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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 plan

6 Bad Habits All Parents Should Drop

Elisabeth Stitt

I was happy to contribute to this article on bad habits parents should drop.  I had cell phones on my mind--and getting them under control is absolutely important--but I love the points the other 5 contributors make, as well.  Probably one will resonate more than the others as being especially hard for you.  Focus on that one and consider what kind of plan you can come up for yourself. 

Click HERE to see which of the 6 Bad Habits Parents Should Drop you fall prey to.

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Is Your Child Spoiled?

Elisabeth Stitt

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

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

Read on to find out the solutions. 

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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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Actions Speak Louder Than Words.

Elisabeth Stitt

A recent Quora question was how do we teach our children priorities.  The answer is simple.  Every time you make a choice, you are teaching your child your priorities.

You are in the middle of cooking dinner, and your child demands that you stop what you are doing and come see this marvelous bug that he is looking at.

If you turn off the stove and go look, you are prioritizing curiosity, discovery, enthusiasm and in-the-moment excitement.

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Every Day Is Labor Day!

Elisabeth Stitt

And Every Day is Independence Day...

by Elisabeth Stitt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations for Building Independence:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be the Architect of Your Family: Build Connection Through Family Projects

Elisabeth Stitt

 

 

When's the last time you sat down as a family and got your fingers sticky together?! 

If your family goes to a regular religious service, you already have a lot of ceremony and ritual built into your life.  These practices not only connect your kids to a greater power, they make them feel more connected to you.  As you sit in physical proximity focused on a common uniting experience, your energies and body rhythms line up and match

 Have a Deliberate Plan for Connection

Families without the external structure of coming together have to be more purposeful about creating these experiences that will nourish your children’s sense of being woven into a part of the bigger whole that is your family. 

Of course, playing a game or cooking a meal together as a family are wonderful ways to bond, but some children need something more concrete or visual.  That’s why I love the idea of putting some time aside as a family to do a project that represents the family.  

Here’s an idea you might try:  Family Placemats

Purpose:  To create a visual depiction of family memories and values; to have each family member contribute equally; to foster a positive view of both individual members and of the family as a whole.

Procedure:

1.    Print out or draw multiple pictures of each family member (pets included!).

2.    Create multiple sentence stems and have each family member fill them out:

Ex:  What I love about our family is _________________________.

        We are the kind of family that __________________________.

      My favorite family memory is when ___________________.

      Our family is special because we ________________________.

3.    Brainstorm other symbols or images that represent your family.  Perhaps you will print out pictures or maps of where your family comes from or what you love to do together. 

4.    Use markers to write the positive qualities of the family members in large print.  Are there people in your family who are thoughtful? Funny? Disciplined? Creative? Hard working? Good problem solvers?  Write those things down.  Don’t attach names to them.  In this case, we are deemphasizing the traits of the individual and instead displaying what are the strengths this family team has together.  

5.    One you have a rich pile of materials, give each family member a placemat size piece of construction paper.  Have each person take one item from the pile and glue it onto the placemat.  Now hand each table mat clockwise to the next person.  Again, each person will choose something from the pile to glue to the placemat.  Once done, rotate again.  Continue this process until each placemat is full and/or the pile of materials has been used up.

6.    Once the glue has thoroughly dried, cover the placemats with clear contact paper or take them to your local copy shop and have them laminated. 

 

Benefit:

  Not only will this project allow for you to focus on what makes you unique as a family, but it will be an oasis of time when you are creating goodwill among you.  Even more importantly, by creating the placemats in the round-robin style, no one person feels ownership over the design of any one placemat.  Each mat will reflect the developmental stages of your children and will be a mixture of more or less sophisticated efforts depending on their ages and personalities. (No perfectionism allowed here!)  Because you have all had a hand in creating each one, when it comes to using them, family members will be delighted to get whichever one they happen to get. 

Think this idea is too corny to do with your older kids?  Think again!  Make some excuse if you need to.  Perhaps one of your children is entering high school—or even moving away to go to college or get a job.  Tell your kids you want to mark this passage and have a way to daily remember the best part of being a family, even as kids grow up and outward.   Teens might not admit to enjoying such a family project, but they will secretly treasure it and carry with them that warm fuzzy feeling of family love and connection. 

One last rule!  Ban electronics from the table while doing this project. The point is to come together as a family—not to each be checking Snapchat or Facebook.  Your kids might grumble, but in the end they will be glad they have done it.  

Happy Gluing!  Looking for other ideas for bring your family together and creating good will?  Let's do a strategy session on that!

Constructive Conversations: 4 Tips to Reveiw

Elisabeth Stitt

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

CHORES! The Way to Making Your Kids Successful and Happy

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

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

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

1.   Doing Chores Raises Self Esteem

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

2.  Doing Chores Makes Kids Feel Needed

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

3.  Doing Chores Shares the Work

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

4.  Kids Doing Chores Reduces Parental Stress

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

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

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

And that's not all!!

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

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

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

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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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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Building the Consistency Muscle: Tip 6: Prepare Physically for Battle

Elisabeth Stitt

(Catching this series in the middle?  No problem.  Scroll down and start with Tip 1.  Feeling overwhelmed or unsuccessful?  That is also no problem.  Go back and work on Tips 1 and 2 until they feel really solid.)

So, Prepare Physically for Battle.  Do I really mean go to the gym and work out?  Well, only sort of.  But we all know that we never do our best parenting when we are feeling tired and worn out.  So, set yourself up for success by being well rested.  Develop a meditation practice or find some simple yoga practices on YouTube.  Plan on taking a walk on your lunch hour at work.  At home with the kids all day?  Nap when they nap.  Worried that your new meal time expectations are going to increase the tension for a while? You might even want to sneak in a high protein afternoon snack so that even if your meal is upset, you will have energy to sustain you.  Really need a break?  Get yourself a babysitter one night and forget to mention the new dinner table policy!  Maybe plan a meal in an alternate setting where the rule just won’t come up.  A picnic with all finger food would make it mighty hard to hold a phone!  Put whatever structure in place you need to sustain your determination to see the new policy through until it becomes a habit.  If you are not absolutely convinced this is a rule you want, don’t even start.  To build success, you need to start with something you care deeply about.  (That is what makes the values clarification piece so important.)

On a slightly different note, some of you have asked about how to create appropriate consequences--that you are ready to enforce them; you just don't know which ones to use.  Yes!  I admit, I glossed right over that as it is a big topic.  Stay tuned, however.  I promise that as soon as we are done with the Building Consistency series, I will break down Effective Consequences step by step.