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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: conflict resolution

Constructive Conversations: 4 Tips to Reveiw

Elisabeth Stitt

One of the most important skills we can teach our children is how to have a difficult conversation calmly.  Kids can learn these techniques, but they work just as well with other family members, friends, colleagues and even bosses.  

 

Because we can always use the reminder, here are a couple of my favorite techniques:

 

1.  Announce you are having a hard time with something and ask for a good time to talk about it.

 

Example:  I am having a hard time with the current schedule and would like to talk to you about it, when would be a good time?

 

If you don’t want to admit you are “having a hard time with” something, alternative phrases would be “I have some questions about X.”

 

If the person says, “right now,” and you are not ready, just say so!  (Example:  I really appreciate that you are willing to discuss this right now, but I want to be sure that I present my thoughts clearly.  When is another time we could meet?) 

 

The advantage of this technique is that it assures you get the other person at a time when he is more likely to listen.  

 

2.  If the topic is a very emotional one for you—or you get easily overwhelmed by even thinking of bringing up a potential conflict—own it and ask to just be heard.

 

Say, I’m not sure why this is so hard for me to bring up, but I have something weighing on my mind that I would like share with you.  What I would really appreciate, actually, is if for right now I could just tell you about it but that we wait a few days to talk about it.  Would you be willing to just listen for right now?

 

Often, if you know that person is not going to immediately yell at you or start tearing your ideas apart, it is easier to fully express what is going on for you.  You will be able to offload your emotion and share your concerns.  Once you get permission to share, be sure to stay focused on your own perspective.  

 

Example:  I really value your friendship and want to spend time with you, and at the same time I feel like I am always the one reaching out to you.  That makes me wonder if you value our friendship as much as I do.  I don’t want to impose myself on you and neither do I want to do all the work of arranging for us to meet.  If you want to spend time with me, it would make a big difference if you would reach out to me more often with a plan.  That would make me feel that you cared.  Thanks for listening and being willing to give this some thought.  Let me know in the next couple days when would be a good time for me to hear your perspective.

 

Note that there are three likely outcomes with this example:  1) the friend never arranges a time to meet, sending a clear message she does not, in fact, value the friendship.  2) the friend responds not by sharing her perspective but by taking action and proposing a date or an outing.  Take this as having been heard and go with it.  3) the friend proposes a time to meet and shares her perspective.  This is not the time to make a counter argument.  You got to be heard by her; now it is your turn to listen.  When she is done, you can ask if she’d like to talk about it now—or if you think you are going to be too emotional, you can ask to respond in a few days.  Just say you really want to think carefully about what she has said.  

 

This technique allows you to be an emotional mess with someone you trust, while at the same time getting your position out in the open.  If it is not appropriate to be emotional, knowing that the other person isn’t going to say anything about it right away can help you say your piece calmly.  

 

3.  Use an I-Statement to succinctly express your position without going into a long drawn out conversation.

 

Example:  When you arrive late without calling to let me know, I feel disrespected, because I need that information in order to make adjustments in who is working what station.  Next time please call me  if you even think you might be late.

 

Let’s break that down:  The first part identifies a specific behavior (arriving late without calling).  It is important that you stick to the specific incident at hand.  Do not use phrases like “When you are always late” because that gives the person a chance to argue with you (probably he is not always late).  The second part shares your feelings (I feel disrespected).  Note that it is not accusatory, i.e., you are not saying “you are so disrespectful.”  Just stick to your own feelings.  The third part explains your feelings (I need that information to do my job).  This shows that you are not throwing out something random.  The forth part is a concrete request of what you would like next time (Please call me if you even think you might be late).  

 

Now, an I-Statement does not guarantee a response. Ideally, the person will apologize and next time will call if he is going to be late.  But often people will not respond with more than a “yeah, sure.”  You might have to circle back to this topic (perhaps with technique #1), but it does allow you to get an issue out into the open in real time, so your position is clear.  That can make it easier to address later and will keep you from stewing about it resentfully.  

 

4.  Invite their feedback and use Active Listening to gather information and acknowledge their feelings or situation.  

 

Example:  I notice you have been have not been meeting all your commitments on time.  I’m wondering what is going on with you about that?

 

Once you make the opening bid, your job is to listen carefully.  As the person goes along, you may stop to recap by saying, “Let me see if I got this right.”  Then identify their feelings as well as their situation.  Even if they have not expressed a feeling explicitly, you can make a guess:  “It sounds like you are feeling overwhelmed because you have taken on some extra projects, and now you are finding it hard to juggle everything.”  Always end with, “Is that right?”  If they correct you, just repeat their correction back to them, “Oh, so it is not that you are overwhelmed, it is that you feel resentful that so much extra work is getting piled on to you, and that doesn’t feel fair.”  This is really important information.  Overwhelm requires a different kind of solution than fairness does.  Without finding the true reason, you might jump to the wrong conclusion, make the wrong adjustment and have the other person really feel like you don’t get him.  

 

This is the best technique for really stepping into the other person’s shoes and examining the impact the problem has on them.  That is going to allow you to find a solution that near as possible gets both your needs met.  At the end of the day, even if it is someone working underneath you or is a child, if you do not have their good will at heart, life is not going to run smoothly.  It is always better to find win win solutions.  

 

Having difficult conversations is a skill.  If it is hard for you now, keep practicing these techniques.  As you become easier with them, you will find you are so relaxed in the face of conflict, such conversations will no longer feel difficult.  If you would like to practice these skills or figure out how you are gong to approach a difficult conversation without falling apart, contact me for FREE Peaceful Resolution Strategy Session and we will create the plan you need.  

How to Help Your Kid When Being Bullied at School

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

Simon’s Hook:  A Great Resource for Arming Your Kids with Tools They Need to Disarm Bullies

Last week, I gave examples of how parents can teach their kids to resolve conflict peacefully AT HOME.   

Unfortunately, at school, it can sometimes be hard to use those skills both because the kids they are using them with don’t know how to respond constructively and because fully resolving conflict peacefully takes time—something in short commodity in most school situations.

For conflicts at school, I find using children’s picture books a great place for ideas.  One of my favorites is Simon's Hook; A Story About Teases and Put-downs  by Karen Gedig Burnett, illustrated by Laurie Barrows. In Simon’s Hook, Simon’s grandmother tells him a tale about a bunch of fish who learn to “Swim Free” rather than “taking the bait,”  ie the insults, being thrown at them.  Armed with his new skills, Simon is able to rejoin the kids at the playground who have been making fun of his bad haircut.  

Simon learns five “Rules for Being a FREE Fish” from his grandmother’s story. 

Rule 1:  DO little or nothing!  Don’t react!

Interestingly, when I have taught these rules in class, this is the one the kids choose the most.  We practice having kids give a blank stare back.  Practice this one with your kids over and over.  Start by having them insult you and you showing them no reaction.  With little kids, you are likely to hear something like, “You’re a poopy face!”  Don’t laugh at them.  Just look at them as if you didn’t even hear them.  Then ask permission to tease them.  Ask them for examples of what kinds of hurtful things they have heard and then repeat those things in an exaggeratedly bratty voice, coaching them to do little or nothing.  Praise them for how neutral they can keep their face.  Have them practice in front of the mirror.  You pretend to insult them; they practice staring right through you. 

Rule 2:  Agree with the hook!

What?  Agree with what a bully says?  Yes!  This one actually works surprisingly well as it completely disarms the kid who is being mean or insensitive.  Let’s look at some examples:

Juan:  You can’t be my friend!

Rogelio:  Okay!  I’ll go play with someone else then.

Do you see how Juan was gearing up for a fight and Rogelio just took the wind right out of his sails?  If Rogelio really does want to be friends with Juan, he might add, “Maybe we can be friends tomorrow.”  Often—even though they don’t say it out loud—younger kids don’t mean, “You can’t be my friend EVER.”  They just don’t know how to say that they are mad or that they want to play with someone else that day.  Help your kids understand that sometimes other kids don’t mean to be hurtful.  They just don’t know how to express their emotions and their needs. 

Here’s another example of agreeing with the hook:

Britta:  You’re shoes are ugly!

Michelle:  I know!  I told my mom they are so ugly they should win an ugly prize. 

How can you argue with someone who is cheerfully agreeing with you?  Note how reference to a disagreement with Mom subtly puts Britta and Michelle on the same team of Kids Whose Moms Just Don’t Get It.  Very disarming indeed! Invite your kids to use you as an excuse. 

Rule 3:  Distract or Change the Subject.

What’s funny about this technique is that it is often kids who might otherwise be socially challenged who are the best at it.  Distraction works by just pointing out something that is going on in the environment like, “Hey, wasn’t that the bell?” or “Isn’t that Mr. Jones in the Giant’s hat over there?  I wonder if the Giants won their game last night.”

Changing the subject works like this:

Rakesh:  Your writing is terrible!

Hiren:  Did you know that the heaviest dinosaur was the Brachiosaurus?  It weighted around 80 tons.  That’s like 17 Elephants.  And it was as tall as an 8-story building!  That’s way higher than my apartment.  My building is only five floors high.  I live on the third floor, though.  Did you know that…

You can see how by the time Hiren runs out of steam, Rakesh is going to wish he had never said anything! 

Kids like the idea of this technique but I have found they actually need to brainstorm a list of possible topics for what to talk about.  Here are some ideas a recent class came up with.  Help your own kids add to this list:

•the weather

•what happened on a favorite t.v. show this week

•a book they have read recently

•anything that involves a list (kinds of cars, kinds of cereal, what they ate for breakfast this morning, the state capitals, etc.)

•a question (Do you think Mr. Jones is going to give us a pop quiz today?)

•what they did over break or on their last vacation

•Anything they happen be obsessed with at the time

The trick to Changing the Subject is to add enough detail that the kid doing the insulting totally forgets what he said in the first place. 

Rule 4:  Laugh at the hook or make a joke!

Most kids can just laugh.  Again, practice it with your kid.  First demonstrate:  Have them insult you and then just laugh at what they have said.  I had one kid who was really good at laughing and then following up with a blank stare.  It left the other kids completely nonplussed.  They really had no idea how to proceed from there. 

Making a joke can be hard because it requires kids to think on their feet, but if you have a very verbal or punny kid, it could be just the tool:

Maria: You’re not a good dancer!

Mira:  How did you know Ms. Kltuz was my middle name?

Or

Kevin:  You can’t play with us.  Go away.

Howard:  I can’t?  Really?  Oh, that’s right!  I put on two left feet this morning.  That’s okay.  Just put me on the left side of the field and I’ll be fine. 

This works because kids don’t know how to deal with this kind of answer, and they will let the joker play rather than try to outwit him.  

Rule 5:  Stay away!  Swim in another part of the sea!

Stay away or swim away works well in two circumstances.

 One, the kid being mean is truly physical or out of control.  Some kids are just not safe.  They arrive at school with behavior challenges that are too big for our kids to deal with (chances are the school is struggling, too, to find enough manpower to help that kid).  It may mean not getting to do what you want that day, but recess is too short to try to argue with that kind of kid.  Help your children to brainstorm a variety of fun things to do so that they have some choices away from the bully.  If the bully has picked them as a target, help your kid find some space away—maybe the library or a lunchtime club or helping a teacher out in her classroom. 

Yes, I recognize that this is not fair.  Your child should be able to play whatever he wants at recess.  I am sorry to say, though, that teachers’ eyes cannot be everywhere and yard duty help is usually spread way too thin.  Usually the out of sight, out of mind principle comes into play, here:  Disappear for a few days, and the bully will direct his attention elsewhere. 

Two, sometimes kids just need a break from each other!  Help your child understand that we all go through rhythms of how much closeness and how much distance we need at any given time.  Often the person being insulting is really just looking for some space.  So give it to them!  They’ll come around another day.  If you have the kind of child who forms very intense, deep attachments to one person, spend some time explaining that that is not everyone’s friendship style.  Some people like being friends with a lot of different people.  One day they will want to play with you, and another day, they will want to play with someone else.  This is not personal:  It is just a different personality.  Reassure your child that if they can just walk away today, chances are the other child will seek them out again soon.  

Kids like these techniques.  Having tools in their tool belt, empowers them and allows them to deal with situations quickly and to move on.  Furthermore, it very often allows the kid being mean to move on, too, so the whole day gets better for everyone. 

Just learning about the skills will not be enough.  You will need to provide lots of support and suggestions.  You can practice them after the fact, helping your child to imagine the conversation he might have had.  If he climbs into the car complaining that So and So did something mean today, ask him if he took the bait.  If he did, help him figure out how he might have used each of these techniques to redirect the bully or defuse the situation

It might feel unfair that your child has to “not take the bait.”  No one should be baiting him in the first place, right?  But you know and I know the world does not work that way.  Surely, you have listened to a friend tell a story about someone being annoying or mean and have counseled, “That’s the kind of person you just have to ignore” or “Why do you let him rile you so?”  What you are saying is Why take the bait?  Children will feel more in control if they know it is in their power to not take the bait.    

If your child is worried about going to school, ask what he thinks might happen and practice over and over lots of different ways he might handle it.  Emphasize that deflecting conflict is a skill.  He will get better and better and it and it will be easier and easier to know what to do in the moment. 

Want more help with this?  Sign up HERE for a 20-minute complimentary Harmony at School Strategy Session.    

 

He’s Such a Jerk. I Hate Him!: Stopping Bullying From Home

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

(Part I of a two-part series on Stopping Bullying From Home)

I am guessing that one of your most heartbreaking concerns is when your kids get wrapped up in painful social interactions with their friends or classmates.  You hear the stories about bullying and fear your kids are being bullied and that it will scar them for life

In my experience, most of the mean behavior among kids is mutual.  Sometimes it will be your kid behaving hurtfully and sometimes it will be someone else.  This is not, of course, because they are bad:  It is because they are still learning the skills they need to be able to advocate for themselves while at the same time reaching out generously to others.  These kinds of social emotional competencies take lots and lots of practice.

That’s where you come in! 

Next week I am going to go over some skills kids can use at school to smooth over or avoid conflict, but this week let’s focus on what you can do at home to help kinds with their EQ

 Learning how to be in touch with and verbalize your emotions so that you can make clear request of what you want or need is first and foremost learned from you.  Start by helping your kids identify their emotions.  When siblings are fighting, don’t take sides.  Instead, help them label how they are or might be feeling and what they need to feel better

 

Let’s look at how this might go:

-----------------------

George:  She came in my room without asking and that is against the rules!

Anna:  You, slime ball, you drew on my picture!

Mom:  Anna! In our family we speak respectfully.  George, it sounds like your sense of fair play and what you can count on has been violated.  Anna, you sound really angry that your brother would ruin something you care about. 

George:  Yeah!  She wasn’t being fair!

Anna:  Well, he wasn’t being nice!

Mom:  Anna, let’s let George tell his bit.  George, you’re mad because you want to trust that your room is private.  What would you like Anna to have done?

George:  She should have knocked!

Mom:  Can you ask her to please knock next time?

George [to Anna]:  Would you please knock next time?

Anna:  Yes, I should have knocked, but I was really mad. 

Mom:  Anna!

Anna:  Yes, I will knock next time. 

Mom:  Thanks, Anna.  Now, it’s your turn.  You were mad enough to ignore one of our family rules.  You must have been ready to spit nails.

Anna:  Yes, I was!  He drew on my picture, and now it is ruined and I had worked really hard on it.  That is so mean. 

Mom:  What do you need from George? 

Anna:  I need him to apologize and never come near me again. 

Mom:  I hear that you are still really hurt and maybe even wish right now that you didn’t have a brother, but you do, and we are learning to live peacefully with each other in this house, so what request can you make of him?

Anna:  To not draw on my pictures?

Mom:  Okay.

Anna [to George]:  Please don’t draw on my picture or anything else that is mine.

George:  But you said your picture was better than mine and that was mean.  Really mean.

Mom:  George, I hear that you were hurt and you can say more about that, but first can you respond to Anna’s request?

George:  Sorry, Anna. I shouldn’t have drawn on your picture.

Mom: George, can you tell Anna more about how it felt to have her compare her picture to yours?

George:  It wasn’t nice and it made me mad.  She always thinks she’s so perfect.

Mom:  George, stick to your feelings right now.  Don’t worry about the past. 

George:  It hurt my feelings.

Mom:  Tell Anna.  Use an I-Statement.

George:  Anna, when you said your picture was better than mine, it hurt my feelings because I really liked my picture.  Next time please find something nice to say about my picture. 

Anna:  Sorry, George.  You did do a really good job with the shading on your picture.

George:  Thanks, Anna!  

-------------------------------------

Now, you might be shaking your head thinking a) my kids would never calm down and forgive each other that quickly and b) no way do I have enough time to walk them through that kind of conversation every time. 

Certainly, when your kids are first learning these skills, it may take them longer to cool off and they may need more of your help to know what to say to each other.  But the more you do it, and the more practiced they become, the more you will hear them going through these conversations by themselves. 

And yes, walking your kids through these kinds of conversations will take your time—probably when you are right in the middle of getting dinner ready or helping another sibling with a school project—but what is the cost of not doing the work?  Slammed doors? More hurt feelings?  Yelling, screaming, threats?  Punishments that take you even more time and energy to follow through on but do nothing to assuage your children’s tender feelings?  Hate and resentment that builds up among siblings? 

I would like to argue that teaching kids to resolve conflict peacefully is some of the most important work you do as a parent.  As a teacher, I could always tell which kids came from families where these skills were being emphasized.  Those were the kids who did not get bullied because when other kids did something mean or hurtful, those kids knew how to address the problem head on and to defuse the bully before he or she could even really get started. 

Come back next week for more tricks you can teach your kids for dealing with mean and hurtful behavior at school.

If you yourself would like more practice with how to conduct these conversations with your kids, sign up HERE for a 20-minute complimentary Harmony at Home Strategy Session. 

 

5 Tips for Being the Parent You Want to Be

Elisabeth Stitt

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

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

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

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

   •Let clear routines move your time together along smoothly.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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