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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: school

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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Middle School: the Time for Parents to Step Away or Not?

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

It’s not time to leave your child completely on his own yet.  

Too often parents who have stayed at home or worked part time think that middle school is the time for them to start working full time.  That’s a mistake!  The switch to middle school is a big step—often even bigger than going to high school.  Middle schools tend to be big—more than twice or even three times as big as the elementary schools that students are coming from.  Kids feed in from sometimes as many as six or seven elementary schools.  To top that off, instead of moving through the day with the same set of kids, most middle school kids regroup every period.  A student is lucky to be in class with someone he knows much less a friend.

The middle school curriculum really does get harder.

The middle school content standards make a jump in the amount of critical thinking and problem solving required.  The pace is relentless as the emphasis is on getting through the whole list of standards rather than mastering a few key ones. At my school, when we looked at the 6th graders’ marks, they were lower first trimester than second and lower second than third.  Even the best students wobbled a bit while adjusting to the change in academic expectations. Parents should know this and reassure their kids that they will figure out how to handle middle school work given time, but most schools don’t give parents that information.

Middle School teachers get “harder.”

The biggest change, however, is the mentality of middle school teachers.  Unlike elementary school teachers who see their primary goal as encouraging self-esteem and a love of learning, middle school teachers lean towards focusing on kids accepting that a lot of life is about jumping through hoops and doing things in a certain way.  Docking points for incorrect paper headings and throwing away papers with no names on them is common practice.  

Students will complain their teachers are mean.  We don’t see ourselves as mean.  We see that we are the last stop before high school where kids can still get low grades with no consequence to their long-term future.  We feel it is our job to teach what high school is going to be like before it counts towards graduation and college admissions.  In middle school, grading shifts from assessment of a student’s ability to an assessment of her performance.  That means the student who has skated by on test scores and an occasional brilliant project is now going to learn that consistency and attention to detail are actually more highly valued.  These are important skills to learn before high school. 

It feels like parents are not wanted, but that is not true.

Parents often feel left out of the equation in middle school.  Because their children might say they don’t want them there and because there is no room parent organizing volunteer activities, they feel unsure of how to be a part of school or, worse, they feel unwelcome.  While it is true that you might not be asked to man math centers every week, it is not true that parents are not needed or wanted.  Being involved at school in any way gives you a chance to stay connected with your child at time when his instinct is to shift toward his peers.  

Even if you do not volunteer in your child’s class, by finding a volunteer job at school, you will hear more about what is going on.  You will learn what clubs and activities are available to your child and will be able to encourage her at home to participate whether it is the joining the soccer team or signing up for the spelling bee.  As you fold flyers or stuff envelopes, you will overhear gossip about which administrators are supportive and which are a waste of time to approach.  You will learn the rational for the new homework policy and what teachers are doing to prepare kids for the state tests.   

Middle school is a time for parents to step back, but not to step away.  

Parents are still a child’s touchstone.  They are still the best person to help a child process what she is experiencing.  Getting grades based on percentages for the first time can be a real blow to the ego.  A child’s sense of himself can be seriously shaken as he will associate his grade with how smart he is.  A parent can help a lot by making the distinction between intelligence and following procedure and letting a child know that both are a part of being successful in life.  Parents can continue to be there as a sounding board, but if in the past they have done most of the talking, it is time to develop deep listening skills.  Asking your child, "What is your next step here?" might get you farther than, "Here's what you should do."  

What does stepping back look like?

Stepping back might take the form of letting a child suffer the consequences of lost or incomplete homework without swooping in to defend the child.  (Do continue to offer a lot of empathy that it feels awful to have worked hard on something and then not get credit for it because of one little mistake—like not putting your name on your paper or forgetting it on your desk at home.)  Stepping back can mean not micro managing students’ projects but asking questions like, ‘What’s your plan for spreading out the work of the project?” or “Have you done your best work?” or “What part of this paper are you especially proud of?”  When students get graded work back, instead of focusing on the grade, parents can ask, “What is your plan for doing better next time?” or “What resources do you have for getting help understanding this?”  Above all parents can help their kids talk to adults at school not by doing the talking for them but by roleplaying how conversations with a teacher or administrator might go.  In this way, a parent is still staying connected and supporting his child and at the same time allowing his child to stand on his own two feet.  

Middle school is the time for parents to stay connected and know what is going on, but it is also time for them to position themselves as guide rather than driver of their child’s life.  

Are you struggling with making the shift from driver to guide? 

It is the key task to successful middle school parenting.  Sign up HERE for a complimentary strategy session where we will identify where your child might need a steadying hand (and what that looks like at this age) and where you need to loosen the training wheels. 

Warmly,

Elisabeth

Elisabeth Stitt

Joyful Parenting Coaching  •  Elisabeth@stitt.com  •  650.248.8916

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

How to Help Your Kid When Being Bullied at School

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

Simon’s Hook:  A Great Resource for Arming Your Kids with Tools They Need to Disarm Bullies

Last week, I gave examples of how parents can teach their kids to resolve conflict peacefully AT HOME.   

Unfortunately, at school, it can sometimes be hard to use those skills both because the kids they are using them with don’t know how to respond constructively and because fully resolving conflict peacefully takes time—something in short commodity in most school situations.

For conflicts at school, I find using children’s picture books a great place for ideas.  One of my favorites is Simon's Hook; A Story About Teases and Put-downs  by Karen Gedig Burnett, illustrated by Laurie Barrows. In Simon’s Hook, Simon’s grandmother tells him a tale about a bunch of fish who learn to “Swim Free” rather than “taking the bait,”  ie the insults, being thrown at them.  Armed with his new skills, Simon is able to rejoin the kids at the playground who have been making fun of his bad haircut.  

Simon learns five “Rules for Being a FREE Fish” from his grandmother’s story. 

Rule 1:  DO little or nothing!  Don’t react!

Interestingly, when I have taught these rules in class, this is the one the kids choose the most.  We practice having kids give a blank stare back.  Practice this one with your kids over and over.  Start by having them insult you and you showing them no reaction.  With little kids, you are likely to hear something like, “You’re a poopy face!”  Don’t laugh at them.  Just look at them as if you didn’t even hear them.  Then ask permission to tease them.  Ask them for examples of what kinds of hurtful things they have heard and then repeat those things in an exaggeratedly bratty voice, coaching them to do little or nothing.  Praise them for how neutral they can keep their face.  Have them practice in front of the mirror.  You pretend to insult them; they practice staring right through you. 

Rule 2:  Agree with the hook!

What?  Agree with what a bully says?  Yes!  This one actually works surprisingly well as it completely disarms the kid who is being mean or insensitive.  Let’s look at some examples:

Juan:  You can’t be my friend!

Rogelio:  Okay!  I’ll go play with someone else then.

Do you see how Juan was gearing up for a fight and Rogelio just took the wind right out of his sails?  If Rogelio really does want to be friends with Juan, he might add, “Maybe we can be friends tomorrow.”  Often—even though they don’t say it out loud—younger kids don’t mean, “You can’t be my friend EVER.”  They just don’t know how to say that they are mad or that they want to play with someone else that day.  Help your kids understand that sometimes other kids don’t mean to be hurtful.  They just don’t know how to express their emotions and their needs. 

Here’s another example of agreeing with the hook:

Britta:  You’re shoes are ugly!

Michelle:  I know!  I told my mom they are so ugly they should win an ugly prize. 

How can you argue with someone who is cheerfully agreeing with you?  Note how reference to a disagreement with Mom subtly puts Britta and Michelle on the same team of Kids Whose Moms Just Don’t Get It.  Very disarming indeed! Invite your kids to use you as an excuse. 

Rule 3:  Distract or Change the Subject.

What’s funny about this technique is that it is often kids who might otherwise be socially challenged who are the best at it.  Distraction works by just pointing out something that is going on in the environment like, “Hey, wasn’t that the bell?” or “Isn’t that Mr. Jones in the Giant’s hat over there?  I wonder if the Giants won their game last night.”

Changing the subject works like this:

Rakesh:  Your writing is terrible!

Hiren:  Did you know that the heaviest dinosaur was the Brachiosaurus?  It weighted around 80 tons.  That’s like 17 Elephants.  And it was as tall as an 8-story building!  That’s way higher than my apartment.  My building is only five floors high.  I live on the third floor, though.  Did you know that…

You can see how by the time Hiren runs out of steam, Rakesh is going to wish he had never said anything! 

Kids like the idea of this technique but I have found they actually need to brainstorm a list of possible topics for what to talk about.  Here are some ideas a recent class came up with.  Help your own kids add to this list:

•the weather

•what happened on a favorite t.v. show this week

•a book they have read recently

•anything that involves a list (kinds of cars, kinds of cereal, what they ate for breakfast this morning, the state capitals, etc.)

•a question (Do you think Mr. Jones is going to give us a pop quiz today?)

•what they did over break or on their last vacation

•Anything they happen be obsessed with at the time

The trick to Changing the Subject is to add enough detail that the kid doing the insulting totally forgets what he said in the first place. 

Rule 4:  Laugh at the hook or make a joke!

Most kids can just laugh.  Again, practice it with your kid.  First demonstrate:  Have them insult you and then just laugh at what they have said.  I had one kid who was really good at laughing and then following up with a blank stare.  It left the other kids completely nonplussed.  They really had no idea how to proceed from there. 

Making a joke can be hard because it requires kids to think on their feet, but if you have a very verbal or punny kid, it could be just the tool:

Maria: You’re not a good dancer!

Mira:  How did you know Ms. Kltuz was my middle name?

Or

Kevin:  You can’t play with us.  Go away.

Howard:  I can’t?  Really?  Oh, that’s right!  I put on two left feet this morning.  That’s okay.  Just put me on the left side of the field and I’ll be fine. 

This works because kids don’t know how to deal with this kind of answer, and they will let the joker play rather than try to outwit him.  

Rule 5:  Stay away!  Swim in another part of the sea!

Stay away or swim away works well in two circumstances.

 One, the kid being mean is truly physical or out of control.  Some kids are just not safe.  They arrive at school with behavior challenges that are too big for our kids to deal with (chances are the school is struggling, too, to find enough manpower to help that kid).  It may mean not getting to do what you want that day, but recess is too short to try to argue with that kind of kid.  Help your children to brainstorm a variety of fun things to do so that they have some choices away from the bully.  If the bully has picked them as a target, help your kid find some space away—maybe the library or a lunchtime club or helping a teacher out in her classroom. 

Yes, I recognize that this is not fair.  Your child should be able to play whatever he wants at recess.  I am sorry to say, though, that teachers’ eyes cannot be everywhere and yard duty help is usually spread way too thin.  Usually the out of sight, out of mind principle comes into play, here:  Disappear for a few days, and the bully will direct his attention elsewhere. 

Two, sometimes kids just need a break from each other!  Help your child understand that we all go through rhythms of how much closeness and how much distance we need at any given time.  Often the person being insulting is really just looking for some space.  So give it to them!  They’ll come around another day.  If you have the kind of child who forms very intense, deep attachments to one person, spend some time explaining that that is not everyone’s friendship style.  Some people like being friends with a lot of different people.  One day they will want to play with you, and another day, they will want to play with someone else.  This is not personal:  It is just a different personality.  Reassure your child that if they can just walk away today, chances are the other child will seek them out again soon.  

Kids like these techniques.  Having tools in their tool belt, empowers them and allows them to deal with situations quickly and to move on.  Furthermore, it very often allows the kid being mean to move on, too, so the whole day gets better for everyone. 

Just learning about the skills will not be enough.  You will need to provide lots of support and suggestions.  You can practice them after the fact, helping your child to imagine the conversation he might have had.  If he climbs into the car complaining that So and So did something mean today, ask him if he took the bait.  If he did, help him figure out how he might have used each of these techniques to redirect the bully or defuse the situation

It might feel unfair that your child has to “not take the bait.”  No one should be baiting him in the first place, right?  But you know and I know the world does not work that way.  Surely, you have listened to a friend tell a story about someone being annoying or mean and have counseled, “That’s the kind of person you just have to ignore” or “Why do you let him rile you so?”  What you are saying is Why take the bait?  Children will feel more in control if they know it is in their power to not take the bait.    

If your child is worried about going to school, ask what he thinks might happen and practice over and over lots of different ways he might handle it.  Emphasize that deflecting conflict is a skill.  He will get better and better and it and it will be easier and easier to know what to do in the moment. 

Want more help with this?  Sign up HERE for a 20-minute complimentary Harmony at School Strategy Session.    

 

September Newsletter: Back to School: What Teachers Expect

Elisabeth Stitt

Do you ever feel judged by your child’s teacher?  

I promise you, teachers have an internal checklist of what they hope their students will be bringing from home.  They know they won’t get it all the time. They know that their job is to deal with the child who walks through the door no matter what he brings.  They know that every family—no matter how wonderful the parents—suffers ups and downs and may take some time to right itself.  But if they were able to write a list of what they consider primarily the parents’ responsibility for sending kids ready to learn, this would be it: 

1.     BASIC NEEDS MET.  Perhaps it seems obvious that it is the parent’s job to make sure that the child comes to school with enough sleep, not smelling, well fed and appropriately dressed.  This is too often not the case, however.  Parents will claim they can’t get their child to bed on time or they can’t get their child to wear anything but the too short shorts and the diaphanous top slipping off the shoulder to school.  Many of us teachers are parents ourselves.  We get it.  We know it is hard.  We still see it as your job to figure out how to make it happen (though we are happy to offer our perspective and experience). 

2.     SHOWING RESPECT AND CONSIDERATION.  A teacher has to help kids develop a definition of what respect means at school, but the basic concept needs to come from home.  Have you worked in an office where in the break room there is a sign that says, “Your mother doesn’t work here; clean up after yourself"? Well, the same idea goes for school.  Your teacher is not your mother.   Her job is to teach you academics, not to nag you to clean up after yourself or to lecture you about touching other people’s things without their permission or to stop interrupting. 

3.     HOMEWORK DONE BY THE CHILD.   Someday, I will write a whole column on homework (including my general belief that there should be very little of it), but for today let me say this:  The main purpose of homework is to give the child the chance for independent practice.  It is much less important that the child do the homework right than that she do it herself.  If she has worked the allotted time (find out what your school’s policy is), have her stop. If her teacher gives her a hard time for not finishing, train her to talk to her teacher ahead of class, to explain to her teacher that that is how much she got done in the allotted time.  Teachers do not know how long the work they assign takes:  They need accurate feedback.  They do not need perfection, and they certainly do not need you to sit with your child, while he does his work.  Sure, if you have a kid who takes 15 mins. to settle down, you can make sure the timer starts after that 15 mins., but the actual work should still be done on his own. 

4.     TEACH YOUR CHILD TO ADVOCATE FOR HIMSELF.  Did your mother write notes to the teacher all the time?  Mine didn’t. She would, however, talk through with me my conflicts with a teacher.  She would listen to me, acknowledge my frustration, but then she would ask me how the teacher was likely to be feeling, what the teacher’s priorities were.  She would help me sort out where I was only one of thirty children in the room and where I could reasonably make a request.  She would role play how to talk to teachers, so I could respectfully let them know my wants or needs.  If a few of my tries did not solve the problem, only then would she approach the teacher—and then it was to enlist the teacher’s help in solving the problem, not to condemn her, and certainly not to make excuses for me. 

5.     LIFE AND CHARACTER SKILLS.  Caring, consideration, compassion, gratitude, thoughtfulness, diligence, organization, persistence, tolerance, trustworthiness, patience, etc.  These get practiced at school, of course, but they need to be taught and modeled at home regularly and explicitly.  These are all traits you can start working on in toddlerhood.  Yes, mastery takes time and repetition, and teachers will work to reinforce these skills, but you have the greatest power to train your children in these areas.  Your daily reflection with them of where they have—or how they could have--displayed these qualities establishes their importance to your child.    

Kids who come to school with the above conditions in place at home learn better and take more joy in their learning.  They are able to regulate themselves and are ready to take full advantage of all that a teacher has to offer.  This is teachers’ greatest hope.