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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: Parenting styles

Are You a Playful Parent? Do You Pull on the Power of Play to Engage Your Kids?

Elisabeth Stitt

Last night in my yoga class, the instructor asked us to dedicate our practice to being more playful.  That got me to thinking about the power of playfulness in parenting.  When I got home, I went to the Joyful Parenting Website and searched “play.” Twenty blogs came up in which I mention the power of play and being a playful parent.  That tells me what an important role I think play plays (ha ha, pun intended) for happy children and a happy home life.  That being said, I realize I’ve never devoted an entire blog to the Importance of Play. 

I do that here AND teach two playful techniques you can put to work in your family today.

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

Elisabeth Stitt

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.  

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Actions Speak Louder Than Words.

Elisabeth Stitt

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.

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Your Success Rate As a Parent Is Greater Than You Think

Elisabeth Stitt

(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.)

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WHAT DO I DO WHEN MY CHILD....

Elisabeth Stitt

I get lots of questions from parents about their kids--parents who don't know how they got where they are and don't know where to go from here.  The older your child gets, the more out of control you can feel as a parent.  

QUESTION:  My 12 year old got so mad at being told (repeatedly) to go to bed that when he slammed the door, it shattered.  I am at my wits’ end. 

ANSWER: Oh, wow.  That must have been so upsetting for you.
 
Although your instinct might have you wanting to come down hard on him, he needs your love and understanding just as much as a four year old does.  I get that that might be really hard for you.  A broken door is a big deal and having a kid that wound up feels completely out of control.  But here’s the truth:  When you get into a physical power struggle with a teenager, chances are he is going to win—which means you lose, which means everyone loses.  Even if he is not physically bigger than you are right now, he is smart and can think of a lot of ways to get around you or to infuriate you. 
 
Besides, you don’t want to “win” over your child.  You want your child to be happy and expending his energies in positive ways. 
 
The older a child gets, the harder it is for us to be patient and empathetic (He ought to know better, we think).  And yet a twelve year old is still a child—a child with hormones racing around inside until he feels he has to explode to feel normal again.
 
So start with empathy:  “I am so sorry you are feeling so upset.  It is really scary to feel so out of control.  I am guessing that you wouldn’t have reacted so strongly if you felt that your needs were getting met.  When you are feeling calmer, we need to brainstorm some solutions that might make everyone happier.” 
 
When everyone is calm, consider having a family meeting.  Be ready to do a lot—a lot—of listening.  (Click HERE for access to my free ebook on The Family Meeting.) Children who really feel seen and heard calm down enough emotionally to access their prefrontal cortex (where their most creative thinking goes on).  Be prepared to make some compromises.  Remember, your child is not behaving badly to spite you.  He does not want to feel disconnected from you.  If he could get what he needs peacefully, he would.  It is not too late to work on nonviolent communication.  Keep at it, and eventually he will be able to tell you what is so important to him.  In the meanwhile, based on my many years of working with middle school kids, here are some things you might guess he needs:
•more choice
•more independence
•more responsibility outside of school (chores, being trusted with some money, making decisions about things like where/how to hang the Christmas lights) 
•reassurance that you believe in him
•reassurance that you will love him no matter what (even if he breaks the door)
•reassurance that adolescence is a phase; it will get easier and he won’t always feel like this
•recognition that he is a work in progress; you don’t expect him to be perfect
•help reframing his so-called weaknesses into strengths
•understanding that messing up is a chance for learning next time
•lots of praise for what he does well
•appreciation for his contributions outside of his school performance
 
Use family meetings to engage his critical thinking skills.  Present issues as problems that you would like him to help solve.  For example, you might say, “Doctors recommend that 12 year olds get 9 to 11 hours of sleep.  How are you going to arrange your schedule so that you get enough sleep?”  By having him come up with a plan, he is more likely to follow it.  If getting to bed on time is an issue, offer a lot of empathy and press for more ideas: “I can see how tempting it is to read one more chapter of your book, and at the same time, a teenager with two hours less sleep than he needs is functioning at the same level as someone who has had two beers.  I worry that the rest of your day tomorrow is just going to be that much harder and I want you to have lots of energy.  How could we rearrange your day so you have enough time to enjoy reading your book?"
 
Once your child is calm, brainstorm ways for him to calm down before he gets that out of control (deep breathing, stepping outside for a moment, excusing himself to the bathroom for a few minutes). 

It is also time to brainstorm ways to make sure the door gets fixed.  Does he have the money to pay for it?  If not, how can he earn it?  Does he get an allowance?  Can it come out of that?  When things fall apart and so much damage is done, it is going to take a while to make things right.  Through it all, offering your child empathy and your steadfast belief that he has learned from the experience is what will allow him to forgive himself and move on.  

Let's go back to how to avoid having a broken door in the first place.  When kids get that out of control, chances are something has been building up for some time.  I love the family meeting as a structure, because it guarantees that on a weekly basis each family member gets to share three good things.  This keeps everyone focusing on the positive.  If your child is struggling to find three good things, it is a red flag that that child probably has issues that are overwhelming him.  The agenda portion of the family meeting allows each family member to bring up concerns and to brainstorm them together.  In this case, Mom might have backed off in the short run, knowing that she could talk about bed time and listening at the family meeting.  

My FREE ebook, THE FAMILY MEETING: GET 4 POWERFUL STEPS TO HARMONY AND CALM IN YOUR HOUSE, will guide you through how to optimize the meeting not only for logistics, but more importantly as a tool that helps you honor each child as an individual, giving them time and space to feel seen and heard.  


 

 

How Do You Deal with Your Kids When You and Your Husband Disagree?  

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

WE CARE SO DEEPLY,  IT IS HARD TO SHIFT OUR POSITION

Ideally, spouses will agree with each other.  Indeed, were the world ideal, that would be easy.  Parenting is so personal, however, that it really is hard for parents to have worked out ahead of time what they want their approach to be. Parenting decisions are arguably the most important you'll ever make!  Talk about pressure. It is hard to give up your own point of view.

FIND AREAS IN COMMON AND HAVE EACH OTHER'S BACKS

I find it helps when parents focus more on what they agree on than on what they disagree on.   The first key is that the core values are the same.  I find it very constructive when parents narrow in on 3-4 absolutes.  For example, “In our family we are kind” or “In our family, we take care of our things.”  Which values parents focus on is less important than the power of a consistently presented message around agreed upon ideas. If parents have a lot of agreement and emphasis on the biggies for their family, there will be less need to micromanage each other.  I coach most parents to give their partner more space to parent the way each wants to.  

The second key is that at least there is an agreement in place to support each other.  In my blended family, my husband and stepchildren agreed to eat at the table with the t.v. off when I was there.  Nights I wasn’t home, they ate in front of the t.v.  When my younger stepson asked why they didn’t when I wasn’t home, my husband said, “What matters is that Elisabeth cares, so when she is home, we do it for her.”  In this case, my husband didn’t share the value of sitting at the table, but he did have my back.  I, for my part, let go of trying to convince him that I was right or even why it was important to me.  It was enough that he supported me.  By each giving each other some space, we both kept peace and presented a united front.  

ACCEPT DIFFERENCES IN THE LITTLE THINGS

As long as the core values are in place, it is okay for parents to have different approaches.  If Dad is supervising homework and he says yes to 15 minutes of shooting hoops before getting started, Mom should walk away, even if she has a problem with it.  In the same vein, if Mom is happy to have all the toys thrown into one big bin, Dad needs to wait until he is in charge to have kids sort the toys into separate bins.  Kids can handle two standards to some extent.  That being said, I do find it useful for spouses to have a rule that says kids have to take the first answer they get.  Of course, sometimes this will just mean that kids will go to the parent from whom they can get the yes.  In my own family growing up, that meant that my father always defaulted back to, “Ask your mother” or “Yes, if Mommy says so," but what is really important is that one parent's yes cannot fall to the other parent.  In other words, if mom says yes to a sleepover at Annie's, she cannot now expect dad to drop what he is doing to drive their daughter to the sleepover--or to be the one to pick her up in the morning.  Or if dad says yes to watching a movie that will keep kids up after bed time, it is not fair if mom is the one dealing with rude, grumpy children in the morning.

MAKE SURE THE DOWN SIDE OF YOUR PARENTING DECISIONS DON'T FALL TO YOUR PARENTING PARTNER

Similarly, for parents co-parenting from two separate households, I like the rule that dad cannot say yes to something that is on mom's day.  If my daughter wanted a play date on my weekend, she had to call and ask me.  That made it simpler as for the most part as we didn’t have to agree.  On the other hand, we had little control over what the other spouse did—and sometimes that made it really hard for me to hold my tongue.  For instance, my daughter's dad said yes to her going rock climbing with friends.  That freaked me out, but in the short run a) it was too late for me to do anything about it, and b) it was more important to back up my trust in her father than to make a big scene.  

IN MOST CASES, RELATIONSHIP SHOULD TRUMP PARENTING STYLE

The bottom line here is that the relationship between the parents is usually more important than a particular parenting decision.  Children can thrive with a wide variety of parenting styles as long as they feel safe and secure.  They get that from having their parents on the same page.  

Is Your Middle School Kid Still Blaming Others When Things Go Wrong?

Elisabeth Stitt

IT IS NATURAL FOR YOUNG KIDS TO PUSH BLAME AWAY FROM THEMSELVES

(THEY ARE STILL WORKING ON CAUSE AND EFFECT)

BUT WHEN OLDER KIDS BLAME, IT IS TIME TO TAKE ACTION.

     When kids blame others it is often because they have a fixed and not a growth mindset.  Jean Tracy, MSS, wrote a blog called “Stop Kids From Blaming Others” (http://kidsdiscuss.com/feature_article.asp?fa_id=184#sthash.UOywUZWA.dpuf), and I wanted to offer my own comments on her ideas.  Tracy gave six skills people need to learn in order to shift away from blaming others:

1. Accept responsibility for mistakes
2. Learn from mistakes. 
3. Brainstorm better solutions. 
4. Choose the best solution and act on it. 
5. Become accountable and dependable. 
6. Develop a strong moral character.

Skill #1 is Accept responsibility for mistakes

What makes it hard for a child to do that?  The first reason might be that she fears a harsh or very critical response from her caregiver.  But even kids with sensitive parents can be reluctant to accept responsibility for mistakes.  This is usually a sign of a child having a fixed mindset:  She does not need her parent or caregiver to chastise her; she is busy with an internal crisis about her own sense of how capable she is.  Remember, the primary concern of someone with a fixed mindset is fear that people will discover she is not as capable (as smart or talented) as people currently think she is.  She is, therefore, highly motivated to cover up her mistake so that no one else finds out she is less than they thought before.  Not accepting responsibility for her mistake is critical to hanging on to what self-confidence she still has.

Skills #2-4 are all supported by teaching kids to focus on strategy.

How does a parent deal with a child who cannot accept blame because it will damage her sense of herself?  The first step is to teach your child about a fixed and growth mindset.  Researchers have found that just teaching kids about how the brain works—and especially how it grows when it is learning something new—helps kids to develop a growth mindset.  There are lots of videos for kids of different ages to help explain the brain in action.  The second step to helping her develop a growth mindset is to ask her what strategy she was using when she made the mistake, why she thought it would work, and finally what strategy she might try next.  Focusing on strategy will teach a child how to Learn from her mistakes (Skill #2) and how to Brainstorm better solutions (Skill #3) and Choose the best solution and act on it (Skill #4). 

Confused about how to teach kids to focus on strategy?

Some people get confused about strategy, but it is really nothing more than breaking down HOW you do something.  Here are some strategies typically used in academic settings, but many of them cross over to other areas of life.  The list below might seem overwhelming, but a lot of these are so automatic for you, you don’t even think about them.  They might not be automatic for your kids, however:

            •Brainstorming

            •Outlining

            •Note Taking

            •Mind Mapping

            •Color Coding

            •Making a List So You Don’t Forget

            •Keeping a Calendar

            •Identifying Tasks As Beingof High, Medium or Low Importance

            •Reading Directions from Top to Bottom Before Starting (recipes, doing arts and crafts)

            •Checking for All the Supplies Needed Before Beginning

            •Underlining Key Words (and Checking Their Meaning)

            •Asking Questions to Check for Understanding

            •Repeating Information Back to Check for Understanding and Thoroughness

            •Looking at Examples/Samples of What You Are Trying to Do

            •Editing and Rewriting (Look at your last paper and see what you got wrong.  Did your teacher ask you to focus on transitions? Richer word choice? Providing enough detail?) 

            •Asking Others for Feedback as You Go Along (Have I provided enough detail in this section?  Does my example make sense?  Is it clear who everyone in my story is?) 

            •Double Checking Numbers and Arithmetic (say when doubling a cookie recipe)

            •Allowing Enough Time to Work Slowly and Carefully

            •Allowing Enough Time to Review Work

            •Allowing Enough Time to Print, for the Cake to Cool Before Frosting, for the Paint to Dry Before Transporting

            •Recording Steps So That If They Work It Is Not Trial and Error Next Time

            •Looking at the Pictures and Graphics for Clues (What is the birdhouse supposed to look like when it is done?)

            •Putting the Work/Problem Aside for a While and Coming Back to It Later

            •Reviewing Learning to Apply the Next Time (Did you wash a wool sweater and shrink it?  What have you learned about wool?  About checking labels?)

            •Reviewing Successes to Apply the Next Time (Letting each color of paint dry first keeps you from smearing the next color.  Grouping the same size plates makes it easier to load the dishwasher to full capacity.  ) 

            •Getting the Big Picture Ahead of Time (Look at the whole journey on the map and see it in your head before going to the close up view.)

The Role Metacognition and Critical Thinking Play

In focusing on strategies, what you are really teaching your child is metacognition—thinking about how we think.  As you begin to identify strategies, you can then prime the pump before a child gets started by asking, “What strategy are you going to try here?  If it doesn’t work or you make a mistake, what is another strategy you will try next time?”  Asking the question this way teachers the child to expect that mistakes are a part of getting things right and that a lot of times getting something right is a process of trial and error.  You can model for your children that you don’t always get things right by reflecting out loud on your own process and mistakes.  You might say out loud, “There was too much heat under the pan for the first batch, so they got a little burnt, but I turned the flame down for the second batch.”  Or, “the African violets don’t seem to be thriving on that window sill.  I’m wondering if the problem is too much sun or if I am maybe watering them too much.” 

Children are learning to think critically from a very young age.  Helping them identify what they are doing—especially when they get something right—helps them be more aware of their own efficacy.  For example, you might observe to a toddler, “When you rotated that piece, then you were able to fit it in.”  Now the toddler learns in a more concrete way that rotation is a strategy when fitting things together.  Even just asking the question, “What is another strategy you might try?”—and resisting the need to step in and do for the child—helps a child learn that “trying” doesn’t just mean doing the same thing over and over:  Often it means approaching the problem in a different way. 

What is your child's core belief about herself?

So, notice how much of getting your child to not blame others is really about fostering your child’s own sense of being capable of figuring things out on her own—along with developing the belief that making mistakes is a natural part of the learning process.   You can aide in her learning by giving her opportunities to practice skills as part of her play.  For a toddler and preschooler, activities like pouring all sorts of things (liquids, beans, rice, beads, etc) from one container to a next, screwing all sorts of things on and off, putting things on and off shelves, all help her become competent. 

Skill #5 is to become accountable and dependable

Becoming accountable really means a) admitting when you failed to do something and b) figuring out how to make amends or to ameliorate the situation.  Kids who are reluctant to admit failure are trying to push shame away from themselves because they do not know how to make amends.  Training kids to make amends, allows them to be accountable because it is then within their power to make things better. 

Being dependable is essentially a critical problem solving exercise.  Kids do not want to disappoint others; it does not feel good.  But often they need support in finding the right structures that will assure that they can keep their word.  For example, a child who has agreed to put the garbage out on the curb and then fails to might be being passive aggressive (and that’s a whole other blog), but more likely she does not have a system for remembering that Thursday night is the night to put the cans out.  She might need your support in marking the calendar in red, setting an alarm on her watch, putting it in her homework planner, etc.  Once she has it down as a routine, chances are she will remember. 

Skill #6 is to develop a strong moral character. 

That, obviously, takes years and years of interactions with your kids.  Push comes to shove, though, kids learn by example.  One place to look, then, is how much are you modeling blaming vs. taking the blame?  If your kids hear you blaming others when things go wrong all the time, naturally they are going learn to do that, too.  On the other hand, if you model taking the blame for your part in something—especially when it comes to recognizing how you have contributed to a negative situation with your kids—you will teach your kids to take the blame gracefully.  You need to model honoring your commitments and apologizing when you fail to.  I used to promise my daughter that I would give her as much advance warning as possible about family social events.  Sometimes I would forget and she would get mad—and let me know I had let her down.  Well, that was on me.  It was disrespectful of me not to give her a heads up about family plans when I had agreed to.  I would apologize and resolve to be more considerate in the future. 

What’s the bottom line?

Helping kids develop a growth mindset is central to getting kids to stop blaming others when things go wrong.  When they see themselves as being “in process,” they are able to cut themselves some slack for their mistakes and failures.  That, in turn, allows them to own up to their role in the situation and to look for ways to make the situation better.  Making things better—or using critical thinking to make a plan to assure that things will go better next time—washes away a person’s shame or guilt.  That makes it much easier to take the blame.  

Rewriting the Scene

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

Do you fall victim to other people’s opinions and judgment?  Do you go out into public and cringe every time your child doesn’t behave?  Do you get tenser and tighter and lose track of your best parenting self? 

You’ve probably heard that quote (or something like it) that says, “Between stimulus and response there’s a space.  In that space is our power to choose a response.  In our response lies our growth and freedom.” 

Let’s consider that quote.

At your best—when you are well-rested, calm, in love with your children—you make good parenting choices, don’t you?  As your best self, they do something naughty or rude or irritating, and you are warm, firm and creative.  Whatever the problem was, you smooth it over and reengage them in something constructive and fun. 

But let’s think of some of those agonizing parenting moments when you are tired, stressed and at the end of your rope.  Maybe some stranger is ready to tell you exactly what you should be doing. Their comments are like an arrow in your heart and you are ready to die of mortification

 Who I Am at My Worst

I know what I am at my worse:  I’m bossy, insensitive, hyper-aware of who’s looking at me and overanalyzing my every parenting move.  I snap, I grab, I glare, I threaten, I bribe.

See if you recognize yourself in this scene:

[Scene: grocery store]

Me:  Stop that!  Don’t touch.  Put that down.  Julie, I’m warning you.  Put that down.  Put that down right now. 

[I grab Julie’s arm, glare at her, and pull her away roughly.]

Me:  Put that down right now or we are going to march right out of this store with nothing for dinner tonight.  Come on, dear.  Put that down and you can have a cookie. 

And here is what the internal monologue would be:

Me:  You are such a bad mother.  Why can’t you control your child? Look, look over there.  That toddler is just sitting quietly in the cart.  Why can’t my child be like him?  I am so mad at you, Julie.  I am going to die of shame.

And here is what I would be hearing around me:

         You should take that child outside!

         Stop yelling at your child.  That is not going to help anything.

         When are you going to teach that child some manners?

         If a child of mine behaved that way, she’d get a swift swat. 

Shifting from Our Worst Selves to Our Best Selves

So how do we shift from being our worst selves to our best selves?  Let’s go back to our quote:  Between stimulus and response there’s a space.  In that space is our opportunity to make a choiceThe bigger the space, the more likely we are to reject our own fight or flight response.

The million dollar question becomes, what can we do to stretch the time between stimulus and response?  My answer? Rehearse!  Yep. I spend a lot of time rehearsing conversations/scenes in my head.  For example, as I am driving from work to picking Julie up knowing we are going to have to nip into the store, I rehearse how I am going to handle my daughter’s inevitable whiny crankiness. 

In my mind the scene looks something like this. 

[As we walk towards the store entrance and get a cart]

Me:  [warmly squeezing Julie’s hand and infusing my voice with excitement]

Are you ready to help Mommy in the store?  You can help me put things in the cart.  You can help me count things.  You are such a big help to Mommy.  Here we are.  Can you find the apples? 

[Julie cries out and points to the bin of caramel candies.]

Me:  Not today, darling. 

[She squawks louder and bangs on the cart.]

Shopper:  That child should be taken out!

Me [to Julie]:  I know, sweetie!  Those candies do look good and you’d really like to have one.  Hold this apple while a get a bag.  Thank you!  Are you ready to count?  Into the bag!  There’s one.  Here’s two.  Last one.  That makes three! 

 The Cheerfully Calm Parent

Feel the power of that scene.  Are you rolling your eyes going, yeah, right, like that would work.  It does! 

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Parenting is a confidence game.  The cheerfully confident and calm parent can smooth over a host of dicey situations

Remember that Rogers and Hammerstein line from The King and I:  “And when I fool, the people I fool, I fool myself as well.”  That’s the trick. 

When you rehearse scenes in your brain ahead of time over and over, you are laying down the neural pathways for that response.  That means that in that moment—that space between stimulus and response—you have a pre-rehearsed script for your brain to retrieve and apply.  As with anything you practice, this tip will help you react as your best self.  More and more, calm and confident will become your ingrained, automatic response. 

As with so much in life, effective parenting starts with setting a positive intention, but it is habit-forming practices that will see you through when the going really gets tough.  

 Putting It into Practice

To get started, take one of your worst parenting moments and go ahead and rewrite it.  If you really want to fix it in your mind, take the time to literally write out the scene by hand.  Then anticipate when you are going to next need your revised script and be ready to pull it up.  You can do it!

Rewriting scenes is the kind of exercises in each of my chapters in my book Parenting as a Second Language: A Guidebook to Joyfully Navigating the Trials, Triumphs and Tribulations of Parenthood. The book provides excellent opportunities for reflection and coming to know yourself better as a parent.  Or if you'd like help directly, sign up for a 20 minute Rewrite Session.

Happy Parenting,

Elisabeth

 

 

What Is Your Parenting Color?

Elisabeth Stitt

 

Parenting is a confidence game.  The question is, how do we as parents put aside our own doubts and embrace our role as parent?  How do we quiet the many voices around us telling us how to parent?  Nothing sucks the joy out of parenting like anxiety, and nothing grows anxiety like trying to sort out people’s opinions on parenting. 

So, let’s do a little exercise.  I want you to think a color you associate with a brilliant parenting moment---one where you were confident, loving and joyous.  Really take the time to sort through your memories and find one that just makes you smile.  Got it?  Now, what color comes to mind when you remember that parenting moment? 

That’s it!  That’s your top-notch parenting color! I don’t mean your favorite color, or even the one you like to dress your child in.  Your parenting color is that one you thought of, that one you associate with parenting at your best.  Let’s look at how to use that color to trigger that joyful, confident feeling in your parenting. 

Color can be a great mood changer.  It can make us feel a certain way.  Do you want to know my top-notch parenting color?  It’s gold.  Harvest moon gold.  Why?  Because the full harvest moon was there on one of my lowest parenting nights.  Uh?  How could my top-notch parenting moment come out of one of my lowest nights?  Well, sometimes we have to feel the lows to fully appreciate our shining moments. 

One night, when my daughter was around four months old, she was teething and just miserable.  All afternoon she had been fussy, she hadn’t napped well, and by bedtime she had worked herself into quite a frenzy.  It’s not like she had been an easy baby up until now—she was colicky well into her third month—but that day was just a doozy.  I had called my mother for advice; she swore by a wet washcloth put in the freezer for some time.  Didn’t work.  My friend Alice recommended letting her suck on a cold binky, but my daughter was born without a suck reflex and had never learned to take pacifier.  My other friend extolled the virtues of a little rum rubbed along her gums.  No, thank you.  Not only did I really not like the idea of giving alcohol to a baby, I’m not a drinker.  I didn’t even have wine in the house much less hard liqueur. 

With each passing moment, I was feeling more and more desperate, more and more incompetent.  A good mother would know what to do!  A good mother would find a way to comfort her baby!  The baby was bawling streams of tears down her hot, tense face.  I was crying, too, as I tried to mop up the snot out of her mouth and nose so she could breath.  My first tears fell, and I couldn’t stop.  I felt so alone.  It didn’t feel like anyone would have the advice I needed for my baby.  I was ready to stick her in her crib and run away.  This mothering thing was not all it was cracked up to be!

Hot and sticky from having a sweating baby pressed up against me, I finally walked outside into the night’s air.  Though almost November, it was warm for a fall night, but blessedly cool after the closed air of the house.  The moment I walked outside, I felt myself begin to calm down.  But it was the full harvest moon that really did the trick.  High in the sky with that sort of textured gold that looks like velvet rubbed the wrong way, the moon seemed to blaze with a light of its own. 

I was mesmerized.  And so was the baby!  She stopped crying and just stared.  My heart stopped beating so fast.  Her heart stopped beating so fast.  As we gazed at the moon, our collective blood pressure dropped breath by breath.

We lay in the hammock and let that golden light wash over us like it had some kind of magical force.  I felt one with my baby and one with the world.  I was powerful and strong and whole.  I was Mother.  I was my baby’s rock, her center.  I had figured out the secret code.

That’s not a feeling you forget.  That’s something you carry with you.  And harvest moon gold is a color I carry with me, in my mind and in my heart.  It is my secret parenting weapon.

The next time some grandmother on the street tsk-tsked me for not having enough clothes on my baby, at first I saw red and then I pictured that harvest moon in my mind’s eye.  “Thank you,” I said and smiled and pushed blithely on.  You don’t know my baby, I thought, but I do!

When we hit the toddler stage I remember a mother in my daughter’s gym class warning me that I better get her under control and nip her stubbornness in the bud.  Such a deflating comment!  For a moment I was as limp and gray as Eyore’s broken balloon.  Visions of my wild child growing up ever wilder swamped me.  I looked at that woman trying to think of something to say.  Ah ha!  She was wearing a ribbed, gold turtleneck that at once reminded me of my old friend the full moon.  I felt a surge of energy rush through me.  “Do you think so?” I asked as calmly as if she had commented on the need for an umbrella.  Victory again. 

Bit by bit, harvest moon gold infused me.  I was Mother!  This was my child.  I knew her best and I knew what was best for her.  Hooking into the image of gold gave me the courage of my conviction.  I couldn’t rely on what other parents were doing with their babies.  I had to trust my own instincts.

What is your parenting color?  How do you remain confident as a parent?  What gives you strength?  

I'd love to hear.  Come over to the Joyful Parenting Coaching Facebook page and share your story. 

Happy Parenting,

Warmly,

Elisabeth

Joyful Parenting Coaching

www.elisabethstitt.com

      

by Elisabeth Stitt

The Confidence Game: What It Takes to Empower Parents

Elisabeth Stitt

Mercedes Samudio of The Parenting Skills interviews Elisabeth Stitt of Joyful Parenting Coaching

1.    What does it mean to empower parents?

Well, parenting is a confidence game, so to me, empowering parents has a lot to do with developing their confidence. 

2.   How do you empower parents in your work?

To me, a lot of confidence comes from knowing that you have a plan. Getting clear is about focusing on your values and prioritizing them.  The advantage of clarifying your values is that it helps you know where you’re going, both in the short run and in the long run.  In fact because it is so important, I start most of my workshops asking parents to list out and prioritize their values. This allows parents to focus on what is important to them and not worry too much about the rest of it.  Let me give you an example.  Let’s say that one of your values is being safe.  Then let’s say that your kids are running around the courtyard making a ton noise screeching like banshees.  You might feel like it’s a bit much, but you see that you are disturbing anyone else and you ask yourself, Is it safe?  Since the answer is yes, you decide to let them keep running.  Now, if you have a value of kids being calm and controlled, you would probably ask them to settle down.  Running around and screaming would be a clear point to take action. 

3.   What are some skills you know that parents need to feel smart and empowered in their parenting role? 

Well, I’m not sure I would call it a skill—more of a quality that I’d like parents to cultivate—and that is EMPATHY.  Being empathetic is one of best tools in your tool belt.  We used to give kids time outs to send the message that if you cannot behave nicely, you cannot be part of the group.  Neuro science has helped us understand in the last 10-15 years that children actually learn more about self-regulation when we are empathetic.  At the end of the day we want children to be able to feel negative emotions and then process them themselves—either by using their words with us and others or through their own self talk.  By offering empathy when they are upset, our calm helps their nervous systems calm down.  When kids feel safe and supported, they are better able to access their prefrontal cortex which is where their clear thinking and reasoning goes on.  I know to some parents it might feel like you are babying your child.  After all, he starts to cry and whine, your instinct might be to put him away from you and ignore him.  Current research actually invites us as parents to get close and offer empathy,  “I know son. It is hard having to pick your toys up and go to bed.”  This doesn’t mean of course that you should require your child to pick up his toys when you ask.  Being empathetic does NOT mean not being firm and following through.  It does mean not yelling or nagging.  This might mean that you put your hands on his toys so he cannot use them, while at the same time looking in his eye, empathizing that it is hard, but then repeating firmly.  It is time to pick up your toys.”

4.   What do you think is the most common parenting issue that you come across? Why? 

Well, with little kids it is very clearly tantrums and out of control behavior, and that is totally developmentally appropriate.  Think how you feel when you are on a steep learning curve—maybe you have a new job—everything is different and the company culture is totally different than your lastone, so strategies and approaches you used there aren’t working, and you feel at best like a fish out of water and at worse like an incompetent failure.  That’s pretty much what little kids are encountering all the time—new skills, new concepts, new situations, new expectations.  AND they have to rely on us to make sure they have had had enough rest, sleep and food.  That’s a lot to regulate.  It’s no wonder that they lose it.  That’s why empathy is so important.  When you start from the point of recognizing that your child does not want to be out of control, it is much easier to put your arms around him, give him a big hug and see if that will push the restart button. 

5.    Can parents bring other aspects of themselves into their parenting role to help them manage their families more effectively? 

Of course!  My husband is an engineer.  That means he is logical, linear thinker.  It also means that he gets less upset about what has happened (the vase broke, the bike got stolen) and is more concerned about how to solve the problem.  This is a wonderful example for our kids because it tells them that though stuff will happen, what is important is how you move forward from there. 

6.   Share one of your favorite ways to work with parents and families.

Well, one of my favorite programs that I offer is my Six Week Group Coaching Program that offers a combination of group webinars on specific topics and one-one individual coaching to modify what we have learned to the needs of each individual family.  Lots of time a parent will read an article with a tip or technique and it will seem to make sense to them, but when they go to put it in action, it just doesn’t work.  That’s where the individual coaching makes such a difference. 

7.   Why do you think our society has such a difficult time supporting parents?

Wow.  That’s a complex one because it has so many pieces.  When people say that parenting used to be easier, I think one of the main reasons was that families lived closer together.  Families were more connected.  They visited each other all the time.  My sister lives five miles from me, and we practically have to put a date on the calendar to see each other—much less gather our husbands and children.  By the time I have driven one child to a soccer game here and another one to a birthday party there—and she has gotten her children to where they need to be—the chance of there being time to just hang out goes way down.  Running around like a chicken with my head cut off means that I don’t have time to sit at the kitchen table and compare notes with another family with kids my age.  We’re always so rushed, we tend to keep things superficial with our friends and colleagues.  We share the highlights on Facebook, but we never get the advice and reassurance that used to support parents. 

8.   Do you have any thing else that you want to share with us? Oh, thank you for asking.  I would love to tell listeners about my new book, Parenting as a Second Language: A Guidbook for Joyfully Navigating the Trials, Triumphs and Tribulations of Parenthood.  The premise is that parenting is not something we are born knowing how to do.  We are social creatures living in social groups.  Historically, children were always near at hand, so parenting was spoken and modeled all around you.  Nowadays, lots of parents—even moms—come to parenting having done no babysitting, no childcare.  They haven’t spent time any around kids since they were kids themselves.  That means they do not know how to speak parenting, so arriving home with a new infant is like being in a foreign country and not knowing the words and phrases you need.  No wonder parents are so anxious!  Well, that’s where my book comes in.  It is a combination of stories—some of my most embarrassing ones!—to illustratepoints and concrete exercises parents can do to help them become more confident, effective parents.  Parenting is a skill.  It can be learned and practiced, just like learning a foreign language.  Parenting as a Second Language helps you do that.  I would be thrilled for your audience to go to Amazon, buy the book, read it and then come over to my Facebook Author's page and join the discussion.  We still need the parenting village.  Now we are finding it with people like you, Mercedes, who are providing a chance to hear the language of parenting through interviews like this one.

4 COMMON MISTAKES PARENTS MAKE THAT CAUSE THEIR KIDS TO TALK BACK TO THEM.

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

YOU'RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!  

     Has your child said that to you?  Did it make your blood boil?  It can be really hard when a pint-sized person pits every cell in his body against you and down right scary when he is taller and outweighs you.  Of course, all you want is what is best for him--clean teeth or the benefit of kale or the sleep that will restore her brain--and there he is, hands clenched, opposing you strenuously, demanding his due as a person with his own wants, needs and desires.  You might be tempted to wring his neck.  

But did you ever ask yourself what you are doing to contribute to your child's bad attitude?

MISTAKE #1:  Treating your children rudely.

Not being rude does not mean we don't get to tell our kids what to do.  We do.  What it really means is that we need to show our children the same consideration we would show a work colleague, a neighbor or spouse in asking them to do something.  We wouldn't dream of just demanding that a neighbor do something.  No way!  We are polite.  We say please and thank you.  We use softening phrases like "I would really like it if..." or "It would be very much appreciated if..." and then we make our request.  I hope you would never march up to a neighbor and demand compliance instantly.  And yet we do it with our kids all the time.  

Now, that being said.  With strong willed children, less is often more.  Using too many words will allow for loopholes and ambiguity.  You will command--not demand.  What's the difference?  The tone and the attitude.  A command is clear, firm and confident:  Coats on hooks, please!  The tone is not harsh, strident or critical.  The attitude is not I-am-your-mother-so-you-better-listen-to-me-or-else.  No.  Your cheerful reminder needs to connote we are a family and this is our routine.  

Some people say you shouldn't thank children for tasks you expect them to do anyway.  I disagree.  I am big in favor of thank you.  My husband is the hunter and gatherer in our house.  He pretty much always takes responsibility for ordering and picking up take out.  Just because it is the pattern in our house that that is his regular job--to the point where I expect that he will do it without having to ask him--does that mean I am not going to thank him?  Of course, not.  I am very grateful to be fed.  I am always going to say thank you.  In the same way, when my kids set or clear the table or take out the garbage, I show my appreciation.  I certainly have trained them to say thank you to me for the things I do to make our house run more smoothly.  

MISTAKE #2:  Demanding instant compliance my way or the highway 

Clearly, we are not going to stop making demands on our children.  We expect them to do their homework, to eat their dinner and to take the family dog for a walk.  On the other hand, we need to recognize how hard it is for a strong, independent soul to be told when, how and where to do something--especially without any explanation.  I don't know if you feel this way, but I find it very annoying to have to put down something I am doing to jump up to do someone else's bidding.  I still remember cringing at the sound of my mother's heals coming briskly through the house.  I never knew when she was going to swoop in with some proclamation of What-needs-to-be-done-right-now!  It wasn't that I didn't want to be helpful.  I just wanted some advance warning, so I wouldn't get caught in the middle of an especially good chapter of Nancy Drew.  

The trick to finding the balance between your child as an individual with wants and needs and the needs of the big picture is choice.  Keeping within the guidelines of what will work for your family, look to where you can offer choice, starting with questions like do you want peas or squash and moving on to choices like would you like to do your homework before snack or after?  There are lots of ways to give your child some options without giving up the expectation that something is going to be a certain way.  If you find it difficult, think through your child's day and write down the choices you might offer.  Here are some examples to help guide you:

        With little kids:

            Would you like to fly to the car or be a choochoo train?

            Am I brushing alligator teeth tonight or polar bear?

            Are we washing your face first or brushing teeth?

            Are you going to brush your teeth and have me inspect or am I going to 

                brush your teeth and have you inspect?

            Do you want your dinosaur coat or your penguin sweater?

            Is your coat Elsa's cape or an invisibility cloak?

        With elementary school kids

            Are you going to do math first or reading?

            Would you like to chop the veggies now or be in charge of stirring the soup later?

            Do you want to take a walk or shoot some baskets?

            Are you taking your bath before dinner or after?

            Do you want to work here or in the kitchen?

        With middle school and high school kids

            Would you like to walk the dog this morning or this afternoon?

            Would you like to walk the dog or clean out the fish tank?

            When cleaning the garage are you going to clear the heavy things or the light things first?

            Are you wearing a dress or nice slacks to the theater?

            We are having dinner at Grandma's tonight.  Will you drive with us or meet us there?    

If your child chooses to put off the task until later, you can double check that he has agreed to do the task at the time with no further argument.   If your child won't choose either, you can offer another choice:  Propose an option that will work for me, or I will choose for you.   A child who is unused to being given choices and is just blindly rebelling against being told what to do will push the limits for a while to see if you really mean it.  Just stand firm; she will come around eventually. 

MISTAKE #3 Telling your kids to do the same thing twice

When I learned to train my dog, the dog learned what he needed to learn in around six weeks.  It took me six months.  The hardest part for me to learn was to give the command once and then use my focus and body to see that he followed through.  When we call out commands from the other room or as we are busy adding salt to the soup, we cannot expect to be taken seriously.  Think about it.  How responsive are you?  Do you leap the first time your child makes a request for something?  I bet not.  Usually we keep doing whatever task we are involved with and wait either until a natural break in the task or until the child ups the ante in his insistence.  Likewise, your kids will not follow your wishes when requests are made in such a haphazard way.  

Here's what to do If you want your child to do something the first time you ask:  Stop what you are doing.  Go to the child, get his attention and make the request (cheerfully, firmly, confidently).  Now, I am assuming that you have already corrected Mistake #2 and have given your child some choice about when or how to do the chore, so now you are really giving a reminder.  Stay present until your child transitions to the requested task.  Make eye contact.  You may need to put your hand on whatever it is the child is doing.  Let your eye contact and perhaps a hand on the shoulder do the work here.  You don't need to repeat yourself, just be quietly, calmly unyielding.  Most children will shift to the agreed upon task.  Some will need to have a tantrum before they do it.  The tantrum is likely totally unrelated to the request at hand.  That's okay.  Let him have the tantrum anyway.  We he has had a good cry, he will be ready to follow through on the task.  Obviously, the more you have done this with your kids when they are young, the more they will know that you are not moving until they move.  

MISTAKE #4Treating your kid as an unthinking child rather than as a reasonable human being

You want your kids' cooperation--not just today but over time.  Short term compliance is easy to get with yelling and intimidation.  You get it at the cost of the long term relationship, however.  Your goal needs to be to include your children in a way that honors who they are at their core.  

In his work The Prophet. Kalhil Gibran, the 19th century philosopher, writes

            Your children are not your children.

        They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.

        They come through you but not from you,

        And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

What this really means is that we have to be very careful about telling our children what to do and how to be.  That authoritarian approach appears to work with mild children who just want to make everyone happy, but it is at a very high cost.  Telling your child what to do all the time can end in one of two ways: rebellion (and that makes life miserable for everyone) or submission, which appears to be the better option but results in children who are not only afraid to express their own views but who may cease to have opinions all together.  If every time you open your mouth to express a desire or interest, you are redirected or immediately shut down, you very quickly learn not to express your preferences. 

Even well intentioned parents fall into this trap.  It is time to pick next year's classes, and a parent gushes about how beautiful French is and why would anyone want to learn a language as guttural as German.  This parent may well think she has left the choice to her child.  But such a comment will feel like a proclamation to a mild mannered child.  The mild-mannered child would never risk falling into the group of people his mother has contempt for (ie, those who want to learn guttural languages); he will certainly take French rather than risk her disapproval or disappointment.  The rebellious child may well choose German just for satisfaction of thwarting his mother.  Neither child has chosen out of true interest.  

So, how do we find the balance?  Of course it is your job to keep your child safe, and it is also your job to raise an adult who treats others kindly and behaves with consideration for the wider community.  At the same time, it is not respectful to constantly tell your child what to do, how to behave and certainly not to suggest that they may or may not like something.  This is a slippery slope.  Think how often we tell our young children to try something to eat.  You'll like it! we say in a bright cheery voice.  I remember I told my mother once that I didn't want to go to the beach, and she said to me, "Of course, you want to go to the beach.  You love the beach!"  And that is true.  I do love the beach. But that day I didn't feel like going to the beach.  How presumptuous of her discount my opinion and brush it aside.  Similar events happened often enough that I found it was much easier to just not care very much--about where we went or what we ate or what we did when we got there.  A rebellious child, on the other hand, who is not given some space to assert herself will not shut down.  No, she will push back harder and harder until every request becomes a battle.  

The way to give your child space to assert herself is by using open ended questions that require her to think and plan.  More open ended questions might look like this:

            What kind of help do you anticipate needing with your homework this week?

            Here is a list of activities that will work with our schedule this fall.  Which do you want?

            Of everything that we do over the Christmas season, what is most important to you?

            It is important to me that we go to the Christmas Eve service.  I know you don't

                     like going to the evening service.  Can you think of anything that will make

                     it easier to go?  

            If you get cold in that outfit how are you going to deal with it in a way that doesn't 

                      impact the rest of the family negatively?

            The pediatrician is concerned that you are not getting the protein you need.                                              Here is list of good protein sources.  Please rank them from the one you are                                    most willing to try to least willing to try.

            Wet towels left on the floor get moldy and stink up the place.  Please come up with                                  a plan to make sure that doesn't happen.  

These questions acknowledge that your child is a person and can be part of the solution.  Your expectations are still clear.  Homework will get done, kids will sign up for activities and protein will be eaten.  If the child feels her views are heard and considered, she will be more willing to go along even when your answer is no and even when it is not something she really wants to do. 

Perhaps you grew up in a household where you just did what your parents told you to do.  You didn't talk back.  You didn't question it.  Those kinds of households are increasingly rare, however.  Society has shifted such that we no longer blindly accept authority--not that of our police keeping forces, not that of our bosses, not that of our teachers, and by extension not that of our parents.  For this reason, cooperation has to be earned and won.  And actually, that is fine with me.   Treating kids respectfully teaches and models for them how to treat others respectfully.  We want our kids to be thinkers.  We want them to come up with solutions that will work for the whole family.  

Correct these four mistakes that often have your kids talking back to you, and you will be on your way to having a more harmonious home.  

Is talking back a big problem in your family?  Let's do a complimentary 20-minute strategy session.  I'd love to help you fix these issues with your particular child.  Sign up HERE.  

Please leave a comment.  What techniques have worked for you when it comes to backtalk? My post Set Your Kids Free: 10 Things They Need to Be Able to Do on Their Own by Middle School generated a lot of interest.  Engaging your kids in a positive way about cooperation in your household is another of those skills that your kids should have mastered by middle school.  It is all a part of taking responsibility for your own actions within the context of the greater community (in this case the family community).

Did this blog resonate with you?  Use the share button below to further the conversation.   

Mining for Gold

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt 

There is no doubt that your child is going to have qualities that drive you crazy.  There is no doubt that your child is going to have qualities that cause you concern.  But your job as a parent is to be your child’s champion, to find the good in what your child presents to you.  Why? Because I bet you have experienced the pain of being mislabeled or misunderstood. 
     Try something for me.  Fill in the blank:  I am too _________________.  What’s the word that popped into your head?  Were you too shy? Too anxious? Too loud?  Too bold? Too Forward?  And whose voice in your head gave you that message?  Your mom or dad?  A grandparent?  Or maybe a teacher? 
     Try this one:  I am not ____________________ enough.  What word did you use this time?  Fast, smart, tall, thin, athletic, talented.  All those come to mind.   
     Over the years as a teacher I would ask my seventh graders to complete those two sentences.  What surprised me first was how easy it was for them to do the exercise, even though they were just twelve.  These were not labels they were getting in their teens.  No, these were labels that were already deeply stamped on them, ones that they had absorbed fully not as labels that could be removed but as gospel truths.  The second surprise was that as I heard their labels, they were so often not qualities that I associated with the child I knew sitting in my classroom. 
     What became clear to me is how fully children accept the labels we give them as adults.  Well, let’s start working that to our advantage.  When we think about and talk about our kids, instead of focusing on what we perceive as their deficits, let’s focus on their strengths
     My daughter Julie is as stubborn as the day is long.  Isn’t that wonderful?From the get-go her persistence has been a sight to behold.  As soon as she could crawl, she went everywhere that was open to her, whether it was leaving no toy undiscovered on the toy shelf or no stone unturned in the garden.  She is a committed truth seeker.  She didn’t have much language as a toddler, but I sure knew what she was asking as she tested me over and over:  Really, Mom?  Is the stove really hot?  You say it is, but I better try it out for myself.  What does hot mean?  Oh, and Mom, will you really follow through when I do something you have told me not to? 
     A lot of children will cross some limit you have given because they are tired or hungry and they just lose their control.  Julie had superb control.  I would tell her not to throw sand, and she would wait until I had moved away to sit on a bench for some adult conversation, look to make sure I was watching her and then, her eyes on me and not on the person she was throwing sand at, would carefully, deliberately throw the sand.  And yes, every time I would follow through.  What other children would accept as true, Julie investigated three times as long, coming back to whatever was in question again and again.  Wow!  What a kid.  And what an adult she has become!  A college sophomore, she is diligent and dogged.  She wants to go into neuroscience, a field where I think her stubbornness will serve her well.  I have no doubt that she has the stamina and tenacity to keep pushing and poking for the answers just the way she pushed and poked my patience when she was small.
     I hope I never told her, “Julie, you are too stubborn” or even “Stop being so stubborn,” though I’m sure when I asked if she had to have all the answers right now, she heard the threadbare frustration in my voice.  Maybe even she even heard my internal prayer, “Please, please, please keep me from killing this kid!”  She was not an easy toddler.  Nope.  She was the Energizer Bunny on steroids and at times she did me in, but her strong will and her clarity did leave me in awe. 
     So, your assignment this week is to consider the qualities in your children that you find the most difficult or worrisome.  Perhaps you have labeled them—out loud or in your mind.  Are they irresponsible? Bossy? Rebellious?  Now, go online and do a search for synonyms of the quality that is such a challenge to you.  Pick 8-10 synonyms and rank them from most negative to most positive, from a weakness to a strength.  For Julie, in my dark days it was obstinate, obdurate and obstreperous, but when I was my best parent I rejoiced at how single-minded and steadfast she was, how fixed and firm.    

     Once you have done your assignment, let us know here or email me at elisabeth@elisabethstitt.com what positive terms you have found.  What surprised you?  How has doing the assignment shifted your perspective?  

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Set Your Kids Free: 10 Things They Need to Be Able to Do on Their Own by Middle School

Elisabeth Stitt

 

 It used to be that kids were treated as mini adults, and now the pendulum has swung the other way and young adults are being treated (and acting) as overgrown kids.  You have probably heard about the damage of being a too intense parent--whether that means tiger mom or helicopter parent.  Now you may be wondering what should you be expecting of your child?  The early childhood markers of independence--sitting, walking, potty training, etc.--get talked about a lot, but what is reasonable to expect of our older children is not as clear.  Just what should our early adolescent/ middle school kids be able to do on their own?

    I started thinking about this from the kids' point of view.  That made me remember the children's literature I grew up on.  Many of my favorite books were about young people taking charge independently--often away from their parents.  Let's start with Enid Blyton's The Famous Five series.  Beginning with Five on a Treasure Island, five cousins spend the summer having one adventure after the next.  There is home base where meals are offered and the children check in, but the assumption of the adults seems to be that as long as they are out in the fresh air, together, that they are generally fine no matter what they are getting up to.  In the Swallows and Amazon books by Arthur Ransome, six children are given permission to camp on an island in the middle of a lake.  They cook over open fires and deal with the local "natives" (as the children refer to the adults) to procure supplies.  Another popular example of kids on a mission is From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. It is about two children who run away from the suburbs to New York City and who handle themselves very well.  In all these books, the children are supported by friends, cousins or siblings and range in age between around 9 and 13.  For me the common themes are that a) children are generally seen as very capable and b) they relish in the opportunity to show how able they are to take care of themselves.  

    When kids are very little we are aware of teaching them what they need to take care of themselves.  We do not expect infants to learn to sit, to walk, to talk, to use the potty by themselves.  Day after day, month after month, we train them and encourage them to take things one level further.  We also give a lot of enthusiastic reinforcement for each new thing they learn.  These days, however, as soon as kids hit school--whether that is preschool or Kindergarten--we tend to focus solely on their academic and extra curricular progress.  Once they learn to tie their own shoes, it is like they get frozen in childhood where we are still taking care of everything else for them.  The result is that we leave them to do a lot of learning on their own when they get to college or out into the world.  Doesn't it make more sense to bring them along a continuum of self care and autonomy right from the start?

    Based on twelve years as a middle school teacher, I have a good idea of what 11-14 year olds are capable of if it has been expected of them and their parents have taken the time to teach it to them in stages.  Here are my Top Ten Responsibilities Kids Should Be Taking by Middle School. 

1.  Get up, dressed and washed on their own.

    Do you still wake your child up for school?  Stop!  It should be their job to set their own alarm, to pick out appropriate clothes, and to have good routines for washing and brushing themselves.  Your only job should be to introduce deodorant when the need for it arises and to support the school's dress code.  

2.  Make their own breakfasts

    Kids are certainly capable of getting their own cereal, toast, frozen waffles, etc.  If your family manages a hot breakfast, that's fantastic.  Kids can also learn to make pancakes and eggs and the like with practice.  Starting around eight or nine, have them work alongside you.  Model the steps.  I hear you saying, they don't have time to get ready.  It is easier if I just do it for them.  Of course it is easier and faster not to take time to give kids the skills they need in the short run.  In the long run, it doesn't pay off.  (And while I'm talking about food, teach your five and six year olds to cut their meat with a knife.  With care and attention, they will not hurt themselves).  

3.  Make their own lunches

    Are you under the illusion that your child is eating her lunch?  I spent years--years!--lecturing students about not throwing away perfectly good food.  You know what their answer was? My mom doesn't like it when I come home without eating what she packs me. So, rather than deal with the conversation about why they didn't eat what was provided, kids throw away the evidence. Children who pack their own lunches pack food they know they'll eat.  They know what to pack and how much to pack. 

4.  Get to school on their own 

    Okay, you may balk at this one.  I know that lots of kids no longer go to their neighborhood schools and few school districts provide busses.  There are still ways to give kids their independence.  For one, stop being in charge of checking if they have remembered everything they are going to need for the day.  They are big enough to keep track of that on their own--and if they are not, suffering the natural consequences of not remembering will be a much faster teacher than your nagging and reminders.  Even if you are driving your kids to school, give them the anonymity of dropping them off three or four blocks away.  This ten minute walk will allow them at least a little taste of freedom--and you will make the school happy by improving the drop off/pick up congestion.  

5.  Do homework on their own

    The sooner you let your kids manage homework on their own the better.  So how do you scaffold that?  Help them set up a place and a routine for doing their work.  When they ask for help, encourage them to attack it on their own by asking supportive questions:  How could you approach this?  What is the assignment asking for?  How does this assignment look like other assignments you have done?  What strategy could you use here?  Ask--and then back off.  Give your child a chance to do it on his own.  Offer a lot a reassurance that he will figure it out.  If he has worked on it a reasonable amount of time (ten minutes per grade level total is a good overall recommendation--but that's a whole other blog), let it be okay for him to go to school without it done.  Help him set up a method like a folder for homework to turn in. Initially you can check that it gets into the folder and the folder into the backpack, but by third or fourth grade, if kids do not have the system down, they have not been taking responsibility for their own learning. (That is not to say that as each new school year begins it might not be necessary to check in with your child's system again.)

6.  Do some cooking and some cleaning

    It used to be that kids had to help out with chores just to keep the family alive.  In fact, the need for extra hands was one of the reasons for having large families.  Then for a long time, that was not true.  Modernization meant that machines started taking over some of the work and there was less to do.  Many mothers were able to stay home to take care of their households and their families.  Now that the pendulum has shifted back and 70% of mothers are in the workforce, families where everyone pitches in are much happier.  Children may groan about doing chores, but they hate having stressed out parents even more.  Get your kids involved in the daily tasks of cooking and cleaning, and they will have the pride of knowing that they have contributed positively to the family.  Being needed means that you are important, that your family couldn't get by without you.  That gives children a tremendous sense of security.  Knowing you can take care of yourself also reinforces your own self worth. 

7. Choose their own electives and extra-curricular activities 

     Parents have a tough job finding the fine balance between encouraging kids to try new things and at the same time to stick with activities long enough that they have the satisfaction of feeling truly accomplished.  At the end of it all, though, don't you want to know that your kids have found something they really love?  Not something that will look good on their college apps or will help them as adults--or even something that they are really good at--but just something that has them fully engaged and alive.  I had a sad conversation with a teen this summer who started off playing two sports:  Her mom loved one; her dad loved the other.  When she needed to choose just one do just one because of time constraints, she felt like she was choosing between making one parent happy or the other.  I asked if she is just crazy about this sport.  She said she liked hanging out with her friends on the team but that no, she doesn't just love it.  Imagine, she has spent hours and hours of her life pursuing something she only likes.

8.  Talk to teachers to get clarification on assignments, to ask for help, to ask questions about comments and grades received.  

    Your child's teacher is his first boss.  There is no academic lesson your child will learn that is more important than learning to negotiate his relationship with his teacher.  Learning to communicate with people in more powerful positions than you is an essential life skill, and practicing with one's teacher is the perfect opportunity:  The teacher may have power, but she is highly motivated for your child to be successful (after all, his success is her success).  Support your child in this relationship by role playing and rehearsing what he might say when he needs something from his teacher.  The more he can interact with his teacher, the easier it will become.  Only step in on your child's behalf if your child has tried a few interactions and hasn't gotten anywhere.  Again, the goal is not to swoop in and rescue your child from any feelings of discomfort.  Rather it is to support him through an uncomfortable situation so that he will be more at ease next time.

9.  Be able to handle money.

    Personal finance is not my area of expertise, so for this one, I'm going to connect you to Bill Dwight, CEO of a nifty website/product called FamZoo (FamZoo.com).  Read his blog here on 7 Practical Tips for Raising Money Smart Kids (http://blog.famzoo.com/2014/09/7-tips-for-raising-money-smart-kids.html).  This was the area I failed to scaffold and had to scramble to fill in the gaps as my daughter went off to college.  How I wish I had been developing her independence in this area all along.  

10.  Get around by themselves. 

    These days it seems like kids sit in the back seat of a car glued to an electronic device, oblivious to where they are, trusting their parent will get them to where they want to go.  When my stepson was learning to drive, my husband and he went to a store they often had gone to before in the next town north.  When they got back into the car, my husband said I want you to take us home without any help.  The ten minute trip took forty-five minutes because even though he had made the drive north, my stepson hadn't really paid attention to where he was beyond the step-by-step instructions my husband had given him.  Meanwhile, my daughter, two years away from being eligible for her driver's permit, was able to describe perfectly how to get home.  I chalk this up to the fact that because she and I had taken public transportation--and she had taken it on her own once I had done it with her--she had learned the major streets and landmarks near by.  Knowing she could find her way home--whether driving or on foot or using public transportation gave her enormous confidence.  

     Teaching your kids these lessons and setting these expectations for them for middle school means they will have time to master them by the time they hit high school.  Armed with self sufficiency and self efficacy, your teenager will be able to focus on expanding into the world--for jobs, for internships, for summer travel programs, to be leaders on school teams and in school clubs.  Most importantly, they will be ready to go off to college as the 18-year-old adults the state considers them to be.  They will have skills to handle roommates, a large campus with lots of buildings, clean clothes, getting themselves fed, handling their money, talking to professors, deans and resident assistances, etc. etc.  They will not find the need to text their parents every day just to stay on track.  Can you imagine checking in with your parents every day when you were in college?  No way!  To set your kids free, train them up bit by bit.  

Want more tips for kids and couples?  Get my blogs and newseletters HERE right in your inbox. Need support in setting your kids free?  get started by signing up HERE for a free 20-minute consult.  

My Spouse and I Just Can't Seem to Get on the Same Parenting Page

Elisabeth Stitt

I hear that from clients all the time.

In fact, the first time I heard it was from my sister complaining about my brother-in-law.  Now, my brother-in-law is just about the nicest, most generous man you can imagine.  I love being a guest in his house because the moment I walk in the door, he makes me feel like a queen who should get her every need and desire met.  Great qualities for a good host!  But unchecked, meeting a child's every desire is not healthy--especially when Hank would come in the room and contradict what my sister, Allie, had just said. 

The scene might go like this:

Kids:  We want waffles for breakfast!

Allie:I know you do, but we've run out of eggs, so it is going to be cereal this morning.

Kids:  But we want waffles!

Hank:  What's this? You want waffles?  Of course, you can have waffles!

Allie:  Hon, we have no eggs, and I've just told the kids it's cereal instead.

Kids:  But, Daddy, we want waffles!

Hank:  You want waffles?  We can do waffles.  I'll run to the store for eggs.

Lucky kids, right?  Yes, in the sense that they feel seen and heard and important, but kids really do need to learn that sometimes they don't get what they want.  Sometimes they have to make do with an alternative.  Most importantly, however, kids need to know that their parents are in agreement and that they won't undermine each other.  

My sister and brother-in-law are a great example of how qualities which are attractive in a mate--who wouldn't want to be made to feel like a queen?--are not always the ones you want in your child's father or mother--unless toned down to the common ground  Allie and Hank were eventually able to work out.  

And I get it. I've been there, too. Here's an example.  (It may seem petty, but the fact that it drives me nuts is exactly what makes co-parenting so hard.)  My husband is not a conserver of natural resources.  In other words, he leaves on every light in the house and he lets the water gush forth while shaving (Did I mention we live in drought-stricken California?).  In the interest of marital harmony--and perhaps because I am secretly envious of his confidence that the world will provide him all the resources he needs whenever he needs them--I had long since learned to roll my eyes at him rather than nag him to turn off the lights and the water.  

The day came, however, when I called to one of the kids to turn off the lights when leaving the house, and he looked at me blankly and said, "Why? Daddy never does."  You know in the cartoons when the character's face turns beat red and steam comes out of his ears?  Well, that was what I am sure I looked like. That innocent question was like waving a red flag in front of my face.  I'm afraid in the scene that followed I was not at my best.  

So, how do couples find common ground, so they can provide a united parenting front?

First, let's consider why issues with our spouse feel so much more charged when our children are involved.  Here's the thing.  We care about parenting so very, very deeply that it is hard to be reasonable when it comes to our kids.  It is often a shock when our parenting partner has a very different idea about what is appropriate.  So, yes, it is hard.  On the other hand, Penn State reported earlier this year in a 7-year longitudinal study that “Parents who have better co-parenting relations feel more supported and confident, less stressed and depressed and they show more warmth and patience with their children” (Indiver 19 January 2015).  That reminds us how very important it is to work on the issue, even when it is hard and really uncomfortable.  

But don't despair.  I have some tips for improving communication with your parenting partner.  Each of the tips is designed to increase the good will between partners--to prepare the soil for the really sticky points.  

TIP 1: ACTIVE LISTENING

 Active listening refers to listening with the purpose of allowing one’s partner to reveal what is on his mind.  But more than that, it really means listening without judgment and wanting to know not just the facts of the story or issue but what is in the speaker’s heart

Here’s how to do it:

 *      Listen: Don’t comment, disagree or evaluate.

 *      Use your body: Eye contact, head nods, brief comments like “yes” or “uh-huh.”

 *      Prompt information: Tell me more.  What else? What is important about that?

 *      Repeat back: Recap the gist said and wager a guess at the emotions present.

 I recommend practicing this first with topics that are not controversial.  For example, you might ask your partner about a happy childhood memory or a person he admires.  Your main purpose in using active listening is to open up space in the relationship.  By really digging into your partner’s feelings and motivations first you activate your own empathy and secondly you gather a lot of information about what is important to your partner (which provides you useful data when you are looking for places to find happy solutions that will work for you both). It feels good to be listened to.  Think back to early in your relationship.  Chances are you listened to your partner hanging on her every word.  Just giving your partner that rapt attention again can bring those loving feelings he had when he courted you.  

Once you have mastered active listening with noncontroversial topics, introduce a topic that could become more touchy like “What is a lesson you would really like our kids to learn?”  This can be a scary question because your spouse might say something that really throws you for a loop like, “I’d really like the kids to learn to hang glide.”  Your comfort levels might immediately go into high alert.  What?! Teach the kids something that dangerous?!  What kind of responsible parent lets his kids up into the sky attached to a giant kite?!  

If you can take a deep breath, however, and settle down into some active listening, you are likely to learn something really interesting.  Perhaps your spouse did it as a young man and it is the most alive he has ever felt.  Now he wants his own kids to experience that intense appreciation for being alive.  Perhaps he felt closer to God.  Perhaps he was terrified doing it but having done it, nothing in life has ever been as scary, and he wants his kids to know that facing their fears will serve them later in life.  

Imagine how different you would feel listening to your spouse share such a meaningful experience and how touched you would be that he wants his children to experience something that meaningful, too.  Listening Actively does not mean you have to give in to your children doing something you really disapprove of but having listened, you are now in a position to thoughtfully suggest an alternative. 

I know some of you are saying no way could I get my spouse to start talking like that, much less to learn to listen actively.  That's okay!  You will find a shift in your relationship, even if you practice active listening only from your side of the fence.  I want you to go and try it.  The next time your spouse says something--about the kids or otherwise--that gets your dander up, instead of getting angry (or sullen), start getting really, really interested.  I challenge  you!  And then leave a comment here or email me at elisabeth@elisabethstitt.com about how it went.  You can also email me for a copy of my Constructive Couples Communication Webinar.  

Not on my mailing list? Sign up HERE for Tip #2 on constructively communicating with your parenting partner.  

5 Tips for Being the Parent You Want to Be

Elisabeth Stitt

   Let's face it.  In the old battle between Quality Time vs. Quantity Time, ask any kid and he will say that he wants both.   But where does that leave us today?  More families than ever have two parents being paid for work that takes them away from the family resulting in outsiders spending as many or more hours with the child than the parent.  How is a parent to be the parent he wants to be in this situation?  There is no easy answer, but there are some parenting choices that can help:

•Take the time to be on the same parenting page as your partner. 

When families are stressed and there is very little flexibility, it is more important than ever that parents have taken the time to articulate their key values and priorities.  Clearly, with less available time, something is going to have to be left out.  It will help if parents are at least confident that they are fostering the lessons they think are most essential.  Taking the time to agree on policy ahead of time means you will provide a united parenting front. 

(Need help coming to agreement peacefully?  Get the recording of my FREE webinar on Constructive Couples Communication using the form on my homepage.)

   •Let clear routines move your time together along smoothly.  

Parents who feel they are not getting enough time with their kids are sometimes over indulgent to make up for it.  As a short cut to establishing closeness, they let the child make all the decisions about what the family is going to eat, watch, when they'll go to bed, etc.  That might buy short-term good will, but it never works in the long run.  Inevitably parents' patience runs out and there are meltdowns when the parents now tries to insist the child go a certain direction.  With clear routines--including routines for fun-, silly- and down-time--children know what to expect.  They don't get to the edge of feeling out of control and they don't feel the need to fight their parent.  Life unfolds in a regular rhythm.

 •Be deliberate in creating traditions or habits that will bring you together as a family. 

I know a family with four boys that has a routine before they go out the door.  Mom or Dad stands at the door and does roll call!  Each boy shouts HERE energetically.  Then the parent goes down the list of what is needed for that outing (Gone potty? homework? lunch?) and after each inquiry each boy replies in best military fashion CHECK!  I have seen this routine in action, and the boys love it.  It makes them feel like a troupe ready to go on a mission all without feeling nagged and without the drama of showing up at MORE  without your homework, your lunch, etc.

  •Figure out what are the key pieces you need in your day/week to keep your sanity.

I used to race from my classroom at my school my daughter's after school care. I was going on the theory that it was better to have me nearby--say, while correcting papers at the kitchen table--than it was to give her my undivided attention.  This didn't work.  I was harried and distracted when I first got to her and once we got home that stack of papers was always pulling me away from her.  She finally had the wisdom to tell me to do my correcting at school and then LEAVE the papers there.  When I went to pick her up--even if it was a couple hours later than I would have--I was 100% hers.

 •Be willing to reevaluate your work/life balance every six months or so.  

Here's my final tip.    Most children would be happy with you standing at the ready 24/7:  Most jobs could easily fill our every waking moment.  Therefore, balance is something we reach for:  It is not something we get and then keep with no attention to it. The key is to remain open to change.  The sitter who was right for your infant, might not have the energy to keep up with your toddler.  You might chosse to work fewer hours for a while so that you can join the co-op preschool down the street.  Maybe you have been a stay-at-home parent and that has felt pretty good, but over time your longing for meaningful work in your field is making you short tempered and impatient.  In that case, it might be healthier for your children to see less of you but to have a thriving, full-filled parent when you get home.  Only you can know what is best for you and your family.  There is no magic formula other than to keep checking in with yourself and what is really most important to you.  Working with a coach will help get you that clarity.  Click HERE to start that conversation with a free 20 minute consult. 

Special Time: The Silver Bullet to Getting to Connection

Elisabeth Stitt

 

Okay, by now you have the message:  Connection is key.  But how do you get there?  

I have a parenting technique from Hand in Hand Parenting in Palo Alto, Ca that goes a long way to helping our kids keep their equilibrium (truly, the silver bullet!): Special Time!

Special Time formalizes an opportunity to connect to your kids. Of course, we all look for chances to have special, warm times with our kids—snuggling at bedtime or a Saturday morning walk to pick up bagels—but YOU probably decide when, if and how those events are going to happen.  What Special Time (capitals intended) provides is a period of time where the child is completely in control of the play or activity.  

The trick with Special Time is that in order to keep it special, the time is limited.  This helps both the parent and the child.  It helps the parent because it is really hard to step into the world of the child 100% where it is his rules that matter, not yours.  [Just to be clear, before special time starts, you can say which--if any--of the house rules can be waived.  For example, you might decide that just for special time you are going to permit jumping on the bed.]  However, we can do almost anything for 15 minutes at a stretch.  The child needs the limit because whereas it feels good to have complete power as a treat, when kids have the power all the time, it actually makes them feel very insecure.  

One of my clients, Maggie, found herself rolling around on the floor the victim of attack by pirates and then moments later she was cast as the bad guy forced to succumb to her son Matty’s heroic subjugations.  Another day she had to be the poor helpless, frightened victim her four year old bravely protected.  With more and more special time, Matty has grown in stature.  Getting to be powerful (whether good or evil), he works out the petty hurts and confusions of his day.

With her two year old, Maggie has to build impossibly high towers only to find out that no tower she builds is good enough (though her daughter Katy is happy to show her how it is REALLY done).  At first it was hard for Maggie to over and over let her children dictate the script and the activity, but she has found that by going along with it (and biting her your tongue when she has the need to control things), her children are more grounded and ready to go with the flow.

Some parents fear that if you give over control for Special Time, you will lose all your control with your kids. I like to think of it as the equivalent of Mother’s Day.  Do you think that because you spend a day catering to your wife’s every need and desire that she will expect that every day? No, right?  In fact, I bet you have experienced that after her emotional cup has been filled up with love and attention and spoiling, your wife is more willing than ever to jump back into the swing of family life.  The same is true for your child.  By having fifteen or thirty minutes when he gets his every need met, your child is more willing to wait his turn, to fall into line, to do what is needed to be done.  It might not feel logical, but Special Time is a tremendous tool for helping a child to process some of the big, heavy emotions of childhood in a light and playful way.  

Here’s the bottom line:  The more unloving your child is behaving, the more she needs Special Time.  I realize that it may feel counter intuitive:  Why would you want to give a whiny, recalcitrant child more attention?  But what I can tell you is that it works.You may think you don't have time for Special Time, but I promise you, when you use it regularly, you will find that the cooperation levels in your house will go up so much that you will have more time than you had before.

What is the biggest challenge you're facing right now as a parent? I'm offering a complimentary strategy session to help assess the needs of your family and come up with the #1 suggestion for how to make your home more harmonious.

Click HERE to get on my calendar. Let's get started making life with your kids easier and more enjoyable.

Happy Father's Day

Elisabeth Stitt

THREE CHEERS FOR THE DADS!

To my thinking, dads are not given nearly enough credit.  There are tons of articles for, by and about moms, but the dads have to look a little harder.  Still, when you do go looking, the evidence of the positive benefit of fathers is clear, so HERE'S FOR ALL MY FABULOUS DAD CLIENTS WHO ARE STRIVING TO DO THEIR BEST DAY AFTER DAY: 
•A number of studies suggest that fathers who are involved, nurturing, and playful with their infants have children with higher IQs, as well as better linguistic and cognitive capacities.
•Toddlers with involved fathers go on to start school with higher levels of academic readiness and greater patience and persistence.
• Highly involved biological fathers had children who were 43 percent more likely than other children to earn mostly As and 33 percent less likely than other children to repeat a grade.
• Children who have an involved father are more likely to be emotionally secure, be confident to explore their surroundings, and, as they grow older, have better social connections with peers.
•Roughhousing with dad can teach children how to deal with aggressive impulses and physical contact without losing control of their emotions.
•Children with good relationships with their fathers are less likely to experience depression, to exhibit disruptive behavior, or to lie and are more likely to exhibit pro-social behavior.  
THE LIST GOES ON.  Fathers make an enormous difference.  Your role is vital to the well being of your children.  
(This information was taken  https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/usermanuals/fatherhood/.)