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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 Tag: autonomy

How to Bring Out the Best in Your Kids

Elisabeth Stitt

Parents often worry that their kids aren’t motivated to do anything beyond play video games or post on social media. The truth of the matter is is that there is a lot in kids’ daily lives that works to squash personal motivation. Here are some tips parents can use to rekindle their child’s natural eagerness to interact with the world and to take pride in what they do.

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What's Your Plan for That?

Elisabeth Stitt

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

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What’s Wrong with the Modern Day Play Date?

Elisabeth Stitt

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

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Every Day is Labor Day

Elisabeth Stitt

Every Day Is Labor Day!

September 5, 2016

And Every Day is Independence Day...

by Elisabeth Stitt

Maria Montessori's rule of thumb is, "Never do for the child what he can do for himself."  Her entire educational program is built around the idea that by building on kids' basic skills and giving them more and more to do, we build their power--their self-confidence, their self-control and their self efficacy.  

I love the word self efficacy.  It means a person's "confidence in the ability to exert control over one's own motivation, behavior, and social environment."  

It is worth remembering that when we give kids positive control over their lives, they have much less need to gain negative control through whiny, bratty, out of control behavior.  

Set Kids Up for Success with the Skills and Tools they Need

By asking kids to help--to labor--along side you, you will be giving them a sense of personal power.  There are a lot of ways to do this with toddlers and preschoolers.  I outline some here in my blog on making pancakes.  My blog on Making the Bed is really about connecting with your children through daily activities, but it also demonstrates how a daily chore can increasingly be given over to the child.  HOW TO GET THEM UP AND OUT THE DOOR ON THEIR OWN is a blog that also resonated with lots of parents. Another really great resource is Jeanne-Marie Paynel's videos on how to set up basic living skill development for your kids. Here, for example, is a demonstration of how to teach a small child to peel a hard-boiled egg and what competencies it will help develop.  

For young children helping out means being a connected part of the family.  It means stepping into their own power--not as dependents but as contributors.   Many kids' first real phrase is along the lines of "Me do.  No Mommy do.  Me do."  

Historically, children worked along side their parents, learning the tasks of home and hearth, field and barn from the moment they could toddle.  Now they mostly spend the day separate from us.  Depending on the preschool curriculum, your children may get opportunities to learn independence tasks at school, but it still mostly falls on us to structure home life in such a way that kids become increasingly independent.  

Recommendations for Building Independence:  

•Make a list of basic skills that kids need for daily tasks.  This includes things like pouring and squeezing with control, spreading and cutting with a knife, snapping, buttoning and tying, stirring and mixing dry goods and wet goods without spilling.

•Look to where kids can practice these skills in their daily play--in the sandbox, with play doh, dressing and undressing stuffies, in the bathtub. Use whatever old bowls, spoons, pots, cups, etc. you have on hand. Be willing for things to get messy and be willing to sacrifice things like cups of rice, dried beans, expired pancake mix or baking soda to their exploration.  

•Look to where kids can help you--sorting the laundry, fluffing the pillows, cutting something soft, brushing teeth

•Decide on one or two tasks you'd like to focus on.  Make sure your kids have opportunities to practice these skills as part of their play.  Then start practicing the daily living task on days when you have a little more time (like the weekends or a day you don't have an early meeting).  

•When they are competent enough (not perfect), hand the task over to them as a daily responsibility.  A two year old, for example, can put his dirty clothes in the hamper or hang them on a low hook.  Yes, she will need lots of reminding, but eventually it will become habitual.  

•As your kids become automatic with one task, start introducing the next one.  The aim is to provide challenge without letting it get to the point of frustration.  

Seeing Kids as Being in Progress While Keeping the Long Term Goals in Mind

Your long term goal is to have children going through their off to school and going to bed routines independently (which should free you up to go through yours!). Most children are capable of getting there eventually if you are persistent.  It will take some longer to get the physical coordination they need; it will take some more reminders.  Some kids will need visual reminders; others will respond to a timer being set to keep them on track.  Many will just fall into the routine.  The trick is to keep your long term expectations for independence high while keeping your day-to-day expectations realistic.  

If you are struggling with getting your kids to do things on their own, I am always ready to help.  Sign up HERE for a complimentary Labor Day Strategy Session.  

CHORES! The Way to Making Your Kids Successful and Happy

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

Okay, I can't guarantee the happiness promise but a recent article called "Science says parents of successful kids have these 13 things in common" published in Tech Insider does list chores as one factor that might lead to children's success as adults.  They quote author Julie Lythcott-Haims (How to Raise an Adult) as praising chores because it teaches kids that that they "have to do the work of life in order to be part of life."  

Let's look at the benefit of chores a little more deeply (and I will put forth my not-scientifically-proven theory on why it also makes kids happier).  

1.   Doing Chores Raises Self Esteem

Self Esteem is confidence about one's own worth and abilities.  Little kids may not have learned to read and older kids may be struggling with long division or quadratic equations, but most kids can learn to make their beds and sweep the floor.  Are these worthwhile tasks?  Of course they are.  And it is much easier for a child to understand the usefulness of a clean floor than to grasp where algebra is going to work for them in their lives.  Kids who feel capable and competent have higher self esteem.  Chores are one area most kids can develop competency relatively easily.

2.  Doing Chores Makes Kids Feel Needed

When we wait on our kids hand and foot, it gives kids the wrong estimation of their own importance.  Ironically, just like praising kids too profusely, doing everything for kids does not build their sense of being important; rather it leaves kids feeling adrift and disconnected.  What kids want to feel is that the are important because their family needs them.  When the character Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird explains to Scout, the main character, why he runs away from home, Scout asks herself, "what I would do if Atticus [her father] did not feel the necessity of my presence, help and advice” (143).  Scout firmly recognizes her place in her family and knows how essential it is to her to feel needed by them.  Contributing to the well being of the family by doing household chores is a great way for kids to feel they are an integral cog in the wheel of a smooth family life.  

3.  Doing Chores Shares the Work

In previous generations, families had a lot of kids precisely because a large work force was needed just to keep the family farm or business going.  As soon as they could toddle, children were given simple chores to do.  In this way, all the tasks of life got done and families thrived.  Today, although more tasks are mechanized and there are fewer chores to do at home, people are also a lot busier outside of the home.  With parents working and kids going off to a schedule packed full of extracurriculars, there is very little time left to what chores they are.  And yet, "according to a survey by Braun Research in 2014, 82 percent of grown-ups polled said they had regular chores when they were growing up, but only 28 percent reported asking their children to do anyP (July 12 2015).  Wow!  Instead, imagine a home where the work was shared as equally as possible among the family members.  Kids would have a much greater appreciation for what it takes to keep everyone fed and dressed in clean clothes.  Appreciation is linked to happiness!  

4.  Kids Doing Chores Reduces Parental Stress

With only 28% of the kids helping out on a regular basis, parents are coming home after a full day's work and are facing a full evening of chores.  Just thinking about it is exhausting.  Parents complain to me that they have no time to just hang out with their kids.  But is that because their kids are watching t.v. or playing video games while their parents fix dinner?  How about having the kids in the kitchen with you?  One child can grate cheese while another cuts up vegetables.  (While kids' hands and attention are busy is a great time to ask more in depth questions, open ended questions.  Chore time becomes connection time, and human connection is one of the most important factors for happiness.  One last hidden factor in reducing stress is that parents who are not up washing the dishes or folding the laundry after their kids have gone to bed might actually have time to sit down next to each and connect themselves!  Connected parents do a better job supporting their kids and making them feel secure. 

5.  Doing Chores Teaches Kids at Home Skills They Can Use at School

Uh?  How does doing the laundry help with writing a clear, well-supported essay?  Well, doing laundry teaches responsibility, accountability, planning, attention to detail and follow through (Did you ever have a bunch of clothes go moldy because you forget to transfer them to the dryer?).  Aren't those all skills that you need in essay writing?  Of course!  And in all kinds of school related tasks like doing homework on time, turning homework back in, chunking assignments into multiple steps, etc.  Kids who have learned to take on tasks as their own are the same kids who are independent learners.  They are also great team members for group work.  They know that many hands make light work and they stand at the ready to do their share.  They do not expect someone else--much less Mom or Dad--to do their work for them.  

And that's not all!!

So here you have four arguments for chores increasing your kids' happiness and one argument for chores increasing their success in school (not to mention later in life).  And here's one more argument:  Doing chores as children helps teach kids early on about work/life balance.  Life is not just about doing school work, dutifully practicing piano and going to soccer practice.  It is also about creating a salubrious space in which to live and cooking nutritious meals that bring the family together.  Those have long been considered mainstays of a happy home.  Oh, and did I mention that kids who take part in the cooking have more varied, nutritious diets?  And that kids who sharing in the washing and cleaning take better care of their clothes and toys?  Really, the more I think about it, the longer the list gets.

So what's stopping you? Need some advice on HOW to get your kids to do chores?  You might try my friend Elva Anson's very comprehensive book How to Get Kids to Help at Home:  Help Your Children Become Capable, Responsible, and Independent--And Have Fun Doing It!  Or if you want hands on support, you might consider signing up for my 5-week Harmony at Home ONLINE Group Coaching Class that starts August 10th.  

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.

Sleeping, Eating, Pottying...Follow Your Child's Lead

Elisabeth Stitt

  Let’s face it.  Kids can control sleeping, eating and pottying, right?  There’s nothing you can do to make a child go to sleep—you can’t force it.  With eating you can threaten or cajole, but at the end of the day, the child can clench his teeth, spit the food out or choke on it.  And as for pottying, nowhere else does the child have more control, for even if nature takes over and the child ends up pooping, it will be left to you to clean it up.  Clearly, in these three areas, there will be many fewer battles if the parents really sit back and take their child’s lead.  I know.  I KNOW!! Do I really mean just sit back and let them take complete control?     

Having a regular routine helps.                               

Not really.  Of course there are steps you can take to encourage sleeping, eating and using the potty.  Having regular routines around all these activities will help set a natural rhythm, and the child’s body will have the expectation of the routine even if the child himself is feeling obstinate.  True, you might have a child who will give up naptime early.  I did, but I kept to the routine;  I just called it quiet rest time, instead, and my daughter would play in her crib for an hour.  Often she would fall asleep, but lots of time she didn’t.  That was okay.  It was enough that she learned to play by herself in a safe place.  It wasn’t a fight because I wasn’t “making” her go to sleep.                                        

Provide healthy food at regular intervals and don't worry about the rest.

With eating, I also followed her lead.  I provided healthy food regularly at regular times, but I didn’t fuss if she didn’t eat anything.  Her natural rhythm was to eat a big meal around every third day and then eat what felt to me like next to nothing the other meals.  Personally, I didn’t tie desert to finishing her meal.  I just offered something sweet as part of it.  To my amazement, she would usually take a few bites of cookie and then offer it back to me!)              

Don't worry.  You're child won't go to college in diapers!                                            

My now-grown daughter likes to brag that she potty trained herself.  We did the usual reading of potty books.  We had a potty in the bathroom and explained how to use it many times without asking her to.  Eventually, when I had to pee, she began peeing in her pot with some success.  After we had had dry pull-ups for a while, I asked her if she would like to use underwear.  She tried it for a few days, had some accidents, and asked to go back to pull-ups.  Okay, I said.  A month later she asked to try her underwear.  And that was it.  She wore it regularly.  If she had accidents, I don’t remember them.  Bottom line.  She was in control.  She dictated when it was going to happen. 

In each of these areas, it behooves a parent to be exceedingly nonchalant.  Food is here.  If you want it, great.  If you aren’t hungry, no problem.  You can wait until the next meal to eat.  Of course, it does require the parents to truly let go of their worry that their child will starve. He won’t.  And he’ll potty train eventually.  In the meantime, it might help to remember that developmentally children are learning physical regulation--the ability to learn the physical signs of hunger, having to potty and sleep. These are important qualities for our kids to learn, and they can't learn them if we don't follow their lead.  

Are you struggling to let go of your worry and doubt?  Let me help!  Sign up for a complimentary coaching session on any of these topics HERE.

May Newsletter: Make the Bed

Elisabeth Stitt

Want an easy way to connect to your kids?  Make the bed!

 

When my daughter was an infant, making my bed was a glorious game of snuggles and peek-a-boo.  I’d put her in the middle of the bed and smooth the bottom sheet around her all the while telling her what I was doing.  Next I’d pull up the top sheet—a chance to play “Where’s baby?!”  By the time we were done, Baby had been rolled here and there and tickled and kissed. 

 

For a toddler, the move from a crib to a toddler bed is a big deal.  So is making it.  With just a pillow and quilt, even a two year old can show her pride and ownership by fluffing the pillow and pulling up the quilt.  Watching your child figure out the placement of various dolls and stuffed animals is like a window into her mind.

 

At four, my daughter liked to be the big girl by helping Mommy.  Now she would help pull up the sheet while I stood on one side of the bed and she stood on the other.  With her little hands she would do her best to pull things tight.  Best of all was throwing up the pillows to get them nice and plump.  Did this sometime turn into pillow fights?  You bet!  The bed could wait. 

 

In our house getting to sleep in a regular twin bed was a lesson decision making.  I got a catalogue for a sheet store, and reading through it became the week’s bedtime story.  As we flipped the pages, I’d ask my daughter, how would it feel to sleep in these sheets? Eventually, she narrowed it down.  Her final two choices cracked me up:  One was dump trucks and cranes in primary colors; the other was pale strawberries with little blue flowers.  Not being willing to be defined by one set of sheets, she asked her aunt to buy her one for her birthday, and I bought her the other ones. 

 

And as a teenager, does she make her bed?  Well, no.  She has a loft bed, and it is a pain in the neck to make it, but I still love to climb up for long chats in a nest of pillows and blankets.