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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: Trust

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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What's Your Plan for That?

Elisabeth Stitt

Are you concerned that you are a helicopter or lawn mower parent? Do you know that you are one but don’t know what to do differently? One of my favorite techniques for giving our kids some space and encouraging some independent thinking is What’s your plan for that? Instead of mapping out how our child should tackle a homework assignment or chore or even a conflict with a friend, we give the problem to them for consideration. Of course, if they are floundering too much, we step in and help with some course correction (but resist the urge to take over!)

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Keeping Parental Anxiety at Bay

Elisabeth Stitt

Last week I wrote about how anxiety is affecting parenting by sharing the shift that I have seen in my 30 years of working with families.  This week I want to outline what I think are some key buffers against parental and (by extension) kid anxiety.  In light of the shootings this past week, it feels like I should be addressing the topic of how do you reassure children they are safe, but I still go back to my observation that the younger the child, the more the fears are the old ones that have always been there—being separated from one’s parent, fear of the dark and later fear of being made fun of.  Addressing children’s fears is an important topic, but today I am going to stay focused on keeping your own parental anxieties at bay. 

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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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Squeezing Both Quality Parenting Time and Quantity Parenting Time Out of Your Week

Elisabeth Stitt

At the end of the day, family is about being together and feeling like a connected unit.  With very little time in the week left over for parenting and family time, it is essential to be deliberate about the choices you make for your family--both by protecting the time you do have together and by making sure that time is quality time.  Here are some tips on how to do that.  

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The Thin Line I Found Between Being A Parent And Smothering The Kids

Elisabeth Stitt

 

Tyler Jacobson, today's guest blogger who writes about the struggle to find the balance between protecting our kids without falling into helicopter parenting, is a proud father, husband, writer and outreach specialist with experience helping parents and organizations that help troubled teen boys. Tyler has focused on helping through honest advice and humor on modern day parenting, struggles in school, the impact of social media, addiction, mental disorders, and issues facing teenagers now. Follow Tyler on Twitter | Linkedin

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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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11 teen suicides in 9 years.  In one community.   In my community.

Elisabeth Stitt

11 teen suicides in 9 years.  In one community.   In my community.
How does that happen?  Your first answer might be to blame the parents.  Where were they?  Didn't they know they were putting too much pressure on their son?  Why didn't they do something?

But it's not that simple.

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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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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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Separation Anxiety in Older Kids

Elisabeth Stitt

Both as a teacher and as a camp counselor, I have dealt with plenty of separation anxiety in older kids.  

In early elementary kids, it is still common to have a transition period as a child enters a new classroom.  Even if the child was perfectly happy in the classroom next door the year before, he may spend the first couple of weeks crying in his new classroom.  Intellectually, he knows he was happy the year before and will probably be happy again, but in between then and now, he has spent a lovely, long summer in the bosom of his family.  For him separation anxiety is wrapped up in feeling uncomfortable with a new routine.  Once he has cycled through the weekly schedule a couple of times and feels he knows his teacher, he is fine.  

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No, Mommy! Don't go! 8 Tips for Dealing with Separation Anxiety

Elisabeth Stitt

Separation anxiety is a normal stage for kids to go through.  It starts around 6 months and usually tapers off around 2 years old.  During these months a baby is first gaining the cognitive recognition that you still exist when you are not there, which means baby can now miss you when you are not there.  The problem often intensifies because at the same time baby realizes that her primary source of food and comfort can leave her, she is also testing the ways in which she is an individual.  That's scary!  A lot of separation anxiety is about finding that fine line between growing more independent and at some level still knowing she is fully dependent on you for survival.  

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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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Expanding the Parenting Circle

Elisabeth Stitt

EXPANDING THE PARENTING CIRCLE


I LOVE THAT I AM MOM.  My daughter once pointed out that she holds the special spot in my life of being the only child to grow in my womb.  That does give us a bond that says I am her primary parent.  I love being her primary person. 

But her dad and I have been divorced since she was three, and her stepmother has been in her life almost as long (and her stepfather a few years after that).  That means that while I am her primary parent, Julie has a lot of other parents.  And a lot of other parent figures. 

Now, that could feel threatening to me.  But it’s not.  Instead, it is a source of supreme comfort.  Seriously.  Parenting is a lot of pressure.  I can think of dozens of ways—mostly small but some large, too—that I have messed up.  On the other hand, I can also think of ways that Julie’s stepmom or aunts or grandmothers or good family friends have gotten it right.  They have been able to provide what I wasn’t at the time Julie needed something.

The biggest example of other adults providing help where I couldn’t was when I got remarried.  Because I got married in India and didn’t know I was getting married (long story!), that meant that a) the kids were not with us and b) we did not prepare the kids for our marriage in the way that I normally would have.  You can imagine the guilt I have felt over that—guilt that was reinforced by how long my daughter stayed mad at me.  Thank goodness Julie had my friend Leslie during this time.  Julie spent lots of hours at Leslie’s (supposedly to play with Leslie’s daughter, but I know that she saw Leslie as someone who absolutely understood and who (unlike my family) didn’t take my side but just kept agreeing with Julie that having your mom remarry must be really hard).    

Think of who the special adults have been in your life.  Middle school is a stage where kids begin to examine the world through their own lens.  Up until that point, they follow their parents’ views on things pretty closely.  I was miserable in middle school.  But my school librarian was a big help.  She seemed to get me.  She was ready to listen to me without lecturing.  Even when I complained about my mother, she acknowledged my feelings but didn’t make me feel bad for feeling them.  At that stage in my life, I was busy trying to pull away from my mother in order to get some space to figure out who I was.  No matter how much she wanted to, she was not the person who could help me at that point.  It took an outside, caring adult

It was just lucky that I found Mrs. Anderson, the school librarian, but I also had my godmother.  She was someone my parents had deliberately chosen to be an extra adult in my life.  She loved me and cared deeply for me, but because I wasn’t ultimately her responsibility, she could love me exactly as I was.  Unlike a parent whose job it is to civilize a child (to set expectations for him, to hold him accountable, to push him beyond what he can see for himself), a godparent’s job is mostly just to be there as a wise advisor.  The godparent can give counsel, but the child has no obligation to follow it. That means the child is much more likely to listen (even if the message is pretty much what the parents have been saying al along.  Whereas my godmother clucked over her own boys like a nervous mother hen, with me she could be supremely confident that “only nice things could come to such a nice girl.”

Parents can do much to extend the family circle beyond the nuclear family.  Obviously, how you interact with adults around you will signal to your child how comfortable you are with particular adults as people.  You can go one step farther, though, by helping your children to connect to potential caring adults.  Point those people out.  Guide your children when they might have an interest in common with a caring adult.  Maybe you find out that a teacher at your child’s school exhibits her own art.  You yourself don’t know Jackson Pollock from a Kindergarten project.  By suggesting to your child that she show the artist teacher her work, you are telling your child that you honor her interest in art even if you don’t know anything about it. 

Populating your child’s life with a circle of adults to love and support her is an excellent example of being the architect of your family.  You don’t have to do all the heavy lifting yourself, but the design will be yours.  

How Do You Deal with Your Kids When You and Your Husband Disagree?  

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

WE CARE SO DEEPLY,  IT IS HARD TO SHIFT OUR POSITION

Ideally, spouses will agree with each other.  Indeed, were the world ideal, that would be easy.  Parenting is so personal, however, that it really is hard for parents to have worked out ahead of time what they want their approach to be. Parenting decisions are arguably the most important you'll ever make!  Talk about pressure. It is hard to give up your own point of view.

FIND AREAS IN COMMON AND HAVE EACH OTHER'S BACKS

I find it helps when parents focus more on what they agree on than on what they disagree on.   The first key is that the core values are the same.  I find it very constructive when parents narrow in on 3-4 absolutes.  For example, “In our family we are kind” or “In our family, we take care of our things.”  Which values parents focus on is less important than the power of a consistently presented message around agreed upon ideas. If parents have a lot of agreement and emphasis on the biggies for their family, there will be less need to micromanage each other.  I coach most parents to give their partner more space to parent the way each wants to.  

The second key is that at least there is an agreement in place to support each other.  In my blended family, my husband and stepchildren agreed to eat at the table with the t.v. off when I was there.  Nights I wasn’t home, they ate in front of the t.v.  When my younger stepson asked why they didn’t when I wasn’t home, my husband said, “What matters is that Elisabeth cares, so when she is home, we do it for her.”  In this case, my husband didn’t share the value of sitting at the table, but he did have my back.  I, for my part, let go of trying to convince him that I was right or even why it was important to me.  It was enough that he supported me.  By each giving each other some space, we both kept peace and presented a united front.  

ACCEPT DIFFERENCES IN THE LITTLE THINGS

As long as the core values are in place, it is okay for parents to have different approaches.  If Dad is supervising homework and he says yes to 15 minutes of shooting hoops before getting started, Mom should walk away, even if she has a problem with it.  In the same vein, if Mom is happy to have all the toys thrown into one big bin, Dad needs to wait until he is in charge to have kids sort the toys into separate bins.  Kids can handle two standards to some extent.  That being said, I do find it useful for spouses to have a rule that says kids have to take the first answer they get.  Of course, sometimes this will just mean that kids will go to the parent from whom they can get the yes.  In my own family growing up, that meant that my father always defaulted back to, “Ask your mother” or “Yes, if Mommy says so," but what is really important is that one parent's yes cannot fall to the other parent.  In other words, if mom says yes to a sleepover at Annie's, she cannot now expect dad to drop what he is doing to drive their daughter to the sleepover--or to be the one to pick her up in the morning.  Or if dad says yes to watching a movie that will keep kids up after bed time, it is not fair if mom is the one dealing with rude, grumpy children in the morning.

MAKE SURE THE DOWN SIDE OF YOUR PARENTING DECISIONS DON'T FALL TO YOUR PARENTING PARTNER

Similarly, for parents co-parenting from two separate households, I like the rule that dad cannot say yes to something that is on mom's day.  If my daughter wanted a play date on my weekend, she had to call and ask me.  That made it simpler as for the most part as we didn’t have to agree.  On the other hand, we had little control over what the other spouse did—and sometimes that made it really hard for me to hold my tongue.  For instance, my daughter's dad said yes to her going rock climbing with friends.  That freaked me out, but in the short run a) it was too late for me to do anything about it, and b) it was more important to back up my trust in her father than to make a big scene.  

IN MOST CASES, RELATIONSHIP SHOULD TRUMP PARENTING STYLE

The bottom line here is that the relationship between the parents is usually more important than a particular parenting decision.  Children can thrive with a wide variety of parenting styles as long as they feel safe and secure.  They get that from having their parents on the same page.  

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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5 Skills to Focus on This School Year

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

It’s back to school time, and most parents ask themselves what academic skills are my children going to learn this year?  What number concepts will they have mastered?  How will their writing improve?  

Not to worry.  Your children’s teachers have those topics covered.  

But what are you going to focus on teaching your child this year?  Life skills are first and foremost the responsibility of the parent.  Here are some of the key skills that will support your children’s school success:

Emotional Awareness

Emotional awareness has to do with being able to identify emotions in yourselves and others.  This is built in children first by helping them identify emotions and states of being in themselves by narrating their experience.  That means guessing what is going on with them by connecting their physical clues with their likely emotional states.  You might say things like, “You’re shivering.  You must be feeling cold” or “You are pulling your eyebrows tight together.  Are you angry about something?”  Increasing the emotional vocabulary beyond mad, sad and glad also helps children be more aware of the range of emotional states.  Are they annoyed or furious?  A bit blue or down in the dumps? Content or jumping for joy?  Emotional awareness can then be extended to their interactions with other people or characters from a book.  You might say, “I see that Camille’s lower lip is jutting out like this and the corners of her mouth are turned down.  How do you think she is feeling right now?  The more sophisticated kids get at perceiving their own and other’s emotional states, the more efficiently they can offer solutions for altering that state. 

Resiliency

Resiliency means bouncing back relatively easily from difficult experiences (Note that it does not mean sheltering our children from difficult experiences!).  Being emotionally aware is a good first step in building resilience in children.  Naming emotions and connecting them the physical states allows children to step back from their emotions and be less overwhelmed by them.  Let’s say that a child is feeling some strong emotions because she has lost a game.  Perhaps she is disappointed at her own performance.  Perhaps she fears being judged as “less than” compared to her peers.  Perhaps she feels disconnected because attention has shifted to the winners of the game.  Knowing what the strong emotion is allows her to take an action that will address that specific need.  If she is disappointed in her own performance, she might make a plan for what to practice for next time.  If she feels being judged compared to her peers, she might remind herself that there are lots of other things she is good at.  If she feels disconnected, she might reintegrate herself by congratulating the winners on their accomplishment.  Each of these actions has the potential for helping to regulate her strong emotions.

 Taking Responsibility for One’s Own Actions

A big part of taking responsibility for one’s own actions is seeing oneself as being “in process.”  When we accept that as we learn new things we are bound to make mistakes, it makes it easier for us to own up to actions or decisions which in hindsight were maybe not the best choices.  Parents can help their children learn this by encouraging their children to reflect on their actions rather than to just be critical about them.  Children who have parents who model forgiveness learn to forgive themselves.  That makes it safe for them to admit when they have messed up. This in turn aids in their picking themselves up and moving forward.   (For a complete blog on accepting blame, go HERE.)

Problem Solving

One of my favorite questions for kids is, “What needs to happen now?”  Spilt milk? What needs to happen now?  Lost sweater? What needs to happen now?  Little brother crying because you grabbed a toy from him?  What needs to happen now?  Failed to save your homework on the computer and don’t have it to turn in?  “What needs to happen now?”  

Many parents have a tendency to rush in too fast.  They rush to make things better.  They rush to punish.  They rush to find a solution.  But given the chance, kids are natural problem solvers.  Milk spills?  Even a toddler has seen you wipe things up dozens of times.  Next time try asking, “What needs to happen now?”  Most toddlers will run grab a rag (You can help them out by hanging some rags or having a paper towel rack at their level).  Computer glitches?  Maybe you can work some magic to recover a lost document.  If yes, great.  Take the time to teach your child how to do the same trick.  If no, offer lots of sympathy, but at the end of the day, let your child suffer the consequence whether that is redoing the assignment or getting in trouble with the teacher.  When you solve things for your child, he might be grateful in the short run, but in the long run you have failed to teach him anything. 

Independence

     Mentally walk through your child’s day and consider where she could be more independent.  If she is a toddler or preschooler, could she do more to put on her own clothes? Handle her own ablutions? Pick up after herself more?  With training, bit by bit, a child can do all these things before entering Kindergarten with very little supervision.  An elementary school child can learn to get his own cereal, make his own lunch and pack his backpack for school.  He can begin to read the weather and make guesses based on the season (or check the app!) to decide whether he needs a sweater or a jacket in that backpack. He can sort his laundry and make sure it gets to the laundry room.  He can fold it and put it away.  An upper elementary school child should be doing homework independently and asking for help only after trying a couple different strategies.  She should be getting comfortable with walking away from you physically—next door to borrow some sugar or to the other end of the store to pickup the milk or down the block to a friend’s house.  A middle school child should be keeping track of her own schedule and communicating her needs (for carpooling or other support) to her parents and coordinating what will work for them.  She should be able to talk to her teachers and coaches when she has questions or concerns.  

The Bottom Line:  Parents Set Their Kids Up for Success

Parents are their kids' first teachers.  Kids who have learned these five life skills come to school ready to learn.  They have the external structures which allow them to work efficiently and the internal structures that allow them to cope when things get hard both socially and academically.  In the end, these are the skills that allow your child to focus more fully on her academics, so if you want your child to do well at school, don’t ask him to do extra assignments or get him extra tutoring.  Help him learn to regulate his emotions, to find ways to stay positive when things get hard, to see the effects of his own actions (positive or negative), to find solutions to problems and, finally, to take charge of his own life as much as he is developmentally ready to do so.  

These skills do not happen over night.  The mastery of each of them represents many hours of thoughtful parental guidance.  It is easy to feel impatient as a parent.  You might wail, “I’ve told him a thousand times to….”  Look for improvement and take heart.  As much as possible, try to use questions rather than “I told you’s.”  Asking, “What is the result of leaving wet towels on the floor?” is much more effective than yelling for the umpteenth time, “Hang up your wet towel!”  A child who can verbalize that wet towels lead to mold, smelly bathrooms, and maybe even wood rot is much less likely to just throw the towel on the floor.  

Get Support in Supporting Your Children

Parenting is a life skill.  It is something we learn, not something we just know how to do.  How effective are you at instilling life skills in your children?  Which ones come easily?  With which do you still struggle?  I hear a lot of variations from parents along the theme of "But my kid just isn't ready" or "Well, my kid has ADHD, so I can't trust him to do that on his own."  Few children are able to jump from A to Z, but all children are capable of learning if you break the learning down into small enough chunks.   

Do you need help scaffolding these life skills for your kids?  I can help!  Sign up HERE for a "On the Road to Responsible" 20-minute Strategy Session.