So far, everything you have done to build your consistency muscle has focused on the positive--you have modeled correct behavior, praised correct behavior and trained for correct behavior. But still your child is using disrespectful behavior! Now is when it get's real, when you are going to set an expectation and then hold the limit. This will probably mean that you need to have a consequence ready--one that you can absolutely follow through on.Read More
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Filtering by Category: Confidence
Children are exposed to more and more at younger and younger ages. Data showing the negative effects of of exposure to violence, inappropriate sexuality and offensive language are convincing. The media is a powerful influencer in our children's understandings of how the world is put together and of what their role in it should be. Unfortunately, far too often, the message little girls get is that they have to be pretty, sexual beings to have a place; and little boys absorb the view that they have to be powerful, strong men of physical action to be seen and counted.
ARE YOU REDUCING YOUR CHILD TO A STEREOTYPE?
While affected by media messages, your children are still looking first and foremost to you for who they should be and how they should feel about things. There is much you can do to counteract the influence of the media, advertising and industries which cater to swaying children.
First, parents can help control media influence by not buying their children clothes with messages on them. When you put your daughter in a t-shirt that says, “I’m a princess” or “Princesses rule” (or even has a sparkly rhinestone crown), you are reinforcing the idea that you want her to look like a princess. And what princesses do kids look to? Primarily Disney princesses. Talk about unrealistic body examples!
Little boys play with action figures whose bulging muscles are at least as outrageously out of proportion as Barbie’s ridiculously small waste. Although there are lots of superheroes who do not have super powers, they are most often depicted in physically fighting mode. I grew up watching Bat Man and although I know that Bruce Wayne didn’t just rely on his muscles, my main memory of Bat Man were words like “Biff” and “Pow” flashing on the screen. The predominant message of what it meant to be an outstanding man was not using reason and common sense and smarts. Nope. When I saw boys wearing t-shirts with the batman symbol, I assumed they admired his physical power.
DO YOU FEEL LIKE THE PRINCESS/SUPERHERO IS 100% COMING FROM YOUR CHILD?
(If you feel like an image perception is 100% coming from your child, I have two thoughts. One, fantasy play is very typical for 3 and 4 year olds, so just look for the obsession to taper off as your children turn 5, 6 or 7. Two, get curious about what it means to them and then see how you can meet that quality in some other way. Maybe when you ask what is so great about being Batman (after looking at you like you are an idiot), your son says with glowing eyes, "He protects the world!" Great! I love that! You can help him see what are other ways besides being a super hero he can help protect the world. For example, teach him the communication skills he needs to be an UPstander, an advocate for the underdog, or perhaps a champion of conservation.
LET YOUR CHILDREN BE THEIR AGE
Another step for parents is to buy clothing that “looks your age.” I have heard parents justify a short-cropped halter top for an 8 year old because “it’s so hot.” And yet that same parent would likely not dress an 8-year-old son in a sleeveless cropped t-shirt. There are lots of attractive, comfortable clothes that allow children to move freely and play that aren’t layered with any other messages about what their bodies should look like or who the kids should be. Parents would be wise to reflect thoughtfully on what image or message the clothes their children wear actually project.
CAREFUL THE THINGS YOU SAY: CHILDREN WILL LISTEN
Yes, the media plays a role in forming your kids’ views, but let’s face it; kids are sponges who pick up their parents’ attitudes. Every time you comment on someone’s body—whether it is someone you know in person or someone you see on television—you are building your child’s crib sheet of what bodies should look like. The comment said with disapproval that your neighbor looks like she has gained some weight tells your child that you would disapprove of her gaining some weight—perhaps at a stage in her development when she should expect to be putting on some weight before adolescence. Probably that is not what you meant, but kids have a tendency to overgeneralize without our realizing it.
Most importantly, parents need to become comfortable with their own bodies. Media influence is big, but your own confidence in and enjoyment of your body is even bigger. I realize that is easier said than done as body image is something lots of people struggle with, but to the extent that you can relate eating well and exercising to having more energy, sleeping better and generally feeling good, you will be setting a healthy example for your child no matter how you actually feel about your body.
FOCUS ON WHO PEOPLE ARE NOT HOW THEY LOOK
Finally, although parents spend time telling children to stand up straight or get their hair out of their eyes so their faces will be visible, in general parents will serve their children to well to promote a message of Handsome Is as Handsome Does. Remind children that their value lies not in how they look but in who they are as people, in what kindness and goodness they bring to the world. A toothy, easily given, heartfelt smile is worth infinitely more than perfectly straight, white teeth hidden behind a sneer. Comment on people you admire and what they have done to make you admire them. Leave their physical physic out of it.
Parents are often baffled by their children’s misbehavior. Worse, they are often hurt by their children’s behavior. I believe the hurt comes from reacting to the behavior as if the child were an adult and not keeping in mind that most children do not have the emotional maturity to get their needs met through effective communication. Not being able to use language to communicate their needs, they use their behavior.
Fortunately, if you can interpret the misbehavior correctly, you have a good chance of meeting the child’s need. According to the work of researchers and educators like Linda Albert, Don Dinkkmeyer (Sr. and Jr. and Rudolf Dreikurs, misbehavior often comes from one of these four needs: Attention, Power, Revenge and Avoidance of Failure. Let’s take a look at each.
When a child is doing something to get attention, the adult often feels irritated or annoyed. Quite likely the adult is busy or trying to get through something and resents being interrupted from his current task.
Let’s say that you are making cookie dough, so your kids can decorate cookies. You are busy measuring and mixing and paying attention to the recipe. The more absorbed you become with your recipe, the more disconnected from you your child feels. Because you are your child’s source of security, feeling disconnected from you is scarier than any other reaction you are likely to give.
To get your attention, so he feels connected again, your child begins play with the flour in the jar, running it through his hands. Seeing it, you scold him in an annoyed voice and remind him of his promise to be good. He stops for a moment, but soon his need for connection grows bigger than his fear of your reaction, so he starts banging the wooden mixing spoon on the tabletop. This time you bark at him a little more strongly until he stops.
By the time the dough is ready, you are feeling resentful that he hasn’t let you get on in peace and really don’t even want to make cookies with the kids. He feels tense and even more disconnected.
What can you do?
Ideally, when you get that annoyed or irritated feeling, you will see it as a sign of your child’s lack of connection and will strive to find a way to connect even as you continue with your task. Perhaps you will just look at him and lovingly acknowledge that it is hard to wait. Perhaps you will be willing to sacrifice a cup of flour and give him two small bowls so he can practice measuring a teaspoon from one bowl and dumping it in another. If he is old enough to read, perhaps you will put him in charge of reading the ingredients to you.
It is natural for children to want to feel that they are in control of their own lives. We all want to feel we have choice and can affect the outcome of things; children are not different. Power can come out in the form of bossiness as in, “You have to let me measure the flour!” Or can come in the form of refusal as in, “No, I’m not going to measure the flour and you can’t make me!” In both cases, the child just doesn’t want to be told what to do. The passive child will simply ignore your requests (but make no mistake, the goal of the behavior is still a bid for power).
To be thwarted threatens our own sense of control and—I am not sure why—being thwarted by our own children affects us more than when being controlled by almost anyone else. We react either by being more combative back (“Don’t you dare talk to me that way! There won’t be any cookies if I don’t get an apology”) or by giving in to whatever the child wants. The latter might help the child feel better in the short run; in the long run, however, giving in to our kids all the time makes them feel insecure (because while they want some control, total control is way too much responsibility and is scary).
What can you do?
Allow a child’s combative or resistant behavior to be a clue that she is feeling powerless. Start looking for ways to give her some power. One of the best ways to do this is to offer her some choice as in “Are you going to measure the flour using the half-cup measure or the full-cup measure?” Using an option like this, you neatly sidestep the rude tone and redirect your child into some new thinking. If you must hold the limit, can you offer something else instead as in “I cannot risk flour all over the kitchen, but would you like to grate the orange or count out 20 walnuts for chopping?” By giving her a choice, you reestablish your child’s sense of self.
When we realize or suspect that a child’s misbehavior has been done in the spirit of revenge, we are often not only angry, we are also hurt. We know that whatever we did to get the child mad, we did not do it to deliberately make him angry. If we allow our hurt to get the better of us, we might even try to get revenge back. Perhaps your child deliberately dropped the bag of flour. You know it was deliberate and now you feel like wringing his neck. Here you are taking your precious time to make cookies—and he repays you by being a jerk! Perhaps you retaliate by calling him clumsy or by punishing him with total responsibility for kitchen clean up later.
What can you do?
Unfortunately, you do have to be the responsible one!! Yes, I know it is hard not to get your own revenge back. But revenge is a sign of a child’s anger and defensiveness. It is behavior that says, “I am only okay if the score is even and I get my fair share.” This is a child who is living with a belief of scarcity. She is afraid that if she does not assure that she get her due by means fair or foul that she lacks importance or has less value. Instead of punishing her, it is your job to assure her of your love. You might say something like, “I know you wouldn’t have dropped the flour on purpose unless you had lots of angry feelings inside. I am really sorry you are feeling that way. What can I do to help you feel better?” I know this might feel counter intuitive to you as a parent and like you are condoning taking revenge, but it is too easy for revenge to get in a vicious cycle. You have to back off and meet anger with love. Love and forgiveness are the most effective tool for disarming the downward spiral of revenge. (Once the connection has been reestablished, then you can look at the flour and say briskly, "Now, what needs to happen here?" If the child truly feels connected again, she will move to help clean up the flour.
Avoidance of Failure
A frequent source of misbehavior is avoidance of failure. In some ways these misbehaviors seem the least aggressive but frequently because of the lack of action they can draw on, the adult himself feels helpless and depressed by the child’s reaction. These behaviors might have you banging your head against the wall.
Let’s say that you ask your child to cream the butter and sugar. Because the butter is a little cold still, the child finds herself struggling. Afraid she is not going to succeed to your liking, your child puts her head on the table and says, “I can’t do it. It’s too hard.” At first you encourage her brightly, “Sure you can! You can do it,” but she still maintains that she can’t and instead of lifting her head, sighs gustily. She is waiting for you to come in and rescue her. “Here,” you say as you pick up the spoon, “It’s not so hard. You do it like this.” And before you know it, you have done the whole task.
This kind of learned helplessness drains energy from both of you.
What can you do?
Avoidance of failure comes from a fear of disappointing one’s parents and of damaging one’s sense of being capable. There is a lot you can do to combat it. The primary action you can take is to help your child develop a growth mindset. Make mistakes okay by modeling making mistakes yourself and learning from them. Reassure your child that while getting the task “right” might affect the outcome of the cookies, it will not affect your love for her. Assure her that there will be other chances to make cookies and to get it right; Not everything has to be learned today. Finally, You can also help her problem solve about how to work around obstacles. Even a two year old might know that if the butter is too cold to blend right now, waiting 10 minutes might make all the difference. A three year old might suggest her parent get the task started by cutting the cube of butter into small chunks first. Given the chance for critical thinking, most kids can find a way of getting to a working solution that can allow them to be successful.
It is my firm belief that children are not inherently mean. Every child wants to feel loved, connected and like he is a good, worthwhile person. As he is growing and learning, however, his sense of self is vulnerable and easily hurt. When that happens, he feels alone, cast out in the world. At that point, a pleasing child will go overboard to win your approval. Most children, however, will work through their angry, hurt, scared feelings through some kind of misbehavior. Our job as parents is to be detectives and to try to understand the feeling and the source behind the behavior. That way we are most able to get the child’s needs met so that he can be his best self again.
If you are struggling
It really can be hard not to take our children's behavior personally. We are doing our best to provide them what they need, often bending over backwards to give them a nice time or to create magical birthdays or holidays, and when they reward us with hostility, anger, whining, or arguing, strong feelings surge up in us. It does not feel fair. It feels like a slap in the face after all our efforts.
If you are swamped with resentment, frustration or hopelessness, let's talk. Working through those feelings and learning concrete steps you can take is exactly what coaching addresses. CONTACT ME today for a complimentary Harmony at Home Assessment session.
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 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.
WE CARE SO DEEPLY, IT IS HARD TO SHIFT OUR POSITION
Ideally, spouses will agree with each other. Indeed, were the world ideal, that would be easy. Parenting is so personal, however, that it really is hard for parents to have worked out ahead of time what they want their approach to be. Parenting decisions are arguably the most important you'll ever make! Talk about pressure. It is hard to give up your own point of view.
FIND AREAS IN COMMON AND HAVE EACH OTHER'S BACKS
I find it helps when parents focus more on what they agree on than on what they disagree on. The first key is that the core values are the same. I find it very constructive when parents narrow in on 3-4 absolutes. For example, “In our family we are kind” or “In our family, we take care of our things.” Which values parents focus on is less important than the power of a consistently presented message around agreed upon ideas. If parents have a lot of agreement and emphasis on the biggies for their family, there will be less need to micromanage each other. I coach most parents to give their partner more space to parent the way each wants to.
The second key is that at least there is an agreement in place to support each other. In my blended family, my husband and stepchildren agreed to eat at the table with the t.v. off when I was there. Nights I wasn’t home, they ate in front of the t.v. When my younger stepson asked why they didn’t when I wasn’t home, my husband said, “What matters is that Elisabeth cares, so when she is home, we do it for her.” In this case, my husband didn’t share the value of sitting at the table, but he did have my back. I, for my part, let go of trying to convince him that I was right or even why it was important to me. It was enough that he supported me. By each giving each other some space, we both kept peace and presented a united front.
ACCEPT DIFFERENCES IN THE LITTLE THINGS
As long as the core values are in place, it is okay for parents to have different approaches. If Dad is supervising homework and he says yes to 15 minutes of shooting hoops before getting started, Mom should walk away, even if she has a problem with it. In the same vein, if Mom is happy to have all the toys thrown into one big bin, Dad needs to wait until he is in charge to have kids sort the toys into separate bins. Kids can handle two standards to some extent. That being said, I do find it useful for spouses to have a rule that says kids have to take the first answer they get. Of course, sometimes this will just mean that kids will go to the parent from whom they can get the yes. In my own family growing up, that meant that my father always defaulted back to, “Ask your mother” or “Yes, if Mommy says so," but what is really important is that one parent's yes cannot fall to the other parent. In other words, if mom says yes to a sleepover at Annie's, she cannot now expect dad to drop what he is doing to drive their daughter to the sleepover--or to be the one to pick her up in the morning. Or if dad says yes to watching a movie that will keep kids up after bed time, it is not fair if mom is the one dealing with rude, grumpy children in the morning.
MAKE SURE THE DOWN SIDE OF YOUR PARENTING DECISIONS DON'T FALL TO YOUR PARENTING PARTNER
Similarly, for parents co-parenting from two separate households, I like the rule that dad cannot say yes to something that is on mom's day. If my daughter wanted a play date on my weekend, she had to call and ask me. That made it simpler as for the most part as we didn’t have to agree. On the other hand, we had little control over what the other spouse did—and sometimes that made it really hard for me to hold my tongue. For instance, my daughter's dad said yes to her going rock climbing with friends. That freaked me out, but in the short run a) it was too late for me to do anything about it, and b) it was more important to back up my trust in her father than to make a big scene.
IN MOST CASES, RELATIONSHIP SHOULD TRUMP PARENTING STYLE
The bottom line here is that the relationship between the parents is usually more important than a particular parenting decision. Children can thrive with a wide variety of parenting styles as long as they feel safe and secure. They get that from having their parents on the same page.
I AM A BAD MOTHER BECAUSE….
As parents we can feel guilty not only about the decisions we make but even about the things that are beyond our control. What parents need to understand, however, is that every decision offers opportunities for learning and/or for some advantage.
Let’s look at four situations a parent might feel guilty about that actually can be really beneficial to their kids.
1. I am a single or divorced mom.
Even if you grew up with a single mom or divorced parents, it can be really hard to give up the notion that family = mom, dad, sister, brother and maybe the family dog. As a single or divorced mom, you might feel like there is no way you can be enough of what your child needs.
Here’s the reality: Single and divorced moms are much less likely to fall into the trap of doing too much for their kids. They just don’t have the time. Stay-at-home moms, for example, tend to feel that they have to make their children’s breakfasts and lunches to be good moms. Doing so robs children control around food. For one, it tends to make food an ego thing (You like my food = you like me.) For two, children who have to make their own breakfast and lunch make what they will actually eat. Parents still get to set guidelines about the kind of food, but kids are the ones who actually know what they will eat when they get to school. That way a lot less food gets wasted, and it cuts down on parent-child conflicts.
2. I work full time.
Again, more than 50 years after the 1950’s there still seems to be this notion that good moms stay at home. Smooth running, calm households where Mom is always accessible (perhaps with her apron tied around her waist?) appear picture perfect in our minds as the goal to aspire to.
Here’s the reality: Working moms tend to give their kids more space. Busy with their own agendas, they are more likely to check in but then expect kids to get their work done pretty independently. Moms who are not working are more likely to get overly involved with their kids. I remember a mentor of mine saying, “Elisabeth, it is a good thing you work. You are pretty intense, and all that energy poured into your daughter would be a lot for her to stand up against.” You can imagine, I was a little stunned when she said that. Wasn’t the ideal to spend as much time with your kids as possible? But looking back, I can see the truth of it. I would have been wanting to teach her something all the time, to instruct her, to suggest a better way of doing things. As it was, I always had my next set of essays to grade and was much more likely to mutter, let me know if you need any help.
3. I don’t have enough money to give my kids what they need.
Whether you live in a poor neighborhood or a rich neighborhood, you are always going to be able to look around and find families who appear to be giving more to their kids than you are. Sometimes the pressure is worse in rich neighborhoods where it appears that there is no limit to the amount of money people will spend on their kids. Here in Silicon Valley, it is routine for parents to provide extra weekly tutoring even for students who are not struggling—just to be on the safe side. Parents who are not doing the same easily feel they are failing their child.
Here’s the reality: Kids need love. They need the security of knowing that no matter what happens their parent is there for them. Furthermore, kids are resilient. Kids who are told frankly, we don’t have money for a private tutor, can help by researching and brainstorming other possibilities such as teen centers or free tutors at the library. Being empowered to be part of the solution makes kids feel important and like they are part of the team. Besides, more important than any specific tutoring a child might get is the parent’s belief in the child. The will to succeed is more important than the skill of the teacher. Every parent can help a child develop a growth mindset by having him focus on effort, improvement and looking for a new strategy to try. A parent’s greatest power is holding fast to the vision of what is possible for the child.
4. I didn’t grow up here; my English isn’t very good.
I am still living in the area I grew up and I know that that made it easier for me to know about and access resources for my daughter. She went to a wonderful school I would probably not have been aware of if it weren’t in my hometown. She got her medical care at the same clinic I did as a child. I knew exactly what kind of education she would need for the path to college. I feared, however, she was in danger of being limited in her view of the world.
Here’s the reality: Yes, raising your child in a new environment will be harder for you in many ways. And at the same time, you have a richer, broader perspective to give your child. First of all, if you speak another language at home—though it may be more challenging for your child in the short run—in the long run the research is showing that bilingual children have many advantages when it comes to being successful. Bilingual students’ brains are able to handle more complexities—perhaps because they have always had to process information in two languages. Additionally, you will be able to teach your child lessons about life and culture in other parts of the world. They will be much more prepared for meeting people with different expectations and ways of doing things. This will make them more flexible and better able to adapt to different school and work environments.
What if you are a happily married, rich, stay-at-home mom who grew up in the town you live in? Should you now feel worried you are not being the best parent you can be? Please don’t play that game with yourself! My point here is that every life situation has advantages and disadvantages. Every child will learn important lessons from you and still have to go out in the world and learn a lot more lessons that it wasn’t in you to teach. Trust that whatever your current situation, there is value in it for your child. Worry more about what you can give your child rather than what you can’t.
And Every Day is Independence Day...
Maria Montessori's rule of thumb is, "Never do for the child what he can do for himself." Her entire educational program is built around the idea that by building on kids' basic skills and giving them more and more to do, we build their power--their self-confidence, their self-control and their self efficacy.
I love the word self efficacy. It means a person's "confidence in the ability to exert control over one's own motivation, behavior, and social environment."
It is worth remembering that when we give kids positive control over their lives, they have much less need to gain negative control through whiny, bratty, out of control behavior.
Set Kids Up for Success with the Skills and Tools they Need
By asking kids to help--to labor--along side you, you will be giving them a sense of personal power. There are a lot of ways to do this with toddlers and preschoolers. I outline some here in my blog on making pancakes. My blog on Making the Bed is really about connecting with your children through daily activities, but it also demonstrates how a daily chore can increasingly be given over to the child. HOW TO GET THEM UP AND OUT THE DOOR ON THEIR OWN is a blog that also resonated with lots of parents. Another really great resource is Jeanne-Marie Paynel's videos on how to set up basic living skill development for your kids. Here, for example, is a demonstration of how to teach a small child to peel a hard-boiled egg and what competencies it will help develop.
For young children helping out means being a connected part of the family. It means stepping into their own power--not as dependents but as contributors. Many kids' first real phrase is along the lines of "Me do. No Mommy do. Me do."
Historically, children worked along side their parents, learning the tasks of home and hearth, field and barn from the moment they could toddle. Now they mostly spend the day separate from us. Depending on the preschool curriculum, your children may get opportunities to learn independence tasks at school, but it still mostly falls on us to structure home life in such a way that kids become increasingly independent.
Recommendations for Building Independence:
•Make a list of basic skills that kids need for daily tasks. This includes things like pouring and squeezing with control, spreading and cutting with a knife, snapping, buttoning and tying, stirring and mixing dry goods and wet goods without spilling.
•Look to where kids can practice these skills in their daily play--in the sandbox, with play doh, dressing and undressing stuffies, in the bathtub. Use whatever old bowls, spoons, pots, cups, etc. you have on hand. Be willing for things to get messy and be willing to sacrifice things like cups of rice, dried beans, expired pancake mix or baking soda to their exploration.
•Look to where kids can help you--sorting the laundry, fluffing the pillows, cutting something soft, brushing teeth
•Decide on one or two tasks you'd like to focus on. Make sure your kids have opportunities to practice these skills as part of their play. Then start practicing the daily living task on days when you have a little more time (like the weekends or a day you don't have an early meeting).
•When they are competent enough (not perfect), hand the task over to them as a daily responsibility. A two year old, for example, can put his dirty clothes in the hamper or hang them on a low hook. Yes, she will need lots of reminding, but eventually it will become habitual.
•As your kids become automatic with one task, start introducing the next one. The aim is to provide challenge without letting it get to the point of frustration.
Seeing Kids as Being in Progress While Keeping the Long Term Goals in Mind
Your long term goal is to have children going through their off to school and going to bed routines independently (which should free you up to go through yours!). Most children are capable of getting there eventually if you are persistent. It will take some longer to get the physical coordination they need; it will take some more reminders. Some kids will need visual reminders; others will respond to a timer being set to keep them on track. Many will just fall into the routine. The trick is to keep your long term expectations for independence high while keeping your day-to-day expectations realistic.
If you are struggling with getting your kids to do things on their own, I am always ready to help. Sign up HERE for a complimentary Labor Day Strategy Session.
A client recently asked how she could avoid her kids having meltdowns at the supermarket.
PLAN WHEN TO SHOP
1. Try to plan your shopping for a time of day when you don’t have your kids with you. (Maybe you can trade babysitting with a neighbor and watch her kids one day while she shops, so that you can leave your kids with her the next day while you shop.)
2. If you must shop with your kids, try to shop at a time of day when they are most likely to handle it well because they are rested, fed and ideally have had some unstructured play time.
SET CLEAR EXPECTATIONS IN ADVANCE
3. If there is no “ideal” time in your family and you have no option but to take your kids with you, it is KEY that before going to the supermarket, you set expectations.
Here’s what I did those days I went pick my child up from after school care, know we were going to have to go to the store. (Note: By five, most children will be a lot less likely to tantrum than when they were younger, but some kids take longer to learn to regulate their emotions, so while tantrums are tapering off, don’t worry too much if your child is still having them at five.)
• I would start by pulling her aside at childcare into some quiet corner. I would get her on my lap and hold her until I had her attention. Sometimes, this meant a tantrum right there at childcare. It was a break from her routine. I was springing on her that her evening routine was going to be altered. She wouldn't get her playtime with mommy before dinner. Sometimes just holding her on my lap and not letting her run around the center would set her off crying. That was okay with me. Remember, even on a good day a child is more likely to cry between 5:00 and 6:00 o'clock than any other time. It's as if all the emotional stresses of the day have built up in children by then and they are just looking for an excuse to cry them out. Frankly, if my daughter was going to have a meltdown, I would rather that she have it at the center where we could sit on a beanbag in the corner than that she have it in the middle of the cereal aisle. Yes, a tantrum takes time. You cannot hurry it along, and I admit that while I was sitting there letting her wail it out, I was mentally revising my shopping list down to the bare essentials I could get away with without making tomorrow a hard day, too. On a happier note, the miracle of a good cry is that it really is like letting the storm wash through with its thunder and lighting. At the end of it, my daughter's tension would be spent and almost without exception she would be ready to calmly go to the store.
Although it might seem counter intuitive, the last minute trips to the store when she hadn't had a chance to cry were by far the trickier ones, the ones that required every bit of patience and creativity on my part to move us along without upset.
•On the way to the store, I would use the time in the car to set the expectations for what would happen once we got to the store: I would explain, we were only getting a few things (could she hold the list for me?); we weren't getting anything that wasn't on the list (that meant no requests for raspberries, dinosaur pasta or "special treat" cereal); but we were getting apples (did she want red or green?). I would acknowledge that she didn’t want to go to the store and ask her what might make going to the store easier? Did she want to walk or sit in the cart? Would she keep her bottom down? Otherwise she was going to be walking. How could she help Mommy? Could she count the apples? Sort the food by whether or not it went in the fridge or the cupboard? Hold the reusable grocery bags and hand them to the bagger? My main aim here in addition to letting her know what kind of behavior would be expected was to make her feel needed and included. Instead of my dragging her to the store because I had no choice, I would pose it as how lovely it was that she was there to assist me.
MAKE THE TRIP FUN
4. Once at the store, be all about cheerful confidence that the trip was going to be quick and fun. Often, I would turn it into a song and we would skip through the parking lot (Yes, I skipped in public. If it made a five o'clock shopping trip go off without a hitch, dignity be damned). We would sing: We're going to the store/We're going to the store/Hi Ho the Merry-o,/We're going to the store. If it was working, we'd add more verses (We'll buy the apples first/We'll buy the apples first/Hi Ho the Merry-o/We'll buy the apples first). As we were singing, we wouldn't have to stop to have conversation about whether she would walk or she would sit because we had already worked that out in the car. If she did decide to resist, I wouldn't let her change her mind because I knew that if I gave in on that first agreement, all I was doing was putting off the inevitable battle for later inside the store. Instead, I would get down to eye level, hold her hands or stroke her arms and gently remind her of her agreement. Sometimes that brought on a crying jag right there outside the store [Let me offer up a small prayer of thanks here that I was parenting in California. The weather was rarely so bad that we couldn't take the time to have the tantrum outside the store. If it had been, I suppose I would have had to go back to the car and let her do her crying there.]
STICK TO THE PLAN
5. Stick to the plan. You know as well as I do that a grocery store is specifically designed as a land mine that a parent must negotiate through. Yes, the store does deliberately place toys and yummy snacks right where a child is most likely to see them. That's why I would use the shopping list plus empathy. My daughter would cry out in great need for something--bubbles, maybe--and I would say, "Aw, too bad it is not on the list!" And then as I pushed by the bubbles, I might add in my most energized voice, "I love bubbles! They're so much fun!! I like the way they shimmer with different colors!! Don't you think bubbles are just the prettiest?" At this point, on a good day, my daughter would get excited just talking about bubbles. By the time she got back to wanting to buy them, we would be aisles away and looking for the next item on the list. On a bad day, this might be where the tears finally appeared. Remember, some days there are just tears that need to fall. A child has been keeping it together all day at school, but now that she is with you, her parent, she can safely fall apart secure in the knowledge that you won't abandon her. At this point, you have to make a decision. It might be possible to keep offering sympathy while at the same time going down your shopping list: "Aw, Sweetie. I know you really wanted those bubbles, You really like them and really wish you could get some. I know that's hard, Pumpkin. I wish I could make it easier for you." For my own part, if the crying was at a reasonable decibel and I didn't think I was making the other patrons suffer too badly, I would push through my list, continuing to murmur comforting sounds, taking her hand if she would let me. If it was really bad, I would ask the clerk at the front of the store to watch my cart and head outside until she finished crying. Once she was done--and that could be a while--we would head back in and finish. As much as it might have helped me get through the shopping list without a tantrum, I made sure not to give in to the bubbles or whatever it was she wanted.
KNOW THAT THIS STAGE WILL PASS!
6. When all else fails at the end of the day, know that this is just a developmental stage your child is going through. With each passing month, she will be better able to handle herself and will be more and more able to help you. Soon you will have your kids so well trained that you will wait until your kids are with you to shop. While you work your way through the vegetables, they will be your gophers running to pick up more butter and some milk. They will know which bread, cereal and crackers your family favors. They’ll be so helpful, the days of tantrums in the store will seem a distant memory.
Where are you getting snagged by your kids?
Hi. Every parent has some parts of the day that she does well. Every parent has some parts of the day that just don't seem to work. Wouldn't you like to know what's the one change you could make that would smooth out the rough patches? That's what my Harmony at Home Family Assessment does--identify the sticky points so that you know where to focus your parenting energies most efficiently. TEXT me with some times that work for you, and we'll find you a date.
Joyful Parenting Coaching
There can be lots of reasons why your child is out of control. What you should do depends on why he is out of control. (For the purpose of simplicity, I am going to address this with the masculine gender, though it could just as easily be a girl who is out of control.)
Is this his first experience with school? These days, Kindergarten can be a real shock for kids who have had not gone to childcare or preschool up until now in their lives. It could just be that he is totally unused to having restrictions placed on him. Other children may have already learned “school” skills like lining up quietly, taking turns, sitting still, listening to the teacher’s directions. If your son has not, start by reassuring him that he will learn these skills and it will get easier and easier to control himself.
If he is not out of control at home, is it because you always accommodate him? Perhaps he has never had to throw a fit to get what he wants, because it has always been easy to give him whatever he wants. Again, sometimes with an only child, a parent does not even realize how often he is giving into his child’s demands because there is no other child making counter demands. If that is the case, although it might make life at home harder in the short run, you can lovingly teach him about limits by beginning to set some expectations. Perhaps you are going to ask him to sit at the grown-up table and turn off the tv during dinner. If he has always eaten in front of the tv, this could be a big battle. That’s okay. Right now, you are trying to teach him that life will not always be arranged just as he would like it to be. Just offer him lots of sympathy that it is hard when expectations change but assure him that you are looking forward to having him at the table so that there can be pleasant conversation at dinner. If he has a tantrum, stay with him, empathize that change is hard and keep repeating that it will get easier. The day will come when he will sit happily at the table and share in the dinner conversation. Learning to do this at home will help him to learn to do it at school.
Kids can also lose control at school because they are overstimulated. Again, if he has not been in a group setting before, the shear number of kids could be overloading his system. Or the noise. Or the lights of the classroom. Or the many transitions. Talk to your son. Say, “You seem to be having a hard time controlling yourself at school. Why is that?” If he has a clear answer, go to the solution phase. Talk with his teacher and get her input on ways to give your son some relief. Ideas might include permission to go to a quiet corner, to step outside, or to find a desk that is away from everyone else (or at least is together with quieter students). Some teachers might allow him to wear ear plugs or ear buds (that aren’t attached to anything) if noise is an issue. If light is an issue, maybe he can work underneath his desk. Keep trying different solutions until you find one that allows him to remain in class without over loading.
Does your child lean towards anxiety? This could be another reason he is out of control at school. If this is the case, yelling and running around may be an effort to calm his nervous system. He can learn to replace out-of-control outbursts with other calming, anxiety reducing techniques like deep breathing, closing his eyes, squeezing a ball or stuffed animal. At home you can help him by training him to be able to imagine a calm, safe space so that he can call that image up in his mind when he gets stressed at school.
If none of these possible reasons for his out of control behavior feel right, see if you can get permission from the teacher to observe him at school some day. Just sit in the back of the room and take notes. Write down the time and what you see in language that is neutral as possible (ie, what any objective observer would, not what his loving mother would intuit). Share these observation notes with the teacher and principal of your son’s school. They are experienced professionals and this data will help them make recommendations tailored to your son.
My #1 Tip for Helping with College Admissions Essays (The younger your child, the more you need this!)
was an English teacher for 25 years and worked as a writing tutor on the side, often helping kids with their college app, including my own three children. That experience has given me my own perspective on the college admissions essay process.Read More
Here are some of my guidelines for getting kids to sleep and to stay asleep
•Consistency, consistency, consistency
The actual practice that a parent sets up for getting a child to fall asleep independently is less important than that he sticks with it from as early an age as possible. At heart we are creatures of habit, and like Pavlov’s dogs, given stimulus A we will react with response A. That means the same general sequence of events—done night after night--will signal to our body, sleep time is coming.
•Put your kids to bed earlier than you might think.
If your child needs to up by 7:30 a.m. in order to get through the morning routine and off to childcare on time, she should probably be asleep by around 7:30 p.m. That means starting bedtime around 7:00 p.m.! That might seem impossible. By the time you are coming in from work and picking your kids up from childcare, you might be lucky to get dinner on the table by 7:00 p.m. If your child is a really solid napper (at least 2-3 hours a day), you might be able to fudge this, but if you have a kid like mine—who was down to one hour-long nap after lunch at around 18 months—you are going to need to protect her nighttime sleep. The inherent problem in this is that it gives you very little time to actually interact with your child. Unfortunately, our children’s need for sleep has not caught up with our modern day schedules. Furthermore, if your child is cranky and having tantrums because she is overtired, not only is she going to have a harder time falling asleep but the time you spend together is going to be tense and stressed.
• Find 2-3 markers for a bed time routine.
For my kids “bedtime” was change into pajamas, one story and one song, and then a sleepy time music track that played for around 45 minutes that got turned on as the parent walked out the door. Changing into pajamas and reading a story was done with reduced lighting. The song (including a little back rubbing) was done by the light of the night light. Parents should beware of a too long list of bedtime rituals as it makes it very hard on a night when you come in late from an activity or having gone to dinner at a friend’s. Tasks like taking a bath can be on a list I call “Before bedtime tonight we have to….” By phrasing it that way, if it should happen that you come in too late for a bath, you aren’t changing the bedtime routine.
•Ideally, train infants to fall asleep by themselves so they are already in the habit as toddlers.
Parents who give their infant her last feed of the day while she is still awake (I advise doing it in a different room from where her crib is) may have a harder time teaching her to fall asleep alone in her crib in the short run, but they will have much better sleepers as toddlers. These babies know how to put themselves to sleep and back to sleep when they wake in the night.
•Kids can “practice” good sleep habits at a time when it is not bed time!
What do you do as an adult to help you fall back asleep? Somewhere along the way, you developed a trick—and I bet that most nights it works. I don’t count sheep but I do do my times tables. Other times I practice meditative breathing—Breathe six counts in, hold it six counts, breathe six counts out, hold it out six counts. Kids can start with three counts and work their way up. Even 18 month olds can learn to do belly breaths by placing a pillow or stuffy on the stomach and practice watching the stuffy go up and down. Kids can also learn to do progressive relaxations by tensing and then relaxing different parts of their bodies working from their toes to the crown of their heads. All these techniques can be practiced in the middle of the day where you are there to guide them through it. You can set them up for success by asking, “If you need help falling asleep, which technique are you going to use?”
•Once it is sleeping time, interact with your child as little as possible
If you have a toddler with challenging sleep habits and you are just getting started at establishing good ones, know that it is going to be a slow process. The trick is to take baby steps forward, but no steps backward. The first step is to make yourself minimally interesting once you have gotten up to leave the room. Even if you have to physically put your child back in bed, do so with as little comment and eye contact as possible. (On a side note, if you were someone who could let your children “cry it out,” you probably would have done that already. It only works if you are absolutely 100% consistent, so unless you are 100% committed, I don’t recommend it.)
There are, however, ways of weaning your child from his need for your presence as he falls asleep. If you have been lying down with your child in order for him to fall asleep, tell him that from now on you won’t lie down with him, but you will sit next to him. When he is accepting that without tears and tantrums, tell him that from now on you won't sit next to him where he can still touch you, but you will sit at the end of the bed with your hand on his foot. Once he can fall asleep with you at the foot of the bed, move to sitting next to the bed on the floor or on the chair. Progressively you are going to move closer and closer to the bedroom door. Eventually, you are going to sit outside the bedroom door as he falls asleep and one day (miracles of miracles), you are going to close that door—maybe even all the way!
This process might take 3-4 weeks and feel like torture to you (after all, when you lay down with your kids while they fell asleep, there were no tears and you probably got a little nap, too!), but imagine that three weeks from now bedtime from start to finish takes around 15 minutes and your child puts himself back to sleep when he wakes up for the night! Imagine your kid not waking up tired because he has gotten enough sleep. Imagine spending time connecting with your spouse in the evening. Or taking a long shower. Or going to bed on time yourself!
Good sleeping habits support a good future
Good sleep is so important for learning. Establishing good habits early on can support good study habits for school all the way through. Despite taking hard classes and getting good grades, my daughter had relatively few moments in high school where she was completely stressed. Even in college she goes to sleep by 10:00 p.m. She organizes her studies so that she does not have to pull all nighters and gets 8-9 hours of sleep a night. Good sleep wards against depression or a dependency on caffeine or other stimulants to perform. Putting in the work now to develop good habits, might be one of the most important parenting steps you take.
Teaching your children to be good sleepers might be the most important thing you do for your marriage.
Admittedly, I do not have any studies to support this claim, but my personal experience in dealing with families is that households where "bedtime" takes a couple of hours are more stressed than ones where kids go to bed relatively quickly with minimum support from their parents. Parents need time to regroup, to be "off the clock." They need time to connect each other and to connect to themselves.
NEED SOME HAND HOLDING WHILE GOING THROUGH THE PROCESS OF ESTABLISHING NEW HABITS?
Let me help! As much as you are retraining your kids' expectations around bedtime and falling asleep independently, you are retraining yourself to stand firm and committed to valuing good sleeping habits in your house. Regular coaching calls give you a place to vent and to strategize. Sign up HERE for a "Getting to Know You" call and we can make a plan that works for your family.
It’s not time to leave your child completely on his own yet.
Too often parents who have stayed at home or worked part time think that middle school is the time for them to start working full time. That’s a mistake! The switch to middle school is a big step—often even bigger than going to high school. Middle schools tend to be big—more than twice or even three times as big as the elementary schools that students are coming from. Kids feed in from sometimes as many as six or seven elementary schools. To top that off, instead of moving through the day with the same set of kids, most middle school kids regroup every period. A student is lucky to be in class with someone he knows much less a friend.
The middle school curriculum really does get harder.
The middle school content standards make a jump in the amount of critical thinking and problem solving required. The pace is relentless as the emphasis is on getting through the whole list of standards rather than mastering a few key ones. At my school, when we looked at the 6th graders’ marks, they were lower first trimester than second and lower second than third. Even the best students wobbled a bit while adjusting to the change in academic expectations. Parents should know this and reassure their kids that they will figure out how to handle middle school work given time, but most schools don’t give parents that information.
Middle School teachers get “harder.”
The biggest change, however, is the mentality of middle school teachers. Unlike elementary school teachers who see their primary goal as encouraging self-esteem and a love of learning, middle school teachers lean towards focusing on kids accepting that a lot of life is about jumping through hoops and doing things in a certain way. Docking points for incorrect paper headings and throwing away papers with no names on them is common practice.
Students will complain their teachers are mean. We don’t see ourselves as mean. We see that we are the last stop before high school where kids can still get low grades with no consequence to their long-term future. We feel it is our job to teach what high school is going to be like before it counts towards graduation and college admissions. In middle school, grading shifts from assessment of a student’s ability to an assessment of her performance. That means the student who has skated by on test scores and an occasional brilliant project is now going to learn that consistency and attention to detail are actually more highly valued. These are important skills to learn before high school.
It feels like parents are not wanted, but that is not true.
Parents often feel left out of the equation in middle school. Because their children might say they don’t want them there and because there is no room parent organizing volunteer activities, they feel unsure of how to be a part of school or, worse, they feel unwelcome. While it is true that you might not be asked to man math centers every week, it is not true that parents are not needed or wanted. Being involved at school in any way gives you a chance to stay connected with your child at time when his instinct is to shift toward his peers.
Even if you do not volunteer in your child’s class, by finding a volunteer job at school, you will hear more about what is going on. You will learn what clubs and activities are available to your child and will be able to encourage her at home to participate whether it is the joining the soccer team or signing up for the spelling bee. As you fold flyers or stuff envelopes, you will overhear gossip about which administrators are supportive and which are a waste of time to approach. You will learn the rational for the new homework policy and what teachers are doing to prepare kids for the state tests.
Middle school is a time for parents to step back, but not to step away.
Parents are still a child’s touchstone. They are still the best person to help a child process what she is experiencing. Getting grades based on percentages for the first time can be a real blow to the ego. A child’s sense of himself can be seriously shaken as he will associate his grade with how smart he is. A parent can help a lot by making the distinction between intelligence and following procedure and letting a child know that both are a part of being successful in life. Parents can continue to be there as a sounding board, but if in the past they have done most of the talking, it is time to develop deep listening skills. Asking your child, "What is your next step here?" might get you farther than, "Here's what you should do."
What does stepping back look like?
Stepping back might take the form of letting a child suffer the consequences of lost or incomplete homework without swooping in to defend the child. (Do continue to offer a lot of empathy that it feels awful to have worked hard on something and then not get credit for it because of one little mistake—like not putting your name on your paper or forgetting it on your desk at home.) Stepping back can mean not micro managing students’ projects but asking questions like, ‘What’s your plan for spreading out the work of the project?” or “Have you done your best work?” or “What part of this paper are you especially proud of?” When students get graded work back, instead of focusing on the grade, parents can ask, “What is your plan for doing better next time?” or “What resources do you have for getting help understanding this?” Above all parents can help their kids talk to adults at school not by doing the talking for them but by roleplaying how conversations with a teacher or administrator might go. In this way, a parent is still staying connected and supporting his child and at the same time allowing his child to stand on his own two feet.
Middle school is the time for parents to stay connected and know what is going on, but it is also time for them to position themselves as guide rather than driver of their child’s life.
Are you struggling with making the shift from driver to guide?
It is the key task to successful middle school parenting. Sign up HERE for a complimentary strategy session where we will identify where your child might need a steadying hand (and what that looks like at this age) and where you need to loosen the training wheels.
It’s back to school time, and most parents ask themselves what academic skills are my children going to learn this year? What number concepts will they have mastered? How will their writing improve?
Not to worry. Your children’s teachers have those topics covered.
But what are you going to focus on teaching your child this year? Life skills are first and foremost the responsibility of the parent. Here are some of the key skills that will support your children’s school success:
Emotional awareness has to do with being able to identify emotions in yourselves and others. This is built in children first by helping them identify emotions and states of being in themselves by narrating their experience. That means guessing what is going on with them by connecting their physical clues with their likely emotional states. You might say things like, “You’re shivering. You must be feeling cold” or “You are pulling your eyebrows tight together. Are you angry about something?” Increasing the emotional vocabulary beyond mad, sad and glad also helps children be more aware of the range of emotional states. Are they annoyed or furious? A bit blue or down in the dumps? Content or jumping for joy? Emotional awareness can then be extended to their interactions with other people or characters from a book. You might say, “I see that Camille’s lower lip is jutting out like this and the corners of her mouth are turned down. How do you think she is feeling right now? The more sophisticated kids get at perceiving their own and other’s emotional states, the more efficiently they can offer solutions for altering that state.
Resiliency means bouncing back relatively easily from difficult experiences (Note that it does not mean sheltering our children from difficult experiences!). Being emotionally aware is a good first step in building resilience in children. Naming emotions and connecting them the physical states allows children to step back from their emotions and be less overwhelmed by them. Let’s say that a child is feeling some strong emotions because she has lost a game. Perhaps she is disappointed at her own performance. Perhaps she fears being judged as “less than” compared to her peers. Perhaps she feels disconnected because attention has shifted to the winners of the game. Knowing what the strong emotion is allows her to take an action that will address that specific need. If she is disappointed in her own performance, she might make a plan for what to practice for next time. If she feels being judged compared to her peers, she might remind herself that there are lots of other things she is good at. If she feels disconnected, she might reintegrate herself by congratulating the winners on their accomplishment. Each of these actions has the potential for helping to regulate her strong emotions.
Taking Responsibility for One’s Own Actions
A big part of taking responsibility for one’s own actions is seeing oneself as being “in process.” When we accept that as we learn new things we are bound to make mistakes, it makes it easier for us to own up to actions or decisions which in hindsight were maybe not the best choices. Parents can help their children learn this by encouraging their children to reflect on their actions rather than to just be critical about them. Children who have parents who model forgiveness learn to forgive themselves. That makes it safe for them to admit when they have messed up. This in turn aids in their picking themselves up and moving forward. (For a complete blog on accepting blame, go HERE.)
One of my favorite questions for kids is, “What needs to happen now?” Spilt milk? What needs to happen now? Lost sweater? What needs to happen now? Little brother crying because you grabbed a toy from him? What needs to happen now? Failed to save your homework on the computer and don’t have it to turn in? “What needs to happen now?”
Many parents have a tendency to rush in too fast. They rush to make things better. They rush to punish. They rush to find a solution. But given the chance, kids are natural problem solvers. Milk spills? Even a toddler has seen you wipe things up dozens of times. Next time try asking, “What needs to happen now?” Most toddlers will run grab a rag (You can help them out by hanging some rags or having a paper towel rack at their level). Computer glitches? Maybe you can work some magic to recover a lost document. If yes, great. Take the time to teach your child how to do the same trick. If no, offer lots of sympathy, but at the end of the day, let your child suffer the consequence whether that is redoing the assignment or getting in trouble with the teacher. When you solve things for your child, he might be grateful in the short run, but in the long run you have failed to teach him anything.
Mentally walk through your child’s day and consider where she could be more independent. If she is a toddler or preschooler, could she do more to put on her own clothes? Handle her own ablutions? Pick up after herself more? With training, bit by bit, a child can do all these things before entering Kindergarten with very little supervision. An elementary school child can learn to get his own cereal, make his own lunch and pack his backpack for school. He can begin to read the weather and make guesses based on the season (or check the app!) to decide whether he needs a sweater or a jacket in that backpack. He can sort his laundry and make sure it gets to the laundry room. He can fold it and put it away. An upper elementary school child should be doing homework independently and asking for help only after trying a couple different strategies. She should be getting comfortable with walking away from you physically—next door to borrow some sugar or to the other end of the store to pickup the milk or down the block to a friend’s house. A middle school child should be keeping track of her own schedule and communicating her needs (for carpooling or other support) to her parents and coordinating what will work for them. She should be able to talk to her teachers and coaches when she has questions or concerns.
The Bottom Line: Parents Set Their Kids Up for Success
Parents are their kids' first teachers. Kids who have learned these five life skills come to school ready to learn. They have the external structures which allow them to work efficiently and the internal structures that allow them to cope when things get hard both socially and academically. In the end, these are the skills that allow your child to focus more fully on her academics, so if you want your child to do well at school, don’t ask him to do extra assignments or get him extra tutoring. Help him learn to regulate his emotions, to find ways to stay positive when things get hard, to see the effects of his own actions (positive or negative), to find solutions to problems and, finally, to take charge of his own life as much as he is developmentally ready to do so.
These skills do not happen over night. The mastery of each of them represents many hours of thoughtful parental guidance. It is easy to feel impatient as a parent. You might wail, “I’ve told him a thousand times to….” Look for improvement and take heart. As much as possible, try to use questions rather than “I told you’s.” Asking, “What is the result of leaving wet towels on the floor?” is much more effective than yelling for the umpteenth time, “Hang up your wet towel!” A child who can verbalize that wet towels lead to mold, smelly bathrooms, and maybe even wood rot is much less likely to just throw the towel on the floor.
Get Support in Supporting Your Children
Parenting is a life skill. It is something we learn, not something we just know how to do. How effective are you at instilling life skills in your children? Which ones come easily? With which do you still struggle? I hear a lot of variations from parents along the theme of "But my kid just isn't ready" or "Well, my kid has ADHD, so I can't trust him to do that on his own." Few children are able to jump from A to Z, but all children are capable of learning if you break the learning down into small enough chunks.
Do you need help scaffolding these life skills for your kids? I can help! Sign up HERE for a "On the Road to Responsible" 20-minute Strategy Session.
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.
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 email@example.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!
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.
Elisabeth Stitt/ Joyful Parenting Coaching/ 650.248.8916/ www.elisabethstitt.com
Simon’s Hook: A Great Resource for Arming Your Kids with Tools They Need to Disarm Bullies
Last week, I gave examples of how parents can teach their kids to resolve conflict peacefully AT HOME.
Unfortunately, at school, it can sometimes be hard to use those skills both because the kids they are using them with don’t know how to respond constructively and because fully resolving conflict peacefully takes time—something in short commodity in most school situations.
For conflicts at school, I find using children’s picture books a great place for ideas. One of my favorites is Simon's Hook; A Story About Teases and Put-downs by Karen Gedig Burnett, illustrated by Laurie Barrows. In Simon’s Hook, Simon’s grandmother tells him a tale about a bunch of fish who learn to “Swim Free” rather than “taking the bait,” ie the insults, being thrown at them. Armed with his new skills, Simon is able to rejoin the kids at the playground who have been making fun of his bad haircut.
Simon learns five “Rules for Being a FREE Fish” from his grandmother’s story.
Rule 1: DO little or nothing! Don’t react!
Interestingly, when I have taught these rules in class, this is the one the kids choose the most. We practice having kids give a blank stare back. Practice this one with your kids over and over. Start by having them insult you and you showing them no reaction. With little kids, you are likely to hear something like, “You’re a poopy face!” Don’t laugh at them. Just look at them as if you didn’t even hear them. Then ask permission to tease them. Ask them for examples of what kinds of hurtful things they have heard and then repeat those things in an exaggeratedly bratty voice, coaching them to do little or nothing. Praise them for how neutral they can keep their face. Have them practice in front of the mirror. You pretend to insult them; they practice staring right through you.
Rule 2: Agree with the hook!
What? Agree with what a bully says? Yes! This one actually works surprisingly well as it completely disarms the kid who is being mean or insensitive. Let’s look at some examples:
Juan: You can’t be my friend!
Rogelio: Okay! I’ll go play with someone else then.
Do you see how Juan was gearing up for a fight and Rogelio just took the wind right out of his sails? If Rogelio really does want to be friends with Juan, he might add, “Maybe we can be friends tomorrow.” Often—even though they don’t say it out loud—younger kids don’t mean, “You can’t be my friend EVER.” They just don’t know how to say that they are mad or that they want to play with someone else that day. Help your kids understand that sometimes other kids don’t mean to be hurtful. They just don’t know how to express their emotions and their needs.
Here’s another example of agreeing with the hook:
Britta: You’re shoes are ugly!
Michelle: I know! I told my mom they are so ugly they should win an ugly prize.
How can you argue with someone who is cheerfully agreeing with you? Note how reference to a disagreement with Mom subtly puts Britta and Michelle on the same team of Kids Whose Moms Just Don’t Get It. Very disarming indeed! Invite your kids to use you as an excuse.
Rule 3: Distract or Change the Subject.
What’s funny about this technique is that it is often kids who might otherwise be socially challenged who are the best at it. Distraction works by just pointing out something that is going on in the environment like, “Hey, wasn’t that the bell?” or “Isn’t that Mr. Jones in the Giant’s hat over there? I wonder if the Giants won their game last night.”
Changing the subject works like this:
Rakesh: Your writing is terrible!
Hiren: Did you know that the heaviest dinosaur was the Brachiosaurus? It weighted around 80 tons. That’s like 17 Elephants. And it was as tall as an 8-story building! That’s way higher than my apartment. My building is only five floors high. I live on the third floor, though. Did you know that…
You can see how by the time Hiren runs out of steam, Rakesh is going to wish he had never said anything!
Kids like the idea of this technique but I have found they actually need to brainstorm a list of possible topics for what to talk about. Here are some ideas a recent class came up with. Help your own kids add to this list:
•what happened on a favorite t.v. show this week
•a book they have read recently
•anything that involves a list (kinds of cars, kinds of cereal, what they ate for breakfast this morning, the state capitals, etc.)
•a question (Do you think Mr. Jones is going to give us a pop quiz today?)
•what they did over break or on their last vacation
•Anything they happen be obsessed with at the time
The trick to Changing the Subject is to add enough detail that the kid doing the insulting totally forgets what he said in the first place.
Rule 4: Laugh at the hook or make a joke!
Most kids can just laugh. Again, practice it with your kid. First demonstrate: Have them insult you and then just laugh at what they have said. I had one kid who was really good at laughing and then following up with a blank stare. It left the other kids completely nonplussed. They really had no idea how to proceed from there.
Making a joke can be hard because it requires kids to think on their feet, but if you have a very verbal or punny kid, it could be just the tool:
Maria: You’re not a good dancer!
Mira: How did you know Ms. Kltuz was my middle name?
Kevin: You can’t play with us. Go away.
Howard: I can’t? Really? Oh, that’s right! I put on two left feet this morning. That’s okay. Just put me on the left side of the field and I’ll be fine.
This works because kids don’t know how to deal with this kind of answer, and they will let the joker play rather than try to outwit him.
Rule 5: Stay away! Swim in another part of the sea!
Stay away or swim away works well in two circumstances.
One, the kid being mean is truly physical or out of control. Some kids are just not safe. They arrive at school with behavior challenges that are too big for our kids to deal with (chances are the school is struggling, too, to find enough manpower to help that kid). It may mean not getting to do what you want that day, but recess is too short to try to argue with that kind of kid. Help your children to brainstorm a variety of fun things to do so that they have some choices away from the bully. If the bully has picked them as a target, help your kid find some space away—maybe the library or a lunchtime club or helping a teacher out in her classroom.
Yes, I recognize that this is not fair. Your child should be able to play whatever he wants at recess. I am sorry to say, though, that teachers’ eyes cannot be everywhere and yard duty help is usually spread way too thin. Usually the out of sight, out of mind principle comes into play, here: Disappear for a few days, and the bully will direct his attention elsewhere.
Two, sometimes kids just need a break from each other! Help your child understand that we all go through rhythms of how much closeness and how much distance we need at any given time. Often the person being insulting is really just looking for some space. So give it to them! They’ll come around another day. If you have the kind of child who forms very intense, deep attachments to one person, spend some time explaining that that is not everyone’s friendship style. Some people like being friends with a lot of different people. One day they will want to play with you, and another day, they will want to play with someone else. This is not personal: It is just a different personality. Reassure your child that if they can just walk away today, chances are the other child will seek them out again soon.
Kids like these techniques. Having tools in their tool belt, empowers them and allows them to deal with situations quickly and to move on. Furthermore, it very often allows the kid being mean to move on, too, so the whole day gets better for everyone.
Just learning about the skills will not be enough. You will need to provide lots of support and suggestions. You can practice them after the fact, helping your child to imagine the conversation he might have had. If he climbs into the car complaining that So and So did something mean today, ask him if he took the bait. If he did, help him figure out how he might have used each of these techniques to redirect the bully or defuse the situation.
It might feel unfair that your child has to “not take the bait.” No one should be baiting him in the first place, right? But you know and I know the world does not work that way. Surely, you have listened to a friend tell a story about someone being annoying or mean and have counseled, “That’s the kind of person you just have to ignore” or “Why do you let him rile you so?” What you are saying is Why take the bait? Children will feel more in control if they know it is in their power to not take the bait.
If your child is worried about going to school, ask what he thinks might happen and practice over and over lots of different ways he might handle it. Emphasize that deflecting conflict is a skill. He will get better and better and it and it will be easier and easier to know what to do in the moment.
IT IS NATURAL FOR YOUNG KIDS TO PUSH BLAME AWAY FROM THEMSELVES
(THEY ARE STILL WORKING ON CAUSE AND EFFECT)
BUT WHEN OLDER KIDS BLAME, IT IS TIME TO TAKE ACTION.
When kids blame others it is often because they have a fixed and not a growth mindset. Jean Tracy, MSS, wrote a blog called “Stop Kids From Blaming Others” (http://kidsdiscuss.com/feature_article.asp?fa_id=184#sthash.UOywUZWA.dpuf), and I wanted to offer my own comments on her ideas. Tracy gave six skills people need to learn in order to shift away from blaming others:
1. Accept responsibility for mistakes
2. Learn from mistakes.
3. Brainstorm better solutions.
4. Choose the best solution and act on it.
5. Become accountable and dependable.
6. Develop a strong moral character.
Skill #1 is Accept responsibility for mistakes.
What makes it hard for a child to do that? The first reason might be that she fears a harsh or very critical response from her caregiver. But even kids with sensitive parents can be reluctant to accept responsibility for mistakes. This is usually a sign of a child having a fixed mindset: She does not need her parent or caregiver to chastise her; she is busy with an internal crisis about her own sense of how capable she is. Remember, the primary concern of someone with a fixed mindset is fear that people will discover she is not as capable (as smart or talented) as people currently think she is. She is, therefore, highly motivated to cover up her mistake so that no one else finds out she is less than they thought before. Not accepting responsibility for her mistake is critical to hanging on to what self-confidence she still has.
Skills #2-4 are all supported by teaching kids to focus on strategy.
How does a parent deal with a child who cannot accept blame because it will damage her sense of herself? The first step is to teach your child about a fixed and growth mindset. Researchers have found that just teaching kids about how the brain works—and especially how it grows when it is learning something new—helps kids to develop a growth mindset. There are lots of videos for kids of different ages to help explain the brain in action. The second step to helping her develop a growth mindset is to ask her what strategy she was using when she made the mistake, why she thought it would work, and finally what strategy she might try next. Focusing on strategy will teach a child how to Learn from her mistakes (Skill #2) and how to Brainstorm better solutions (Skill #3) and Choose the best solution and act on it (Skill #4).
Confused about how to teach kids to focus on strategy?
Some people get confused about strategy, but it is really nothing more than breaking down HOW you do something. Here are some strategies typically used in academic settings, but many of them cross over to other areas of life. The list below might seem overwhelming, but a lot of these are so automatic for you, you don’t even think about them. They might not be automatic for your kids, however:
•Making a List So You Don’t Forget
•Keeping a Calendar
•Identifying Tasks As Beingof High, Medium or Low Importance
•Reading Directions from Top to Bottom Before Starting (recipes, doing arts and crafts)
•Checking for All the Supplies Needed Before Beginning
•Underlining Key Words (and Checking Their Meaning)
•Asking Questions to Check for Understanding
•Repeating Information Back to Check for Understanding and Thoroughness
•Looking at Examples/Samples of What You Are Trying to Do
•Editing and Rewriting (Look at your last paper and see what you got wrong. Did your teacher ask you to focus on transitions? Richer word choice? Providing enough detail?)
•Asking Others for Feedback as You Go Along (Have I provided enough detail in this section? Does my example make sense? Is it clear who everyone in my story is?)
•Double Checking Numbers and Arithmetic (say when doubling a cookie recipe)
•Allowing Enough Time to Work Slowly and Carefully
•Allowing Enough Time to Review Work
•Allowing Enough Time to Print, for the Cake to Cool Before Frosting, for the Paint to Dry Before Transporting
•Recording Steps So That If They Work It Is Not Trial and Error Next Time
•Looking at the Pictures and Graphics for Clues (What is the birdhouse supposed to look like when it is done?)
•Putting the Work/Problem Aside for a While and Coming Back to It Later
•Reviewing Learning to Apply the Next Time (Did you wash a wool sweater and shrink it? What have you learned about wool? About checking labels?)
•Reviewing Successes to Apply the Next Time (Letting each color of paint dry first keeps you from smearing the next color. Grouping the same size plates makes it easier to load the dishwasher to full capacity. )
•Getting the Big Picture Ahead of Time (Look at the whole journey on the map and see it in your head before going to the close up view.)
The Role Metacognition and Critical Thinking Play
In focusing on strategies, what you are really teaching your child is metacognition—thinking about how we think. As you begin to identify strategies, you can then prime the pump before a child gets started by asking, “What strategy are you going to try here? If it doesn’t work or you make a mistake, what is another strategy you will try next time?” Asking the question this way teachers the child to expect that mistakes are a part of getting things right and that a lot of times getting something right is a process of trial and error. You can model for your children that you don’t always get things right by reflecting out loud on your own process and mistakes. You might say out loud, “There was too much heat under the pan for the first batch, so they got a little burnt, but I turned the flame down for the second batch.” Or, “the African violets don’t seem to be thriving on that window sill. I’m wondering if the problem is too much sun or if I am maybe watering them too much.”
Children are learning to think critically from a very young age. Helping them identify what they are doing—especially when they get something right—helps them be more aware of their own efficacy. For example, you might observe to a toddler, “When you rotated that piece, then you were able to fit it in.” Now the toddler learns in a more concrete way that rotation is a strategy when fitting things together. Even just asking the question, “What is another strategy you might try?”—and resisting the need to step in and do for the child—helps a child learn that “trying” doesn’t just mean doing the same thing over and over: Often it means approaching the problem in a different way.
What is your child's core belief about herself?
So, notice how much of getting your child to not blame others is really about fostering your child’s own sense of being capable of figuring things out on her own—along with developing the belief that making mistakes is a natural part of the learning process. You can aide in her learning by giving her opportunities to practice skills as part of her play. For a toddler and preschooler, activities like pouring all sorts of things (liquids, beans, rice, beads, etc) from one container to a next, screwing all sorts of things on and off, putting things on and off shelves, all help her become competent.
Skill #5 is to become accountable and dependable.
Becoming accountable really means a) admitting when you failed to do something and b) figuring out how to make amends or to ameliorate the situation. Kids who are reluctant to admit failure are trying to push shame away from themselves because they do not know how to make amends. Training kids to make amends, allows them to be accountable because it is then within their power to make things better.
Being dependable is essentially a critical problem solving exercise. Kids do not want to disappoint others; it does not feel good. But often they need support in finding the right structures that will assure that they can keep their word. For example, a child who has agreed to put the garbage out on the curb and then fails to might be being passive aggressive (and that’s a whole other blog), but more likely she does not have a system for remembering that Thursday night is the night to put the cans out. She might need your support in marking the calendar in red, setting an alarm on her watch, putting it in her homework planner, etc. Once she has it down as a routine, chances are she will remember.
Skill #6 is to develop a strong moral character.
That, obviously, takes years and years of interactions with your kids. Push comes to shove, though, kids learn by example. One place to look, then, is how much are you modeling blaming vs. taking the blame? If your kids hear you blaming others when things go wrong all the time, naturally they are going learn to do that, too. On the other hand, if you model taking the blame for your part in something—especially when it comes to recognizing how you have contributed to a negative situation with your kids—you will teach your kids to take the blame gracefully. You need to model honoring your commitments and apologizing when you fail to. I used to promise my daughter that I would give her as much advance warning as possible about family social events. Sometimes I would forget and she would get mad—and let me know I had let her down. Well, that was on me. It was disrespectful of me not to give her a heads up about family plans when I had agreed to. I would apologize and resolve to be more considerate in the future.
What’s the bottom line?
Helping kids develop a growth mindset is central to getting kids to stop blaming others when things go wrong. When they see themselves as being “in process,” they are able to cut themselves some slack for their mistakes and failures. That, in turn, allows them to own up to their role in the situation and to look for ways to make the situation better. Making things better—or using critical thinking to make a plan to assure that things will go better next time—washes away a person’s shame or guilt. That makes it much easier to take the blame.
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.
by Elisabeth Stitt
If you have not been following our series on Building the Consistency Muscle start here: Find the Positive and then follow the arrows at the bottom of the post.
You have all the steps for becoming a consistent parent; now it is just a question of putting the pieces into place. Here are some final tips:
Prepare Physically for Battle
Do I really mean go to the gym and work out? Well, only sort of. But we all know that we never do our best parenting when we are feeling tired and worn out. So, set yourself up for success by being well rested. Develop a meditation practice or find some simple yoga practices on YouTube. Plan on taking a walk on your lunch hour at work. At home with the kids all day? Nap when they nap. Let's say that you have set a clear rule of no distractions (reading material, video games, phones, etc) will be allowed at the table and you are worried that your new meal time expectations are going to increase the tension for a while. They will, so you might even want to sneak in a high protein afternoon snack so that even if your meal is upset, you will have energy to sustain you. Really need a break? Get yourself a babysitter one night and forget to mention the new dinner table policy! Maybe plan a meal in an alternate setting where the rule just won’t come up. A picnic with all finger food would make it mighty hard to hold a phone! Put whatever structure in place you need to sustain your determination to see the new policy through until it becomes a habit. If you are not absolutely convinced this is a rule you want, don’t even start. To build success, you need to start with something you care deeply about. (That is what makes the values clarification piece so important.)
Prepare Mentally for Battle
If there has not been a rule in place around an issue—or there has been a rule but it has never had any teeth—expect things to get worse before they get better. Face it. None of us really like policy change unless the previous policy was so bad that we are desperate for any change at all. If dinner has been a free for all with each family member doing what he wants, no one is going to want to put down his video game or book in favor of polite family conversation. Things WILL get worse before they get better, so before you make a big announcement, spend a lot of time thinking through your responses to as many unexpected situations as possible.
How can you structure things so that no distractions even come to the table? What are your consequences going to be for texting under the table? What is your consequence going to be for yelling, crying or talking back when you take the phone away? What consequences will you be able to absolutely follow through on consistently? What if your children sit tight lipped and stony faced every night for a week?
Role play if you need to practice staying calm: Have one spouse be the recalcitrant child and the other be the enforcer. You know your partner’s week points: Will Dad give in if his little girl starts to cry? Is Mom so uncomfortable with swearing that she will just lose her temper completely? Practice, practice, practice. This is a new part you are playing. It will not feel automatic. It will be uncomfortable. Support each other in whatever way you need to.
Celebration, Reflection and Recommitment
Being consistent is hard! So celebrate any step or part that is working. Was dinner a nightmare, but you held your ground? Do a private jig for joy. Call a friend and crow. Give yourself a gold star. Changing our way of being and reacting takes going back to the drawing board over and over. Have a pow wow before the next meal to reflect. Did you support each other sufficiently? Were you able to stay calm? Did you reward the compliant child with genuine interest and lively conversation? Would it help to have a different seating arrangement next time? Did it go better than you thought it would? Give yourself another pat on the back! Remind each other of why you are doing what you are doing. What values are you honoring by following through? In your mind’s eye see the warm, connected family dinners that you are in the act of creating. Take a deep breath and recommit to the vision. Tomorrow is another day!
I mean it! One of the biggest impediments today to effective parenting is isolation. We have got to start sharing our stories. So be brave! Be the first person to post your failures and your success here. Will we think less of you? No, way! We will cheer you and thank you for having the courage to say what everyone else is thinking. In my classroom, I used to give cut-out paper stars to kids for Acts of Conspicuous Bravery when they were willing to have their work commented on in class. It is not easy, but it provides tremendous learning for every one else--and it is one way to get my input on your exact situation! So, who's going to earn the first gold star?
I am fully committed to you being a consistent parent. If you are looking for individual support, let’s start with a complimentary coaching session. Sign up HERE.
Joyful Parenting Coaching
by Elisabeth Stitt
Earlier this fall I wrote a blog called Set Your Kids Free: 10 Things They Need to Be Able to Do by Middle School. People really wanted to hear what they could expect from their kids by that age. But they were unsure how to get there. So, I wrote this guide to making pancakes to give you a sense of how to break down tasks. All learning can be scaffolded and all kids can learn--often much sooner than you than you think. Remember, your job is to do yourself out of a job one small skill at a time.
With Your Infant
Talk/sing to your child to narrate what you are doing as you do it:
Now it's time to measure the flour, measure the flour, measure the flour/Now it's time to measure the flour early in the morning. [crack the egg, mix the batter, test the pan, etc.]
With Your Toddler
Begin to ask, What do we need? What's first? As soon as he can safely stand on a sturdy stool next to the counter, you do the measuring but let him dump the contents [except the eggs] into the bowl. He can do the mixing. You get the pan to the right temperature. By putting your arms under his from behind, you are going to protect him from the hot pan. Hand him a small pitcher (like a creamer size) of batter and guide him as he pours it onto the pan. Do one pancake at a time to make the flipping easier. (You can have a second pan going at the back of the stove to actually feed the family!) Have him watch for bubbles in the batter. You take the spatula, lift up the pancake and flip it. When it is ready, guide his hands on the spatula and help him get the pancake to the plate. Put a spatula in his toybox, and he will start flipping all kinds of things.
With Your Preschooler
Show him the recipe. Model how you follow along with your finger and check that you have each ingredient. Have him gather all the ingredients he can reach (alone or with a low stool). Begin to have him do the measuring. It is easier to start with smaller measuring cups and a sturdy, wide-mouthed container for things like flour and sugar. For hard tasks like pouring out the salt, start by having him hold the spoon and scrape the excess off with the back side of a butter knife. If cracking the egg is hard, have him practice with half a dozen eggs at a different time, warning about the dangers of raw eggs and being super careful about his not putting his hands in his mouth. Teach him to wash his hands carefully afterwards. Flipping the cakes will get increasingly independent. Give him a hand when he needs it, but also be ready to sacrifice a few pancakes to the floor as he is learning.
With Your Kindergartner/First Grader
Have your child read the recipe. This should be easy as by now he should have memorized it. If he is struggling, print it out in the big type--a piece of paper is easier than a cookbook--and read it aloud with him. At this point, you and your child have made a ton of pancakes. By this time, he should be capable of handling the whole process on his own, with a few assists in turning on the stove and checking the pan temperature. You will be standing near by--at the ready in case anything becomes dangerous--but you will let your child make mistakes (like putting the bowl too close to the edge of the counter and having the whole thing tip onto the floor!). Remember, the purpose here is not the pancakes. The purpose is the learning. Having to clean up a bowl of batter is a much better teacher than reminding him for the millionth time.
With Your Second/Third Grader
Your child makes you pancakes. You eat them up happily. Whoo hoo! Good job, Parents!
Breaking It Down
Pancakes are a great place to begin with independence because children love to eat them, so you have built in motivation. But you can break down any task and engage your kids in it--making their beds, doing the laundry, planting a garden. You name it. When kids master skills, they feel important, and when those skills help the family, they feel needed. That brings families together.
Are you afraid that you are doing too much for your kids and that you are failing to teach them to stand on their own two feet? Not to worry. Earlier is better, but it is never too late. Just give it a go, starting wherever your child is developmentally ready and going one step at a time.
If you still feel insecure, let's troubleshoot together. Sign up for a complimentary introductory strategy session HERE.
by Elisabeth Stitt
One of the reasons parents do so much for their children in the areas of self care and daily life is not because they honestly think their children incompetent. Rather, they are trying to free their children up to spend time on their academics. While we all understand that a college education is as necessary today as a high school education was in previous generation, it is not the be all and end all. It is a piece of your child's journey to adulthood, yes, but their success and happiness as an adult will ultimately rest on broader life skills like self-initiative, cooperation and teamwork, creativity and motivation. And the perhaps most important of all life skills: A love of learning.
DEVELOPING A LOVE OF LEARNING
Children who have a love of learning are naturally motivated. They go seeking answers on their own. School becomes a pleasure, not a half to. If you have a child who loves school, he is willing to play the school game--get there on time, do the homework, memorize seemingly random facts--because he will see all those thingsas a part of his opportunity to do experiments, to reenact the landing of the Pilgrims, to interpret or write a poem. He will see homework as a way to check his understanding. He will want to know how he did not just to make a grade but to know where to correct his learning.
A love of learning does not thrive in an environment where parents are constantly looking over your shoulder, micromanaging assignments and monitoring grades as if the health of the stock market were tied to your performance. Or more likely in many homes, as if the success or failure of a research paper in fourth or fifth grade were an indicator of what college a kid is going to get in to. No. A love of learning thrives when school is seen as a process--a time and place to fail. Imagine a skater trying to learn a salchow and not falling down. Not possible, right? We know that every fall requires enormous risk and faith. And from every fall comes a great deal of learning--learning of what not to do, learning about what to try next time. And the coach knows she cannot go out on the ice and do the salchow for the child. What would be the point? Where would the learning be? Likewise, when we take over our children's learning--by managing them to death--we rob them of any benefit.
ARE YOU A HELICOPTER PARENT?
If you have been a helicopter parent when it comes to schoolwork, stop and ask yourself why. What do you fear? What are you protecting your child from? What are you protecting yourself from? To some extent, I know that parents are just going by what the school or other parents expect. Ironically, many teachers I know would like to give less homework but get pressure from the parents or are accused of being lazy if they don't assign it. These are not good reasons for homework. Studies routinely find that the efficacy of doing homework drops off precipitously after around 30 minutes, and in fact, even then the value is in the discipline of remembering you have homework, knowing what the assignment is, doing it and actually getting it back to school and turning it in--not in whatever the homework actually practices. My own anecdotal experience bares this to be true. My daughter went to a school where there was no homework before fourth grade and by middle school it was maybe an hour or two a week. Did this hurt her? No, she stepped into top classes at a large public high school without missing a beat.
MAKE THE LEARNING THEIRS
So how do we motivate our kids to become lifelong learners? First and foremost, we need to make the learning theirs--the assignments need to be theirs, the grades need to be theirs and the mistakes need to be theirs. I am reminded of the proverb, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink." Knowledge has no value if you do not put it to use. You can cram facts into a child's head by sheer route learning, by threatening and bribing, but to what end? If the child does not have an intrinsic interest, each thing he learns will be in isolation, a box on a checklist to mark completed. Keep the emphasis on the knowledge and experience gained, on the process, on the lessons and not on the outcome.
Good teachers find ways for kids to have ownership over their learning by giving them as much choice and leeway as possible. Good parents do the same. Support your child by asking questions. What help do they think they will need? How much time will they need to do the assignment? Will it require back burner energy or front burner concentration to do compared to their other assignments? When they get the work back, ask your kids if they got what they expected. If not, why? What went wrong? What could they do differently next time? What will they commit to doing? What resources are available for help? Your support comes in the form of supporting their metacognition--their thinking about how they learn and what they'll get out of it.
A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE
I know that some of you are concerned that if you do not push your child academically, you will be failing as a parent--you will be closing the door to the top slots at the top universities. For you, I offer the perspective of Julie Lythcott-Haims, former freshman dean at Stanford. Listen here (https://www.freeconferencecall.com/wall/recorded_audio?audioRecordingUrl=https%3A%2F%2Frs0000.freeconferencecall.com%2Fstorage%2FsgetFCC2%2FaQ2s9%2FdpsMH&subscriptionId=4985870) to get my interview with her where she lays out why she is urging stressed-out parents to stop trying so hard to make sure their kids succeed.
Perhaps you are reading this and disagreeing strongly. Perhaps you think I don't understand. I do get it. Watching my child go through the stress of getting into college--as grounded and together as she was--was heart wrenching. Every fear I ever had of how I had failed her boiled up. I had to firmly squelch my need to push her--to insist--she take actions in certain directions. I had to trust that with the help of a good college counselor to tell her about a wide variety of schools, she was going to find one that was a good fit for her. And she did. And she is thriving, excited about her interactions with her professors and the classes she is taking. She is at a school most people in California haven't even heard of, and yet I have every confidence she is getting a first rate education.
Please put your comments below. Do you really think having high expectations for our kids and at the same time teaching our kids to take responsibility for their own learning, their own successes and their own failures are not mutually exclusive ideas? I want to hear from you.