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Joyful Musings--a weekly blog

Joyful Parenting Coaching is focused on clarity, consistency, connection, being an effective parent, finding balance as a parent, and above all being a confident and joyous parent. Topics include communication, having difficult conversations, having constructive conversations, chores, routines, family meetings,  I teach parent education and parenting classes because parenting is a skill—not something we are born knowing. Get the parenting skills you need today!

Filtering by Tag: parenting is hard

A is for Anxiety

Elisabeth Stitt

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.

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Don't take your teen so personally!

Elisabeth Stitt

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.  

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

Elisabeth Stitt

 

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

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

Elisabeth Stitt

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

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Your Success Rate As a Parent Is Greater Than You Think

Elisabeth Stitt

(In addition to being an author on parenting, Hogan is putting together an awesome in-person conference for parents in August 2017.  Called the United We Parent Conference, it will take place in Southern California and will include great speakers (like me!) and breakout groups for parents to share their insights and issues.)

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How Do You Deal with Your Kids When You and Your Husband Disagree?  

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

WE CARE SO DEEPLY,  IT IS HARD TO SHIFT OUR POSITION

Ideally, spouses will agree with each other.  Indeed, were the world ideal, that would be easy.  Parenting is so personal, however, that it really is hard for parents to have worked out ahead of time what they want their approach to be. Parenting decisions are arguably the most important you'll ever make!  Talk about pressure. It is hard to give up your own point of view.

FIND AREAS IN COMMON AND HAVE EACH OTHER'S BACKS

I find it helps when parents focus more on what they agree on than on what they disagree on.   The first key is that the core values are the same.  I find it very constructive when parents narrow in on 3-4 absolutes.  For example, “In our family we are kind” or “In our family, we take care of our things.”  Which values parents focus on is less important than the power of a consistently presented message around agreed upon ideas. If parents have a lot of agreement and emphasis on the biggies for their family, there will be less need to micromanage each other.  I coach most parents to give their partner more space to parent the way each wants to.  

The second key is that at least there is an agreement in place to support each other.  In my blended family, my husband and stepchildren agreed to eat at the table with the t.v. off when I was there.  Nights I wasn’t home, they ate in front of the t.v.  When my younger stepson asked why they didn’t when I wasn’t home, my husband said, “What matters is that Elisabeth cares, so when she is home, we do it for her.”  In this case, my husband didn’t share the value of sitting at the table, but he did have my back.  I, for my part, let go of trying to convince him that I was right or even why it was important to me.  It was enough that he supported me.  By each giving each other some space, we both kept peace and presented a united front.  

ACCEPT DIFFERENCES IN THE LITTLE THINGS

As long as the core values are in place, it is okay for parents to have different approaches.  If Dad is supervising homework and he says yes to 15 minutes of shooting hoops before getting started, Mom should walk away, even if she has a problem with it.  In the same vein, if Mom is happy to have all the toys thrown into one big bin, Dad needs to wait until he is in charge to have kids sort the toys into separate bins.  Kids can handle two standards to some extent.  That being said, I do find it useful for spouses to have a rule that says kids have to take the first answer they get.  Of course, sometimes this will just mean that kids will go to the parent from whom they can get the yes.  In my own family growing up, that meant that my father always defaulted back to, “Ask your mother” or “Yes, if Mommy says so," but what is really important is that one parent's yes cannot fall to the other parent.  In other words, if mom says yes to a sleepover at Annie's, she cannot now expect dad to drop what he is doing to drive their daughter to the sleepover--or to be the one to pick her up in the morning.  Or if dad says yes to watching a movie that will keep kids up after bed time, it is not fair if mom is the one dealing with rude, grumpy children in the morning.

MAKE SURE THE DOWN SIDE OF YOUR PARENTING DECISIONS DON'T FALL TO YOUR PARENTING PARTNER

Similarly, for parents co-parenting from two separate households, I like the rule that dad cannot say yes to something that is on mom's day.  If my daughter wanted a play date on my weekend, she had to call and ask me.  That made it simpler as for the most part as we didn’t have to agree.  On the other hand, we had little control over what the other spouse did—and sometimes that made it really hard for me to hold my tongue.  For instance, my daughter's dad said yes to her going rock climbing with friends.  That freaked me out, but in the short run a) it was too late for me to do anything about it, and b) it was more important to back up my trust in her father than to make a big scene.  

IN MOST CASES, RELATIONSHIP SHOULD TRUMP PARENTING STYLE

The bottom line here is that the relationship between the parents is usually more important than a particular parenting decision.  Children can thrive with a wide variety of parenting styles as long as they feel safe and secure.  They get that from having their parents on the same page.  

Are You a Bad Mother?

Elisabeth Stitt

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. 

Tips for Getting Kids to Sleep and to Stay Asleep

Elisabeth Stitt

Here are some of my guidelines for getting kids to sleep and to stay asleep

 

Consistency, consistency, consistency

The actual practice that a parent sets up for getting a child to fall asleep independently is less important than that he sticks with it from as early an age as possible.  At heart we are creatures of habit, and like Pavlov’s dogs, given stimulus A we will react with response A.  That means the same general sequence of events—done night after night--will signal to our body, sleep time is coming. 

•Put your kids to bed earlier than you might think.

If your child needs to up by 7:30 a.m. in order to get through the morning routine and off to childcare on time, she should probably be asleep by around 7:30 p.m.  That means starting bedtime around 7:00 p.m.!  That might seem impossible.  By the time you are coming in from work and picking your kids up from childcare, you might be lucky to get dinner on the table by 7:00 p.m. If your child is a really solid napper (at least 2-3 hours a day), you might be able to fudge this, but if you have a kid like mine—who was down to one hour-long nap after lunch at around 18 months—you are going to need to protect her nighttime sleep.  The inherent problem in this is that it gives you very little time to actually interact with your child.  Unfortunately, our children’s need for sleep has not caught up with our modern day schedules. Furthermore, if your child is cranky and having tantrums because she is overtired, not only is she going to have a harder time falling asleep but the time you spend together is going to be tense and stressed.  

• Find  2-3 markers for a bed time routine.  

For my kids “bedtime” was change into pajamas, one story and one song, and then a sleepy time music track that played for around 45 minutes that got turned on as the parent walked out the door. Changing into pajamas and reading a story was done with reduced lighting.  The song (including a little back rubbing) was done by the light of the night light.  Parents should beware of a too long list of bedtime rituals as it makes it very hard on a night when you come in late from an activity or having gone to dinner at a friend’s.  Tasks like taking a bath can be on a list I call “Before bedtime tonight we have to….”  By phrasing it that way, if it should happen that you come in too late for a bath, you aren’t changing the bedtime routine.  

•Ideally, train infants to fall asleep by themselves so they are already in the habit as toddlers.

Parents who give their infant her last feed of the day while she is still awake (I advise doing it in a different room from where her crib is) may have a harder time teaching her to fall asleep alone in her crib in the short run, but they will have much better sleepers as toddlers.  These babies know how to put themselves to sleep and back to sleep when they wake in the night. 

•Kids can “practice” good sleep habits at a time when it is not bed time!

What do you do as an adult to help you fall back asleep?  Somewhere along the way, you developed a trick—and I bet that most nights it works.  I don’t count sheep but I do do my times tables.  Other times I practice meditative breathing—Breathe six counts in, hold it six counts, breathe six counts out, hold it out six counts.  Kids can start with three counts and work their way up.  Even 18 month olds can learn to do belly breaths by placing a pillow or stuffy on the stomach and practice watching the stuffy go up and down.  Kids can also learn to do progressive relaxations by tensing and then relaxing different parts of their bodies working from their toes to the crown of their heads.  All these techniques can be practiced in the middle of the day where you are there to guide them through it.  You can set them up for success by asking, “If you need help falling asleep, which technique are you going to use?”  

•Once it is sleeping time, interact with your child as little as possible

If you have a toddler with challenging sleep habits and you are just getting started at establishing good ones, know that it is going to be a slow process.  The trick is to take baby steps forward, but no steps backward.  The first step is to make yourself minimally interesting once you have gotten up to leave the room.  Even if you have to physically put your child back in bed, do so with as little comment and eye contact as possible.  (On a side note, if you were someone who could let your children “cry it out,” you probably would have done that already.  It only works if you are absolutely 100% consistent, so unless you are 100% committed, I don’t recommend it.)

 There are, however, ways of weaning your child from his need for your presence as he falls asleep. If you have been lying down with your child in order for him to fall asleep, tell him that from now on you won’t lie down with him, but you will sit next to him.  When he is accepting that without tears and tantrums, tell him that from now on you won't sit next to him where he can still touch you, but you will sit at the end of the bed with your hand on his foot.  Once he can fall asleep with you at the foot of the bed, move to sitting next to the bed on the floor or on the chair.  Progressively you are going to move closer and closer to the bedroom door.  Eventually, you are going to sit outside the bedroom door as he falls asleep and one day (miracles of miracles), you are going to close that door—maybe even all the way!  

 

This process might take 3-4 weeks and feel like torture to you (after all, when you lay down with your kids while they fell asleep, there were no tears and you probably got a little nap, too!), but imagine that three weeks from now bedtime from start to finish takes around 15 minutes and your child puts himself back to sleep when he wakes up for the night!  Imagine your kid not waking up tired because he has gotten enough sleep.  Imagine spending time connecting with your spouse in the evening.  Or taking a long shower.  Or going to bed on time yourself!

 

Good sleeping habits support a good future

Good sleep is so important for learning.  Establishing good habits early on can support good study habits for school all the way through.  Despite taking hard classes and getting good grades, my daughter had relatively few moments in high school where she was completely stressed.  Even in college she goes to sleep by 10:00 p.m.  She organizes her studies so that she does not have to pull all nighters and gets 8-9 hours of sleep a night.  Good sleep wards against depression or a dependency on caffeine or other stimulants to perform. Putting in the work now to develop good habits, might be one of the most important parenting steps you take.  

Teaching your children to be good sleepers might be the most important thing you do for your marriage.  

Admittedly, I do not have any studies to support this claim, but my personal experience in dealing with families is that households where "bedtime" takes a couple of hours are more stressed than ones where kids go to bed relatively quickly with minimum support from their parents.  Parents need time to regroup, to be "off the clock."  They need time to connect each other and to connect to themselves.  

NEED SOME HAND HOLDING WHILE GOING THROUGH THE PROCESS OF ESTABLISHING NEW HABITS?

Let me help!  As much as you are retraining your kids' expectations around bedtime and falling asleep independently, you are retraining yourself to stand firm and committed to valuing good sleeping habits in your house.  Regular coaching calls give you a place to vent and to strategize.  Sign up HERE for a "Getting to Know You" call and we can make a plan that works for your family.

Rewriting the Scene

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

Do you fall victim to other people’s opinions and judgment?  Do you go out into public and cringe every time your child doesn’t behave?  Do you get tenser and tighter and lose track of your best parenting self? 

You’ve probably heard that quote (or something like it) that says, “Between stimulus and response there’s a space.  In that space is our power to choose a response.  In our response lies our growth and freedom.” 

Let’s consider that quote.

At your best—when you are well-rested, calm, in love with your children—you make good parenting choices, don’t you?  As your best self, they do something naughty or rude or irritating, and you are warm, firm and creative.  Whatever the problem was, you smooth it over and reengage them in something constructive and fun. 

But let’s think of some of those agonizing parenting moments when you are tired, stressed and at the end of your rope.  Maybe some stranger is ready to tell you exactly what you should be doing. Their comments are like an arrow in your heart and you are ready to die of mortification

 Who I Am at My Worst

I know what I am at my worse:  I’m bossy, insensitive, hyper-aware of who’s looking at me and overanalyzing my every parenting move.  I snap, I grab, I glare, I threaten, I bribe.

See if you recognize yourself in this scene:

[Scene: grocery store]

Me:  Stop that!  Don’t touch.  Put that down.  Julie, I’m warning you.  Put that down.  Put that down right now. 

[I grab Julie’s arm, glare at her, and pull her away roughly.]

Me:  Put that down right now or we are going to march right out of this store with nothing for dinner tonight.  Come on, dear.  Put that down and you can have a cookie. 

And here is what the internal monologue would be:

Me:  You are such a bad mother.  Why can’t you control your child? Look, look over there.  That toddler is just sitting quietly in the cart.  Why can’t my child be like him?  I am so mad at you, Julie.  I am going to die of shame.

And here is what I would be hearing around me:

         You should take that child outside!

         Stop yelling at your child.  That is not going to help anything.

         When are you going to teach that child some manners?

         If a child of mine behaved that way, she’d get a swift swat. 

Shifting from Our Worst Selves to Our Best Selves

So how do we shift from being our worst selves to our best selves?  Let’s go back to our quote:  Between stimulus and response there’s a space.  In that space is our opportunity to make a choiceThe bigger the space, the more likely we are to reject our own fight or flight response.

The million dollar question becomes, what can we do to stretch the time between stimulus and response?  My answer? Rehearse!  Yep. I spend a lot of time rehearsing conversations/scenes in my head.  For example, as I am driving from work to picking Julie up knowing we are going to have to nip into the store, I rehearse how I am going to handle my daughter’s inevitable whiny crankiness. 

In my mind the scene looks something like this. 

[As we walk towards the store entrance and get a cart]

Me:  [warmly squeezing Julie’s hand and infusing my voice with excitement]

Are you ready to help Mommy in the store?  You can help me put things in the cart.  You can help me count things.  You are such a big help to Mommy.  Here we are.  Can you find the apples? 

[Julie cries out and points to the bin of caramel candies.]

Me:  Not today, darling. 

[She squawks louder and bangs on the cart.]

Shopper:  That child should be taken out!

Me [to Julie]:  I know, sweetie!  Those candies do look good and you’d really like to have one.  Hold this apple while a get a bag.  Thank you!  Are you ready to count?  Into the bag!  There’s one.  Here’s two.  Last one.  That makes three! 

 The Cheerfully Calm Parent

Feel the power of that scene.  Are you rolling your eyes going, yeah, right, like that would work.  It does! 

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Parenting is a confidence game.  The cheerfully confident and calm parent can smooth over a host of dicey situations

Remember that Rogers and Hammerstein line from The King and I:  “And when I fool, the people I fool, I fool myself as well.”  That’s the trick. 

When you rehearse scenes in your brain ahead of time over and over, you are laying down the neural pathways for that response.  That means that in that moment—that space between stimulus and response—you have a pre-rehearsed script for your brain to retrieve and apply.  As with anything you practice, this tip will help you react as your best self.  More and more, calm and confident will become your ingrained, automatic response. 

As with so much in life, effective parenting starts with setting a positive intention, but it is habit-forming practices that will see you through when the going really gets tough.  

 Putting It into Practice

To get started, take one of your worst parenting moments and go ahead and rewrite it.  If you really want to fix it in your mind, take the time to literally write out the scene by hand.  Then anticipate when you are going to next need your revised script and be ready to pull it up.  You can do it!

Rewriting scenes is the kind of exercises in each of my chapters in my book Parenting as a Second Language: A Guidebook to Joyfully Navigating the Trials, Triumphs and Tribulations of Parenthood. The book provides excellent opportunities for reflection and coming to know yourself better as a parent.  Or if you'd like help directly, sign up for a 20 minute Rewrite Session.

Happy Parenting,

Elisabeth

 

 

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.  

The Confidence Game: What It Takes to Empower Parents

Elisabeth Stitt

Mercedes Samudio of The Parenting Skills interviews Elisabeth Stitt of Joyful Parenting Coaching

1.    What does it mean to empower parents?

Well, parenting is a confidence game, so to me, empowering parents has a lot to do with developing their confidence. 

2.   How do you empower parents in your work?

To me, a lot of confidence comes from knowing that you have a plan. Getting clear is about focusing on your values and prioritizing them.  The advantage of clarifying your values is that it helps you know where you’re going, both in the short run and in the long run.  In fact because it is so important, I start most of my workshops asking parents to list out and prioritize their values. This allows parents to focus on what is important to them and not worry too much about the rest of it.  Let me give you an example.  Let’s say that one of your values is being safe.  Then let’s say that your kids are running around the courtyard making a ton noise screeching like banshees.  You might feel like it’s a bit much, but you see that you are disturbing anyone else and you ask yourself, Is it safe?  Since the answer is yes, you decide to let them keep running.  Now, if you have a value of kids being calm and controlled, you would probably ask them to settle down.  Running around and screaming would be a clear point to take action. 

3.   What are some skills you know that parents need to feel smart and empowered in their parenting role? 

Well, I’m not sure I would call it a skill—more of a quality that I’d like parents to cultivate—and that is EMPATHY.  Being empathetic is one of best tools in your tool belt.  We used to give kids time outs to send the message that if you cannot behave nicely, you cannot be part of the group.  Neuro science has helped us understand in the last 10-15 years that children actually learn more about self-regulation when we are empathetic.  At the end of the day we want children to be able to feel negative emotions and then process them themselves—either by using their words with us and others or through their own self talk.  By offering empathy when they are upset, our calm helps their nervous systems calm down.  When kids feel safe and supported, they are better able to access their prefrontal cortex which is where their clear thinking and reasoning goes on.  I know to some parents it might feel like you are babying your child.  After all, he starts to cry and whine, your instinct might be to put him away from you and ignore him.  Current research actually invites us as parents to get close and offer empathy,  “I know son. It is hard having to pick your toys up and go to bed.”  This doesn’t mean of course that you should require your child to pick up his toys when you ask.  Being empathetic does NOT mean not being firm and following through.  It does mean not yelling or nagging.  This might mean that you put your hands on his toys so he cannot use them, while at the same time looking in his eye, empathizing that it is hard, but then repeating firmly.  It is time to pick up your toys.”

4.   What do you think is the most common parenting issue that you come across? Why? 

Well, with little kids it is very clearly tantrums and out of control behavior, and that is totally developmentally appropriate.  Think how you feel when you are on a steep learning curve—maybe you have a new job—everything is different and the company culture is totally different than your lastone, so strategies and approaches you used there aren’t working, and you feel at best like a fish out of water and at worse like an incompetent failure.  That’s pretty much what little kids are encountering all the time—new skills, new concepts, new situations, new expectations.  AND they have to rely on us to make sure they have had had enough rest, sleep and food.  That’s a lot to regulate.  It’s no wonder that they lose it.  That’s why empathy is so important.  When you start from the point of recognizing that your child does not want to be out of control, it is much easier to put your arms around him, give him a big hug and see if that will push the restart button. 

5.    Can parents bring other aspects of themselves into their parenting role to help them manage their families more effectively? 

Of course!  My husband is an engineer.  That means he is logical, linear thinker.  It also means that he gets less upset about what has happened (the vase broke, the bike got stolen) and is more concerned about how to solve the problem.  This is a wonderful example for our kids because it tells them that though stuff will happen, what is important is how you move forward from there. 

6.   Share one of your favorite ways to work with parents and families.

Well, one of my favorite programs that I offer is my Six Week Group Coaching Program that offers a combination of group webinars on specific topics and one-one individual coaching to modify what we have learned to the needs of each individual family.  Lots of time a parent will read an article with a tip or technique and it will seem to make sense to them, but when they go to put it in action, it just doesn’t work.  That’s where the individual coaching makes such a difference. 

7.   Why do you think our society has such a difficult time supporting parents?

Wow.  That’s a complex one because it has so many pieces.  When people say that parenting used to be easier, I think one of the main reasons was that families lived closer together.  Families were more connected.  They visited each other all the time.  My sister lives five miles from me, and we practically have to put a date on the calendar to see each other—much less gather our husbands and children.  By the time I have driven one child to a soccer game here and another one to a birthday party there—and she has gotten her children to where they need to be—the chance of there being time to just hang out goes way down.  Running around like a chicken with my head cut off means that I don’t have time to sit at the kitchen table and compare notes with another family with kids my age.  We’re always so rushed, we tend to keep things superficial with our friends and colleagues.  We share the highlights on Facebook, but we never get the advice and reassurance that used to support parents. 

8.   Do you have any thing else that you want to share with us? Oh, thank you for asking.  I would love to tell listeners about my new book, Parenting as a Second Language: A Guidbook for Joyfully Navigating the Trials, Triumphs and Tribulations of Parenthood.  The premise is that parenting is not something we are born knowing how to do.  We are social creatures living in social groups.  Historically, children were always near at hand, so parenting was spoken and modeled all around you.  Nowadays, lots of parents—even moms—come to parenting having done no babysitting, no childcare.  They haven’t spent time any around kids since they were kids themselves.  That means they do not know how to speak parenting, so arriving home with a new infant is like being in a foreign country and not knowing the words and phrases you need.  No wonder parents are so anxious!  Well, that’s where my book comes in.  It is a combination of stories—some of my most embarrassing ones!—to illustratepoints and concrete exercises parents can do to help them become more confident, effective parents.  Parenting is a skill.  It can be learned and practiced, just like learning a foreign language.  Parenting as a Second Language helps you do that.  I would be thrilled for your audience to go to Amazon, buy the book, read it and then come over to my Facebook Author's page and join the discussion.  We still need the parenting village.  Now we are finding it with people like you, Mercedes, who are providing a chance to hear the language of parenting through interviews like this one.

Surviving the Evil Five O'Clock Hour: Planning, Setting Expectations and Executing

Elisabeth Stitt

PLANNING

     One of my nightmares as a mother was having to go shopping--or anywhere actually--during the Evil 5 O'Clock Hour.  I don't know how it is for you, but for me 5:00-6:00 every day was always a hump to get over.  It went best when I made myself available to give my child some undivided attention--maybe for playing in the yard if it wasn't too dark and cold or for some cozy book reading.  Best yet was when I had the emotional energy to just quietly follow her lead no matter how silly it might make me look.   So, needless to say, to weather that twilight hour when it seemed like my child would cry at the drop of a hat, I tried my best to not make other plans.  Not to have to be cooking dinner, not to have to be meeting with a repair man, and above all not to have to go to any kind of store, but most especially the grocery store.  

SETTING EXPECTATIONS

      Of course, life didn't always work that way.  Sometimes, I really had pushed things to the absolute limit and the stars converged such that the diapers ran out and the milk went sour on the same day that I'd have a staff meeting at school and not be able to nip into the store before picking my daughter up at childcare.  If I knew in the morning that that was going to be the case, I did my best to use my time in the car on the way to school to tell my daughter what pick-up time was going to be like--that I was going to be in a hurry, that I wouldn't be able to walk around with her and see the dolly she played with or her painting that was still hanging on the line drying.  I also used this time to ask her if she could think of anything that would help make the quick dash out the door easier for her.  Would it help if we made it a contest and saw if she could do it in 2 minutes?  Would it help if we asked an adult to give her a five minute warning before my arrival?  Would it help if we agreed ahead of time that just this once I could do up her coat by myself?  Would it help if she got an extra big hug from her favorite teacher?  Even before she was really talking, my daughter could communicate these kinds of preferences if I made enough guesses.  My aim was twofold:  One, to give her choice in how we left even if there was no choice about stopping at the store on the way home and two, to have something to remind her about when I got to school to nudge her along.  

     In the case that I didn't have time to warn her that we were going to have to go to the store, it was essential that I pull her aside at childcare into some quiet corner.  I would get her on my lap and hold her until I had her attention.  Sometimes, this meant a tantrum right there at childcare.  It was a break from her routine.  I was springing on her that her evening routine was going to be altered.  She wouldn't get her playtime with mommy before dinner.  Sometimes just holding her on my lap and not letting her run around the center would set her off crying.  That was okay with me.  Remember I started by saying that even on a good day my child is more likely to cry between 5:00 and 6:00 o'clock?  It's as if all the emotional stresses of the day had built up and she was just looking for an excuse to cry them out.  Frankly, if she was going to have a meltdown, I would rather that she have it at the center where we could sit on a beanbag in the corner than that she have it in the middle of the cereal aisle.  Yes, a tantrum takes time.  You cannot hurry it along,  and I admit that while I was sitting there letting her wail it out,  I was mentally revising my shopping list down to the bare essentials I could get away with getting without making tomorrow a hard day, too.  On a happier note, the miracle of a good cry is that it really is like letting the storm wash through with its thunder and lighting.  At the end of it, my daughter's tension would be spent and almost without exception she would be ready to calmly go to the store.  

     Although it might seem counter intuitive, the last minute trips to the store when she hadn't had a chance to cry were by far the dicier ones, the ones which required every bit of patience and creativity on my part to move us along without upset.  Again, I would use the time in the car to set the expectations for what would happen once we got to the store:  We were only getting a few things (could she hold the list for me?); we weren't getting anything that wasn't on the list (that meant no requests for raspberries, dinosaur pasta or "special treat" cereal); but we were getting apples (did she want red or green?).  Again, I would ask her what might make going to the store easier?  Could we use the special cart that she could drive?  Yes, if it was free, but what if it wasn't free?  Did she want to sit in the cart?  Would she keep her bottom down?  Otherwise she was going to be sitting up in the front part right in front of Mommy.  How could she help Mommy?  Could she count the apples?  Sort the food by whether or not it went in the fridge or the cupboard?  Hold the reusable grocery bags and hand them to the bagger?  My main aim here in addition to letting her know what kind of behavior would be expected was to make her feel needed and included.  Instead of my dragging her to the store because I had no choice, I would pose it as how lovely it was that she was there to assist me.  

EXECUTING

     Once we got to the store, I was all about cheerful confidence that we were going to be quick and that the trip was going to be fun.  Often, I would turn it into a song and we would skip through the parking lot (Yes, I skipped in public.  If it made a five o'clock shopping trip go off without a hitch, dignity be damned).  We would sing:  We're going to the store/We're going to the store/Hi Ho the Merry-o,/We're going to the store.  If it was working, we'd add more verses (We'll buy the apples first/We'll buy the apples first/Hi Ho the Merry-o/We'll buy the apples first).  As we were singing, we wouldn't have to stop to have conversation about which cart we'd use or where she would sit because we had already worked that out in the car.  If she did decide to resist, I wouldn't let her change her mind because I knew that if I gave in on that first agreement, all I was doing was putting off the inevitable battle for inside the store.  Instead, I would get down to eye level, hold her hands or stroke her arms and gently remind her of her agreement.  Sometimes that brought on a crying jag right there outside the store [Let me offer up a small prayer of thanks here that I was parenting in California.  The weather was rarely so bad that we couldn't take the time to have the tantrum outside the store.  If it had been, I suppose I would have had to go back to the car and let her do her crying there.]  

     You know as well as I do that a grocery store is specifically designed as a land mine that a parent must negotiate through.  Yes, the store does deliberately place toys and yummy snacks right where a child is most likely to see them.  That's why I would use the shopping list plus empathy.  My daughter would cry out in great need for something--bubbles, maybe--and I would say, "Aw, too bad it is not on the list!"  And then as I pushed by the bubbles, I might add in my most energized voice, "I love bubbles!  They're so much fun!!  I like the way they shimmer with different colors!!  Don't you think bubbles are just the prettiest?"  At this point, on a good day, my daughter would get excited just talking about bubbles.  By the time she got back to wanting to buy them, we would be aisles away and looking for the next item on the list.  On a bad day, this might be where the tears finally appeared.  Remember, some days there are just tears that need to fall.  A child has been keeping it together all day at school, but now that she is with you, her parent, she can safely fall apart secure in the knowledge that you won't abandon her.  At this point, you have to make a decision.  It might be possible to keep offering sympathy while at the same time going down your shopping list:  "Aw, Sweetie.  I know you really wanted those bubbles,  You really like them and really wish you could get some.  I know that's hard, Pumpkin.  I wish I could make it easier for you."   For my own part, if the crying was at a reasonable decibel and I didn't think I was making the other patrons suffer too badly, I would push through my list, continuing to murmur comforting sounds, taking her hand if she would let me.  If it was really bad, I would ask the clerk at the front of the store to watch my cart and head outside until she finished crying.  Once she was done--and that could be a while--we would head back in and finish.

AT THE END OF THE DAY

     Boy.  I am feeling a bit overwhelmed just writing this, just remembering how hard it could be.  I certainly didn't make it through my daughter's childhood without some very trying evenings.  On the other hand, there were lots of successful times, too, when setting expectations and going into the store with a sense of adventure won the day--days when other parents would look at me enviously and older parents would smile at me indulgently.  These were good tricks to have in my bag.  But never forget the best trick of all:  Whenever possible, at the end of the day, do the planning that WON'T require you to tax your child during the bewitching hour.  

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