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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!

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Why Kids Lie and What Parents Can Do About It

Elisabeth Stitt

Lots of kids lie, and often lying is particularly upsetting to parents.  I think that one reason lying affects parents so strongly is because we want to keep our children safe.  As long as we think we know what is going on in our kids’ heads and what they are actually experiencing, we figure we can take action to protect them.  When our kids lie to us, however, we find out that perhaps our kids have been exposed to dangerous or negative situations out of our control.

 WHY LYING UPSETS PARENTS

Let’s say for example, that you find out your nine year old has ridden her bike outside the agreed upon streets.  She has been lying to you by omission, and then one day you find out that she has crossed some major streets with a lot of traffic.  A big part of why you are upset by her lie is your fear about what might have happened to her—the accident she might have had, or whom she might have encountered so far outside your sphere of influence.  Plus, in the face of one lie, you begin to doubt what you can trust about other parts of her life:  Is she telling you what is going on at school?  What happens when she plays at her friend’s house? 

 WHY PEOPLE LIE

People lie to get some kind of emotional need met.  We all have needs for a sense of security, autonomy, attention, status, acceptance, excitement, intimacy and love, connection to others, self-esteem, and so forth.  We lie, then, either when we think telling the truth will get in the way of having one of those needs met or when telling the lie will get the need met.

 

In the example above, for example, the nine year old is more than old enough to know that she is lying.  Perhaps she has lied because of her need for autonomy.  She feels she is old enough to handle crossing a busy street and she wants to test it out.  Perhaps she has lied to gain status, and another child has dared her to cross the forbidden street or she has bragged that she is allowed to do so and now must show that she can. 

 WHAT PARENTS CAN DO ABOUT LYING

The question remains what should a parent do in the face of a child lying?  Certainly it is reasonable to have a consequence for breaking a family rule (and ideally that consequence has been worked out the same time the bike riding boundaries were set up).  But in order for a parent to feel secure her child won’t lie again, it is important that she take the time to figure out what emotional need was the child trying to meet by engaging in the behavior which required the lie (including the lie of omission).  Only then can parent and child work out more acceptable ways of getting the need met. 

 WHAT ROLE PARENTS PLAY IN THEIR CHILDREN'S LYING

Clinical Psychologist Dr. Shefali Tsabary says, "There is only one reason a child lies to its parents: the conditions for it to feel safe have not been created.”  You may well bristle at the idea that you have caused your child to lie, but having dealt with kids’ lying at school over the years, it feels possible to me.  When I talked with kids about why they lie, these are some of the answers I have heard over the years:

         •My parents will over react and won’t listen to me.

         •My parents just won’t understand.

         •If my parents found out I did that, they’d judge me.

         •All my mom cares about is X; she doesn’t understand that                 X isn’t that important to me.  (Or that Y is more important).

         •All my dad cares about is how it will look to other people.

         He doesn’t actually care about what happens to me. 

I have certainly seen parents over react, and with some parents I do feel that the parent cares more about his own reputation than about what his child is thinking and feeling.  But in most cases, lying occurs in households where communication has broken down.  Because kids have not felt seen, heard and valued, kids have stopped sharing.  They don’t want the hassle of arguing with their parents because they feel they don’t get anywhere with it, and at the same time they still have powerful unmet needs.  The drive to get their needs met—even if it means accepting negative consequences—makes lying worth it to them. 

 

The next question, then, is how do you keep the lines of communication open.  I think first and foremost, you own up to your own foibles as a parent—own that sometimes you do over react.  Own that you get triggered—by safety concerns, by fears for the future, by wanting to seem like a perfect parent.  Own that you grew up in a different generation and/or a different culture and that what seems okay to your kids feels really wrong to you.  Own your own hang ups.  Maybe your parents didn’t let you drive into the city on your own, so now your automatic response when your child asks permission is to say No Way without even giving it any real thought. 

 IDENTIFYING THE NEEDS BEHIND THE LIES

Next, even if you do end up saying no to your kids (and I fully support your right to do that), really take the time to listen to what they want.  Be curious about why they want it (what need would get met if they got to do whatever it is they want to do).  Then, work to see if the underlying need can be met in some other way.  Maybe you can find a compromise.  Let’s say, for example, that you catch your son stealing money to buy junk food at school.  He knows you have a strong value about healthy nutritional choices, so he sneaks behind your back.  The first question is what is the need—sweet food?  Or is it to have the cool packaging of snacks from the vending machine?  Or does he like having the whole vending machine array to choose from without having to agree with his siblings?  Each of these is a very different need and requires a different approach.  That’s why it is so critical to putting your own concerns aside so you can first be open and curious. 

 BRAINSTORMING ALTERNATIVE WAYS TO MEET NEEDS

Once you know what the unmet need is, you can work on that.  Brainstorm ideas. What sweet foods would be acceptable?  Is the need to be cool about the need to fit in, and if so, why is that so important?  How else could a person find a group he feels included in?  How could the family provide more opportunities for the son to have some things just as he wants them without having to consider the rest of the family? 

 

Even the act of brainstorming and trying to find a solution acknowledges your child as an individual with his own needs, preferences and desires.  In a particular case, you might not find a way to compromise.  If you have found workable solutions other times, however, your child will be able to accept when no compromise is possible.  He will know that you care about his feelings and are not shaming him for having those feelings. 

 

In summary, I would let a consequence for the poor choice stand, but I would go deeper to find out the underlying motivation for the poor choice. 

 STAYING CONNECTED EVEN THROUGH CONFLICT

Lying is complex.  We lie for so many reasons, and I have really only addressed a few of them here.  No matter what the reason, though, I urge you to approach your child as a work in progress and use the lying incident as an opportunity for growth and self-reflection.  Finally, assure your child that as he matures, he will find it easier to find ways of getting his needs met that do not make him feel that it is necessary to lie. 

 

 

 

 

 

Do You Have a Case of the Middle School Mom Blues?

Elisabeth Stitt

Did you see the article in the Wall Street Journal about Middle School Moms’ Blues?  

A new study finds the stress and anxiety Middle School Moms feel is even greater than that of moms of infants!

Well, with the bulk of my teaching career spent with middle schoolers, that is no surprise to me.  In fact, I started my business, Joyful Parenting Coaching, because of a conversation I had with the mom of a 7th grader whose daughter was coming home crying every day.  This mom felt at a loss, but to me the saddest part was that she did not trust she could share what was going on with other moms in the class.  The feared being judged, looked down on or pitied kept her from reaching out.  

That broke my heart.  

But I don’t think she was alone.  The more work I’ve done out of the classroom and directly with parents, the more I see how many of them are carrying the burdens of parenting in isolation.  

I would never have survived parenting—any stage of it—if I hadn’t felt like I had trusted people around me with whom to compare notes—or to just let off steam!!  I don’t know about you, but I have certainly had days when I could have killed my child.  Or at least cheerfully sold her to the gypsies.  Of course, I never would, but it sure helped to have close and loving friends who could give me their Amen to That, Sister! rally before helping me find constructive solutions.  

The article does not really break down why Middle School Moms are so stressed.  

Here is my theory on why Middle School Moms find parenting harder than other stages: 

1.  As our children go up in grades, the ways society measures their success gets narrower and narrower.  Academic ease and performance become key.  Sports and Artistic proficiency can provide some secondary credit, but in our get-into-a-good-college-at-all-costs society, measurable numbers (grade point averages, state testing scores, SATs) hold the most weight.  Lots of parents start obsessing about those things and find it hard to stop.  

2.  As our children go up in grades, the percentage of moms who are working full time also goes up.  That means as women we spend the whole day talking business, not kids and parenting.  Last week I volunteered at the high school for a couple of hours stuffing envelopes (the beauty of working from home, being my own boss and living close to the high school).   I realized it was pretty much the same moms I had seen the two other times I have volunteered this year.  Their chatter was incessant and far ranging.  These moms knew each other well and clearly had spent a lot of hours together.  They felt perfectly comfortable airing their dirty laundry—and getting and receiving advice from each other.  

But most moms don’t have that.  Many moms drop their kids off at school in the morning and pick them up from childcare or after school activities in the evening.  Not only does that not allow that mom much time for connecting with her kids, it really doesn’t allow her much time to meet up with a girlfriend and compare notes (and I am not saying you cannot or should not be comparing notes with your spouse, but it is really useful to get the perspective of what is going on with other kids in other households).  

3.  Perhaps the most significant reason parenting a middle school child is harder than other ages and stages is that the rewards are not as great.  With an infant you are exhausted and lose sleep, but then that child smiles at you—or laughs for the first time—and in a moment you are totally in love again.  The preschooler balances tantrums with ardent declarations of “I love you, Mommy!” In lower elementary, kids become a lot less work and at the same time still look to you for you insights and views on the world in general and their own worries in particular.  But the middle school child?  Well, I don’t know how you were in middle school, but I was miserable.  I hated school, I basically had no friends, and I was an emotional wreck.  On top of all that, I was convinced my mom (who always painted a picture of her friends and fun activities in middle school) could never in a million years understand what I was going through.  8th grade was the year my grades went down, I lied, and I even cut school!  My poor mom!  

So in middle school we have all the worry, doubt and work of other stages but few opportunities to be our children’s heroes. 

Our kids may still need our advice and counsel, but they won’t admit it to save their lives.  Furthermore, they need us to step away from our god-like positions and become the wise elders who walk beside them.  One of my favorite analogies for teens is that they are on a roller coaster ride; Mom’s job is not to get on and ride with them but to stand on the platform ready to be there when they get off.

For all these reasons that make it especially challenging to parent kids in middle school, that’s why I have created the Middle School Moms’ Mastermind.  

Are you familiar with the concept of a mastermind?  I am in one for solo entrepreneur women.  We are smart, motivated and we face similar struggles.  While only our intrepid leader claims to be the expert, we still get a wealth of advice and good ideas from our fellow entrepreneurs.  We have a community of people to ask, What do you think of this idea?  Or Has anyone of you tried X before?  I love this group of brave, creative go-getters.  They are at once my role models and my friends, and when I get to share my own advice and experience, it makes me realize how far I have come as a business woman.  

We use a Private FB group as the primary means of communicating with each other (though I have also had private phone conversations from time to time with individuals who have a lot to share about a given topic). In twice monthly group coaching calls, our outstanding business coach gives us concrete advice both through direct instruction and through answer our specific questions about our specific situations.  

Imagine having that kind of support for your parenting!

That is exactly what I want for you.  The Middle School Moms’ Mastermind  will bring together a maximum of 15 moms of middle school kids.  I will moderate our private FB group where moms can post questions and observations.  Both moms and I will post relevant articles that we come across.  Moms will be free to post advice for people who ask for it as long as they do so in a way that has no shaming, blaming or judgment.  Additionally, I will lead two monthly calls (recorded so you can access them any time).  On these calls I will spend the first 15 to 20 minutes educating participants about some topic specific to early adolescents and then the rest of the call is your chance to ask me about your particular needs.  

Of course, I do not have all the answers (no one does!), but I do have three adult children and in my 25 years of teaching, I have dealt with more than 3,000 kids between the ages of 11-14.  That means I have pretty much seen it all—all kinds of kids and all kinds of families.  Working with such a large and diverse sample has taught me how many different ways there are to parent effectively.  It is incredibly useful to hear the views and insights of fellow parents.  Hearing a lot of different approaches allows you to get new perspectives and ideas for your own parenting.  

 

 

Does this sound like a group for you?  

Could you use a safe haven to share your woes, to compare notes, to get ideas on how other families handle things and to get access to my 25 years of expertise?  Let's talk.  Email me at elisabeth@stitt.com or call me at 650.248.8916 (Pacific time) to find out if the Middle School Moms’ Mastermind is the tribe you have been longing for!

Act now to reserve your spot.  

I am gathering a group of moms who are dedicated to supporting each other in being the best moms they can be.  I absolutely believe that you can love parenting your middle school child.  I know that I love helping parents find the joy in whatever age or stage their children are, and while I cannot guarantee 100% that you are going to love parenting your middle school children as much as I love teaching them, I do guarantee the fellowship of other women, lots of laughs and unstinting faith that you are the parent your child needs.  

Why don't you try a complimentary group coaching call?  Our next call is Wednesday, October 19 at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time.  (If this time doesn't work for you, let me know what does so that I can let you know when else we are meeting).  

I can’t wait to talk to you.

Warmly,

Elisabeth

Elisabeth Stitt/ Joyful Parenting Coaching/ 650.248.8916/ www.elisabethstitt.com

Set Your Kids Free: 10 Things They Need to Be Able to Do on Their Own by Middle School

Elisabeth Stitt

Reposted from October 18, 2015

 It used to be that kids were treated as mini adults, and now the pendulum has swung the other way and young adults are being treated (and acting) as overgrown kids.  You have probably heard about the damage of being a too intense parent--whether that means tiger mom or helicopter parent.  Now you may be wondering what should you be expecting of your child?  The early childhood markers of independence--sitting, walking, potty training, etc.--get talked about a lot, but what is reasonable to expect of our older children is not as clear.  Just what should our early adolescent/ middle school kids be able to do on their own?

    I started thinking about this from the kids' point of view.  That made me remember the children's literature I grew up on.  Many of my favorite books were about young people taking charge independently--often away from their parents.  Let's start with Enid Blyton's The Famous Five series.  Beginning with Five on a Treasure Island, five cousins spend the summer having one adventure after the next.  There is home base where meals are offered and the children check in, but the assumption of the adults seems to be that as long as they are out in the fresh air, together, that they are generally fine no matter what they are getting up to.  In the Swallows and Amazon books by Arthur Ransome, six children are given permission to camp on an island in the middle of a lake.  They cook over open fires and deal with the local "natives" (as the children refer to the adults) to procure supplies.  Another popular example of kids on a mission is From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. It is about two children who run away from the suburbs to New York City and who handle themselves very well.  In all these books, the children are supported by friends, cousins or siblings and range in age between around 9 and 13.  For me the common themes are that a) children are generally seen as very capable and b) they relish in the opportunity to show how able they are to take care of themselves.  

    When kids are very little we are aware of teaching them what they need to take care of themselves.  We do not expect infants to learn to sit, to walk, to talk, to use the potty by themselves.  Day after day, month after month, we train them and encourage them to take things one level further.  We also give a lot of enthusiastic reinforcement for each new thing they learn.  These days, however, as soon as kids hit school--whether that is preschool or Kindergarten--we tend to focus solely on their academic and extra curricular progress.  Once they learn to tie their own shoes, it is like they get frozen in childhood where we are still taking care of everything else for them.  The result is that we leave them to do a lot of learning on their own when they get to college or out into the world.  Doesn't it make more sense to bring them along a continuum of self care and autonomy right from the start?

    Based on twelve years as a middle school teacher, I have a good idea of what 11-14 year olds are capable of if it has been expected of them and their parents have taken the time to teach it to them in stages.  Here are my Top Ten Responsibilities Kids Should Be Taking by Middle School. 

1.  Get up, dressed and washed on their own.

    Do you still wake your child up for school?  Stop!  It should be their job to set their own alarm, to pick out appropriate clothes, and to have good routines for washing and brushing themselves.  Your only job should be to introduce deodorant when the need for it arises and to support the school's dress code.  

2.  Make their own breakfasts

    Kids are certainly capable of getting their own cereal, toast, frozen waffles, etc.  If your family manages a hot breakfast, that's fantastic.  Kids can also learn to make pancakes and eggs and the like with practice.  Starting around eight or nine, have them work alongside you.  Model the steps.  I hear you saying, they don't have time to get ready.  It is easier if I just do it for them.  Of course it is easier and faster not to take time to give kids the skills they need in the short run.  In the long run, it doesn't pay off.  (And while I'm talking about food, teach your five and six year olds to cut their meat with a knife.  With care and attention, they will not hurt themselves).  

3.  Make their own lunches

    Are you under the illusion that your child is eating her lunch?  I spent years--years!--lecturing students about not throwing away perfectly good food.  You know what their answer was? My mom doesn't like it when I come home without eating what she packs me. So, rather than deal with the conversation about why they didn't eat what was provided, kids throw away the evidence. Children who pack their own lunches pack food they know they'll eat.  They know what to pack and how much to pack. 

4.  Get to school on their own 

    Okay, you may balk at this one.  I know that lots of kids no longer go to their neighborhood schools and few school districts provide busses.  There are still ways to give kids their independence.  For one, stop being in charge of checking if they have remembered everything they are going to need for the day.  They are big enough to keep track of that on their own--and if they are not, suffering the natural consequences of not remembering will be a much faster teacher than your nagging and reminders.  Even if you are driving your kids to school, give them the anonymity of dropping them off three or four blocks away.  This ten minute walk will allow them at least a little taste of freedom--and you will make the school happy by improving the drop off/pick up congestion.  

5.  Do homework on their own

    The sooner you let your kids manage homework on their own the better.  So how do you scaffold that?  Help them set up a place and a routine for doing their work.  When they ask for help, encourage them to attack it on their own by asking supportive questions:  How could you approach this?  What is the assignment asking for?  How does this assignment look like other assignments you have done?  What strategy could you use here?  Ask--and then back off.  Give your child a chance to do it on his own.  Offer a lot a reassurance that he will figure it out.  If he has worked on it a reasonable amount of time (ten minutes per grade level total is a good overall recommendation--but that's a whole other blog), let it be okay for him to go to school without it done.  Help him set up a method like a folder for homework to turn in. Initially you can check that it gets into the folder and the folder into the backpack, but by third or fourth grade, if kids do not have the system down, they have not been taking responsibility for their own learning. (That is not to say that as each new school year begins it might not be necessary to check in with your child's system again.)

6.  Do some cooking and some cleaning

    It used to be that kids had to help out with chores just to keep the family alive.  In fact, the need for extra hands was one of the reasons for having large families.  Then for a long time, that was not true.  Modernization meant that machines started taking over some of the work and there was less to do.  Many mothers were able to stay home to take care of their households and their families.  Now that the pendulum has shifted back and 70% of mothers are in the workforce, families where everyone pitches in are much happier.  Children may groan about doing chores, but they hate having stressed out parents even more.  Get your kids involved in the daily tasks of cooking and cleaning, and they will have the pride of knowing that they have contributed positively to the family.  Being needed means that you are important, that your family couldn't get by without you.  That gives children a tremendous sense of security.  Knowing you can take care of yourself also reinforces your own self worth. 

7. Choose their own electives and extra-curricular activities 

     Parents have a tough job finding the fine balance between encouraging kids to try new things and at the same time to stick with activities long enough that they have the satisfaction of feeling truly accomplished.  At the end of it all, though, don't you want to know that your kids have found something they really love?  Not something that will look good on their college apps or will help them as adults--or even something that they are really good at--but just something that has them fully engaged and alive.  I had a sad conversation with a teen this summer who started off playing two sports:  Her mom loved one; her dad loved the other.  When she needed to choose just one do just one because of time constraints, she felt like she was choosing between making one parent happy or the other.  I asked if she is just crazy about this sport.  She said she liked hanging out with her friends on the team but that no, she doesn't just love it.  Imagine, she has spent hours and hours of her life pursuing something she only likes.

8.  Talk to teachers to get clarification on assignments, to ask for help, to ask questions about comments and grades received.  

    Your child's teacher is his first boss.  There is no academic lesson your child will learn that is more important than learning to negotiate his relationship with his teacher.  Learning to communicate with people in more powerful positions than you is an essential life skill, and practicing with one's teacher is the perfect opportunity:  The teacher may have power, but she is highly motivated for your child to be successful (after all, his success is her success).  Support your child in this relationship by role playing and rehearsing what he might say when he needs something from his teacher.  The more he can interact with his teacher, the easier it will become.  Only step in on your child's behalf if your child has tried a few interactions and hasn't gotten anywhere.  Again, the goal is not to swoop in and rescue your child from any feelings of discomfort.  Rather it is to support him through an uncomfortable situation so that he will be more at ease next time.

9.  Be able to handle money.

    Personal finance is not my area of expertise, so for this one, I'm going to connect you to Bill Dwight, CEO of a nifty website/product called FamZoo (FamZoo.com).  Read his blog here on 7 Practical Tips for Raising Money Smart Kids (http://blog.famzoo.com/2014/09/7-tips-for-raising-money-smart-kids.html).  This was the area I failed to scaffold and had to scramble to fill in the gaps as my daughter went off to college.  How I wish I had been developing her independence in this area all along.  

10.  Get around by themselves. 

    These days it seems like kids sit in the back seat of a car glued to an electronic device, oblivious to where they are, trusting their parent will get them to where they want to go.  When my stepson was learning to drive, my husband and he went to a store they often had gone to before in the next town north.  When they got back into the car, my husband said I want you to take us home without any help.  The ten minute trip took forty-five minutes because even though he had made the drive north, my stepson hadn't really paid attention to where he was beyond the step-by-step instructions my husband had given him.  Meanwhile, my daughter, two years away from being eligible for her driver's permit, was able to describe perfectly how to get home.  I chalk this up to the fact that because she and I had taken public transportation--and she had taken it on her own once I had done it with her--she had learned the major streets and landmarks near by.  Knowing she could find her way home--whether driving or on foot or using public transportation gave her enormous confidence.  

     Teaching your kids these lessons and setting these expectations for them for middle school means they will have time to master them by the time they hit high school.  Armed with self sufficiency and self efficacy, your teenager will be able to focus on expanding into the world--for jobs, for internships, for summer travel programs, to be leaders on school teams and in school clubs.  Most importantly, they will be ready to go off to college as the 18-year-old adults the state considers them to be.  They will have skills to handle roommates, a large campus with lots of buildings, clean clothes, getting themselves fed, handling their money, talking to professors, deans and resident assistances, etc. etc.  They will not find the need to text their parents every day just to stay on track.  Can you imagine checking in with your parents every day when you were in college?  No way!  To set your kids free, train them up bit by bit.  

Want more tips for kids and couples?  Get my blogs and newseletters HERE right in your inbox. Need support in setting your kids free?  get started by signing up HERE for a free 20-minute consult.  

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.  

Mining for Gold

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt 

There is no doubt that your child is going to have qualities that drive you crazy.  There is no doubt that your child is going to have qualities that cause you concern.  But your job as a parent is to be your child’s champion, to find the good in what your child presents to you.  Why? Because I bet you have experienced the pain of being mislabeled or misunderstood. 
     Try something for me.  Fill in the blank:  I am too _________________.  What’s the word that popped into your head?  Were you too shy? Too anxious? Too loud?  Too bold? Too Forward?  And whose voice in your head gave you that message?  Your mom or dad?  A grandparent?  Or maybe a teacher? 
     Try this one:  I am not ____________________ enough.  What word did you use this time?  Fast, smart, tall, thin, athletic, talented.  All those come to mind.   
     Over the years as a teacher I would ask my seventh graders to complete those two sentences.  What surprised me first was how easy it was for them to do the exercise, even though they were just twelve.  These were not labels they were getting in their teens.  No, these were labels that were already deeply stamped on them, ones that they had absorbed fully not as labels that could be removed but as gospel truths.  The second surprise was that as I heard their labels, they were so often not qualities that I associated with the child I knew sitting in my classroom. 
     What became clear to me is how fully children accept the labels we give them as adults.  Well, let’s start working that to our advantage.  When we think about and talk about our kids, instead of focusing on what we perceive as their deficits, let’s focus on their strengths
     My daughter Julie is as stubborn as the day is long.  Isn’t that wonderful?From the get-go her persistence has been a sight to behold.  As soon as she could crawl, she went everywhere that was open to her, whether it was leaving no toy undiscovered on the toy shelf or no stone unturned in the garden.  She is a committed truth seeker.  She didn’t have much language as a toddler, but I sure knew what she was asking as she tested me over and over:  Really, Mom?  Is the stove really hot?  You say it is, but I better try it out for myself.  What does hot mean?  Oh, and Mom, will you really follow through when I do something you have told me not to? 
     A lot of children will cross some limit you have given because they are tired or hungry and they just lose their control.  Julie had superb control.  I would tell her not to throw sand, and she would wait until I had moved away to sit on a bench for some adult conversation, look to make sure I was watching her and then, her eyes on me and not on the person she was throwing sand at, would carefully, deliberately throw the sand.  And yes, every time I would follow through.  What other children would accept as true, Julie investigated three times as long, coming back to whatever was in question again and again.  Wow!  What a kid.  And what an adult she has become!  A college sophomore, she is diligent and dogged.  She wants to go into neuroscience, a field where I think her stubbornness will serve her well.  I have no doubt that she has the stamina and tenacity to keep pushing and poking for the answers just the way she pushed and poked my patience when she was small.
     I hope I never told her, “Julie, you are too stubborn” or even “Stop being so stubborn,” though I’m sure when I asked if she had to have all the answers right now, she heard the threadbare frustration in my voice.  Maybe even she even heard my internal prayer, “Please, please, please keep me from killing this kid!”  She was not an easy toddler.  Nope.  She was the Energizer Bunny on steroids and at times she did me in, but her strong will and her clarity did leave me in awe. 
     So, your assignment this week is to consider the qualities in your children that you find the most difficult or worrisome.  Perhaps you have labeled them—out loud or in your mind.  Are they irresponsible? Bossy? Rebellious?  Now, go online and do a search for synonyms of the quality that is such a challenge to you.  Pick 8-10 synonyms and rank them from most negative to most positive, from a weakness to a strength.  For Julie, in my dark days it was obstinate, obdurate and obstreperous, but when I was my best parent I rejoiced at how single-minded and steadfast she was, how fixed and firm.    

     Once you have done your assignment, let us know here or email me at elisabeth@elisabethstitt.com what positive terms you have found.  What surprised you?  How has doing the assignment shifted your perspective?  

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June Newsletter: Building Trust

Elisabeth Stitt

 

As parents we want to be able to trust our kids.  So how do we raise kids we can trust? 

First and foremost we model trustworthiness right from the very beginning.  Every time your baby cries and you pick her up, you are teaching her she can trust you to attend to her needs. With your toddler, you show her trust by being consistent with your discipline.  As soon as you find a need to say, “no, that will hurt you,” you show her she can trust you to keep her safe.      

Later, you show your preschooler trustworthiness by keeping your word.  You pick her up on time.  You read her the story you promised you would read tonight.  You make cookies when you say you are going to.  If you can't keep your word, apologize sincerely, explain why and genuinely try not to let it happen that often. 

For your school age child, you model the truth by telling the truth in front of her.  If you want to take a sick day to do something fun with your kids, either communicate that to your boss in private or let your children hear you being up front with your boss about why you are taking time off:  Don't let your kid hear you "call in sick" and then take her to the zoo.  Remember, actions speak louder than words. 

One of the biggest ways to build trust is to protect your family time.  The debate over whether quality time is more important than quantity time continues.  Ask any child, however, and she will say she wants both: she wants to be involved right along side her parents’ lives, and she wants them to be involved in hers.  A parent helps build trust with a child by being there along side her, not taking over but guiding her when needed.  Do not confuse time when you are checking your email or texting a colleague as time with your children, even if they are standing right there; that is not something they cannot be a part of.  Helping you to fold laundry or prep dinner or water the garden are activities where she can show her competence and responsibility.  Those shared activities build trust. 

The connectedness gained through shared activities pays off when you have teenagers.  If you have been working along side each other, she has learned to trust you and she has shown over and over through her behavior that you can trust her.  In high school, she has no reason to lie because she respects you and does not want to lose your respect.  She may argue with you about her curfew, but in the end she will accept your word because she can trust your judgment.  After all, you have shown that she can trust you from day one.