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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: Confidence

Mining for Gold

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt 

There is no doubt that your child is going to have qualities that drive you crazy.  There is no doubt that your child is going to have qualities that cause you concern.  But your job as a parent is to be your child’s champion, to find the good in what your child presents to you.  Why? Because I bet you have experienced the pain of being mislabeled or misunderstood. 
     Try something for me.  Fill in the blank:  I am too _________________.  What’s the word that popped into your head?  Were you too shy? Too anxious? Too loud?  Too bold? Too Forward?  And whose voice in your head gave you that message?  Your mom or dad?  A grandparent?  Or maybe a teacher? 
     Try this one:  I am not ____________________ enough.  What word did you use this time?  Fast, smart, tall, thin, athletic, talented.  All those come to mind.   
     Over the years as a teacher I would ask my seventh graders to complete those two sentences.  What surprised me first was how easy it was for them to do the exercise, even though they were just twelve.  These were not labels they were getting in their teens.  No, these were labels that were already deeply stamped on them, ones that they had absorbed fully not as labels that could be removed but as gospel truths.  The second surprise was that as I heard their labels, they were so often not qualities that I associated with the child I knew sitting in my classroom. 
     What became clear to me is how fully children accept the labels we give them as adults.  Well, let’s start working that to our advantage.  When we think about and talk about our kids, instead of focusing on what we perceive as their deficits, let’s focus on their strengths
     My daughter Julie is as stubborn as the day is long.  Isn’t that wonderful?From the get-go her persistence has been a sight to behold.  As soon as she could crawl, she went everywhere that was open to her, whether it was leaving no toy undiscovered on the toy shelf or no stone unturned in the garden.  She is a committed truth seeker.  She didn’t have much language as a toddler, but I sure knew what she was asking as she tested me over and over:  Really, Mom?  Is the stove really hot?  You say it is, but I better try it out for myself.  What does hot mean?  Oh, and Mom, will you really follow through when I do something you have told me not to? 
     A lot of children will cross some limit you have given because they are tired or hungry and they just lose their control.  Julie had superb control.  I would tell her not to throw sand, and she would wait until I had moved away to sit on a bench for some adult conversation, look to make sure I was watching her and then, her eyes on me and not on the person she was throwing sand at, would carefully, deliberately throw the sand.  And yes, every time I would follow through.  What other children would accept as true, Julie investigated three times as long, coming back to whatever was in question again and again.  Wow!  What a kid.  And what an adult she has become!  A college sophomore, she is diligent and dogged.  She wants to go into neuroscience, a field where I think her stubbornness will serve her well.  I have no doubt that she has the stamina and tenacity to keep pushing and poking for the answers just the way she pushed and poked my patience when she was small.
     I hope I never told her, “Julie, you are too stubborn” or even “Stop being so stubborn,” though I’m sure when I asked if she had to have all the answers right now, she heard the threadbare frustration in my voice.  Maybe even she even heard my internal prayer, “Please, please, please keep me from killing this kid!”  She was not an easy toddler.  Nope.  She was the Energizer Bunny on steroids and at times she did me in, but her strong will and her clarity did leave me in awe. 
     So, your assignment this week is to consider the qualities in your children that you find the most difficult or worrisome.  Perhaps you have labeled them—out loud or in your mind.  Are they irresponsible? Bossy? Rebellious?  Now, go online and do a search for synonyms of the quality that is such a challenge to you.  Pick 8-10 synonyms and rank them from most negative to most positive, from a weakness to a strength.  For Julie, in my dark days it was obstinate, obdurate and obstreperous, but when I was my best parent I rejoiced at how single-minded and steadfast she was, how fixed and firm.    

     Once you have done your assignment, let us know here or email me at elisabeth@elisabethstitt.com what positive terms you have found.  What surprised you?  How has doing the assignment shifted your perspective?  

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HOW TO GET THEM UP AND OUT THE DOOR ON THEIR OWN

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt     

I was speaking with a mother about training her son to do things on his own, and her concern was that she would miss the opportunities that those tasks give her for extra hugs and kisses with him.  I love that she is worried about that (especially with her boy, because I've read studies that show that even in infancy we touch our boys less than our girls), but to me that is a separate issue.  After all, I don't get my husband up and dress him, nor do I make his breakfast.  Yet I am there along side him, getting myself dressed and making my own breakfast.  We chat and laugh and share things (including some extra hugs and kisses!) as we orbit around each other.  The kids fold into this scene naturally as we are all getting ready.  So how do you create it?

Getting Up

     If you are already having to wake your child in the mornings for childcare or school, it is not too early to introduce him to an alarm clock.  If you want some hugs and snuggles, ask him to wake YOU up.  You can have a ritualized morning hug before you get out of bed.  If you are concerned about connecting with him in the morning, have him help you make your bed and then go help him make his bed.  The skill of interdependence is also an awesome one for kids to learn.  When the family is helping each other, a child is still gaining a sense of importance and competence.  It is not just that Mom and Dad serve me all the time (which leads kids to either feeling entitled or to doubting their own self-efficacy).  

Getting Dressed

     Make getting dressed in the morning easy for little ones by putting clothes that fit (and you are willing for them to wear given the season) in drawers or on shelves that they can reach.  Look for pants with elastics and shirts with neck openings wide enough that your child can push his head through fairly easily.  Either buy clothes where the colors match or let him develop his own fashion sense over time.  Undressing is easier than dressing, so starting at 12-18 months, pull your child's cloths off most of the way and have him wriggle out of the rest giving just enough assistance that he gets to struggle a little but not to the point of getting really upset.  

Getting Breakfast

     For breakfast also set kids up for success by putting their bowls, spoons, and cereal low enough for them to get to those items themselves.  As soon as they are using a booster seat at the table, they are big enough to get those items and bring them to the table.  You can still pour the milk, though if you give him a little pitcher, a three or four year old can pour his own milk.  Train him first by giving him lots of opportunities for practice pouring water--in the tub or the backyard on a warm day are great places for this.  Provide a variety of different kinds and sizes of containers.  Through lots of experimentation he will internalize a sense of how much water in one container will be needed to fill another container.  His control and ability not to spill will get better and better.  

Getting Lunches

     When it comes to making lunches, have your two year old right there next to you.  Get her a stool she can pull up next to the counter.  As you make her sandwich and cut up her fruit, talk her through what you are doing. Narrate how you scrape off the extra peanut butter on the inside of the jar and show her over and over how you use a knife safely.  She can start to practice using a butter knife by spreading softened butter on a piece of bread.  This is a skill she can practice on a Saturday afternoon for snack when you have the time and patience to monitor her.  Children love to help and they love to do things on their own.  Three and four year olds can take responsibility for putting any staples--baggies of crackers or fruit snacks--into their lunch boxes.  Again, they can help you with this task on the weekend when you have time to fill up containers for the week.  Just as they practiced pouring water, sacrifice a box of cheerios and have them practice using a 1/2 cup measuring cup to scoop out cheerios and put them in baggies or small boxes.  

Keeping the Long Run in Mind

     But it is just so much faster if I do it myself, I hear you saying.  And yes, that is true in the short run, but by the time my daughter was seven or eight she was making lunch entirely on her own, including adding things we needed to the shopping list. That took five or six years of training.  But for the next eight or nine years, I didn't give one thought to her lunch.  Eventually, since I also packed a lunch to take to my school, we streamlined the process.  Mom, she would ask, do want a sandwich today?  Yes!  Thanks, Darling.  Meanwhile I would fill two baggies of carrots--one for her and one for me.  We each knew we were responsible for our own lunches, but we were happy to help if we were doing it together.  By the time she was in high school and super stressed by schoolwork, there were days from time to time when I would make her whole lunch before she got out to the kitchen.  The look of gratitude on her face was as great as if I had given her a precious jewel wrapped in a box.  Likewise, there were days when she was up early to study for a test, and she would make me my tea, so it would be hot and ready when I walked into the kitchen.  That felt like a gift from the heavens!  But really it was just the payback for the work I put in in the early years.  

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Surviving the Evil Five O'Clock Hour: Planning, Setting Expectations and Executing

Elisabeth Stitt

PLANNING

     One of my nightmares as a mother was having to go shopping--or anywhere actually--during the Evil 5 O'Clock Hour.  I don't know how it is for you, but for me 5:00-6:00 every day was always a hump to get over.  It went best when I made myself available to give my child some undivided attention--maybe for playing in the yard if it wasn't too dark and cold or for some cozy book reading.  Best yet was when I had the emotional energy to just quietly follow her lead no matter how silly it might make me look.   So, needless to say, to weather that twilight hour when it seemed like my child would cry at the drop of a hat, I tried my best to not make other plans.  Not to have to be cooking dinner, not to have to be meeting with a repair man, and above all not to have to go to any kind of store, but most especially the grocery store.  

SETTING EXPECTATIONS

      Of course, life didn't always work that way.  Sometimes, I really had pushed things to the absolute limit and the stars converged such that the diapers ran out and the milk went sour on the same day that I'd have a staff meeting at school and not be able to nip into the store before picking my daughter up at childcare.  If I knew in the morning that that was going to be the case, I did my best to use my time in the car on the way to school to tell my daughter what pick-up time was going to be like--that I was going to be in a hurry, that I wouldn't be able to walk around with her and see the dolly she played with or her painting that was still hanging on the line drying.  I also used this time to ask her if she could think of anything that would help make the quick dash out the door easier for her.  Would it help if we made it a contest and saw if she could do it in 2 minutes?  Would it help if we asked an adult to give her a five minute warning before my arrival?  Would it help if we agreed ahead of time that just this once I could do up her coat by myself?  Would it help if she got an extra big hug from her favorite teacher?  Even before she was really talking, my daughter could communicate these kinds of preferences if I made enough guesses.  My aim was twofold:  One, to give her choice in how we left even if there was no choice about stopping at the store on the way home and two, to have something to remind her about when I got to school to nudge her along.  

     In the case that I didn't have time to warn her that we were going to have to go to the store, it was essential that I pull her aside at childcare into some quiet corner.  I would get her on my lap and hold her until I had her attention.  Sometimes, this meant a tantrum right there at childcare.  It was a break from her routine.  I was springing on her that her evening routine was going to be altered.  She wouldn't get her playtime with mommy before dinner.  Sometimes just holding her on my lap and not letting her run around the center would set her off crying.  That was okay with me.  Remember I started by saying that even on a good day my child is more likely to cry between 5:00 and 6:00 o'clock?  It's as if all the emotional stresses of the day had built up and she was just looking for an excuse to cry them out.  Frankly, if she was going to have a meltdown, I would rather that she have it at the center where we could sit on a beanbag in the corner than that she have it in the middle of the cereal aisle.  Yes, a tantrum takes time.  You cannot hurry it along,  and I admit that while I was sitting there letting her wail it out,  I was mentally revising my shopping list down to the bare essentials I could get away with getting without making tomorrow a hard day, too.  On a happier note, the miracle of a good cry is that it really is like letting the storm wash through with its thunder and lighting.  At the end of it, my daughter's tension would be spent and almost without exception she would be ready to calmly go to the store.  

     Although it might seem counter intuitive, the last minute trips to the store when she hadn't had a chance to cry were by far the dicier ones, the ones which required every bit of patience and creativity on my part to move us along without upset.  Again, I would use the time in the car to set the expectations for what would happen once we got to the store:  We were only getting a few things (could she hold the list for me?); we weren't getting anything that wasn't on the list (that meant no requests for raspberries, dinosaur pasta or "special treat" cereal); but we were getting apples (did she want red or green?).  Again, I would ask her what might make going to the store easier?  Could we use the special cart that she could drive?  Yes, if it was free, but what if it wasn't free?  Did she want to sit in the cart?  Would she keep her bottom down?  Otherwise she was going to be sitting up in the front part right in front of Mommy.  How could she help Mommy?  Could she count the apples?  Sort the food by whether or not it went in the fridge or the cupboard?  Hold the reusable grocery bags and hand them to the bagger?  My main aim here in addition to letting her know what kind of behavior would be expected was to make her feel needed and included.  Instead of my dragging her to the store because I had no choice, I would pose it as how lovely it was that she was there to assist me.  

EXECUTING

     Once we got to the store, I was all about cheerful confidence that we were going to be quick and that the trip was going to be fun.  Often, I would turn it into a song and we would skip through the parking lot (Yes, I skipped in public.  If it made a five o'clock shopping trip go off without a hitch, dignity be damned).  We would sing:  We're going to the store/We're going to the store/Hi Ho the Merry-o,/We're going to the store.  If it was working, we'd add more verses (We'll buy the apples first/We'll buy the apples first/Hi Ho the Merry-o/We'll buy the apples first).  As we were singing, we wouldn't have to stop to have conversation about which cart we'd use or where she would sit because we had already worked that out in the car.  If she did decide to resist, I wouldn't let her change her mind because I knew that if I gave in on that first agreement, all I was doing was putting off the inevitable battle for inside the store.  Instead, I would get down to eye level, hold her hands or stroke her arms and gently remind her of her agreement.  Sometimes that brought on a crying jag right there outside the store [Let me offer up a small prayer of thanks here that I was parenting in California.  The weather was rarely so bad that we couldn't take the time to have the tantrum outside the store.  If it had been, I suppose I would have had to go back to the car and let her do her crying there.]  

     You know as well as I do that a grocery store is specifically designed as a land mine that a parent must negotiate through.  Yes, the store does deliberately place toys and yummy snacks right where a child is most likely to see them.  That's why I would use the shopping list plus empathy.  My daughter would cry out in great need for something--bubbles, maybe--and I would say, "Aw, too bad it is not on the list!"  And then as I pushed by the bubbles, I might add in my most energized voice, "I love bubbles!  They're so much fun!!  I like the way they shimmer with different colors!!  Don't you think bubbles are just the prettiest?"  At this point, on a good day, my daughter would get excited just talking about bubbles.  By the time she got back to wanting to buy them, we would be aisles away and looking for the next item on the list.  On a bad day, this might be where the tears finally appeared.  Remember, some days there are just tears that need to fall.  A child has been keeping it together all day at school, but now that she is with you, her parent, she can safely fall apart secure in the knowledge that you won't abandon her.  At this point, you have to make a decision.  It might be possible to keep offering sympathy while at the same time going down your shopping list:  "Aw, Sweetie.  I know you really wanted those bubbles,  You really like them and really wish you could get some.  I know that's hard, Pumpkin.  I wish I could make it easier for you."   For my own part, if the crying was at a reasonable decibel and I didn't think I was making the other patrons suffer too badly, I would push through my list, continuing to murmur comforting sounds, taking her hand if she would let me.  If it was really bad, I would ask the clerk at the front of the store to watch my cart and head outside until she finished crying.  Once she was done--and that could be a while--we would head back in and finish.

AT THE END OF THE DAY

     Boy.  I am feeling a bit overwhelmed just writing this, just remembering how hard it could be.  I certainly didn't make it through my daughter's childhood without some very trying evenings.  On the other hand, there were lots of successful times, too, when setting expectations and going into the store with a sense of adventure won the day--days when other parents would look at me enviously and older parents would smile at me indulgently.  These were good tricks to have in my bag.  But never forget the best trick of all:  Whenever possible, at the end of the day, do the planning that WON'T require you to tax your child during the bewitching hour.  

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3 Steps to Getting Your Kids to Listen

Elisabeth Stitt

COOKIES, KIDS!  COME GET 'EM WHILE THEY'RE HOT!

Can't you just see the stampede of kids that would follow this call?  And wouldn't it feel good to get all those squeals of delights and efuse thank you's when you did make the call?  But what about all those other times when what you are singing out does not seem to reach their ears--as if they are surrounded by an invisible force field that protects them from requests they would prefer not to process?

Let's try applying my 3 Steps to Effective Parenting--clarity, connection, and consistency--to see how you can get your kids to listen to you.



CLARITY


In this case, clarity has two aspects.  The first is your own clarity about what is important to you.  You are going to get much further with your kids if you are clear that you want your directions followed.  If you request something from your kids, but you don't really expect them to do it--and it really isn't that high on your priority list--chances are, it just isn't going to happen.  You might say with a long suffering sigh,  I wish you kids would hang up your backpacks and coats when you came in the door.  Your children are going to hear that request exactly as you stated it, as a wish--something they may grant or not grant.  That gets us to the second aspect of clarity:  how you say something.  Short and sweet.  When you really mean it, use simple phrases.  Meeting the kids at the door with Backpacks! Coats! said in a bright, cheery tone will get through much more effectively.  As a general rule of thumb, the younger the child, the fewer words you should use, and the more sing-songy your tone should be.  


CONNECTION


For the most part, kids really do want to be helpful.  They like being part of a warm family unit that is running along smoothly.  It is when they feel disconnected from you or are carrying stress and anxiety from some other part of their day, that they freeze up.  They get stuck.  Instead of going with the flow, they get fixated on something. It is a little like having a bad itch:  You are so distracted by the itch, that until you scratch it, you can't focus on anything else.  When your kids are in this state, they are not going to listen.  To get their attention, you are first going to need to attend to them as people.  Perhaps that means a hug right when they walk through the door or getting down to their eye level and making eye contact and telling them warmly I'm so glad to see you!  With some kids, a hug is too much, but you can take their hands in yours and squeeze. Having established that connection and reassured them with your words, tone and body language that you are the safe home base, your reminder of Backpacks! Coats! will have them hanging things up before they move into the rest of the house.  The reminder called from the other room when they are still carrying the emotional weight of their days, will almost certainly fall on deaf ears.  

CONSISTENCY

Kids have pretty good radars for when you really mean something and when you don't really mean it yet. The best example of this is when we announce to our kids it is time to go.  Then we go back to our conversation or looking at our iPhone, neither of which communicate  anything about going.  A long time ago Garrison Keillor did a wonderful sketch called the Minnesota Good-Bye.  Sung to a tune by Handel, it started out with something like It really is time for us to be going with a response of Oh no, you can't possibly leave without one more slice of pie.  Well, maybe just one you say.  And so on.  In the song, it takes five minutes of pleasantries to get out the door.  Any child worth his self respect will keep right on playing through all this polite leave taking.  He knows he is not required until the adults are actually standing at an open door at the very least.  So, when you make a request, it is your job to mean it--and to mean it right when the request is made.  Certainly, you can give your kids a five minute warning, but when that five minute warning is up, your full attention needs to be on that child, seeing that she follows through on what you have asked. My suggestion is to do your own good-byes during that five minutes:  Sweetie, you have five more minutes to do one last thing, while I say good-bye here.  When that five minutes is up, you have to keep your promise and actually leave.  


REVIEW

1.  Only demand of your kids those things you are actually going to follow through on.  Expressing a demand as a wish or vague option leaves things wide open for your child to choose.  They may well hear you, but they do not register the request as something you are serious about.
2.  Use simple, clear language.  Even with 7th graders, I still get much further calling out "Line up, please!" firmly then "Okay, class.  It is time to line up now, if you please."  Some kids--often very brilliant ones--are slow processors.  The more words you give them, the more there is to process. 
3.  Speak with energy and conviction.  Your tone doesn't need to be strident, but it does need to mean business.  
4.  Check in with your kids on an emotional level first.  Don't shout orders from another room (Do you like it when they yell at you from another room?).  Go to them.  Make eye contact.  Smile.  If they are absorbed in a book or glueing something in place, get in close so they feel your presence, but try to give them a moment to get to a better stopping point.  If they continue to ignore you, you could give them a three minute warning (Darling, in 3-minutes I'm turning the machine off, so find a good stopping place before then) or you can put your hand on whatever it is they are doing.  Calmly, firmly, gently, you ask for their attention.
5.  Most importantly, you follow through by staying focused on them until what you ask for has happened.  Let's go back to the kids coming in the door.  You have hugs and love, you give the simple command clearly, and then you use your physical body to block their way out of the hall until backpacks and coats are hung up.  You can point to the hooks as a gentle reminder.  

If you are consistent with your behavior, your kids will listen to you pretty consistently.  They won't spend any energy asking themselves does mom really mean it?  Do I really have to respond now?  They will know that they can rely on you to follow through until they follow through.  

Give it a try.  If you have your doubts or try it and are still struggling, set up a free 20-minute consult with me HERE.  We will figure out what you might tweak to have cheerful, cooperative kids in no time.  

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I Love My Spouse, but I Hate Parenting with Him: TIP #2 for Constructive Couples Communication: I-Statements

Elisabeth Stitt

 

How has it been going with Tip # 1--active listening?  Did you miss it? You can catch up HERE.


With Tip #2--I Statements--we create room for conversation, but instead of just listening, we learn to express our emotions so our partner knows what is going on inside our heads.  

Have you ever sat in a busy place like an airport or a café and made guesses about people?  I love doing that.  People always fascinate me, and I like to tell stories in my head about the people around me.  In the process I make a lot of assumptions about who they might be.  I look at their clothes, how they are standing, their expressions, who they are with, what language they are speaking.  I take it all in and I start making guesses.  Well, I may make a game out of it, but we all make assumptions, all the time--with strangers and with the people we love.  We tell ourselves stories about people's motivations, as if we could see inside their brains.  And perhaps just as harmful, we assume that others can see in our heads, too!  

Lots of times we make positive assumptions--like when my husband makes hot tea and brings it to me, I assume he loves me and is thinking about me--but often times we make negative assumptions about what our partner is thinking or feeling without doing a reality check. Here’s an example:  Barbara is washing the dishes while Bob sits on the couch reading.  As she furiously scrubs, she might be seething thinking, “It’s not fair that I’m working and he’s just sitting there relaxing.”  She might go on to tell herself, “He’s okay letting me wash the dishes alone because I’m home all day and he thinks I don’t do anything all day.”  

In reality, Bob might not be aware of her at all.  He might just be enjoying his good book.  Or he might have his own internal dialogue going. He might be thinking, “I am so stressed out from work.  I just need 30 mins. to veg out.  I wish she’d stop doing the dishes and relax for a bit!”  Fear of an argument can make it hard to reasonably ask our partner’s motivations, but what are we supposed to do with all our hurt or hostile feelings?

The technique I want to tell you about today is called an I-Statement.  It is used for introducing a difficult topic in a gentle way.  Here is an I-Statement Barbara might have used to express her negative emotions about the dishes:  

Addressing Bob, she would say, “When you sit on the couch reading while I am doing dishes, I feel resentful and put upon because I am working and you have leisure time.”  

Let’s look at each part.  The I-Statement starts by identifying one concrete situation.  It goes on to express a feeling (in this case resentment) and the underlying cause of the emotion (Barbara would like to be resting, too, but feels she cannot until the dishes are done).  Notice what the I-Statement does not say: It is not used for broad general character defamations (like “You’re so inconsiderate!") and it does not go over past history (as in “You always let me do the dishes and never help"). It does not go on and on with a lot of detail.  

What are some other times you might feel upset with your spouse?  Perhaps she comes home late without calling.  Perhaps he leaves to do a Costco run without telling you, leaving all three children in your care.  Perhaps she makes plans for the family without asking you first.  The list could go on and on, right?  In each of these cases, you could use an I-Statement to start the conversation that communicates your distress.  Here are some sample statements you might calmly use with your partner. 

When you came home late without calling me, I felt worried because I imagined you had had an accident.

When you left me with all three kids without telling me first, I felt furious because I've been point person on looking after the kids all day and I need a break.  

When you said yes to our going to dinner at friends without checking with me first, I felt ignored and insignificant because I didn't get a chance to weigh in with my desires or opinions. 

Of course, the feelings and the reasons behind the feelings could be different than the ones I have suggested here.  The important part is that you are expressing your emotions rather than expecting your partner to guess them.  At the same time, you are delivering your message in a way that is not an attack. Tone is, of course, still important, but if you stick to the formula--because you are mentioning a specific event and sharing only your own feelings and not your partner's motivations--you greatly avoid the chances of anger, sarcasm, or bitterness taking over.

Got it?  It can help to think through some possible I-Statements before you actually start using them.  You might even want to write them down.  

Once you have delivered your I-Statement, then what?  At the very least, you will have expressed your emotions and that feels good.  But let's suppose your partner gets hostile and tears into the one part of the statement she can defend.   In response to your comment, "When you came home late without calling me, I felt worried because I imagined you had had an accident," for example, your partner may mitigate how late she was, arguing it was only 15 minutes.  That's fine.  If that is true, use it in your I-Statement response: "When you were 15 minutes late home without calling me, I felt worried because I imagined you had had an accident."  Maybe now your partner will say you are being ridiculous!  Use that, too:  "Even if it was ridiculous, when you came home late last night, I felt worried."  As long as you you keep sticking to the truth of your feelings, your partner will not be able to argue around them.  It helps to picture your spouse and run through the conversation through your head as you imagine it will go, so you can think out your responses.  

On the other hand, if you and your spouse can train each other, you can keep the conversation going in a peaceful vein.  Let's go back to Barbara and Bob and the dishes.  When Barbara uses her I-Statement to tell Bob how she is feeling, what should Bob’s response be?  Well, this would be an excellent time for some Active Listening.  He might say something like “You’re really frustrated that you are doing the dishes alone.  It doesn’t feel fair to you.”  By not defending himself, Bob gives Barbara a chance to off load her emotions and really tell her whole story.  At the end of the active listening, he might ask Barbara, “What would you like me to do?”  Now if Barbara says, “It would make a big difference to me if you would help me with the dishes,” Bob is likely jump up from the couch and grab a dish towel. Not having felt attacked, he will have listened with an open heart.  Most spouses do want to support each other if they are asked in a way that assumes the best in them.  

As with active listening, I-Statements are a skill you can use just from your side of the conversation and you will still have an effect on the health of relationship.  Find a few places this week to give them a try.  

Let me know how it goes.  Not signed up for my newsletter?  Sign up HERE and you won't miss my favorite communication tip of all coming next week.  

5 Tips for Being the Parent You Want to Be

Elisabeth Stitt

   Let's face it.  In the old battle between Quality Time vs. Quantity Time, ask any kid and he will say that he wants both.   But where does that leave us today?  More families than ever have two parents being paid for work that takes them away from the family resulting in outsiders spending as many or more hours with the child than the parent.  How is a parent to be the parent he wants to be in this situation?  There is no easy answer, but there are some parenting choices that can help:

•Take the time to be on the same parenting page as your partner. 

When families are stressed and there is very little flexibility, it is more important than ever that parents have taken the time to articulate their key values and priorities.  Clearly, with less available time, something is going to have to be left out.  It will help if parents are at least confident that they are fostering the lessons they think are most essential.  Taking the time to agree on policy ahead of time means you will provide a united parenting front. 

(Need help coming to agreement peacefully?  Get the recording of my FREE webinar on Constructive Couples Communication using the form on my homepage.)

   •Let clear routines move your time together along smoothly.  

Parents who feel they are not getting enough time with their kids are sometimes over indulgent to make up for it.  As a short cut to establishing closeness, they let the child make all the decisions about what the family is going to eat, watch, when they'll go to bed, etc.  That might buy short-term good will, but it never works in the long run.  Inevitably parents' patience runs out and there are meltdowns when the parents now tries to insist the child go a certain direction.  With clear routines--including routines for fun-, silly- and down-time--children know what to expect.  They don't get to the edge of feeling out of control and they don't feel the need to fight their parent.  Life unfolds in a regular rhythm.

 •Be deliberate in creating traditions or habits that will bring you together as a family. 

I know a family with four boys that has a routine before they go out the door.  Mom or Dad stands at the door and does roll call!  Each boy shouts HERE energetically.  Then the parent goes down the list of what is needed for that outing (Gone potty? homework? lunch?) and after each inquiry each boy replies in best military fashion CHECK!  I have seen this routine in action, and the boys love it.  It makes them feel like a troupe ready to go on a mission all without feeling nagged and without the drama of showing up at MORE  without your homework, your lunch, etc.

  •Figure out what are the key pieces you need in your day/week to keep your sanity.

I used to race from my classroom at my school my daughter's after school care. I was going on the theory that it was better to have me nearby--say, while correcting papers at the kitchen table--than it was to give her my undivided attention.  This didn't work.  I was harried and distracted when I first got to her and once we got home that stack of papers was always pulling me away from her.  She finally had the wisdom to tell me to do my correcting at school and then LEAVE the papers there.  When I went to pick her up--even if it was a couple hours later than I would have--I was 100% hers.

 •Be willing to reevaluate your work/life balance every six months or so.  

Here's my final tip.    Most children would be happy with you standing at the ready 24/7:  Most jobs could easily fill our every waking moment.  Therefore, balance is something we reach for:  It is not something we get and then keep with no attention to it. The key is to remain open to change.  The sitter who was right for your infant, might not have the energy to keep up with your toddler.  You might chosse to work fewer hours for a while so that you can join the co-op preschool down the street.  Maybe you have been a stay-at-home parent and that has felt pretty good, but over time your longing for meaningful work in your field is making you short tempered and impatient.  In that case, it might be healthier for your children to see less of you but to have a thriving, full-filled parent when you get home.  Only you can know what is best for you and your family.  There is no magic formula other than to keep checking in with yourself and what is really most important to you.  Working with a coach will help get you that clarity.  Click HERE to start that conversation with a free 20 minute consult. 

Sleeping, Eating, Pottying...Follow Your Child's Lead

Elisabeth Stitt

  Let’s face it.  Kids can control sleeping, eating and pottying, right?  There’s nothing you can do to make a child go to sleep—you can’t force it.  With eating you can threaten or cajole, but at the end of the day, the child can clench his teeth, spit the food out or choke on it.  And as for pottying, nowhere else does the child have more control, for even if nature takes over and the child ends up pooping, it will be left to you to clean it up.  Clearly, in these three areas, there will be many fewer battles if the parents really sit back and take their child’s lead.  I know.  I KNOW!! Do I really mean just sit back and let them take complete control?     

Having a regular routine helps.                               

Not really.  Of course there are steps you can take to encourage sleeping, eating and using the potty.  Having regular routines around all these activities will help set a natural rhythm, and the child’s body will have the expectation of the routine even if the child himself is feeling obstinate.  True, you might have a child who will give up naptime early.  I did, but I kept to the routine;  I just called it quiet rest time, instead, and my daughter would play in her crib for an hour.  Often she would fall asleep, but lots of time she didn’t.  That was okay.  It was enough that she learned to play by herself in a safe place.  It wasn’t a fight because I wasn’t “making” her go to sleep.                                        

Provide healthy food at regular intervals and don't worry about the rest.

With eating, I also followed her lead.  I provided healthy food regularly at regular times, but I didn’t fuss if she didn’t eat anything.  Her natural rhythm was to eat a big meal around every third day and then eat what felt to me like next to nothing the other meals.  Personally, I didn’t tie desert to finishing her meal.  I just offered something sweet as part of it.  To my amazement, she would usually take a few bites of cookie and then offer it back to me!)              

Don't worry.  You're child won't go to college in diapers!                                            

My now-grown daughter likes to brag that she potty trained herself.  We did the usual reading of potty books.  We had a potty in the bathroom and explained how to use it many times without asking her to.  Eventually, when I had to pee, she began peeing in her pot with some success.  After we had had dry pull-ups for a while, I asked her if she would like to use underwear.  She tried it for a few days, had some accidents, and asked to go back to pull-ups.  Okay, I said.  A month later she asked to try her underwear.  And that was it.  She wore it regularly.  If she had accidents, I don’t remember them.  Bottom line.  She was in control.  She dictated when it was going to happen. 

In each of these areas, it behooves a parent to be exceedingly nonchalant.  Food is here.  If you want it, great.  If you aren’t hungry, no problem.  You can wait until the next meal to eat.  Of course, it does require the parents to truly let go of their worry that their child will starve. He won’t.  And he’ll potty train eventually.  In the meantime, it might help to remember that developmentally children are learning physical regulation--the ability to learn the physical signs of hunger, having to potty and sleep. These are important qualities for our kids to learn, and they can't learn them if we don't follow their lead.  

Are you struggling to let go of your worry and doubt?  Let me help!  Sign up for a complimentary coaching session on any of these topics HERE.

Relationship, Relationship, Relationship

Elisabeth Stitt

 

     I have been having such fun interviewing so many wonderful people for the Purposeful Parenting: Expert Advice on Creating Your Family Plan summit.  Although they are talking about different aspects of parenting and coming from different disciplines and perspectives, the message I have been hearing over and over again is that it is all about relationship.  Maybe I should put that in all caps:  IT IS ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIP.  It's all about knowing your individual kid and meeting him right where he is.  When expert after expert talks about using connection as the foundation for all parenting, it is time to listen.

     At the end of the day, you want a close, warm relationship with your child.  You want him to feel that you will always be there for him; that you are his biggest champion.  As someone said (I forget who), every child ought to have someone who is simply crazy about her.  And who better than the parent to play that role?  Or as Aristotle said, educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.  Pedagogically, we call this lowering the affective filter.  Education theory states that a child will not learn until he feels safe and connected to his teacher.  

You are your child's first teacher.  Your child wants to learn and wants to please you.  From nearly the moment she is born, your child is watching you, tracking you, gaging your emotions and reactions.  As long as she feels safe and secure, she will look to you for the lessons of the world--both social emotional and "academic."  

What does your child need to feel close, connected, safe and secure?  She needs your love, your warmth, your approval.  She needs to hear things like:

     That's okay.  Those things happen sometimes.
     I can see that you are really upset.  Don't worry.  It won't always feel bad.
     Honey, we all make mistakes.  That's how we learn.
     I know you can figure that out, and I am here if you need me.
     If you don't figure it out today, come back tomorrow and see if it looks different.
     I'm so proud of you; you really tried your best on that. 
     No matter what, I will always love you.  Now, what can we do to fix this?
     I know that you're really angry/disappointed/sad/frustrated right now, and when you are ready to talk about it, I am here.  
     I can see the bad feelings zinging around inside of you, and I would love to hear what is going on for you when you are ready to talk and not yell.  

These are the kinds of messages that allow children to feel loved even when they are misbehaving, even when they are failing, even when they doubt themselves.  Does responding with these "kinder and gentler" words mean that you are a softy?  A complete pushover?  A bad disciplinarian?  Not at all.  I still expect you to hold your limit with your child, but do it calmly and with empathy.  



 

The Birds and the Bees, Part II

Elisabeth Stitt

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Confidence is Key

Elisabeth Stitt

In 2012 Pamela Druckerman wrote Bringing Up Bebé about her experience of observing the differences between French and American parents.  In 2013 Christine Gross-Loh, author of Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us, offered an even wider view of different parenting approaches.  The take away from both books is that there are lots of different ways to parent—and they all have their benefits.  Thousands of students passing through my classroom over the years certainly confirmed my experience that there is a very wide range of  “doing parenting right.” 
 
I didn’t always feel that way.  I had some pretty fixed ideas about what were good parenting techniques.  In fact, in the 9th grade I even wrote a paper called “Effective Parenting.”   Don’t get me wrong.  It was researched.  I didn’t just write the paper out of my head, but I cringe when I imagine how sanctimonious I must have sounded
 
Well, the last laugh was not mine.  Growing up in India someone made my husband’s lunch for him every day of his school career, and yet, when he came to Stanford for graduate school, he had no trouble looking after himself.  With that as his experience, he rolls his eyes at me when I enforce my motto, “Never do for a child what he can do for himself.”  So who’s right?  We both are.  Children benefit from loving attention and care.  Attentive service to a child does not have to mean the child will be a spoiled brat.  In fact, just the opposite.  I’m convinced that one of the reasons my husband is so generous is that he has always trusted that he will be taken care of, that everyone’s needs will be met.  On the other hand, I firmly believe that it is human nature to want control—and one way to give children control is to make them responsible for themselves.  
 
Okay, the research is clear that there are pretty wide parameters when it comes to parenting.  Where does that leave us hand-wringing, anxious Americans?  Believe it or not, I have an opinion about that!  Teacher, mother, stepmother.  Each of these roles has reinforced my belief that the one key ingredient to good parenting is confidence.  If you can transmit absolute, calm confidence in whatever you allow or ask of your child, you will be providing the security that is essential.  For some families that might mean being absolutely certain that bedtime is at 7:00 so that the parents have time to reconnect.  For other families that might mean knowing that children who fall asleep in their parents’ arms no matter how late, fall asleep knowing they are a part of the family.
 
The short take away? Do what works for your family, and it will be right!