The new school year brings new hopes but also new fears about acceptance and fitting in. This is never more true than for middle school students (though the advice here is good for all grades). Parents can be proactive about talking to their kids about how to handle bullying before it even comes up as a problem.Read More
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We get thrown as parents when our kids ask (demand!) something that they know we are going to say no to. Have we ever said yes to a popsicle for breakfast? No! So why would they even think to ask? Read to find out .Read More
According to the National Survey of Children’s Health, anxiety among children 6-17 is steadily on the rise. Data from 2011-2012 found that 1 in 20 US children has an anxiety diagnosis. That represents a statistically significant increase since the 2003 data; and one can only imagine that were the same data taken in 2018 that there would be a further increase. The numbers only go up with adulthood: 18.1% of the over 18 population every year is found to have an anxiety disorder (This includes anxiety diagnoses like OCD and social anxiety in addition to General Anxiety Disorders, making it the most common mental illness in the U.S.). Data on whether or not rates of anxiety have increased in general in the United States are inconclusive. But from my own experience, that was one of the main reasons I made a shift from teaching kids to supporting parents, and I think my experience sheds light on what is typical.Read More
All parents want their kids to be smart. To support their children’s development they have enrolled their kids in more and more extra curricular activities. The irony is that these activities take up kids’ play time, and parents are grossly undervaluing the benefit of play to children’s cognitive development. You might be surprised by some of the ways that play builds both perception and critical thinking skills.Read More
When it comes to “spoiling,” this is when I see problems:
- Parents deny their children something only to give in in the face of whiny, petulant, disruptive behavior.
- Parents give their children everything always, so children never learn to handle disappointment.
- 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.Read More
Powerful Parenting Comes From Being Grounded in Your Core Values.
With every parent I work with, I start by having parents identify what it is they care most deeply about. What is their world view? Whom do they want their child to become? It is not enough, today, to look to our neighbor for answers on how to parent our child. Instead it is essential to get clear on your own values and beliefs and to prioritize them.Read More
Have you heard the cry of,
OMG, YOU ARE SO EMBARRASSING!
Has your young teen shifted from skipping down the street holding your hand to acting as if you have the plague? Such behavior is so teen-movie, situational-sitcom cliché we almost don't fully expect it to happen to us. But if your child is developing normally and as he needs to do, he will have that moment when he acts as if you are an alien creature he has never seen before.
Your frontal cortex is fully formed: You have the big picture and long-term perspective. That makes it your job to keep calm and parent on. Repeating the mantra, This is a stage, it will pass, and it has nothing to do with me personally, it will help.Read More
11 teen suicides in 9 years. In one community. In my community.
How does that happen? Your first answer might be to blame the parents. Where were they? Didn't they know they were putting too much pressure on their son? Why didn't they do something?
But it's not that simple.
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.Read More
There are many reasons to give kids chores (To see a comprehensive list, go HERE. Kids like to feel needed and capable. Chores help with both. When parents set up chores as “In our family we help each other,” kids see their work as being an important part of being a member of the family. Plus, kids like knowing they are able to do things on their own. They like being able to know that they were the one who made the living room sparkle or who saw to it that every family member had a sandwich ready to take in his lunch. When all the family members are contributing, it frees up time for family fun, and parents are less stressed. Parents have to get themselves ready for work. If the kids are making lunch for everyone while Mom and Dad are getting breakfast on the table, families end up having a few minutes to sit down and start the day together.Read More
How did we get to where we are today?
The trend for highly supervised playdates grew over a lot of years, and there are some reasons that even if they change back, they won’t ever be quite the same.Read More
Concern over what your child is or is not eating is a common one. And it makes sense that we are concerned about it. Our fundamental job is to keep our children alive; and eating well is fundamental to thriving.
What makes the topic of eating especially charged is that it is one of the areas where children have control. You cannot force food into a child’s mouth, and even if you do, her upset about food being forced down her throat will often cause her to throw it right back up again.Read More
Teach your daughter how to study a textbook. Kids think they can just read a textbook the way they read a novel, but although both involve reading, they are really very different tasks.
Here are some guidelines on using a textbook:
Preview all the pictures and graphics (Some textbook companies include information in the pictures/graphics/sidebars, etc that they do not include in the body paragraphs, and often this information shows up on tests). Read the first paragraph, all the section headings and the last paragraph of the chapter. Go over and look up any italicized words in the text. STOP and summarize in your mind ideas like, “This chapter appears to be about…. The material I already know something about is…. The part that looks the hardest is….” READ the review questions at the end of the chapter. Make guesses about what the answers might be. Guessing will help you be on the look out for information as you read that confirms or denies your answers.
Read in sections. At the end of each section, close the book (using a bookmark to track the page) and try to summarize in your mind what you have read. Say any difficult or new words OUT LOUD to try to fix them in your mind. If you are having a hard time summarizing, reread. Finally, when you can generally summarize, take notes and/or draw pictures or diagrams of what you have read IN YOUR OWN WORDS. Only go back to the text to double check you’ve got it right. Proceed to the next section.
After reading: Whether your teacher requires it or not, go back to the questions at the end of the chapter and do them. If none of the questions asks you to summarize the main ideas of the chapter, write a paragraph of 5–7 sentences that will become your quick guide to what the chapter is about.
As you can see, studying a textbook takes much longer than reading a textbook, but when your teacher says, “Read pages 56–61,” she really doesn’t mean read. She means study. You might think, “Oh, that’s just 5 pages. That will take around 10 minutes.” It will not. Once you get good at this process, it will take you around 30 minutes for the before/while/after steps, but when you are first learning it, it will take much longer, so be sure to set aside some extra time.
LOOP YOUR STUDYING
Knowledge in the sciences is accumulative. Subsequent chapters require you to know the information from previous chapters. For this reason, keep your notes from all chapters for the entire year. (If you are taking notes on binder paper, you don’t have to carry the whole year around with you but can transfer previous chapters to a binder you keep at home.) Every time you sit down to study new material, take 5 minutes or so to review old material. Furthermore, a good teacher will ask questions from previous chapters on every test, so set a time in your schedule to go back and review them from time to time.
It can be hard to understand material two or three chapters away from the one you are working on, but there is still value in looking at ahead to those chapters. Look at the titles, graphics and photos. Start getting curious about what it means. Be on the look out in your current and past chapters that might connect to the topics and themes coming up.
Knowing how to be a good student is infinitely more valuable in the 7th grade than any particular knowledge gained of a particular topic. Because grades count relatively little, 7th grade is the perfect time to focus on learning how to learn. That is a skill that you will take with you no matter what classes you take in the future.
With New Year’s here, I imagine that you are setting resolutions around your parenting. Among your resolutions, perhaps you have a goal of being more consistent. Great. I’d like to help with that. However, becoming a consistent parent is almost impossible if you leave to will power alone. It is much easier if you build for success step by step. I have a plan for doing exactly that.Read More
I AM A BAD MOTHER BECAUSE….
As parents we can feel guilty not only about the decisions we make but even about the things that are beyond our control. What parents need to understand, however, is that every decision offers opportunities for learning and/or for some advantage.
Let’s look at four situations a parent might feel guilty about that actually can be really beneficial to their kids.
1. I am a single or divorced mom.
Even if you grew up with a single mom or divorced parents, it can be really hard to give up the notion that family = mom, dad, sister, brother and maybe the family dog. As a single or divorced mom, you might feel like there is no way you can be enough of what your child needs.
Here’s the reality: Single and divorced moms are much less likely to fall into the trap of doing too much for their kids. They just don’t have the time. Stay-at-home moms, for example, tend to feel that they have to make their children’s breakfasts and lunches to be good moms. Doing so robs children control around food. For one, it tends to make food an ego thing (You like my food = you like me.) For two, children who have to make their own breakfast and lunch make what they will actually eat. Parents still get to set guidelines about the kind of food, but kids are the ones who actually know what they will eat when they get to school. That way a lot less food gets wasted, and it cuts down on parent-child conflicts.
2. I work full time.
Again, more than 50 years after the 1950’s there still seems to be this notion that good moms stay at home. Smooth running, calm households where Mom is always accessible (perhaps with her apron tied around her waist?) appear picture perfect in our minds as the goal to aspire to.
Here’s the reality: Working moms tend to give their kids more space. Busy with their own agendas, they are more likely to check in but then expect kids to get their work done pretty independently. Moms who are not working are more likely to get overly involved with their kids. I remember a mentor of mine saying, “Elisabeth, it is a good thing you work. You are pretty intense, and all that energy poured into your daughter would be a lot for her to stand up against.” You can imagine, I was a little stunned when she said that. Wasn’t the ideal to spend as much time with your kids as possible? But looking back, I can see the truth of it. I would have been wanting to teach her something all the time, to instruct her, to suggest a better way of doing things. As it was, I always had my next set of essays to grade and was much more likely to mutter, let me know if you need any help.
3. I don’t have enough money to give my kids what they need.
Whether you live in a poor neighborhood or a rich neighborhood, you are always going to be able to look around and find families who appear to be giving more to their kids than you are. Sometimes the pressure is worse in rich neighborhoods where it appears that there is no limit to the amount of money people will spend on their kids. Here in Silicon Valley, it is routine for parents to provide extra weekly tutoring even for students who are not struggling—just to be on the safe side. Parents who are not doing the same easily feel they are failing their child.
Here’s the reality: Kids need love. They need the security of knowing that no matter what happens their parent is there for them. Furthermore, kids are resilient. Kids who are told frankly, we don’t have money for a private tutor, can help by researching and brainstorming other possibilities such as teen centers or free tutors at the library. Being empowered to be part of the solution makes kids feel important and like they are part of the team. Besides, more important than any specific tutoring a child might get is the parent’s belief in the child. The will to succeed is more important than the skill of the teacher. Every parent can help a child develop a growth mindset by having him focus on effort, improvement and looking for a new strategy to try. A parent’s greatest power is holding fast to the vision of what is possible for the child.
4. I didn’t grow up here; my English isn’t very good.
I am still living in the area I grew up and I know that that made it easier for me to know about and access resources for my daughter. She went to a wonderful school I would probably not have been aware of if it weren’t in my hometown. She got her medical care at the same clinic I did as a child. I knew exactly what kind of education she would need for the path to college. I feared, however, she was in danger of being limited in her view of the world.
Here’s the reality: Yes, raising your child in a new environment will be harder for you in many ways. And at the same time, you have a richer, broader perspective to give your child. First of all, if you speak another language at home—though it may be more challenging for your child in the short run—in the long run the research is showing that bilingual children have many advantages when it comes to being successful. Bilingual students’ brains are able to handle more complexities—perhaps because they have always had to process information in two languages. Additionally, you will be able to teach your child lessons about life and culture in other parts of the world. They will be much more prepared for meeting people with different expectations and ways of doing things. This will make them more flexible and better able to adapt to different school and work environments.
What if you are a happily married, rich, stay-at-home mom who grew up in the town you live in? Should you now feel worried you are not being the best parent you can be? Please don’t play that game with yourself! My point here is that every life situation has advantages and disadvantages. Every child will learn important lessons from you and still have to go out in the world and learn a lot more lessons that it wasn’t in you to teach. Trust that whatever your current situation, there is value in it for your child. Worry more about what you can give your child rather than what you can’t.
by Elisabeth Stitt
The Christmas season is full of wonderful hope and possibility but even at its best, the holiday season demands a lot of us. Navigating your way through so that you experience the most joy and the least strife takes some planning. Here’s my take on what to say no to and what to say yes to so that your Christmas will be merry and bright.
1. SAY NO TO TOO MUCH
Sure, you may have the money to get everything on your child's wish list, but will you be increasing their happiness and enjoyment of what they get? Pretty assuredly not. Getting a mountain of presents all at once makes it almost possible to process. Kids rip into present after present with no time to appreciate what they have gotten. Furthermore, some parents go for quantity rather than quality: Instead of working from a thoughtful list of presents their kids have been expressing an interest in for some time, parents walk into a story, buy three or four presents and call their shopping done. On Christmas morning those presents may just feel like a lot of extra calories--yummy at first sight but not adding any substance. Think back to your childhood. What are the presents that made an impact, that you really remember? I remember the Christmas my parents made my sister and me a dollhouse. Even though I was pretty young, I was aware of how much work they had put in to it, of how excited they were. That was part of what made it special. We spent many, many hours playing with that dollhouse. Another Christmas they bought me a boom box. It was fire engine red and oh, so cool. I listened to the boom box every night going to bed for years. If I got other presents that Christmas, I don't remember them and I'm sure I could have done without. Don't measure present giving by number. Give your kids the chance to really savor what they do get.
2. SAY NO FOR THE SAKE OF SAYING NO
Think how many times between now and New Years you are likely to think, well, it's the holidays, so yes. And that's true. That's part of what holidays were traditionally for. People's lives were so hard that a holiday was a real bright spot. But let's face it. Our lives are not so bleak. Our level of indulgence is pretty high already. That makes it harder for the special times to stand out as especially sweet. It will help your children appreciate the "once-a-year" quality of the season if you are particularly consistent with your other no's. Knowing that you will be going to extra parties which mean late nights and too much sugar, say no to staying up 10 minutes later on a school night or to buying their favorite kids' cereal. In fact, you might even lean the other direction: Start bedtime ten minutes earlier and provide extra servings of spinach and broccoli. Find times when you say no for no other reason than giving your child the chance to fight you. Holidays are stressful. All the events get kids off their sleep and eating schedules. That builds up stress in kids' bodies. By saying no to one more story or to cookies for after school snack, that may push your child over the emotional edge. Hold your limit and allow the tantrum to come: That will give your kid the chance to blow off steam in a big way. It will be hard to stay with her during the tantrum, but she will be much more pleasant and cooperative when you go the the Christmas party Friday night.
3. SAY NO TO "SHOULD"
Christmas is very often a long list of things you have to do. It is not that some of the things on the list aren't very nice, but there is so much stress around them that they aren't fun anymore. Believe me. There is very little that MUST be done for Christmas to happen, and the cost of experiencing the season as a SHOULD is very high. So, what's the solution? You've guessed it. Go stand in the Land of Want to, the Land of Get to and consider which part of the Christmas season matters most to you. You can't do it all. No way. So there is no use just transferring your "should" list to your "get to" list. Really narrow it down. You should go to your neighbor's party, but do you want to? You should make Christmas cookies for the cookie exchange, but do you want to? You should go see the Nutcracker. It's a tradition and the kids love it! All these things sound nice, but to what on the list are you saying, "I can't wait!" Take that "I Can't Wait" item, and put it in your I want to list. Now plan for it. Make space for it. Make sure you are really going to enjoy it by anticipating what is going to pull you off course--traffic? no parking? your partner's cooperation?--and see what you can do to plan for it and smooth the way.
4. SAY NO TO CHRISTMAS FALLING ON MOM'S SHOULDERS ENTIRELY
I have had many conversations with women over the last month about the burden of Christmas. But how much of the burden is our own fault? When as parents we set out to create this magical time, then that is what it feels like to our children (and sometimes our spouses)--magic! But it is not magic. It's a lot of work! And what is the point if it makes us witchier and witchier? However, now that the pattern has been set, if you have taken on too much for Christmas, it may fall to you to retrain your family. How about a family meeting tonight? First step, go back to sorting your list into HAVE TO and GET TO. Remember, Christmas will come and go whether you do anything or not: There really are few have to's here. So talk as a family as to what is the essence of Christmas for your family. What do people value the most? How do you create that? And what part will EVERY person in the house contribute? Even a toddler can be given a helper job. If saying, "No," seems too harsh to you, think less. Think this year we are going to decorate less: We are going to just have a wreath on the door and say no to garlands of evergreens on the stairs. We are going to decorate the tree with two boxes of ornaments not four. We are going to make one kind of cookie, not three.
1. SAY YES TO ENGAGING KIDS IN THE PLANNING
Good for you. You have clarified what is on your "should" list and your "I can't wait" list. Now it is time to do the same exercise with your kids. Ask each child to write down the five activities/events that are important to him. Work with your child to make sure there are five ideas that are actually doable. Now promise to make at least ONE happen. By asking for five and only promising one, you make that event extra special. If you are lucky, there will be overlap among the kids--and maybe even with your list. Family Want-to's! Imagine how much happier the kids will be feeling it is their special request being honored! If you have a lot of children, you may have to put tighter parameters around the requests they can make. Perhaps each child gets to request a favorite meal sometime during the season. Maybe Grandma is insisting on ham for Christmas dinner and your oldest really wants you to make your famous beef stew. Good to know that you can honor the meal choice if not the day. For group activities that are going to pull at the family budget, you can work together to choose one. List out all the family events your kids want to do: going to a holiday show, going ice skating, getting your picture taken with Santa, etc. Have each child rank their lists from most desired to least desired. Look at the lists to see if there is a pattern: Can you give everyone her top first or second choice? This process may take a couple of sessions, but imagine at the end of it that every family member has felt heard. You have asked, "What is important about that to you? Why is that your favorite? Why else?" Really take the time to listen to their thinking. You might be able to get some of the needs met in other ways.
2. SAY YES TO GETTING A BABYSITTER OR EXTRA CLEANING HELP
Yes, of course you need a babysitter for the company holiday party. Lining that up is on your to do list. But what about just those extra date nights that are going to help you get through the holidays? Tell the kids you are holiday shopping and then skeedaddle out of there for a couple of hours in a coffee shop or an extended dinner. If you can't get your shopping done on line, at least make life easier by getting a sitter for a weekday night early in the season when the mall won't be such a zoo. Is a babysitter too expensive? Offer to take another family's kids for the evening if they will take yours another night. If you are NOT the parent who usually arranges babysitting, lining a babysitter up may be the most enormous, appreciated gift you can give. Perhaps your family would most benefit from spending money on extra cleaning. Does it stress you out that your in-laws are coming and you want the house beautifully clean for them? I would certainly give up a package under the tree for that kind of peace of mind. Your children will benefit from you being less stressed. Given the choice between more presents and parents who are hanging by a thread, most kids will choose to parents who are in a good mood, ready to be loving and present.
3. SAY YES TO YOU
Underneath all the things you are and will do this season--underneath all the love you give and help you offer and empathy you share, underneath all the thankless and Herculean feats you pull off every single day of every year for the family that you love so dearly — underneath it all, there’s a YOU. And YOU matter. You matter so much that your whole family couldn’t be and do what it wants and needs to do without you. You matter so much that your kids couldn’t survive or succeed or live happy lives making the world a better place if you didn’t do what you do. You even matter so much that people like me dedicate our lives to support you. And you do so much for others, for your family, that it matters how well you take care of YOU, too. So, say yes to self care. Say yes to enough sleep, to eating healthy food, to putting your feet up for ten minutes in the middle of the week. If you apply regular self care, you will have the energy and good will that will make the rest of the season fun.
4. SAY YES TO AWE
These days--whether Christians or not--most Americans participate in aspects of the Holiday season. If yours is not a family that worships regularly, you might have to work extra hard to find meaning in all the frenzied activity. Don't worry about the specifics of the spirituality but do look for the sense of awe. Look for beauty--in decorations, in colored lights, in the nighttime sky, in a candle flickering in the window. Look for examples of people's kindness. Maybe people only do things in the spirit of Christmas when they should be helping year round, but I'm just glad that they are reaching out for whatever reason. Over my years in the classroom, I have seen students touched by the season who are really moved by being ask to reach outside themselves and their own pleasure. I think they are looking for that awe, the respect you feel when you are aware of how strong people have to be--of their challenges and burdens, of the stunning examples of how they push on despite life being hard. Hearing those stories has a profound effect on me and my students, causing us to focus on being grateful for each other and for all we have. Finding moments to let that awe fill you is the best thing of all to say yes to.
I sincerely hope you consider this list and look for ways to make this season merry and bright.
Here's to you and yours!
As always, if you are feeling overwhelmed, that is a time to engage with a coach. I love working with my clients on becoming clear, confident, focused and sane--especially in this most wonderful--but let's face it--most crazy time of year. Sign up today for your complimentary session HERE.
www.elisabethstitt.com • Joyful Parenting Coaching • 650.248.8916
by Elisabeth Stitt
In the world of Improvisational Acting, one of the rules is to keep the action moving forward, so not blocking a person’s story is key to success. Improv actors do this by saying in response to whatever their partner says, “Yes, [that’s true! you’re right!] and….”
Now, I have to admit that I have a reputation for borrowing trouble before it comes. That means when someone brings up a new idea, I have been known to immediately look for what might go wrong with that plan. I especially like the "Yes, and" tip because it focuses me on the positive.
Listen to how a couple might use this technique to build up a warm connection between them. Bob introduces a new topic and before jumping to why it won't work, Barbara makes an effort to agree with even one little part of it:
Bob: I really want to go to vacation in Hawaii so we can just hang out under an umbrella.
Barbara: YES, and we can drink piña coladas with little umbrellas in them. Those are so festive!
Bob: YES, and I read a review of a restaurant right by the water that has festive colored lights.
Barbara: YES, and I could finally try the Mahi Mahi now that I am eating fish.
Bob: Right! and I hear Hawaii has some of the most creative deserts ever.
Barbara: Oh! You know how I love deserts AND we could walk on the beach after dinner.
Bob: That’s sounds really nice. I love the sound of the waves.
Now, let’s assume in the above conversation that Barbara really doesn’t want to go to Hawaii. She knows how expensive it is and is worried that such a trip will badly eat into their savings. Going to Hawaii just to make Bob happy truly will not serve the family in the long run. For one, Barbara is likely to get tense and tight lipped about every expense on the trip thereby ruining Bob’s pleasure and for two, the family might really need that money later if the cost of a Hawaii trip takes from their emergency fund.
This is where the variation of “Yes, and” comes into play.
By using “Yes, and” Barbara has allowed herself to imagine what she might enjoy about Hawaii and has built up a lot of warm feeling between Bob and her. Now it is time to introduce her concerns. Let’s see how this goes:
Barbara: I love the waves, too, and AT THE SAME TIME I am worried that Hawaii will be too expensive.
Bob: Yes, that’s true, and AT THE SAME TIME, we saved by not going away at Christmas.
Barbara: I’m glad we’ve got some extra put away, and AT THE SAME TIME, I wonder if we could find some place relaxing that is closer to home. I’d like to avoid the cost of a big plane flight.
Bob: Yeah, I checked prices and it will be peak season, and AT THE SAME TIME I just get so much benefit from being near the water, it is worth it to me.
Bob and Barbara are getting close to being able to move into the brainstorming phase to find a win-win solution. Notice that now when Barbara brings up the issue of cost, Bob slips in that he has considered cost: He already checked the price of tickets, so it is not that he is insensitive to their budget. His last statement also reveals how is being near the water that provides so much benefit to him. This would be great place for them to begin generate alternative ideas that meet Bob’s need to relax near the water and Barbara’s need to not go over budget: Tahoe? Santa Cruz? Lake Shasta? It is easy to imagine that this warm, lively conversation will continue to move along toward a solution that works for them both. They will end up with a good plan, but more importantly, the process of coming up with that plan will leave them feeling more loving and connected. Talk about win win!
Remember, communication is constructive when it keeps moving in a generally positive direction. In his research on happy marriages, John Gottman found that couples need five positive interactions for every negative interaction in order to stay close. What I love about Yes, and is that it builds up a lot of good will.
Now, I know some of you sceptics are thinking, no way!
Even if I use "Yes, and" or "Yes, and at the same time," my partner will never use it in response. Well, it's true. If you don't teach the technique to your spouse, it might be harder to keep the flow going, but remember, in this case it is your partner who is excited about the topic, so that should make it easy. Why wouldn't he want he be delighted you are not blocking him?
What about when you introduce "And at the same time," and your partner still shuts you down? Then you go back to "Yes, and." Imagine that Barbara says, "I love the waves, too, and AT THE SAME TIME I am worried that Hawaii will be too expensive." If Bob answers, "You worry too much!", Barbara needs to go back to agreeing with that before adding her "And and the same time."
Barbara: That's true! I do worry a lot, and at the same time I want to make sure that we are free from worry on the trip.
Bob: You don't need to worry. The trip will be great!
Barbara: Yes, being near the water is great, and at the same time, the flights are bound to be really expensive.
Bob: I don't want you to worry about the cost of things.
Barbara: Right! I do love how you make all the arrangements, and at the same time, I wonder if we might find a nice place near the water that we could drive to?
Do you see how tenaciously Barbara is holding onto her concern AND AT THE SAME TIME continues to acknowledge anything she can agree with by Bob. Hanging on to positive while making sure that your needs get addressed (if not met) is not easy, but the payoffs are great.
I can hear some of you grumbling, Why do I have to be the one to do the hard work? What about my partner? Believe me, I get how you feel. Sometimes I just want someone to agree with me, too. I'd like to feel that I am not carrying the burden of communication by myself. However, the beauty of all three tips--active listening, I-Statements and Yes, and/Yes, and at the same time--is that even if only one person uses them, an enormous shift occurs in the relationship. That is how powerful they are!
If you wait until your partner is ready to learn them, too, you may wait too long: There may be no relationship left to transform. And here's the cold hard truth: Even if you don't love your spouse anymore, you will always be co-parenting together. Using these techniques will absolutely improve your communication--and that can only be good for your kids.
I am such a believer in constructive communication and want so dearly for you to experience the joy that effective communication can bring to a relationship that if you commit to getting coached on using these techniques and others for at least 10 sessions, I will give you a 30% discount off the regular price. Wow! That's a big savings! If after three sessions you are not perfectly satisfied, I'll refund you 100%. Get started by signing up HERE for a free 20-minute consult.
Want more tips for kids and couples? Get my blogs and newseletters HERE right in your inbox.
I Love My Spouse, but I Hate Parenting with Him: TIP #2 for Constructive Couples Communication: I-Statements
How has it been going with Tip # 1--active listening? Did you miss it? You can catch up HERE.
With Tip #2--I Statements--we create room for conversation, but instead of just listening, we learn to express our emotions so our partner knows what is going on inside our heads.
Have you ever sat in a busy place like an airport or a café and made guesses about people? I love doing that. People always fascinate me, and I like to tell stories in my head about the people around me. In the process I make a lot of assumptions about who they might be. I look at their clothes, how they are standing, their expressions, who they are with, what language they are speaking. I take it all in and I start making guesses. Well, I may make a game out of it, but we all make assumptions, all the time--with strangers and with the people we love. We tell ourselves stories about people's motivations, as if we could see inside their brains. And perhaps just as harmful, we assume that others can see in our heads, too!
Lots of times we make positive assumptions--like when my husband makes hot tea and brings it to me, I assume he loves me and is thinking about me--but often times we make negative assumptions about what our partner is thinking or feeling without doing a reality check. Here’s an example: Barbara is washing the dishes while Bob sits on the couch reading. As she furiously scrubs, she might be seething thinking, “It’s not fair that I’m working and he’s just sitting there relaxing.” She might go on to tell herself, “He’s okay letting me wash the dishes alone because I’m home all day and he thinks I don’t do anything all day.”
In reality, Bob might not be aware of her at all. He might just be enjoying his good book. Or he might have his own internal dialogue going. He might be thinking, “I am so stressed out from work. I just need 30 mins. to veg out. I wish she’d stop doing the dishes and relax for a bit!” Fear of an argument can make it hard to reasonably ask our partner’s motivations, but what are we supposed to do with all our hurt or hostile feelings?
The technique I want to tell you about today is called an I-Statement. It is used for introducing a difficult topic in a gentle way. Here is an I-Statement Barbara might have used to express her negative emotions about the dishes:
Addressing Bob, she would say, “When you sit on the couch reading while I am doing dishes, I feel resentful and put upon because I am working and you have leisure time.”
Let’s look at each part. The I-Statement starts by identifying one concrete situation. It goes on to express a feeling (in this case resentment) and the underlying cause of the emotion (Barbara would like to be resting, too, but feels she cannot until the dishes are done). Notice what the I-Statement does not say: It is not used for broad general character defamations (like “You’re so inconsiderate!") and it does not go over past history (as in “You always let me do the dishes and never help"). It does not go on and on with a lot of detail.
What are some other times you might feel upset with your spouse? Perhaps she comes home late without calling. Perhaps he leaves to do a Costco run without telling you, leaving all three children in your care. Perhaps she makes plans for the family without asking you first. The list could go on and on, right? In each of these cases, you could use an I-Statement to start the conversation that communicates your distress. Here are some sample statements you might calmly use with your partner.
•When you came home late without calling me, I felt worried because I imagined you had had an accident.
•When you left me with all three kids without telling me first, I felt furious because I've been point person on looking after the kids all day and I need a break.
•When you said yes to our going to dinner at friends without checking with me first, I felt ignored and insignificant because I didn't get a chance to weigh in with my desires or opinions.
Of course, the feelings and the reasons behind the feelings could be different than the ones I have suggested here. The important part is that you are expressing your emotions rather than expecting your partner to guess them. At the same time, you are delivering your message in a way that is not an attack. Tone is, of course, still important, but if you stick to the formula--because you are mentioning a specific event and sharing only your own feelings and not your partner's motivations--you greatly avoid the chances of anger, sarcasm, or bitterness taking over.
Got it? It can help to think through some possible I-Statements before you actually start using them. You might even want to write them down.
Once you have delivered your I-Statement, then what? At the very least, you will have expressed your emotions and that feels good. But let's suppose your partner gets hostile and tears into the one part of the statement she can defend. In response to your comment, "When you came home late without calling me, I felt worried because I imagined you had had an accident," for example, your partner may mitigate how late she was, arguing it was only 15 minutes. That's fine. If that is true, use it in your I-Statement response: "When you were 15 minutes late home without calling me, I felt worried because I imagined you had had an accident." Maybe now your partner will say you are being ridiculous! Use that, too: "Even if it was ridiculous, when you came home late last night, I felt worried." As long as you you keep sticking to the truth of your feelings, your partner will not be able to argue around them. It helps to picture your spouse and run through the conversation through your head as you imagine it will go, so you can think out your responses.
On the other hand, if you and your spouse can train each other, you can keep the conversation going in a peaceful vein. Let's go back to Barbara and Bob and the dishes. When Barbara uses her I-Statement to tell Bob how she is feeling, what should Bob’s response be? Well, this would be an excellent time for some Active Listening. He might say something like “You’re really frustrated that you are doing the dishes alone. It doesn’t feel fair to you.” By not defending himself, Bob gives Barbara a chance to off load her emotions and really tell her whole story. At the end of the active listening, he might ask Barbara, “What would you like me to do?” Now if Barbara says, “It would make a big difference to me if you would help me with the dishes,” Bob is likely jump up from the couch and grab a dish towel. Not having felt attacked, he will have listened with an open heart. Most spouses do want to support each other if they are asked in a way that assumes the best in them.
As with active listening, I-Statements are a skill you can use just from your side of the conversation and you will still have an effect on the health of relationship. Find a few places this week to give them a try.
Let me know how it goes. Not signed up for my newsletter? Sign up HERE and you won't miss my favorite communication tip of all coming next week.
I hear that from clients all the time.
In fact, the first time I heard it was from my sister complaining about my brother-in-law. Now, my brother-in-law is just about the nicest, most generous man you can imagine. I love being a guest in his house because the moment I walk in the door, he makes me feel like a queen who should get her every need and desire met. Great qualities for a good host! But unchecked, meeting a child's every desire is not healthy--especially when Hank would come in the room and contradict what my sister, Allie, had just said.
The scene might go like this:
Kids: We want waffles for breakfast!
Allie:I know you do, but we've run out of eggs, so it is going to be cereal this morning.
Kids: But we want waffles!
Hank: What's this? You want waffles? Of course, you can have waffles!
Allie: Hon, we have no eggs, and I've just told the kids it's cereal instead.
Kids: But, Daddy, we want waffles!
Hank: You want waffles? We can do waffles. I'll run to the store for eggs.
Lucky kids, right? Yes, in the sense that they feel seen and heard and important, but kids really do need to learn that sometimes they don't get what they want. Sometimes they have to make do with an alternative. Most importantly, however, kids need to know that their parents are in agreement and that they won't undermine each other.
My sister and brother-in-law are a great example of how qualities which are attractive in a mate--who wouldn't want to be made to feel like a queen?--are not always the ones you want in your child's father or mother--unless toned down to the common ground Allie and Hank were eventually able to work out.
And I get it. I've been there, too. Here's an example. (It may seem petty, but the fact that it drives me nuts is exactly what makes co-parenting so hard.) My husband is not a conserver of natural resources. In other words, he leaves on every light in the house and he lets the water gush forth while shaving (Did I mention we live in drought-stricken California?). In the interest of marital harmony--and perhaps because I am secretly envious of his confidence that the world will provide him all the resources he needs whenever he needs them--I had long since learned to roll my eyes at him rather than nag him to turn off the lights and the water.
The day came, however, when I called to one of the kids to turn off the lights when leaving the house, and he looked at me blankly and said, "Why? Daddy never does." You know in the cartoons when the character's face turns beat red and steam comes out of his ears? Well, that was what I am sure I looked like. That innocent question was like waving a red flag in front of my face. I'm afraid in the scene that followed I was not at my best.
So, how do couples find common ground, so they can provide a united parenting front?
First, let's consider why issues with our spouse feel so much more charged when our children are involved. Here's the thing. We care about parenting so very, very deeply that it is hard to be reasonable when it comes to our kids. It is often a shock when our parenting partner has a very different idea about what is appropriate. So, yes, it is hard. On the other hand, Penn State reported earlier this year in a 7-year longitudinal study that “Parents who have better co-parenting relations feel more supported and confident, less stressed and depressed and they show more warmth and patience with their children” (Indiver 19 January 2015). That reminds us how very important it is to work on the issue, even when it is hard and really uncomfortable.
But don't despair. I have some tips for improving communication with your parenting partner. Each of the tips is designed to increase the good will between partners--to prepare the soil for the really sticky points.
TIP 1: ACTIVE LISTENING
Active listening refers to listening with the purpose of allowing one’s partner to reveal what is on his mind. But more than that, it really means listening without judgment and wanting to know not just the facts of the story or issue but what is in the speaker’s heart.
Here’s how to do it:
* Listen: Don’t comment, disagree or evaluate.
* Use your body: Eye contact, head nods, brief comments like “yes” or “uh-huh.”
* Prompt information: Tell me more. What else? What is important about that?
* Repeat back: Recap the gist said and wager a guess at the emotions present.
I recommend practicing this first with topics that are not controversial. For example, you might ask your partner about a happy childhood memory or a person he admires. Your main purpose in using active listening is to open up space in the relationship. By really digging into your partner’s feelings and motivations first you activate your own empathy and secondly you gather a lot of information about what is important to your partner (which provides you useful data when you are looking for places to find happy solutions that will work for you both). It feels good to be listened to. Think back to early in your relationship. Chances are you listened to your partner hanging on her every word. Just giving your partner that rapt attention again can bring those loving feelings he had when he courted you.
Once you have mastered active listening with noncontroversial topics, introduce a topic that could become more touchy like “What is a lesson you would really like our kids to learn?” This can be a scary question because your spouse might say something that really throws you for a loop like, “I’d really like the kids to learn to hang glide.” Your comfort levels might immediately go into high alert. What?! Teach the kids something that dangerous?! What kind of responsible parent lets his kids up into the sky attached to a giant kite?!
If you can take a deep breath, however, and settle down into some active listening, you are likely to learn something really interesting. Perhaps your spouse did it as a young man and it is the most alive he has ever felt. Now he wants his own kids to experience that intense appreciation for being alive. Perhaps he felt closer to God. Perhaps he was terrified doing it but having done it, nothing in life has ever been as scary, and he wants his kids to know that facing their fears will serve them later in life.
Imagine how different you would feel listening to your spouse share such a meaningful experience and how touched you would be that he wants his children to experience something that meaningful, too. Listening Actively does not mean you have to give in to your children doing something you really disapprove of but having listened, you are now in a position to thoughtfully suggest an alternative.
I know some of you are saying no way could I get my spouse to start talking like that, much less to learn to listen actively. That's okay! You will find a shift in your relationship, even if you practice active listening only from your side of the fence. I want you to go and try it. The next time your spouse says something--about the kids or otherwise--that gets your dander up, instead of getting angry (or sullen), start getting really, really interested. I challenge you! And then leave a comment here or email me at email@example.com about how it went. You can also email me for a copy of my Constructive Couples Communication Webinar.
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Connection, Connection, Connection
In being close and present for their children, parents need to do what works for them. They need to find that balance between being parents and being themselves. That being said, your child is only an infant once and only a toddler for a year or so. This is not time you can ever get back if you decide later that you wished you had been more present. So that's my bias. Spend as much time as you can in the early years. No one is more important to your child than you are. I don't mean that your child is not going to thrive if she doesn't get your undivided attention, but who better than you to provide her the emotional security she needs to risk exploring the world?
We are social creatures. That means right from the get go our babies are looking to connect with us, to communicate with us. When we slow down and take the time to just be with our babies, we naturally fall into the attentive give and take on which infants thrive. They look to us to provide emotional reassurance and to provide the vocabulary which helps them organize and make sense of experiences. As babies begin to toddle, they move away from us, but we are still the home base they look back to. (more) Our calm, open, enthusiastic presence is what allows them to explore. As they move into the preschool years--even as they are making friends and spending time with teachers and peers--it is the routines and traditions of home that keep them grounded.
I firmly believe in families deliberately creating time and space in the day for ritualized connection. There are as many ways to do that as there are families. One family I know of has snuggle time in Mom and Dad's bed for 5 minutes every day. Another family I know of shares "one good thing" as each family member lights a candle at the dinner table. Many parents put love notes in their children's lunches to connect them even when they are physically apart. When I was a child, I went most Saturday mornings with my dad to his office. I would play office worker for a few hours and on the way home we would stop and get donuts for the rest of the family. Other families have weekly "dates" after school or practice.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Connecting to your children is the closest thing to a silver bullet parenting has for creating a peaceful, harmonious home. Whatever time and effort it takes to attend to the relationships in the family first and foremost are worth it.
I can't wait to hear: What are the things you do in your family to stay close and connected?