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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: relationships

Should You Make Your Kid Apologize? (Part I)

Elisabeth Stitt

Should You Make Your Kid Apologize?

That’s a tricky question! There is no doubt that our children need to understand the idea of an apology but given that there are different kinds of apologies for different situations, teaching our children to offer an apology is not a straight forward task. It certainly won’t be taught with a simple rule. Or with a single iteration. Let’s consider the nature of apologies and where our own practice lines up with our expectations of our children.

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My Teacher Hates Me! I'm Not Going Back to that Class!

Elisabeth Stitt

Knowing our kids are happy at school allows us to drop them off with confidence and get on with our day.  When our child refuses to go to school, then we are filled with doubt and insecurity and our hands feel tied, knowing it is not as simple as changing schools or teachers. What can you do to help your child feel good about his teacher?  
 

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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.  

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.

The Birds and the Bees, Part II

Elisabeth Stitt

I have been asked to weigh in on what sex education looks like in older years. 

I will start by saying that when teaching middle school, long before my own children got to be that age, my standard message was that there isn't anything you might think to do in middle school that couldn't wait until high school.  I was a staunch supporter of the dress code, and when 12-year-olds told me about their Facebook pages, I reminded them that legally you had to be 13 to sign up. 

Of course I knew that there was sexual activity among my students (looking at the broader definition of what constitutes sexual activity), but I wanted to be at least one voice in their life that was saying, “Stay a child!  You have lots of time to grow up.”  As an English teacher, I was not responsible for the cold, hard facts.  Instead, I used literature to have students examine characters’ lives—their decisions, their mistakes, their values.  

As a mother, I was obviously responsible for making sure my daughter was well informed (I was let off the hook with my stepsons).  One of the messages I really wanted her to get was the fact that what you could see on the internet, on television or in the movies was not indicative of everyone’s sexual behavior.  Also, I pointed out that what she heard about what other kids were doing may or may not be true and, most importantly, she did not have to model her choices on them.  I told her that not even all our adult family friends had the same values when it came to sexuality.  

The next message was hard for me.  It meant I had to put aside all my fear of the “what ifs.”  It meant I had to trust that I had raised an informed, thoughtful, responsible young person.  The next message was that sexuality is not easy:  It is not cut and dried.  Not only would it have been useless to day, “Don’t even look at a boy!”, I wouldn’t have wanted that.  I can think of nothing scarier than sending a girl child off to college who has had no practice negotiating romantic/sexual relationships.  My biggest concern was/is that as my daughter developed her sexuality that she could look back on her choices--even if they brought some pain--and know that she had really listened to her inner self--body, mind and spirit--to make her decisions. I was such a "late bloomer," as she puts it, that I had very little in the way of concrete advice about what was okay to do when. I just kept reminding her that once you've done something--held hands, kissed, petted, etc.--you can't undo having experienced that and that all I wanted for her at the end of the day was that she had no regrets.   

The final tool in my tool belt was to bring up the topic of relationships and sexuality a lot.  We talked about news items and magazine articles, research I found, stories I heard from fellow teachers or other parents.  All along, I wanted to know what she was thinking, how she was seeing the world, what her concerns were.  Lots of times I was uncomfortable with the conversations.  I had them anyway.

 

The Birds and the Bees

Elisabeth Stitt

As I listen to the chatter among moms, a concern that often comes up is when and how to deal with “The Talk.”  This concerns me because it suggests that these parents believe that there will be one talk about sex and sexuality and not that it will be an ongoing discussion over many years.  Just as with talking about drugs and alcohol, it will be much easier to feel your way bit by bit rather than saving up everything for one lecture. 

Actually, when it comes right down to it, I don’t even think of sex as the main topic.  I divide “sex” into two categories, plumbing and relationships. 

Plumbing

Plumbing is pretty straight forward.  Label body parts (I prefer textbook terms—elbow, penis, vagina, breast, shoulder, etc) as your child is learning them.  Kids usually learn the difference between male parts and female parts between three and four.   They’ll be obsessed with the terms for a while and then, when they have integrated them into their understanding, they’ll stop talking about them.  Depending on the babies/new siblings/etc. around them, they’ll ask where babies come from.  Again, I prefer textbook explanations:  Babies come from sperms cells and egg cells.  The man has the sperm, and the woman has the egg.  When they come together, those cells grow into a baby.  Inevitably, the child will ask how the sperm and the egg get together.  Unless your child was conceived in some other way, I would stick to saying the man puts his penis into the woman’s vagina and delivers the sperm to the egg in the womb, which is where the baby grows.  Now, if you are lucky, your child won’t ask, as mine did, Mommy, did you like it when Daddy put his penis into your vagina?  (Fortunately, my succinct answer of yes, I did sufficed.)

Knowing Your Limits and Recognizing Others’

One’s own body in relationship to others is the next lesson, and teaching it starts from the very youngest interactions.  Every time a mother removes the baby from her breast because she has been bitten, she is teaching the baby to be gentle with another person’s body.  Likewise, when a father stops a child from hitting him during a tantrum and tells the child to use her words, he is teaching the child respect for another person’s body.  These lessons continue when we help children see that their sibling has reached a limit for rough housing or just needs some space on the couch.  The lessons should include a conversation about privacy and good touch and bad touch.  At the same time a child learns to be sensitive to other people’s limits, he should learn to advocate calmly and clearly for his own limits—whether that is not wanting to kiss a grandparent good-bye or not wanting his hair played with. 

Friendships First

Just as important is learning to articulate and be at ease with emotional limits.  Very often one friend will need another friend more than she is needed in return.  Let’s say that Sally and Lucy are friends, but the relationship is uneven.  For Sally, Lucy is her only friend.  For Lucy, Sally is one of many friends.  Sally is going to need to learn to share Lucy and to reach out and find other friends to do things with, and Lucy is going to need reassurance that that is oaky:  She can be Sally’s friend without being her everything.  Lucy is going to need to learn to say clearly, but firmly, I’m going to play with Jane today but I hope you’ll play with me another day.  Being able to negotiate these early relationships with kindness but clarity about how one wants to be treated is the first step to being able to negotiate a solid romantic relationship.  As girls tend to mature faster, boys often come under a lot of pressure to be in a relationship.  If they are not comfortable with that, they need to be able to say, you are a nice person but I just want to be friends.  Parents can provide support by roleplaying these kinds of conversations.  The aim is to develop empathy for the other person’s feelings without feeling that you have to be the one to provide that person’s physical or emotional need.  Harder, of course, is learning to accept that you are responsible for handling your own feelings if they are not returned in the way you long for. 

Steppingstones

If all these lessons are firmly in place in elementary school, they become the steppingstones for conversations about how to approach budding romantic interests in middle school.  From there, it is much easier to show how at their base romantic relationships are like friendships:  They require the same respect, sensitivity and give and take.  They are multifaceted, not just physical.  If you are well into the habit of talking about your children’s friendships, it shouldn't be too hard to include a conversation about how much it is okay to text someone you like or when it is appropriate to hold hands. 

As a parent, recognize that relationships are not all or nothing.  There is a progression.  You cannot control when your child has his first or her first crush, but if you have been a sounding board for your child’s friendship questions, you will be the first to hear about this new interest, as well.