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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 styles

Is Childcare Hurting Your Child?

Elisabeth Stitt

Teasing out what are the effects of child care--especially long term--on children is no easy task and, yet, is understandably one that has an enormous effect not only on our own children but also on society as a whole.  The truth is, researchers don't really know whether or how much childcare might be hurting us.  Here are my ideas.  

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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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I Just Want My Husband and Me to Be on the Same Page

Elisabeth Stitt

“I adore my husband, but I hate parenting with him. I feel like I can handle the kids alone, but he comes in and mixes it all up."  Seriously, when parents contact me, conflict with one's spouse about how he or she parents is always some part of what is keeping their household from being as fully calm and harmonious as they want it to be.  That means that one of my biggest roles as a parenting coach is to help parents get on the same page.  Here are the 4 steps I teach to becoming a united parenting team.  

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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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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.  

Setting Your Kids Free by Teaching Them a Love of Learning

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt      

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

DEVELOPING A LOVE OF LEARNING

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

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

ARE YOU A HELICOPTER PARENT?

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

MAKE THE LEARNING THEIRS

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

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

A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE

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

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

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

My Spouse and I Just Can't Seem to Get on the Same Parenting Page

Elisabeth Stitt

I hear that from clients all the time.

In fact, the first time I heard it was from my sister complaining about my brother-in-law.  Now, my brother-in-law is just about the nicest, most generous man you can imagine.  I love being a guest in his house because the moment I walk in the door, he makes me feel like a queen who should get her every need and desire met.  Great qualities for a good host!  But unchecked, meeting a child's every desire is not healthy--especially when Hank would come in the room and contradict what my sister, Allie, had just said. 

The scene might go like this:

Kids:  We want waffles for breakfast!

Allie:I know you do, but we've run out of eggs, so it is going to be cereal this morning.

Kids:  But we want waffles!

Hank:  What's this? You want waffles?  Of course, you can have waffles!

Allie:  Hon, we have no eggs, and I've just told the kids it's cereal instead.

Kids:  But, Daddy, we want waffles!

Hank:  You want waffles?  We can do waffles.  I'll run to the store for eggs.

Lucky kids, right?  Yes, in the sense that they feel seen and heard and important, but kids really do need to learn that sometimes they don't get what they want.  Sometimes they have to make do with an alternative.  Most importantly, however, kids need to know that their parents are in agreement and that they won't undermine each other.  

My sister and brother-in-law are a great example of how qualities which are attractive in a mate--who wouldn't want to be made to feel like a queen?--are not always the ones you want in your child's father or mother--unless toned down to the common ground  Allie and Hank were eventually able to work out.  

And I get it. I've been there, too. Here's an example.  (It may seem petty, but the fact that it drives me nuts is exactly what makes co-parenting so hard.)  My husband is not a conserver of natural resources.  In other words, he leaves on every light in the house and he lets the water gush forth while shaving (Did I mention we live in drought-stricken California?).  In the interest of marital harmony--and perhaps because I am secretly envious of his confidence that the world will provide him all the resources he needs whenever he needs them--I had long since learned to roll my eyes at him rather than nag him to turn off the lights and the water.  

The day came, however, when I called to one of the kids to turn off the lights when leaving the house, and he looked at me blankly and said, "Why? Daddy never does."  You know in the cartoons when the character's face turns beat red and steam comes out of his ears?  Well, that was what I am sure I looked like. That innocent question was like waving a red flag in front of my face.  I'm afraid in the scene that followed I was not at my best.  

So, how do couples find common ground, so they can provide a united parenting front?

First, let's consider why issues with our spouse feel so much more charged when our children are involved.  Here's the thing.  We care about parenting so very, very deeply that it is hard to be reasonable when it comes to our kids.  It is often a shock when our parenting partner has a very different idea about what is appropriate.  So, yes, it is hard.  On the other hand, Penn State reported earlier this year in a 7-year longitudinal study that “Parents who have better co-parenting relations feel more supported and confident, less stressed and depressed and they show more warmth and patience with their children” (Indiver 19 January 2015).  That reminds us how very important it is to work on the issue, even when it is hard and really uncomfortable.  

But don't despair.  I have some tips for improving communication with your parenting partner.  Each of the tips is designed to increase the good will between partners--to prepare the soil for the really sticky points.  

TIP 1: ACTIVE LISTENING

 Active listening refers to listening with the purpose of allowing one’s partner to reveal what is on his mind.  But more than that, it really means listening without judgment and wanting to know not just the facts of the story or issue but what is in the speaker’s heart

Here’s how to do it:

 *      Listen: Don’t comment, disagree or evaluate.

 *      Use your body: Eye contact, head nods, brief comments like “yes” or “uh-huh.”

 *      Prompt information: Tell me more.  What else? What is important about that?

 *      Repeat back: Recap the gist said and wager a guess at the emotions present.

 I recommend practicing this first with topics that are not controversial.  For example, you might ask your partner about a happy childhood memory or a person he admires.  Your main purpose in using active listening is to open up space in the relationship.  By really digging into your partner’s feelings and motivations first you activate your own empathy and secondly you gather a lot of information about what is important to your partner (which provides you useful data when you are looking for places to find happy solutions that will work for you both). It feels good to be listened to.  Think back to early in your relationship.  Chances are you listened to your partner hanging on her every word.  Just giving your partner that rapt attention again can bring those loving feelings he had when he courted you.  

Once you have mastered active listening with noncontroversial topics, introduce a topic that could become more touchy like “What is a lesson you would really like our kids to learn?”  This can be a scary question because your spouse might say something that really throws you for a loop like, “I’d really like the kids to learn to hang glide.”  Your comfort levels might immediately go into high alert.  What?! Teach the kids something that dangerous?!  What kind of responsible parent lets his kids up into the sky attached to a giant kite?!  

If you can take a deep breath, however, and settle down into some active listening, you are likely to learn something really interesting.  Perhaps your spouse did it as a young man and it is the most alive he has ever felt.  Now he wants his own kids to experience that intense appreciation for being alive.  Perhaps he felt closer to God.  Perhaps he was terrified doing it but having done it, nothing in life has ever been as scary, and he wants his kids to know that facing their fears will serve them later in life.  

Imagine how different you would feel listening to your spouse share such a meaningful experience and how touched you would be that he wants his children to experience something that meaningful, too.  Listening Actively does not mean you have to give in to your children doing something you really disapprove of but having listened, you are now in a position to thoughtfully suggest an alternative. 

I know some of you are saying no way could I get my spouse to start talking like that, much less to learn to listen actively.  That's okay!  You will find a shift in your relationship, even if you practice active listening only from your side of the fence.  I want you to go and try it.  The next time your spouse says something--about the kids or otherwise--that gets your dander up, instead of getting angry (or sullen), start getting really, really interested.  I challenge  you!  And then leave a comment here or email me at elisabeth@elisabethstitt.com about how it went.  You can also email me for a copy of my Constructive Couples Communication Webinar.  

Not on my mailing list? Sign up HERE for Tip #2 on constructively communicating with your parenting partner.  

Confidence is Key

Elisabeth Stitt

In 2012 Pamela Druckerman wrote Bringing Up Bebé about her experience of observing the differences between French and American parents.  In 2013 Christine Gross-Loh, author of Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us, offered an even wider view of different parenting approaches.  The take away from both books is that there are lots of different ways to parent—and they all have their benefits.  Thousands of students passing through my classroom over the years certainly confirmed my experience that there is a very wide range of  “doing parenting right.” 
 
I didn’t always feel that way.  I had some pretty fixed ideas about what were good parenting techniques.  In fact, in the 9th grade I even wrote a paper called “Effective Parenting.”   Don’t get me wrong.  It was researched.  I didn’t just write the paper out of my head, but I cringe when I imagine how sanctimonious I must have sounded
 
Well, the last laugh was not mine.  Growing up in India someone made my husband’s lunch for him every day of his school career, and yet, when he came to Stanford for graduate school, he had no trouble looking after himself.  With that as his experience, he rolls his eyes at me when I enforce my motto, “Never do for a child what he can do for himself.”  So who’s right?  We both are.  Children benefit from loving attention and care.  Attentive service to a child does not have to mean the child will be a spoiled brat.  In fact, just the opposite.  I’m convinced that one of the reasons my husband is so generous is that he has always trusted that he will be taken care of, that everyone’s needs will be met.  On the other hand, I firmly believe that it is human nature to want control—and one way to give children control is to make them responsible for themselves.  
 
Okay, the research is clear that there are pretty wide parameters when it comes to parenting.  Where does that leave us hand-wringing, anxious Americans?  Believe it or not, I have an opinion about that!  Teacher, mother, stepmother.  Each of these roles has reinforced my belief that the one key ingredient to good parenting is confidence.  If you can transmit absolute, calm confidence in whatever you allow or ask of your child, you will be providing the security that is essential.  For some families that might mean being absolutely certain that bedtime is at 7:00 so that the parents have time to reconnect.  For other families that might mean knowing that children who fall asleep in their parents’ arms no matter how late, fall asleep knowing they are a part of the family.
 
The short take away? Do what works for your family, and it will be right!