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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 Category: Effective Consequences

How One Dad Rebuilt Trust with His Daughter Even After She Broke the Rules

Elisabeth Stitt

Every once in a while I publish a guest post—either because the person’s expertise in a given area is much more sophisticated than mine or because they offer a perspective I cannot. In this blog, dad Tyler Jacobson shares how he handled it when his 13 year old daughter broke some big family rules. I especially love the understanding he shows his daughter as well as the problem solving, all while keeping her accountable for her poor choices.

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Say Yes When You Can, But Don't Be Afraid of Saying No

Elisabeth Stitt

Most parents understand and are comfortable with this when it comes to safety.  Your two year old may want to climb the wobbly ladder by himself but you know that the risk is too great, so you offer a compromise--she may climb it with you hanging on to him tightly or she may climb her toy slide by herself.  He may not use the big knife to cut onions but he may use the plastic knife to cut bananas or to spread butter.  

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GETTING YOUR TWEEN AND TEEN KID TO SLEEP AT NIGHT

Elisabeth Stitt

What are some bad sleep habits elementary school, tweens and teens have?

•Having their phones in their rooms with them.  Yes, a smart phone makes a good alarm, but not if kids are texting and checking social media all night, so better to get your child a conventional alarm clock.  

•Going fully speed ahead right up until bed time.  People need wind down time.  Just as when they were babies or toddlers, kids should have a routine that calms and soothes.

•Varying their bedtimes by a lot.  While the occasional late night can’t be avoided, sleep experts agree going to bed at around the same time every night is helpful.

•Trying to make up for lost sleep during the week by sleeping until noon on Saturday.  

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What Would You Do If Your Child Were Caught Shoplifting?

Elisabeth Stitt

This blog is in response to a letter a mom sent me about her son:

Dear Elisabeth,

I am so angry and mortified.  My 10-year-old got caught shop lifting, and I am afraid this is a sign of much worse things to come.  

Upset and Worried in Tulsa

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Help, Elisabeth! I still really don't know what effective logical consequences are!"

Elisabeth Stitt

People often ask me, what consequence should I give my child for situation X.  

There is no one right answer for that because each family is different, but here are some guidelines:

Logical consequences should

•be related to the problem

•be age appropriate

•allow a child his/her dignity

And most importantly, you HAVE to be able to follow through with them or you are back at square one, so it has to work for your family and for that particular child (fair is not equal). 

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When It Is Time for Consequences

Elisabeth Stitt

So far, everything you have done to build your consistency muscle has focused on the positive--you have modeled correct behavior, praised correct behavior and trained for correct behavior.  But still your child is using disrespectful behavior!  Now is when it get's real, when you are going to set an expectation and then hold the limit.  This will probably mean that you need to have a consequence ready--one that you can absolutely follow through on.  

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Building the Consistency Muscle: Tip 3A: Model and Train

Elisabeth Stitt

So, you have prioritized your values (If not, go to previous step HERE) and are clear  about where you want to build your consistency muscle.  That's hugely important.

HERE'S AN EXAMPLE

Let's say you have decided to consistently require your children to speak respectfully.  Love that.  But do your children know what it means to speak respectfully? Probably not, so you have to teach them. 

STEP ONE: MODEL

Model respectful speech.  I hope this is obvious, but how can you expect your children to speak respectfully if you are not modeling that in all your interactions with others?  This includes how you speak about people.  If over dinner you complain what a neanderthal jerk your boss is, your children are going to hear that, so while it is okay to criticize people, make sure that it is in respectful language.  Perhaps you would say something like, "I wish my boss were up to date on the latest approaches and were more open to listening to fresh ideas."  Little ears are listening all the time!  How you speak to the people you love is even more important, so avoid the first two of John Gottman's Four Horsemen, criticism and contempt, at all costs.  Finally, use polite and loving language with your own children is key.  

STEP TWO: PRAISE

Catch Your Children Doing Good.  Remember, you have been catching your children doing good in order to develop your consistency muscle.  If the values exercise last week has you shifting your focus, go back to the step where you praise, praise, praise every time your child is (in this example) using respectful language.  Say, "I heard you say Thank You to your teacher.  That was so respectful."  or "When you asked your brother, 'May I please have it after you?', that was exactly the kind of respectful language we expect in this house."  Build up models for them so that they get a clearer and clearer idea of what you want before you make it a non-negotiable.  

STEP THREE: TEACH

A bi-product of kids being technologically advanced is that many of them lag in their interpersonal skills.  Compared to what you might have learned already at your child's age about how to get along well with others in the world, today's children spent many fewer hours figuring out how to speak in such a way that strengthens connections and warms relationships.  The more we use our phones to deposit checks and order the weeks groceries, the less kids see us interacting with a wide variety of people.  In the absence of daily modeling, we need to teach our kids skills explicitly.  

One of my favorite teaching methods is role playing.  Ask your kids what the would say in different situations and how they would say it.  Start with people they know--their teachers, coaches, school personnel like the crossing guard or the office manager.  Set the expectation that it is respectful to greet and acknowledge these people.  Teach them stock phrases like, "Hello, Mrs. Stitt, how are you today?"  Teach them how they can extend the conversation:  "Isn't this a lovely day?" or "Did you have a good weekend?" or "Happy Chinese New Year! It's the Year of the Rooster, you know!"  Tell them explicitly it is respectful to express an interest.  When you pick them up for school ask, "Whose day did you brighten today?"  

STEP FOUR: TRAIN

Once you have taught your kids what it means to be respectful, they will have an understanding of being respectful, but they still won't have the habit.  Before you start reprimanding your children for being disrespectful,  make sure that you have done enough training.  Think about how long it takes to train yourself to do something until it is absolutely automatic.  I am currently training myself to sit up straight.  It didn't used to be such an issue because while teaching I spent so many hours on my feet, but now that I am in front of the computer most of the day, I have to think about it very consciously.  Boy, is is a slow process! Your kids will need lots and lots and lots of gentle reminders, so when they do not speak respectfully (or clean up their toys or remember their chores, etc), do not assume they are being defiant!  This is so important.  You want your rules followed, and they will be, but it will take time before your kids are consistent.  

Your job for the time being is to CATCH THEM DOING GOOD when they do it right and to gently remind them when they forget. Let them know that they are in training, and you want to do whatever you can in supporting their remembering.  This is the time to brainstorm structures that will help them remember (I still have to set an alarm to keep track of which week is recycling week).  

Next week we will get to what to do when training period is over, and it is finally time to add some teeth to your rules.  

 

 

 

 

My #1 Tip for Helping with College Admissions Essays (The younger your child, the more you need this!)

Elisabeth Stitt

was an English teacher for 25 years and worked as a writing tutor on the side, often helping kids with their college app, including my own three children. That experience has given me my own perspective on the college admissions essay process. 

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Why Kids Lie and What Parents Can Do About It

Elisabeth Stitt

Lots of kids lie, and often lying is particularly upsetting to parents.  I think that one reason lying affects parents so strongly is because we want to keep our children safe.  As long as we think we know what is going on in our kids’ heads and what they are actually experiencing, we figure we can take action to protect them.  When our kids lie to us, however, we find out that perhaps our kids have been exposed to dangerous or negative situations out of our control.

 WHY LYING UPSETS PARENTS

Let’s say for example, that you find out your nine year old has ridden her bike outside the agreed upon streets.  She has been lying to you by omission, and then one day you find out that she has crossed some major streets with a lot of traffic.  A big part of why you are upset by her lie is your fear about what might have happened to her—the accident she might have had, or whom she might have encountered so far outside your sphere of influence.  Plus, in the face of one lie, you begin to doubt what you can trust about other parts of her life:  Is she telling you what is going on at school?  What happens when she plays at her friend’s house? 

 WHY PEOPLE LIE

People lie to get some kind of emotional need met.  We all have needs for a sense of security, autonomy, attention, status, acceptance, excitement, intimacy and love, connection to others, self-esteem, and so forth.  We lie, then, either when we think telling the truth will get in the way of having one of those needs met or when telling the lie will get the need met.

 

In the example above, for example, the nine year old is more than old enough to know that she is lying.  Perhaps she has lied because of her need for autonomy.  She feels she is old enough to handle crossing a busy street and she wants to test it out.  Perhaps she has lied to gain status, and another child has dared her to cross the forbidden street or she has bragged that she is allowed to do so and now must show that she can. 

 WHAT PARENTS CAN DO ABOUT LYING

The question remains what should a parent do in the face of a child lying?  Certainly it is reasonable to have a consequence for breaking a family rule (and ideally that consequence has been worked out the same time the bike riding boundaries were set up).  But in order for a parent to feel secure her child won’t lie again, it is important that she take the time to figure out what emotional need was the child trying to meet by engaging in the behavior which required the lie (including the lie of omission).  Only then can parent and child work out more acceptable ways of getting the need met. 

 WHAT ROLE PARENTS PLAY IN THEIR CHILDREN'S LYING

Clinical Psychologist Dr. Shefali Tsabary says, "There is only one reason a child lies to its parents: the conditions for it to feel safe have not been created.”  You may well bristle at the idea that you have caused your child to lie, but having dealt with kids’ lying at school over the years, it feels possible to me.  When I talked with kids about why they lie, these are some of the answers I have heard over the years:

         •My parents will over react and won’t listen to me.

         •My parents just won’t understand.

         •If my parents found out I did that, they’d judge me.

         •All my mom cares about is X; she doesn’t understand that                 X isn’t that important to me.  (Or that Y is more important).

         •All my dad cares about is how it will look to other people.

         He doesn’t actually care about what happens to me. 

I have certainly seen parents over react, and with some parents I do feel that the parent cares more about his own reputation than about what his child is thinking and feeling.  But in most cases, lying occurs in households where communication has broken down.  Because kids have not felt seen, heard and valued, kids have stopped sharing.  They don’t want the hassle of arguing with their parents because they feel they don’t get anywhere with it, and at the same time they still have powerful unmet needs.  The drive to get their needs met—even if it means accepting negative consequences—makes lying worth it to them. 

 

The next question, then, is how do you keep the lines of communication open.  I think first and foremost, you own up to your own foibles as a parent—own that sometimes you do over react.  Own that you get triggered—by safety concerns, by fears for the future, by wanting to seem like a perfect parent.  Own that you grew up in a different generation and/or a different culture and that what seems okay to your kids feels really wrong to you.  Own your own hang ups.  Maybe your parents didn’t let you drive into the city on your own, so now your automatic response when your child asks permission is to say No Way without even giving it any real thought. 

 IDENTIFYING THE NEEDS BEHIND THE LIES

Next, even if you do end up saying no to your kids (and I fully support your right to do that), really take the time to listen to what they want.  Be curious about why they want it (what need would get met if they got to do whatever it is they want to do).  Then, work to see if the underlying need can be met in some other way.  Maybe you can find a compromise.  Let’s say, for example, that you catch your son stealing money to buy junk food at school.  He knows you have a strong value about healthy nutritional choices, so he sneaks behind your back.  The first question is what is the need—sweet food?  Or is it to have the cool packaging of snacks from the vending machine?  Or does he like having the whole vending machine array to choose from without having to agree with his siblings?  Each of these is a very different need and requires a different approach.  That’s why it is so critical to putting your own concerns aside so you can first be open and curious. 

 BRAINSTORMING ALTERNATIVE WAYS TO MEET NEEDS

Once you know what the unmet need is, you can work on that.  Brainstorm ideas. What sweet foods would be acceptable?  Is the need to be cool about the need to fit in, and if so, why is that so important?  How else could a person find a group he feels included in?  How could the family provide more opportunities for the son to have some things just as he wants them without having to consider the rest of the family? 

 

Even the act of brainstorming and trying to find a solution acknowledges your child as an individual with his own needs, preferences and desires.  In a particular case, you might not find a way to compromise.  If you have found workable solutions other times, however, your child will be able to accept when no compromise is possible.  He will know that you care about his feelings and are not shaming him for having those feelings. 

 

In summary, I would let a consequence for the poor choice stand, but I would go deeper to find out the underlying motivation for the poor choice. 

 STAYING CONNECTED EVEN THROUGH CONFLICT

Lying is complex.  We lie for so many reasons, and I have really only addressed a few of them here.  No matter what the reason, though, I urge you to approach your child as a work in progress and use the lying incident as an opportunity for growth and self-reflection.  Finally, assure your child that as he matures, he will find it easier to find ways of getting his needs met that do not make him feel that it is necessary to lie. 

 

 

 

 

 

Natural vs. Logical Consequences

Elisabeth Stitt

Natural vs. Logical Consequences

Some people are confused by the difference between natural and logical consequences.  Actually, it is not that hard.  A natural consequence is what is going to happen anyway if no one takes any action.  Leave the milk out all night?  It will go bad.  A logical consequence is the choice a parent can make to deal with that reality.  If a child leaves the milk out all night and the milk goes sour, the parent can choose to let the natural consequence stand (You may drink no milk or sour milk.) or he can impose a logical consequence.  The purpose of the logical consequence is not to punish.  It is to improve an unpleasant situation, to make a wrong a right or to impress a lesson upon someone so she realizes the impact of her actions. 

In the case of logical consequences, there are often a variety of choices that will serve the purpose.  Sour milk likely affects the whole family.  In that case, a parent may choose to not make the rest of the family suffer the natural consequence of sour milk and may find a way for the child to make it up to her family.  To be effective, a logical consequence must be related to the situation.  It does not make sense, for example, to take away t.v. privileges for forgetting to put the milk away.  What does make sense is to get more milk.  So, one logical consequence might be that you send your child to the store for more milk.  If she is too young to go by herself, you could agree to drive her, but now her mistake is taking you extra energy (not to mention money).  There are lots of ways she could make that up to you. 

Note that this entire situation can be dealt with in a matter-of-fact tone.  The parental script might go something like this:

Yuck, the milk has gone sour.  Ana, I think you were the last one to have milk last night. What needs to happen now?

I don’t know. 

Well, I guess we can do without milk until shopping day, but that doesn’t seem fair to everyone else.

But, Dad, I didn’t mean to.

I can hear that you feel bad about it, Darling, but we still need to make this right. What can be done to fix this situation?

You could go to the store and get some more.

That’s true, but I need to sort the laundry and get it started right now. 

What if I sort the laundry for you, Daddy? I know how to pick out the white laundry and how to start the machine. 

That sounds like a good solution.  What about the cost of the milk?

I guess I should pay for it.  I have two dollars left from my allowance.  Is that enough?

Well, it is not enough to pay for a new gallon container, but the container that went sour was more than half used already, so I think two dollars will cover it. 

Thanks, Dad!  I really appreciate you going to the store for me.  I’m sure going to remember to put the milk away next time.

You’re welcome, Ana.  [Hug, kiss]

Here are some of the lessons Ana might get from this exchange:

            •People make mistakes, and it is not the end of the world

            •When someone makes a mistake, it is okay to empathize with her without                            rescuing her.   

            •When we make mistakes, the decent response is to try to make the situation right.

            •If we need help making the situation right, we can ask others for help and then                   offer to do something for them to make their life easier. 

            •Mistakes and making up for them do not change the love and affection families            feel for each other.

Here are the principals to keep in mind with logical consequences:

            •They are not punishments; they should not shame the child.

            •The are similar to what an adult would need to do in a comparable situation.

            •As much as possible, the child should find a solution for making it right (keeping

             in mind that a younger child might need ideas for appropriate solutions).

            •The consequence must be reasonable and age appropriate.  Clearly, it is not reasonable to ask a four year old to pay the total cost of replacing a window, but she could pay a portion of her allowance and then offer to do some extra chores.  (Yes, I know that supervising extra chores is extra work for you; the pay back will be the lesson your child has learned.)

            •Your child is learning.  She is going to make lots of mistakes and lots of poor choices as she grows.  What you are doing is helping her learn how to recover as much as possible when her actions have had negative effects. 

One additional note:  Wherever possible, try to help your child anticipate what the natural consequence of their actions is going to be.  The natural consequence of not locking up your bike, for example, is its getting stolen.  A child may be able to see that far, but he may not see the consequences of not having a bike: You might have to get up earlier so you can catch the bus to school; you might have to do extra chores to pay for the bus tickets; you might have to give up soccer so that you have time on Saturday to do the extra chores.  The more you have helped kids think these situations through, a) the more likely they are going to think about the importance of, say, locking their bikes and b) the more likely they are going to handle the consequences with less drama. Making a mistake and suffering the consequence gives a child a marvelous opportunity to take responsibility and show how capable he can be.  But I remind you again, this is a learning process!  It might takes a lot of iterations before the lesson is fully absorbed. 

 

 

 

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.