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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: picking battles

My Child Doesn't Eat Enough

Elisabeth Stitt

Concern over what your child is or is not eating is a common one.  And it makes sense that we are concerned about it.  Our fundamental job is to keep our children alive; and eating well is fundamental to thriving.   

What makes the topic of eating especially charged is that it is one of the areas where children have control.  You cannot force food into a child’s mouth, and even if you do, her upset about food being forced down her throat will often cause her to throw it right back up again.  

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Keep Your Kids Stress Free During the Holidays by Managing Your Own Stress in These Two Key Areas

Elisabeth Stitt

 

By Elisabeth Stitt

Do you remember Christmas as magical? Many people do.  But that was not my experience of Christmas as a child. Indeed, even as an adult, it took many years to experience awe and beauty in Christmas.  Now I love the magic of Christmas, but I’m sure you’ll agree, it can be hard to find and sustain the magic under all the stress.  Growing up I spent the month of December waiting for my mom to blow up.  She so wanted—really wanted—to create magical Christmases for us—and there certainly were moments of warmth and togetherness.  But mostly, we never knew when the gulf between the scene she imagined in her head and the reality of creating (and getting my father on board for) that scene would have her resembling a Halloween witch rather than a Christmas angel.  

Of course, kids can be stressed during the holidays as their routines get upset and they are vulnerable to being over stimulated, but my experience is that their stress depends largely on how stressed their parents are.  In talking with parents, I have found there are two big areas that bring up a lot of adult tension during the season.  

Tip #1:  OVERSPENDING

     In most partnerships there are two different approaches to spending money.  They say that opposites attract, and while I don’t think that is always true, I do think there is something to the notion that part of our attraction to our partners is for something they have or can do easily that we wish we had or could do easily.  My husband is a spender.  I am a saver.  A lifetime of saving has left me wondering if I’m missing something—a little fun maybe?  a little spontaneity? a little luxury?  Living with my husband has been a lesson in learning to spend more and enjoy it!  I am more willing, for example, to invest in something pretty even if it will only get used at Christmas time.  I delight more in buying special holiday foods.  That being said,  I do not think “But it’s Christmas!” is an invitation to spend without thinking.  

     With luck, you and your spouse are learning and growing from each other when it comes to spending.  But if anything is going to bring up money conflicts, I have found the holiday season to be it.  So, my recommendation is to have the conversations early and often.  The saver in the family will want to argue down every little dime.  See if you can adopt an attitude of not worrying about every 3rd or 4th thing and just buying it.  The spender in the family will spend without thinking and will come home sheepishly with packages.  See if you can actively resist buying the third or fourth thing.  If you are a saver, it might help to remember Christmas does come but once a year.  If you are a spender, it might reassure you to remember the Youtube video that came out that showed the kids willing to give up ALL their Christmas presents if it meant that their parents got something they wanted or needed.  More is not more, and sometimes less is more.  Meeting each other in the middle is what will allow both of you to move through the holiday season with a minimum of stress.  

Tip #2:  DEALING WITH EXTENDED FAMILY

     The first stress extended family brings up is who is going to have Christmas where.  Will you switch off between husband’s family and wife’s family every year?  What about with divorced families?  And what happens as the children grow and begin to have serious romantic relationships of their own? No matter how you draw the lines, it seems like someone is disappointed.  Kids overhear our conversations about the logistics and feel disloyal if they want something else. I have no good solutions for these challenges other than to acknowledge that it is stressful and with a deep, deep breath try to let go of the emotion attached to it.  The other step I take for my own self is to have a small ritual that counts as the core of Christmas to me.  That way, no matter who comes to our house or whose house we celebrate at, my daughter and I have sung Silent Night by the lights of the Christmas tree.  I feel like as long as we have that, we can flex with the rest.  

     Family is also often a double edge sword.  On the one hand we long to be all together.  On the other hand not everyone gets along equally.  Here are some of the more mild complaints I’ve heard recently: 

• I like my mother-in-law but she makes me feel like a complete dud in the kitchen, and when I bring something store-bought rather than risk my poor skills, she looks at me like I don’t care enough to make homemade.   

•My father-in-law is a nice enough man.  Until he’s had a little too much egg nog.

•Jack’s sister is great fun, but she has no control at all over her kids and it makes every meal a circus.  

The fact that Christmas comes once a year makes the little time we have together feel more precious, so it has to be perfect.  That makes us less tolerant than we might otherwise be.  

And what is it about stepping back into our childhood homes that makes us feel—and act!—like children again?  I am a mature, generally very secure woman.  But when the whole family is together I fall into the pattern of waiting for people to tell me where to sit, how to help and generally what to do.  No matter how pulled together I feel in front of the mirror in the morning, I wait for my sister’s glance that says I am a disappointment.  Over the years, I have learned what triggers me and am able to sidestep the trigger with more grace.  I recognize that most of what is going on is just in my head, and I just have to let it go.   

Acknowledging to your kids what happens when adult children go home can help prepare them for your unexpected responses and moods.  

Of course there other reasons we get stressed during the holidays.  Quite simply—however lovely events might be—the late nights and break from routines will stress us.  If you can deal with the two biggies—money and family—you will be in better shape to adjust to the late nights and extra socializing.  

 

Sleeping, Eating, Pottying...Follow Your Child's Lead

Elisabeth Stitt

  Let’s face it.  Kids can control sleeping, eating and pottying, right?  There’s nothing you can do to make a child go to sleep—you can’t force it.  With eating you can threaten or cajole, but at the end of the day, the child can clench his teeth, spit the food out or choke on it.  And as for pottying, nowhere else does the child have more control, for even if nature takes over and the child ends up pooping, it will be left to you to clean it up.  Clearly, in these three areas, there will be many fewer battles if the parents really sit back and take their child’s lead.  I know.  I KNOW!! Do I really mean just sit back and let them take complete control?     

Having a regular routine helps.                               

Not really.  Of course there are steps you can take to encourage sleeping, eating and using the potty.  Having regular routines around all these activities will help set a natural rhythm, and the child’s body will have the expectation of the routine even if the child himself is feeling obstinate.  True, you might have a child who will give up naptime early.  I did, but I kept to the routine;  I just called it quiet rest time, instead, and my daughter would play in her crib for an hour.  Often she would fall asleep, but lots of time she didn’t.  That was okay.  It was enough that she learned to play by herself in a safe place.  It wasn’t a fight because I wasn’t “making” her go to sleep.                                        

Provide healthy food at regular intervals and don't worry about the rest.

With eating, I also followed her lead.  I provided healthy food regularly at regular times, but I didn’t fuss if she didn’t eat anything.  Her natural rhythm was to eat a big meal around every third day and then eat what felt to me like next to nothing the other meals.  Personally, I didn’t tie desert to finishing her meal.  I just offered something sweet as part of it.  To my amazement, she would usually take a few bites of cookie and then offer it back to me!)              

Don't worry.  You're child won't go to college in diapers!                                            

My now-grown daughter likes to brag that she potty trained herself.  We did the usual reading of potty books.  We had a potty in the bathroom and explained how to use it many times without asking her to.  Eventually, when I had to pee, she began peeing in her pot with some success.  After we had had dry pull-ups for a while, I asked her if she would like to use underwear.  She tried it for a few days, had some accidents, and asked to go back to pull-ups.  Okay, I said.  A month later she asked to try her underwear.  And that was it.  She wore it regularly.  If she had accidents, I don’t remember them.  Bottom line.  She was in control.  She dictated when it was going to happen. 

In each of these areas, it behooves a parent to be exceedingly nonchalant.  Food is here.  If you want it, great.  If you aren’t hungry, no problem.  You can wait until the next meal to eat.  Of course, it does require the parents to truly let go of their worry that their child will starve. He won’t.  And he’ll potty train eventually.  In the meantime, it might help to remember that developmentally children are learning physical regulation--the ability to learn the physical signs of hunger, having to potty and sleep. These are important qualities for our kids to learn, and they can't learn them if we don't follow their lead.  

Are you struggling to let go of your worry and doubt?  Let me help!  Sign up for a complimentary coaching session on any of these topics HERE.

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.   

Building the Consistency Muscle: Tip 3: Pick Your Battles

Elisabeth Stitt

 

So far, in building the skills to become a more consistent parent, you have 1) noticed your kids being good and 2) taught them to trust your word by following through when you promised to do something with them.  You'll notice that so far I haven't asked you to hold a firm limit with your child where you will have to give out a consequence if your child doesn't do what you ask him to.  And it is still not time for that.  

The consequence of not following through on your word--whether that is a treat or a negative consequence--is to bring you back to step one with trust you have been working so hard to build.  For that reason, don’t move to following through on “no meaning no” until you are really ready for it.  (If your no already means no every time, chances are your consistency muscle is already really strong).  Before taking action, it is a good idea to think through your strategy.  You and your partner need to sit down together and take some time to prioritize your values. Knowing your values behind what drives you crazy and what you really care about will help you to be strong in defending the rules you create.  And most importantly, you need to pick your battles. 

Below are some steps that will help you decide where you are going to put your disciplining energies:  

1.  Individually, create a list of 25+ values that you care about.


Note that by values I am not implying right or wrong.  What is important for one person may not be important for another person—may even seem wrong.  For example, I have a value of messy.  To me, messy means creativity, a chance to explore, not having to get things right the first time.  My husband has a value of order.  For him, seeing a clean, neat space allows him to breathe, to think, a blank slate on which to create.  I walk into a clean house and I feel stifled, like I’m in a straight jacket and cannot move.  You can imagine we’ve had to do some major compromising around this.  The “rule” comes down to I get to be messy while creating, but I am also really conscientious about cleaning up after myself quickly and thoroughly.


2.  Circle your top five values.


Kids are not your carbon copies.  They are not going to value all the things you do.  Still, it is your house and you get to order things in a way that works for you to a great extent.  That being said, children cannot focus on that many things at once.  You are going to want to be really clear about your priorities, about which battles you want to fight because you are fighting to win.
 

3.  Rank the top five values you circled.


If you only get to drive home one message to your children, what would it be?  What is the creed you live by?  What is it you most want your child to be?  Being able to answer this question clearly is what will give you muscle behind your “No.”  And your “yes,” too, for that matter.  It is easy for us to be strong about what is really important to us.


4.  Compare your list to your partner’s list.


If you are lucky, you and your partner will share some values in that top five.  In any case, it is worth really having discussion around those values.  Why they are important to you.  What it looks like when they are being honored.  Sometimes people get hung up on a particular word, but when they hear a vision, a picture of the value in play, it is actually something they can relate to.


5.  From whatever common ground you have, choose one small expectation you could create around that value.


If you are new to the enforcing rules game, it is best to start small and be as concrete as possible.  Perhaps you and your partner have “teamwork” as a common value, and you decide to ask each child to be responsible for clearing her plate and putting it in the dishwasher.  You might need to work around some issues—the two year old might have to hand someone his plate for scraping and might need a hand on his plate while he is putting it in the dishwasher—but the expectation is so clear, you could take a picture of your child doing it and post the picture as a reminder.

Was this a struggle?  Feel free to contact me directly for a BREAK THROUGH SESSION.