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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!

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Expanding the Parenting Circle

Elisabeth Stitt

EXPANDING THE PARENTING CIRCLE


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT DO I DO WHEN MY CHILD....

Elisabeth Stitt

I get lots of questions from parents about their kids--parents who don't know how they got where they are and don't know where to go from here.  The older your child gets, the more out of control you can feel as a parent.  

QUESTION:  My 12 year old got so mad at being told (repeatedly) to go to bed that when he slammed the door, it shattered.  I am at my wits’ end. 

ANSWER: Oh, wow.  That must have been so upsetting for you.
 
Although your instinct might have you wanting to come down hard on him, he needs your love and understanding just as much as a four year old does.  I get that that might be really hard for you.  A broken door is a big deal and having a kid that wound up feels completely out of control.  But here’s the truth:  When you get into a physical power struggle with a teenager, chances are he is going to win—which means you lose, which means everyone loses.  Even if he is not physically bigger than you are right now, he is smart and can think of a lot of ways to get around you or to infuriate you. 
 
Besides, you don’t want to “win” over your child.  You want your child to be happy and expending his energies in positive ways. 
 
The older a child gets, the harder it is for us to be patient and empathetic (He ought to know better, we think).  And yet a twelve year old is still a child—a child with hormones racing around inside until he feels he has to explode to feel normal again.
 
So start with empathy:  “I am so sorry you are feeling so upset.  It is really scary to feel so out of control.  I am guessing that you wouldn’t have reacted so strongly if you felt that your needs were getting met.  When you are feeling calmer, we need to brainstorm some solutions that might make everyone happier.” 
 
When everyone is calm, consider having a family meeting.  Be ready to do a lot—a lot—of listening.  (Click HERE for access to my free ebook on The Family Meeting.) Children who really feel seen and heard calm down enough emotionally to access their prefrontal cortex (where their most creative thinking goes on).  Be prepared to make some compromises.  Remember, your child is not behaving badly to spite you.  He does not want to feel disconnected from you.  If he could get what he needs peacefully, he would.  It is not too late to work on nonviolent communication.  Keep at it, and eventually he will be able to tell you what is so important to him.  In the meanwhile, based on my many years of working with middle school kids, here are some things you might guess he needs:
•more choice
•more independence
•more responsibility outside of school (chores, being trusted with some money, making decisions about things like where/how to hang the Christmas lights) 
•reassurance that you believe in him
•reassurance that you will love him no matter what (even if he breaks the door)
•reassurance that adolescence is a phase; it will get easier and he won’t always feel like this
•recognition that he is a work in progress; you don’t expect him to be perfect
•help reframing his so-called weaknesses into strengths
•understanding that messing up is a chance for learning next time
•lots of praise for what he does well
•appreciation for his contributions outside of his school performance
 
Use family meetings to engage his critical thinking skills.  Present issues as problems that you would like him to help solve.  For example, you might say, “Doctors recommend that 12 year olds get 9 to 11 hours of sleep.  How are you going to arrange your schedule so that you get enough sleep?”  By having him come up with a plan, he is more likely to follow it.  If getting to bed on time is an issue, offer a lot of empathy and press for more ideas: “I can see how tempting it is to read one more chapter of your book, and at the same time, a teenager with two hours less sleep than he needs is functioning at the same level as someone who has had two beers.  I worry that the rest of your day tomorrow is just going to be that much harder and I want you to have lots of energy.  How could we rearrange your day so you have enough time to enjoy reading your book?"
 
Once your child is calm, brainstorm ways for him to calm down before he gets that out of control (deep breathing, stepping outside for a moment, excusing himself to the bathroom for a few minutes). 

It is also time to brainstorm ways to make sure the door gets fixed.  Does he have the money to pay for it?  If not, how can he earn it?  Does he get an allowance?  Can it come out of that?  When things fall apart and so much damage is done, it is going to take a while to make things right.  Through it all, offering your child empathy and your steadfast belief that he has learned from the experience is what will allow him to forgive himself and move on.  

Let's go back to how to avoid having a broken door in the first place.  When kids get that out of control, chances are something has been building up for some time.  I love the family meeting as a structure, because it guarantees that on a weekly basis each family member gets to share three good things.  This keeps everyone focusing on the positive.  If your child is struggling to find three good things, it is a red flag that that child probably has issues that are overwhelming him.  The agenda portion of the family meeting allows each family member to bring up concerns and to brainstorm them together.  In this case, Mom might have backed off in the short run, knowing that she could talk about bed time and listening at the family meeting.  

My FREE ebook, THE FAMILY MEETING: GET 4 POWERFUL STEPS TO HARMONY AND CALM IN YOUR HOUSE, will guide you through how to optimize the meeting not only for logistics, but more importantly as a tool that helps you honor each child as an individual, giving them time and space to feel seen and heard.  


 

 

Keep Your Kids Stress Free During the Holidays by Managing Your Own Stress in These Two Key Areas

Elisabeth Stitt

 

By Elisabeth Stitt

Do you remember Christmas as magical? Many people do.  But that was not my experience of Christmas as a child. Indeed, even as an adult, it took many years to experience awe and beauty in Christmas.  Now I love the magic of Christmas, but I’m sure you’ll agree, it can be hard to find and sustain the magic under all the stress.  Growing up I spent the month of December waiting for my mom to blow up.  She so wanted—really wanted—to create magical Christmases for us—and there certainly were moments of warmth and togetherness.  But mostly, we never knew when the gulf between the scene she imagined in her head and the reality of creating (and getting my father on board for) that scene would have her resembling a Halloween witch rather than a Christmas angel.  

Of course, kids can be stressed during the holidays as their routines get upset and they are vulnerable to being over stimulated, but my experience is that their stress depends largely on how stressed their parents are.  In talking with parents, I have found there are two big areas that bring up a lot of adult tension during the season.  

Tip #1:  OVERSPENDING

     In most partnerships there are two different approaches to spending money.  They say that opposites attract, and while I don’t think that is always true, I do think there is something to the notion that part of our attraction to our partners is for something they have or can do easily that we wish we had or could do easily.  My husband is a spender.  I am a saver.  A lifetime of saving has left me wondering if I’m missing something—a little fun maybe?  a little spontaneity? a little luxury?  Living with my husband has been a lesson in learning to spend more and enjoy it!  I am more willing, for example, to invest in something pretty even if it will only get used at Christmas time.  I delight more in buying special holiday foods.  That being said,  I do not think “But it’s Christmas!” is an invitation to spend without thinking.  

     With luck, you and your spouse are learning and growing from each other when it comes to spending.  But if anything is going to bring up money conflicts, I have found the holiday season to be it.  So, my recommendation is to have the conversations early and often.  The saver in the family will want to argue down every little dime.  See if you can adopt an attitude of not worrying about every 3rd or 4th thing and just buying it.  The spender in the family will spend without thinking and will come home sheepishly with packages.  See if you can actively resist buying the third or fourth thing.  If you are a saver, it might help to remember Christmas does come but once a year.  If you are a spender, it might reassure you to remember the Youtube video that came out that showed the kids willing to give up ALL their Christmas presents if it meant that their parents got something they wanted or needed.  More is not more, and sometimes less is more.  Meeting each other in the middle is what will allow both of you to move through the holiday season with a minimum of stress.  

Tip #2:  DEALING WITH EXTENDED FAMILY

     The first stress extended family brings up is who is going to have Christmas where.  Will you switch off between husband’s family and wife’s family every year?  What about with divorced families?  And what happens as the children grow and begin to have serious romantic relationships of their own? No matter how you draw the lines, it seems like someone is disappointed.  Kids overhear our conversations about the logistics and feel disloyal if they want something else. I have no good solutions for these challenges other than to acknowledge that it is stressful and with a deep, deep breath try to let go of the emotion attached to it.  The other step I take for my own self is to have a small ritual that counts as the core of Christmas to me.  That way, no matter who comes to our house or whose house we celebrate at, my daughter and I have sung Silent Night by the lights of the Christmas tree.  I feel like as long as we have that, we can flex with the rest.  

     Family is also often a double edge sword.  On the one hand we long to be all together.  On the other hand not everyone gets along equally.  Here are some of the more mild complaints I’ve heard recently: 

• I like my mother-in-law but she makes me feel like a complete dud in the kitchen, and when I bring something store-bought rather than risk my poor skills, she looks at me like I don’t care enough to make homemade.   

•My father-in-law is a nice enough man.  Until he’s had a little too much egg nog.

•Jack’s sister is great fun, but she has no control at all over her kids and it makes every meal a circus.  

The fact that Christmas comes once a year makes the little time we have together feel more precious, so it has to be perfect.  That makes us less tolerant than we might otherwise be.  

And what is it about stepping back into our childhood homes that makes us feel—and act!—like children again?  I am a mature, generally very secure woman.  But when the whole family is together I fall into the pattern of waiting for people to tell me where to sit, how to help and generally what to do.  No matter how pulled together I feel in front of the mirror in the morning, I wait for my sister’s glance that says I am a disappointment.  Over the years, I have learned what triggers me and am able to sidestep the trigger with more grace.  I recognize that most of what is going on is just in my head, and I just have to let it go.   

Acknowledging to your kids what happens when adult children go home can help prepare them for your unexpected responses and moods.  

Of course there other reasons we get stressed during the holidays.  Quite simply—however lovely events might be—the late nights and break from routines will stress us.  If you can deal with the two biggies—money and family—you will be in better shape to adjust to the late nights and extra socializing.  

 

Elisabeth Stitt

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

 

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

Be the Architect of Your Family: Build Connection Through Family Projects

Elisabeth Stitt

 

 

When's the last time you sat down as a family and got your fingers sticky together?! 

If your family goes to a regular religious service, you already have a lot of ceremony and ritual built into your life.  These practices not only connect your kids to a greater power, they make them feel more connected to you.  As you sit in physical proximity focused on a common uniting experience, your energies and body rhythms line up and match

 Have a Deliberate Plan for Connection

Families without the external structure of coming together have to be more purposeful about creating these experiences that will nourish your children’s sense of being woven into a part of the bigger whole that is your family. 

Of course, playing a game or cooking a meal together as a family are wonderful ways to bond, but some children need something more concrete or visual.  That’s why I love the idea of putting some time aside as a family to do a project that represents the family.  

Here’s an idea you might try:  Family Placemats

Purpose:  To create a visual depiction of family memories and values; to have each family member contribute equally; to foster a positive view of both individual members and of the family as a whole.

Procedure:

1.    Print out or draw multiple pictures of each family member (pets included!).

2.    Create multiple sentence stems and have each family member fill them out:

Ex:  What I love about our family is _________________________.

        We are the kind of family that __________________________.

      My favorite family memory is when ___________________.

      Our family is special because we ________________________.

3.    Brainstorm other symbols or images that represent your family.  Perhaps you will print out pictures or maps of where your family comes from or what you love to do together. 

4.    Use markers to write the positive qualities of the family members in large print.  Are there people in your family who are thoughtful? Funny? Disciplined? Creative? Hard working? Good problem solvers?  Write those things down.  Don’t attach names to them.  In this case, we are deemphasizing the traits of the individual and instead displaying what are the strengths this family team has together.  

5.    One you have a rich pile of materials, give each family member a placemat size piece of construction paper.  Have each person take one item from the pile and glue it onto the placemat.  Now hand each table mat clockwise to the next person.  Again, each person will choose something from the pile to glue to the placemat.  Once done, rotate again.  Continue this process until each placemat is full and/or the pile of materials has been used up.

6.    Once the glue has thoroughly dried, cover the placemats with clear contact paper or take them to your local copy shop and have them laminated. 

 

Benefit:

  Not only will this project allow for you to focus on what makes you unique as a family, but it will be an oasis of time when you are creating goodwill among you.  Even more importantly, by creating the placemats in the round-robin style, no one person feels ownership over the design of any one placemat.  Each mat will reflect the developmental stages of your children and will be a mixture of more or less sophisticated efforts depending on their ages and personalities. (No perfectionism allowed here!)  Because you have all had a hand in creating each one, when it comes to using them, family members will be delighted to get whichever one they happen to get. 

Think this idea is too corny to do with your older kids?  Think again!  Make some excuse if you need to.  Perhaps one of your children is entering high school—or even moving away to go to college or get a job.  Tell your kids you want to mark this passage and have a way to daily remember the best part of being a family, even as kids grow up and outward.   Teens might not admit to enjoying such a family project, but they will secretly treasure it and carry with them that warm fuzzy feeling of family love and connection. 

One last rule!  Ban electronics from the table while doing this project. The point is to come together as a family—not to each be checking Snapchat or Facebook.  Your kids might grumble, but in the end they will be glad they have done it.  

Happy Gluing!  Looking for other ideas for bring your family together and creating good will?  Let's do a strategy session on that!

CHORES! The Way to Making Your Kids Successful and Happy

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

Okay, I can't guarantee the happiness promise but a recent article called "Science says parents of successful kids have these 13 things in common" published in Tech Insider does list chores as one factor that might lead to children's success as adults.  They quote author Julie Lythcott-Haims (How to Raise an Adult) as praising chores because it teaches kids that that they "have to do the work of life in order to be part of life."  

Let's look at the benefit of chores a little more deeply (and I will put forth my not-scientifically-proven theory on why it also makes kids happier).  

1.   Doing Chores Raises Self Esteem

Self Esteem is confidence about one's own worth and abilities.  Little kids may not have learned to read and older kids may be struggling with long division or quadratic equations, but most kids can learn to make their beds and sweep the floor.  Are these worthwhile tasks?  Of course they are.  And it is much easier for a child to understand the usefulness of a clean floor than to grasp where algebra is going to work for them in their lives.  Kids who feel capable and competent have higher self esteem.  Chores are one area most kids can develop competency relatively easily.

2.  Doing Chores Makes Kids Feel Needed

When we wait on our kids hand and foot, it gives kids the wrong estimation of their own importance.  Ironically, just like praising kids too profusely, doing everything for kids does not build their sense of being important; rather it leaves kids feeling adrift and disconnected.  What kids want to feel is that the are important because their family needs them.  When the character Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird explains to Scout, the main character, why he runs away from home, Scout asks herself, "what I would do if Atticus [her father] did not feel the necessity of my presence, help and advice” (143).  Scout firmly recognizes her place in her family and knows how essential it is to her to feel needed by them.  Contributing to the well being of the family by doing household chores is a great way for kids to feel they are an integral cog in the wheel of a smooth family life.  

3.  Doing Chores Shares the Work

In previous generations, families had a lot of kids precisely because a large work force was needed just to keep the family farm or business going.  As soon as they could toddle, children were given simple chores to do.  In this way, all the tasks of life got done and families thrived.  Today, although more tasks are mechanized and there are fewer chores to do at home, people are also a lot busier outside of the home.  With parents working and kids going off to a schedule packed full of extracurriculars, there is very little time left to what chores they are.  And yet, "according to a survey by Braun Research in 2014, 82 percent of grown-ups polled said they had regular chores when they were growing up, but only 28 percent reported asking their children to do anyP (July 12 2015).  Wow!  Instead, imagine a home where the work was shared as equally as possible among the family members.  Kids would have a much greater appreciation for what it takes to keep everyone fed and dressed in clean clothes.  Appreciation is linked to happiness!  

4.  Kids Doing Chores Reduces Parental Stress

With only 28% of the kids helping out on a regular basis, parents are coming home after a full day's work and are facing a full evening of chores.  Just thinking about it is exhausting.  Parents complain to me that they have no time to just hang out with their kids.  But is that because their kids are watching t.v. or playing video games while their parents fix dinner?  How about having the kids in the kitchen with you?  One child can grate cheese while another cuts up vegetables.  (While kids' hands and attention are busy is a great time to ask more in depth questions, open ended questions.  Chore time becomes connection time, and human connection is one of the most important factors for happiness.  One last hidden factor in reducing stress is that parents who are not up washing the dishes or folding the laundry after their kids have gone to bed might actually have time to sit down next to each and connect themselves!  Connected parents do a better job supporting their kids and making them feel secure. 

5.  Doing Chores Teaches Kids at Home Skills They Can Use at School

Uh?  How does doing the laundry help with writing a clear, well-supported essay?  Well, doing laundry teaches responsibility, accountability, planning, attention to detail and follow through (Did you ever have a bunch of clothes go moldy because you forget to transfer them to the dryer?).  Aren't those all skills that you need in essay writing?  Of course!  And in all kinds of school related tasks like doing homework on time, turning homework back in, chunking assignments into multiple steps, etc.  Kids who have learned to take on tasks as their own are the same kids who are independent learners.  They are also great team members for group work.  They know that many hands make light work and they stand at the ready to do their share.  They do not expect someone else--much less Mom or Dad--to do their work for them.  

And that's not all!!

So here you have four arguments for chores increasing your kids' happiness and one argument for chores increasing their success in school (not to mention later in life).  And here's one more argument:  Doing chores as children helps teach kids early on about work/life balance.  Life is not just about doing school work, dutifully practicing piano and going to soccer practice.  It is also about creating a salubrious space in which to live and cooking nutritious meals that bring the family together.  Those have long been considered mainstays of a happy home.  Oh, and did I mention that kids who take part in the cooking have more varied, nutritious diets?  And that kids who sharing in the washing and cleaning take better care of their clothes and toys?  Really, the more I think about it, the longer the list gets.

So what's stopping you? Need some advice on HOW to get your kids to do chores?  You might try my friend Elva Anson's very comprehensive book How to Get Kids to Help at Home:  Help Your Children Become Capable, Responsible, and Independent--And Have Fun Doing It!  Or if you want hands on support, you might consider signing up for my 5-week Harmony at Home ONLINE Group Coaching Class that starts August 10th.  

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.  

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:

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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!  

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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! 

 

The Confidence Game: What It Takes to Empower Parents

Elisabeth Stitt

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

1.    What does it mean to empower parents?

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

2.   How do you empower parents in your work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  

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.  

Be the Caring Adult Who Makes a Difference

Elisabeth Stitt

 

When I tell people I spent twelve years teaching twelve-year-olds, most people make a face and offer me sympathy.  But I miss them.  Twelve-year-olds are awesome.  If you can take their awkwardness in stride, they are that perfect blend of child and grown up.  On the one hand they are becoming great abstract thinkers and are ready to take on the world.  On the other hand they still have a childlike appreciation for silly.    
        
What I love most about twelve-year-olds, however, is that while they might not talk to their parents, they are very interested in talking to other adults.  No, they won't admit it, but really they are busy trying to figure out the adult world, gathering information in every interaction they have.  That is why I believe that as a caring adult in a young person's life, you can have a greater influence on twelve-year-olds than any other age group. 
        
Mrs. Alexander, the librarian at my middle school, was my savior.  Talking to her was the one place I felt safe and known at school.  For my daughter it was the band teacher who became her friend and inspiration.  One of my clients was reminiscing about her neighbors down the street who made her feel welcome and special every time she walked through the door in a way that her parents never did. 

 Imagine the impact you can have on a young person.  True, it takes time to make the connection strong enough to support a high-quality relationship, but any adult can lay the groundwork for teens trusting and looking to adults.  Teens are everywhere.  What you can do is notice them, reach out to them, show them you value them. 
        
Sometimes the way you will connect will be unexpected.  I recently saw three boys playing outside around the grocery store.  It was Friday afternoon and they were emitting that school-is-out-for-the-week euphoria that we still remember as adults.  I smiled at them as I went into shop, admiring their attempts to flick their skateboards.  Later, I was hanging out at the front of the store waiting for my mother-in-law.  The boys were in the store, and I had a strong suspicion from their body language that they had shoplifted the candy they were walking out with, but I wasn't sure enough to get the store management. 

As I was driving out of the shopping center parking lot, I saw the boys had moved around the corner outside the drug store.  So I stopped the car and opened the window.  I told them everything I has seen and what I suspected.  I looked at them and said, "Obviously I can't prove it, but if it is true, I want you to know that I understand you didn't do it because you are bad boys.  But you are only thinking of yourselves, your own pleasure and your own power, and I expect more of you.  I expect you to find ways to have fun and enjoy Friday afternoon that are not illegal and that don't hurt anyone else."  They didn't deny my accusation but hung their heads and listened.  When I was done and asked, okay?  They nodded their heads and mumbled okay back. 
                               
What do I hope that they got from this interaction?  Certainly they know that people are keeping an eye on them, but I hope they also could feel that I approved of them.  I didn't approve of their behavior if indeed they were shop lifting, but I approved of them.  And I trust in the adults they are going to become.  Growing up is a process, and even adults are not always at their best.  Our young people need our smiles, our positive comments, our questions, our curiosity.  So, the next time you are standing at the crossing light with a teen or are served your coffee or have your grocery bag filled by some adolescent, look past the acne, the bad hair day, the piercings, the perpetual sneer and reach out to them.  Make it a mission to be the caring adult in your community.

I'd love to hear who the caring adults were in your community.  Was it a relative? A neighbor? A Coach? A teacher?  Maybe it was the crossing guard or the bus driver.  Take a moment to honor that person by telling us about him or her by leaving a comment below or by emailing me at elisabeth@elisabethstitt.com.