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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: life skills

That Child Is a Bully!

Elisabeth Stitt

THAT CHILD IS A BULLY!

Have you ever written off a child in your neighborhood or at your child's school as a bully?  It is easy as parents for us to get defensive and judgmental.   Bullying sets parents off and strikes a very sensitive chord, but lots of what we fear is bullying is normal interactions among kids—they just need the skills and the example to use it.

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Is Your Child Spoiled?

Elisabeth Stitt

When it comes to “spoiling,” this is when I see problems:

  1. Parents deny their children something only to give in in the face of whiny, petulant, disruptive behavior.
  2. Parents give their children everything always, so children never learn to handle disappointment.
  3. Parents give their children everything always, so children develop a warped sense of entitlement and fail to recognize the difference between needs and wants.

Read on to find out the solutions. 

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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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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.  

 

Constructive Conversations: 4 Tips to Reveiw

Elisabeth Stitt

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

8 Terrific Tips for Taming the Tangle of Toys

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

KEEPING YOUR KIDS’ TOYS ORGANIZED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.  

 

 

 

 

 

Setting Your Kids Free by Teaching Them a Love of Learning

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt      

One of the reasons parents do so much for their children in the areas of self care and daily life is not because they honestly think their children incompetent.  Rather, they are trying to free their children up to spend time on their academics.  While we all understand that a college education is as necessary today as a high school education was in previous generation, it is not the be all and end all.  It is a piece of your child's journey to adulthood, yes, but their success and happiness as an adult will ultimately rest on broader life skills like self-initiative, cooperation and teamwork, creativity and motivation.  And the perhaps most important of all life skills:  A love of learning.  

DEVELOPING A LOVE OF LEARNING

     Children who have a love of learning are naturally motivated.  They go seeking answers on their own.  School becomes a pleasure, not a half to.  If you have a child who loves school, he is willing to play the school game--get there on time, do the homework, memorize seemingly random facts--because he will see all those thingsas a part of his opportunity to do experiments, to reenact the landing of the Pilgrims, to interpret or write a poem.  He will see homework as a way to check his understanding.  He will want to know how he did not just to make a grade but to know where to correct his learning.   

     A love of learning does not thrive in an environment where parents are constantly looking over your shoulder, micromanaging assignments and monitoring grades as if the health of the stock market were tied to your performance.  Or more likely in many homes, as if the success or failure of a research paper in fourth or fifth grade were an indicator of what college a kid is going to get in to.  No.  A love of learning thrives when school is seen as a process--a time and place to fail.  Imagine a skater trying to learn a salchow and not falling down.  Not possible, right?  We know that every fall requires enormous risk and faith.   And from every fall comes a great deal of learning--learning of what not to do, learning about what to try next time.  And the coach knows she cannot go out on the ice and do the salchow for the child.  What would be the point?  Where would the learning be?  Likewise, when we take over our children's learning--by managing them to death--we rob them of any benefit.  

ARE YOU A HELICOPTER PARENT?

     If you have been a helicopter parent when it comes to schoolwork, stop and ask yourself why.  What do you fear?  What are you protecting your child from?  What are you protecting yourself from?  To some extent, I know that parents are just going by what the school or other parents expect. Ironically, many teachers I know would like to give less homework but get pressure from the parents or are accused of being lazy if they don't assign it.  These are not good reasons for homework.  Studies routinely find that the efficacy of doing homework drops off precipitously after around 30 minutes, and in fact, even then the value is in the discipline of remembering you have homework, knowing what the assignment is, doing it and actually getting it back to school and turning it in--not in whatever the homework actually practices.  My own anecdotal experience bares this to be true.  My daughter went to a school where there was no homework before fourth grade and by middle school it was maybe an hour or two a week.  Did this hurt her?  No, she stepped into top classes at a large public high school without missing a beat.  

MAKE THE LEARNING THEIRS

     So how do we motivate our kids to become lifelong learners?  First and foremost, we need to make the learning theirs--the assignments need to be theirs, the grades need to be theirs and the mistakes need to be theirs.   I am reminded of the proverb, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink."  Knowledge has no value if you do not put it to use.  You can cram facts into a child's head by sheer route learning, by threatening and bribing, but to what end?  If the child does not have an intrinsic interest, each thing he learns will be in isolation, a box on a checklist to mark completed.  Keep the emphasis on the knowledge and experience gained, on the process, on the lessons and not on the outcome.  

     Good teachers find ways for kids to have ownership over their learning by giving them as much choice and leeway as possible.  Good parents do the same.  Support your child by asking questions.   What help do they think they will need?  How much time will they need to do the assignment?  Will it require back burner energy or front burner concentration to do compared to their other assignments?  When they get the work back, ask your kids if they got what they expected.  If not, why?  What went wrong?  What could they do differently next time?  What will they commit to doing?  What resources are available for help?  Your support comes in the form of supporting their metacognition--their thinking about how they learn and what they'll get out of it.  

A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE

     I know that some of you are concerned that if you do not push your child academically, you will be failing as a parent--you will be closing the door to the top slots at the top universities.  For you, I offer the perspective of Julie Lythcott-Haims, former freshman dean at Stanford.  Listen here (https://www.freeconferencecall.com/wall/recorded_audio?audioRecordingUrl=https%3A%2F%2Frs0000.freeconferencecall.com%2Fstorage%2FsgetFCC2%2FaQ2s9%2FdpsMH&subscriptionId=4985870) to get my interview with her where she lays out why she is urging stressed-out parents to stop trying so hard to make sure their kids succeed.  

     Perhaps you are reading this and disagreeing strongly.  Perhaps you think I don't understand.  I do get it.  Watching my child go through the stress of getting into college--as grounded and together as she was--was heart wrenching.  Every fear I ever had of how I had failed her boiled up.  I had to firmly squelch my need to push her--to insist--she take actions in certain directions.  I had to trust that with the help of a good college counselor to tell her about a wide variety of schools, she was going to find one that was a good fit for her.  And she did.  And she is thriving, excited about her interactions with her professors and the classes she is taking.  She is at a school most people in California haven't even heard of, and yet I have every confidence she is getting a first rate education.  

     Please put your comments below.  Do you really think having high expectations for our kids and at the same time teaching our kids to take responsibility for their own learning, their own successes and their own failures are not mutually exclusive ideas?  I want to hear from you.  

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.  

3 Steps to Getting Your Kids to Listen

Elisabeth Stitt

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

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

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



CLARITY


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


CONNECTION


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

CONSISTENCY

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


REVIEW

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

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

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

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September Newsletter: Back to School: What Teachers Expect

Elisabeth Stitt

Do you ever feel judged by your child’s teacher?  

I promise you, teachers have an internal checklist of what they hope their students will be bringing from home.  They know they won’t get it all the time. They know that their job is to deal with the child who walks through the door no matter what he brings.  They know that every family—no matter how wonderful the parents—suffers ups and downs and may take some time to right itself.  But if they were able to write a list of what they consider primarily the parents’ responsibility for sending kids ready to learn, this would be it: 

1.     BASIC NEEDS MET.  Perhaps it seems obvious that it is the parent’s job to make sure that the child comes to school with enough sleep, not smelling, well fed and appropriately dressed.  This is too often not the case, however.  Parents will claim they can’t get their child to bed on time or they can’t get their child to wear anything but the too short shorts and the diaphanous top slipping off the shoulder to school.  Many of us teachers are parents ourselves.  We get it.  We know it is hard.  We still see it as your job to figure out how to make it happen (though we are happy to offer our perspective and experience). 

2.     SHOWING RESPECT AND CONSIDERATION.  A teacher has to help kids develop a definition of what respect means at school, but the basic concept needs to come from home.  Have you worked in an office where in the break room there is a sign that says, “Your mother doesn’t work here; clean up after yourself"? Well, the same idea goes for school.  Your teacher is not your mother.   Her job is to teach you academics, not to nag you to clean up after yourself or to lecture you about touching other people’s things without their permission or to stop interrupting. 

3.     HOMEWORK DONE BY THE CHILD.   Someday, I will write a whole column on homework (including my general belief that there should be very little of it), but for today let me say this:  The main purpose of homework is to give the child the chance for independent practice.  It is much less important that the child do the homework right than that she do it herself.  If she has worked the allotted time (find out what your school’s policy is), have her stop. If her teacher gives her a hard time for not finishing, train her to talk to her teacher ahead of class, to explain to her teacher that that is how much she got done in the allotted time.  Teachers do not know how long the work they assign takes:  They need accurate feedback.  They do not need perfection, and they certainly do not need you to sit with your child, while he does his work.  Sure, if you have a kid who takes 15 mins. to settle down, you can make sure the timer starts after that 15 mins., but the actual work should still be done on his own. 

4.     TEACH YOUR CHILD TO ADVOCATE FOR HIMSELF.  Did your mother write notes to the teacher all the time?  Mine didn’t. She would, however, talk through with me my conflicts with a teacher.  She would listen to me, acknowledge my frustration, but then she would ask me how the teacher was likely to be feeling, what the teacher’s priorities were.  She would help me sort out where I was only one of thirty children in the room and where I could reasonably make a request.  She would role play how to talk to teachers, so I could respectfully let them know my wants or needs.  If a few of my tries did not solve the problem, only then would she approach the teacher—and then it was to enlist the teacher’s help in solving the problem, not to condemn her, and certainly not to make excuses for me. 

5.     LIFE AND CHARACTER SKILLS.  Caring, consideration, compassion, gratitude, thoughtfulness, diligence, organization, persistence, tolerance, trustworthiness, patience, etc.  These get practiced at school, of course, but they need to be taught and modeled at home regularly and explicitly.  These are all traits you can start working on in toddlerhood.  Yes, mastery takes time and repetition, and teachers will work to reinforce these skills, but you have the greatest power to train your children in these areas.  Your daily reflection with them of where they have—or how they could have--displayed these qualities establishes their importance to your child.    

Kids who come to school with the above conditions in place at home learn better and take more joy in their learning.  They are able to regulate themselves and are ready to take full advantage of all that a teacher has to offer.  This is teachers’ greatest hope.