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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: Consistency

THE ART OF CONVERSATION

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

 

Using technology to babysit buys a moment’s peace at dinner:  Developing conversational skills gets a lifetime of delightful dinnertime companionship.     

I witnessed two father/child conversations this week. 

On Tuesday, I was eating in a restaurant next to a father and daughter out to dinner. My guess is that the daughter was around four.  The pair sat down, and Dad immediately pulled out the iPad and set it up for her.  Dad quietly sipped his glass of wine.  For the moment I will put aside my own personal rant about the blurps, bings and dings from the video disturbing my own meal and focus on the idea that ten years from now this father is going to be lucky to get any conversation out of his child at dinner at all.  

 

The Cost of Relying on Technology to Parent

 

Obviously, I don’t know what their day or their week has been.  Perhaps Dad and Daughter have already spent a couple hours playing together.  Perhaps the iPad at the dinner table is screen time she earned for being cooperative about doing her chores all week.  Perhaps they had a long conversation while driving to the restaurant.  Perhaps going out to eat is a big treat and it is the only time Daughter is allowed screen time at the table.  

But for the moment, let’s go with the assumption that as Dad was in his business clothes, he probably picked his Daughter up from Child Care at 6:00.  Hopefully they did have a good conversation about her day in the car.  But it would not surprise me if she had access to the iPad in the car, too.  And just as at dinner, Dad was not watching it with her.  He was not engaging with her about what she was watching.  Not commenting, not asking questions, not explaining what might be new concepts.  

Now don’t get me wrong.  I have certainly gone to dinner when my daughter was young and brought coloring books or other quiet games with the hope that she would quietly entertain herself.  Especially as a single mom with just one daughter at home, I spent a lot of time playing with my kid, and if I could snatch a moment of self-absorbed contemplation, I certainly did.  Likewise, we go to dinner with my nephew almost weekly and for much of the meal he is absorbed in whatever book he is reading.  That is okay with me because I recognize that sitting at the table for more than an hour—as we do most weeks—is a lot to ask of a nine year old.  Nonetheless, once the food does arrive, we do get his attention and he joins in the family conversation.  

Conversation Is an Art

Conversation is an art.  Children need to practice it.  Adults have the responsibility to scaffold the learning by helping kids structure their answers.  Later in the week I saw a dad do this beautifully with his daughter.  She was also around four—maybe a little younger than the girl from earlier in the week.  He started by asking her what she had done during Outside Playtime at school.  She answered I don’t know.  Instead of letting that stop the conversation dead in its tracks, he asked her to think a moment and assured her that she would remember.  Then he just looked at her quietly and patiently.  When she said she still didn’t remember, he coached her:  He said, “Start by saying, ‘Usually during Outside Playtime at school, I _______.'”  She filled in the blank and said “go on the slide.”  He praised her, but had her repeat her answer using the whole phrase.  She repeated the complete sentence, and then without prompting she continued on saying, “but today I played in the sand box with Jesse.”  Then Dad said, “Oh! Tell me about that!”  By now Daughter was off on a roll and she shared quite a bit about her sandbox play.  Clever Dad.  Chances are if he had asked, “What did you play?”, he would have gotten a one-word answer.

Conversation is a Two-Way Street

Now, what happened after this conversation was the part that impressed me the most.  When Daughter had finished telling about her day, Dad said, “I had a good day, too.”  When his daughter didn’t pick up on his conversational gambit, Dad reminded her, “Honey, when you are talking to people, the conversation has to go back and forth.  I asked you about your day.  Now you should ask me about my day.”  Daughter perked up and looked right at her dad:  “Tell me now, Daddy!”  While Dad shared a few details, she kept her attention on him the whole time.

If Dad keeps up gently prompting his daughter through having a full conversation, imagine the benefits they will both reap.  Not only will he stay in touch with his daughter as she grows up, she will have an awareness of him as a person who also does interesting things and has thoughts and feelings of his own as an individual.  No doubt, over the years, their conversations will range far and wide.  Remember, connection is a key to effective parenting, and conversation is an easy way to feel connected with a person.

  In January 2015, Mandy Len Catron wrote an essay published in The New York Times called, “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This”(http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/11/fashion/modern-love-to-fall-in-love-with-anyone-do-this.html).   In the essay she tells how she and a mutual acquaintance increased their trust and intimacy using the 36 questions from a study done in the 90’s by Arthur Aron et al designed to see if you could make  people fall in love with each other.  The study found you could.  Carton found she did.  Imagine using these questions—or questions like these—over the years to connect to your kids.  

The Cost of Not Developing Conversational Skills

Now let’s ago back to that other Dad from earlier in the week.  Presently he has the easy love that a small child gives her parent.  To a four year old, you are the sun, the moon and at the stars all connected.  But over the years, as a child makes the shift to peers, parents who have not already established conversational habits have to work much harder to not drift apart.  Just because you are physically at the table with your kids does not mean you are reaping the many (many!) benefits of eating together.  Harvard professor and researcher, Dr. Anne K. Fishel, points out that, "the real power of dinners lies in their interpersonal quality” (http://thefamilydinnerproject.org/food-for-thought/science-eat-dinner-together/).  The more we get sucked into our electronic gadgets, the more parents have to systematically teach their children good interpersonal skills.  In less distracted eras, family members looked to each other for entertainment.  Card games, board games, story telling, and singing together were some of the only sources of entertainment available.  All of these required families to not merely be near each other, but to actually talk to each other.   

Keep the Flow of Conversation Going

Once you have gotten them to the table (and banned the distractions), getting your kids to talk to you is a two-part process.  First, help your kids give detailed, complete answers to daily questions like, “How was your day?”  Teach them that while that might be a courtesy question out in public to which a polite “fine” is acceptable, when you ask it, you are looking for some real sharing without having to pull teeth.  Of course, for your part, you have to be a good listener who absorbs what your kids are telling you before you jump to criticize or solve.  Your primary job is to keep the flow of conversation going.  Use prompts like Really?  What else?  Tell me more. How do you feel about that?  Especially in the short run, listening is much more important than your response.  If you are really worried about something that comes up, I suggest you circle on back to it at a later time—maybe in private at bedtime. 

Getting Creative and Thinking Outside the Box to Get to Your Kids Talking

The second part of getting your kids to talk is coming up with good questions.  You want to balance questions about daily life with questions that will expand your kids' thinking.  The Family Dinner Project ( http://thefamilydinnerproject.org/conversation-2/conversation-starters/ ) suggests questions like, “If you joined the circus, what would your circus act be?”  As someone who long had fantasies about running away to join the circus, I love that question.  (I would have definitely chosen being a trapeze artist, in case you were wondering!)  

TiffinTalk—A Tool to Help

Another fabulous resource is a company called TiffinTalk.  TiffinTalk creators Kat Rowan and Michael Friesen have written over 4000 cards each with a question that provides "thought-provoking, open-ended questions that prompt meaningful conversations – no matter what the age of your child.”  4000!  And every card is different. That is extraordinary. The cards are boxed into groups by age from preschool through high school.  Like Arthur Aron’s questions designed to help two people fall in love by increasing intimacy, TiffinTalk’s questions start out more general and broad and go deeper over the course of the each themed week.  Themes from the boxes for 6-9 year olds, for example, include topics like Clean or Messy, Homes & Houses, Being More Than You, How to (Not) Argue with Adults, and Firsts. These cards are not games; each are meant to be personalized cards from parent to child and are meant to be shared in one-on-one, face-to-face discussions. 

In June 2015, I interviewed TiffinTalk Creative Director and CEO Kat Rowan.  One of the points we touched upon was how opening the lines of conversation on a host of topics makes it much easier to bring up more difficult topics like death or sex education.  If you and your child are not used to talking about touchier topics, when the time comes to bring them up, they feel much heavier and weighted than they need to be. In fact, some parents never do have “the Sex Talk” because it seems too overwhelming—a mountain when it could be a mole hole. On the other hand, parents who have been exploring a range of themes like the ones TiffinTalk provides have likely already dealt with a lot of related topics, having discussed questions about relationships, friendships, how dress affects how people see us, our bodies, etc.  TiffinTalk’s boxes of cards (beautifully produced) are complete and comprehensive.  By the time you work your way through the whole series, there will be very little you have not touched on. The inclusion of blank cards allow parents lots of flexibility to address questions that occur to them, while the themes give the parents something concrete to fall back on.  

Of course, you may be able to come up with lots of topics on your own.  If that is the case, you probably already know the joy of having kids who are mentally present and eager to join you at the table—a daily touchpoint of love, warmth and connection.  

You will never regret putting energy into teaching your children the Art of Conversation.  Well, you may regret how much you miss their sparkling wit when the grow up and go away, but I trust they will come home to visit! 

 

Set Your Kids Free: 10 Things They Need to Be Able to Do on Their Own by Middle School

Elisabeth Stitt

Reposted from October 18, 2015

 It used to be that kids were treated as mini adults, and now the pendulum has swung the other way and young adults are being treated (and acting) as overgrown kids.  You have probably heard about the damage of being a too intense parent--whether that means tiger mom or helicopter parent.  Now you may be wondering what should you be expecting of your child?  The early childhood markers of independence--sitting, walking, potty training, etc.--get talked about a lot, but what is reasonable to expect of our older children is not as clear.  Just what should our early adolescent/ middle school kids be able to do on their own?

    I started thinking about this from the kids' point of view.  That made me remember the children's literature I grew up on.  Many of my favorite books were about young people taking charge independently--often away from their parents.  Let's start with Enid Blyton's The Famous Five series.  Beginning with Five on a Treasure Island, five cousins spend the summer having one adventure after the next.  There is home base where meals are offered and the children check in, but the assumption of the adults seems to be that as long as they are out in the fresh air, together, that they are generally fine no matter what they are getting up to.  In the Swallows and Amazon books by Arthur Ransome, six children are given permission to camp on an island in the middle of a lake.  They cook over open fires and deal with the local "natives" (as the children refer to the adults) to procure supplies.  Another popular example of kids on a mission is From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. It is about two children who run away from the suburbs to New York City and who handle themselves very well.  In all these books, the children are supported by friends, cousins or siblings and range in age between around 9 and 13.  For me the common themes are that a) children are generally seen as very capable and b) they relish in the opportunity to show how able they are to take care of themselves.  

    When kids are very little we are aware of teaching them what they need to take care of themselves.  We do not expect infants to learn to sit, to walk, to talk, to use the potty by themselves.  Day after day, month after month, we train them and encourage them to take things one level further.  We also give a lot of enthusiastic reinforcement for each new thing they learn.  These days, however, as soon as kids hit school--whether that is preschool or Kindergarten--we tend to focus solely on their academic and extra curricular progress.  Once they learn to tie their own shoes, it is like they get frozen in childhood where we are still taking care of everything else for them.  The result is that we leave them to do a lot of learning on their own when they get to college or out into the world.  Doesn't it make more sense to bring them along a continuum of self care and autonomy right from the start?

    Based on twelve years as a middle school teacher, I have a good idea of what 11-14 year olds are capable of if it has been expected of them and their parents have taken the time to teach it to them in stages.  Here are my Top Ten Responsibilities Kids Should Be Taking by Middle School. 

1.  Get up, dressed and washed on their own.

    Do you still wake your child up for school?  Stop!  It should be their job to set their own alarm, to pick out appropriate clothes, and to have good routines for washing and brushing themselves.  Your only job should be to introduce deodorant when the need for it arises and to support the school's dress code.  

2.  Make their own breakfasts

    Kids are certainly capable of getting their own cereal, toast, frozen waffles, etc.  If your family manages a hot breakfast, that's fantastic.  Kids can also learn to make pancakes and eggs and the like with practice.  Starting around eight or nine, have them work alongside you.  Model the steps.  I hear you saying, they don't have time to get ready.  It is easier if I just do it for them.  Of course it is easier and faster not to take time to give kids the skills they need in the short run.  In the long run, it doesn't pay off.  (And while I'm talking about food, teach your five and six year olds to cut their meat with a knife.  With care and attention, they will not hurt themselves).  

3.  Make their own lunches

    Are you under the illusion that your child is eating her lunch?  I spent years--years!--lecturing students about not throwing away perfectly good food.  You know what their answer was? My mom doesn't like it when I come home without eating what she packs me. So, rather than deal with the conversation about why they didn't eat what was provided, kids throw away the evidence. Children who pack their own lunches pack food they know they'll eat.  They know what to pack and how much to pack. 

4.  Get to school on their own 

    Okay, you may balk at this one.  I know that lots of kids no longer go to their neighborhood schools and few school districts provide busses.  There are still ways to give kids their independence.  For one, stop being in charge of checking if they have remembered everything they are going to need for the day.  They are big enough to keep track of that on their own--and if they are not, suffering the natural consequences of not remembering will be a much faster teacher than your nagging and reminders.  Even if you are driving your kids to school, give them the anonymity of dropping them off three or four blocks away.  This ten minute walk will allow them at least a little taste of freedom--and you will make the school happy by improving the drop off/pick up congestion.  

5.  Do homework on their own

    The sooner you let your kids manage homework on their own the better.  So how do you scaffold that?  Help them set up a place and a routine for doing their work.  When they ask for help, encourage them to attack it on their own by asking supportive questions:  How could you approach this?  What is the assignment asking for?  How does this assignment look like other assignments you have done?  What strategy could you use here?  Ask--and then back off.  Give your child a chance to do it on his own.  Offer a lot a reassurance that he will figure it out.  If he has worked on it a reasonable amount of time (ten minutes per grade level total is a good overall recommendation--but that's a whole other blog), let it be okay for him to go to school without it done.  Help him set up a method like a folder for homework to turn in. Initially you can check that it gets into the folder and the folder into the backpack, but by third or fourth grade, if kids do not have the system down, they have not been taking responsibility for their own learning. (That is not to say that as each new school year begins it might not be necessary to check in with your child's system again.)

6.  Do some cooking and some cleaning

    It used to be that kids had to help out with chores just to keep the family alive.  In fact, the need for extra hands was one of the reasons for having large families.  Then for a long time, that was not true.  Modernization meant that machines started taking over some of the work and there was less to do.  Many mothers were able to stay home to take care of their households and their families.  Now that the pendulum has shifted back and 70% of mothers are in the workforce, families where everyone pitches in are much happier.  Children may groan about doing chores, but they hate having stressed out parents even more.  Get your kids involved in the daily tasks of cooking and cleaning, and they will have the pride of knowing that they have contributed positively to the family.  Being needed means that you are important, that your family couldn't get by without you.  That gives children a tremendous sense of security.  Knowing you can take care of yourself also reinforces your own self worth. 

7. Choose their own electives and extra-curricular activities 

     Parents have a tough job finding the fine balance between encouraging kids to try new things and at the same time to stick with activities long enough that they have the satisfaction of feeling truly accomplished.  At the end of it all, though, don't you want to know that your kids have found something they really love?  Not something that will look good on their college apps or will help them as adults--or even something that they are really good at--but just something that has them fully engaged and alive.  I had a sad conversation with a teen this summer who started off playing two sports:  Her mom loved one; her dad loved the other.  When she needed to choose just one do just one because of time constraints, she felt like she was choosing between making one parent happy or the other.  I asked if she is just crazy about this sport.  She said she liked hanging out with her friends on the team but that no, she doesn't just love it.  Imagine, she has spent hours and hours of her life pursuing something she only likes.

8.  Talk to teachers to get clarification on assignments, to ask for help, to ask questions about comments and grades received.  

    Your child's teacher is his first boss.  There is no academic lesson your child will learn that is more important than learning to negotiate his relationship with his teacher.  Learning to communicate with people in more powerful positions than you is an essential life skill, and practicing with one's teacher is the perfect opportunity:  The teacher may have power, but she is highly motivated for your child to be successful (after all, his success is her success).  Support your child in this relationship by role playing and rehearsing what he might say when he needs something from his teacher.  The more he can interact with his teacher, the easier it will become.  Only step in on your child's behalf if your child has tried a few interactions and hasn't gotten anywhere.  Again, the goal is not to swoop in and rescue your child from any feelings of discomfort.  Rather it is to support him through an uncomfortable situation so that he will be more at ease next time.

9.  Be able to handle money.

    Personal finance is not my area of expertise, so for this one, I'm going to connect you to Bill Dwight, CEO of a nifty website/product called FamZoo (FamZoo.com).  Read his blog here on 7 Practical Tips for Raising Money Smart Kids (http://blog.famzoo.com/2014/09/7-tips-for-raising-money-smart-kids.html).  This was the area I failed to scaffold and had to scramble to fill in the gaps as my daughter went off to college.  How I wish I had been developing her independence in this area all along.  

10.  Get around by themselves. 

    These days it seems like kids sit in the back seat of a car glued to an electronic device, oblivious to where they are, trusting their parent will get them to where they want to go.  When my stepson was learning to drive, my husband and he went to a store they often had gone to before in the next town north.  When they got back into the car, my husband said I want you to take us home without any help.  The ten minute trip took forty-five minutes because even though he had made the drive north, my stepson hadn't really paid attention to where he was beyond the step-by-step instructions my husband had given him.  Meanwhile, my daughter, two years away from being eligible for her driver's permit, was able to describe perfectly how to get home.  I chalk this up to the fact that because she and I had taken public transportation--and she had taken it on her own once I had done it with her--she had learned the major streets and landmarks near by.  Knowing she could find her way home--whether driving or on foot or using public transportation gave her enormous confidence.  

     Teaching your kids these lessons and setting these expectations for them for middle school means they will have time to master them by the time they hit high school.  Armed with self sufficiency and self efficacy, your teenager will be able to focus on expanding into the world--for jobs, for internships, for summer travel programs, to be leaders on school teams and in school clubs.  Most importantly, they will be ready to go off to college as the 18-year-old adults the state considers them to be.  They will have skills to handle roommates, a large campus with lots of buildings, clean clothes, getting themselves fed, handling their money, talking to professors, deans and resident assistances, etc. etc.  They will not find the need to text their parents every day just to stay on track.  Can you imagine checking in with your parents every day when you were in college?  No way!  To set your kids free, train them up bit by bit.  

Want more tips for kids and couples?  Get my blogs and newseletters HERE right in your inbox. Need support in setting your kids free?  get started by signing up HERE for a free 20-minute consult.  

The Confidence Game: What It Takes to Empower Parents

Elisabeth Stitt

Mercedes Samudio of The Parenting Skills interviews Elisabeth Stitt of Joyful Parenting Coaching

1.    What does it mean to empower parents?

Well, parenting is a confidence game, so to me, empowering parents has a lot to do with developing their confidence. 

2.   How do you empower parents in your work?

To me, a lot of confidence comes from knowing that you have a plan. Getting clear is about focusing on your values and prioritizing them.  The advantage of clarifying your values is that it helps you know where you’re going, both in the short run and in the long run.  In fact because it is so important, I start most of my workshops asking parents to list out and prioritize their values. This allows parents to focus on what is important to them and not worry too much about the rest of it.  Let me give you an example.  Let’s say that one of your values is being safe.  Then let’s say that your kids are running around the courtyard making a ton noise screeching like banshees.  You might feel like it’s a bit much, but you see that you are disturbing anyone else and you ask yourself, Is it safe?  Since the answer is yes, you decide to let them keep running.  Now, if you have a value of kids being calm and controlled, you would probably ask them to settle down.  Running around and screaming would be a clear point to take action. 

3.   What are some skills you know that parents need to feel smart and empowered in their parenting role? 

Well, I’m not sure I would call it a skill—more of a quality that I’d like parents to cultivate—and that is EMPATHY.  Being empathetic is one of best tools in your tool belt.  We used to give kids time outs to send the message that if you cannot behave nicely, you cannot be part of the group.  Neuro science has helped us understand in the last 10-15 years that children actually learn more about self-regulation when we are empathetic.  At the end of the day we want children to be able to feel negative emotions and then process them themselves—either by using their words with us and others or through their own self talk.  By offering empathy when they are upset, our calm helps their nervous systems calm down.  When kids feel safe and supported, they are better able to access their prefrontal cortex which is where their clear thinking and reasoning goes on.  I know to some parents it might feel like you are babying your child.  After all, he starts to cry and whine, your instinct might be to put him away from you and ignore him.  Current research actually invites us as parents to get close and offer empathy,  “I know son. It is hard having to pick your toys up and go to bed.”  This doesn’t mean of course that you should require your child to pick up his toys when you ask.  Being empathetic does NOT mean not being firm and following through.  It does mean not yelling or nagging.  This might mean that you put your hands on his toys so he cannot use them, while at the same time looking in his eye, empathizing that it is hard, but then repeating firmly.  It is time to pick up your toys.”

4.   What do you think is the most common parenting issue that you come across? Why? 

Well, with little kids it is very clearly tantrums and out of control behavior, and that is totally developmentally appropriate.  Think how you feel when you are on a steep learning curve—maybe you have a new job—everything is different and the company culture is totally different than your lastone, so strategies and approaches you used there aren’t working, and you feel at best like a fish out of water and at worse like an incompetent failure.  That’s pretty much what little kids are encountering all the time—new skills, new concepts, new situations, new expectations.  AND they have to rely on us to make sure they have had had enough rest, sleep and food.  That’s a lot to regulate.  It’s no wonder that they lose it.  That’s why empathy is so important.  When you start from the point of recognizing that your child does not want to be out of control, it is much easier to put your arms around him, give him a big hug and see if that will push the restart button. 

5.    Can parents bring other aspects of themselves into their parenting role to help them manage their families more effectively? 

Of course!  My husband is an engineer.  That means he is logical, linear thinker.  It also means that he gets less upset about what has happened (the vase broke, the bike got stolen) and is more concerned about how to solve the problem.  This is a wonderful example for our kids because it tells them that though stuff will happen, what is important is how you move forward from there. 

6.   Share one of your favorite ways to work with parents and families.

Well, one of my favorite programs that I offer is my Six Week Group Coaching Program that offers a combination of group webinars on specific topics and one-one individual coaching to modify what we have learned to the needs of each individual family.  Lots of time a parent will read an article with a tip or technique and it will seem to make sense to them, but when they go to put it in action, it just doesn’t work.  That’s where the individual coaching makes such a difference. 

7.   Why do you think our society has such a difficult time supporting parents?

Wow.  That’s a complex one because it has so many pieces.  When people say that parenting used to be easier, I think one of the main reasons was that families lived closer together.  Families were more connected.  They visited each other all the time.  My sister lives five miles from me, and we practically have to put a date on the calendar to see each other—much less gather our husbands and children.  By the time I have driven one child to a soccer game here and another one to a birthday party there—and she has gotten her children to where they need to be—the chance of there being time to just hang out goes way down.  Running around like a chicken with my head cut off means that I don’t have time to sit at the kitchen table and compare notes with another family with kids my age.  We’re always so rushed, we tend to keep things superficial with our friends and colleagues.  We share the highlights on Facebook, but we never get the advice and reassurance that used to support parents. 

8.   Do you have any thing else that you want to share with us? Oh, thank you for asking.  I would love to tell listeners about my new book, Parenting as a Second Language: A Guidbook for Joyfully Navigating the Trials, Triumphs and Tribulations of Parenthood.  The premise is that parenting is not something we are born knowing how to do.  We are social creatures living in social groups.  Historically, children were always near at hand, so parenting was spoken and modeled all around you.  Nowadays, lots of parents—even moms—come to parenting having done no babysitting, no childcare.  They haven’t spent time any around kids since they were kids themselves.  That means they do not know how to speak parenting, so arriving home with a new infant is like being in a foreign country and not knowing the words and phrases you need.  No wonder parents are so anxious!  Well, that’s where my book comes in.  It is a combination of stories—some of my most embarrassing ones!—to illustratepoints and concrete exercises parents can do to help them become more confident, effective parents.  Parenting is a skill.  It can be learned and practiced, just like learning a foreign language.  Parenting as a Second Language helps you do that.  I would be thrilled for your audience to go to Amazon, buy the book, read it and then come over to my Facebook Author's page and join the discussion.  We still need the parenting village.  Now we are finding it with people like you, Mercedes, who are providing a chance to hear the language of parenting through interviews like this one.

3 Awesome Tricks to Add to Your Bag for Your Hardest, Most High Energy, Most Challenging Kid Ever!

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

Do you feel like your child is more difficult than other children? Guess what?  Lots of parents feel that way!  So, chances are yours is not actually the most challenging ever, but that doesn’t help much when you are in the thick of things and you are at the end of your rope

So what does help?  You never know!  But here are some ideas that have worked for me over the years:

Creativity/Imagination

Lots of paths can be smoothed by inviting the child into an imaginative state. 

     I was recently with a five year old who was refusing to eat his oatmeal.  I looked at him and said, “What oatmeal?  You mean this bowl of newts and slugs?”  Of course, he immediately looked at me like, Lady, you’ve got to be kidding me!  But he took a bite.  Victory.  Then he said, I don’t want newts and slugs.  Not to be foiled, I tried, “What newts and slugs?  What you have there are fish eyes and blindworms. Try some!”  He did.  By this time he had entered into the game and asked me, “What’s this bite here?”  Fried ants and crickets, said I.  But what got this five-year-old to finish his breakfast?  Moose poop. Yes, you heard me right.  He ate his lovely bowl of moose poop all up.  

Now, I am not generally in favor of forcing kids to eat (I prefer to let them suffer the natural consequence of going hungry), but when I am caring for other people’s kids, I try to honor the house rules.  As the “substitute” parent, I didn’t have time to get compliance through consequences.  I needed results right then.  By shifting the conversation from You have to eat your breakfast to imagining eating all sorts of gross things to eat, the oatmeal got finished up in five lively minutes of laughter and rich vocabulary. 

Silliness/Being Weird

         Silliness can be another great way to go.  With older kids, they just think you are weird, but as with younger children, being weird can often get you where you want to go and the only thing it will cost you is your dignity.  I was babysitting a sixth grader who refused to talk to me.  I could have just ignored her and used the time to get some work done, but I could see this girl was unhappy.  It was going to be a much more pleasant evening if I could get her to give up her stance of silence.  I went into reporter mode and took up a wooden spoon as my microphone:  Ladies and gentlemen, I started my best Access Hollywood voice. Tonight we have the first actual documented case of the cat who got her tongue. I am here with Veronica Lopez, a sixth grader at Shady Oak Middle School.  This morning when she woke up, she found she could not talk.  She looked over to see that her cat, Justin Bieber, was actually playing with her tongue as if it were a dead mouse. I went on in this vein for a while until she couldn’t stand it any more and she finally asked me could I please shut up?  That was enough.  All I needed her to do was say one thing to me.  Sure! I readily agreed and then I switched to asking her about how her mom generally defrosted the chicken needed for making dinner.  Having established my capacity for being annoying and weird, she decided it was easier to talk to me than risk spending the evening with a deranged loony

Get Physical

     Lots of times we have problems with kids because we do not respect their need for movement.  Instead of getting a child to stop wiggling in his chair, sometime it is easier give him the physical outlet he needs.  You are trying to have a peaceful dinner and all you want to do is sit quietly and eat, but you are never going to get peace if your child cannot sit still.  Sometimes it is better to acknowledge that, get the whole family on their feet and have two or three minutes of physical activity.  That might be cranking some tunes for a quick dance or doing the hokey pokey or playing Simon says.  With older kids it might mean sending them out to take the stairs to the top of the building and back down before returning to your apartment or having them run to the bottom of the driveway and back.  If it is really cold and they don’t put on their jacket, that will just make them run faster! 

         You might resent having to put aside dinner for five minutes.  It is going to get cold, after all, and you are hungry.  It might work to firmly ask your kids to sit still or stop rocking their chair.  If you are good at being consistent and your kids know that if you give a consequence you will follow through, they may well make the effort to comply.  But you put less stress on everyone by giving them a chance to get the ants out of their pants and go from there.  This is especially true if your kids are transitioning from some sedentary activity like doing homework.  Given the chance to expel some energy, you might just get that happy family dinner you were hoping for! 

What are your best tricks?

         Remember, no approach is going to work for all children all of the time.  That is why the bigger your bag of tricks the greater the chance you’ll have the one you need.  So share with us!  What are the techniques that work well for you?

         Feeling like you need more tricks in your bag?  I’d be happy to have a complimentary Tricks for Your Bag coaching session.  Let’s brainstorm together what might work for your hard, high energy or challenging kid.  Sign up at https://elisabethstitt.acuityscheduling.com/.

Can’t wait to talk to you!

Warmly,

Elisabeth

www.elisabethstitt.com

Some Final Words on Becoming a Consistent Parent

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

If you have not been following our series on Building the Consistency Muscle start here: Find the Positive and then follow the arrows at the bottom of the post. 

You have all the steps for becoming a consistent parent; now it is just a question of putting the pieces into place.  Here are some final tips:

Prepare Physically for Battle

Do I really mean go to the gym and work out?  Well, only sort of.  But we all know that we never do our best parenting when we are feeling tired and worn out.  So, set yourself up for success by being well rested.  Develop a meditation practice or find some simple yoga practices on YouTube.  Plan on taking a walk on your lunch hour at work.  At home with the kids all day?  Nap when they nap.  Let's say that you have set a clear rule of no distractions (reading material, video games, phones, etc) will be allowed at the table and you are worried that your new meal time expectations are going to increase the tension for a while.  They will, so you might even want to sneak in a high protein afternoon snack so that even if your meal is upset, you will have energy to sustain you.  Really need a break?  Get yourself a babysitter one night and forget to mention the new dinner table policy!  Maybe plan a meal in an alternate setting where the rule just won’t come up.  A picnic with all finger food would make it mighty hard to hold a phone!  Put whatever structure in place you need to sustain your determination to see the new policy through until it becomes a habit.  If you are not absolutely convinced this is a rule you want, don’t even start.  To build success, you need to start with something you care deeply about.  (That is what makes the values clarification piece so important.)

Prepare Mentally for Battle

If there has not been a rule in place around an issue—or there has been a rule but it has never had any teeth—expect things to get worse before they get better.  Face it.  None of us really like policy change unless the previous policy was so bad that we are desperate for any change at all.  If dinner has been a free for all with each family member doing what he wants, no one is going to want to put down his video game or book in favor of polite family conversation.  Things WILL get worse before they get better, so before you make a big announcement, spend a lot of time thinking through your responses to as many unexpected situations as possible. 

How can you structure things so that no distractions even come to the table? What are your consequences going to be for texting under the table?  What is your consequence going to be for yelling, crying or talking back when you take the phone away?  What consequences will you be able to absolutely follow through on consistently?  What if your children sit tight lipped and stony faced every night for a week? 

Role play if you need to practice staying calm:  Have one spouse be the recalcitrant child and the other be the enforcer.  You know your partner’s week points:  Will Dad give in if his little girl starts to cry?  Is Mom so uncomfortable with swearing that she will just lose her temper completely?  Practice, practice, practice.  This is a new part you are playing.  It will not feel automatic.  It will be uncomfortable.  Support each other in whatever way you need to.

Celebration, Reflection and Recommitment

Being consistent is hard!  So celebrate any step or part that is working.  Was dinner a nightmare, but you held your ground?  Do a private jig for joy.  Call a friend and crow.  Give yourself a gold star.  Changing our way of being and reacting takes going back to the drawing board over and over.  Have a pow wow before the next meal to reflect.  Did you support each other sufficiently?  Were you able to stay calm?  Did you reward the compliant child with genuine interest and lively conversation?  Would it help to have a different seating arrangement next time?  Did it go better than you thought it would? Give yourself another pat on the back!  Remind each other of why you are doing what you are doing. What values are you honoring by following through?  In your mind’s eye see the warm, connected family dinners that you are in the act of creating.  Take a deep breath and recommit to the vision.  Tomorrow is another day!    

Go Public!

I mean it!  One of the biggest impediments today to effective parenting is isolation.  We have got to start sharing our stories.  So be brave!  Be the first person to post your failures and your success here.  Will we think less of you?  No, way!  We will cheer you and thank you for having the courage to say what everyone else is thinking.  In my classroom, I used to give cut-out paper stars to kids for Acts of Conspicuous Bravery when they were willing to have their work commented on in class.  It is not easy, but it provides tremendous learning for every one else--and it is one way to get my input on your exact situation!  So, who's going to earn the first gold star?  

I am fully committed to you being a consistent parent.  If you are looking for individual support, let’s start with a complimentary coaching session.  Sign up HERE.  

Warmly,

Elisabeth

Joyful Parenting Coaching

www.elisabethstitt.com   

 

Talking So Your Kids Feel Seen and Heard

Elisabeth Stitt

 

by Elisabeth Stitt

Communication Tips you may have learned in an office setting or couples workshop work great with your children, too.

Let's look at how active listening and I-Statements might play out with your kids.  Remember, the purpose of the skills is to open up space in the relationship, to establish good will, and to get and share information.  

Active Listening is a great one to use when your child is upset.  Imagine that your child is mad because you have asked her to clean up the puzzle she is working on before dinner.  You have given her a five minute warning, you have cheerfully given the command, clean up!  You have moved in to help her get started--and not just yelled from the other room.  In short, you have have done everything you can to set the transition to dinner up for success.

But still she is screaming at you!

It is time to move in with some active listening.  The conversation might go like this:

Mom:  Clean up!  Dinner in 5 minutes. [Mom moves into room and touches child lightly on the shoulder.]

Child:  [screaming] No, I'm not done yet.

Mom:  You're frustrated because you thought you would finish.

Child:  No, I'm mad at you Mommy.  I have to finish my puzzle.

Mom:  Mmmm... yes...  tell me more.

Child: It's not fair.  I have to finish my puzzle.

Mom:  It is really important to you to finish that puzzle.  

Child:  Yes, I have to finish it or it won't get done.

Mom:  You feel like you'll never get to finish it if you don't finish it now, is that right?

Child: Yes, that's it. I have to finish my puzzle now.  Let me do it! [screaming again and trying to put her hands on her puzzle].  

Mom:  [Low and soft and looking child in the eye] What's important to you about finishing the puzzle?

Child:  I know I can do it.  I can.  I can do it all by myself.  

Mom: You care a lot about showing you can do this puzzle on your own.  

Child:  Yes, I do Mommy.  I want to show you.  All by myself.  

Mom:  You are a capable girl and like doing things independently.  I can see that.  

At this point Mom has some choices.  She can still insist that the puzzle be picked up before dinner, but maybe she can offer to carefully break it into big chunks and put it in the box so it can be reassembled easily.  Perhaps she can leave the puzzle out until after dinner.  Perhaps she and her daughter can brainstorm where in the house it would be possible to start a puzzle and leave it out until the puzzle was done.  Maybe it is not possible to leave out the puzzle, and her daughter destroys all her work because she is is still so frustrated.  That is not the best outcome, but in terms of Mom's relationship with her daughter, she has taken the time to really hear her.  She has also been reminded of how much her daughter wants to do things on her own from start to finish.  This allows Mom to try to structure things in the future so that her daughter can get that need met.  Mom can also help daughter plan out for next time she gets out a puzzle by reminding her about last time:   She can ask, "How are you going to feel if you don't get a chance to finish the puzzle?  Is it worth it to you to start even if you have to pick it up for dinner?"  All this conversation ahead of time gives her daughter choices which gives her control (and we all like to have control over our lives).  

I-Statements with your Child. 

You can train children to solve problems peacefully just the way you train them to do anything else--by modeling and by scaffolding.

First, model I-Statements with your kids from your own point of view:

Mom:  Sweetie, when I have asked you nicely and you still do not pick up the puzzle, I get really frustrated because dinner is getting cold and I put a lot of effort into getting dinner ready. 

Child:  But Mommy, I have to finish my puzzle.

Mom:  I hear that you want to finish your puzzle, but when I have cooked dinner, and you don't come eat right away, I feel deflated like a big balloon that has popped because I tried hard to make a good dinner.  

Child:  You're not a balloon, Mommy!

Mom:  But that's what I feel like--a popped balloon with all the air out of me--when I have worked hard to cook dinner and it gets all cold.  

Notice how the child's attention has shifted away from her puzzle.  For the moment, in a small way, she is putting herself in her mother's shoes.  This is the beginning of teaching empathy.  The child may shift back to her obsession with the puzzle, but Mom has introduced the idea of an I-Statement.  (As a side note, although metaphors are a pretty abstract idea in some ways, I find they often work with kids because they engage kids' imaginations and shift the child to something visual which is more concrete than a feeling.)  

The next step is to help your child use an I-statement bit by bit (that's the scaffolding).  

This time when Mom comes in to transition to dinner, and her child gets upset, Mom might encourage her child to use an I-Statement.    

Mom:  Clean up!

Child:  No.  I have to finish my puzzle.

Mom: [Putting her hands over the puzzle and making eye contact]  You had your five minute warning; now it is time to clean up!

Child: [Screaming] No, No, Mommy.  I have to finish my puzzle!

Mom:  [Using I-Statement phrasing]  When I asked you to clean up, that made you really mad because you really want to finish this puzzle. 

Child: Yes, yes, I want to finish it now!

Mom:  Can you use your words to tell me that?  Start by saying, "Mommy, when you asked me to clean up..."

Child: [doubtfully] "Mommy, when you asked me to clean up.."

Mom:  Say, "I felt mad..."

Child:  "I felt really, really mad!"

Mom: Say, "Because I wanted to finish this puzzle."

Child: "Because I wanted to finish this puzzle."  I have to finish this puzzle!

Mom:  Let's put it together.  You say it, and I will say it with you.

Child and Mom:  "When you asked me to clean up, I felt mad because I wanted to finish this puzzle."

Mom:  Thanks for telling me how you feel in a respectful way, Sweetie.  

By this time, Child has probably calmed down.  She knows she has been heard.  Plus the process of calmly expressing herself has given her over-wrought nervous system a chance to regulate.  

I had an exchange much like this one with a child I was baby-sitting.  After the I-statement, she took my cheeks in her hands and looked at me seriously and said, "I was really, really mad.  But now I'm sad."  Wow!  What a great job tuning into her feelings.  I was then able to ask her if a hug would make it better.  She agreed yes, and after a great big hug and a gentle raspberry, her mood was re-set, and she was able to let go of finishing the puzzle right then and there.  

The I-Statement might feel formulaic and awkward to you, but kids like structure.  It gives them something dependable to reach for.  Once you have modeled it and walked them through it a bunch of times, you will be able to require it by asking, "Can you please use an I-Statement to tell me how you're feeling?"  Knowing that she will be listened to and that she is going to get a chance to explain herself will help a child calm down.  Most parents are more willing to cooperate with a polite child so a positive feedback loop is quickly formed here.  

Once your children have gotten good at using I-Statements, you can ask them to use them with each other.  The next time your kid comes running to tattle on a sibling, you can say, "It sounds like you're really upset.  Did you use an I-statement with your brother?  No?  Well, why don't you practice with me, and then you can go tell him."  I have my own theory about I-Statements here.  Because it is a little bit tricky to make sure you have all three parts covered (When you... I feel.... because....), a child has to really slow down and think.  My guess is that the process itself is calming.  

You can teach the other child to use some active listening in response (All he has to do is repeat the I-Statement back: When I took the red pen, you got mad because you were about to use it.).  Now it is his turn to use an I-Statement.  He might say something like, "When you hogged all the pens, I felt hurt because I wanted you to share with me."  

At first your kids will need a lot (a lot!) of support with each of these steps.  What really works for the adult in this situation is that you are not in the middle in the sense that you are arbitrating or trying to decide who was right.  You are simply supporting their constructive expression of their emotions.  Once everyone has calmed down enough, you can help brainstorm solutions.  

Teaching our children to express their emotions and to get their needs met calmly is enormous.  Huge, in fact.  As a teacher I could always tell whose parents had taken the time to arm their kids with good communication skills.  Those were the kids who were ready to come to school and learn.  Of course they had conflicts with other kids, but they approached the conflicts with a certain amount of confidence that they could make it okay for every one.  

The trick to teaching kids these skills is to feel fluent in them yourselves, so make that your goal.  Really try to create the time and space to listen actively.  Even an exchange of 2-3 sentences where you are acknowledging feelings and asking for more information will make a difference over time.  

Give it a go, and then leave a comment here let us know on the Joyful Parenting Facebook Page

Tip #3 to Constructive Couples Communication: Yes,and!

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

In the world of Improvisational Acting, one of the rules is to keep the action moving forward, so not blocking a person’s story is key to success.  Improv actors do this by saying in response to whatever their partner says, “Yes, [that’s true! you’re right!] and….” 


Now, I have to admit that I have a reputation for borrowing trouble before it comes.  That means when someone brings up a new idea, I have been known to immediately look for what might go wrong with that plan.  I especially like the "Yes, and" tip because it focuses me on the positive.  

Listen to how a couple might use this technique to build up a warm connection between them.  Bob introduces a new topic and before jumping to why it won't work, Barbara makes an effort to agree with even one little part of it:

Bob: I really want to go to vacation in Hawaii so we can just hang out under an umbrella.
Barbara: YES, and we can drink piña coladas with little umbrellas in them.  Those are so festive!
Bob: YES, and I read a review of a restaurant right by the water that has festive colored lights.
Barbara:  YES, and I could finally try the Mahi Mahi now that I am eating fish.
Bob: Right! and I hear Hawaii has some of the most creative deserts ever.
Barbara: Oh! You know how I love deserts AND we could walk on the beach after dinner.
Bob: That’s sounds really nice.  I love the sound of the waves. 

Now, let’s assume in the above conversation that Barbara really doesn’t want to go to Hawaii.  She knows how expensive it is and is worried that such a trip will badly eat into their savings.  Going to Hawaii just to make Bob happy truly will not serve the family in the long run.  For one, Barbara is likely to get tense and tight lipped about every expense on the trip thereby ruining Bob’s pleasure and for two, the family might really need that money later if the cost of a Hawaii trip takes from their emergency fund.  

This is where the variation of “Yes, and” comes into play.  

By using “Yes, and” Barbara has allowed herself to imagine what she might enjoy about Hawaii and has built up a lot of warm feeling between Bob and her.  Now it is time to introduce her concerns.  Let’s see how this goes:

Barbara:  I love the waves, too, and AT THE SAME TIME I am worried that Hawaii will be too expensive.
Bob:  Yes, that’s true, and AT THE SAME TIME, we saved by not going away at Christmas.
Barbara:  I’m glad we’ve got some extra put away, and AT THE SAME TIME, I wonder if we could find some place relaxing that is closer to home.  I’d like to avoid the cost of a big plane flight.
Bob:  Yeah, I checked prices and it will be peak season, and AT THE SAME TIME I just get so much benefit from being near the water, it is worth it to me.

Bob and Barbara are getting close to being able to move into the brainstorming phase to find a win-win solution.  Notice that now when Barbara brings up the issue of cost, Bob slips in that he has considered cost:  He already checked the price of tickets, so it is not that he is insensitive to their budget.  His last statement also reveals how is being near the water that provides so much benefit to him.  This would be great place for them to begin generate alternative ideas that meet Bob’s need to relax near the water and Barbara’s need to not go over budget:  Tahoe? Santa Cruz? Lake Shasta?  It is easy to imagine that this warm, lively conversation will continue to move along toward a solution that works for them both.  They will end up with a good plan, but more importantly, the process of coming up with that plan will leave them feeling more loving and connected.  Talk about win win! 

Remember, communication is constructive when it keeps moving in a generally positive direction.  In his research on happy marriages, John Gottman found that couples need five positive interactions for every negative interaction in order to stay close.  What I love about Yes, and is that it builds up a lot of good will.

Now, I know some of you sceptics are thinking, no way!  

Even if I use "Yes, and" or "Yes, and at the same time," my partner will never use it in response.  Well, it's true.  If you don't teach the technique to your spouse, it might be harder to keep the flow going, but remember, in this case it is your partner who is excited about the topic, so that should make it easy.  Why wouldn't he want he be delighted you are not blocking him?

What about when you introduce "And at the same time," and your partner still shuts you down? Then you go back to "Yes, and."  Imagine that Barbara says, "I love the waves, too, and AT THE SAME TIME I am worried that Hawaii will be too expensive."  If Bob answers, "You worry too much!", Barbara needs to go back to agreeing with that before adding her "And and the same time."

Barbara:  That's true! I do worry a lot, and at the same time I want to make sure that we are free from worry on the trip.

Bob:  You don't need to worry. The trip will be great!

Barbara:  Yes, being near the water is great, and at the same time, the flights are bound to be really expensive.

Bob:  I don't want you to worry about the cost of things.  

Barbara: Right! I do love how you make all the arrangements, and at the same time, I wonder if we might find a nice place near the water that we could drive to?  

Do you see how tenaciously Barbara is holding onto her concern AND AT THE SAME TIME continues to acknowledge anything she can agree with by Bob.  Hanging on to positive while making sure that your needs get addressed (if not met) is not easy, but the payoffs are great.  

I can hear some of you grumbling, Why do I have to be the one to do the hard work? What about my partner?  Believe me, I get how you feel.  Sometimes I just want someone to agree with me, too.  I'd like to feel that I am not carrying the burden of communication by myself.  However, the beauty of all three tips--active listening, I-Statements and Yes, and/Yes, and at the same time--is that even if only one person uses them, an enormous shift occurs in the relationship.  That is how powerful they are!  

If you wait until your partner is ready to learn them, too, you may wait too long:  There may be no relationship left to transform.  And here's the cold hard truth:  Even if you don't love your spouse anymore, you will always be co-parenting together.  Using these techniques will absolutely improve your communication--and that can only be good for your kids.  

I am such a believer in constructive communication and want so dearly for you to experience the joy that effective communication can bring to a relationship that if you commit to getting coached on using these techniques and others for at least 10 sessions, I will give you a 30% discount off the regular price.  Wow!  That's a big savings!  If after three sessions you are not perfectly satisfied, I'll refund you 100%. Get started by signing up HERE for a free 20-minute consult.  

Want more tips for kids and couples?  Get my blogs and newseletters  HERE right in your inbox.  

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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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. 

I Have a Parenting Bias

Elisabeth Stitt

Connection, Connection, Connection   
 

In being close and present for their children, parents need to do what works for them.  They need to find that balance between being parents and being themselves.  That being said, your child is only an infant once and only a toddler for a year or so.  This is not time you can ever get back if you decide later that you wished you had been more present.  So that's my bias.  Spend as much time as you can in the early years.  No one is more important to your child than you are. I don't mean that your child is not going to thrive if she doesn't get your undivided attention, but who better than you to provide her the emotional security she needs to risk exploring the world?
                                
We are social creatures.  That means right from the get go our babies are looking to connect with us, to communicate with us.  When we slow down and take the time to just be with our babies, we naturally fall into the attentive give and take on which infants thrive.  They look to us to provide emotional reassurance and to provide the vocabulary which helps them organize and make sense of experiences.  As babies begin to toddle, they move away from us, but we are still the home base they look back to.  (more)  Our calm, open, enthusiastic presence is what allows them to explore.  As they move into the preschool years--even as they are making friends and spending time with teachers and peers--it is the routines and traditions of home that keep them grounded. 

I firmly believe in families deliberately creating time and space in the day for ritualized connection.  There are as many ways to do that as there are families.  One family I know of has snuggle time in Mom and Dad's bed for 5 minutes every day.  Another family I know of shares "one good thing" as each family member lights a candle at the dinner table.  Many parents put love notes in their children's lunches to connect them even when they are physically apart.  When I was a child, I went most Saturday mornings with my dad to his office. I would play office worker for a few hours and on the way home we would stop and get donuts for the rest of the family.  Other families have weekly "dates" after school or practice.
        
             
I've said it before, and I'll say it again:  Connecting to your children is the closest thing to a silver bullet parenting has for creating a peaceful, harmonious home.  Whatever time and effort it takes to attend to the relationships in the family first and foremost are worth it. 

I can't wait to hear:  What are the things you do in your family to stay close and connected?

How Do You Keep the Balls in the Air? 5 Tips for Juggling Your Life

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 below are some parenting choices that can help:

1.  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.

2. 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.  

3. 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 rountine 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 school without your homework, your lunch, etc.

4. 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 to 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 before--I was 100% hers. 

5. 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 choose to work fewer hours for a while so that you can join the co-op preschool down the street.  The school-aged child who has been sailing along might get the teacher from hell this year requiring you to go into work at dawn so you can be there to pick her up at the end of the day.  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.

Building the Consistency Muscle: Tip 7: Celebration, Reflection and Recommitment

Elisabeth Stitt

HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN OR DID YOU MISS TIPS 1 THROUGH 6?  JUST SCROLL DOWN AND START FROM THE BEGINNING.

Being consistent is hard!  So celebrate any step or part that is working.  Was dinner a nightmare, but you held your ground?  Do a private jig for joy.  Call a friend and crow.  Give yourself a gold star.  Changing our way of being and reacting takes going back to the drawing board over and over.  Have a pow wow before the next meal to reflect.  Did you support each other sufficiently?  Were you able to stay calm?  Did you reward the compliant child with genuine interest and lively conversation?  Would it help to have a different seating arrangement next time?  Did it go better than you thought it would? Give yourself another pat on the back!  Remind each other of why you are doing what you are doing.  What values are you honoring by following through?  In your mind’s eye see the warm, connected family dinners that you are in the act of creating.  Take a deep breath and recommit to the vision.  Tomorrow is another day!    

Building the Consistency Muscle: Tip 6: Prepare Physically for Battle

Elisabeth Stitt

(Catching this series in the middle?  No problem.  Scroll down and start with Tip 1.  Feeling overwhelmed or unsuccessful?  That is also no problem.  Go back and work on Tips 1 and 2 until they feel really solid.)

So, Prepare Physically for Battle.  Do I really mean go to the gym and work out?  Well, only sort of.  But we all know that we never do our best parenting when we are feeling tired and worn out.  So, set yourself up for success by being well rested.  Develop a meditation practice or find some simple yoga practices on YouTube.  Plan on taking a walk on your lunch hour at work.  At home with the kids all day?  Nap when they nap.  Worried that your new meal time expectations are going to increase the tension for a while? You might even want to sneak in a high protein afternoon snack so that even if your meal is upset, you will have energy to sustain you.  Really need a break?  Get yourself a babysitter one night and forget to mention the new dinner table policy!  Maybe plan a meal in an alternate setting where the rule just won’t come up.  A picnic with all finger food would make it mighty hard to hold a phone!  Put whatever structure in place you need to sustain your determination to see the new policy through until it becomes a habit.  If you are not absolutely convinced this is a rule you want, don’t even start.  To build success, you need to start with something you care deeply about.  (That is what makes the values clarification piece so important.)

On a slightly different note, some of you have asked about how to create appropriate consequences--that you are ready to enforce them; you just don't know which ones to use.  Yes!  I admit, I glossed right over that as it is a big topic.  Stay tuned, however.  I promise that as soon as we are done with the Building Consistency series, I will break down Effective Consequences step by step.   

Building the Consistency Muscle: Tip 5: Preparing for Battle

Elisabeth Stitt

(SCROLL DOWN TO READ TIPS 1-4 BEFORE READING TIP 5)

If there has not been a rule in place around an issue—or there has been a rule but it has never had any teeth—expect things to get worse before they get better.  Face it.  None of us really like policy change unless the previous policy was so bad that we are desperate for any change at all.  If dinner has been a free for all with each family member doing what he wants, no one is going to want to put down his video game or book in favor of polite family conversation.  Things WILL get worse before they get better, so before you make a big announcement, spend a lot of time thinking through your responses to as many unexpected situations as possible. 

How can you structure things so that no distractions even come to the table? What are your consequences going to be for texting under the table?  What is your consequence going to be for yelling, crying or talking back when you take the phone away?  What consequences will you be able to absolutely follow through on consistently?  What if your children sit tight lipped and stony faced every night for a week? 

Role play if you need to practice staying calm:  Have one spouse be the recalcitrant child and the other be the enforcer.  You know your partner’s week points:  Will Dad give in if his little girl starts to cry?  Is Mom so uncomfortable with swearing that she will just lose her temper completely?  Practice, practice, practice.  This is a new part you are playing.  It will not feel automatic.  It will be uncomfortable.  Support each other in whatever way you need to.

Building the Consistency Muscle: Tip 4: Anticipate the Need for Consequences

Elisabeth Stitt

Let's review the first three steps to becoming a more consistent parent:

1.  Find the Positive:  Start noticing your kids and pointing out behavior you are liking.

2. Follow Through on Your Promises:  Teach your kids your word is good.  

3. Pick Your Battles:  Being consistent is hard, so stick to the values you really care about.

So far, everything you have done to build your consistency muscle has been in stealth mode--your kids haven't known that you've been doing all this hard work.  Now is when it get's real, when you are going to set an expectation and then hold the limit.  This will probably mean that you need to have a consequence ready--one that you can absolutely follow through on.  

The hardest part of following through with children when you it is something is knowing in the moment what your next step is going to be.  Let’s say you and your partner have come to agreement that a particular expectation is important to you.  Perhaps you really want family members to speak respectfully to each other.  You are committed to calling your children on it every time.  So, the first time one child puts his sibling down, what are you going to do about it? 

The exact next step is not so important as long as you both agree on the step, and as a general rule the reaction needs to get a little stronger each time.  When thinking about consequences, it has to be something you are willing to carry out, or there is no point in putting it on the list.  Go do half an hour research on line and you will find lots of strong opinions on consequences. 

Here are mine:  Consequences should be as light as possible to get the job done.  With some children, their desire to please you is so great, it is enough to state your strong expectation that In this family we speak respectfully to each other.  For another child, the threat of a consequence will be enough:  The next time you speak disrespectfully, you will write a paragraph on how it feels to be disrespected.  Some children will actually have to write the paragraph for the lesson to sink in. Some children will have to write the paragraph and even choose something nice they can do for their sibling, as well. With some children, they will need your help writing the paragraph.  That's okay!  Remember, the purpose of the consequence is not punishment.  It is learning.  Sitting down with you to organize a paragraph on respect is a great chance to open up the conversation about what makes, say, the relationship with a sibling hard.  

Do not take it personally when one child needs more opportunities to learn the lesson.  Stay calm, and have the next consequence ready when the child chooses to ignore the rule.  Quite possibly the child is really trying.  Encourage them to keep trying.  Tell them, Next time I know you will choose to think before you speak.  Tell them, don’t worry; it will get easier with practice.  (Keep reminding yourself how hard it is for you to be consistent with your rules!  It is likely at least as hard for your child to learn to be consistently respectful.) 

Once you have stated the rule and the consequence, it is essential for you to follow through.  That does not mean, however, that you cannot or should not have taken time to hear the child’s side of the story.  What is he feeling?  Why is he having such a hard time being respectful towards his sibling?  What does he need from his sibling?  How could he express his feelings and his needs in a way that is respectful?  Have these conversations early and often.  Again, always keep in mind, discipline is about teaching and training a way of being: It is not about punishment. 

One final note:  If the rule is In this family, we speak respectfully towards each other, that includes you!  If you or your partner uses sarcasm or insults or a disrespectful approach with children or adults, you need to follow the same stream of consequences.  If it is really hard for you to curb your language, get some help.  Find a coach, see a counselor.  Do whatever it takes to figure out what the block is.  In the meantime, be prepared to model taking your consequence with good graces!

Okay.  It is time for you to give this a try.  You have the pieces all lined up.  Give it a go, and then leave comment about how it went.  Don't forget:  This is a skill.  It takes time and practice.  Don't get discouraged if your kids throw you for a loop.  The good news?  You'll get lots of chances to practice!

More questions? Feel free to contact me directly for a Complementary Strategy Session.  

www.eliabethstitt.com

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Building the Consistency Muscle: Tip 3: Pick Your Battles

Elisabeth Stitt

 

So far, in building the skills to become a more consistent parent, you have 1) noticed your kids being good and 2) taught them to trust your word by following through when you promised to do something with them.  You'll notice that so far I haven't asked you to hold a firm limit with your child where you will have to give out a consequence if your child doesn't do what you ask him to.  And it is still not time for that.  

The consequence of not following through on your word--whether that is a treat or a negative consequence--is to bring you back to step one with trust you have been working so hard to build.  For that reason, don’t move to following through on “no meaning no” until you are really ready for it.  (If your no already means no every time, chances are your consistency muscle is already really strong).  Before taking action, it is a good idea to think through your strategy.  You and your partner need to sit down together and take some time to prioritize your values. Knowing your values behind what drives you crazy and what you really care about will help you to be strong in defending the rules you create.  And most importantly, you need to pick your battles. 

Below are some steps that will help you decide where you are going to put your disciplining energies:  

1.  Individually, create a list of 25+ values that you care about.


Note that by values I am not implying right or wrong.  What is important for one person may not be important for another person—may even seem wrong.  For example, I have a value of messy.  To me, messy means creativity, a chance to explore, not having to get things right the first time.  My husband has a value of order.  For him, seeing a clean, neat space allows him to breathe, to think, a blank slate on which to create.  I walk into a clean house and I feel stifled, like I’m in a straight jacket and cannot move.  You can imagine we’ve had to do some major compromising around this.  The “rule” comes down to I get to be messy while creating, but I am also really conscientious about cleaning up after myself quickly and thoroughly.


2.  Circle your top five values.


Kids are not your carbon copies.  They are not going to value all the things you do.  Still, it is your house and you get to order things in a way that works for you to a great extent.  That being said, children cannot focus on that many things at once.  You are going to want to be really clear about your priorities, about which battles you want to fight because you are fighting to win.
 

3.  Rank the top five values you circled.


If you only get to drive home one message to your children, what would it be?  What is the creed you live by?  What is it you most want your child to be?  Being able to answer this question clearly is what will give you muscle behind your “No.”  And your “yes,” too, for that matter.  It is easy for us to be strong about what is really important to us.


4.  Compare your list to your partner’s list.


If you are lucky, you and your partner will share some values in that top five.  In any case, it is worth really having discussion around those values.  Why they are important to you.  What it looks like when they are being honored.  Sometimes people get hung up on a particular word, but when they hear a vision, a picture of the value in play, it is actually something they can relate to.


5.  From whatever common ground you have, choose one small expectation you could create around that value.


If you are new to the enforcing rules game, it is best to start small and be as concrete as possible.  Perhaps you and your partner have “teamwork” as a common value, and you decide to ask each child to be responsible for clearing her plate and putting it in the dishwasher.  You might need to work around some issues—the two year old might have to hand someone his plate for scraping and might need a hand on his plate while he is putting it in the dishwasher—but the expectation is so clear, you could take a picture of your child doing it and post the picture as a reminder.

Was this a struggle?  Feel free to contact me directly for a BREAK THROUGH SESSION.

Building the Consistency Muscle: Tip 2: Build the Positive

Elisabeth Stitt

Building Consistency: Tip Two:  Build the Positive

The next trick in building the consistency muscle is to teach your children to trust you by following through on your promises for good things that you will enjoy, too—a trip to the park this afternoon, say, or a family movie night this weekend. 

Why is this a good next step?  One, it builds good will and family connection.  Our lives are so hurried these days that we actually spend very little time with our kids that is just for fun.  By the time you have gone to work and your child has gone to school, sports and other extra curricular activities, when is there time for play?  Pick something fun that you want, too; that way it will be easy for you to follow through on.  

What if it is time to go to the promised movie and your kids have been being complete monsters?  You still go to the movies.  You didn't promise them a trip to the movies for good behavior (not this time, at least), you just promised them.  You can tell them, I am upset about how much you have been fighting with each other--and we are going to talk about that--but right now I promised we would go to the movies, so let's go and have fun.  

With catching your kids being good, they didn't even know you were working on a new way of parenting, but this trip to the movie you announced out loud.  That means that when you keep your word, not only do your kids have fun, they learn that they can trust your word.  You have done what you said you will do. 

 CONNECTING YOUR PROMISES TO GOOD BEHAVIOR

Once you have gotten in the habit of promising fun times and delivering, you can provide the treat as a reward for catching them being good.  Let's say that dinner was a peaceful affair where kids ate without a fuss and there was pleasant conversation.  Certainly you can comment on it by telling them you noticed and appreciate their good behavior, but you can also go one step farther:  Say, "Dinner was such a pleasure tonight it makes me want to go out of my way for you.  Why don't I do the dishes later, and we can play a game for 30 minutes."  If this offer is met with any negativity or bargaining ("Mom, games are stupid.  Let's watch t.v."), just stay cheerfully firm and nonchalant: "Well, I thought a game would be fun--and you know the rule is no t.v. during the week--but if you don't want to play, I'll just do the dishes.  Then walk away and don't worry about it.  Even if they don't admit it, they will register that good things come when they behave. 

Later, you can offer a positive consequence as a reward (bribe?) for cooperative behavior.  For example, your kids might be wanting your attention when you are in the middle of something that you need to get done.  They want something from you!  Use this chance to ask for their help in return for what they want (your undivided attention).  For example, you might say, “If you guys helped and we got these leaves raked up in the next fifteen minutes, there would be enough time for us to play bananagrams before I have to make dinner.”  Again, the trick here is to really make happen what you have said will happen.  Don’t make the offer unless you are committed to bananagrams.  Of course, your children may choose to keep whining at you or to do cartwheels rather than help you.  That’s okay.  You don’t need to say anything as you go in to start making dinner.  You put out an offer for a treat, and you are prepared to follow through.  It’s a good bet that next time you propose a swap of your attention for their help, they’ll consider testing out your offer

On a good day, your children might even begin to help you without being asked.  Hurray!  That is the perfect time to reward the good behavior:  “You kids have been such a big help.  I’ve got an extra half hour.  Let’s put the timer on and see how many rounds of bananagrams we can fit in before I start dinner.”  Notice how in each of these cases there hasn’t been any lecturing—just identifying positive consequences for cooperative behavior.  You don’t need to connect the dots for your kids:  The positive reward will do that for you.  

One last thought.  At this point in your training, don't put your kids in “or else” situations.  As soon as you say “You kids need to help me pick up these leaves or else,” you have set yourself up in opposition to them when you are trying to build their cooperation.  By offering them a reward for cooperating, they get to choose to step up to the plate.  Or not.  Choice is a key way to build cooperation.  Don’t worry if they choose not to cooperate at first.  Eventually they will.  Just keep offering positive rewards with no guilt attached when they don’t take the bait.

At the end of the day, kids want to be cooperative, but they are only human:  They also want to feel that they are in control.  By offering them choice, they feel free to step up and contribute positively to the family.  

Do you want support in building your consistency muscle?  It's not too late to join the Winter Coaching Program and get the benefit of a community of parents as well as one-on-one coaching.

In the mean time, leave a comment below or on the Joyful Parenting Coaching Facebook Page about how your efforts are going.  

Be strong!

Elisabeth

www.elisabethstitt.com

Building the Consitency Muscle: An Introduction

Elisabeth Stitt

Why despite our best intentions is it so hard for us to be consistent with our kids?  Is it really so important?  And how do we go about building that parenting muscle?
 
It is hard to be a consistent parent because parenting is a long haul.  Parenting is not a project where you put a due date on the calendar and make a big shove to get it done by that date.  It is day after day, thousands of interactions over time.  And unlike other areas of our life which require constant maintenance, children are a moving target (ever more sophisticated in finding ways to thwart us!).  Worst of all, with kids, when you lose momentum and go back on your word, you often go all the way back to zero.  This is not like your diet and exercise plan—get off track with those and you still have the credit of having kept it up for however long you did.  When you do not follow through with a child, you have broken trust.  How long does it take to rebuild trust?  I don’t know.  It depends on the child.  But one thing I do know is that you cannot talk your child into trusting you again; only by following through absolutely for a long period of time will you build that trust again.
 
Building trust through being consistent sounds like a lot of work.  Is it even worth it?  I think so, because the payoffs are pretty great.  Being consistent gives a child a sense of security.  She is busy trying to make sense of her world, and patterns are reassuring.  Once she thinks she knows how something works, she can leave it and go explore something else.  You are the most important person in her life.  If most of her energy goes into figuring you out, that is less energy for other learning.  If she can rely on you 100%, she experiences less fear and anxiety.  This gives her confidence to master her own world—to approach a new friend, to climb to the top of the play structure or to learn a new game.  Consistency also helps a child learn self-regulation.  If you say no to the cookie before dinner and add that if she continues to ask there will be none after dinner—and you stick to it—she learns that through controlling her behavior, she can exert some control over her situation.  (Learning this self control is very hard work for your child.  Know that you can offer lots of sympathy for the struggle without giving in to the cookie.)
 
So, you have decided that consistency is important and warrants the time and energy it will take.  What’s the first step in building the consistency muscle?

Building Consistency: Tip One:  Build in Secret
Here is a great trick.  Remember I said that by not following through with negative consequences, you too often slide back to zero?  Deposits put in the Positive Recognition Bank, on the other hand, stay there, even if you forget to put in a deposit the next day.  Cool, right?  That means you can begin to build your consistency muscle in stealth mode.  Let’s say that you decide that your first goal for yourself is to consistently praise your children for their efforts—their efforts to clean up, to be kind, to turn away from electronics.  You quietly begin to drop compliments.  Let’s say, you do super well for three days.  The fourth day you are tired and stressed and forget your efforts.  Not a problem.  Having not promised anything, you are not breaking any trust.  You get to start again tomorrow with no one the wiser.
So, I challenge you.  Before you leap to add teeth to the rules in your house, build up the consistency biceps by committing 100% to catching your kids doing good.

By next week you'll be ready for Building Consistency: Tip Two:  Build the Positive!