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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: critical thinking

What's Your Plan for That?

Elisabeth Stitt

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

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Call it backbone, courage, determination or fortitude, it is all about GRIT and how we foster that in our children

Elisabeth Stitt

When most people think of grit, they think of “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”  While that is an example of grit, most grit is of the less dramatic kind—the kind which allows a person to keep trying in the face of obstacles large and small.  

Setting out to develop grit in your child sounds a bit draconian, but you do want your child to develop the kind of persistence that will allow her to pursue things even when the pursuing feels hard or not worth it.  The best way to do this is to help your child see herself as being in process and to see challenges as something to go around rather than as something to stop you in your tracks.  

GET 3 TIPS FOR HOW TO DEVELOP GRIT IN YOUR CHILD. 

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8 Terrific Tips for Taming the Tangle of Toys

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

KEEPING YOUR KIDS’ TOYS ORGANIZED

Tip 1.  Help your kids identify their value behind why a particular toy is important to them.  Then help them prioritize their values.

            By prioritizing what is important to your kids and having them articulate that to you, it will help you decide how much space to devote to a particular kind of toy.  Let’s say, for example, that your child is nuts about dinosaurs.  It just makes sense that he’d want a wide variety of dinosaurs represented, doesn’t it?  On the other hand, a kid who loves dolls might be convinced that it is more important to lavish love and care on a limited number of dolls—and that the rest could find good homes elsewhere.  That child might need more space for doll accessories, like a crib, but can make do with 2 or 3 especially beloved dolls.  

Tip 2.  Have as much shelve/bin/drawer space for your child as you can spare, so that they can stay organized.  

     Help kids learn to categorize toys by the shelves or bins.  This will allow your child to see visually how much she has of one kind of thing—and in turn help her decide how much she needs of one thing.  Often it is not until all of one kind of toy has been gathered into one place, for example, that a child realizes she has as much as she does.  Seeing it all together helps her realize one good set of colored pencils and/or crayons, for example, makes boxes and boxes of duplicate colors superfluous and therefore a waste of space.  

Tip 3.  Be creative about ways to store toys when you have limited space.  

     It can be really worth it to find storage or display cases for the size toy you have.  My sister, for example, was a big collector of porcelain animal figurines.  No one was bigger than around 4” by 4” so my dad built her a grid of shallow shelves that was about a foot wide and went all the way to the ceiling.  With less than a foot of floor space, she was able to safely display more than 100 figurines.  Deep but narrowly spaced shelves for things like boardgames and puzzles allow kids to store long flat things on shelves that resemble big CD holders.   This kind of shelving can often be found in teachers’ supply catalogues.  Rather than duplicating that kind of storage for each child, have a central location for similarly shaped toys.  Soft things—like stuffed animals and costumes, can be hung from a series of hooks suspended from the ceiling (provide a foot stool, so children can reach up).  Shelves that slide out on rollers allow you to place toys 2-3 deep, and kids can still be able to find them (especially if you think in categories, like dump trucks one behind the other, etc).  

The best way to organize kids’ toys is to limit the number of toys they have to the toys they actually play with and use.  Tips 4-8 address how to do that!

Tip 4.  As toys and arts and craft projects and science kits  and the like come into the house, write a date on them with permanent marker.

     Has your child given a birthday party where all 20 of his classmates bring him a gift?  She opens them all, but in reality only four or five things actually get used?  By putting a date on presents as they come in, you can show a child concretely how long it has been that he has not touched the toy.  That can make it easier for a child to let a toy go out the door.  If a child is still reluctant to let go of a toy, give a date a month out by which the child needs to use the toy.  Tell him that if he doesn’t use the toy in that time that, you will be donating the toy to a local charity.  The key to this tip?  Do NOT remind him that the month is close to being up and do not rub it in his face that you will be giving the toy away.  Simply get rid of the toy, and if your child remembers about the toy AFTER the give-away date, comfort him and assure him that next time you are sure he will not let the give-away date come and go.  

Tip 5.  Help kids let go of toys by identifying the “best of” in the category.  

     Let’s say that your child loves doing arts and crafts, and your shelves are filled with the remnants of half used kits.  Have your child identify which of the projects provided the most fun and satisfaction and offer to get refills for that project.  Let’s say, for example, that your kid really loved the weaving kit she got for her birthday and she did all the projects listed in the manual, but then she ran out of supplies.  The tissue paper and pipe cleaner flower kit, on the other hand, engaged her for an hour or so and hasn’t been touched since.  Knowing that you are going to buy more weaving supplies, might make it easy for her to say good-bye to the flower making kit (and if not, go back to the Tip #3 plan and put it in place for the flowers).  

Tip 6.  Put away toys that your child is not ready for or isn’t likely to ever play with.

     Go back to the 20 presents from a birthday party.  It is very likely that you are a good judge of what your child is actually going to play with.  In the chaos of the party, it is easy to “put things away” for safe keeping.  If you put a bunch of the toys away, likely the out-of-sight-out-of-mind principle will apply and your child will completely forget they even got that toy.  If a couple of months go by, and the child doesn’t ask about it, quietly send that toy away with the next Good Will bag.  Along the same lines, if your child gets a toy which looks like it will someday interest your child but is too sophisticated for him or her at the moment, put it away in a closet—and assuming that your child doesn’t ask you for it in the meantime—YOU can gift it to your child when your child is old enough for it.  OR you can later make it available for your child to give to one of his friends!

Tip 7.  Use natural transitions, like the start of a new school year, to mark a Big Clean Out.  

     If tips 1-4 have not helped clear out the accumulation of clutter, apply a 10% tithe.  Let your kids know that they are going to have to donate 10% of their toys to charity.  They might balk at first, but this is another excellent way to get kids to prioritize and decide which, for example, of their books they absolutely must have.  It will help them recognize that they still have books on their shelves that they read 2-3 years ago when they were much younger.  Similarly, unless you have massive amounts of free space for enormous Lego projects, my guess is most kids will not register a 10% reduction of their Lego blocks (They simply don’t have the space to build something that would actually use all their blocks).  If your kids greatly resist the idea of donating some of their toys, I highly recommend checking out the laugh-out-loud-funny Too Many Toys, a delightful picture book by David Shannon.  

Tip 8.  Help keep toys organized by making some clear guidelines about how many gifts can come into the house.  

     Share your value with your kids that they not equate stuff with happiness or security.  Help them see the value of fewer treasured objects by encouraging more thoughtful gift giving.  Let relatives know that less is more—or perhaps ask relatives if they would like to go in on a gift together.  Some toys, like a fancy model kit, for example a) can be quite pricey and b) actually requires extra supplies—like glue, additional paint, a big board the project can be done on so that as it is being worked on it can be slid in and out from under a bed.  Relatives who think of the big picture could go in on all the pieces together.   That way one gift comes into the house instead of 6-7.  

     You can also enlist help from close family friends and relatives by asking that they provide your child experiences rather than toys that will add to the clutter.  Perhaps your daughter's best friend's family will invite her to go to the zoo with them the next time they go.  Perhaps your son's uncle will take him to a hockey game.  These gifts work on so many levels:  They say to your child I am valued, People like having me around.  They give your child time with another caring adult, so you are creating that larger safety net.  The activity itself is often memorable--especially if it is in the child's honor.  Again, these are great opportunities for families to go in together on an outing that might be more expensive:  Grandpa can pay for the ticket, Uncle can actually get the child to the game, Aunt-who-lives-far-away can provide a gift certificate for cotton candy or a souvenir.  

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

Elisabeth Stitt

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

(THEY ARE STILL WORKING ON CAUSE AND EFFECT)

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

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

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

Skill #1 is Accept responsibility for mistakes

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

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

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

Confused about how to teach kids to focus on strategy?

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

            •Brainstorming

            •Outlining

            •Note Taking

            •Mind Mapping

            •Color Coding

            •Making a List So You Don’t Forget

            •Keeping a Calendar

            •Identifying Tasks As Beingof High, Medium or Low Importance

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

            •Checking for All the Supplies Needed Before Beginning

            •Underlining Key Words (and Checking Their Meaning)

            •Asking Questions to Check for Understanding

            •Repeating Information Back to Check for Understanding and Thoroughness

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

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

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

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

            •Allowing Enough Time to Work Slowly and Carefully

            •Allowing Enough Time to Review Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Role Metacognition and Critical Thinking Play

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

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

What is your child's core belief about herself?

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

Skill #5 is to become accountable and dependable

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

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

Skill #6 is to develop a strong moral character. 

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

What’s the bottom line?

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