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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,  I teach parent education and parenting classes because parenting is a skill—not something we are born knowing. Get the parenting skills you need today!

Filtering by Category: Letting go

What's Your Plan for That?

Elisabeth Stitt

Are you concerned that you are a helicopter or lawn mower parent? Do you know that you are one but don’t know what to do differently? One of my favorite techniques for giving our kids some space and encouraging some independent thinking is What’s your plan for that? Instead of mapping out how our child should tackle a homework assignment or chore or even a conflict with a friend, we give the problem to them for consideration. Of course, if they are floundering too much, we step in and help with some course correction (but resist the urge to take over!)

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A is for Anxiety

Elisabeth Stitt

According to the National Survey of Children’s Health, anxiety among children 6-17 is steadily on the rise.  Data from 2011-2012 found that 1 in 20 US children has an anxiety diagnosis.  That represents a statistically significant increase since the 2003 data; and one can only imagine that were the same data taken in 2018 that there would be a further increase.   The numbers only go up with adulthood:  18.1% of the over 18 population every year is found to have an anxiety disorder (This includes anxiety diagnoses like OCD and social anxiety in addition to General Anxiety Disorders, making it the most common mental illness in the U.S.).  Data on whether or not rates of anxiety have increased in general in the United States are inconclusive.  But from my own experience, that was one of the main reasons I made a shift from teaching kids to supporting parents, and I think my experience sheds light on what is typical.

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SETTING YOUR KIDS UP FOR SUCCESS WITH HOMEWORK

Elisabeth Stitt

Once the shine of the new school year wears off, it is time to settle into the routine of school. Here are steps for helping your child figure out how to handle the homework the teacher’s give her. Aid her in problem solving but recognize that if you tell your child how and when to do her homework, chances are it won’t work. At this stage, it is more important to help her develop her own tools for managing her work.

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Don't take your teen so personally!

Elisabeth Stitt

Have you heard the cry of, 
OMG, YOU ARE SO EMBARRASSING!

Has your young teen shifted from skipping down the street holding your hand to acting as if you have the plague?  Such behavior is so teen-movie, situational-sitcom cliché we almost don't fully expect it to happen to us.  But if your child is developing normally and as he needs to do, he will have that moment when he acts as if you are an alien creature he has never seen before.  

Your frontal cortex is fully formed:  You have the big picture and long-term perspective.  That makes it your job to keep calm and parent on.  Repeating the mantra, This is a stage, it will pass, and it has nothing to do with me personally, it will help.  

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The Thin Line I Found Between Being A Parent And Smothering The Kids

Elisabeth Stitt

 

Tyler Jacobson, today's guest blogger who writes about the struggle to find the balance between protecting our kids without falling into helicopter parenting, is a proud father, husband, writer and outreach specialist with experience helping parents and organizations that help troubled teen boys. Tyler has focused on helping through honest advice and humor on modern day parenting, struggles in school, the impact of social media, addiction, mental disorders, and issues facing teenagers now. Follow Tyler on Twitter | Linkedin

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I find it hard to be consistent when I’m in a hurry, tired or out in public

Elisabeth Stitt

Isn’t that the truth!  Parenting gets so exponentially harder when we are in a hurry or are tired.  That’s why I’m such a big believer in creating systems and routines for as much of the day as we can.  When we have good systems and routines to fall back on, we can let habit lead us.  

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11 teen suicides in 9 years.  In one community.   In my community.

Elisabeth Stitt

11 teen suicides in 9 years.  In one community.   In my community.
How does that happen?  Your first answer might be to blame the parents.  Where were they?  Didn't they know they were putting too much pressure on their son?  Why didn't they do something?

But it's not that simple.

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DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS

Elisabeth Stitt

Even many adults don't learn the skill of having difficult conversations effectively.  Most people just want everyone else to be happy.  Certainly, no one modeled for me how to stay present even when conversations 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. 

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What’s Wrong with the Modern Day Play Date?

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.)

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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.  

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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.  

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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.  

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Expanding the Parenting Circle

Elisabeth Stitt

EXPANDING THE PARENTING CIRCLE


I LOVE THAT I AM MOM.  My daughter once pointed out that she holds the special spot in my life of being the only child to grow in my womb.  That does give us a bond that says I am her primary parent.  I love being her primary person. 

But her dad and I have been divorced since she was three, and her stepmother has been in her life almost as long (and her stepfather a few years after that).  That means that while I am her primary parent, Julie has a lot of other parents.  And a lot of other parent figures. 

Now, that could feel threatening to me.  But it’s not.  Instead, it is a source of supreme comfort.  Seriously.  Parenting is a lot of pressure.  I can think of dozens of ways—mostly small but some large, too—that I have messed up.  On the other hand, I can also think of ways that Julie’s stepmom or aunts or grandmothers or good family friends have gotten it right.  They have been able to provide what I wasn’t at the time Julie needed something.

The biggest example of other adults providing help where I couldn’t was when I got remarried.  Because I got married in India and didn’t know I was getting married (long story!), that meant that a) the kids were not with us and b) we did not prepare the kids for our marriage in the way that I normally would have.  You can imagine the guilt I have felt over that—guilt that was reinforced by how long my daughter stayed mad at me.  Thank goodness Julie had my friend Leslie during this time.  Julie spent lots of hours at Leslie’s (supposedly to play with Leslie’s daughter, but I know that she saw Leslie as someone who absolutely understood and who (unlike my family) didn’t take my side but just kept agreeing with Julie that having your mom remarry must be really hard).    

Think of who the special adults have been in your life.  Middle school is a stage where kids begin to examine the world through their own lens.  Up until that point, they follow their parents’ views on things pretty closely.  I was miserable in middle school.  But my school librarian was a big help.  She seemed to get me.  She was ready to listen to me without lecturing.  Even when I complained about my mother, she acknowledged my feelings but didn’t make me feel bad for feeling them.  At that stage in my life, I was busy trying to pull away from my mother in order to get some space to figure out who I was.  No matter how much she wanted to, she was not the person who could help me at that point.  It took an outside, caring adult

It was just lucky that I found Mrs. Anderson, the school librarian, but I also had my godmother.  She was someone my parents had deliberately chosen to be an extra adult in my life.  She loved me and cared deeply for me, but because I wasn’t ultimately her responsibility, she could love me exactly as I was.  Unlike a parent whose job it is to civilize a child (to set expectations for him, to hold him accountable, to push him beyond what he can see for himself), a godparent’s job is mostly just to be there as a wise advisor.  The godparent can give counsel, but the child has no obligation to follow it. That means the child is much more likely to listen (even if the message is pretty much what the parents have been saying al along.  Whereas my godmother clucked over her own boys like a nervous mother hen, with me she could be supremely confident that “only nice things could come to such a nice girl.”

Parents can do much to extend the family circle beyond the nuclear family.  Obviously, how you interact with adults around you will signal to your child how comfortable you are with particular adults as people.  You can go one step farther, though, by helping your children to connect to potential caring adults.  Point those people out.  Guide your children when they might have an interest in common with a caring adult.  Maybe you find out that a teacher at your child’s school exhibits her own art.  You yourself don’t know Jackson Pollock from a Kindergarten project.  By suggesting to your child that she show the artist teacher her work, you are telling your child that you honor her interest in art even if you don’t know anything about it. 

Populating your child’s life with a circle of adults to love and support her is an excellent example of being the architect of your family.  You don’t have to do all the heavy lifting yourself, but the design will be yours.  

Keep Your Kids Stress Free During the Holidays by Managing Your Own Stress in These Two Key Areas

Elisabeth Stitt

 

By Elisabeth Stitt

Do you remember Christmas as magical? Many people do.  But that was not my experience of Christmas as a child. Indeed, even as an adult, it took many years to experience awe and beauty in Christmas.  Now I love the magic of Christmas, but I’m sure you’ll agree, it can be hard to find and sustain the magic under all the stress.  Growing up I spent the month of December waiting for my mom to blow up.  She so wanted—really wanted—to create magical Christmases for us—and there certainly were moments of warmth and togetherness.  But mostly, we never knew when the gulf between the scene she imagined in her head and the reality of creating (and getting my father on board for) that scene would have her resembling a Halloween witch rather than a Christmas angel.  

Of course, kids can be stressed during the holidays as their routines get upset and they are vulnerable to being over stimulated, but my experience is that their stress depends largely on how stressed their parents are.  In talking with parents, I have found there are two big areas that bring up a lot of adult tension during the season.  

Tip #1:  OVERSPENDING

     In most partnerships there are two different approaches to spending money.  They say that opposites attract, and while I don’t think that is always true, I do think there is something to the notion that part of our attraction to our partners is for something they have or can do easily that we wish we had or could do easily.  My husband is a spender.  I am a saver.  A lifetime of saving has left me wondering if I’m missing something—a little fun maybe?  a little spontaneity? a little luxury?  Living with my husband has been a lesson in learning to spend more and enjoy it!  I am more willing, for example, to invest in something pretty even if it will only get used at Christmas time.  I delight more in buying special holiday foods.  That being said,  I do not think “But it’s Christmas!” is an invitation to spend without thinking.  

     With luck, you and your spouse are learning and growing from each other when it comes to spending.  But if anything is going to bring up money conflicts, I have found the holiday season to be it.  So, my recommendation is to have the conversations early and often.  The saver in the family will want to argue down every little dime.  See if you can adopt an attitude of not worrying about every 3rd or 4th thing and just buying it.  The spender in the family will spend without thinking and will come home sheepishly with packages.  See if you can actively resist buying the third or fourth thing.  If you are a saver, it might help to remember Christmas does come but once a year.  If you are a spender, it might reassure you to remember the Youtube video that came out that showed the kids willing to give up ALL their Christmas presents if it meant that their parents got something they wanted or needed.  More is not more, and sometimes less is more.  Meeting each other in the middle is what will allow both of you to move through the holiday season with a minimum of stress.  

Tip #2:  DEALING WITH EXTENDED FAMILY

     The first stress extended family brings up is who is going to have Christmas where.  Will you switch off between husband’s family and wife’s family every year?  What about with divorced families?  And what happens as the children grow and begin to have serious romantic relationships of their own? No matter how you draw the lines, it seems like someone is disappointed.  Kids overhear our conversations about the logistics and feel disloyal if they want something else. I have no good solutions for these challenges other than to acknowledge that it is stressful and with a deep, deep breath try to let go of the emotion attached to it.  The other step I take for my own self is to have a small ritual that counts as the core of Christmas to me.  That way, no matter who comes to our house or whose house we celebrate at, my daughter and I have sung Silent Night by the lights of the Christmas tree.  I feel like as long as we have that, we can flex with the rest.  

     Family is also often a double edge sword.  On the one hand we long to be all together.  On the other hand not everyone gets along equally.  Here are some of the more mild complaints I’ve heard recently: 

• I like my mother-in-law but she makes me feel like a complete dud in the kitchen, and when I bring something store-bought rather than risk my poor skills, she looks at me like I don’t care enough to make homemade.   

•My father-in-law is a nice enough man.  Until he’s had a little too much egg nog.

•Jack’s sister is great fun, but she has no control at all over her kids and it makes every meal a circus.  

The fact that Christmas comes once a year makes the little time we have together feel more precious, so it has to be perfect.  That makes us less tolerant than we might otherwise be.  

And what is it about stepping back into our childhood homes that makes us feel—and act!—like children again?  I am a mature, generally very secure woman.  But when the whole family is together I fall into the pattern of waiting for people to tell me where to sit, how to help and generally what to do.  No matter how pulled together I feel in front of the mirror in the morning, I wait for my sister’s glance that says I am a disappointment.  Over the years, I have learned what triggers me and am able to sidestep the trigger with more grace.  I recognize that most of what is going on is just in my head, and I just have to let it go.   

Acknowledging to your kids what happens when adult children go home can help prepare them for your unexpected responses and moods.  

Of course there other reasons we get stressed during the holidays.  Quite simply—however lovely events might be—the late nights and break from routines will stress us.  If you can deal with the two biggies—money and family—you will be in better shape to adjust to the late nights and extra socializing.  

 

My #1 Tip for Helping with College Admissions Essays (The younger your child, the more you need this!)

Elisabeth Stitt

was an English teacher for 25 years and worked as a writing tutor on the side, often helping kids with their college app, including my own three children. That experience has given me my own perspective on the college admissions essay process. 

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Teaching Kids to Meditate: Ages 2 to 12

Elisabeth Stitt

You have probably heard of the benefits of routine meditation practices.  Studies have linked meditation to decreased stress, decreased depression, anxiety, pain and insomnia, and an increased quality of life.  Studies have even found that people who practiced meditation regularly had more gray matter in the frontal cortex, which is associated with working memory and executive decision making.  A parent asked me how young you can start meditation with children.  I don’t know, though there are studies on kids as young as second grade, and my guess is there is no reason not to start sooner—as long as it is does not become one more thing parents feel they should do with their kids.  With one in five children saying they worry “a lot or a great deal” about their lives, meditation may be one way for them to calm their monkey brain.

The question is how to teach very young children to meditate.  I would start by saying it is a process! 

An important aspect of meditation is mindfulness.

Mindfulness is really about paying attention to the moment by opening one’s senses fully. Ask children to sit and close their eyes. What do they hear? smell? What textures are they aware of? Can they feel their bones on the ground? Can they feel the movement of their body as they breath in and out? Can they hear their heart beating? Can they slow their breath but breathing in? Over time have kids extend the number of seconds it takes to breath in, pause, and then breath out, pause, breathe in, pause, breath out, pause.

Get kids to become aware of when and where they are tense.

The next approach might be teaching them to tense and relax different parts of their body. (In a classroom, this can be done sitting at their desks). This helps them learn to focus and it helps them feel the difference between tense and relaxed muscles. Work from the toes up to the head. Ask children to curl their toes as hard as they can and then relax, flex their feet as hard as they can and then relax, tighten their straight legs as hard as they can by pulling them together. Continue to work in this way up through the top of their head. Then work back down to their toes. Then ask them to take a deep breath in and out and as they let the air out to let their whole body relax.

Kids are naturals at guided meditations as they already live in their imaginations. 

As a third step, have kids do a guided meditation. I have introduced kids to this as an eyes open exercise. I have allowed them to draw or color as I imagine them walking through nature. With a recording of sounds of nature playing in the background, I guide them down a woodland path to a glen with wild flowers and birds and a still pond with water bugs making the only movement on the water. As I describe it, they draw whatever they are inspired to draw.

With kids at home, choose a time when your kids are sleepy and you can go straight to going to eyes closed on the floor or even in bed and just have them imagine the journey. If you have the space in the classroom for your kids to lie on the floor, then work towards having them do the guided meditation not drawing but just with their eyes closed. Start with short ones and then as they learn to settle into it, you can make them longer. (A guided meditation can be an excellent introduction to a writing exercise. You might ask them, for example, to describe what they see in the glen when they get there. Or if there is a river in the guided meditation, ask them what they find further down the river.

If none of these techniques work, don't worry.  Modeling meditation through developing your own daily practice might work.  Or you might just wait six months and try then. 

A combination of these ideas keeps things fresh for kids while at the same time helping them get the benefits we associate with meditation.  Again, take it slow!  Keep it light and playful.  You might scoff at the idea of a first grader worried because she has not been able to meditate right, but I have stood in line at the grocery store as one mother complained to another about her own meditation and watched the expression on her little girl's face.  To me it seemed to say, "Oh no.  One more thing for me to worry about!"  So, have fun with it.  If it helps your family--or one particular child--great!  If not, LET IT GO!!  Playing outside on the grass or climbing a tree will also go far to restoring kids' equilibrium.   

 


In the way that sometimes happens, I finish writing a blog and then I find another someone else who had covered the same material but even better!  You might enjoy this INFOGRAPHIC

Tips for Getting Kids to Sleep and to Stay Asleep

Elisabeth Stitt

Here are some of my guidelines for getting kids to sleep and to stay asleep

 

Consistency, consistency, consistency

The actual practice that a parent sets up for getting a child to fall asleep independently is less important than that he sticks with it from as early an age as possible.  At heart we are creatures of habit, and like Pavlov’s dogs, given stimulus A we will react with response A.  That means the same general sequence of events—done night after night--will signal to our body, sleep time is coming. 

•Put your kids to bed earlier than you might think.

If your child needs to up by 7:30 a.m. in order to get through the morning routine and off to childcare on time, she should probably be asleep by around 7:30 p.m.  That means starting bedtime around 7:00 p.m.!  That might seem impossible.  By the time you are coming in from work and picking your kids up from childcare, you might be lucky to get dinner on the table by 7:00 p.m. If your child is a really solid napper (at least 2-3 hours a day), you might be able to fudge this, but if you have a kid like mine—who was down to one hour-long nap after lunch at around 18 months—you are going to need to protect her nighttime sleep.  The inherent problem in this is that it gives you very little time to actually interact with your child.  Unfortunately, our children’s need for sleep has not caught up with our modern day schedules. Furthermore, if your child is cranky and having tantrums because she is overtired, not only is she going to have a harder time falling asleep but the time you spend together is going to be tense and stressed.  

• Find  2-3 markers for a bed time routine.  

For my kids “bedtime” was change into pajamas, one story and one song, and then a sleepy time music track that played for around 45 minutes that got turned on as the parent walked out the door. Changing into pajamas and reading a story was done with reduced lighting.  The song (including a little back rubbing) was done by the light of the night light.  Parents should beware of a too long list of bedtime rituals as it makes it very hard on a night when you come in late from an activity or having gone to dinner at a friend’s.  Tasks like taking a bath can be on a list I call “Before bedtime tonight we have to….”  By phrasing it that way, if it should happen that you come in too late for a bath, you aren’t changing the bedtime routine.  

•Ideally, train infants to fall asleep by themselves so they are already in the habit as toddlers.

Parents who give their infant her last feed of the day while she is still awake (I advise doing it in a different room from where her crib is) may have a harder time teaching her to fall asleep alone in her crib in the short run, but they will have much better sleepers as toddlers.  These babies know how to put themselves to sleep and back to sleep when they wake in the night. 

•Kids can “practice” good sleep habits at a time when it is not bed time!

What do you do as an adult to help you fall back asleep?  Somewhere along the way, you developed a trick—and I bet that most nights it works.  I don’t count sheep but I do do my times tables.  Other times I practice meditative breathing—Breathe six counts in, hold it six counts, breathe six counts out, hold it out six counts.  Kids can start with three counts and work their way up.  Even 18 month olds can learn to do belly breaths by placing a pillow or stuffy on the stomach and practice watching the stuffy go up and down.  Kids can also learn to do progressive relaxations by tensing and then relaxing different parts of their bodies working from their toes to the crown of their heads.  All these techniques can be practiced in the middle of the day where you are there to guide them through it.  You can set them up for success by asking, “If you need help falling asleep, which technique are you going to use?”  

•Once it is sleeping time, interact with your child as little as possible

If you have a toddler with challenging sleep habits and you are just getting started at establishing good ones, know that it is going to be a slow process.  The trick is to take baby steps forward, but no steps backward.  The first step is to make yourself minimally interesting once you have gotten up to leave the room.  Even if you have to physically put your child back in bed, do so with as little comment and eye contact as possible.  (On a side note, if you were someone who could let your children “cry it out,” you probably would have done that already.  It only works if you are absolutely 100% consistent, so unless you are 100% committed, I don’t recommend it.)

 There are, however, ways of weaning your child from his need for your presence as he falls asleep. If you have been lying down with your child in order for him to fall asleep, tell him that from now on you won’t lie down with him, but you will sit next to him.  When he is accepting that without tears and tantrums, tell him that from now on you won't sit next to him where he can still touch you, but you will sit at the end of the bed with your hand on his foot.  Once he can fall asleep with you at the foot of the bed, move to sitting next to the bed on the floor or on the chair.  Progressively you are going to move closer and closer to the bedroom door.  Eventually, you are going to sit outside the bedroom door as he falls asleep and one day (miracles of miracles), you are going to close that door—maybe even all the way!  

 

This process might take 3-4 weeks and feel like torture to you (after all, when you lay down with your kids while they fell asleep, there were no tears and you probably got a little nap, too!), but imagine that three weeks from now bedtime from start to finish takes around 15 minutes and your child puts himself back to sleep when he wakes up for the night!  Imagine your kid not waking up tired because he has gotten enough sleep.  Imagine spending time connecting with your spouse in the evening.  Or taking a long shower.  Or going to bed on time yourself!

 

Good sleeping habits support a good future

Good sleep is so important for learning.  Establishing good habits early on can support good study habits for school all the way through.  Despite taking hard classes and getting good grades, my daughter had relatively few moments in high school where she was completely stressed.  Even in college she goes to sleep by 10:00 p.m.  She organizes her studies so that she does not have to pull all nighters and gets 8-9 hours of sleep a night.  Good sleep wards against depression or a dependency on caffeine or other stimulants to perform. Putting in the work now to develop good habits, might be one of the most important parenting steps you take.  

Teaching your children to be good sleepers might be the most important thing you do for your marriage.  

Admittedly, I do not have any studies to support this claim, but my personal experience in dealing with families is that households where "bedtime" takes a couple of hours are more stressed than ones where kids go to bed relatively quickly with minimum support from their parents.  Parents need time to regroup, to be "off the clock."  They need time to connect each other and to connect to themselves.  

NEED SOME HAND HOLDING WHILE GOING THROUGH THE PROCESS OF ESTABLISHING NEW HABITS?

Let me help!  As much as you are retraining your kids' expectations around bedtime and falling asleep independently, you are retraining yourself to stand firm and committed to valuing good sleeping habits in your house.  Regular coaching calls give you a place to vent and to strategize.  Sign up HERE for a "Getting to Know You" call and we can make a plan that works for your family.