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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: confidence

My Child Doesn't Eat Enough

Elisabeth Stitt

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

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

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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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Expanding the Parenting Circle

Elisabeth Stitt

EXPANDING THE PARENTING CIRCLE


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every Day Is Labor Day!

Elisabeth Stitt

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.  

Do You Have a Case of the Middle School Mom Blues?

Elisabeth Stitt

Did you see the article in the Wall Street Journal about Middle School Moms’ Blues?  

A new study finds the stress and anxiety Middle School Moms feel is even greater than that of moms of infants!

Well, with the bulk of my teaching career spent with middle schoolers, that is no surprise to me.  In fact, I started my business, Joyful Parenting Coaching, because of a conversation I had with the mom of a 7th grader whose daughter was coming home crying every day.  This mom felt at a loss, but to me the saddest part was that she did not trust she could share what was going on with other moms in the class.  The feared being judged, looked down on or pitied kept her from reaching out.  

That broke my heart.  

But I don’t think she was alone.  The more work I’ve done out of the classroom and directly with parents, the more I see how many of them are carrying the burdens of parenting in isolation.  

I would never have survived parenting—any stage of it—if I hadn’t felt like I had trusted people around me with whom to compare notes—or to just let off steam!!  I don’t know about you, but I have certainly had days when I could have killed my child.  Or at least cheerfully sold her to the gypsies.  Of course, I never would, but it sure helped to have close and loving friends who could give me their Amen to That, Sister! rally before helping me find constructive solutions.  

The article does not really break down why Middle School Moms are so stressed.  

Here is my theory on why Middle School Moms find parenting harder than other stages: 

1.  As our children go up in grades, the ways society measures their success gets narrower and narrower.  Academic ease and performance become key.  Sports and Artistic proficiency can provide some secondary credit, but in our get-into-a-good-college-at-all-costs society, measurable numbers (grade point averages, state testing scores, SATs) hold the most weight.  Lots of parents start obsessing about those things and find it hard to stop.  

2.  As our children go up in grades, the percentage of moms who are working full time also goes up.  That means as women we spend the whole day talking business, not kids and parenting.  Last week I volunteered at the high school for a couple of hours stuffing envelopes (the beauty of working from home, being my own boss and living close to the high school).   I realized it was pretty much the same moms I had seen the two other times I have volunteered this year.  Their chatter was incessant and far ranging.  These moms knew each other well and clearly had spent a lot of hours together.  They felt perfectly comfortable airing their dirty laundry—and getting and receiving advice from each other.  

But most moms don’t have that.  Many moms drop their kids off at school in the morning and pick them up from childcare or after school activities in the evening.  Not only does that not allow that mom much time for connecting with her kids, it really doesn’t allow her much time to meet up with a girlfriend and compare notes (and I am not saying you cannot or should not be comparing notes with your spouse, but it is really useful to get the perspective of what is going on with other kids in other households).  

3.  Perhaps the most significant reason parenting a middle school child is harder than other ages and stages is that the rewards are not as great.  With an infant you are exhausted and lose sleep, but then that child smiles at you—or laughs for the first time—and in a moment you are totally in love again.  The preschooler balances tantrums with ardent declarations of “I love you, Mommy!” In lower elementary, kids become a lot less work and at the same time still look to you for you insights and views on the world in general and their own worries in particular.  But the middle school child?  Well, I don’t know how you were in middle school, but I was miserable.  I hated school, I basically had no friends, and I was an emotional wreck.  On top of all that, I was convinced my mom (who always painted a picture of her friends and fun activities in middle school) could never in a million years understand what I was going through.  8th grade was the year my grades went down, I lied, and I even cut school!  My poor mom!  

So in middle school we have all the worry, doubt and work of other stages but few opportunities to be our children’s heroes. 

Our kids may still need our advice and counsel, but they won’t admit it to save their lives.  Furthermore, they need us to step away from our god-like positions and become the wise elders who walk beside them.  One of my favorite analogies for teens is that they are on a roller coaster ride; Mom’s job is not to get on and ride with them but to stand on the platform ready to be there when they get off.

For all these reasons that make it especially challenging to parent kids in middle school, that’s why I have created the Middle School Moms’ Mastermind.  

Are you familiar with the concept of a mastermind?  I am in one for solo entrepreneur women.  We are smart, motivated and we face similar struggles.  While only our intrepid leader claims to be the expert, we still get a wealth of advice and good ideas from our fellow entrepreneurs.  We have a community of people to ask, What do you think of this idea?  Or Has anyone of you tried X before?  I love this group of brave, creative go-getters.  They are at once my role models and my friends, and when I get to share my own advice and experience, it makes me realize how far I have come as a business woman.  

We use a Private FB group as the primary means of communicating with each other (though I have also had private phone conversations from time to time with individuals who have a lot to share about a given topic). In twice monthly group coaching calls, our outstanding business coach gives us concrete advice both through direct instruction and through answer our specific questions about our specific situations.  

Imagine having that kind of support for your parenting!

That is exactly what I want for you.  The Middle School Moms’ Mastermind  will bring together a maximum of 15 moms of middle school kids.  I will moderate our private FB group where moms can post questions and observations.  Both moms and I will post relevant articles that we come across.  Moms will be free to post advice for people who ask for it as long as they do so in a way that has no shaming, blaming or judgment.  Additionally, I will lead two monthly calls (recorded so you can access them any time).  On these calls I will spend the first 15 to 20 minutes educating participants about some topic specific to early adolescents and then the rest of the call is your chance to ask me about your particular needs.  

Of course, I do not have all the answers (no one does!), but I do have three adult children and in my 25 years of teaching, I have dealt with more than 3,000 kids between the ages of 11-14.  That means I have pretty much seen it all—all kinds of kids and all kinds of families.  Working with such a large and diverse sample has taught me how many different ways there are to parent effectively.  It is incredibly useful to hear the views and insights of fellow parents.  Hearing a lot of different approaches allows you to get new perspectives and ideas for your own parenting.  

 

 

Does this sound like a group for you?  

Could you use a safe haven to share your woes, to compare notes, to get ideas on how other families handle things and to get access to my 25 years of expertise?  Let's talk.  Email me at elisabeth@stitt.com or call me at 650.248.8916 (Pacific time) to find out if the Middle School Moms’ Mastermind is the tribe you have been longing for!

Act now to reserve your spot.  

I am gathering a group of moms who are dedicated to supporting each other in being the best moms they can be.  I absolutely believe that you can love parenting your middle school child.  I know that I love helping parents find the joy in whatever age or stage their children are, and while I cannot guarantee 100% that you are going to love parenting your middle school children as much as I love teaching them, I do guarantee the fellowship of other women, lots of laughs and unstinting faith that you are the parent your child needs.  

Why don't you try a complimentary group coaching call?  Our next call is Wednesday, October 19 at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time.  (If this time doesn't work for you, let me know what does so that I can let you know when else we are meeting).  

I can’t wait to talk to you.

Warmly,

Elisabeth

Elisabeth Stitt/ Joyful Parenting Coaching/ 650.248.8916/ www.elisabethstitt.com

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

 

 

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

Elisabeth Stitt

Reposted from October 18, 2015

 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.  

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.

HOW TO GET THEM UP AND OUT THE DOOR ON THEIR OWN

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt     

I was speaking with a mother about training her son to do things on his own, and her concern was that she would miss the opportunities that those tasks give her for extra hugs and kisses with him.  I love that she is worried about that (especially with her boy, because I've read studies that show that even in infancy we touch our boys less than our girls), but to me that is a separate issue.  After all, I don't get my husband up and dress him, nor do I make his breakfast.  Yet I am there along side him, getting myself dressed and making my own breakfast.  We chat and laugh and share things (including some extra hugs and kisses!) as we orbit around each other.  The kids fold into this scene naturally as we are all getting ready.  So how do you create it?

Getting Up

     If you are already having to wake your child in the mornings for childcare or school, it is not too early to introduce him to an alarm clock.  If you want some hugs and snuggles, ask him to wake YOU up.  You can have a ritualized morning hug before you get out of bed.  If you are concerned about connecting with him in the morning, have him help you make your bed and then go help him make his bed.  The skill of interdependence is also an awesome one for kids to learn.  When the family is helping each other, a child is still gaining a sense of importance and competence.  It is not just that Mom and Dad serve me all the time (which leads kids to either feeling entitled or to doubting their own self-efficacy).  

Getting Dressed

     Make getting dressed in the morning easy for little ones by putting clothes that fit (and you are willing for them to wear given the season) in drawers or on shelves that they can reach.  Look for pants with elastics and shirts with neck openings wide enough that your child can push his head through fairly easily.  Either buy clothes where the colors match or let him develop his own fashion sense over time.  Undressing is easier than dressing, so starting at 12-18 months, pull your child's cloths off most of the way and have him wriggle out of the rest giving just enough assistance that he gets to struggle a little but not to the point of getting really upset.  

Getting Breakfast

     For breakfast also set kids up for success by putting their bowls, spoons, and cereal low enough for them to get to those items themselves.  As soon as they are using a booster seat at the table, they are big enough to get those items and bring them to the table.  You can still pour the milk, though if you give him a little pitcher, a three or four year old can pour his own milk.  Train him first by giving him lots of opportunities for practice pouring water--in the tub or the backyard on a warm day are great places for this.  Provide a variety of different kinds and sizes of containers.  Through lots of experimentation he will internalize a sense of how much water in one container will be needed to fill another container.  His control and ability not to spill will get better and better.  

Getting Lunches

     When it comes to making lunches, have your two year old right there next to you.  Get her a stool she can pull up next to the counter.  As you make her sandwich and cut up her fruit, talk her through what you are doing. Narrate how you scrape off the extra peanut butter on the inside of the jar and show her over and over how you use a knife safely.  She can start to practice using a butter knife by spreading softened butter on a piece of bread.  This is a skill she can practice on a Saturday afternoon for snack when you have the time and patience to monitor her.  Children love to help and they love to do things on their own.  Three and four year olds can take responsibility for putting any staples--baggies of crackers or fruit snacks--into their lunch boxes.  Again, they can help you with this task on the weekend when you have time to fill up containers for the week.  Just as they practiced pouring water, sacrifice a box of cheerios and have them practice using a 1/2 cup measuring cup to scoop out cheerios and put them in baggies or small boxes.  

Keeping the Long Run in Mind

     But it is just so much faster if I do it myself, I hear you saying.  And yes, that is true in the short run, but by the time my daughter was seven or eight she was making lunch entirely on her own, including adding things we needed to the shopping list. That took five or six years of training.  But for the next eight or nine years, I didn't give one thought to her lunch.  Eventually, since I also packed a lunch to take to my school, we streamlined the process.  Mom, she would ask, do want a sandwich today?  Yes!  Thanks, Darling.  Meanwhile I would fill two baggies of carrots--one for her and one for me.  We each knew we were responsible for our own lunches, but we were happy to help if we were doing it together.  By the time she was in high school and super stressed by schoolwork, there were days from time to time when I would make her whole lunch before she got out to the kitchen.  The look of gratitude on her face was as great as if I had given her a precious jewel wrapped in a box.  Likewise, there were days when she was up early to study for a test, and she would make me my tea, so it would be hot and ready when I walked into the kitchen.  That felt like a gift from the heavens!  But really it was just the payback for the work I put in in the early years.  

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Surviving the Evil Five O'Clock Hour: Planning, Setting Expectations and Executing

Elisabeth Stitt

PLANNING

     One of my nightmares as a mother was having to go shopping--or anywhere actually--during the Evil 5 O'Clock Hour.  I don't know how it is for you, but for me 5:00-6:00 every day was always a hump to get over.  It went best when I made myself available to give my child some undivided attention--maybe for playing in the yard if it wasn't too dark and cold or for some cozy book reading.  Best yet was when I had the emotional energy to just quietly follow her lead no matter how silly it might make me look.   So, needless to say, to weather that twilight hour when it seemed like my child would cry at the drop of a hat, I tried my best to not make other plans.  Not to have to be cooking dinner, not to have to be meeting with a repair man, and above all not to have to go to any kind of store, but most especially the grocery store.  

SETTING EXPECTATIONS

      Of course, life didn't always work that way.  Sometimes, I really had pushed things to the absolute limit and the stars converged such that the diapers ran out and the milk went sour on the same day that I'd have a staff meeting at school and not be able to nip into the store before picking my daughter up at childcare.  If I knew in the morning that that was going to be the case, I did my best to use my time in the car on the way to school to tell my daughter what pick-up time was going to be like--that I was going to be in a hurry, that I wouldn't be able to walk around with her and see the dolly she played with or her painting that was still hanging on the line drying.  I also used this time to ask her if she could think of anything that would help make the quick dash out the door easier for her.  Would it help if we made it a contest and saw if she could do it in 2 minutes?  Would it help if we asked an adult to give her a five minute warning before my arrival?  Would it help if we agreed ahead of time that just this once I could do up her coat by myself?  Would it help if she got an extra big hug from her favorite teacher?  Even before she was really talking, my daughter could communicate these kinds of preferences if I made enough guesses.  My aim was twofold:  One, to give her choice in how we left even if there was no choice about stopping at the store on the way home and two, to have something to remind her about when I got to school to nudge her along.  

     In the case that I didn't have time to warn her that we were going to have to go to the store, it was essential that I pull her aside at childcare into some quiet corner.  I would get her on my lap and hold her until I had her attention.  Sometimes, this meant a tantrum right there at childcare.  It was a break from her routine.  I was springing on her that her evening routine was going to be altered.  She wouldn't get her playtime with mommy before dinner.  Sometimes just holding her on my lap and not letting her run around the center would set her off crying.  That was okay with me.  Remember I started by saying that even on a good day my child is more likely to cry between 5:00 and 6:00 o'clock?  It's as if all the emotional stresses of the day had built up and she was just looking for an excuse to cry them out.  Frankly, if she was going to have a meltdown, I would rather that she have it at the center where we could sit on a beanbag in the corner than that she have it in the middle of the cereal aisle.  Yes, a tantrum takes time.  You cannot hurry it along,  and I admit that while I was sitting there letting her wail it out,  I was mentally revising my shopping list down to the bare essentials I could get away with getting without making tomorrow a hard day, too.  On a happier note, the miracle of a good cry is that it really is like letting the storm wash through with its thunder and lighting.  At the end of it, my daughter's tension would be spent and almost without exception she would be ready to calmly go to the store.  

     Although it might seem counter intuitive, the last minute trips to the store when she hadn't had a chance to cry were by far the dicier ones, the ones which required every bit of patience and creativity on my part to move us along without upset.  Again, I would use the time in the car to set the expectations for what would happen once we got to the store:  We were only getting a few things (could she hold the list for me?); we weren't getting anything that wasn't on the list (that meant no requests for raspberries, dinosaur pasta or "special treat" cereal); but we were getting apples (did she want red or green?).  Again, I would ask her what might make going to the store easier?  Could we use the special cart that she could drive?  Yes, if it was free, but what if it wasn't free?  Did she want to sit in the cart?  Would she keep her bottom down?  Otherwise she was going to be sitting up in the front part right in front of Mommy.  How could she help Mommy?  Could she count the apples?  Sort the food by whether or not it went in the fridge or the cupboard?  Hold the reusable grocery bags and hand them to the bagger?  My main aim here in addition to letting her know what kind of behavior would be expected was to make her feel needed and included.  Instead of my dragging her to the store because I had no choice, I would pose it as how lovely it was that she was there to assist me.  

EXECUTING

     Once we got to the store, I was all about cheerful confidence that we were going to be quick and that the trip was going to be fun.  Often, I would turn it into a song and we would skip through the parking lot (Yes, I skipped in public.  If it made a five o'clock shopping trip go off without a hitch, dignity be damned).  We would sing:  We're going to the store/We're going to the store/Hi Ho the Merry-o,/We're going to the store.  If it was working, we'd add more verses (We'll buy the apples first/We'll buy the apples first/Hi Ho the Merry-o/We'll buy the apples first).  As we were singing, we wouldn't have to stop to have conversation about which cart we'd use or where she would sit because we had already worked that out in the car.  If she did decide to resist, I wouldn't let her change her mind because I knew that if I gave in on that first agreement, all I was doing was putting off the inevitable battle for inside the store.  Instead, I would get down to eye level, hold her hands or stroke her arms and gently remind her of her agreement.  Sometimes that brought on a crying jag right there outside the store [Let me offer up a small prayer of thanks here that I was parenting in California.  The weather was rarely so bad that we couldn't take the time to have the tantrum outside the store.  If it had been, I suppose I would have had to go back to the car and let her do her crying there.]  

     You know as well as I do that a grocery store is specifically designed as a land mine that a parent must negotiate through.  Yes, the store does deliberately place toys and yummy snacks right where a child is most likely to see them.  That's why I would use the shopping list plus empathy.  My daughter would cry out in great need for something--bubbles, maybe--and I would say, "Aw, too bad it is not on the list!"  And then as I pushed by the bubbles, I might add in my most energized voice, "I love bubbles!  They're so much fun!!  I like the way they shimmer with different colors!!  Don't you think bubbles are just the prettiest?"  At this point, on a good day, my daughter would get excited just talking about bubbles.  By the time she got back to wanting to buy them, we would be aisles away and looking for the next item on the list.  On a bad day, this might be where the tears finally appeared.  Remember, some days there are just tears that need to fall.  A child has been keeping it together all day at school, but now that she is with you, her parent, she can safely fall apart secure in the knowledge that you won't abandon her.  At this point, you have to make a decision.  It might be possible to keep offering sympathy while at the same time going down your shopping list:  "Aw, Sweetie.  I know you really wanted those bubbles,  You really like them and really wish you could get some.  I know that's hard, Pumpkin.  I wish I could make it easier for you."   For my own part, if the crying was at a reasonable decibel and I didn't think I was making the other patrons suffer too badly, I would push through my list, continuing to murmur comforting sounds, taking her hand if she would let me.  If it was really bad, I would ask the clerk at the front of the store to watch my cart and head outside until she finished crying.  Once she was done--and that could be a while--we would head back in and finish.

AT THE END OF THE DAY

     Boy.  I am feeling a bit overwhelmed just writing this, just remembering how hard it could be.  I certainly didn't make it through my daughter's childhood without some very trying evenings.  On the other hand, there were lots of successful times, too, when setting expectations and going into the store with a sense of adventure won the day--days when other parents would look at me enviously and older parents would smile at me indulgently.  These were good tricks to have in my bag.  But never forget the best trick of all:  Whenever possible, at the end of the day, do the planning that WON'T require you to tax your child during the bewitching hour.  

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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.  

3 Steps to Getting Your Kids to Listen

Elisabeth Stitt

COOKIES, KIDS!  COME GET 'EM WHILE THEY'RE HOT!

Can't you just see the stampede of kids that would follow this call?  And wouldn't it feel good to get all those squeals of delights and efuse thank you's when you did make the call?  But what about all those other times when what you are singing out does not seem to reach their ears--as if they are surrounded by an invisible force field that protects them from requests they would prefer not to process?

Let's try applying my 3 Steps to Effective Parenting--clarity, connection, and consistency--to see how you can get your kids to listen to you.



CLARITY


In this case, clarity has two aspects.  The first is your own clarity about what is important to you.  You are going to get much further with your kids if you are clear that you want your directions followed.  If you request something from your kids, but you don't really expect them to do it--and it really isn't that high on your priority list--chances are, it just isn't going to happen.  You might say with a long suffering sigh,  I wish you kids would hang up your backpacks and coats when you came in the door.  Your children are going to hear that request exactly as you stated it, as a wish--something they may grant or not grant.  That gets us to the second aspect of clarity:  how you say something.  Short and sweet.  When you really mean it, use simple phrases.  Meeting the kids at the door with Backpacks! Coats! said in a bright, cheery tone will get through much more effectively.  As a general rule of thumb, the younger the child, the fewer words you should use, and the more sing-songy your tone should be.  


CONNECTION


For the most part, kids really do want to be helpful.  They like being part of a warm family unit that is running along smoothly.  It is when they feel disconnected from you or are carrying stress and anxiety from some other part of their day, that they freeze up.  They get stuck.  Instead of going with the flow, they get fixated on something. It is a little like having a bad itch:  You are so distracted by the itch, that until you scratch it, you can't focus on anything else.  When your kids are in this state, they are not going to listen.  To get their attention, you are first going to need to attend to them as people.  Perhaps that means a hug right when they walk through the door or getting down to their eye level and making eye contact and telling them warmly I'm so glad to see you!  With some kids, a hug is too much, but you can take their hands in yours and squeeze. Having established that connection and reassured them with your words, tone and body language that you are the safe home base, your reminder of Backpacks! Coats! will have them hanging things up before they move into the rest of the house.  The reminder called from the other room when they are still carrying the emotional weight of their days, will almost certainly fall on deaf ears.  

CONSISTENCY

Kids have pretty good radars for when you really mean something and when you don't really mean it yet. The best example of this is when we announce to our kids it is time to go.  Then we go back to our conversation or looking at our iPhone, neither of which communicate  anything about going.  A long time ago Garrison Keillor did a wonderful sketch called the Minnesota Good-Bye.  Sung to a tune by Handel, it started out with something like It really is time for us to be going with a response of Oh no, you can't possibly leave without one more slice of pie.  Well, maybe just one you say.  And so on.  In the song, it takes five minutes of pleasantries to get out the door.  Any child worth his self respect will keep right on playing through all this polite leave taking.  He knows he is not required until the adults are actually standing at an open door at the very least.  So, when you make a request, it is your job to mean it--and to mean it right when the request is made.  Certainly, you can give your kids a five minute warning, but when that five minute warning is up, your full attention needs to be on that child, seeing that she follows through on what you have asked. My suggestion is to do your own good-byes during that five minutes:  Sweetie, you have five more minutes to do one last thing, while I say good-bye here.  When that five minutes is up, you have to keep your promise and actually leave.  


REVIEW

1.  Only demand of your kids those things you are actually going to follow through on.  Expressing a demand as a wish or vague option leaves things wide open for your child to choose.  They may well hear you, but they do not register the request as something you are serious about.
2.  Use simple, clear language.  Even with 7th graders, I still get much further calling out "Line up, please!" firmly then "Okay, class.  It is time to line up now, if you please."  Some kids--often very brilliant ones--are slow processors.  The more words you give them, the more there is to process. 
3.  Speak with energy and conviction.  Your tone doesn't need to be strident, but it does need to mean business.  
4.  Check in with your kids on an emotional level first.  Don't shout orders from another room (Do you like it when they yell at you from another room?).  Go to them.  Make eye contact.  Smile.  If they are absorbed in a book or glueing something in place, get in close so they feel your presence, but try to give them a moment to get to a better stopping point.  If they continue to ignore you, you could give them a three minute warning (Darling, in 3-minutes I'm turning the machine off, so find a good stopping place before then) or you can put your hand on whatever it is they are doing.  Calmly, firmly, gently, you ask for their attention.
5.  Most importantly, you follow through by staying focused on them until what you ask for has happened.  Let's go back to the kids coming in the door.  You have hugs and love, you give the simple command clearly, and then you use your physical body to block their way out of the hall until backpacks and coats are hung up.  You can point to the hooks as a gentle reminder.  

If you are consistent with your behavior, your kids will listen to you pretty consistently.  They won't spend any energy asking themselves does mom really mean it?  Do I really have to respond now?  They will know that they can rely on you to follow through until they follow through.  

Give it a try.  If you have your doubts or try it and are still struggling, set up a free 20-minute consult with me HERE.  We will figure out what you might tweak to have cheerful, cooperative kids in no time.  

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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.

Relationship, Relationship, Relationship

Elisabeth Stitt

 

     I have been having such fun interviewing so many wonderful people for the Purposeful Parenting: Expert Advice on Creating Your Family Plan summit.  Although they are talking about different aspects of parenting and coming from different disciplines and perspectives, the message I have been hearing over and over again is that it is all about relationship.  Maybe I should put that in all caps:  IT IS ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIP.  It's all about knowing your individual kid and meeting him right where he is.  When expert after expert talks about using connection as the foundation for all parenting, it is time to listen.

     At the end of the day, you want a close, warm relationship with your child.  You want him to feel that you will always be there for him; that you are his biggest champion.  As someone said (I forget who), every child ought to have someone who is simply crazy about her.  And who better than the parent to play that role?  Or as Aristotle said, educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.  Pedagogically, we call this lowering the affective filter.  Education theory states that a child will not learn until he feels safe and connected to his teacher.  

You are your child's first teacher.  Your child wants to learn and wants to please you.  From nearly the moment she is born, your child is watching you, tracking you, gaging your emotions and reactions.  As long as she feels safe and secure, she will look to you for the lessons of the world--both social emotional and "academic."  

What does your child need to feel close, connected, safe and secure?  She needs your love, your warmth, your approval.  She needs to hear things like:

     That's okay.  Those things happen sometimes.
     I can see that you are really upset.  Don't worry.  It won't always feel bad.
     Honey, we all make mistakes.  That's how we learn.
     I know you can figure that out, and I am here if you need me.
     If you don't figure it out today, come back tomorrow and see if it looks different.
     I'm so proud of you; you really tried your best on that. 
     No matter what, I will always love you.  Now, what can we do to fix this?
     I know that you're really angry/disappointed/sad/frustrated right now, and when you are ready to talk about it, I am here.  
     I can see the bad feelings zinging around inside of you, and I would love to hear what is going on for you when you are ready to talk and not yell.  

These are the kinds of messages that allow children to feel loved even when they are misbehaving, even when they are failing, even when they doubt themselves.  Does responding with these "kinder and gentler" words mean that you are a softy?  A complete pushover?  A bad disciplinarian?  Not at all.  I still expect you to hold your limit with your child, but do it calmly and with empathy.  



 

Confidence is Key

Elisabeth Stitt

In 2012 Pamela Druckerman wrote Bringing Up Bebé about her experience of observing the differences between French and American parents.  In 2013 Christine Gross-Loh, author of Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us, offered an even wider view of different parenting approaches.  The take away from both books is that there are lots of different ways to parent—and they all have their benefits.  Thousands of students passing through my classroom over the years certainly confirmed my experience that there is a very wide range of  “doing parenting right.” 
 
I didn’t always feel that way.  I had some pretty fixed ideas about what were good parenting techniques.  In fact, in the 9th grade I even wrote a paper called “Effective Parenting.”   Don’t get me wrong.  It was researched.  I didn’t just write the paper out of my head, but I cringe when I imagine how sanctimonious I must have sounded
 
Well, the last laugh was not mine.  Growing up in India someone made my husband’s lunch for him every day of his school career, and yet, when he came to Stanford for graduate school, he had no trouble looking after himself.  With that as his experience, he rolls his eyes at me when I enforce my motto, “Never do for a child what he can do for himself.”  So who’s right?  We both are.  Children benefit from loving attention and care.  Attentive service to a child does not have to mean the child will be a spoiled brat.  In fact, just the opposite.  I’m convinced that one of the reasons my husband is so generous is that he has always trusted that he will be taken care of, that everyone’s needs will be met.  On the other hand, I firmly believe that it is human nature to want control—and one way to give children control is to make them responsible for themselves.  
 
Okay, the research is clear that there are pretty wide parameters when it comes to parenting.  Where does that leave us hand-wringing, anxious Americans?  Believe it or not, I have an opinion about that!  Teacher, mother, stepmother.  Each of these roles has reinforced my belief that the one key ingredient to good parenting is confidence.  If you can transmit absolute, calm confidence in whatever you allow or ask of your child, you will be providing the security that is essential.  For some families that might mean being absolutely certain that bedtime is at 7:00 so that the parents have time to reconnect.  For other families that might mean knowing that children who fall asleep in their parents’ arms no matter how late, fall asleep knowing they are a part of the family.
 
The short take away? Do what works for your family, and it will be right!
 

Building the Consistency Muscle: Tip 2: Build the Positive

Elisabeth Stitt

Building Consistency: Tip Two:  Build the Positive

The next trick in building the consistency muscle is to teach your children to trust you by following through on your promises for good things that you will enjoy, too—a trip to the park this afternoon, say, or a family movie night this weekend. 

Why is this a good next step?  One, it builds good will and family connection.  Our lives are so hurried these days that we actually spend very little time with our kids that is just for fun.  By the time you have gone to work and your child has gone to school, sports and other extra curricular activities, when is there time for play?  Pick something fun that you want, too; that way it will be easy for you to follow through on.  

What if it is time to go to the promised movie and your kids have been being complete monsters?  You still go to the movies.  You didn't promise them a trip to the movies for good behavior (not this time, at least), you just promised them.  You can tell them, I am upset about how much you have been fighting with each other--and we are going to talk about that--but right now I promised we would go to the movies, so let's go and have fun.  

With catching your kids being good, they didn't even know you were working on a new way of parenting, but this trip to the movie you announced out loud.  That means that when you keep your word, not only do your kids have fun, they learn that they can trust your word.  You have done what you said you will do. 

 CONNECTING YOUR PROMISES TO GOOD BEHAVIOR

Once you have gotten in the habit of promising fun times and delivering, you can provide the treat as a reward for catching them being good.  Let's say that dinner was a peaceful affair where kids ate without a fuss and there was pleasant conversation.  Certainly you can comment on it by telling them you noticed and appreciate their good behavior, but you can also go one step farther:  Say, "Dinner was such a pleasure tonight it makes me want to go out of my way for you.  Why don't I do the dishes later, and we can play a game for 30 minutes."  If this offer is met with any negativity or bargaining ("Mom, games are stupid.  Let's watch t.v."), just stay cheerfully firm and nonchalant: "Well, I thought a game would be fun--and you know the rule is no t.v. during the week--but if you don't want to play, I'll just do the dishes.  Then walk away and don't worry about it.  Even if they don't admit it, they will register that good things come when they behave. 

Later, you can offer a positive consequence as a reward (bribe?) for cooperative behavior.  For example, your kids might be wanting your attention when you are in the middle of something that you need to get done.  They want something from you!  Use this chance to ask for their help in return for what they want (your undivided attention).  For example, you might say, “If you guys helped and we got these leaves raked up in the next fifteen minutes, there would be enough time for us to play bananagrams before I have to make dinner.”  Again, the trick here is to really make happen what you have said will happen.  Don’t make the offer unless you are committed to bananagrams.  Of course, your children may choose to keep whining at you or to do cartwheels rather than help you.  That’s okay.  You don’t need to say anything as you go in to start making dinner.  You put out an offer for a treat, and you are prepared to follow through.  It’s a good bet that next time you propose a swap of your attention for their help, they’ll consider testing out your offer

On a good day, your children might even begin to help you without being asked.  Hurray!  That is the perfect time to reward the good behavior:  “You kids have been such a big help.  I’ve got an extra half hour.  Let’s put the timer on and see how many rounds of bananagrams we can fit in before I start dinner.”  Notice how in each of these cases there hasn’t been any lecturing—just identifying positive consequences for cooperative behavior.  You don’t need to connect the dots for your kids:  The positive reward will do that for you.  

One last thought.  At this point in your training, don't put your kids in “or else” situations.  As soon as you say “You kids need to help me pick up these leaves or else,” you have set yourself up in opposition to them when you are trying to build their cooperation.  By offering them a reward for cooperating, they get to choose to step up to the plate.  Or not.  Choice is a key way to build cooperation.  Don’t worry if they choose not to cooperate at first.  Eventually they will.  Just keep offering positive rewards with no guilt attached when they don’t take the bait.

At the end of the day, kids want to be cooperative, but they are only human:  They also want to feel that they are in control.  By offering them choice, they feel free to step up and contribute positively to the family.  

Do you want support in building your consistency muscle?  It's not too late to join the Winter Coaching Program and get the benefit of a community of parents as well as one-on-one coaching.

In the mean time, leave a comment below or on the Joyful Parenting Coaching Facebook Page about how your efforts are going.  

Be strong!

Elisabeth

www.elisabethstitt.com