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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: Kindness

How Do You Teach Your Kids Emotional Intelligence?

Elisabeth Stitt

You've Got the ABC's Covered and the 123's Down.  But Increasingly, research shows the importance of Emotional Intelligence--and you are the person best suited to teaching it.  

Emotional intelligence is being able to recognize a wide range of nuanced emotions, and recognizing them, being able to regulate them and put them in perspective in a way that helps the individual move through life more easily.  

In my long experience in working with children, emotional intelligence can absolutely be developed.  The most important way in which it is developed is through interactions with thoughtful adults who are modeling and guiding kids in dealing with their feelings.

This blog shares some common behaviors of parents whose kids display emotional intelligence.

AND IF YOU ARE CURIOUS ABOUT HOW TO BOOST YOUR OWN EQ, CHECK OUT THIS BLOG ON "How can we use NLP to build Emotional Intelligence?"

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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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DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS

Elisabeth Stitt

Even many adults don't learn the skill of having difficult conversations effectively.  Most people just want everyone else to be happy.  Certainly, no one modeled for me how to stay present even when conversations got uncomfortable.  It was so much easier to just give up or give in.  Now, of course, there are times when going with the flow is the name of the game, but if you want your kids to learn the balance between keeping the peace and learning to advocate for themselves in a constructive way, they are going to learn that much sooner if you teach it to them explicitly. 

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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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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.  

 

 

 

 

Elisabeth Stitt

SIBLING RIVALRY:  What Role Do Parents Play in Keeping It in Check?

 

by Elisabeth Stitt

What do sibling rivalry and scarcity have in common?

Much of sibling rivalry really stems from the fear that there is not enough to go around.  In the law of survival it makes perfect sense that a child would do her best to push her sibling aside so that she is sure to get what she needs.  Parents can counter that innate fear by making sure that each child gets enough attention and her share of resources

What it really comes down to, though, is teaching a philosophy of sufficiency rather than the tension of scarcity vs. abundance.  If a person sees the world as black and white—as I am one of the haves or one of the have nots—there is always the fear of loss on the one hand and the need to grab on the other.  This produces an internal anxiety which not only sets up a rivalry among siblings but carries insecure attitudes towards money and other resources into adulthood.  

Teach your kids: Once the bucket is full, you don’t need one more drop of water—or love

When kids learn that what they have is sufficient—whether that is clothes or food or parental attention, they let go of worry.  Knowing that everyone will get what he needs means that kids don’t have to get equal resources in order to feel secure.  Think of it as a bucket.  A full bucket of water is sufficient; there is no need for one extra drop of water.  A full bucket of water is enough, so you don’t really need one more drop, and it will probably go to waste.  It may even be unpleasant.  Consider how it feels to keep drinking water when you are no longer thirsty.  You feel bloated and tight and perhaps like you want to throw up.  Even very little kids can see that if you keep adding water to the bucket, all it does is flow over.  This begins to give them the sense that there can be too much of something--even a good thing.  

Another activity you can use to teach the concept of sufficiency is lighting one candle with the flame of another.  Tell your child that there is always love to go around.  Show how when you use the flame of one candle to light another candle, the first candle has just as much flame as it had before and can be used to light a third candle.  And even a fourth and fifth.  Some families “pass the love” by lighting a candle for each family member at dinner every night.  What a beautiful way to concretely remind a child that there is sufficient love for every one.

Help your kids understand that fair does not mean equal

Developmentally kids go through a stage where they are very concerned with fairness.  They tend to believe that fair is the same as equal.  They think if Brother has 3 trucks, I must have 3 trucks, too. One way to explore this concept with your kids is to observe your kids at play.  Note how many of something do they use.  I recently babysat a three-year-old who had his six fire trucks lined up ready to play with.  Once he started playing with one, I kept waiting for him to go back for more trucks with the idea that he was putting out a really big fire.  He did put out a big fire.  But one truck was all he could deal with at a time.  Watching him, it became clear to me that 6 firetrucks were certainly sufficient—likely even more than enough.  Would he have gotten more pleasure out of an 8th or 9th or 10th firetruck?  No!  Even if he had a sibling to compete with, there would have been no need for more fire trucks to have a good time.  And yet had he a sibling, I imagine that if he is living in the mode of scarcity, he would believe his brother having more took something away from him.  If all he needs is one truck to have fun, it is ridiculous to think that his brother having more robs him of his chance for happiness. 

Siblings who are reassured that there are sufficient toys—or treats or turns or hugs or whatever precious commodity of the moment—and that they are going to get what they need they learn not to confuse wanting and needing.  They let go of having to hoard what they have.  Just keep reminding kids (and modeling through your own words and deeds) that they have enough and that they should focus on fully enjoying and appreciating what they do have.  

Finally, families that have clear gratitude practices see less sibling rivalry.  That is especially true when it comes to love—there is more than enough to go around and as siblings they are especially fortunate because unlike some kids, they have parental love and sibling love!  When kids feel and express their gratitude for what they have in the world, they step into the idea of sufficiency. 

What else? 

Teaching your kids the idea of sufficiency does not mean they won't fight.  

At different ages and stages, you will need to take extra steps to make each child feel secure.  For example, making sure your second child feels fully included in the activities of the new baby being introduced to the household is key.  And you will still need to teach both children how to communicate peacefully and how to resolve conflict constructively.  It is just human nature that as individuals with different needs and sensitivities rub up against each other, there will be conflict.  It takes lots of support to teach kids the empathy and emotional awareness needed to be great friends as well as siblings.  

Is Sibling Rivalry Making Your Household Miserable? 

Let's talk!  Your kids are going to have each other a lot longer than they have you.  Having a good relationship with one's sibling is a gift your children will treasure their whole lives.  Sign up HERE for a complimentary strategy session where we will identify a plan for connection and warmth among your kids. 

Warmly,

Elisabeth

Elisabeth Stitt

Joyful Parenting Coaching  •  Elisabeth@stitt.com  •  650.248.8916

Be the Architect of Your Family: Build Connection Through Family Projects

Elisabeth Stitt

 

 

When's the last time you sat down as a family and got your fingers sticky together?! 

If your family goes to a regular religious service, you already have a lot of ceremony and ritual built into your life.  These practices not only connect your kids to a greater power, they make them feel more connected to you.  As you sit in physical proximity focused on a common uniting experience, your energies and body rhythms line up and match

 Have a Deliberate Plan for Connection

Families without the external structure of coming together have to be more purposeful about creating these experiences that will nourish your children’s sense of being woven into a part of the bigger whole that is your family. 

Of course, playing a game or cooking a meal together as a family are wonderful ways to bond, but some children need something more concrete or visual.  That’s why I love the idea of putting some time aside as a family to do a project that represents the family.  

Here’s an idea you might try:  Family Placemats

Purpose:  To create a visual depiction of family memories and values; to have each family member contribute equally; to foster a positive view of both individual members and of the family as a whole.

Procedure:

1.    Print out or draw multiple pictures of each family member (pets included!).

2.    Create multiple sentence stems and have each family member fill them out:

Ex:  What I love about our family is _________________________.

        We are the kind of family that __________________________.

      My favorite family memory is when ___________________.

      Our family is special because we ________________________.

3.    Brainstorm other symbols or images that represent your family.  Perhaps you will print out pictures or maps of where your family comes from or what you love to do together. 

4.    Use markers to write the positive qualities of the family members in large print.  Are there people in your family who are thoughtful? Funny? Disciplined? Creative? Hard working? Good problem solvers?  Write those things down.  Don’t attach names to them.  In this case, we are deemphasizing the traits of the individual and instead displaying what are the strengths this family team has together.  

5.    One you have a rich pile of materials, give each family member a placemat size piece of construction paper.  Have each person take one item from the pile and glue it onto the placemat.  Now hand each table mat clockwise to the next person.  Again, each person will choose something from the pile to glue to the placemat.  Once done, rotate again.  Continue this process until each placemat is full and/or the pile of materials has been used up.

6.    Once the glue has thoroughly dried, cover the placemats with clear contact paper or take them to your local copy shop and have them laminated. 

 

Benefit:

  Not only will this project allow for you to focus on what makes you unique as a family, but it will be an oasis of time when you are creating goodwill among you.  Even more importantly, by creating the placemats in the round-robin style, no one person feels ownership over the design of any one placemat.  Each mat will reflect the developmental stages of your children and will be a mixture of more or less sophisticated efforts depending on their ages and personalities. (No perfectionism allowed here!)  Because you have all had a hand in creating each one, when it comes to using them, family members will be delighted to get whichever one they happen to get. 

Think this idea is too corny to do with your older kids?  Think again!  Make some excuse if you need to.  Perhaps one of your children is entering high school—or even moving away to go to college or get a job.  Tell your kids you want to mark this passage and have a way to daily remember the best part of being a family, even as kids grow up and outward.   Teens might not admit to enjoying such a family project, but they will secretly treasure it and carry with them that warm fuzzy feeling of family love and connection. 

One last rule!  Ban electronics from the table while doing this project. The point is to come together as a family—not to each be checking Snapchat or Facebook.  Your kids might grumble, but in the end they will be glad they have done it.  

Happy Gluing!  Looking for other ideas for bring your family together and creating good will?  Let's do a strategy session on that!

CHORES! The Way to Making Your Kids Successful and Happy

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

Okay, I can't guarantee the happiness promise but a recent article called "Science says parents of successful kids have these 13 things in common" published in Tech Insider does list chores as one factor that might lead to children's success as adults.  They quote author Julie Lythcott-Haims (How to Raise an Adult) as praising chores because it teaches kids that that they "have to do the work of life in order to be part of life."  

Let's look at the benefit of chores a little more deeply (and I will put forth my not-scientifically-proven theory on why it also makes kids happier).  

1.   Doing Chores Raises Self Esteem

Self Esteem is confidence about one's own worth and abilities.  Little kids may not have learned to read and older kids may be struggling with long division or quadratic equations, but most kids can learn to make their beds and sweep the floor.  Are these worthwhile tasks?  Of course they are.  And it is much easier for a child to understand the usefulness of a clean floor than to grasp where algebra is going to work for them in their lives.  Kids who feel capable and competent have higher self esteem.  Chores are one area most kids can develop competency relatively easily.

2.  Doing Chores Makes Kids Feel Needed

When we wait on our kids hand and foot, it gives kids the wrong estimation of their own importance.  Ironically, just like praising kids too profusely, doing everything for kids does not build their sense of being important; rather it leaves kids feeling adrift and disconnected.  What kids want to feel is that the are important because their family needs them.  When the character Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird explains to Scout, the main character, why he runs away from home, Scout asks herself, "what I would do if Atticus [her father] did not feel the necessity of my presence, help and advice” (143).  Scout firmly recognizes her place in her family and knows how essential it is to her to feel needed by them.  Contributing to the well being of the family by doing household chores is a great way for kids to feel they are an integral cog in the wheel of a smooth family life.  

3.  Doing Chores Shares the Work

In previous generations, families had a lot of kids precisely because a large work force was needed just to keep the family farm or business going.  As soon as they could toddle, children were given simple chores to do.  In this way, all the tasks of life got done and families thrived.  Today, although more tasks are mechanized and there are fewer chores to do at home, people are also a lot busier outside of the home.  With parents working and kids going off to a schedule packed full of extracurriculars, there is very little time left to what chores they are.  And yet, "according to a survey by Braun Research in 2014, 82 percent of grown-ups polled said they had regular chores when they were growing up, but only 28 percent reported asking their children to do anyP (July 12 2015).  Wow!  Instead, imagine a home where the work was shared as equally as possible among the family members.  Kids would have a much greater appreciation for what it takes to keep everyone fed and dressed in clean clothes.  Appreciation is linked to happiness!  

4.  Kids Doing Chores Reduces Parental Stress

With only 28% of the kids helping out on a regular basis, parents are coming home after a full day's work and are facing a full evening of chores.  Just thinking about it is exhausting.  Parents complain to me that they have no time to just hang out with their kids.  But is that because their kids are watching t.v. or playing video games while their parents fix dinner?  How about having the kids in the kitchen with you?  One child can grate cheese while another cuts up vegetables.  (While kids' hands and attention are busy is a great time to ask more in depth questions, open ended questions.  Chore time becomes connection time, and human connection is one of the most important factors for happiness.  One last hidden factor in reducing stress is that parents who are not up washing the dishes or folding the laundry after their kids have gone to bed might actually have time to sit down next to each and connect themselves!  Connected parents do a better job supporting their kids and making them feel secure. 

5.  Doing Chores Teaches Kids at Home Skills They Can Use at School

Uh?  How does doing the laundry help with writing a clear, well-supported essay?  Well, doing laundry teaches responsibility, accountability, planning, attention to detail and follow through (Did you ever have a bunch of clothes go moldy because you forget to transfer them to the dryer?).  Aren't those all skills that you need in essay writing?  Of course!  And in all kinds of school related tasks like doing homework on time, turning homework back in, chunking assignments into multiple steps, etc.  Kids who have learned to take on tasks as their own are the same kids who are independent learners.  They are also great team members for group work.  They know that many hands make light work and they stand at the ready to do their share.  They do not expect someone else--much less Mom or Dad--to do their work for them.  

And that's not all!!

So here you have four arguments for chores increasing your kids' happiness and one argument for chores increasing their success in school (not to mention later in life).  And here's one more argument:  Doing chores as children helps teach kids early on about work/life balance.  Life is not just about doing school work, dutifully practicing piano and going to soccer practice.  It is also about creating a salubrious space in which to live and cooking nutritious meals that bring the family together.  Those have long been considered mainstays of a happy home.  Oh, and did I mention that kids who take part in the cooking have more varied, nutritious diets?  And that kids who sharing in the washing and cleaning take better care of their clothes and toys?  Really, the more I think about it, the longer the list gets.

So what's stopping you? Need some advice on HOW to get your kids to do chores?  You might try my friend Elva Anson's very comprehensive book How to Get Kids to Help at Home:  Help Your Children Become Capable, Responsible, and Independent--And Have Fun Doing It!  Or if you want hands on support, you might consider signing up for my 5-week Harmony at Home ONLINE Group Coaching Class that starts August 10th.  

4 COMMON MISTAKES PARENTS MAKE THAT CAUSE THEIR KIDS TO TALK BACK TO THEM.

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

YOU'RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!  

     Has your child said that to you?  Did it make your blood boil?  It can be really hard when a pint-sized person pits every cell in his body against you and down right scary when he is taller and outweighs you.  Of course, all you want is what is best for him--clean teeth or the benefit of kale or the sleep that will restore her brain--and there he is, hands clenched, opposing you strenuously, demanding his due as a person with his own wants, needs and desires.  You might be tempted to wring his neck.  

But did you ever ask yourself what you are doing to contribute to your child's bad attitude?

MISTAKE #1:  Treating your children rudely.

Not being rude does not mean we don't get to tell our kids what to do.  We do.  What it really means is that we need to show our children the same consideration we would show a work colleague, a neighbor or spouse in asking them to do something.  We wouldn't dream of just demanding that a neighbor do something.  No way!  We are polite.  We say please and thank you.  We use softening phrases like "I would really like it if..." or "It would be very much appreciated if..." and then we make our request.  I hope you would never march up to a neighbor and demand compliance instantly.  And yet we do it with our kids all the time.  

Now, that being said.  With strong willed children, less is often more.  Using too many words will allow for loopholes and ambiguity.  You will command--not demand.  What's the difference?  The tone and the attitude.  A command is clear, firm and confident:  Coats on hooks, please!  The tone is not harsh, strident or critical.  The attitude is not I-am-your-mother-so-you-better-listen-to-me-or-else.  No.  Your cheerful reminder needs to connote we are a family and this is our routine.  

Some people say you shouldn't thank children for tasks you expect them to do anyway.  I disagree.  I am big in favor of thank you.  My husband is the hunter and gatherer in our house.  He pretty much always takes responsibility for ordering and picking up take out.  Just because it is the pattern in our house that that is his regular job--to the point where I expect that he will do it without having to ask him--does that mean I am not going to thank him?  Of course, not.  I am very grateful to be fed.  I am always going to say thank you.  In the same way, when my kids set or clear the table or take out the garbage, I show my appreciation.  I certainly have trained them to say thank you to me for the things I do to make our house run more smoothly.  

MISTAKE #2:  Demanding instant compliance my way or the highway 

Clearly, we are not going to stop making demands on our children.  We expect them to do their homework, to eat their dinner and to take the family dog for a walk.  On the other hand, we need to recognize how hard it is for a strong, independent soul to be told when, how and where to do something--especially without any explanation.  I don't know if you feel this way, but I find it very annoying to have to put down something I am doing to jump up to do someone else's bidding.  I still remember cringing at the sound of my mother's heals coming briskly through the house.  I never knew when she was going to swoop in with some proclamation of What-needs-to-be-done-right-now!  It wasn't that I didn't want to be helpful.  I just wanted some advance warning, so I wouldn't get caught in the middle of an especially good chapter of Nancy Drew.  

The trick to finding the balance between your child as an individual with wants and needs and the needs of the big picture is choice.  Keeping within the guidelines of what will work for your family, look to where you can offer choice, starting with questions like do you want peas or squash and moving on to choices like would you like to do your homework before snack or after?  There are lots of ways to give your child some options without giving up the expectation that something is going to be a certain way.  If you find it difficult, think through your child's day and write down the choices you might offer.  Here are some examples to help guide you:

        With little kids:

            Would you like to fly to the car or be a choochoo train?

            Am I brushing alligator teeth tonight or polar bear?

            Are we washing your face first or brushing teeth?

            Are you going to brush your teeth and have me inspect or am I going to 

                brush your teeth and have you inspect?

            Do you want your dinosaur coat or your penguin sweater?

            Is your coat Elsa's cape or an invisibility cloak?

        With elementary school kids

            Are you going to do math first or reading?

            Would you like to chop the veggies now or be in charge of stirring the soup later?

            Do you want to take a walk or shoot some baskets?

            Are you taking your bath before dinner or after?

            Do you want to work here or in the kitchen?

        With middle school and high school kids

            Would you like to walk the dog this morning or this afternoon?

            Would you like to walk the dog or clean out the fish tank?

            When cleaning the garage are you going to clear the heavy things or the light things first?

            Are you wearing a dress or nice slacks to the theater?

            We are having dinner at Grandma's tonight.  Will you drive with us or meet us there?    

If your child chooses to put off the task until later, you can double check that he has agreed to do the task at the time with no further argument.   If your child won't choose either, you can offer another choice:  Propose an option that will work for me, or I will choose for you.   A child who is unused to being given choices and is just blindly rebelling against being told what to do will push the limits for a while to see if you really mean it.  Just stand firm; she will come around eventually. 

MISTAKE #3 Telling your kids to do the same thing twice

When I learned to train my dog, the dog learned what he needed to learn in around six weeks.  It took me six months.  The hardest part for me to learn was to give the command once and then use my focus and body to see that he followed through.  When we call out commands from the other room or as we are busy adding salt to the soup, we cannot expect to be taken seriously.  Think about it.  How responsive are you?  Do you leap the first time your child makes a request for something?  I bet not.  Usually we keep doing whatever task we are involved with and wait either until a natural break in the task or until the child ups the ante in his insistence.  Likewise, your kids will not follow your wishes when requests are made in such a haphazard way.  

Here's what to do If you want your child to do something the first time you ask:  Stop what you are doing.  Go to the child, get his attention and make the request (cheerfully, firmly, confidently).  Now, I am assuming that you have already corrected Mistake #2 and have given your child some choice about when or how to do the chore, so now you are really giving a reminder.  Stay present until your child transitions to the requested task.  Make eye contact.  You may need to put your hand on whatever it is the child is doing.  Let your eye contact and perhaps a hand on the shoulder do the work here.  You don't need to repeat yourself, just be quietly, calmly unyielding.  Most children will shift to the agreed upon task.  Some will need to have a tantrum before they do it.  The tantrum is likely totally unrelated to the request at hand.  That's okay.  Let him have the tantrum anyway.  We he has had a good cry, he will be ready to follow through on the task.  Obviously, the more you have done this with your kids when they are young, the more they will know that you are not moving until they move.  

MISTAKE #4Treating your kid as an unthinking child rather than as a reasonable human being

You want your kids' cooperation--not just today but over time.  Short term compliance is easy to get with yelling and intimidation.  You get it at the cost of the long term relationship, however.  Your goal needs to be to include your children in a way that honors who they are at their core.  

In his work The Prophet. Kalhil Gibran, the 19th century philosopher, writes

            Your children are not your children.

        They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.

        They come through you but not from you,

        And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

What this really means is that we have to be very careful about telling our children what to do and how to be.  That authoritarian approach appears to work with mild children who just want to make everyone happy, but it is at a very high cost.  Telling your child what to do all the time can end in one of two ways: rebellion (and that makes life miserable for everyone) or submission, which appears to be the better option but results in children who are not only afraid to express their own views but who may cease to have opinions all together.  If every time you open your mouth to express a desire or interest, you are redirected or immediately shut down, you very quickly learn not to express your preferences. 

Even well intentioned parents fall into this trap.  It is time to pick next year's classes, and a parent gushes about how beautiful French is and why would anyone want to learn a language as guttural as German.  This parent may well think she has left the choice to her child.  But such a comment will feel like a proclamation to a mild mannered child.  The mild-mannered child would never risk falling into the group of people his mother has contempt for (ie, those who want to learn guttural languages); he will certainly take French rather than risk her disapproval or disappointment.  The rebellious child may well choose German just for satisfaction of thwarting his mother.  Neither child has chosen out of true interest.  

So, how do we find the balance?  Of course it is your job to keep your child safe, and it is also your job to raise an adult who treats others kindly and behaves with consideration for the wider community.  At the same time, it is not respectful to constantly tell your child what to do, how to behave and certainly not to suggest that they may or may not like something.  This is a slippery slope.  Think how often we tell our young children to try something to eat.  You'll like it! we say in a bright cheery voice.  I remember I told my mother once that I didn't want to go to the beach, and she said to me, "Of course, you want to go to the beach.  You love the beach!"  And that is true.  I do love the beach. But that day I didn't feel like going to the beach.  How presumptuous of her discount my opinion and brush it aside.  Similar events happened often enough that I found it was much easier to just not care very much--about where we went or what we ate or what we did when we got there.  A rebellious child, on the other hand, who is not given some space to assert herself will not shut down.  No, she will push back harder and harder until every request becomes a battle.  

The way to give your child space to assert herself is by using open ended questions that require her to think and plan.  More open ended questions might look like this:

            What kind of help do you anticipate needing with your homework this week?

            Here is a list of activities that will work with our schedule this fall.  Which do you want?

            Of everything that we do over the Christmas season, what is most important to you?

            It is important to me that we go to the Christmas Eve service.  I know you don't

                     like going to the evening service.  Can you think of anything that will make

                     it easier to go?  

            If you get cold in that outfit how are you going to deal with it in a way that doesn't 

                      impact the rest of the family negatively?

            The pediatrician is concerned that you are not getting the protein you need.                                              Here is list of good protein sources.  Please rank them from the one you are                                    most willing to try to least willing to try.

            Wet towels left on the floor get moldy and stink up the place.  Please come up with                                  a plan to make sure that doesn't happen.  

These questions acknowledge that your child is a person and can be part of the solution.  Your expectations are still clear.  Homework will get done, kids will sign up for activities and protein will be eaten.  If the child feels her views are heard and considered, she will be more willing to go along even when your answer is no and even when it is not something she really wants to do. 

Perhaps you grew up in a household where you just did what your parents told you to do.  You didn't talk back.  You didn't question it.  Those kinds of households are increasingly rare, however.  Society has shifted such that we no longer blindly accept authority--not that of our police keeping forces, not that of our bosses, not that of our teachers, and by extension not that of our parents.  For this reason, cooperation has to be earned and won.  And actually, that is fine with me.   Treating kids respectfully teaches and models for them how to treat others respectfully.  We want our kids to be thinkers.  We want them to come up with solutions that will work for the whole family.  

Correct these four mistakes that often have your kids talking back to you, and you will be on your way to having a more harmonious home.  

Is talking back a big problem in your family?  Let's do a complimentary 20-minute strategy session.  I'd love to help you fix these issues with your particular child.  Sign up HERE.  

Please leave a comment.  What techniques have worked for you when it comes to backtalk? My post Set Your Kids Free: 10 Things They Need to Be Able to Do on Their Own by Middle School generated a lot of interest.  Engaging your kids in a positive way about cooperation in your household is another of those skills that your kids should have mastered by middle school.  It is all a part of taking responsibility for your own actions within the context of the greater community (in this case the family community).

Did this blog resonate with you?  Use the share button below to further the conversation.   

Raising Kind Kids

Elisabeth Stitt

Do you want your children to be kind or to be happy? Teach them Gratitude, and you can have both!

     Of all the life choices you can make to assure your own happiness, developing a regular gratitude practice is one of the most powerful.  Gratitude is also a powerful tool for increasing our kindness. How?  Let me explain.  

THE POWER OF NOTICING THE POSITIVE

     Gratitude is that warm fuzzy feeling that wells up inside of you when you are aware of something really good entering your life--whether through nature, chance or another person's deed.  The first step to developing a gratitude practice is to notice the positive.  Rather than taking things for granted, you want to pause and notice them.  I have to admit that living in California makes this easy:  Almost every day, I am aware of how California's sunny weather sustains me and makes me smile even when I am otherwise in a funk.  I remember when I was going through my divorce, I would go to my therapist and have session-long sobfests.  I would come out of the office feeling completely drained, but her office was right next to the water.  The sight of the sun sparkling off the laguna was so enticing.  How could it not lift my spirits?  In the midst of wanting to curse my soon-to-be-ex-husband, I would be reminded how beautiful the world is and how lucky I am to be alive.

"THREE GOOD THINGS"

     The more you practice it, the more you will see the glass as half full rather than half empty.  Your powers of observation will become more attuned.  When I am focused on keeping gratitude forefront in my mind, I notice all sorts of small things--the fact that someone else put away the clean dishes, the Safeway customer who took the time to have a conversation with the bagger with Down Syndrome, the cheerful dandelion growing up between the crack of the sidewalk.  Studies show that the act of writing down "Three Good Things" helps to solidify their impact in your mind.  Remember, our brains are wired to remember negative things more easily than positive things (Thanks, biology, for doing such a great job of keeping us safe from sabertooth tigers!).  We can retrain our brain, however, by fixing positive events in our mind.  Writing them down is a good way to do this. 

     How does feeling gratitude connect to kindness?  Well, the more you notice the positive, the more you will see other people feeling happy as a result of the kindness of others.  You will observe how the happiness is shared between the giver and the receiver.  You will find yourself reaching out to others positively, as well.  

CREATE A HOUSEHOLD OF GRATITUDE

     The next step to developing a gratitude practice is to amplify your sense of well-being by sharing your positive feelings with others.  Other recent studies suggest that when we tell someone about a positive event, we re-excite the same neuro-pathways that were excited when the event originally happened.  Isn't that cool?  Just by telling someone else about something good that happened we get more of that warm, fuzzy feeling.  This is an excellent time to involve your kids.  Your coming home and telling your kids about the positive things that you experienced today will model for them how to focus on the good.  As you tell your stories of interacting with a wide variety of people--of being thoughtful and helpful--you will model for them how to really see the people around them.  Use family dinners to regularly ask them to share what they are grateful for today.  As they share examples of other people's kindness towards them, connect them to how good that feels and encourage them to spread the feeling.  

     Once your kids have reached out with kindness and generosity to others, ask them to check back in with their own happiness--that good feeling inside.   Keep the circle going:  Notice good things, Record or talk about good things, notice how good things make you feel (warm, connected, content, full up, excited, important, needed, satisfied, calm, effective, proud).  Notice how people doing acts of kindness produce that feeling.  Notice how doing kind things yourself increases that good feeling.  

THE KINDNESS CHALLENGE

     Got it?  Good!  Now here is the Kindness Challenge:  For the next week, I challenge you to actively practice the first two skills:  1.  Notice the positive and write down at least three positive things that happened.  If you like, join me in posting them on the Joyful Parenting Coaching FB page (https://www.facebook.com/joyfulparentingcoaching/); and 2. Amplify your experience by retelling it to your family.  As you tell it, use the warmth of emotion you felt the first time to convey your excitement to your family.  My bet is your kids will jump in with their own good things, once you set the example.  

     For the week leading up to Thanksgiving, I challenge you to perform one random act of kindness a day and to tell your family about it.  Ask your kids if they would like to step up to the challenge.  Don't force them.  Invite them, and then model how rewarding it is by sharing your own pleasure and satisfaction.  

     I'm looking forward to hearing how you connect noticing the positive to expressions of gratitude to being motivated to reach out to others with kindness.  Tell me in the comments below what you are grateful for.  Your comments will remind me to look for good in my world.  Connect to me personally through email at elisabeth@elisabethstitt.com