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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: independence

3 Tips for Deciding What Extracurricular Activities to Enroll Your Kids In

Elisabeth Stitt

One of the reasons that we are seeing anxiety and depression increase at such alarming rates is because children are so over programmed that they do not get the downtime they need. Additionally, getting kids to their additional activities adds stress to the whole family system. Parents feel a lot of pressure to provide their kids enriching opportunities, but that learning is coming at a very high cost.

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3 Metaphors for Parenting Teens

Elisabeth Stitt

Parenting a teen is a new game! The main goal of parenting a teen is to raise an adult. That means your main parenting task between roughly 12 and 18 is to make the shift from being the captain of the ship to being the wise guide. After all, it is simply not possible to drive down the street for you child and to claim that your child is learning to drive. Before he or she can get a license, your child has to get behind the wheel and drive down the street without you in the car. Keep these three metaphors in mind in helping you be the parent of a teen.

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How to Bring Out the Best in Your Kids

Elisabeth Stitt

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

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The Thin Line I Found Between Being A Parent And Smothering The Kids

Elisabeth Stitt

 

Tyler Jacobson, today's guest blogger who writes about the struggle to find the balance between protecting our kids without falling into helicopter parenting, is a proud father, husband, writer and outreach specialist with experience helping parents and organizations that help troubled teen boys. Tyler has focused on helping through honest advice and humor on modern day parenting, struggles in school, the impact of social media, addiction, mental disorders, and issues facing teenagers now. Follow Tyler on Twitter | Linkedin

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

Elisabeth Stitt

Most parents understand and are comfortable with this when it comes to safety.  Your two year old may want to climb the wobbly ladder by himself but you know that the risk is too great, so you offer a compromise--she may climb it with you hanging on to him tightly or she may climb her toy slide by herself.  He may not use the big knife to cut onions but he may use the plastic knife to cut bananas or to spread butter.  

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What’s Wrong with the Modern Day Play Date?

Elisabeth Stitt

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

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Every Day Is Labor Day!

Elisabeth Stitt

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.  

My #1 Tip for Helping with College Admissions Essays (The younger your child, the more you need this!)

Elisabeth Stitt

was an English teacher for 25 years and worked as a writing tutor on the side, often helping kids with their college app, including my own three children. That experience has given me my own perspective on the college admissions essay process. 

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Every Day is Labor Day

Elisabeth Stitt

Every Day Is Labor Day!

September 5, 2016

And Every Day is Independence Day...

by Elisabeth Stitt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations for Building Independence:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Middle School: the Time for Parents to Step Away or Not?

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

It’s not time to leave your child completely on his own yet.  

Too often parents who have stayed at home or worked part time think that middle school is the time for them to start working full time.  That’s a mistake!  The switch to middle school is a big step—often even bigger than going to high school.  Middle schools tend to be big—more than twice or even three times as big as the elementary schools that students are coming from.  Kids feed in from sometimes as many as six or seven elementary schools.  To top that off, instead of moving through the day with the same set of kids, most middle school kids regroup every period.  A student is lucky to be in class with someone he knows much less a friend.

The middle school curriculum really does get harder.

The middle school content standards make a jump in the amount of critical thinking and problem solving required.  The pace is relentless as the emphasis is on getting through the whole list of standards rather than mastering a few key ones. At my school, when we looked at the 6th graders’ marks, they were lower first trimester than second and lower second than third.  Even the best students wobbled a bit while adjusting to the change in academic expectations. Parents should know this and reassure their kids that they will figure out how to handle middle school work given time, but most schools don’t give parents that information.

Middle School teachers get “harder.”

The biggest change, however, is the mentality of middle school teachers.  Unlike elementary school teachers who see their primary goal as encouraging self-esteem and a love of learning, middle school teachers lean towards focusing on kids accepting that a lot of life is about jumping through hoops and doing things in a certain way.  Docking points for incorrect paper headings and throwing away papers with no names on them is common practice.  

Students will complain their teachers are mean.  We don’t see ourselves as mean.  We see that we are the last stop before high school where kids can still get low grades with no consequence to their long-term future.  We feel it is our job to teach what high school is going to be like before it counts towards graduation and college admissions.  In middle school, grading shifts from assessment of a student’s ability to an assessment of her performance.  That means the student who has skated by on test scores and an occasional brilliant project is now going to learn that consistency and attention to detail are actually more highly valued.  These are important skills to learn before high school. 

It feels like parents are not wanted, but that is not true.

Parents often feel left out of the equation in middle school.  Because their children might say they don’t want them there and because there is no room parent organizing volunteer activities, they feel unsure of how to be a part of school or, worse, they feel unwelcome.  While it is true that you might not be asked to man math centers every week, it is not true that parents are not needed or wanted.  Being involved at school in any way gives you a chance to stay connected with your child at time when his instinct is to shift toward his peers.  

Even if you do not volunteer in your child’s class, by finding a volunteer job at school, you will hear more about what is going on.  You will learn what clubs and activities are available to your child and will be able to encourage her at home to participate whether it is the joining the soccer team or signing up for the spelling bee.  As you fold flyers or stuff envelopes, you will overhear gossip about which administrators are supportive and which are a waste of time to approach.  You will learn the rational for the new homework policy and what teachers are doing to prepare kids for the state tests.   

Middle school is a time for parents to step back, but not to step away.  

Parents are still a child’s touchstone.  They are still the best person to help a child process what she is experiencing.  Getting grades based on percentages for the first time can be a real blow to the ego.  A child’s sense of himself can be seriously shaken as he will associate his grade with how smart he is.  A parent can help a lot by making the distinction between intelligence and following procedure and letting a child know that both are a part of being successful in life.  Parents can continue to be there as a sounding board, but if in the past they have done most of the talking, it is time to develop deep listening skills.  Asking your child, "What is your next step here?" might get you farther than, "Here's what you should do."  

What does stepping back look like?

Stepping back might take the form of letting a child suffer the consequences of lost or incomplete homework without swooping in to defend the child.  (Do continue to offer a lot of empathy that it feels awful to have worked hard on something and then not get credit for it because of one little mistake—like not putting your name on your paper or forgetting it on your desk at home.)  Stepping back can mean not micro managing students’ projects but asking questions like, ‘What’s your plan for spreading out the work of the project?” or “Have you done your best work?” or “What part of this paper are you especially proud of?”  When students get graded work back, instead of focusing on the grade, parents can ask, “What is your plan for doing better next time?” or “What resources do you have for getting help understanding this?”  Above all parents can help their kids talk to adults at school not by doing the talking for them but by roleplaying how conversations with a teacher or administrator might go.  In this way, a parent is still staying connected and supporting his child and at the same time allowing his child to stand on his own two feet.  

Middle school is the time for parents to stay connected and know what is going on, but it is also time for them to position themselves as guide rather than driver of their child’s life.  

Are you struggling with making the shift from driver to guide? 

It is the key task to successful middle school parenting.  Sign up HERE for a complimentary strategy session where we will identify where your child might need a steadying hand (and what that looks like at this age) and where you need to loosen the training wheels. 

Warmly,

Elisabeth

Elisabeth Stitt

Joyful Parenting Coaching  •  Elisabeth@stitt.com  •  650.248.8916

5 Skills to Focus on This School Year

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

It’s back to school time, and most parents ask themselves what academic skills are my children going to learn this year?  What number concepts will they have mastered?  How will their writing improve?  

Not to worry.  Your children’s teachers have those topics covered.  

But what are you going to focus on teaching your child this year?  Life skills are first and foremost the responsibility of the parent.  Here are some of the key skills that will support your children’s school success:

Emotional Awareness

Emotional awareness has to do with being able to identify emotions in yourselves and others.  This is built in children first by helping them identify emotions and states of being in themselves by narrating their experience.  That means guessing what is going on with them by connecting their physical clues with their likely emotional states.  You might say things like, “You’re shivering.  You must be feeling cold” or “You are pulling your eyebrows tight together.  Are you angry about something?”  Increasing the emotional vocabulary beyond mad, sad and glad also helps children be more aware of the range of emotional states.  Are they annoyed or furious?  A bit blue or down in the dumps? Content or jumping for joy?  Emotional awareness can then be extended to their interactions with other people or characters from a book.  You might say, “I see that Camille’s lower lip is jutting out like this and the corners of her mouth are turned down.  How do you think she is feeling right now?  The more sophisticated kids get at perceiving their own and other’s emotional states, the more efficiently they can offer solutions for altering that state. 

Resiliency

Resiliency means bouncing back relatively easily from difficult experiences (Note that it does not mean sheltering our children from difficult experiences!).  Being emotionally aware is a good first step in building resilience in children.  Naming emotions and connecting them the physical states allows children to step back from their emotions and be less overwhelmed by them.  Let’s say that a child is feeling some strong emotions because she has lost a game.  Perhaps she is disappointed at her own performance.  Perhaps she fears being judged as “less than” compared to her peers.  Perhaps she feels disconnected because attention has shifted to the winners of the game.  Knowing what the strong emotion is allows her to take an action that will address that specific need.  If she is disappointed in her own performance, she might make a plan for what to practice for next time.  If she feels being judged compared to her peers, she might remind herself that there are lots of other things she is good at.  If she feels disconnected, she might reintegrate herself by congratulating the winners on their accomplishment.  Each of these actions has the potential for helping to regulate her strong emotions.

 Taking Responsibility for One’s Own Actions

A big part of taking responsibility for one’s own actions is seeing oneself as being “in process.”  When we accept that as we learn new things we are bound to make mistakes, it makes it easier for us to own up to actions or decisions which in hindsight were maybe not the best choices.  Parents can help their children learn this by encouraging their children to reflect on their actions rather than to just be critical about them.  Children who have parents who model forgiveness learn to forgive themselves.  That makes it safe for them to admit when they have messed up. This in turn aids in their picking themselves up and moving forward.   (For a complete blog on accepting blame, go HERE.)

Problem Solving

One of my favorite questions for kids is, “What needs to happen now?”  Spilt milk? What needs to happen now?  Lost sweater? What needs to happen now?  Little brother crying because you grabbed a toy from him?  What needs to happen now?  Failed to save your homework on the computer and don’t have it to turn in?  “What needs to happen now?”  

Many parents have a tendency to rush in too fast.  They rush to make things better.  They rush to punish.  They rush to find a solution.  But given the chance, kids are natural problem solvers.  Milk spills?  Even a toddler has seen you wipe things up dozens of times.  Next time try asking, “What needs to happen now?”  Most toddlers will run grab a rag (You can help them out by hanging some rags or having a paper towel rack at their level).  Computer glitches?  Maybe you can work some magic to recover a lost document.  If yes, great.  Take the time to teach your child how to do the same trick.  If no, offer lots of sympathy, but at the end of the day, let your child suffer the consequence whether that is redoing the assignment or getting in trouble with the teacher.  When you solve things for your child, he might be grateful in the short run, but in the long run you have failed to teach him anything. 

Independence

     Mentally walk through your child’s day and consider where she could be more independent.  If she is a toddler or preschooler, could she do more to put on her own clothes? Handle her own ablutions? Pick up after herself more?  With training, bit by bit, a child can do all these things before entering Kindergarten with very little supervision.  An elementary school child can learn to get his own cereal, make his own lunch and pack his backpack for school.  He can begin to read the weather and make guesses based on the season (or check the app!) to decide whether he needs a sweater or a jacket in that backpack. He can sort his laundry and make sure it gets to the laundry room.  He can fold it and put it away.  An upper elementary school child should be doing homework independently and asking for help only after trying a couple different strategies.  She should be getting comfortable with walking away from you physically—next door to borrow some sugar or to the other end of the store to pickup the milk or down the block to a friend’s house.  A middle school child should be keeping track of her own schedule and communicating her needs (for carpooling or other support) to her parents and coordinating what will work for them.  She should be able to talk to her teachers and coaches when she has questions or concerns.  

The Bottom Line:  Parents Set Their Kids Up for Success

Parents are their kids' first teachers.  Kids who have learned these five life skills come to school ready to learn.  They have the external structures which allow them to work efficiently and the internal structures that allow them to cope when things get hard both socially and academically.  In the end, these are the skills that allow your child to focus more fully on her academics, so if you want your child to do well at school, don’t ask him to do extra assignments or get him extra tutoring.  Help him learn to regulate his emotions, to find ways to stay positive when things get hard, to see the effects of his own actions (positive or negative), to find solutions to problems and, finally, to take charge of his own life as much as he is developmentally ready to do so.  

These skills do not happen over night.  The mastery of each of them represents many hours of thoughtful parental guidance.  It is easy to feel impatient as a parent.  You might wail, “I’ve told him a thousand times to….”  Look for improvement and take heart.  As much as possible, try to use questions rather than “I told you’s.”  Asking, “What is the result of leaving wet towels on the floor?” is much more effective than yelling for the umpteenth time, “Hang up your wet towel!”  A child who can verbalize that wet towels lead to mold, smelly bathrooms, and maybe even wood rot is much less likely to just throw the towel on the floor.  

Get Support in Supporting Your Children

Parenting is a life skill.  It is something we learn, not something we just know how to do.  How effective are you at instilling life skills in your children?  Which ones come easily?  With which do you still struggle?  I hear a lot of variations from parents along the theme of "But my kid just isn't ready" or "Well, my kid has ADHD, so I can't trust him to do that on his own."  Few children are able to jump from A to Z, but all children are capable of learning if you break the learning down into small enough chunks.   

Do you need help scaffolding these life skills for your kids?  I can help!  Sign up HERE for a "On the Road to Responsible" 20-minute Strategy Session.  

 

CHORES! The Way to Making Your Kids Successful and Happy

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

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

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

1.   Doing Chores Raises Self Esteem

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

2.  Doing Chores Makes Kids Feel Needed

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

3.  Doing Chores Shares the Work

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

4.  Kids Doing Chores Reduces Parental Stress

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

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

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

And that's not all!!

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

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

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.  

Making Pancakes: Teaching Independence from Toddlerhood

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

Earlier this fall I wrote a blog called Set Your Kids Free:  10 Things They Need to Be Able to Do by Middle School.  People really wanted to hear what they could expect from their kids by that age.  But they were unsure how to get there.  So, I wrote this guide to making pancakes to give you a sense of how to break down tasks.  All learning can be scaffolded and all kids can learn--often much sooner than you than you think.  Remember, your job is to do yourself out of a job one small skill at a time.

With Your Infant

Talk/sing to your child to narrate what you are doing as you do it:  

Now it's time to measure the flour, measure the flour, measure the flour/Now it's time to measure the flour early in the morning. [crack the egg, mix the batter, test the pan, etc.]

With Your Toddler   

Begin to ask, What do we need? What's first?  As soon as he can safely stand on a sturdy stool next to the counter, you do the measuring but let him dump the contents [except the eggs] into the bowl.  He can do the mixing.  You get the pan to the right temperature.  By putting your arms under his from behind, you are going to protect him from the hot pan. Hand him a small pitcher (like a creamer size) of batter and guide him as he pours it onto the pan.  Do one pancake at a time to make the flipping easier.  (You can have a second pan going at the back of the stove to actually feed the family!) Have him watch for bubbles in the batter.  You take the spatula, lift up the pancake and flip it.  When it is ready, guide his hands on the spatula and help him get the pancake to the plate.  Put a spatula in his toybox, and he will start flipping all kinds of things.  

With Your Preschooler

Show him the recipe.  Model how you follow along with your finger and check that you have each ingredient.  Have him gather all the ingredients he can reach (alone or with a low stool).  Begin to have him do the measuring.  It is easier to start with smaller measuring cups and a sturdy, wide-mouthed container for things like flour and sugar.  For hard tasks like pouring out the salt, start by having him hold the spoon and scrape the excess off with the back side of a butter knife.  If cracking the egg is hard, have him practice with half a dozen eggs at a different time, warning about the dangers of raw eggs and being super careful about his not putting his hands in his mouth.  Teach him to wash his hands carefully afterwards.  Flipping the cakes will get increasingly independent.  Give him a hand when he needs it, but also be ready to sacrifice a few pancakes to the floor as he is learning.

With Your Kindergartner/First Grader

Have your child read the recipe.  This should be easy as by now he should have memorized it.  If he is struggling, print it out in the big type--a piece of paper is easier than a cookbook--and read it aloud with him.  At this point, you and your child have made a ton of pancakes.  By this time, he should be capable of handling the whole process on his own, with a few assists in turning on the stove and checking the pan temperature.  You will be standing near by--at the ready in case anything becomes dangerous--but you will let your child make mistakes (like putting the bowl too close to the edge of the counter and having the whole thing tip onto the floor!).  Remember, the purpose here is not the pancakes.  The purpose is the learning.  Having to clean up a bowl of batter is a much better teacher than reminding him for the millionth time.  

With Your Second/Third Grader

Your child makes you pancakes.  You eat them up happily.  Whoo hoo!  Good job, Parents!

Breaking It Down 

Pancakes are a great place to begin with independence because children love to eat them, so you have built in motivation.  But you can break down any task and engage your kids in it--making their beds, doing the laundry, planting a garden.  You name it.  When kids master skills, they feel important, and when those skills help the family, they feel needed.  That brings families together.  

Taking Action

Are you afraid that you are doing too much for your kids and that you are failing to teach them to stand on their own two feet?  Not to worry.  Earlier is better, but it is never too late.  Just give it a go, starting wherever your child is developmentally ready and going one step at a time.  

If you still feel insecure, let's troubleshoot together.  Sign up for a complimentary introductory strategy session HERE.  

 

 

 

 

 

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

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

YOU'RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!  

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

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

MISTAKE #1:  Treating your children rudely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

        With little kids:

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

            Am I brushing alligator teeth tonight or polar bear?

            Are we washing your face first or brushing teeth?

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

                brush your teeth and have you inspect?

            Do you want your dinosaur coat or your penguin sweater?

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

        With elementary school kids

            Are you going to do math first or reading?

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

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

            Are you taking your bath before dinner or after?

            Do you want to work here or in the kitchen?

        With middle school and high school kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            Your children are not your children.

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

        They come through you but not from you,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                     it easier to go?  

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

                      impact the rest of the family negatively?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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.  

Talking So Your Kids Feel Seen and Heard

Elisabeth Stitt

 

by Elisabeth Stitt

Communication Tips you may have learned in an office setting or couples workshop work great with your children, too.

Let's look at how active listening and I-Statements might play out with your kids.  Remember, the purpose of the skills is to open up space in the relationship, to establish good will, and to get and share information.  

Active Listening is a great one to use when your child is upset.  Imagine that your child is mad because you have asked her to clean up the puzzle she is working on before dinner.  You have given her a five minute warning, you have cheerfully given the command, clean up!  You have moved in to help her get started--and not just yelled from the other room.  In short, you have have done everything you can to set the transition to dinner up for success.

But still she is screaming at you!

It is time to move in with some active listening.  The conversation might go like this:

Mom:  Clean up!  Dinner in 5 minutes. [Mom moves into room and touches child lightly on the shoulder.]

Child:  [screaming] No, I'm not done yet.

Mom:  You're frustrated because you thought you would finish.

Child:  No, I'm mad at you Mommy.  I have to finish my puzzle.

Mom:  Mmmm... yes...  tell me more.

Child: It's not fair.  I have to finish my puzzle.

Mom:  It is really important to you to finish that puzzle.  

Child:  Yes, I have to finish it or it won't get done.

Mom:  You feel like you'll never get to finish it if you don't finish it now, is that right?

Child: Yes, that's it. I have to finish my puzzle now.  Let me do it! [screaming again and trying to put her hands on her puzzle].  

Mom:  [Low and soft and looking child in the eye] What's important to you about finishing the puzzle?

Child:  I know I can do it.  I can.  I can do it all by myself.  

Mom: You care a lot about showing you can do this puzzle on your own.  

Child:  Yes, I do Mommy.  I want to show you.  All by myself.  

Mom:  You are a capable girl and like doing things independently.  I can see that.  

At this point Mom has some choices.  She can still insist that the puzzle be picked up before dinner, but maybe she can offer to carefully break it into big chunks and put it in the box so it can be reassembled easily.  Perhaps she can leave the puzzle out until after dinner.  Perhaps she and her daughter can brainstorm where in the house it would be possible to start a puzzle and leave it out until the puzzle was done.  Maybe it is not possible to leave out the puzzle, and her daughter destroys all her work because she is is still so frustrated.  That is not the best outcome, but in terms of Mom's relationship with her daughter, she has taken the time to really hear her.  She has also been reminded of how much her daughter wants to do things on her own from start to finish.  This allows Mom to try to structure things in the future so that her daughter can get that need met.  Mom can also help daughter plan out for next time she gets out a puzzle by reminding her about last time:   She can ask, "How are you going to feel if you don't get a chance to finish the puzzle?  Is it worth it to you to start even if you have to pick it up for dinner?"  All this conversation ahead of time gives her daughter choices which gives her control (and we all like to have control over our lives).  

I-Statements with your Child. 

You can train children to solve problems peacefully just the way you train them to do anything else--by modeling and by scaffolding.

First, model I-Statements with your kids from your own point of view:

Mom:  Sweetie, when I have asked you nicely and you still do not pick up the puzzle, I get really frustrated because dinner is getting cold and I put a lot of effort into getting dinner ready. 

Child:  But Mommy, I have to finish my puzzle.

Mom:  I hear that you want to finish your puzzle, but when I have cooked dinner, and you don't come eat right away, I feel deflated like a big balloon that has popped because I tried hard to make a good dinner.  

Child:  You're not a balloon, Mommy!

Mom:  But that's what I feel like--a popped balloon with all the air out of me--when I have worked hard to cook dinner and it gets all cold.  

Notice how the child's attention has shifted away from her puzzle.  For the moment, in a small way, she is putting herself in her mother's shoes.  This is the beginning of teaching empathy.  The child may shift back to her obsession with the puzzle, but Mom has introduced the idea of an I-Statement.  (As a side note, although metaphors are a pretty abstract idea in some ways, I find they often work with kids because they engage kids' imaginations and shift the child to something visual which is more concrete than a feeling.)  

The next step is to help your child use an I-statement bit by bit (that's the scaffolding).  

This time when Mom comes in to transition to dinner, and her child gets upset, Mom might encourage her child to use an I-Statement.    

Mom:  Clean up!

Child:  No.  I have to finish my puzzle.

Mom: [Putting her hands over the puzzle and making eye contact]  You had your five minute warning; now it is time to clean up!

Child: [Screaming] No, No, Mommy.  I have to finish my puzzle!

Mom:  [Using I-Statement phrasing]  When I asked you to clean up, that made you really mad because you really want to finish this puzzle. 

Child: Yes, yes, I want to finish it now!

Mom:  Can you use your words to tell me that?  Start by saying, "Mommy, when you asked me to clean up..."

Child: [doubtfully] "Mommy, when you asked me to clean up.."

Mom:  Say, "I felt mad..."

Child:  "I felt really, really mad!"

Mom: Say, "Because I wanted to finish this puzzle."

Child: "Because I wanted to finish this puzzle."  I have to finish this puzzle!

Mom:  Let's put it together.  You say it, and I will say it with you.

Child and Mom:  "When you asked me to clean up, I felt mad because I wanted to finish this puzzle."

Mom:  Thanks for telling me how you feel in a respectful way, Sweetie.  

By this time, Child has probably calmed down.  She knows she has been heard.  Plus the process of calmly expressing herself has given her over-wrought nervous system a chance to regulate.  

I had an exchange much like this one with a child I was baby-sitting.  After the I-statement, she took my cheeks in her hands and looked at me seriously and said, "I was really, really mad.  But now I'm sad."  Wow!  What a great job tuning into her feelings.  I was then able to ask her if a hug would make it better.  She agreed yes, and after a great big hug and a gentle raspberry, her mood was re-set, and she was able to let go of finishing the puzzle right then and there.  

The I-Statement might feel formulaic and awkward to you, but kids like structure.  It gives them something dependable to reach for.  Once you have modeled it and walked them through it a bunch of times, you will be able to require it by asking, "Can you please use an I-Statement to tell me how you're feeling?"  Knowing that she will be listened to and that she is going to get a chance to explain herself will help a child calm down.  Most parents are more willing to cooperate with a polite child so a positive feedback loop is quickly formed here.  

Once your children have gotten good at using I-Statements, you can ask them to use them with each other.  The next time your kid comes running to tattle on a sibling, you can say, "It sounds like you're really upset.  Did you use an I-statement with your brother?  No?  Well, why don't you practice with me, and then you can go tell him."  I have my own theory about I-Statements here.  Because it is a little bit tricky to make sure you have all three parts covered (When you... I feel.... because....), a child has to really slow down and think.  My guess is that the process itself is calming.  

You can teach the other child to use some active listening in response (All he has to do is repeat the I-Statement back: When I took the red pen, you got mad because you were about to use it.).  Now it is his turn to use an I-Statement.  He might say something like, "When you hogged all the pens, I felt hurt because I wanted you to share with me."  

At first your kids will need a lot (a lot!) of support with each of these steps.  What really works for the adult in this situation is that you are not in the middle in the sense that you are arbitrating or trying to decide who was right.  You are simply supporting their constructive expression of their emotions.  Once everyone has calmed down enough, you can help brainstorm solutions.  

Teaching our children to express their emotions and to get their needs met calmly is enormous.  Huge, in fact.  As a teacher I could always tell whose parents had taken the time to arm their kids with good communication skills.  Those were the kids who were ready to come to school and learn.  Of course they had conflicts with other kids, but they approached the conflicts with a certain amount of confidence that they could make it okay for every one.  

The trick to teaching kids these skills is to feel fluent in them yourselves, so make that your goal.  Really try to create the time and space to listen actively.  Even an exchange of 2-3 sentences where you are acknowledging feelings and asking for more information will make a difference over time.  

Give it a go, and then leave a comment here let us know on the Joyful Parenting Facebook Page