parents know your limits and philosophy unapologetically.  Don't try to change who you are as a parent in order to make someone else happy.  Include in your discussion your attitudes towards discipline.  If the consequence in your house for, let's say door banging, is to practice open and closing the door quietly 10 times, let your child do the practice and warn the guest child that now she knows the house rule and is subject to it.  If an hour later she slams the door, have her go ahead and practice opening and closing it gently.  In other words, send the message that "If you are going to enjoy the privilege of playing in my house, you also get the responsibility."  

Be willing to stretch your comfort level a little when you drop your kids at someone else's house. Find that balance between knowing who you are and being open to other perspectives. Within reason, it is okay for your kids to learn that someone else has a different standard about how things are done.  Sometimes that will mean more sweets than you normally allow.  On the other hand, it might mean strict rules about chores before play, no balls in the house, using inside voices, not playing in the living room, etc.  You might roll your eye at these expectations, but it is a good opportunity to learn that there are lots of way to be in the world. 

Become comfortable with low-level supervision.  Yes, your kids might get in trouble or get hurt.  Use these as opportunities for growth.  With no training and zero supervision your kids might be jumping off the roof.  That is perhaps a little too high risk.  But jumping from the lower branch of a tree--even with its potential for bruises and scrapes--provides a learning opportunity.  Let your fellow parents know what you are okay with. 

•Be available but busy.  Uh?  How do you do both at once?  The trick to supervising a play date is to be around--the kids should know where to find you--and to be busy (otherwise you are hovering), but not so busy that you cannon step in if needed.  So, don't be on a conference call where it is easy to get so absorbed, you forget you even have kids.  Be doing something you can easily put down if your kids need you.  

Be slow to intervene.  When you see that kids are fighting over fairness or rules or sharing, allow for some drama and upset.  If it is resulting in blows or gets really heated, step in as lightly as you can.  Say something like, "I cannot let you hurt each other badly either physically or with words.  Do you need some help talking this out?"  Then use open ended questions and a lot of listening.  Let the guest child start first:  "Matt, what happened from your perspective?"  Give Matt lots of time to tell his story uninterrupted.  Get the complete story by asking, "What else?" or "Is there still more to say about that?"  When he is done summarize and check, "It sounds like you are upset because....  Is that right?"  Then repeat the process with other children present.  This process gives kids a chance to physically calm down and be heard.  At this point, check in again:  "Is this something you can find a solution to peacefully or would you like more support?"  If they think they are fine, give them the chance to work it out without you there.  If not, keep going with open-ended questions:  What might be one solution here?  Why might that work?  What might not work about it?  What else?  What is another solution that might work?  Who can think of another?  

•Say no to electronics.  Your kids need this time to relate face to face.   

When kids mess up, give them a chance to make things right and eventually try again.  Kids will break things.  They'll be thoughtless and leave the hose running.  They'll pull every costume out of the costume box and then not clean up before going outside to shoot hoops. Be clear about your expectations up front at the start of the play date, including about how you wanted to be spoken to by both visitor and your own child.  When they mess up, help them go back and make it right again.  You might need a time out from play dates with a particular kid, but it is better not to say a forever no. That child might need multiple chances to learn what your limits are.    

•Help kids find ways to have fun that are not hurtful or harmful to themselves or others. Kids might get into some mischief like playing a practical joke on a younger sibling or a neighbor.  I remember in high school we used my boyfriend's left over creampuffs (he worked at a bakery) to throw at cars and houses.  One evening we hit a guy dressed in formal wear getting out of his car.  We sped away and didn't get caught but that made me feel bad enough to realize that what was a joke to us (I figured it was a lot less gross than egging someone) was really not a joke.  We didn't need punishment to get us to stop.  We already felt bad.  Had my mother found out, she might have suggested that my boyfriend was a bad influence and I shouldn't be seeing him.  That would have been insult to injury.  Instead, after encouraging me to see if there was someway to put the wrong right (like go back to the house, confess and offer to pay the cleaning bill), she might have assured us that we were creative enough to find ways to have fun that wouldn't hurt others and that that was what she expected.  

•Avoid feeling unimportant or left out.  In this era of hyper parenting, we are on ON all the time.  We expect to be interacting with our child every moment he is not at school and we are not at work.  As silly as it might sound given how we all need some time for ourselves, it is true I really have talked to parents who say, "I like to arrange activities for my kids to do on playdates that I can be apart of because otherwise I get bored."  It's like, "Well, I set aside this time for parenting, and now you are telling me to ignore the kids.  That's no fun."  Actually, I get that.  I like to play and I like to play with kids.  The problem is that if adults are part of play, everyone has to play by adult rules of politeness, respect and fairness.  For kids those things are fluid and have to be negotiated with each of their playmates.  Put your own feelings aside and let your kids play on their own.  

What’s Wrong with the Modern Day Play Date?

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

 Perhaps you grew up in the days before the playdate.  As you went out the back door, letting it slam behind you, you shouted over your shoulder, “Mom, I’m going out.”  Her “Be back by dinner time” drifted after you.  You then found someone on the streets to play with.  Or perhaps you went to a neighbor’s house and called in the door to a friend.  Then the negotiations began.  Did you want to climb trees?  Shoot hoops?  Create fairy villages in the shade of the bushes?  (I seem to remember that my best friend and cross-the-street neighbor and I liked to do the same things but never seemed to want to do the same thing at the same time.)

Or maybe you lived in a more rural area and did actually have to arrange to play at a friend’s.  But once you got there, the mom would say, “Take your snack outside and go play,” or would send you down to the rumpus room and pay you no more mind until it was time to go home. 

What was the benefit of both these scenes?  

Children were left to their own devices to figure out what to do and how to do it.  Even best friends had to negotiate and argue and compromise on what to play.  Kids made up games, made up rules, made up new rules, fought, disagreed, figured things out, came together again.  In other words, kids were not only exercising a great deal of creativity, they were doing a tremendous amount of social-emotional learning.  A lot of outdoor play provided the opportunity for creativity and problem solving.  We had elaborate wars roaming throughout the neighborhood that required planning and scheming and  we spent a lot of time in the creak. We were innovative at business (I remember once trying to sell raw olives as candy). And while we tried to spend as much time in front of the tv as our parents would possibly allow, compared to having a screen glued to the palm of your hand, it just was’t that much.  

What about the modern playdate? 

Well, for one, kids are so busy and so scheduled, it is really hard to coordinate a time when kids are free and parents are free to drive them to a play date.  Does your child get even as much as one regular playdate a week outside of school or other scheduled activities?  Even when there is a playdate, kids too easily fall into the habit of being on their electronics side by side.  When parents are firm about limiting electronics, many kids don’t know what to do with themselves so they get bored and whiney.  Many parents then spring in with a project—perhaps baking or a craft or a mini science experiment. 

That should be good, right?  What’s wrong with a project?  Nothing, if the kids come up with it, but as soon as parents get involved, we tend to get directive.  Forgive me if this is not you at all, but allow for the possibility that it is you who organizes what needs to be done—what materials are needed, in what order, where it should be done and how.  When the children argue who should go first, you introduce a fair method of determining order or make a command decision.  What could be wrong with that?  Well, it robs children of the opportunity to exercise those all important social emotional skills.  Kids need practice advocating for themselves on the one hand and being sensitive to the needs and desires of their playmates on the other.  Practice takes time.  Naturally, parents have always provided social-emotional training, but traditionally kids had lots of time to practice on their own away from the watchful eye of adults.  

Parenting from Fear

The other issue with the modern play date is that expectations of what is okay for kids are not as agreed on.  One parent encourages safety, another independence.  One parent expects children to be neat and tidy; another one sends your child back to you dirty from head to toe.  Fear of not alarming or offending another parent causes you to restrict what children do on playdates for fear of alienating the other parent.  Or worse, you say no to even arranging a playdate because it is too much effort to deal with the other parent.  Either your own parenting feels restricted or you fear the other parent will allow things that you wouldn’t.  

Kids need to play with other kids their own age in open-ended ways.  What can we do to give them that?

 What are we to do?

The trend for highly supervised playdates grew over a lot of years, and there are some reasons that even if they change back, they won’t ever be quite the same. 

One of the reasons the playdate came about was that with more parents in the work force, our schedules are simply packed tighter.  We are not home when the neighbor kid comes asking to play, and when we send our child out to play, he finds the streets empty and is bored.  Ironically, the place that kids play the most with the least supervision might well be after school childcare.  There the adult child ratio is between 1:10 and 1:15 depending on the state and the age of the children.  Often these programs are run by young adults who are not caught up in the parents’ constant need to improve and train their children.  All these care givers have to do is supervise and make sure no one gets hurt.  I have talked to kids who like staying late at child care for exactly that reason—it is the one place where they get extended playtime where they are basically left to their own devises.  And as with playing outside in the neighborhood of yesteryear, they have to deal with a random group of kids and find a way to fit in.  

Another reason play became increasingly supervised and children’s roaming got leashed in is outlined by Julie Lythcott-Haims in her book How to Raise an Adult.  She argues (and I find so fascinating that one event could have such a large effect) that when "The tragic 1981 abduction and murder of a young child named Adam Walsh became the made-for-television movie Adam [and] was seen by a near record-setting 38 million people,” people became much more aware the potential danger to children and started supervising them more closely.( http://www.businessinsider.com/the-rise-of-the-helicopter-parent-2015-7).  Knowing the actual facts about our children’s safety should do a lot to put your mind at ease about your children’s safety:  Of the  cases of missing children in 2016, here is how they break down:  

  • 90 percent endangered runaways.
  • 6 percent family abductions.
  • 1 percent lost, injured or otherwise missing children.
  • 1 percent nonfamily abductions.
  • 2 percent critically missing young adults, ages 18 to 20.

    http://www.missingkids.com/KeyFacts

Look at those numbers.  Only 2% are non family abductions or a child getting lost or injured (and keep in mind that these are the statistics for the numbers on the list reported as missing; it doesn’t mean they stay missing).  These statistics suggest that it is completely reasonable for you to let your kids play outside—in the front yard, at the park, going to the library or gym by themselves.  And those short chunks of time alone are their testing grounds for them to make mistakes and figure things out. 

Given that There's Never Been a Safer Time to Be a Kid in America, it is time to Consider Expanding How You Do Playdates.

 

How To Establish A Routine With Your Little Ones

Elisabeth Stitt

GUEST BLOG

 by Monisha Iswaran

Monisha Iswaran has  reached out to various parenting coaches (including me!) on how to establish a routine with your kids.  Click HERE to get some good advice on finding a routine that will work for your children and your household.  

https://www.mydeal.com.au/blog/post/establish-a-routine-with-your-little-ones

Actions Speak Louder Than Words.

Elisabeth Stitt

Actions speak louder than words.

A recent Quora question was how do we teach our children priorities.  The answer is simple.  Every time you make a choice, you are teaching your child your priorities.

You are in the middle of cooking dinner, and your child demands that you stop what you are doing and come see this marvelous bug that he is looking at.

If you turn off the stove and go look, you are prioritizing curiosity, discovery, enthusiasm and in-the-moment excitement.

If you explain you are in the middle of cooking dinner and you need to stay focused on that, you are prioritizing routine, schedules, predictability, and meeting people’s basic need to get fed.

Both are valid. And while one incident does not a priority make, over time the weight of your choices will make clear your priorities—even if that priority is balance.

If you add words to your actions—and your words and actions align—you will be reinforcing your priorities

I like to use the phrase, “in our family we….” For example, let’s say that your older child comes and asks if she may have a sleepover at her friend’s. You explain that you would like for her to be able to sleepover but tonight will not work because it is her little sister’s recital “and in our family we support each other’s big moments.” Now as long as big sister is accorded the same respect the next time she has a performance or big game, she will know absolutely that supporting each other’s big moments is a priority in her family.

In my opinion, knowing and being clear about one’s own priorities makes parenting much easier. You are much less likely to second guess yourself or to feel guilty about your decisions in retrospect. In identifying your priorities, it is really important to put aside the external voices of parenting experts and coaches like me. Keep in mind that something may be good in general (for example, I truly believe that time spent outside in nature has all kinds of health and well being benefits for children and grownups alike) and at the same time just not be right for you and your family. By putting aside who you think you should be or what you think you should be doing and really checking in with your own preferences, you will be identifying your true priorities.  (Otherwise, by default you are prioritizing getting other people's approval.)  

Priorities can change. 

Don’t worry if priorities change over time. You might feel you are being inconsistent, but it might just be you are being responsive to where you are in your life right now. Perhaps you thought you really valued moms being home with their kids but you find that you are going plumb crazy with all your energies focused on your family. It may be that you do value being present as a mom but given you have enough energy for ten moms, you find yourself over mothering and managing your kids as if they are a business. If that is the case, for you and your family it might be better if you expend some of that energy on an actual business and make your family less of a job.

Naturally, the reverse could be true, too. The trick in setting priorities is to really check in with yourself and your family.  

Personality plays a role in our priorities.

One major consideration that can be very hard for parents to accept is that while your children may be very clear on what your priorities are, in the end there is little you can do to make your child have the same priorities.  To a great degree our priorities come from our personalities.  If you are an extrovert and your child is an introvert, you may teach your child a love of family, but your child might always put having quiet, reflective time by herself as a higher priority than spending time with family.  That doesn't mean she doesn't love and value her family.  It means she has a priority of needing solitude to fill her emotional tank before she can give to others.  

To go back to the Quora question, your actions speak louder than words.  Whether you are thinking about it or not, where you put your time and energy is teaching your children what your priorities are.  That being true, I think it makes sense to actually think about your priorities and take steps that align your decisions with your beliefs.  

 

Separation Anxiety in Older Kids

Elisabeth Stitt

Both as a teacher and as a camp counselor, I have dealt with plenty of separation anxiety in older kids.  

In early elementary kids, it is still common to have a transition period as a child enters a new classroom.  Even if the child was perfectly happy in the classroom next door the year before, he may spend the first couple of weeks crying in his new classroom.  Intellectually, he knows he was happy the year before and will probably be happy again, but in between then and now, he has spent a lovely, long summer in the bosom of his family.  For him separation anxiety is wrapped up in feeling uncomfortable with a new routine.  Once he has cycled through the weekly schedule a couple of times and feels he knows his teacher, he is fine.  

A different kind of separation anxiety, especially when it comes to going to sleep away camp, has less to do with fear of the unknown and more to do with the fear of life falling apart at home.  That might sound funny, but at the bottom of a lot of intense homesickness is the sense that "Without me there, my family won't know how to function."  In a way, that is quite a lovely notion:  A child is so confident that he is an essential part of the family that he feels the family will not be able to function without him.  He wonders who will bring in the mail?  Who will throw the ball for the dog?  Who will keep the baby entertained in the backseat?  Ironically, this can come from the parents doing such a good job of making the child feel special, he feels it is wrong for him to leave.  Parents can help with this kind of homesickness by having the child be part of making a plan for taking care of anything the child sees as his role.  For things like "Who will tell Mommy I love her?", he might brainstorm a solution like leaving Mom a note for every day he is gone.   

The hardest kind of separation anxiety comes when there is some kind of tension or trauma in the household.  You'd be surprised how many parents who are on the verge of divorce send their children to sleep away camp thinking that a couple of weeks without the children will give them the time to make arrangements for finding a second place to live, etc.  Even if the kids have gone to camp before and loved it, this year they bring with them to camp extreme uneasiness about what is going on at home--even if their parents haven't said a word to them--that makes it hard for them to take up life at camp.  They are too worried:  Are mom and dad fighting?  Will they both be there when the kids get home?  Will they announce they are getting divorced? Believe me, if there has been tension when you drop your kids off, they will guess the worse--that their parent or grandparent is dying, that the family is going to have to move, that their mom is pregnant.  Children who are worried for their parents and about their own security when they return home are the ones whose homesickness does not abate over their stay at camp.  

The last kind of separation anxiety is really not the kid feeling he can't live without his parents; it is his fear that his parents have no life without him.  I recently answered a Quora Question  from a 21 year old who was worried how her parents were going to handle it when she went to study abroad.  She knew they were going to be sad, and their sadness was making her sad.  My sense was that her parents had built their entire lives around her, and she was feeling the burden of being their raison d'être.  When we make our children the sole focus of our lives, we put too much pressure on them.  Instead of our being there to care for them, they now feel they have to care for us, to wrap our feelings in cotton wool.  That is unfair.  It is our job to let our children go--to let them know they'll be missed but also reassured that it is their job to spread their wings and fly.  

 

No, Mommy! Don't go! 8 Tips for Dealing with Separation Anxiety

Elisabeth Stitt

Separation anxiety is a normal stage for kids to go through.  It starts around 6 months and usually tapers off around 2 years old.  During these months a baby is first gaining the cognitive recognition that you still exist when you are not there, which means baby can now miss you when you are not there.  The problem often intensifies because at the same time baby realizes that her primary source of food and comfort can leave her, she is also testing the ways in which she is an individual.  That's scary!  A lot of separation anxiety is about finding that fine line between growing more independent and at some level still knowing she is fully dependent on you for survival.  

Keep Calm and Carry On


The best tip for helping to calm your child is to stay calm yourself.  Trust that this is a stage and that it will pass.  Trust that your child can thrive with someone who is not you.  Projecting confidence that baby will be just fine whether with Grandma, Aunty or your favorite babysitter, will help a lot.   

Be Clear and Transparent


It might seem best to sneak out when your child is busy or distracted--and that might help the separation that first time--but it is basically a break in trust.  It is much better to help your cild anticipate the separation.  Tell her,   "Mommy and Daddy are going out to dinner tonight together, and you are staying here with Mary."  Remind her the good times she has had with Mary before and outline for her what Mary is going to do with her while you are gone ("You'll have some play time before dinner, and then you'll have pasta and broccoli--your favorite!  After dinner you will take a bath and play some more.  By bedtime, Mommy and Daddy will be home to read you your stories and tuck you in.")  

As Your Child Develops Language, Get Her Help Brainstorming


Even a very young child can indicate her wishes non-verbally.  As you prepare to leave your child and are setting the table for dinner, you might ask, "Do you want your red cup or your blue cup when Mommy is gone?"  Help your child engage her imagination about how she is going to act when you are gone: "Are you going to show Mary how you sip your water without spilling or are you going to use your straw?"  This helps her to focus on positive behavior she can display.  

Prime the Pump


Before you leave your child with others, carve out close, cosy one-on-one time.  Get down on the floor and play with your daughter.  Let her take the lead.  If Special Time is part of your family routine, make sure you have some the day you are separating or the day before.  The more full her emotional cup is, the more your child will be able to handle your leaving. 

Be Empathetic


If your child is really struggling with separation anxiety, first remind yourself that this is a stage.  She won't cling forever.  Your reassurance that all children feel this way sometime and that it will get easier will reassure her and you (Say this to her even if she is pre-verbal.  Remember, a child's understanding is developing long before her expressive vocabulary.  You never know what she understands).  

Plan Strategically


Give your child the best chance at success by planning to be away from her when she is at her most rested and energetic.  Although having a meal can give child and sitter something to focus on, if your child is too upset to eat, that will just throw things off even more.  Rather than waiting to leave your child when you have to go, find some practice times when she is most happy to play and leave for a shorter time.  Consider leaving a special activity that only gets done when Mommy and Daddy are away.  Make this practice a routine and see if you can extend the amount of time you are gone bit by bit.  Leaving at the same time every day or week might also help as slowly your child will get an understanding of time concepts.  As she does, your assurance that you will be back before nap time or for afternoon snack, will mean more and more to her which will enable her to keep herself together for a longer time.  

Keep Departures Short and Sweet


Of course, you know your child best, but in general, I have found that when parents prolong the good-byes, that just gives the child hope that maybe she can keep you there.  If you can be warmly matter of fact that, say, when the timer goes Mommy and Daddy are going to give you a big hug and walk out the door.  Then when that timer goes off, make sure you do just that.  

Keep Your Child's Personality in Mind


Some kids feel things more intensely.  Some kids need to fully understand things in order to accept them fully.  These kids will just need more time.  It will just take them longer to learn to trust that you always do come back. Your confidence that the day will come when they are happy to let you go will give you more energy and patience while your child works through this very natural, if trying stage.  

My Child Doesn't Eat Enough

Elisabeth Stitt

Concern over what your child is or is not eating is a common one.  And it makes sense that we are concerned about it.  Our fundamental job is to keep our children alive; and eating well is fundamental to thriving.   

What makes the topic of eating especially charged is that it is one of the areas where children have control.  You cannot force food into a child’s mouth, and even if you do, her upset about food being forced down her throat will often cause her to throw it right back up again.  

DO YOU HAVE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS FOR HOW MUCH YOUR CHILD SHOULD BE EATING?

When it comes to eating too little, many parents greatly over estimate how much they need to feed a child.  A standard reminder from doctors is that a child should be served a meal the size of his stomach which is about the size of his fist.  Have you looked at your child’s fist lately?  It is probably much smaller than you think.  

But it is not actually that simple.  Some children will have very regular appetites and will eat around the same amount of food at each meal.  Others will eat very little for three or four meals and then tuck into a big meal. It might help you calm your fears for your child if you look at what she eats over the course of the week.  I was curious about my daughter’s nutrition when she was around four, so I wrote down everything she ate in a week.  The week I kept records, she went three days eating about four small bites (of mostly fruit or Cheerios) and then she sat down to a full adult-sized meal.  I remember watching her in amazement as she worked her way through a large chicken breast, a big pile of broccoli and a serving of rice.  A similarly big meal later in the week included flank stake and about a pound of cherry tomatoes.  After that I stopped worrying about the days it looked like she had eaten next to nothing.  

AVOID MAKING EATING A POWER STRUGGLE

My biggest concern for parents when it comes to their kids’ eating is that every meal becomes a power struggle.  Then from the child’s point of view,  it is no longer about what she does or doesn’t like or even about what she does or doesn’t want as all her requests and refusal are made not with her appetite in mind but with the need to exert her control in one of these few areas where she actually has control.  , 

If that is where you are with your child, it is up to you to disengage from the conflict.  Easier said than done, I know, because it means setting aside your own fears.  Here’s what helped me: I knew my child wasn’t going to starve herself to death or do her body any serious harm if she ate minimally for a week.  For the week this is the plan I followed:  I offered healthy food at regular times every day.  I included as much variety as I include in my own diet (I am not a foodie, so simple is usually my primary motivation): apples, oranges/tangerines/grapes/strawberries; carrots/broccoli/green beans/tomatoes/lettuce/avocado; cereal/whole wheat bread and crackers; peanut butter/turkey slices/chicken breast/hamburger meat/eggs; yogurt/milk/string cheese. For the whole week, I made no comment on how much she ate.  If she wanted to eat in-between regularly scheduled meals/snacks, I told her cheerfully when the next meal would be and then did my best to provide her some snuggles and focused attention to be sure that the bid for food wasn’t really just an expression of feeling disconnected from me. Water was available easily all the time.  

FOCUS ON CREATING A HAPPY ATMOSPHERE AT THE TABLE

At the end of the week, not only did I make the discovery about the big meals she ate  at the end of eating very little for a few days, I realized how much more relaxed I felt about food and my daughter in general.  Mealtimes were more about connecting and conversing and less about my feeling that I had to keep the pressure on her to eat (making mealtime feel like work to me and leaving us little room to enjoy each other). I realized that if I divided the fruits, vegetables and protein she was getting over the course of the week by three meals a day, that I was very comfortable with the amount of nutrition she was getting. Now I could focus on using mealtimes to find out about her day. 

Admittedly, my daughter was not very picky eater, and as I backed off trying to make her follow set rules about how many bites she needed to finish or what she needed to try, she actually became a much better eater.  Once I stopped making it an issue and didn't engage in cajoling and/or threatening her to eat, she was willing to try things she would never have tried before.  

What Would You Do If Your Child Were Caught Shoplifting?

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

This blog is in response to a letter a mom sent me about her son:

Dear Elisabeth,

I am so angry and mortified.  My 10-year-old got caught shop lifting, and I am afraid this is a sign of much worse things to come.  

Upset and Worried in Tulsa


Dear Upset and Worried,

I can imagine you are hovering between being angry enough to spit nails and die of shame.  Both are understandable feelings, but I want to reassure you that while sure to trigger strong feelings in us, this is normal 10-year-old behavior; I would not take it as a sign of a slippery slope to s long as you make it a real learning experience.  

How you respond as a parent will connect closely to the likelihood of future incidents.  

Here are some tips:

  1.  Remember he is only 10.  Your aim as a parent in disciplining him is to teach him—not shame or humiliate him.  Make sure he understands that he made a poor choice, not that he is a thief or a liar or any other label that will define him for the rest of his life.  Remind him that what he did was wrong but he can learn from his mistake and make a better choice next time.  
  2. Support him in being accountable.  If you are called to the store where he has shoplifted, demonstrate how to apologize sincerely and have your son echo with his own apology.  If you find out that he has shoplifted after the fact—perhaps because you have found the stolen items in his room or in his backpack--take him and the items back to the store.  Have your son turn them into the manager, explain what he did, and apologize.  Yes, the manager has the right to call the police.  That’s okay.  Support your son in staying calm and accepting blame.  He should repeat his apology to the police.  
  3. Whether or not the police get involved, teach your son that when a person messes up, he needs to make amends wherever he can.  In this case, your son should offer to purchase the items and/or to help in the store in some way to make up for it.  It may not be possible (even with your supervision) for the shop keeper to allow your son to “work off” his debt.  He also may not want the hassle.  That’s okay.  You work out with your son what jobs he can do at home or for the neighbors to make the money he needs to make.  Let the store manager decide whether he wants the money all at once—in which case lend the money to your son and have him pay you back—or to come into the store and pay in weekly installments.  
  4. Giving opportunities to a 10 year old to make money may take your adult supervision.  That can actually be good:  It gives you time to work side by side with your son which gives you lots of chances to talk about making good choices.  Remember, you are not trying to rub his face in it; you are helping him think through why he did what he did and what he might do next time.  
  5. Once the debt has been paid off, have your son write to the store manager and apologize one more time and to thank him for the opportunity to make things right.  He might include a sentence or two about what he has learned and what he will do next time.  This will solidify his learning.
  6. Throughout this process emphasize with how hard it is to admit when we have made a mistake and praise your son for trying to make up for his mistakes.  Tell him you are proud of him and you trust him to try to make better choices in the future.  Holding onto your loving words will motivate him to try to keep your good opinion of him.

Deep breath, Mama!  When these lessons are learned young, it saves a lot of trouble later.  

Warmly

Elisabeth

www.elisabethstitt.com/Joyful Parenting Coaching

Shocking Quote from Sex Offender

Elisabeth Stitt

"Show me a child who

knows nothing about sexuality, 

and you've just introduced me 

to my next victim."

When Brooke Galloway of the Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center and the Sexual Assault Support and Help for Americans Abroad organization shared this quote with the Middle School Moms Mastermind, I was horrified but also heartened.

I was horrified because I hate to think of the deliberate evil of a person praying on the young and the vulnerable for their own gain.  When we consider the statistic that 93% of minors are sexually harassed or assaulted by people known to them, it makes it hard for us to encourage our children to form relationships with other adults and mentors. On the other hand, studies on what helps children be resilient find that having 3 or more caring adults outside of one’s parents is a strong indicator that a child will thrive.  

So what is a parent to do?  Do other adults pose a risk or are they a safety measure?

What the above quote suggests to me is that while there are risks, as parents we have the power to develop our child’s gut instincts about what is right and wrong.  When we get over our own discomfort and talk to our kids about their bodies, their private parts (using clear labels like penis and vagina, not cutesy ones), boundaries about who can touch and/or see their private parts and in what circumstances, we empower them to know and trust their own bodies and their own limits.  

When we help them anticipate what might happen or what might put them in a difficult situation, we give them the chance to avoid that situation.  For example, just as I might prepare a child by anticipating what to expect in a store or going to a theater performance, I can prepare him for a playdate or a sleepover.  I can ask about what will people be doing and where they will be doing it.  I can remind him, “You are there to see your friend, so stick with your friend and do what he is doing.”  If you know there are other people in the house--an older sibling or relative--let your child know that while you know and trust his friend, you don’t know his brother, relative, etc. and even when you know them, it is best not to be alone with them.  

When my daughter was young and asked why it was best not to be alone with them, I told her, “Not everyone has the same limits about their bodies that we have in our family, and while it is always okay for you to tell someone they have crossed your limit, I would rather not put you in a situation where you have to say that.  That is why I will not let Coach or Uncle John drive you home alone.”  

Protecting but not over protecting

This is a tricky line!  I did not want her to be fearful, but I also didn’t want to trust where I couldn’t see.  

I very much wanted my daughter to have good relationships with the adults around her.  Having been the caring adult in many kids’ lives—and having had caring adults rooting for me in a way that sometimes parents just can’t—I know the value of having a whole village supporting your growth and development.  Knowing that not just your parents but others in your life are proud of you and are noticing who you are in the world and want good things for you connects you to your community.  

Better to error on the side of offending

A parent’s fear, of course, is that that interest will be too personal, too signaled out.  Your best protection against that is to keep the lines of communication open and to not let things slide.  Let’s say, for example, that your child’s coach gives her a birthday card.  On the one hand, how thoughtful!  But still I would ask.  Does Coach send all the kids a birthday card?  No?  Why do you think he sent you one?  Your child is likely to say something like, “I don’t know.  He just likes me ‘cause I’m nice to him.”  I would let my child know, “I’m sure your are nice.  That’s the kind of person you are.  But I think it is important for Coach to treat all the kids the same.”  If Coach gave my child anything else, I would talk to Coach and unapologetically say that I would prefer he not favor my child especially.  If it happened after that, I would remove my child from the team.  

This is not an easy topic.  I have shared my view and what I did as a parent here.  I am grateful to Brooke Galloway for providing us with other fine resources that would be worth your time checking out. 

Vermont Network http://www.vtnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/WSB-manual-09.pdf

RAINN (Rape and Incest National Network) https://www.rainn.org/articles/talking-your-kids-about-sexual-assault

Center for Disease Control https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/sexualviolence/prevention.html

Stop Sexual Assault in Schools http://stopsexualassaultinschools.org/for-students-families/know-your-rights/

Love is Respect http://www.loveisrespect.org/for-someone-else/help-my-child/

I would love to hear your thoughts or questions on this topic.  I do not know that I'll have answers, but Brooke welcomes any questions we do have, so we do have a professional's insight on hand.  

Your Success Rate As a Parent Is Greater Than You Think

Elisabeth Stitt

GUEST POST

by

Hogan Hilling

(In addition to being an author on parenting, Hogan is putting together an awesome in-person conference for parents in August 2017.  Called the United We Parent Conference, it will take place in Southern California and will include great speakers (like me!) and breakout groups for parents to share their insights and issues.)

 

For the last year I’ve collected forms and photos for the first comprehensive coffee table books about moms and dads.

            The idea for the DADLY Dads: Parents of the 21st Century book came as a result of a conversation I had with fellow dad Austin Dowd about the lack of attention given to the responsible, active dads who we felt far outnumbered the irresponsible, absent dads the media continues to highlight. Together we decided to create a book to prove that Fatherhood Is Alive and Well.

            Each page included a form for a dad to complete, a dad’s self-portrait and three photos of the dads with their kids.

            After Austin and I collected forms and photos from 115 dads in 11 different countries, I decided to invite Elise Cohen Ho to create a companion coffee table book about moms titled Amazing Moms: Parents of the 21st Century.

            One of the requests in the form I created for the dads and moms was to share a successful fatherhood and motherhood moment. The invitation was to share a specific memorable teaching and/or learning moment with your child that did not involve receiving an award, winning an event or sport.

            I was surprised to discover that many dads and moms struggled to find the words to describe their parenting successes. I also received emails from moms who didn’t feel they were amazing enough parents to be in the book.

            I wondered why it is so difficult for moms and dads to acknowledge their successes and also give themselves a favorable grade for being a good parent.

            An observation by Dr. Rachel Milsteing Goldenhar helped explain a part of the reason why many parents view themselves as failures and also struggle to praise themselves as well as other parents.

Unfortunately parents have been judging each other for thousands of years.  It’s easy to be a critic. It’s much harder to be a good parent. Part of parenting is that other people will judge your decisions. In parenting, it’s important to stay grounded and focused on what your goals and values are for your family and not focus on what others think.”

When was the last time or how often have you heard another parent compliment you (or another parent) on a specific parenting skill you successfully accomplished?

When was the last time you complimented another parent on a specific parenting skill he or she accomplished?

The truth is that most moms and dads are very successful at being good parents. I believe moms and dads through the course of each day have many more successes than failures. Yet, many parents focus too much of their time on the failures of other parents as well as their own failures. This results in dads and moms distorting their success to failure ratio as parents.

To help moms and dads put their success to failure ratio into perspective I’d like to compare it to other professions as well as how people react to it.

Each time a professional baseball player attempts to hit a ball, their success rate is less than 30%. The player fails over 70% of the time.

Each time a professional basketball player attempts to shoot a basketball, the success rate is less than 50%. The player fails over 50% of the time.

Despite these low numbers, people applaud and admire these professional athletes successes with high praise and multi-million dollar contracts. Many people even purchase a player’s uniform to show off how much they admire him or her.

Wouldn’t it be great if moms and dads show their respect, admiration, praise and value to themselves as well as other parents in the same way they do other professions like baseball and basketball players? 

At the end of every day give yourself permission to reflect on your parenting successes.

After you do, I’m confident you will realize your success rate is much higher than you thin;k and also a professional baseball or basketball player. In so doing, I feel it will also inspire you to acknowledge the successes of other parents in your community and network.

United We Parent for The KIDS!

            Elise and I invite All moms of every family dynamic to submit for the Amazing Moms book. If you’d like more info email Hogan and hogan@unitedweparent.com.

            The DADLY Dads book is finished and will debut in March 2017.

Help, Elisabeth! I still really don't know what effective logical consequences are!"

Elisabeth Stitt

People often ask me, what consequence should I give my child for situation X.  

There is no one right answer for that because each family is different, but here are some guidelines:

Logical consequences should

•be related to the problem

•be age appropriate

•allow a child his/her dignity

And most importantly, you HAVE to be able to follow through with them or you are back at square one, so it has to work for your family and for that particular child (fair is not equal). 

When a Logical Consequence is Required

Start by remembering that a logical consequences is close to what an adult would have to do in the same situation.  

Let’s look at some examples:

*Sara has gotten herself a glass of milk.  Unfortunately, she left out the bottle and it has gone sour. 

*Natural consequence: Drink sour milk or do without

*Logical consequence:  Borrow some, buy more, use powdered milk or maybe watered down yogurt. 

 A child may be too young to borrow or buy, and maybe there is no powdered milk or yogurt in the house.  In that case, a parent can take the action, but the child should either a) be right there with you and/or b) find a way to make it up to you by say, doing something else you need done while you run to the store for more milk.  

•Susan is playing ball in the house and breaks a window.

*Natural consequence:  Wind and cold air come through the window; the house is vulnerable to thieves.  Unlike with the sour milk, the consequence here is too high not to do anything.

*Logical consequence: Someone pays to have the window replaced.

Depending on the age of the child, it might not be reasonable to have him pay for the window, but even a preschool can help with extra chores to earn money towards the cost.  The younger the child, the more immediately you want her to be able to meet the requirement and have the incident done with.  A preschooler for example might help you rake leaves or sweep for 15 minutes and be done.  A more mature preschooler might manage a half an hour.  You know your kid.  You want to pick something that feels big enough to the child that she doesn’t feel that she “got away” with something; on the other hand, the goal is not to make her miserable.  With a teenager, who really should know better, it is okay for it to take three or four weeks to make up the cost of the window.  

*It’s a new school year.  Last year Maya had a problem forgetting her school work.  This year you inform her you are not going to rescue her.    

Natural consequence:  The child runs into problems at school; the child doesn’t learn to organize her things and follow through on deadlines.

*Logical consequences:

--Suffer the teacher imposed consequence (detention, lost points, etc.)

--Set a daily alarm that reminds her to check that homework is in her bag.

--Have her do extra homework which she can role play turning in to you later. 

—Parent checks backpack before Maya leaves school.  she runs back and turns work in.  Maya makes up the time parents had to wait with extra chores at home. 

TO REVIEW:

*CONSEQUENCES are for teaching not punishing.

*NATURAL CONSEQUENCES are what going to happen if nobody steps in and takes action.  Wherever possible, let the natural consequence do its work.  

*LOGICAL CONSEQUENCES are the kinds of things an adult would need to do when a mistake was made. (ex.run a read light, get a ticket), so keep it as close to that as makes sense for the age and stage of the child.  

FROM LAST WEEK:  Use the lowest level consequence to teach the lesson; if the behavior repeats it self, step it up a notch (step not leap).  

What are some of the most effective consequences you have given?  I'd love to hear.  Post on the Joyful Parenting Facebook page.  Or if you have a situation and are looking for an effective consequence, post that.  

Good consequences take time to have at your finger tips, but they will get easier.  Just keep putting your energy into praising kids when you see them doing what you want them to do, so consequences are your last resort.  

TAMING TEMPER TANTRUMS

Elisabeth Stitt

Tantrums are a natural stage in every child's development.  While some parents with easy going children may have fewer of them to deal with, no parent avoids tantrums altogether.  However, there are steps we can take to avoid and/or mitigate tantrums.

Why do kids have tantrums?

When an infant cries, we rush to meet its every need.  Our agenda is aligned with the infant's agenda. As a child passes the first year mark and begins to explore the world and have a greater sense of himself as an individual, for the first time his agenda might be at odds with our agenda.  Your child now knows that there are different kinds of foods and that he likes some better than others.  He knows which shirts are scratchy and which shoes pinch.  He suspects there are interesting things in the mud to explore.  These are all marvelous signs that he is figuring out that he is his own person--separate from his mother--and yet at any given time, we parents might have different priorities. 

All the new learning a child is doing is extremely taxing.  Think about a time you have traveled someplace new.  Perhaps you went somewhere where a different language was spoken.  Think how much energy it took to figure out where you wanted to go, how you were going to get there, what you were going to eat--especially, if you didn't even speak the language!  That is what a toddler experiences every day.  No wonder he is overwhelmed!

On top of that, his body is burning up energy at a ferocious rate.  That means that even slight variations in his sleeping and eating can throw him off.  The gap between "I'm fine" and "I'm starved; the world is about to end" can feel like a nanosecond to the poor unsuspecting parent.  

What can parents do to keep their kids from having tantrums?

Fortunately, there are things you can do to avoid tantrums.  Start with good sleeping and eating habits.  You know that makes a difference in your own life, and you are an adult with the ability to recognize how a bad night's sleep will affect you.  A toddler just knows he feels off.  In the same vein, a routine your child can count on helps a great deal.  When he sits down to a meal in the same chair at around the same time every day, it makes your child feel secure.  So much of his day will be new--new cognitive skills, new social/emotional skills, new motor skills.  It is good to start and end his days with routines where he knows exactly what to do.  

When a child has a tantrum, it is because he is swamped with feelings he doesn't know how to control.  Interestingly, you--yes, you!--are your child's greatest tool when it comes to emotional regulation.  Not only will your calm, loving presence help him calm down in the moment, but having had lots of warm, unstructured time with you ahead of time fills up his emotional tank.  It literally teaches him how to feel calm.  When you spend time with your child where you are just hanging out or playing what he wants to play (not where you have a learning agenda, but where you are really taking your cue from him and being responsive to his cues), you are forming a strong bond and giving him a sense of security.  As he learns to regulate himself over time, this feeling of connected security is what he returns to.  This concept can be a little hard to grasp, but when your child spends time with you when you are relaxed and present, your child is learning how that feels.  Then, when he is upset but you are nearby--calm and solid--he can more easily return to that state himself.  

The last way in which you can help your child avoid feeling out of control is by setting kind, firm limits.  Even as a child is losing it, another part of him knows that it is not socially acceptable (and therefore not safe) to rant and rave and strike out at others.  Therefore, when you set limits (kindly but firmly), you are making him feel safe.  Let's say, for example, that he is hitting another child because the child took his toy away.  He is mad (and rightly so) and at the same time, those big out-of-control feelings scare him.  When you step in and say clearly, "I cannot let you hit someone no matter how upset you are," you save him from his worse self.  You give him a chance to calm down and find a solution without having alienated everyone around him.  Remember, at our core, we are social creatures who thrive the most when we are in positive relationship with the people around us.  This is how we get our needs met.  Feeling disconnected is overwhelming.  The sooner kids learn to control themselves, the better they feel, and that control is learned from calm, confident parents who model how they control themselves.  

What can a parent do to mitigate a tantrum?

Every parent is going to deal with a tantrum at some point, but there is much the parent can do in the moment to help a child deal with it.  Because our calm, helps a child calm down, it is important to stay present with a child. So the first step is to get your own emotions under control.  Try taking some deep breaths.  Practice imagining yourself somewhere very peaceful.  If when you are not upset,  you develop the habit of closing your eyes and picturing a place--for me it is a sun-warmed bolder by a very still lake--, you will be able to pull up that image at a moments notice.  This takes practice!  Try setting a reminder every day, so you do it at least once.  

Once you have calmed yourself, acknowledge what a hard time your child is having and name his emotions.  You might say something like, "I can see how very frustrated you are right now.  You are really angry that that boy took your truck away.  That did not feel fair.  You are so mad you could spit nails."  Studies have found that children (and adults, too!) who have a wider emotional vocabulary are better able to regulate their emotions.  There is something about being in touch with your feeling and naming it that allows you to recognize it as a temporary state.  For that reason, it is also effective to offer your child the reassurance that the state that is overwhelming him will pass.  Say, "You are angry right now, but you will feel better soon, and it will get easier and easier to use your words."  

If your child will let you, offer physical connection--a hand or a hug or a lap.  If he won't, just sit as close as he will allow.  If his anger turns physical, keep him from hitting you or another child, but use as light a pressure as you can to restrain him. 

The middle of a tantrum is not the time to tell the child how to behave.  That takes thinking, and as long as he is angry or upset, your child is in the emotional part of his brain.  Once he calms down and cools off, there is time enough to suggest actions for next time.  

Reminding yourself that tantrums peak around 4 years old and then taper off might help you stay calm until the storm has passed!

In the meanwhile, if you continue to struggle and want some tips for how to apply this to your family, let's chat.  To get on my calendar, go HERE.  

When It Is Time for Consequences

Elisabeth Stitt

So far, everything you have done to build your consistency muscle has focused on the positive--you have modeled correct behavior, praised correct behavior and trained for correct behavior.  But still your child is using disrespectful behavior!  Now is when it get's real, when you are going to set an expectation and then hold the limit.  This will probably mean that you need to have a consequence ready--one that you can absolutely follow through on.  

The hardest part of following through with children is knowing in the moment what your next step is going to be.  Let’s say you and your partner have come to agreement that a particular expectation is important to you.  Perhaps you really want family members to speak respectfully to each other.  You are committed to calling your children on it every time.  So, the first time one child puts his sibling down after the training period, what are you going to do about it? 

The exact next step is not so important as long as you both agree on the step, have announced it to your child ahead of time, and as a general rule have started with the most mild reaction needed for results.  (Your consequence may need to get a little stronger each time until it does the job.)  When thinking about consequences, it has to be something you are willing to carry out, or there is no point in putting it on the list.  Go do half an hour research on line and you will find lots of strong opinions on consequences. 

Here are mine:  

Consequences should be as light as possible to get the job done.  With some children, their desire to please you is so great, it is enough to state your strong expectation that In this family we speak respectfully to each other.  For another child, the threat of a consequence will be enough:  The next time you speak disrespectfully, you will write a paragraph on how it feels to be disrespected.  Some children will actually have to write the paragraph for the lesson to sink in. Some children will have to write the paragraph and even choose something nice they can do for their sibling, as well. With some children, they will need your help writing the paragraph.  That's okay!  Remember, the purpose of the consequence is not punishment.  It is learning.  Sitting down with you to organize a paragraph on respect is a great chance to open up the conversation about what makes, say, the relationship with a sibling hard.  

Do not take it personally when one child needs more opportunities to learn the lesson.  Stay calm, and have the next consequence ready when the child chooses to ignore the rule.  Quite possibly the child is really trying.  Encourage them to keep trying.  Tell them, Next time I know you will choose to think before you speak.  Tell them,don’t worry; it will get easier with practice.  (Keep reminding yourself how hard it is for you to be consistent with your rules!  It is likely at least as hard for your child to learn to be consistently respectful.) 

Once you have stated the rule and the consequence ahead of time, it is essential for you to follow through.  That does not mean, however, that you cannot or should not have taken time to hear the child’s side of the story.  What is he feeling?  Why is he having such a hard time being respectful towards his sibling?  What does he need from his sibling?  How could he express his feelings and his needs in a way that is respectful?  Have these conversations early and often.  Again, always keep in mind, discipline is about teaching and training a way of being: It is not about punishment. 

Okay.  It is time for you to give this a try.  You have the pieces all lined up.  Give it a go, and then leave comment about how it went.  Don't forget:  This is a skill.  It takes time and practice.  Don't get discouraged if your kids throw you for a loop.  The good news?  You'll get lots of chances to practice!

P.S.  You have said the consequence for speaking disrespectfully to someone will be to write him a letter (or a paragraph or whatever you have decided). NOW YOU HAVE TO FOLLOW THROUGH.  This is what you have been building for.  If you announce the consequence and don't follow through, It is like playing Chutes and Ladders and in one step sliding back towards the bottom.  So, please.  Before very many minutes go by, stop what you are doing and see that that letter gets written.  

Now I understand that consequences are tricky and that I haven't gone into very much depth here.  Next week, I'll go into more detail including the differences between natural and logical consequences.  

More questions? Feel free to contact me directly for a Complementary Strategy Session.  

10 Technology-Free Ways To Entertain Your Little Ones

Elisabeth Stitt

http://www.mydeal.com.au/blog/post/10-technology-free-ways-to-entertain?utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&utm_campaign=blog_link_kidstechnology

GUEST BLOG

by

Monisha Iswaran

When your littles ones have free weekends and days off school, it can be tempting to sit them in front of the television with their favourite movie on, with the hope of some peace and quiet in the house. However, while technology can be extremely useful for both educating and entertaining your kids at times, it is important to find other ways to fill their hours than being glued to a screen constantly.

Sometimes it seems as though kids get bored every two minutes, and it becomes incredibly difficult to think of ways to keep them occupied. Here is a list of ideas to get you started, when thinking of activities for your kids that don’t involve a TV, smartphone or gadget of any kind.

Click HERE to read the rest and go to the original post.