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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: Letting go

Teaching Kids to Meditate: Ages 2 to 12

Elisabeth Stitt

You have probably heard of the benefits of routine meditation practices.  Studies have linked meditation to decreased stress, decreased depression, anxiety, pain and insomnia, and an increased quality of life.  Studies have even found that people who practiced meditation regularly had more gray matter in the frontal cortex, which is associated with working memory and executive decision making.  A parent asked me how young you can start meditation with children.  I don’t know, though there are studies on kids as young as second grade, and my guess is there is no reason not to start sooner—as long as it is does not become one more thing parents feel they should do with their kids.  With one in five children saying they worry “a lot or a great deal” about their lives, meditation may be one way for them to calm their monkey brain.

The question is how to teach very young children to meditate.  I would start by saying it is a process! 

An important aspect of meditation is mindfulness.

Mindfulness is really about paying attention to the moment by opening one’s senses fully. Ask children to sit and close their eyes. What do they hear? smell? What textures are they aware of? Can they feel their bones on the ground? Can they feel the movement of their body as they breath in and out? Can they hear their heart beating? Can they slow their breath but breathing in? Over time have kids extend the number of seconds it takes to breath in, pause, and then breath out, pause, breathe in, pause, breath out, pause.

Get kids to become aware of when and where they are tense.

The next approach might be teaching them to tense and relax different parts of their body. (In a classroom, this can be done sitting at their desks). This helps them learn to focus and it helps them feel the difference between tense and relaxed muscles. Work from the toes up to the head. Ask children to curl their toes as hard as they can and then relax, flex their feet as hard as they can and then relax, tighten their straight legs as hard as they can by pulling them together. Continue to work in this way up through the top of their head. Then work back down to their toes. Then ask them to take a deep breath in and out and as they let the air out to let their whole body relax.

Kids are naturals at guided meditations as they already live in their imaginations. 

As a third step, have kids do a guided meditation. I have introduced kids to this as an eyes open exercise. I have allowed them to draw or color as I imagine them walking through nature. With a recording of sounds of nature playing in the background, I guide them down a woodland path to a glen with wild flowers and birds and a still pond with water bugs making the only movement on the water. As I describe it, they draw whatever they are inspired to draw.

With kids at home, choose a time when your kids are sleepy and you can go straight to going to eyes closed on the floor or even in bed and just have them imagine the journey. If you have the space in the classroom for your kids to lie on the floor, then work towards having them do the guided meditation not drawing but just with their eyes closed. Start with short ones and then as they learn to settle into it, you can make them longer. (A guided meditation can be an excellent introduction to a writing exercise. You might ask them, for example, to describe what they see in the glen when they get there. Or if there is a river in the guided meditation, ask them what they find further down the river.

If none of these techniques work, don't worry.  Modeling meditation through developing your own daily practice might work.  Or you might just wait six months and try then. 

A combination of these ideas keeps things fresh for kids while at the same time helping them get the benefits we associate with meditation.  Again, take it slow!  Keep it light and playful.  You might scoff at the idea of a first grader worried because she has not been able to meditate right, but I have stood in line at the grocery store as one mother complained to another about her own meditation and watched the expression on her little girl's face.  To me it seemed to say, "Oh no.  One more thing for me to worry about!"  So, have fun with it.  If it helps your family--or one particular child--great!  If not, LET IT GO!!  Playing outside on the grass or climbing a tree will also go far to restoring kids' equilibrium.   

 


In the way that sometimes happens, I finish writing a blog and then I find another someone else who had covered the same material but even better!  You might enjoy this INFOGRAPHIC

Tips for Getting Kids to Sleep and to Stay Asleep

Elisabeth Stitt

Here are some of my guidelines for getting kids to sleep and to stay asleep

 

Consistency, consistency, consistency

The actual practice that a parent sets up for getting a child to fall asleep independently is less important than that he sticks with it from as early an age as possible.  At heart we are creatures of habit, and like Pavlov’s dogs, given stimulus A we will react with response A.  That means the same general sequence of events—done night after night--will signal to our body, sleep time is coming. 

•Put your kids to bed earlier than you might think.

If your child needs to up by 7:30 a.m. in order to get through the morning routine and off to childcare on time, she should probably be asleep by around 7:30 p.m.  That means starting bedtime around 7:00 p.m.!  That might seem impossible.  By the time you are coming in from work and picking your kids up from childcare, you might be lucky to get dinner on the table by 7:00 p.m. If your child is a really solid napper (at least 2-3 hours a day), you might be able to fudge this, but if you have a kid like mine—who was down to one hour-long nap after lunch at around 18 months—you are going to need to protect her nighttime sleep.  The inherent problem in this is that it gives you very little time to actually interact with your child.  Unfortunately, our children’s need for sleep has not caught up with our modern day schedules. Furthermore, if your child is cranky and having tantrums because she is overtired, not only is she going to have a harder time falling asleep but the time you spend together is going to be tense and stressed.  

• Find  2-3 markers for a bed time routine.  

For my kids “bedtime” was change into pajamas, one story and one song, and then a sleepy time music track that played for around 45 minutes that got turned on as the parent walked out the door. Changing into pajamas and reading a story was done with reduced lighting.  The song (including a little back rubbing) was done by the light of the night light.  Parents should beware of a too long list of bedtime rituals as it makes it very hard on a night when you come in late from an activity or having gone to dinner at a friend’s.  Tasks like taking a bath can be on a list I call “Before bedtime tonight we have to….”  By phrasing it that way, if it should happen that you come in too late for a bath, you aren’t changing the bedtime routine.  

•Ideally, train infants to fall asleep by themselves so they are already in the habit as toddlers.

Parents who give their infant her last feed of the day while she is still awake (I advise doing it in a different room from where her crib is) may have a harder time teaching her to fall asleep alone in her crib in the short run, but they will have much better sleepers as toddlers.  These babies know how to put themselves to sleep and back to sleep when they wake in the night. 

•Kids can “practice” good sleep habits at a time when it is not bed time!

What do you do as an adult to help you fall back asleep?  Somewhere along the way, you developed a trick—and I bet that most nights it works.  I don’t count sheep but I do do my times tables.  Other times I practice meditative breathing—Breathe six counts in, hold it six counts, breathe six counts out, hold it out six counts.  Kids can start with three counts and work their way up.  Even 18 month olds can learn to do belly breaths by placing a pillow or stuffy on the stomach and practice watching the stuffy go up and down.  Kids can also learn to do progressive relaxations by tensing and then relaxing different parts of their bodies working from their toes to the crown of their heads.  All these techniques can be practiced in the middle of the day where you are there to guide them through it.  You can set them up for success by asking, “If you need help falling asleep, which technique are you going to use?”  

•Once it is sleeping time, interact with your child as little as possible

If you have a toddler with challenging sleep habits and you are just getting started at establishing good ones, know that it is going to be a slow process.  The trick is to take baby steps forward, but no steps backward.  The first step is to make yourself minimally interesting once you have gotten up to leave the room.  Even if you have to physically put your child back in bed, do so with as little comment and eye contact as possible.  (On a side note, if you were someone who could let your children “cry it out,” you probably would have done that already.  It only works if you are absolutely 100% consistent, so unless you are 100% committed, I don’t recommend it.)

 There are, however, ways of weaning your child from his need for your presence as he falls asleep. If you have been lying down with your child in order for him to fall asleep, tell him that from now on you won’t lie down with him, but you will sit next to him.  When he is accepting that without tears and tantrums, tell him that from now on you won't sit next to him where he can still touch you, but you will sit at the end of the bed with your hand on his foot.  Once he can fall asleep with you at the foot of the bed, move to sitting next to the bed on the floor or on the chair.  Progressively you are going to move closer and closer to the bedroom door.  Eventually, you are going to sit outside the bedroom door as he falls asleep and one day (miracles of miracles), you are going to close that door—maybe even all the way!  

 

This process might take 3-4 weeks and feel like torture to you (after all, when you lay down with your kids while they fell asleep, there were no tears and you probably got a little nap, too!), but imagine that three weeks from now bedtime from start to finish takes around 15 minutes and your child puts himself back to sleep when he wakes up for the night!  Imagine your kid not waking up tired because he has gotten enough sleep.  Imagine spending time connecting with your spouse in the evening.  Or taking a long shower.  Or going to bed on time yourself!

 

Good sleeping habits support a good future

Good sleep is so important for learning.  Establishing good habits early on can support good study habits for school all the way through.  Despite taking hard classes and getting good grades, my daughter had relatively few moments in high school where she was completely stressed.  Even in college she goes to sleep by 10:00 p.m.  She organizes her studies so that she does not have to pull all nighters and gets 8-9 hours of sleep a night.  Good sleep wards against depression or a dependency on caffeine or other stimulants to perform. Putting in the work now to develop good habits, might be one of the most important parenting steps you take.  

Teaching your children to be good sleepers might be the most important thing you do for your marriage.  

Admittedly, I do not have any studies to support this claim, but my personal experience in dealing with families is that households where "bedtime" takes a couple of hours are more stressed than ones where kids go to bed relatively quickly with minimum support from their parents.  Parents need time to regroup, to be "off the clock."  They need time to connect each other and to connect to themselves.  

NEED SOME HAND HOLDING WHILE GOING THROUGH THE PROCESS OF ESTABLISHING NEW HABITS?

Let me help!  As much as you are retraining your kids' expectations around bedtime and falling asleep independently, you are retraining yourself to stand firm and committed to valuing good sleeping habits in your house.  Regular coaching calls give you a place to vent and to strategize.  Sign up HERE for a "Getting to Know You" call and we can make a plan that works for your family.

Every Day is Labor Day

Elisabeth Stitt

Every Day Is Labor Day!

September 5, 2016

And Every Day is Independence Day...

by Elisabeth Stitt

Maria Montessori's rule of thumb is, "Never do for the child what he can do for himself."  Her entire educational program is built around the idea that by building on kids' basic skills and giving them more and more to do, we build their power--their self-confidence, their self-control and their self efficacy.  

I love the word self efficacy.  It means a person's "confidence in the ability to exert control over one's own motivation, behavior, and social environment."  

It is worth remembering that when we give kids positive control over their lives, they have much less need to gain negative control through whiny, bratty, out of control behavior.  

Set Kids Up for Success with the Skills and Tools they Need

By asking kids to help--to labor--along side you, you will be giving them a sense of personal power.  There are a lot of ways to do this with toddlers and preschoolers.  I outline some here in my blog on making pancakes.  My blog on Making the Bed is really about connecting with your children through daily activities, but it also demonstrates how a daily chore can increasingly be given over to the child.  HOW TO GET THEM UP AND OUT THE DOOR ON THEIR OWN is a blog that also resonated with lots of parents. Another really great resource is Jeanne-Marie Paynel's videos on how to set up basic living skill development for your kids. Here, for example, is a demonstration of how to teach a small child to peel a hard-boiled egg and what competencies it will help develop.  

For young children helping out means being a connected part of the family.  It means stepping into their own power--not as dependents but as contributors.   Many kids' first real phrase is along the lines of "Me do.  No Mommy do.  Me do."  

Historically, children worked along side their parents, learning the tasks of home and hearth, field and barn from the moment they could toddle.  Now they mostly spend the day separate from us.  Depending on the preschool curriculum, your children may get opportunities to learn independence tasks at school, but it still mostly falls on us to structure home life in such a way that kids become increasingly independent.  

Recommendations for Building Independence:  

•Make a list of basic skills that kids need for daily tasks.  This includes things like pouring and squeezing with control, spreading and cutting with a knife, snapping, buttoning and tying, stirring and mixing dry goods and wet goods without spilling.

•Look to where kids can practice these skills in their daily play--in the sandbox, with play doh, dressing and undressing stuffies, in the bathtub. Use whatever old bowls, spoons, pots, cups, etc. you have on hand. Be willing for things to get messy and be willing to sacrifice things like cups of rice, dried beans, expired pancake mix or baking soda to their exploration.  

•Look to where kids can help you--sorting the laundry, fluffing the pillows, cutting something soft, brushing teeth

•Decide on one or two tasks you'd like to focus on.  Make sure your kids have opportunities to practice these skills as part of their play.  Then start practicing the daily living task on days when you have a little more time (like the weekends or a day you don't have an early meeting).  

•When they are competent enough (not perfect), hand the task over to them as a daily responsibility.  A two year old, for example, can put his dirty clothes in the hamper or hang them on a low hook.  Yes, she will need lots of reminding, but eventually it will become habitual.  

•As your kids become automatic with one task, start introducing the next one.  The aim is to provide challenge without letting it get to the point of frustration.  

Seeing Kids as Being in Progress While Keeping the Long Term Goals in Mind

Your long term goal is to have children going through their off to school and going to bed routines independently (which should free you up to go through yours!). Most children are capable of getting there eventually if you are persistent.  It will take some longer to get the physical coordination they need; it will take some more reminders.  Some kids will need visual reminders; others will respond to a timer being set to keep them on track.  Many will just fall into the routine.  The trick is to keep your long term expectations for independence high while keeping your day-to-day expectations realistic.  

If you are struggling with getting your kids to do things on their own, I am always ready to help.  Sign up HERE for a complimentary Labor Day Strategy Session.  

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.  

 

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 GET THEM UP AND OUT THE DOOR ON THEIR OWN

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt     

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

Getting Up

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

Getting Dressed

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

Getting Breakfast

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

Getting Lunches

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

Keeping the Long Run in Mind

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

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

Elisabeth Stitt

 

 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.  

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

Elisabeth Stitt

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

Having a regular routine helps.                               

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Elisabeth Stitt

Happy Mother's Day
 


BLESSINGS TO ALL YOU MOTHERS, whether you are married, divorced, single, step, guardians, borrowed, you name it.  Cherish the job you do.  In my opinion there is no job more important.

Waking up and feeling a little blue that my daughter is away at college for Mother's Day, I searched my files for a reflection my therapist had me write the first Mother's Day that she was with her father and stepmother.  It was an exercise of self love and gratitude that all of us might need need to return to from time to time.
Who Am I at My Best as a Mom and How Do I Get That Way?
         It is all too easy to dwell in my mind on who I am at my worst as a parent.  Tired and stressed, snapping at people, strung tighter than a drum, only having time for the agenda in my head and not for the people around me.  Increasingly convinced that no one else gets it, that no one else understands the number of balls I have in air or the demands on my time, I become a raging inferno.  At best I ignore my children and am unresponsive.  At my witchiest I yell and give commands with the clear tone of "Any idiot could see that I need your help right now and what kind of brat are you for not giving it to me."  Not a pretty picture.  But you get it, right?  You've been there, haven't you?
         But you know what?   Honestly, when I am at my best, I am pretty damn good!  I keep my eye on the long view.  I know that happy, harmonious relationships today are more important than picking up the dry cleaning or washing the dishes.  I listen attentively without leaping to advice giving.  I really see and know and cherish my children at each of their stages.
        At my best I hold my children as the wise beings they are.  Yes, they are works in progress (aren't we all?) and will make a lot of mistakes on the way.  But that's okay, because at my best I trust that they will learn through their mistakes and failures and that it is not my job to rescue them.  I trust that wherever possible by letting them feel the natural consequences of their actions, they will use that experience and apply it next time.
         At my best I recognize that children all learn at their own pace and in their own way.  I don't worry they are not enough.  I trust that they will find their way eventually:  I can help them on their journey, but I cannot take the journey for them.  Also, I cannot live my life through them.  It is their job to find their interests and passions.  If I stay out of the way and don't push things down their throats, the natural curiosity that all children are born with will mature into their being lifelong learners who pursue knowledge for knowledge sake--not just to make their parents or teachers happy.
         At my best I really enjoy my children.  I love playing with them and being silly.  I love hearing them talk and joke.  I love the warm, physical closeness of snuggles and hugs.  I love watching them discover the world and gain mastery over new skills.  I love how when given the chance they become effective problem solvers.  I love listening to their values and worldview unfold through our many conversations.
         At my best, I really am good.
            So what does it take to be my best?  Well, first and foremost, I have to take care of myself.  That means enough sleep and exercise and good food; that means learning to say no to say people no matter the pressure; and that means not getting too hung up on doing everything right.   It also means having time just for me--to read, to do nothing. I have to have time with my girlfriends to offload steam and complain and be reassured that it will be okay.  Equally important is time alone with my spouse.  When things get busy, we talk nothing but logistics.  If I don't get one-on-one time with him, it is like I lose my mooring, my anchor.  It is our time together that reminds me of my purpose, of who we are as a couple, of what we are building.  It is that which makes me recommit to the vision of a strong, united family (no matter how far away that might feel).   But most importantly, what really helps me be my best parent is allowing myself to soak up the love and to count my blessings, to be filled with gratitude that I am lucky enough to be my child's mom.  For better or worse, at the end of the day, no matter what, I am hers and she is mine.
 

 

Reflections on Letting Your Child Go

Elisabeth Stitt

20 August 2014

As I write this I am days away from delivering my daughter to her freshman year in college.  On the positive side, I am really not worried about her.  She is strong and resourceful.  She is in touch with her own emotions and has techniques for coping with her feelings when they become strong.  She is a problem solver.  Knowing all that, however, does not ease my fear of how much I am going to miss her.  She is a great person, lots of fun and with good insights.  I really enjoy spending time with her and hearing her views on things.  Why wouldn't I miss her? 

But letting go of a child is more than letting go of a friend.  It marks the end of a career stage for me, as I certainly count parenthood has a career.  Since her conception, she has been on my mind.  It has been my job to track her--to track where she is, who she is with, and how she is doing emotionally.  Divorce and the reality of shared custody affected how I could do that in a day-to-day way but it does not change the essential responsibility.  While I have been tracking her, most every decision I have made large and small has been through the filter of whether my actions will affect her and if so how.  How will that begin to change? 

So, I am having a hard time with the idea of letting go.  As I look back, however, I realize that her entire life has been an exercise in letting go.  Here I am reminded of the passage from Kahlil Gibran's "On Children":

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.

Well, it is all very good to be told that they come "not from you," but that is not the way it felt to me!  The first letting go was surrendering the child of my womb to the outside world--to doctors and nurses and shots and syringes (she had no suck reflex).  Next I had to give her to her father, to relatives, to friends and to baby sitters.  And even as an infant, she began to take herself away from me.  As soon as she could crawl, she would crawl away--to the other end of the room, out the door, into the garden--blissfully unconcerned with whether her mother was following her.  Emotionally, she was soon ready to set her will against mine, to teach me early and well that though she came "through" me, she is not me.  She has her own opinions, her own likes and dislikes, her own way of doing things. 

Never once has she showed anxiety about departing.  She didn't cry or fuss when left at preschool and was entirely unphased about about starting nursery school.  Kindergarten presented some problems but only because she chafed at having to sit down for so long.  She raced off to a month of sleep away camp with utter glee in middle school and to various travel/study programs during high school.  In short, she has showed me consistently that she has no problem going. 

So why am I so bereft at her leaving?  I should be proud of the job I have done.  I have fostered a thoughtful, independent citizen who will go out and add enormous value to the world.  She will bring compassion and wisdom and a joie de vivre to all of her endeavours.  I am proud.  I really am. 

But I feel like a piece--perhaps the best part of me--is being torn from me.  And I have to smile and let her go.

Wish me luck!