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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: Communication

What Is the Best Resource to Teach Kids Phonics?

Elisabeth Stitt

You. You are your child’s best resource.

The more you engage with your child, the more language she will learn. When you sing songs and chants, especially nursery rhymes, you are training her ear to hear differences and similarities in language. When you exaggerate the “buh” of bat and compare it to the “puh” of pat, you are teaching phonics in an organic way. Of course, you can also name the letter. Point out to your child she needs to p-p-p-pat the cat. That’s the letter P! You can even make a joke. You can say, “Don’t b-b-b-bat the cat with a B! Cats like p-p-p-pats with a P!”

Phonics is simply teaching the sound or sounds associated with a letter, combination of letters (like “sh”) or syllables.

Teach phonics awareness by connecting words to his how life.

Start with words that are the most meaningful to your child: his own name, Mom, Dad, the names of his siblings and pets. If he has a dolly or stuffy he is attached to, teach that. If he has a name like Thomas, teach “Th” as a unit and point out that sometimes it says “t” but mostly it says “th” as in Thank You.

Encourage your child to write. First this will be scribble. Just ask him what he has written. If he has written something about someone in the family, you can say, “Let’s write Mary’s name again.” Ask, “What sound do you hear in Mary?” He will probably pick out the “m.” Write a capital M. Then ask, “What other sounds do you hear?” He will probably identify the “r” or maybe the “e” sound from the Y. Leave the spaces for whatever sound he doesn’t hear and write down the sounds he does here. Then just tell him, “Mary also has an “a” here and and a “y” at the end.

As he gets more sophisticated he will begin to write words with the main sound. It might look like this: I lv mi dg rky. You will see he has written I love my dog Rocky. Pick out just one word (probably Rocky) to write out fully for him. Identify the “ck” combination as one of the ways we write the “kuh” sound.

Read, Read, Read

In addition to talking and singing lots, read lots. Lots. If you have a wiggler who can’t sit still, ask her to sit with you for the first story or the first few pages or the first chapter but then let her engage her hands with a puzzle or blocks or drawing. Even as she plays, you can stop your reading from time to time to highlight words or letters. Say things like, “The boy in this story is named Robby! Look. Robby starts with R and ends with y just like Rocky does. Can you tell me what the sound in the middle of Robbby is?”

The trick is to incorporate awareness of sounds and letters as you go throughout the day with your child, NOT to think, Oh, we have to drill phonics for 10 minutes a day! Leave the formal lessons to the teachers. You can do the fun lessons at home. As you are making cookies, ask your child to get you the flour container. He will probably be able to pick out the jar marked flour as compared to the jar marked sugar. (Don’t ask him for the jar marked sugar to begin with since the spelling of the “sh” sound as an “s” is not very common and is confusing. Of course, if he asks, just point out, “Mostly the letter S makes the “s” sound, but sometimes it makes the “sh” sound. Pretty sneaky, uh?”). If you print out the ingredients list in big print, he can help you read the ingredients. Adding pictures will help. In this way, he will see the purpose of reading in action. Reading = cookies!

Learning can happen anywhere.  

When you go outside, help him write letters and words in the dirt, in the sand, formed out with pebbles or sticks. In the bath, write letters with soap bubbles on the tiles. Finger paint is another awesome place for kids to practice letters.

Above all, don’t get carried away with teaching. As soon as it is no longer fun, you are being counter productive. Children naturally want to communicate. They see that letters and words are communicating all kinds of important information to adults all the time, and they want to be a part of that—if they are not pressured unduly.

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

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

What do sibling rivalry and scarcity have in common?

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

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

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

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

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

Help your kids understand that fair does not mean equal

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

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

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

What else? 

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

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

Is Sibling Rivalry Making Your Household Miserable? 

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

Warmly,

Elisabeth

Elisabeth Stitt

Joyful Parenting Coaching  •  Elisabeth@stitt.com  •  650.248.8916

Homework: The Debate Continues: Helpful or Not?

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt  

Considering I taught in the public schools for 25 years, you would expect me to be a big proponent of homework.  At the end of the day, I am not, as it might be a waste of time and in some cases might do more harm than good.  Here are 5 considerations regarding homework. 

 

1.    Homework Does Not Give the Bang for the Buck You’d Expect

Considering all of the emphasis put on homework, you would expect it to make an enormous difference in student outcomes.  And while homework can improve student performance, there are a lot of guidelines for what makes effective homework and how much should be given.  In my experience, teachers mostly do not give homework that meets researchers’ recommendations for kind and amount.  Furthermore, I think most teachers—especially those without children of their own—have only a vague notion of the impact their assignments are causing at home. 

 

2.    Most Teachers Assign Homework That Is Easy to Grade—Or They Don’t Grade It Properly

I was an extremely hard-working and effective teacher.  I actually did assign writing assignments that actually did take me hours to grade. I kid you not.  An essay took at least 20 minutes to read, write comments on and assign a grade.  With 90-150 papers depending on the week, grading took a minimum of 30 hours to grade. If I assigned an essay every three weeks or so, that was 10-15 hours of grading a week minimum.  That alone might have been manageable, but that did not include the vocabulary, spelling and grammar work that I felt compelled to assign along side of that.  Swamped by the piles of paper I needed to process, those secondary assignments got short shrift (which students took full advantage of, writing ever more meaningless sentences such as “The boy was lethargic”). 

 

3.    Homework That Is Not Thoughtfully Graded and Returned to the Student Promptly Does Not Fulfill Its Purpose. 

Let’s take the vocabulary sentences example again.  A teacher assigns using the weekly vocabulary words in a sentence in order to show understanding of the words’ meanings.  Either the student writes a sentence so banal and without context that the word could mean anything (In “The boy was lethargic,” lethargic could as easily mean fat or kind hearted as apathetic) or the student uses the word incorrectly because he does not understand the meaning of the word.  If the teacher does not correct his paper and get it back to him the next day, he will not be able to correct his understanding before he fixes the word in his mind for a test.  In this case, not only has homework failed in its positive benefit, it has actually hurt the student be reinforcing a false concept. 

 

4.    Teachers Mostly Do Not Assign Recommended Amounts of Homework

I used to tell my students to work 25 minutes and stop.  Seventh graders at my school were supposed to get 25 minutes of work in each core subject (math, LA, social studies and science) adding up to a total of 100 minutes. [Note: research recommendations would be 70 minutes.] With the understanding that students took different amounts of time, we assumed that we were giving between an hour to two hours of homework a night.  (After two hours the efficacy of doing homework falls off completely). The reality was that kids were spending much longer on some teacher’s homework—either because they were struggling with the material and needed the time or because they were super conscientious and wanted a top grade no matter how long it took them.  The longer I taught, the more anxious kids got about their grade, and the more kids I had that fell into the last category.  But mostly, teachers didn’t know how long assignments took because they didn’t ask. 

 

5.    Parents give the wrong kind of help with homework.

Ideally, assignments would be just long enough to test or reinforce a concept.  Kids would do homework on their own; teachers would grade it immediately to assess whether or not the kids got the concept.  Parents would support the homework process by providing a quiet place to study (away from electronics) and asking open-ended questions like, “What strategy could you use to approach this problem?” or “Did you go back and review the material?” Ideally, parents’ focus would not be on the specific content but on helping the child develop strategies for breaking down and managing the work. 

 

6.    MY RECOMMENDATION

If homework in your house is taking more than the recommended 10 minutes per grade, I would start by keeping a log for a couple of weeks.  Write down how much time each child is spending on each subject.  Make note of how much help you need to give and what kind of help you have had to give.  If you end up regularly teaching concepts at home, ask to have a parent-teacher conference.  Ask the teacher if your child is paying attention and asking questions in class.  If no, that is where you need to help your child make changes.  If yes, then share with the teacher how much teaching you have had to do at home and ask her what her expectation is.  A good teacher will say, “If you teach at home and your child comes to school back with perfect homework, I assume I have taught the concept effectively.  I will not know that I need to adjust my teaching or leave more time for review.”  A poor teacher will complain about the number of standards she has to teach and whine that there is no way to get through them in a single year.  At that point, you might consider a conversation with the principal (bring your log).  In any case, I would put my foot down in my home and limit the amount of time students could spend on homework.  Children need play, they need downtime, and they need to participate in helping out with family life.  When we let homework dominate the day, we do a grave disservice.  

If Homework has taken over your home and you'd like some help putting it in its place, Sign up HERE for a "sample session" and we can make a plan that works for your family.

Middle School: the Time for Parents to Step Away or Not?

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

It’s not time to leave your child completely on his own yet.  

Too often parents who have stayed at home or worked part time think that middle school is the time for them to start working full time.  That’s a mistake!  The switch to middle school is a big step—often even bigger than going to high school.  Middle schools tend to be big—more than twice or even three times as big as the elementary schools that students are coming from.  Kids feed in from sometimes as many as six or seven elementary schools.  To top that off, instead of moving through the day with the same set of kids, most middle school kids regroup every period.  A student is lucky to be in class with someone he knows much less a friend.

The middle school curriculum really does get harder.

The middle school content standards make a jump in the amount of critical thinking and problem solving required.  The pace is relentless as the emphasis is on getting through the whole list of standards rather than mastering a few key ones. At my school, when we looked at the 6th graders’ marks, they were lower first trimester than second and lower second than third.  Even the best students wobbled a bit while adjusting to the change in academic expectations. Parents should know this and reassure their kids that they will figure out how to handle middle school work given time, but most schools don’t give parents that information.

Middle School teachers get “harder.”

The biggest change, however, is the mentality of middle school teachers.  Unlike elementary school teachers who see their primary goal as encouraging self-esteem and a love of learning, middle school teachers lean towards focusing on kids accepting that a lot of life is about jumping through hoops and doing things in a certain way.  Docking points for incorrect paper headings and throwing away papers with no names on them is common practice.  

Students will complain their teachers are mean.  We don’t see ourselves as mean.  We see that we are the last stop before high school where kids can still get low grades with no consequence to their long-term future.  We feel it is our job to teach what high school is going to be like before it counts towards graduation and college admissions.  In middle school, grading shifts from assessment of a student’s ability to an assessment of her performance.  That means the student who has skated by on test scores and an occasional brilliant project is now going to learn that consistency and attention to detail are actually more highly valued.  These are important skills to learn before high school. 

It feels like parents are not wanted, but that is not true.

Parents often feel left out of the equation in middle school.  Because their children might say they don’t want them there and because there is no room parent organizing volunteer activities, they feel unsure of how to be a part of school or, worse, they feel unwelcome.  While it is true that you might not be asked to man math centers every week, it is not true that parents are not needed or wanted.  Being involved at school in any way gives you a chance to stay connected with your child at time when his instinct is to shift toward his peers.  

Even if you do not volunteer in your child’s class, by finding a volunteer job at school, you will hear more about what is going on.  You will learn what clubs and activities are available to your child and will be able to encourage her at home to participate whether it is the joining the soccer team or signing up for the spelling bee.  As you fold flyers or stuff envelopes, you will overhear gossip about which administrators are supportive and which are a waste of time to approach.  You will learn the rational for the new homework policy and what teachers are doing to prepare kids for the state tests.   

Middle school is a time for parents to step back, but not to step away.  

Parents are still a child’s touchstone.  They are still the best person to help a child process what she is experiencing.  Getting grades based on percentages for the first time can be a real blow to the ego.  A child’s sense of himself can be seriously shaken as he will associate his grade with how smart he is.  A parent can help a lot by making the distinction between intelligence and following procedure and letting a child know that both are a part of being successful in life.  Parents can continue to be there as a sounding board, but if in the past they have done most of the talking, it is time to develop deep listening skills.  Asking your child, "What is your next step here?" might get you farther than, "Here's what you should do."  

What does stepping back look like?

Stepping back might take the form of letting a child suffer the consequences of lost or incomplete homework without swooping in to defend the child.  (Do continue to offer a lot of empathy that it feels awful to have worked hard on something and then not get credit for it because of one little mistake—like not putting your name on your paper or forgetting it on your desk at home.)  Stepping back can mean not micro managing students’ projects but asking questions like, ‘What’s your plan for spreading out the work of the project?” or “Have you done your best work?” or “What part of this paper are you especially proud of?”  When students get graded work back, instead of focusing on the grade, parents can ask, “What is your plan for doing better next time?” or “What resources do you have for getting help understanding this?”  Above all parents can help their kids talk to adults at school not by doing the talking for them but by roleplaying how conversations with a teacher or administrator might go.  In this way, a parent is still staying connected and supporting his child and at the same time allowing his child to stand on his own two feet.  

Middle school is the time for parents to stay connected and know what is going on, but it is also time for them to position themselves as guide rather than driver of their child’s life.  

Are you struggling with making the shift from driver to guide? 

It is the key task to successful middle school parenting.  Sign up HERE for a complimentary strategy session where we will identify where your child might need a steadying hand (and what that looks like at this age) and where you need to loosen the training wheels. 

Warmly,

Elisabeth

Elisabeth Stitt

Joyful Parenting Coaching  •  Elisabeth@stitt.com  •  650.248.8916

5 Skills to Focus on This School Year

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

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

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

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

Emotional Awareness

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

Resiliency

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

 Taking Responsibility for One’s Own Actions

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

Problem Solving

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

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

Independence

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

The Bottom Line:  Parents Set Their Kids Up for Success

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

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

Get Support in Supporting Your Children

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

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

 

Constructive Conversations: 4 Tips to Reveiw

Elisabeth Stitt

One of the most important skills we can teach our children is how to have a difficult conversation calmly.  Kids can learn these techniques, but they work just as well with other family members, friends, colleagues and even bosses.  

 

Because we can always use the reminder, here are a couple of my favorite techniques:

 

1.  Announce you are having a hard time with something and ask for a good time to talk about it.

 

Example:  I am having a hard time with the current schedule and would like to talk to you about it, when would be a good time?

 

If you don’t want to admit you are “having a hard time with” something, alternative phrases would be “I have some questions about X.”

 

If the person says, “right now,” and you are not ready, just say so!  (Example:  I really appreciate that you are willing to discuss this right now, but I want to be sure that I present my thoughts clearly.  When is another time we could meet?) 

 

The advantage of this technique is that it assures you get the other person at a time when he is more likely to listen.  

 

2.  If the topic is a very emotional one for you—or you get easily overwhelmed by even thinking of bringing up a potential conflict—own it and ask to just be heard.

 

Say, I’m not sure why this is so hard for me to bring up, but I have something weighing on my mind that I would like share with you.  What I would really appreciate, actually, is if for right now I could just tell you about it but that we wait a few days to talk about it.  Would you be willing to just listen for right now?

 

Often, if you know that person is not going to immediately yell at you or start tearing your ideas apart, it is easier to fully express what is going on for you.  You will be able to offload your emotion and share your concerns.  Once you get permission to share, be sure to stay focused on your own perspective.  

 

Example:  I really value your friendship and want to spend time with you, and at the same time I feel like I am always the one reaching out to you.  That makes me wonder if you value our friendship as much as I do.  I don’t want to impose myself on you and neither do I want to do all the work of arranging for us to meet.  If you want to spend time with me, it would make a big difference if you would reach out to me more often with a plan.  That would make me feel that you cared.  Thanks for listening and being willing to give this some thought.  Let me know in the next couple days when would be a good time for me to hear your perspective.

 

Note that there are three likely outcomes with this example:  1) the friend never arranges a time to meet, sending a clear message she does not, in fact, value the friendship.  2) the friend responds not by sharing her perspective but by taking action and proposing a date or an outing.  Take this as having been heard and go with it.  3) the friend proposes a time to meet and shares her perspective.  This is not the time to make a counter argument.  You got to be heard by her; now it is your turn to listen.  When she is done, you can ask if she’d like to talk about it now—or if you think you are going to be too emotional, you can ask to respond in a few days.  Just say you really want to think carefully about what she has said.  

 

This technique allows you to be an emotional mess with someone you trust, while at the same time getting your position out in the open.  If it is not appropriate to be emotional, knowing that the other person isn’t going to say anything about it right away can help you say your piece calmly.  

 

3.  Use an I-Statement to succinctly express your position without going into a long drawn out conversation.

 

Example:  When you arrive late without calling to let me know, I feel disrespected, because I need that information in order to make adjustments in who is working what station.  Next time please call me  if you even think you might be late.

 

Let’s break that down:  The first part identifies a specific behavior (arriving late without calling).  It is important that you stick to the specific incident at hand.  Do not use phrases like “When you are always late” because that gives the person a chance to argue with you (probably he is not always late).  The second part shares your feelings (I feel disrespected).  Note that it is not accusatory, i.e., you are not saying “you are so disrespectful.”  Just stick to your own feelings.  The third part explains your feelings (I need that information to do my job).  This shows that you are not throwing out something random.  The forth part is a concrete request of what you would like next time (Please call me if you even think you might be late).  

 

Now, an I-Statement does not guarantee a response. Ideally, the person will apologize and next time will call if he is going to be late.  But often people will not respond with more than a “yeah, sure.”  You might have to circle back to this topic (perhaps with technique #1), but it does allow you to get an issue out into the open in real time, so your position is clear.  That can make it easier to address later and will keep you from stewing about it resentfully.  

 

4.  Invite their feedback and use Active Listening to gather information and acknowledge their feelings or situation.  

 

Example:  I notice you have been have not been meeting all your commitments on time.  I’m wondering what is going on with you about that?

 

Once you make the opening bid, your job is to listen carefully.  As the person goes along, you may stop to recap by saying, “Let me see if I got this right.”  Then identify their feelings as well as their situation.  Even if they have not expressed a feeling explicitly, you can make a guess:  “It sounds like you are feeling overwhelmed because you have taken on some extra projects, and now you are finding it hard to juggle everything.”  Always end with, “Is that right?”  If they correct you, just repeat their correction back to them, “Oh, so it is not that you are overwhelmed, it is that you feel resentful that so much extra work is getting piled on to you, and that doesn’t feel fair.”  This is really important information.  Overwhelm requires a different kind of solution than fairness does.  Without finding the true reason, you might jump to the wrong conclusion, make the wrong adjustment and have the other person really feel like you don’t get him.  

 

This is the best technique for really stepping into the other person’s shoes and examining the impact the problem has on them.  That is going to allow you to find a solution that near as possible gets both your needs met.  At the end of the day, even if it is someone working underneath you or is a child, if you do not have their good will at heart, life is not going to run smoothly.  It is always better to find win win solutions.  

 

Having difficult conversations is a skill.  If it is hard for you now, keep practicing these techniques.  As you become easier with them, you will find you are so relaxed in the face of conflict, such conversations will no longer feel difficult.  If you would like to practice these skills or figure out how you are gong to approach a difficult conversation without falling apart, contact me for FREE Peaceful Resolution Strategy Session and we will create the plan you need.  

5 Tips to Raising Happy Children

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

Ask most parents and they'll say, I just want my kid to be happy.  But how are they teaching their child to be happy?  

That's right.  I said teach.  Maybe you think that happiness is something that either happens or it doesn't.  Not so!  Aren't you glad to hear that?  Happiness is something you can develop in your child.  Why?  Because like learning to read or write or draw a picture or throw a ball--or become an effective parent!--much of happiness is built with specific skills. Sure.  Some children are born with naturally sunnier dispositions.  Does that mean you accept the grumpy kid "for who he is"?  Well, no. No more so than you would accept a child who was struggling to read.  In fact, it is with the child who is struggling with whom you sit down and break the task into ever smaller and manageable bits

How do we teach happiness? 

Let's look at some key practices that have come out of current positive psychology research.

1. HAPPINESS BRINGS SUCCESS. 

As parents we need to rethink the idea that success brings happiness.  Current research suggests strongly that the reverse is true:  Happiness brings success.  So lead your child towards happiness practices and let nature take its course.

2. NOTICE THE POSITIVE. 

Is the glass half empty or half full?  Help your child learn to see that the glass is half full by having her focus on the positives in her day.  Model it by showing appreciation for the little things in life.  Here are some positives from my day yesterday:  Someone let me pull into traffic in front of him; the weather was the perfect temperature with a slight breeze; I got in an extra walk in the afternoon. 

3.  AMPLIFY THE POSITIVE. 

Research shows that when we feel something, certain neuro pathways are excited.  The cool part is that when we tell someone about what excited us, the SAME neuro pathways are re-excited.  That's like getting two for one!  So what does that mean?  It means we need to actively share all our little joys.  When I was able to pull into traffic easily because of someone's generosity, I told my friend, "I was afraid that I was going to be late but this really nice guy let me pull into traffic.  I LOVE that!"  Not only have I modeled finding the positive for my friend, I get to feel gushy all over again.  It turns out, my brain doesn't know the difference between the actual event and the relived event!

4.  DEVELOP A WIDE POSITIVE EMOTION VOCABULARY. 

Research suggests that the richer vocabulary we have to draw on, the greater the variety of positive emotions we can feel.  Partly, what you are doing is teaching a child to appreciate a wider scope of emotions as positive.  Stuck with just the word "happy" a child develops a very narrow view of what he can count as happy. Teach him delighted, content, elated, or genial, and he can recognize when he is feeling all those things. 

5.  MODEL GRATITUDE. 

Of all the positive emotions we can feel, the super power of them all is gratitude. In general, a life lived directed towards others is a happier one.  Feeling and expressing gratitude supports our happiness in so many ways.  It reduces stress which improves our health, it causes us to be less materialistic which gives us easier access to a spiritual life, and it improves our relationships by establishing a positive feedback loop. 

The very best part of teaching our children happiness skills?  By modeling the skills, we increase our own happiness!  And if it is not enough for you to be happy, it will comfort you to know that happy people learn better, are more productive and are more resilient in the face of setbacks. 

 

Why Kids Lie and What Parents Can Do About It

Elisabeth Stitt

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

 WHY LYING UPSETS PARENTS

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

 WHY PEOPLE LIE

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

 

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

 WHAT PARENTS CAN DO ABOUT LYING

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

 WHAT ROLE PARENTS PLAY IN THEIR CHILDREN'S LYING

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

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

         •My parents just won’t understand.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 IDENTIFYING THE NEEDS BEHIND THE LIES

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

 BRAINSTORMING ALTERNATIVE WAYS TO MEET NEEDS

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

 

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

 

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

 STAYING CONNECTED EVEN THROUGH CONFLICT

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

 

 

 

 

 

Do You Have a Case of the Middle School Mom Blues?

Elisabeth Stitt

Did you see the article in the Wall Street Journal about Middle School Moms’ Blues?  

A new study finds the stress and anxiety Middle School Moms feel is even greater than that of moms of infants!

Well, with the bulk of my teaching career spent with middle schoolers, that is no surprise to me.  In fact, I started my business, Joyful Parenting Coaching, because of a conversation I had with the mom of a 7th grader whose daughter was coming home crying every day.  This mom felt at a loss, but to me the saddest part was that she did not trust she could share what was going on with other moms in the class.  The feared being judged, looked down on or pitied kept her from reaching out.  

That broke my heart.  

But I don’t think she was alone.  The more work I’ve done out of the classroom and directly with parents, the more I see how many of them are carrying the burdens of parenting in isolation.  

I would never have survived parenting—any stage of it—if I hadn’t felt like I had trusted people around me with whom to compare notes—or to just let off steam!!  I don’t know about you, but I have certainly had days when I could have killed my child.  Or at least cheerfully sold her to the gypsies.  Of course, I never would, but it sure helped to have close and loving friends who could give me their Amen to That, Sister! rally before helping me find constructive solutions.  

The article does not really break down why Middle School Moms are so stressed.  

Here is my theory on why Middle School Moms find parenting harder than other stages: 

1.  As our children go up in grades, the ways society measures their success gets narrower and narrower.  Academic ease and performance become key.  Sports and Artistic proficiency can provide some secondary credit, but in our get-into-a-good-college-at-all-costs society, measurable numbers (grade point averages, state testing scores, SATs) hold the most weight.  Lots of parents start obsessing about those things and find it hard to stop.  

2.  As our children go up in grades, the percentage of moms who are working full time also goes up.  That means as women we spend the whole day talking business, not kids and parenting.  Last week I volunteered at the high school for a couple of hours stuffing envelopes (the beauty of working from home, being my own boss and living close to the high school).   I realized it was pretty much the same moms I had seen the two other times I have volunteered this year.  Their chatter was incessant and far ranging.  These moms knew each other well and clearly had spent a lot of hours together.  They felt perfectly comfortable airing their dirty laundry—and getting and receiving advice from each other.  

But most moms don’t have that.  Many moms drop their kids off at school in the morning and pick them up from childcare or after school activities in the evening.  Not only does that not allow that mom much time for connecting with her kids, it really doesn’t allow her much time to meet up with a girlfriend and compare notes (and I am not saying you cannot or should not be comparing notes with your spouse, but it is really useful to get the perspective of what is going on with other kids in other households).  

3.  Perhaps the most significant reason parenting a middle school child is harder than other ages and stages is that the rewards are not as great.  With an infant you are exhausted and lose sleep, but then that child smiles at you—or laughs for the first time—and in a moment you are totally in love again.  The preschooler balances tantrums with ardent declarations of “I love you, Mommy!” In lower elementary, kids become a lot less work and at the same time still look to you for you insights and views on the world in general and their own worries in particular.  But the middle school child?  Well, I don’t know how you were in middle school, but I was miserable.  I hated school, I basically had no friends, and I was an emotional wreck.  On top of all that, I was convinced my mom (who always painted a picture of her friends and fun activities in middle school) could never in a million years understand what I was going through.  8th grade was the year my grades went down, I lied, and I even cut school!  My poor mom!  

So in middle school we have all the worry, doubt and work of other stages but few opportunities to be our children’s heroes. 

Our kids may still need our advice and counsel, but they won’t admit it to save their lives.  Furthermore, they need us to step away from our god-like positions and become the wise elders who walk beside them.  One of my favorite analogies for teens is that they are on a roller coaster ride; Mom’s job is not to get on and ride with them but to stand on the platform ready to be there when they get off.

For all these reasons that make it especially challenging to parent kids in middle school, that’s why I have created the Middle School Moms’ Mastermind.  

Are you familiar with the concept of a mastermind?  I am in one for solo entrepreneur women.  We are smart, motivated and we face similar struggles.  While only our intrepid leader claims to be the expert, we still get a wealth of advice and good ideas from our fellow entrepreneurs.  We have a community of people to ask, What do you think of this idea?  Or Has anyone of you tried X before?  I love this group of brave, creative go-getters.  They are at once my role models and my friends, and when I get to share my own advice and experience, it makes me realize how far I have come as a business woman.  

We use a Private FB group as the primary means of communicating with each other (though I have also had private phone conversations from time to time with individuals who have a lot to share about a given topic). In twice monthly group coaching calls, our outstanding business coach gives us concrete advice both through direct instruction and through answer our specific questions about our specific situations.  

Imagine having that kind of support for your parenting!

That is exactly what I want for you.  The Middle School Moms’ Mastermind  will bring together a maximum of 15 moms of middle school kids.  I will moderate our private FB group where moms can post questions and observations.  Both moms and I will post relevant articles that we come across.  Moms will be free to post advice for people who ask for it as long as they do so in a way that has no shaming, blaming or judgment.  Additionally, I will lead two monthly calls (recorded so you can access them any time).  On these calls I will spend the first 15 to 20 minutes educating participants about some topic specific to early adolescents and then the rest of the call is your chance to ask me about your particular needs.  

Of course, I do not have all the answers (no one does!), but I do have three adult children and in my 25 years of teaching, I have dealt with more than 3,000 kids between the ages of 11-14.  That means I have pretty much seen it all—all kinds of kids and all kinds of families.  Working with such a large and diverse sample has taught me how many different ways there are to parent effectively.  It is incredibly useful to hear the views and insights of fellow parents.  Hearing a lot of different approaches allows you to get new perspectives and ideas for your own parenting.  

 

 

Does this sound like a group for you?  

Could you use a safe haven to share your woes, to compare notes, to get ideas on how other families handle things and to get access to my 25 years of expertise?  Let's talk.  Email me at elisabeth@stitt.com or call me at 650.248.8916 (Pacific time) to find out if the Middle School Moms’ Mastermind is the tribe you have been longing for!

Act now to reserve your spot.  

I am gathering a group of moms who are dedicated to supporting each other in being the best moms they can be.  I absolutely believe that you can love parenting your middle school child.  I know that I love helping parents find the joy in whatever age or stage their children are, and while I cannot guarantee 100% that you are going to love parenting your middle school children as much as I love teaching them, I do guarantee the fellowship of other women, lots of laughs and unstinting faith that you are the parent your child needs.  

Why don't you try a complimentary group coaching call?  Our next call is Wednesday, October 19 at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time.  (If this time doesn't work for you, let me know what does so that I can let you know when else we are meeting).  

I can’t wait to talk to you.

Warmly,

Elisabeth

Elisabeth Stitt/ Joyful Parenting Coaching/ 650.248.8916/ www.elisabethstitt.com

8 Terrific Tips for Taming the Tangle of Toys

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

KEEPING YOUR KIDS’ TOYS ORGANIZED

Tip 1.  Help your kids identify their value behind why a particular toy is important to them.  Then help them prioritize their values.

            By prioritizing what is important to your kids and having them articulate that to you, it will help you decide how much space to devote to a particular kind of toy.  Let’s say, for example, that your child is nuts about dinosaurs.  It just makes sense that he’d want a wide variety of dinosaurs represented, doesn’t it?  On the other hand, a kid who loves dolls might be convinced that it is more important to lavish love and care on a limited number of dolls—and that the rest could find good homes elsewhere.  That child might need more space for doll accessories, like a crib, but can make do with 2 or 3 especially beloved dolls.  

Tip 2.  Have as much shelve/bin/drawer space for your child as you can spare, so that they can stay organized.  

     Help kids learn to categorize toys by the shelves or bins.  This will allow your child to see visually how much she has of one kind of thing—and in turn help her decide how much she needs of one thing.  Often it is not until all of one kind of toy has been gathered into one place, for example, that a child realizes she has as much as she does.  Seeing it all together helps her realize one good set of colored pencils and/or crayons, for example, makes boxes and boxes of duplicate colors superfluous and therefore a waste of space.  

Tip 3.  Be creative about ways to store toys when you have limited space.  

     It can be really worth it to find storage or display cases for the size toy you have.  My sister, for example, was a big collector of porcelain animal figurines.  No one was bigger than around 4” by 4” so my dad built her a grid of shallow shelves that was about a foot wide and went all the way to the ceiling.  With less than a foot of floor space, she was able to safely display more than 100 figurines.  Deep but narrowly spaced shelves for things like boardgames and puzzles allow kids to store long flat things on shelves that resemble big CD holders.   This kind of shelving can often be found in teachers’ supply catalogues.  Rather than duplicating that kind of storage for each child, have a central location for similarly shaped toys.  Soft things—like stuffed animals and costumes, can be hung from a series of hooks suspended from the ceiling (provide a foot stool, so children can reach up).  Shelves that slide out on rollers allow you to place toys 2-3 deep, and kids can still be able to find them (especially if you think in categories, like dump trucks one behind the other, etc).  

The best way to organize kids’ toys is to limit the number of toys they have to the toys they actually play with and use.  Tips 4-8 address how to do that!

Tip 4.  As toys and arts and craft projects and science kits  and the like come into the house, write a date on them with permanent marker.

     Has your child given a birthday party where all 20 of his classmates bring him a gift?  She opens them all, but in reality only four or five things actually get used?  By putting a date on presents as they come in, you can show a child concretely how long it has been that he has not touched the toy.  That can make it easier for a child to let a toy go out the door.  If a child is still reluctant to let go of a toy, give a date a month out by which the child needs to use the toy.  Tell him that if he doesn’t use the toy in that time that, you will be donating the toy to a local charity.  The key to this tip?  Do NOT remind him that the month is close to being up and do not rub it in his face that you will be giving the toy away.  Simply get rid of the toy, and if your child remembers about the toy AFTER the give-away date, comfort him and assure him that next time you are sure he will not let the give-away date come and go.  

Tip 5.  Help kids let go of toys by identifying the “best of” in the category.  

     Let’s say that your child loves doing arts and crafts, and your shelves are filled with the remnants of half used kits.  Have your child identify which of the projects provided the most fun and satisfaction and offer to get refills for that project.  Let’s say, for example, that your kid really loved the weaving kit she got for her birthday and she did all the projects listed in the manual, but then she ran out of supplies.  The tissue paper and pipe cleaner flower kit, on the other hand, engaged her for an hour or so and hasn’t been touched since.  Knowing that you are going to buy more weaving supplies, might make it easy for her to say good-bye to the flower making kit (and if not, go back to the Tip #3 plan and put it in place for the flowers).  

Tip 6.  Put away toys that your child is not ready for or isn’t likely to ever play with.

     Go back to the 20 presents from a birthday party.  It is very likely that you are a good judge of what your child is actually going to play with.  In the chaos of the party, it is easy to “put things away” for safe keeping.  If you put a bunch of the toys away, likely the out-of-sight-out-of-mind principle will apply and your child will completely forget they even got that toy.  If a couple of months go by, and the child doesn’t ask about it, quietly send that toy away with the next Good Will bag.  Along the same lines, if your child gets a toy which looks like it will someday interest your child but is too sophisticated for him or her at the moment, put it away in a closet—and assuming that your child doesn’t ask you for it in the meantime—YOU can gift it to your child when your child is old enough for it.  OR you can later make it available for your child to give to one of his friends!

Tip 7.  Use natural transitions, like the start of a new school year, to mark a Big Clean Out.  

     If tips 1-4 have not helped clear out the accumulation of clutter, apply a 10% tithe.  Let your kids know that they are going to have to donate 10% of their toys to charity.  They might balk at first, but this is another excellent way to get kids to prioritize and decide which, for example, of their books they absolutely must have.  It will help them recognize that they still have books on their shelves that they read 2-3 years ago when they were much younger.  Similarly, unless you have massive amounts of free space for enormous Lego projects, my guess is most kids will not register a 10% reduction of their Lego blocks (They simply don’t have the space to build something that would actually use all their blocks).  If your kids greatly resist the idea of donating some of their toys, I highly recommend checking out the laugh-out-loud-funny Too Many Toys, a delightful picture book by David Shannon.  

Tip 8.  Help keep toys organized by making some clear guidelines about how many gifts can come into the house.  

     Share your value with your kids that they not equate stuff with happiness or security.  Help them see the value of fewer treasured objects by encouraging more thoughtful gift giving.  Let relatives know that less is more—or perhaps ask relatives if they would like to go in on a gift together.  Some toys, like a fancy model kit, for example a) can be quite pricey and b) actually requires extra supplies—like glue, additional paint, a big board the project can be done on so that as it is being worked on it can be slid in and out from under a bed.  Relatives who think of the big picture could go in on all the pieces together.   That way one gift comes into the house instead of 6-7.  

     You can also enlist help from close family friends and relatives by asking that they provide your child experiences rather than toys that will add to the clutter.  Perhaps your daughter's best friend's family will invite her to go to the zoo with them the next time they go.  Perhaps your son's uncle will take him to a hockey game.  These gifts work on so many levels:  They say to your child I am valued, People like having me around.  They give your child time with another caring adult, so you are creating that larger safety net.  The activity itself is often memorable--especially if it is in the child's honor.  Again, these are great opportunities for families to go in together on an outing that might be more expensive:  Grandpa can pay for the ticket, Uncle can actually get the child to the game, Aunt-who-lives-far-away can provide a gift certificate for cotton candy or a souvenir.  

How to Help Your Kid When Being Bullied at School

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

Simon’s Hook:  A Great Resource for Arming Your Kids with Tools They Need to Disarm Bullies

Last week, I gave examples of how parents can teach their kids to resolve conflict peacefully AT HOME.   

Unfortunately, at school, it can sometimes be hard to use those skills both because the kids they are using them with don’t know how to respond constructively and because fully resolving conflict peacefully takes time—something in short commodity in most school situations.

For conflicts at school, I find using children’s picture books a great place for ideas.  One of my favorites is Simon's Hook; A Story About Teases and Put-downs  by Karen Gedig Burnett, illustrated by Laurie Barrows. In Simon’s Hook, Simon’s grandmother tells him a tale about a bunch of fish who learn to “Swim Free” rather than “taking the bait,”  ie the insults, being thrown at them.  Armed with his new skills, Simon is able to rejoin the kids at the playground who have been making fun of his bad haircut.  

Simon learns five “Rules for Being a FREE Fish” from his grandmother’s story. 

Rule 1:  DO little or nothing!  Don’t react!

Interestingly, when I have taught these rules in class, this is the one the kids choose the most.  We practice having kids give a blank stare back.  Practice this one with your kids over and over.  Start by having them insult you and you showing them no reaction.  With little kids, you are likely to hear something like, “You’re a poopy face!”  Don’t laugh at them.  Just look at them as if you didn’t even hear them.  Then ask permission to tease them.  Ask them for examples of what kinds of hurtful things they have heard and then repeat those things in an exaggeratedly bratty voice, coaching them to do little or nothing.  Praise them for how neutral they can keep their face.  Have them practice in front of the mirror.  You pretend to insult them; they practice staring right through you. 

Rule 2:  Agree with the hook!

What?  Agree with what a bully says?  Yes!  This one actually works surprisingly well as it completely disarms the kid who is being mean or insensitive.  Let’s look at some examples:

Juan:  You can’t be my friend!

Rogelio:  Okay!  I’ll go play with someone else then.

Do you see how Juan was gearing up for a fight and Rogelio just took the wind right out of his sails?  If Rogelio really does want to be friends with Juan, he might add, “Maybe we can be friends tomorrow.”  Often—even though they don’t say it out loud—younger kids don’t mean, “You can’t be my friend EVER.”  They just don’t know how to say that they are mad or that they want to play with someone else that day.  Help your kids understand that sometimes other kids don’t mean to be hurtful.  They just don’t know how to express their emotions and their needs. 

Here’s another example of agreeing with the hook:

Britta:  You’re shoes are ugly!

Michelle:  I know!  I told my mom they are so ugly they should win an ugly prize. 

How can you argue with someone who is cheerfully agreeing with you?  Note how reference to a disagreement with Mom subtly puts Britta and Michelle on the same team of Kids Whose Moms Just Don’t Get It.  Very disarming indeed! Invite your kids to use you as an excuse. 

Rule 3:  Distract or Change the Subject.

What’s funny about this technique is that it is often kids who might otherwise be socially challenged who are the best at it.  Distraction works by just pointing out something that is going on in the environment like, “Hey, wasn’t that the bell?” or “Isn’t that Mr. Jones in the Giant’s hat over there?  I wonder if the Giants won their game last night.”

Changing the subject works like this:

Rakesh:  Your writing is terrible!

Hiren:  Did you know that the heaviest dinosaur was the Brachiosaurus?  It weighted around 80 tons.  That’s like 17 Elephants.  And it was as tall as an 8-story building!  That’s way higher than my apartment.  My building is only five floors high.  I live on the third floor, though.  Did you know that…

You can see how by the time Hiren runs out of steam, Rakesh is going to wish he had never said anything! 

Kids like the idea of this technique but I have found they actually need to brainstorm a list of possible topics for what to talk about.  Here are some ideas a recent class came up with.  Help your own kids add to this list:

•the weather

•what happened on a favorite t.v. show this week

•a book they have read recently

•anything that involves a list (kinds of cars, kinds of cereal, what they ate for breakfast this morning, the state capitals, etc.)

•a question (Do you think Mr. Jones is going to give us a pop quiz today?)

•what they did over break or on their last vacation

•Anything they happen be obsessed with at the time

The trick to Changing the Subject is to add enough detail that the kid doing the insulting totally forgets what he said in the first place. 

Rule 4:  Laugh at the hook or make a joke!

Most kids can just laugh.  Again, practice it with your kid.  First demonstrate:  Have them insult you and then just laugh at what they have said.  I had one kid who was really good at laughing and then following up with a blank stare.  It left the other kids completely nonplussed.  They really had no idea how to proceed from there. 

Making a joke can be hard because it requires kids to think on their feet, but if you have a very verbal or punny kid, it could be just the tool:

Maria: You’re not a good dancer!

Mira:  How did you know Ms. Kltuz was my middle name?

Or

Kevin:  You can’t play with us.  Go away.

Howard:  I can’t?  Really?  Oh, that’s right!  I put on two left feet this morning.  That’s okay.  Just put me on the left side of the field and I’ll be fine. 

This works because kids don’t know how to deal with this kind of answer, and they will let the joker play rather than try to outwit him.  

Rule 5:  Stay away!  Swim in another part of the sea!

Stay away or swim away works well in two circumstances.

 One, the kid being mean is truly physical or out of control.  Some kids are just not safe.  They arrive at school with behavior challenges that are too big for our kids to deal with (chances are the school is struggling, too, to find enough manpower to help that kid).  It may mean not getting to do what you want that day, but recess is too short to try to argue with that kind of kid.  Help your children to brainstorm a variety of fun things to do so that they have some choices away from the bully.  If the bully has picked them as a target, help your kid find some space away—maybe the library or a lunchtime club or helping a teacher out in her classroom. 

Yes, I recognize that this is not fair.  Your child should be able to play whatever he wants at recess.  I am sorry to say, though, that teachers’ eyes cannot be everywhere and yard duty help is usually spread way too thin.  Usually the out of sight, out of mind principle comes into play, here:  Disappear for a few days, and the bully will direct his attention elsewhere. 

Two, sometimes kids just need a break from each other!  Help your child understand that we all go through rhythms of how much closeness and how much distance we need at any given time.  Often the person being insulting is really just looking for some space.  So give it to them!  They’ll come around another day.  If you have the kind of child who forms very intense, deep attachments to one person, spend some time explaining that that is not everyone’s friendship style.  Some people like being friends with a lot of different people.  One day they will want to play with you, and another day, they will want to play with someone else.  This is not personal:  It is just a different personality.  Reassure your child that if they can just walk away today, chances are the other child will seek them out again soon.  

Kids like these techniques.  Having tools in their tool belt, empowers them and allows them to deal with situations quickly and to move on.  Furthermore, it very often allows the kid being mean to move on, too, so the whole day gets better for everyone. 

Just learning about the skills will not be enough.  You will need to provide lots of support and suggestions.  You can practice them after the fact, helping your child to imagine the conversation he might have had.  If he climbs into the car complaining that So and So did something mean today, ask him if he took the bait.  If he did, help him figure out how he might have used each of these techniques to redirect the bully or defuse the situation

It might feel unfair that your child has to “not take the bait.”  No one should be baiting him in the first place, right?  But you know and I know the world does not work that way.  Surely, you have listened to a friend tell a story about someone being annoying or mean and have counseled, “That’s the kind of person you just have to ignore” or “Why do you let him rile you so?”  What you are saying is Why take the bait?  Children will feel more in control if they know it is in their power to not take the bait.    

If your child is worried about going to school, ask what he thinks might happen and practice over and over lots of different ways he might handle it.  Emphasize that deflecting conflict is a skill.  He will get better and better and it and it will be easier and easier to know what to do in the moment. 

Want more help with this?  Sign up HERE for a 20-minute complimentary Harmony at School Strategy Session.    

 

He’s Such a Jerk. I Hate Him!: Stopping Bullying From Home

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

(Part I of a two-part series on Stopping Bullying From Home)

I am guessing that one of your most heartbreaking concerns is when your kids get wrapped up in painful social interactions with their friends or classmates.  You hear the stories about bullying and fear your kids are being bullied and that it will scar them for life

In my experience, most of the mean behavior among kids is mutual.  Sometimes it will be your kid behaving hurtfully and sometimes it will be someone else.  This is not, of course, because they are bad:  It is because they are still learning the skills they need to be able to advocate for themselves while at the same time reaching out generously to others.  These kinds of social emotional competencies take lots and lots of practice.

That’s where you come in! 

Next week I am going to go over some skills kids can use at school to smooth over or avoid conflict, but this week let’s focus on what you can do at home to help kinds with their EQ

 Learning how to be in touch with and verbalize your emotions so that you can make clear request of what you want or need is first and foremost learned from you.  Start by helping your kids identify their emotions.  When siblings are fighting, don’t take sides.  Instead, help them label how they are or might be feeling and what they need to feel better

 

Let’s look at how this might go:

-----------------------

George:  She came in my room without asking and that is against the rules!

Anna:  You, slime ball, you drew on my picture!

Mom:  Anna! In our family we speak respectfully.  George, it sounds like your sense of fair play and what you can count on has been violated.  Anna, you sound really angry that your brother would ruin something you care about. 

George:  Yeah!  She wasn’t being fair!

Anna:  Well, he wasn’t being nice!

Mom:  Anna, let’s let George tell his bit.  George, you’re mad because you want to trust that your room is private.  What would you like Anna to have done?

George:  She should have knocked!

Mom:  Can you ask her to please knock next time?

George [to Anna]:  Would you please knock next time?

Anna:  Yes, I should have knocked, but I was really mad. 

Mom:  Anna!

Anna:  Yes, I will knock next time. 

Mom:  Thanks, Anna.  Now, it’s your turn.  You were mad enough to ignore one of our family rules.  You must have been ready to spit nails.

Anna:  Yes, I was!  He drew on my picture, and now it is ruined and I had worked really hard on it.  That is so mean. 

Mom:  What do you need from George? 

Anna:  I need him to apologize and never come near me again. 

Mom:  I hear that you are still really hurt and maybe even wish right now that you didn’t have a brother, but you do, and we are learning to live peacefully with each other in this house, so what request can you make of him?

Anna:  To not draw on my pictures?

Mom:  Okay.

Anna [to George]:  Please don’t draw on my picture or anything else that is mine.

George:  But you said your picture was better than mine and that was mean.  Really mean.

Mom:  George, I hear that you were hurt and you can say more about that, but first can you respond to Anna’s request?

George:  Sorry, Anna. I shouldn’t have drawn on your picture.

Mom: George, can you tell Anna more about how it felt to have her compare her picture to yours?

George:  It wasn’t nice and it made me mad.  She always thinks she’s so perfect.

Mom:  George, stick to your feelings right now.  Don’t worry about the past. 

George:  It hurt my feelings.

Mom:  Tell Anna.  Use an I-Statement.

George:  Anna, when you said your picture was better than mine, it hurt my feelings because I really liked my picture.  Next time please find something nice to say about my picture. 

Anna:  Sorry, George.  You did do a really good job with the shading on your picture.

George:  Thanks, Anna!  

-------------------------------------

Now, you might be shaking your head thinking a) my kids would never calm down and forgive each other that quickly and b) no way do I have enough time to walk them through that kind of conversation every time. 

Certainly, when your kids are first learning these skills, it may take them longer to cool off and they may need more of your help to know what to say to each other.  But the more you do it, and the more practiced they become, the more you will hear them going through these conversations by themselves. 

And yes, walking your kids through these kinds of conversations will take your time—probably when you are right in the middle of getting dinner ready or helping another sibling with a school project—but what is the cost of not doing the work?  Slammed doors? More hurt feelings?  Yelling, screaming, threats?  Punishments that take you even more time and energy to follow through on but do nothing to assuage your children’s tender feelings?  Hate and resentment that builds up among siblings? 

I would like to argue that teaching kids to resolve conflict peacefully is some of the most important work you do as a parent.  As a teacher, I could always tell which kids came from families where these skills were being emphasized.  Those were the kids who did not get bullied because when other kids did something mean or hurtful, those kids knew how to address the problem head on and to defuse the bully before he or she could even really get started. 

Come back next week for more tricks you can teach your kids for dealing with mean and hurtful behavior at school.

If you yourself would like more practice with how to conduct these conversations with your kids, sign up HERE for a 20-minute complimentary Harmony at Home Strategy Session. 

 

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.  

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   

 

4 THINGS TO SAY NO TO AND 3 THINGS TO SAY YES TO THIS HOLIDAY SEASON

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

www.elisabethstitt.com

The Christmas season is full of wonderful hope and possibility but even at its best, the holiday season demands a lot of us.  Navigating your way through so that you experience the most joy and the least strife takes some planning.  Here’s my take on what to say no to and what to say yes to so that your Christmas will be merry and bright.  

1. SAY NO TO TOO MUCH

Sure, you may have the money to get everything on your child's wish list, but will you be increasing their happiness and enjoyment of what they get? Pretty assuredly not. Getting a mountain of presents all at once makes it almost possible to process.  Kids rip into present after present with no time to appreciate what they have gotten.  Furthermore, some parents go for quantity rather than quality:  Instead of working from a thoughtful list of presents their kids have been expressing an interest in for some time, parents walk into a story, buy three or four presents and call their shopping done.  On Christmas morning those presents may just feel like a lot of extra calories--yummy at first sight but not adding any substance.  Think back to your childhood.  What are the presents that made an impact, that you really remember?  I remember the Christmas my parents made my sister and me a dollhouse.  Even though I was pretty young, I was aware of how much work they had put in to it, of how excited they were.  That was part of what made it special.  We spent many, many hours playing with that dollhouse.  Another Christmas they bought me a boom box.  It was fire engine red and oh, so cool.  I listened to the boom box every night going to bed for years.  If I got other presents that Christmas, I don't remember them and I'm sure I could have done without.  Don't measure present giving by number.  Give your kids the chance to really savor what they do get.  

2. SAY NO FOR THE SAKE OF SAYING NO

Think how many times between now and New Years you are likely to think, well, it's the holidays, so yes. And that's true. That's part of what holidays were traditionally for. People's lives were so hard that a holiday was a real bright spot. But let's face it. Our lives are not so bleak. Our level of indulgence is pretty high already. That makes it harder for the special times to stand out as especially sweet. It will help your children appreciate the "once-a-year" quality of the season if you are particularly consistent with your other no's.  Knowing that you will be going to extra parties which mean late nights and too much sugar, say no to staying up 10 minutes later on a school night or to buying their favorite kids' cereal.  In fact, you might even lean the other direction:  Start bedtime ten minutes earlier and provide extra servings of spinach and broccoli.  Find times when you say no for no other reason than giving your child the chance to fight you.  Holidays are stressful.  All the events get kids off their sleep and eating schedules.  That builds up stress in kids' bodies.  By saying no to one more story or to cookies for after school snack, that may push your child over the emotional edge.  Hold your limit and allow the tantrum to come:  That will give your kid the chance to blow off steam in a big way. It will be hard to stay with her during the tantrum, but she will be much more pleasant and cooperative when you go the the Christmas party Friday night.   

3.  SAY NO TO "SHOULD" 

Christmas is very often a long list of things you have to do. It is not that some of the things on the list aren't very nice, but there is so much stress around them that they aren't fun anymore. Believe me. There is very little that MUST be done for Christmas to happen, and the cost of experiencing the season as a SHOULD is very high. So, what's the solution? You've guessed it. Go stand in the Land of Want to, the Land of Get to and consider which part of the Christmas season matters most to you. You can't do it all. No way. So there is no use just transferring your "should" list to your "get to" list. Really narrow it down. You should go to your neighbor's party, but do you want to?  You should make Christmas cookies for the cookie exchange, but do you want to?  You should go see the Nutcracker.  It's a tradition and the kids love it!  All these things sound nice, but to what on the list are you saying, "I can't wait!" Take that "I Can't Wait" item, and put it in your I want to list.  Now plan for it. Make space for it. Make sure you are really going to enjoy it by anticipating what is going to pull you off course--traffic? no parking? your partner's cooperation?--and see what you can do to plan for it and smooth the way.

4.  SAY NO TO CHRISTMAS FALLING ON MOM'S SHOULDERS ENTIRELY

I have had many conversations with women over the last month about the burden of Christmas. But how much of the burden is our own fault? When as parents we set out to create this magical time, then that is what it feels like to our children (and sometimes our spouses)--magic! But it is not magic. It's a lot of work!  And what is the point if it makes us witchier and witchier? However, now that the pattern has been set, if you have taken on too much for Christmas, it may fall to you to retrain your family. How about a family meeting tonight? First step, go back to sorting your list into HAVE TO and GET TO. Remember, Christmas will come and go whether you do anything or not: There really are few have to's here. So talk as a family as to what is the essence of Christmas for your family. What do people value the most? How do you create that? And what part will EVERY person in the house contribute? Even a toddler can be given a helper job. If saying, "No," seems too harsh to you, think less.  Think this year we are going to decorate less:  We are going to just have a wreath on the door and say no to garlands of evergreens on the stairs.  We are going to decorate the tree with two boxes of ornaments not four.  We are going to make one kind of cookie, not three.  

1.  SAY YES TO ENGAGING KIDS IN THE PLANNING

 Good for you.  You have clarified what is on your "should" list and your "I can't wait" list.  Now it is time to do the same exercise with your kids. Ask each child to write down the five activities/events that are important to him.  Work with your child to make sure there are five ideas that are actually doable.  Now promise to make at least ONE happen. By asking for five and only promising one, you make that event extra special. If you are lucky, there will be overlap among the kids--and maybe even with your list.  Family Want-to's! Imagine how much happier the kids will be feeling it is their special request being honored!  If you have a lot of children, you may have to put tighter parameters around the requests they can make.  Perhaps each child gets to request a favorite meal sometime during the season.  Maybe Grandma is insisting on ham for Christmas dinner and your oldest really wants you to make your famous beef stew.  Good to know that you can honor the meal choice if not the day.  For group activities that are going to pull at the family budget, you can work together to choose one.  List out all the family events your kids want to do:  going to a holiday show, going ice skating, getting your picture taken with Santa, etc.  Have each child rank their lists from most desired to least desired.  Look at the lists to see if there is a pattern:  Can you give everyone her top first or second choice?  This process may take a couple of sessions, but imagine at the end of it that every family member has felt heard.  You have asked, "What is important about that to you?  Why is that your favorite?  Why else?"  Really take the time to listen to their thinking.  You might be able to get some of the needs met in other ways.  

2.  SAY YES TO GETTING A BABYSITTER OR EXTRA CLEANING HELP

Yes, of course you need a babysitter for the company holiday party. Lining that up is on your to do list. But what about just those extra date nights that are going to help you get through the holidays? Tell the kids you are holiday shopping and then skeedaddle out of there for a couple of hours in a coffee shop or an extended dinner. If you can't get your shopping done on line, at least make life easier by getting a sitter for a weekday night early in the season when the mall won't be such a zoo. Is a babysitter too expensive? Offer to take another family's kids for the evening if they will take yours another night. If you are NOT the parent who usually arranges babysitting, lining a babysitter up may be the most enormous, appreciated gift you can give.  Perhaps your family would most benefit from spending money on extra cleaning.  Does it stress you out that your in-laws are coming and you want the house beautifully clean for them?  I would certainly give up a package under the tree for that kind of peace of mind.  Your children will benefit from you being less stressed.  Given the choice between more presents and parents who are hanging by a thread, most kids will choose to parents who are in a good mood, ready to be loving and present.  

3.  SAY YES TO YOU   

Underneath all the things you are and will do this season--underneath all the love you give and help you offer and empathy you share, underneath all the thankless and Herculean feats you pull off every single day of every year for the family that you love so dearly — underneath it all, there’s a YOU.  And YOU matter. You matter so much that your whole family couldn’t be and do what it wants and needs to do without you. You matter so much that your kids couldn’t survive or succeed or live happy lives making the world a better place if you didn’t do what you do. You even matter so much that people like me dedicate our lives to support you. And you do so much for others, for your family, that it matters how well you take care of YOU, too. So, say yes to self care.  Say yes to enough sleep, to eating healthy food, to putting your feet up for ten minutes in the middle of the week.  If you apply regular self care, you will have the energy and good will that will make the rest of the season fun.  

4.  SAY YES TO AWE

These days--whether Christians or not--most Americans participate in aspects of the Holiday season.  If yours is not a family that worships regularly, you might have to work extra hard to find meaning in all the frenzied activity.  Don't worry about the specifics of the spirituality but do look for the sense of awe.  Look for beauty--in decorations, in colored lights, in the nighttime sky, in a candle flickering in the window.  Look for examples of people's kindness. Maybe people only do things in the spirit of Christmas when they should be helping year round, but I'm just glad that they are reaching out for whatever reason.  Over my years in the classroom, I have seen students touched by the season who are really moved by being ask to reach outside themselves and their own pleasure.  I think they are looking for that awe, the respect you feel when you are aware of how strong people have to be--of their challenges and burdens, of the stunning examples of how they push on despite life being hard.  Hearing those stories has a profound effect on me and my students, causing us to focus on being grateful for each other and for all we have.  Finding moments to let that awe fill you is the best thing of all to say yes to.  

I sincerely hope you consider this list and look for ways to make this season merry and bright.  

Here's to you and yours!

Elisabeth

As always, if you are feeling overwhelmed, that is a time to engage with a coach.  I love working with my clients on becoming clear, confident, focused and sane--especially in this most wonderful--but let's face it--most crazy time of year.  Sign up today for your complimentary session HERE.  

www.elisabethstitt.com  •  Joyful Parenting Coaching  • 650.248.8916

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

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

YOU'RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!  

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

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

MISTAKE #1:  Treating your children rudely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

        With little kids:

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

            Am I brushing alligator teeth tonight or polar bear?

            Are we washing your face first or brushing teeth?

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

                brush your teeth and have you inspect?

            Do you want your dinosaur coat or your penguin sweater?

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

        With elementary school kids

            Are you going to do math first or reading?

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

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

            Are you taking your bath before dinner or after?

            Do you want to work here or in the kitchen?

        With middle school and high school kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            Your children are not your children.

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

        They come through you but not from you,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                     it easier to go?  

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

                      impact the rest of the family negatively?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting Your Kids Free by Teaching Them a Love of Learning

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt      

One of the reasons parents do so much for their children in the areas of self care and daily life is not because they honestly think their children incompetent.  Rather, they are trying to free their children up to spend time on their academics.  While we all understand that a college education is as necessary today as a high school education was in previous generation, it is not the be all and end all.  It is a piece of your child's journey to adulthood, yes, but their success and happiness as an adult will ultimately rest on broader life skills like self-initiative, cooperation and teamwork, creativity and motivation.  And the perhaps most important of all life skills:  A love of learning.  

DEVELOPING A LOVE OF LEARNING

     Children who have a love of learning are naturally motivated.  They go seeking answers on their own.  School becomes a pleasure, not a half to.  If you have a child who loves school, he is willing to play the school game--get there on time, do the homework, memorize seemingly random facts--because he will see all those thingsas a part of his opportunity to do experiments, to reenact the landing of the Pilgrims, to interpret or write a poem.  He will see homework as a way to check his understanding.  He will want to know how he did not just to make a grade but to know where to correct his learning.   

     A love of learning does not thrive in an environment where parents are constantly looking over your shoulder, micromanaging assignments and monitoring grades as if the health of the stock market were tied to your performance.  Or more likely in many homes, as if the success or failure of a research paper in fourth or fifth grade were an indicator of what college a kid is going to get in to.  No.  A love of learning thrives when school is seen as a process--a time and place to fail.  Imagine a skater trying to learn a salchow and not falling down.  Not possible, right?  We know that every fall requires enormous risk and faith.   And from every fall comes a great deal of learning--learning of what not to do, learning about what to try next time.  And the coach knows she cannot go out on the ice and do the salchow for the child.  What would be the point?  Where would the learning be?  Likewise, when we take over our children's learning--by managing them to death--we rob them of any benefit.  

ARE YOU A HELICOPTER PARENT?

     If you have been a helicopter parent when it comes to schoolwork, stop and ask yourself why.  What do you fear?  What are you protecting your child from?  What are you protecting yourself from?  To some extent, I know that parents are just going by what the school or other parents expect. Ironically, many teachers I know would like to give less homework but get pressure from the parents or are accused of being lazy if they don't assign it.  These are not good reasons for homework.  Studies routinely find that the efficacy of doing homework drops off precipitously after around 30 minutes, and in fact, even then the value is in the discipline of remembering you have homework, knowing what the assignment is, doing it and actually getting it back to school and turning it in--not in whatever the homework actually practices.  My own anecdotal experience bares this to be true.  My daughter went to a school where there was no homework before fourth grade and by middle school it was maybe an hour or two a week.  Did this hurt her?  No, she stepped into top classes at a large public high school without missing a beat.  

MAKE THE LEARNING THEIRS

     So how do we motivate our kids to become lifelong learners?  First and foremost, we need to make the learning theirs--the assignments need to be theirs, the grades need to be theirs and the mistakes need to be theirs.   I am reminded of the proverb, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink."  Knowledge has no value if you do not put it to use.  You can cram facts into a child's head by sheer route learning, by threatening and bribing, but to what end?  If the child does not have an intrinsic interest, each thing he learns will be in isolation, a box on a checklist to mark completed.  Keep the emphasis on the knowledge and experience gained, on the process, on the lessons and not on the outcome.  

     Good teachers find ways for kids to have ownership over their learning by giving them as much choice and leeway as possible.  Good parents do the same.  Support your child by asking questions.   What help do they think they will need?  How much time will they need to do the assignment?  Will it require back burner energy or front burner concentration to do compared to their other assignments?  When they get the work back, ask your kids if they got what they expected.  If not, why?  What went wrong?  What could they do differently next time?  What will they commit to doing?  What resources are available for help?  Your support comes in the form of supporting their metacognition--their thinking about how they learn and what they'll get out of it.  

A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE

     I know that some of you are concerned that if you do not push your child academically, you will be failing as a parent--you will be closing the door to the top slots at the top universities.  For you, I offer the perspective of Julie Lythcott-Haims, former freshman dean at Stanford.  Listen here (https://www.freeconferencecall.com/wall/recorded_audio?audioRecordingUrl=https%3A%2F%2Frs0000.freeconferencecall.com%2Fstorage%2FsgetFCC2%2FaQ2s9%2FdpsMH&subscriptionId=4985870) to get my interview with her where she lays out why she is urging stressed-out parents to stop trying so hard to make sure their kids succeed.  

     Perhaps you are reading this and disagreeing strongly.  Perhaps you think I don't understand.  I do get it.  Watching my child go through the stress of getting into college--as grounded and together as she was--was heart wrenching.  Every fear I ever had of how I had failed her boiled up.  I had to firmly squelch my need to push her--to insist--she take actions in certain directions.  I had to trust that with the help of a good college counselor to tell her about a wide variety of schools, she was going to find one that was a good fit for her.  And she did.  And she is thriving, excited about her interactions with her professors and the classes she is taking.  She is at a school most people in California haven't even heard of, and yet I have every confidence she is getting a first rate education.  

     Please put your comments below.  Do you really think having high expectations for our kids and at the same time teaching our kids to take responsibility for their own learning, their own successes and their own failures are not mutually exclusive ideas?  I want to hear from you.  

Raising Kind Kids

Elisabeth Stitt

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

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

THE POWER OF NOTICING THE POSITIVE

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

"THREE GOOD THINGS"

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

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

CREATE A HOUSEHOLD OF GRATITUDE

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

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

THE KINDNESS CHALLENGE

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

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

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