Do I ever recommend to a client that they see a therapist? Yes! As a parenting coach, I am focused on getting parents the skills they need to run their homes more harmoniously and to have closer, more connected relationships with their kids. Sometimes a person’s mental health keeps a parent from fully focusing on their kids, and it can be hard to make the progress they need to transform their families. That’s a great time to see a therapist.Read More
Joyful Musings--a weekly blog
Joyful Parenting Coaching is focused on clarity, consistency, connection, being an effective parent, finding balance as a parent, and above all being a confident and joyous parent. Topics include communication, having difficult conversations, having constructive conversations, chores, routines, family meetings, I teach parent education and parenting classes because parenting is a skill—not something we are born knowing. Get the parenting skills you need today!
Filtering by Tag: communication
Parenting a teen is a new game! The main goal of parenting a teen is to raise an adult. That means your main parenting task between roughly 12 and 18 is to make the shift from being the captain of the ship to being the wise guide. After all, it is simply not possible to drive down the street for you child and to claim that your child is learning to drive. Before he or she can get a license, your child has to get behind the wheel and drive down the street without you in the car. Keep these three metaphors in mind in helping you be the parent of a teen.Read More
Every once in a while I publish a guest post—either because the person’s expertise in a given area is much more sophisticated than mine or because they offer a perspective I cannot. In this blog, dad Tyler Jacobson shares how he handled it when his 13 year old daughter broke some big family rules. I especially love the understanding he shows his daughter as well as the problem solving, all while keeping her accountable for her poor choices.Read More
Isn’t that the truth! Parenting gets so exponentially harder when we are in a hurry or are tired. That’s why I’m such a big believer in creating systems and routines for as much of the day as we can. When we have good systems and routines to fall back on, we can let habit lead us.Read More
Having friends is one of the most important themes of childhood. Adulthood, too, for that matter. Some people have a strong need to be accepted just for who they are innately, but the fact of the matter is that most people look at what we say and do. They do not have crystal balls into our souls. So teaching your kids to be kind always has them putting a good foot forward when it comes to making friends.Read More
Separation anxiety is a normal stage for kids to go through. It starts around 6 months and usually tapers off around 2 years old. During these months a baby is first gaining the cognitive recognition that you still exist when you are not there, which means baby can now miss you when you are not there. The problem often intensifies because at the same time baby realizes that her primary source of food and comfort can leave her, she is also testing the ways in which she is an individual. That's scary! A lot of separation anxiety is about finding that fine line between growing more independent and at some level still knowing she is fully dependent on you for survival.Read More
"Show me a child who
knows nothing about sexuality,
and you've just introduced me
to my next victim."Read More
So, you have prioritized your values (If not, go to previous step HERE) and are clear about where you want to build your consistency muscle. That's hugely important.
HERE'S AN EXAMPLE
Let's say you have decided to consistently require your children to speak respectfully. Love that. But do your children know what it means to speak respectfully? Probably not, so you have to teach them.
STEP ONE: MODEL
Model respectful speech. I hope this is obvious, but how can you expect your children to speak respectfully if you are not modeling that in all your interactions with others? This includes how you speak about people. If over dinner you complain what a neanderthal jerk your boss is, your children are going to hear that, so while it is okay to criticize people, make sure that it is in respectful language. Perhaps you would say something like, "I wish my boss were up to date on the latest approaches and were more open to listening to fresh ideas." Little ears are listening all the time! How you speak to the people you love is even more important, so avoid the first two of John Gottman's Four Horsemen, criticism and contempt, at all costs. Finally, use polite and loving language with your own children is key.
STEP TWO: PRAISE
Catch Your Children Doing Good. Remember, you have been catching your children doing good in order to develop your consistency muscle. If the values exercise last week has you shifting your focus, go back to the step where you praise, praise, praise every time your child is (in this example) using respectful language. Say, "I heard you say Thank You to your teacher. That was so respectful." or "When you asked your brother, 'May I please have it after you?', that was exactly the kind of respectful language we expect in this house." Build up models for them so that they get a clearer and clearer idea of what you want before you make it a non-negotiable.
STEP THREE: TEACH
A bi-product of kids being technologically advanced is that many of them lag in their interpersonal skills. Compared to what you might have learned already at your child's age about how to get along well with others in the world, today's children spent many fewer hours figuring out how to speak in such a way that strengthens connections and warms relationships. The more we use our phones to deposit checks and order the weeks groceries, the less kids see us interacting with a wide variety of people. In the absence of daily modeling, we need to teach our kids skills explicitly.
One of my favorite teaching methods is role playing. Ask your kids what the would say in different situations and how they would say it. Start with people they know--their teachers, coaches, school personnel like the crossing guard or the office manager. Set the expectation that it is respectful to greet and acknowledge these people. Teach them stock phrases like, "Hello, Mrs. Stitt, how are you today?" Teach them how they can extend the conversation: "Isn't this a lovely day?" or "Did you have a good weekend?" or "Happy Chinese New Year! It's the Year of the Rooster, you know!" Tell them explicitly it is respectful to express an interest. When you pick them up for school ask, "Whose day did you brighten today?"
STEP FOUR: TRAIN
Once you have taught your kids what it means to be respectful, they will have an understanding of being respectful, but they still won't have the habit. Before you start reprimanding your children for being disrespectful, make sure that you have done enough training. Think about how long it takes to train yourself to do something until it is absolutely automatic. I am currently training myself to sit up straight. It didn't used to be such an issue because while teaching I spent so many hours on my feet, but now that I am in front of the computer most of the day, I have to think about it very consciously. Boy, is is a slow process! Your kids will need lots and lots and lots of gentle reminders, so when they do not speak respectfully (or clean up their toys or remember their chores, etc), do not assume they are being defiant! This is so important. You want your rules followed, and they will be, but it will take time before your kids are consistent.
Your job for the time being is to CATCH THEM DOING GOOD when they do it right and to gently remind them when they forget. Let them know that they are in training, and you want to do whatever you can in supporting their remembering. This is the time to brainstorm structures that will help them remember (I still have to set an alarm to keep track of which week is recycling week).
Next week we will get to what to do when training period is over, and it is finally time to add some teeth to your rules.
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.
You have probably heard of the benefits of routine meditation practices. Studies have linked meditation to decreased stress, decreased depression, anxiety, pain and insomnia, and an increased quality of life. Studies have even found that people who practiced meditation regularly had more gray matter in the frontal cortex, which is associated with working memory and executive decision making. A parent asked me how young you can start meditation with children. I don’t know, though there are studies on kids as young as second grade, and my guess is there is no reason not to start sooner—as long as it is does not become one more thing parents feel they should do with their kids. With one in five children saying they worry “a lot or a great deal” about their lives, meditation may be one way for them to calm their monkey brain.
The question is how to teach very young children to meditate. I would start by saying it is a process!
An important aspect of meditation is mindfulness.
Mindfulness is really about paying attention to the moment by opening one’s senses fully. Ask children to sit and close their eyes. What do they hear? smell? What textures are they aware of? Can they feel their bones on the ground? Can they feel the movement of their body as they breath in and out? Can they hear their heart beating? Can they slow their breath but breathing in? Over time have kids extend the number of seconds it takes to breath in, pause, and then breath out, pause, breathe in, pause, breath out, pause.
Get kids to become aware of when and where they are tense.
The next approach might be teaching them to tense and relax different parts of their body. (In a classroom, this can be done sitting at their desks). This helps them learn to focus and it helps them feel the difference between tense and relaxed muscles. Work from the toes up to the head. Ask children to curl their toes as hard as they can and then relax, flex their feet as hard as they can and then relax, tighten their straight legs as hard as they can by pulling them together. Continue to work in this way up through the top of their head. Then work back down to their toes. Then ask them to take a deep breath in and out and as they let the air out to let their whole body relax.
Kids are naturals at guided meditations as they already live in their imaginations.
As a third step, have kids do a guided meditation. I have introduced kids to this as an eyes open exercise. I have allowed them to draw or color as I imagine them walking through nature. With a recording of sounds of nature playing in the background, I guide them down a woodland path to a glen with wild flowers and birds and a still pond with water bugs making the only movement on the water. As I describe it, they draw whatever they are inspired to draw.
With kids at home, choose a time when your kids are sleepy and you can go straight to going to eyes closed on the floor or even in bed and just have them imagine the journey. If you have the space in the classroom for your kids to lie on the floor, then work towards having them do the guided meditation not drawing but just with their eyes closed. Start with short ones and then as they learn to settle into it, you can make them longer. (A guided meditation can be an excellent introduction to a writing exercise. You might ask them, for example, to describe what they see in the glen when they get there. Or if there is a river in the guided meditation, ask them what they find further down the river.
If none of these techniques work, don't worry. Modeling meditation through developing your own daily practice might work. Or you might just wait six months and try then.
A combination of these ideas keeps things fresh for kids while at the same time helping them get the benefits we associate with meditation. Again, take it slow! Keep it light and playful. You might scoff at the idea of a first grader worried because she has not been able to meditate right, but I have stood in line at the grocery store as one mother complained to another about her own meditation and watched the expression on her little girl's face. To me it seemed to say, "Oh no. One more thing for me to worry about!" So, have fun with it. If it helps your family--or one particular child--great! If not, LET IT GO!! Playing outside on the grass or climbing a tree will also go far to restoring kids' equilibrium.
In the way that sometimes happens, I finish writing a blog and then I find another someone else who had covered the same material but even better! You might enjoy this INFOGRAPHIC.
Lots of kids lie, and often lying is particularly upsetting to parents. I think that one reason lying affects parents so strongly is because we want to keep our children safe. As long as we think we know what is going on in our kids’ heads and what they are actually experiencing, we figure we can take action to protect them. When our kids lie to us, however, we find out that perhaps our kids have been exposed to dangerous or negative situations out of our control.
WHY LYING UPSETS PARENTS
Let’s say for example, that you find out your nine year old has ridden her bike outside the agreed upon streets. She has been lying to you by omission, and then one day you find out that she has crossed some major streets with a lot of traffic. A big part of why you are upset by her lie is your fear about what might have happened to her—the accident she might have had, or whom she might have encountered so far outside your sphere of influence. Plus, in the face of one lie, you begin to doubt what you can trust about other parts of her life: Is she telling you what is going on at school? What happens when she plays at her friend’s house?
WHY PEOPLE LIE
People lie to get some kind of emotional need met. We all have needs for a sense of security, autonomy, attention, status, acceptance, excitement, intimacy and love, connection to others, self-esteem, and so forth. We lie, then, either when we think telling the truth will get in the way of having one of those needs met or when telling the lie will get the need met.
In the example above, for example, the nine year old is more than old enough to know that she is lying. Perhaps she has lied because of her need for autonomy. She feels she is old enough to handle crossing a busy street and she wants to test it out. Perhaps she has lied to gain status, and another child has dared her to cross the forbidden street or she has bragged that she is allowed to do so and now must show that she can.
WHAT PARENTS CAN DO ABOUT LYING
The question remains what should a parent do in the face of a child lying? Certainly it is reasonable to have a consequence for breaking a family rule (and ideally that consequence has been worked out the same time the bike riding boundaries were set up). But in order for a parent to feel secure her child won’t lie again, it is important that she take the time to figure out what emotional need was the child trying to meet by engaging in the behavior which required the lie (including the lie of omission). Only then can parent and child work out more acceptable ways of getting the need met.
WHAT ROLE PARENTS PLAY IN THEIR CHILDREN'S LYING
Clinical Psychologist Dr. Shefali Tsabary says, "There is only one reason a child lies to its parents: the conditions for it to feel safe have not been created.” You may well bristle at the idea that you have caused your child to lie, but having dealt with kids’ lying at school over the years, it feels possible to me. When I talked with kids about why they lie, these are some of the answers I have heard over the years:
•My parents will over react and won’t listen to me.
•My parents just won’t understand.
•If my parents found out I did that, they’d judge me.
•All my mom cares about is X; she doesn’t understand that X isn’t that important to me. (Or that Y is more important).
•All my dad cares about is how it will look to other people.
He doesn’t actually care about what happens to me.
I have certainly seen parents over react, and with some parents I do feel that the parent cares more about his own reputation than about what his child is thinking and feeling. But in most cases, lying occurs in households where communication has broken down. Because kids have not felt seen, heard and valued, kids have stopped sharing. They don’t want the hassle of arguing with their parents because they feel they don’t get anywhere with it, and at the same time they still have powerful unmet needs. The drive to get their needs met—even if it means accepting negative consequences—makes lying worth it to them.
The next question, then, is how do you keep the lines of communication open. I think first and foremost, you own up to your own foibles as a parent—own that sometimes you do over react. Own that you get triggered—by safety concerns, by fears for the future, by wanting to seem like a perfect parent. Own that you grew up in a different generation and/or a different culture and that what seems okay to your kids feels really wrong to you. Own your own hang ups. Maybe your parents didn’t let you drive into the city on your own, so now your automatic response when your child asks permission is to say No Way without even giving it any real thought.
IDENTIFYING THE NEEDS BEHIND THE LIES
Next, even if you do end up saying no to your kids (and I fully support your right to do that), really take the time to listen to what they want. Be curious about why they want it (what need would get met if they got to do whatever it is they want to do). Then, work to see if the underlying need can be met in some other way. Maybe you can find a compromise. Let’s say, for example, that you catch your son stealing money to buy junk food at school. He knows you have a strong value about healthy nutritional choices, so he sneaks behind your back. The first question is what is the need—sweet food? Or is it to have the cool packaging of snacks from the vending machine? Or does he like having the whole vending machine array to choose from without having to agree with his siblings? Each of these is a very different need and requires a different approach. That’s why it is so critical to putting your own concerns aside so you can first be open and curious.
BRAINSTORMING ALTERNATIVE WAYS TO MEET NEEDS
Once you know what the unmet need is, you can work on that. Brainstorm ideas. What sweet foods would be acceptable? Is the need to be cool about the need to fit in, and if so, why is that so important? How else could a person find a group he feels included in? How could the family provide more opportunities for the son to have some things just as he wants them without having to consider the rest of the family?
Even the act of brainstorming and trying to find a solution acknowledges your child as an individual with his own needs, preferences and desires. In a particular case, you might not find a way to compromise. If you have found workable solutions other times, however, your child will be able to accept when no compromise is possible. He will know that you care about his feelings and are not shaming him for having those feelings.
In summary, I would let a consequence for the poor choice stand, but I would go deeper to find out the underlying motivation for the poor choice.
STAYING CONNECTED EVEN THROUGH CONFLICT
Lying is complex. We lie for so many reasons, and I have really only addressed a few of them here. No matter what the reason, though, I urge you to approach your child as a work in progress and use the lying incident as an opportunity for growth and self-reflection. Finally, assure your child that as he matures, he will find it easier to find ways of getting his needs met that do not make him feel that it is necessary to lie.
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.
(Part I of a two-part series on Stopping Bullying From Home)
I am guessing that one of your most heartbreaking concerns is when your kids get wrapped up in painful social interactions with their friends or classmates. You hear the stories about bullying and fear your kids are being bullied and that it will scar them for life.
In my experience, most of the mean behavior among kids is mutual. Sometimes it will be your kid behaving hurtfully and sometimes it will be someone else. This is not, of course, because they are bad: It is because they are still learning the skills they need to be able to advocate for themselves while at the same time reaching out generously to others. These kinds of social emotional competencies take lots and lots of practice.
That’s where you come in!
Next week I am going to go over some skills kids can use at school to smooth over or avoid conflict, but this week let’s focus on what you can do at home to help kinds with their EQ.
Learning how to be in touch with and verbalize your emotions so that you can make clear request of what you want or need is first and foremost learned from you. Start by helping your kids identify their emotions. When siblings are fighting, don’t take sides. Instead, help them label how they are or might be feeling and what they need to feel better.
Let’s look at how this might go:
George: She came in my room without asking and that is against the rules!
Anna: You, slime ball, you drew on my picture!
Mom: Anna! In our family we speak respectfully. George, it sounds like your sense of fair play and what you can count on has been violated. Anna, you sound really angry that your brother would ruin something you care about.
George: Yeah! She wasn’t being fair!
Anna: Well, he wasn’t being nice!
Mom: Anna, let’s let George tell his bit. George, you’re mad because you want to trust that your room is private. What would you like Anna to have done?
George: She should have knocked!
Mom: Can you ask her to please knock next time?
George [to Anna]: Would you please knock next time?
Anna: Yes, I should have knocked, but I was really mad.
Anna: Yes, I will knock next time.
Mom: Thanks, Anna. Now, it’s your turn. You were mad enough to ignore one of our family rules. You must have been ready to spit nails.
Anna: Yes, I was! He drew on my picture, and now it is ruined and I had worked really hard on it. That is so mean.
Mom: What do you need from George?
Anna: I need him to apologize and never come near me again.
Mom: I hear that you are still really hurt and maybe even wish right now that you didn’t have a brother, but you do, and we are learning to live peacefully with each other in this house, so what request can you make of him?
Anna: To not draw on my pictures?
Anna [to George]: Please don’t draw on my picture or anything else that is mine.
George: But you said your picture was better than mine and that was mean. Really mean.
Mom: George, I hear that you were hurt and you can say more about that, but first can you respond to Anna’s request?
George: Sorry, Anna. I shouldn’t have drawn on your picture.
Mom: George, can you tell Anna more about how it felt to have her compare her picture to yours?
George: It wasn’t nice and it made me mad. She always thinks she’s so perfect.
Mom: George, stick to your feelings right now. Don’t worry about the past.
George: It hurt my feelings.
Mom: Tell Anna. Use an I-Statement.
George: Anna, when you said your picture was better than mine, it hurt my feelings because I really liked my picture. Next time please find something nice to say about my picture.
Anna: Sorry, George. You did do a really good job with the shading on your picture.
George: Thanks, Anna!
Now, you might be shaking your head thinking a) my kids would never calm down and forgive each other that quickly and b) no way do I have enough time to walk them through that kind of conversation every time.
Certainly, when your kids are first learning these skills, it may take them longer to cool off and they may need more of your help to know what to say to each other. But the more you do it, and the more practiced they become, the more you will hear them going through these conversations by themselves.
And yes, walking your kids through these kinds of conversations will take your time—probably when you are right in the middle of getting dinner ready or helping another sibling with a school project—but what is the cost of not doing the work? Slammed doors? More hurt feelings? Yelling, screaming, threats? Punishments that take you even more time and energy to follow through on but do nothing to assuage your children’s tender feelings? Hate and resentment that builds up among siblings?
I would like to argue that teaching kids to resolve conflict peacefully is some of the most important work you do as a parent. As a teacher, I could always tell which kids came from families where these skills were being emphasized. Those were the kids who did not get bullied because when other kids did something mean or hurtful, those kids knew how to address the problem head on and to defuse the bully before he or she could even really get started.
Come back next week for more tricks you can teach your kids for dealing with mean and hurtful behavior at school.
If you yourself would like more practice with how to conduct these conversations with your kids, sign up HERE for a 20-minute complimentary Harmony at Home Strategy Session.
Using technology to babysit buys a moment’s peace at dinner: Developing conversational skills gets a lifetime of delightful dinnertime companionship.
I witnessed two father/child conversations this week.
On Tuesday, I was eating in a restaurant next to a father and daughter out to dinner. My guess is that the daughter was around four. The pair sat down, and Dad immediately pulled out the iPad and set it up for her. Dad quietly sipped his glass of wine. For the moment I will put aside my own personal rant about the blurps, bings and dings from the video disturbing my own meal and focus on the idea that ten years from now this father is going to be lucky to get any conversation out of his child at dinner at all.
The Cost of Relying on Technology to Parent
Obviously, I don’t know what their day or their week has been. Perhaps Dad and Daughter have already spent a couple hours playing together. Perhaps the iPad at the dinner table is screen time she earned for being cooperative about doing her chores all week. Perhaps they had a long conversation while driving to the restaurant. Perhaps going out to eat is a big treat and it is the only time Daughter is allowed screen time at the table.
But for the moment, let’s go with the assumption that as Dad was in his business clothes, he probably picked his Daughter up from Child Care at 6:00. Hopefully they did have a good conversation about her day in the car. But it would not surprise me if she had access to the iPad in the car, too. And just as at dinner, Dad was not watching it with her. He was not engaging with her about what she was watching. Not commenting, not asking questions, not explaining what might be new concepts.
Now don’t get me wrong. I have certainly gone to dinner when my daughter was young and brought coloring books or other quiet games with the hope that she would quietly entertain herself. Especially as a single mom with just one daughter at home, I spent a lot of time playing with my kid, and if I could snatch a moment of self-absorbed contemplation, I certainly did. Likewise, we go to dinner with my nephew almost weekly and for much of the meal he is absorbed in whatever book he is reading. That is okay with me because I recognize that sitting at the table for more than an hour—as we do most weeks—is a lot to ask of a nine year old. Nonetheless, once the food does arrive, we do get his attention and he joins in the family conversation.
Conversation Is an Art
Conversation is an art. Children need to practice it. Adults have the responsibility to scaffold the learning by helping kids structure their answers. Later in the week I saw a dad do this beautifully with his daughter. She was also around four—maybe a little younger than the girl from earlier in the week. He started by asking her what she had done during Outside Playtime at school. She answered I don’t know. Instead of letting that stop the conversation dead in its tracks, he asked her to think a moment and assured her that she would remember. Then he just looked at her quietly and patiently. When she said she still didn’t remember, he coached her: He said, “Start by saying, ‘Usually during Outside Playtime at school, I _______.'” She filled in the blank and said “go on the slide.” He praised her, but had her repeat her answer using the whole phrase. She repeated the complete sentence, and then without prompting she continued on saying, “but today I played in the sand box with Jesse.” Then Dad said, “Oh! Tell me about that!” By now Daughter was off on a roll and she shared quite a bit about her sandbox play. Clever Dad. Chances are if he had asked, “What did you play?”, he would have gotten a one-word answer.
Conversation is a Two-Way Street
Now, what happened after this conversation was the part that impressed me the most. When Daughter had finished telling about her day, Dad said, “I had a good day, too.” When his daughter didn’t pick up on his conversational gambit, Dad reminded her, “Honey, when you are talking to people, the conversation has to go back and forth. I asked you about your day. Now you should ask me about my day.” Daughter perked up and looked right at her dad: “Tell me now, Daddy!” While Dad shared a few details, she kept her attention on him the whole time.
If Dad keeps up gently prompting his daughter through having a full conversation, imagine the benefits they will both reap. Not only will he stay in touch with his daughter as she grows up, she will have an awareness of him as a person who also does interesting things and has thoughts and feelings of his own as an individual. No doubt, over the years, their conversations will range far and wide. Remember, connection is a key to effective parenting, and conversation is an easy way to feel connected with a person.
In January 2015, Mandy Len Catron wrote an essay published in The New York Times called, “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This”(http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/11/fashion/modern-love-to-fall-in-love-with-anyone-do-this.html). In the essay she tells how she and a mutual acquaintance increased their trust and intimacy using the 36 questions from a study done in the 90’s by Arthur Aron et al designed to see if you could make people fall in love with each other. The study found you could. Carton found she did. Imagine using these questions—or questions like these—over the years to connect to your kids.
The Cost of Not Developing Conversational Skills
Now let’s ago back to that other Dad from earlier in the week. Presently he has the easy love that a small child gives her parent. To a four year old, you are the sun, the moon and at the stars all connected. But over the years, as a child makes the shift to peers, parents who have not already established conversational habits have to work much harder to not drift apart. Just because you are physically at the table with your kids does not mean you are reaping the many (many!) benefits of eating together. Harvard professor and researcher, Dr. Anne K. Fishel, points out that, "the real power of dinners lies in their interpersonal quality” (http://thefamilydinnerproject.org/food-for-thought/science-eat-dinner-together/). The more we get sucked into our electronic gadgets, the more parents have to systematically teach their children good interpersonal skills. In less distracted eras, family members looked to each other for entertainment. Card games, board games, story telling, and singing together were some of the only sources of entertainment available. All of these required families to not merely be near each other, but to actually talk to each other.
Keep the Flow of Conversation Going
Once you have gotten them to the table (and banned the distractions), getting your kids to talk to you is a two-part process. First, help your kids give detailed, complete answers to daily questions like, “How was your day?” Teach them that while that might be a courtesy question out in public to which a polite “fine” is acceptable, when you ask it, you are looking for some real sharing without having to pull teeth. Of course, for your part, you have to be a good listener who absorbs what your kids are telling you before you jump to criticize or solve. Your primary job is to keep the flow of conversation going. Use prompts like Really? What else? Tell me more. How do you feel about that? Especially in the short run, listening is much more important than your response. If you are really worried about something that comes up, I suggest you circle on back to it at a later time—maybe in private at bedtime.
Getting Creative and Thinking Outside the Box to Get to Your Kids Talking
The second part of getting your kids to talk is coming up with good questions. You want to balance questions about daily life with questions that will expand your kids' thinking. The Family Dinner Project ( http://thefamilydinnerproject.org/conversation-2/conversation-starters/ ) suggests questions like, “If you joined the circus, what would your circus act be?” As someone who long had fantasies about running away to join the circus, I love that question. (I would have definitely chosen being a trapeze artist, in case you were wondering!)
TiffinTalk—A Tool to Help
Another fabulous resource is a company called TiffinTalk. TiffinTalk creators Kat Rowan and Michael Friesen have written over 4000 cards each with a question that provides "thought-provoking, open-ended questions that prompt meaningful conversations – no matter what the age of your child.” 4000! And every card is different. That is extraordinary. The cards are boxed into groups by age from preschool through high school. Like Arthur Aron’s questions designed to help two people fall in love by increasing intimacy, TiffinTalk’s questions start out more general and broad and go deeper over the course of the each themed week. Themes from the boxes for 6-9 year olds, for example, include topics like Clean or Messy, Homes & Houses, Being More Than You, How to (Not) Argue with Adults, and Firsts. These cards are not games; each are meant to be personalized cards from parent to child and are meant to be shared in one-on-one, face-to-face discussions.
In June 2015, I interviewed TiffinTalk Creative Director and CEO Kat Rowan. One of the points we touched upon was how opening the lines of conversation on a host of topics makes it much easier to bring up more difficult topics like death or sex education. If you and your child are not used to talking about touchier topics, when the time comes to bring them up, they feel much heavier and weighted than they need to be. In fact, some parents never do have “the Sex Talk” because it seems too overwhelming—a mountain when it could be a mole hole. On the other hand, parents who have been exploring a range of themes like the ones TiffinTalk provides have likely already dealt with a lot of related topics, having discussed questions about relationships, friendships, how dress affects how people see us, our bodies, etc. TiffinTalk’s boxes of cards (beautifully produced) are complete and comprehensive. By the time you work your way through the whole series, there will be very little you have not touched on. The inclusion of blank cards allow parents lots of flexibility to address questions that occur to them, while the themes give the parents something concrete to fall back on.
Of course, you may be able to come up with lots of topics on your own. If that is the case, you probably already know the joy of having kids who are mentally present and eager to join you at the table—a daily touchpoint of love, warmth and connection.
You will never regret putting energy into teaching your children the Art of Conversation. Well, you may regret how much you miss their sparkling wit when the grow up and go away, but I trust they will come home to visit!
Reposted from October 18, 2015
It used to be that kids were treated as mini adults, and now the pendulum has swung the other way and young adults are being treated (and acting) as overgrown kids. You have probably heard about the damage of being a too intense parent--whether that means tiger mom or helicopter parent. Now you may be wondering what should you be expecting of your child? The early childhood markers of independence--sitting, walking, potty training, etc.--get talked about a lot, but what is reasonable to expect of our older children is not as clear. Just what should our early adolescent/ middle school kids be able to do on their own?
I started thinking about this from the kids' point of view. That made me remember the children's literature I grew up on. Many of my favorite books were about young people taking charge independently--often away from their parents. Let's start with Enid Blyton's The Famous Five series. Beginning with Five on a Treasure Island, five cousins spend the summer having one adventure after the next. There is home base where meals are offered and the children check in, but the assumption of the adults seems to be that as long as they are out in the fresh air, together, that they are generally fine no matter what they are getting up to. In the Swallows and Amazon books by Arthur Ransome, six children are given permission to camp on an island in the middle of a lake. They cook over open fires and deal with the local "natives" (as the children refer to the adults) to procure supplies. Another popular example of kids on a mission is From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. It is about two children who run away from the suburbs to New York City and who handle themselves very well. In all these books, the children are supported by friends, cousins or siblings and range in age between around 9 and 13. For me the common themes are that a) children are generally seen as very capable and b) they relish in the opportunity to show how able they are to take care of themselves.
When kids are very little we are aware of teaching them what they need to take care of themselves. We do not expect infants to learn to sit, to walk, to talk, to use the potty by themselves. Day after day, month after month, we train them and encourage them to take things one level further. We also give a lot of enthusiastic reinforcement for each new thing they learn. These days, however, as soon as kids hit school--whether that is preschool or Kindergarten--we tend to focus solely on their academic and extra curricular progress. Once they learn to tie their own shoes, it is like they get frozen in childhood where we are still taking care of everything else for them. The result is that we leave them to do a lot of learning on their own when they get to college or out into the world. Doesn't it make more sense to bring them along a continuum of self care and autonomy right from the start?
Based on twelve years as a middle school teacher, I have a good idea of what 11-14 year olds are capable of if it has been expected of them and their parents have taken the time to teach it to them in stages. Here are my Top Ten Responsibilities Kids Should Be Taking by Middle School.
1. Get up, dressed and washed on their own.
Do you still wake your child up for school? Stop! It should be their job to set their own alarm, to pick out appropriate clothes, and to have good routines for washing and brushing themselves. Your only job should be to introduce deodorant when the need for it arises and to support the school's dress code.
2. Make their own breakfasts
Kids are certainly capable of getting their own cereal, toast, frozen waffles, etc. If your family manages a hot breakfast, that's fantastic. Kids can also learn to make pancakes and eggs and the like with practice. Starting around eight or nine, have them work alongside you. Model the steps. I hear you saying, they don't have time to get ready. It is easier if I just do it for them. Of course it is easier and faster not to take time to give kids the skills they need in the short run. In the long run, it doesn't pay off. (And while I'm talking about food, teach your five and six year olds to cut their meat with a knife. With care and attention, they will not hurt themselves).
3. Make their own lunches
Are you under the illusion that your child is eating her lunch? I spent years--years!--lecturing students about not throwing away perfectly good food. You know what their answer was? My mom doesn't like it when I come home without eating what she packs me. So, rather than deal with the conversation about why they didn't eat what was provided, kids throw away the evidence. Children who pack their own lunches pack food they know they'll eat. They know what to pack and how much to pack.
4. Get to school on their own
Okay, you may balk at this one. I know that lots of kids no longer go to their neighborhood schools and few school districts provide busses. There are still ways to give kids their independence. For one, stop being in charge of checking if they have remembered everything they are going to need for the day. They are big enough to keep track of that on their own--and if they are not, suffering the natural consequences of not remembering will be a much faster teacher than your nagging and reminders. Even if you are driving your kids to school, give them the anonymity of dropping them off three or four blocks away. This ten minute walk will allow them at least a little taste of freedom--and you will make the school happy by improving the drop off/pick up congestion.
5. Do homework on their own
The sooner you let your kids manage homework on their own the better. So how do you scaffold that? Help them set up a place and a routine for doing their work. When they ask for help, encourage them to attack it on their own by asking supportive questions: How could you approach this? What is the assignment asking for? How does this assignment look like other assignments you have done? What strategy could you use here? Ask--and then back off. Give your child a chance to do it on his own. Offer a lot a reassurance that he will figure it out. If he has worked on it a reasonable amount of time (ten minutes per grade level total is a good overall recommendation--but that's a whole other blog), let it be okay for him to go to school without it done. Help him set up a method like a folder for homework to turn in. Initially you can check that it gets into the folder and the folder into the backpack, but by third or fourth grade, if kids do not have the system down, they have not been taking responsibility for their own learning. (That is not to say that as each new school year begins it might not be necessary to check in with your child's system again.)
6. Do some cooking and some cleaning
It used to be that kids had to help out with chores just to keep the family alive. In fact, the need for extra hands was one of the reasons for having large families. Then for a long time, that was not true. Modernization meant that machines started taking over some of the work and there was less to do. Many mothers were able to stay home to take care of their households and their families. Now that the pendulum has shifted back and 70% of mothers are in the workforce, families where everyone pitches in are much happier. Children may groan about doing chores, but they hate having stressed out parents even more. Get your kids involved in the daily tasks of cooking and cleaning, and they will have the pride of knowing that they have contributed positively to the family. Being needed means that you are important, that your family couldn't get by without you. That gives children a tremendous sense of security. Knowing you can take care of yourself also reinforces your own self worth.
7. Choose their own electives and extra-curricular activities
Parents have a tough job finding the fine balance between encouraging kids to try new things and at the same time to stick with activities long enough that they have the satisfaction of feeling truly accomplished. At the end of it all, though, don't you want to know that your kids have found something they really love? Not something that will look good on their college apps or will help them as adults--or even something that they are really good at--but just something that has them fully engaged and alive. I had a sad conversation with a teen this summer who started off playing two sports: Her mom loved one; her dad loved the other. When she needed to choose just one do just one because of time constraints, she felt like she was choosing between making one parent happy or the other. I asked if she is just crazy about this sport. She said she liked hanging out with her friends on the team but that no, she doesn't just love it. Imagine, she has spent hours and hours of her life pursuing something she only likes.
8. Talk to teachers to get clarification on assignments, to ask for help, to ask questions about comments and grades received.
Your child's teacher is his first boss. There is no academic lesson your child will learn that is more important than learning to negotiate his relationship with his teacher. Learning to communicate with people in more powerful positions than you is an essential life skill, and practicing with one's teacher is the perfect opportunity: The teacher may have power, but she is highly motivated for your child to be successful (after all, his success is her success). Support your child in this relationship by role playing and rehearsing what he might say when he needs something from his teacher. The more he can interact with his teacher, the easier it will become. Only step in on your child's behalf if your child has tried a few interactions and hasn't gotten anywhere. Again, the goal is not to swoop in and rescue your child from any feelings of discomfort. Rather it is to support him through an uncomfortable situation so that he will be more at ease next time.
9. Be able to handle money.
Personal finance is not my area of expertise, so for this one, I'm going to connect you to Bill Dwight, CEO of a nifty website/product called FamZoo (FamZoo.com). Read his blog here on 7 Practical Tips for Raising Money Smart Kids (http://blog.famzoo.com/2014/09/7-tips-for-raising-money-smart-kids.html). This was the area I failed to scaffold and had to scramble to fill in the gaps as my daughter went off to college. How I wish I had been developing her independence in this area all along.
10. Get around by themselves.
These days it seems like kids sit in the back seat of a car glued to an electronic device, oblivious to where they are, trusting their parent will get them to where they want to go. When my stepson was learning to drive, my husband and he went to a store they often had gone to before in the next town north. When they got back into the car, my husband said I want you to take us home without any help. The ten minute trip took forty-five minutes because even though he had made the drive north, my stepson hadn't really paid attention to where he was beyond the step-by-step instructions my husband had given him. Meanwhile, my daughter, two years away from being eligible for her driver's permit, was able to describe perfectly how to get home. I chalk this up to the fact that because she and I had taken public transportation--and she had taken it on her own once I had done it with her--she had learned the major streets and landmarks near by. Knowing she could find her way home--whether driving or on foot or using public transportation gave her enormous confidence.
Teaching your kids these lessons and setting these expectations for them for middle school means they will have time to master them by the time they hit high school. Armed with self sufficiency and self efficacy, your teenager will be able to focus on expanding into the world--for jobs, for internships, for summer travel programs, to be leaders on school teams and in school clubs. Most importantly, they will be ready to go off to college as the 18-year-old adults the state considers them to be. They will have skills to handle roommates, a large campus with lots of buildings, clean clothes, getting themselves fed, handling their money, talking to professors, deans and resident assistances, etc. etc. They will not find the need to text their parents every day just to stay on track. Can you imagine checking in with your parents every day when you were in college? No way! To set your kids free, train them up bit by bit.
by Elisabeth Stitt
The Christmas season is full of wonderful hope and possibility but even at its best, the holiday season demands a lot of us. Navigating your way through so that you experience the most joy and the least strife takes some planning. Here’s my take on what to say no to and what to say yes to so that your Christmas will be merry and bright.
1. SAY NO TO TOO MUCH
Sure, you may have the money to get everything on your child's wish list, but will you be increasing their happiness and enjoyment of what they get? Pretty assuredly not. Getting a mountain of presents all at once makes it almost possible to process. Kids rip into present after present with no time to appreciate what they have gotten. Furthermore, some parents go for quantity rather than quality: Instead of working from a thoughtful list of presents their kids have been expressing an interest in for some time, parents walk into a story, buy three or four presents and call their shopping done. On Christmas morning those presents may just feel like a lot of extra calories--yummy at first sight but not adding any substance. Think back to your childhood. What are the presents that made an impact, that you really remember? I remember the Christmas my parents made my sister and me a dollhouse. Even though I was pretty young, I was aware of how much work they had put in to it, of how excited they were. That was part of what made it special. We spent many, many hours playing with that dollhouse. Another Christmas they bought me a boom box. It was fire engine red and oh, so cool. I listened to the boom box every night going to bed for years. If I got other presents that Christmas, I don't remember them and I'm sure I could have done without. Don't measure present giving by number. Give your kids the chance to really savor what they do get.
2. SAY NO FOR THE SAKE OF SAYING NO
Think how many times between now and New Years you are likely to think, well, it's the holidays, so yes. And that's true. That's part of what holidays were traditionally for. People's lives were so hard that a holiday was a real bright spot. But let's face it. Our lives are not so bleak. Our level of indulgence is pretty high already. That makes it harder for the special times to stand out as especially sweet. It will help your children appreciate the "once-a-year" quality of the season if you are particularly consistent with your other no's. Knowing that you will be going to extra parties which mean late nights and too much sugar, say no to staying up 10 minutes later on a school night or to buying their favorite kids' cereal. In fact, you might even lean the other direction: Start bedtime ten minutes earlier and provide extra servings of spinach and broccoli. Find times when you say no for no other reason than giving your child the chance to fight you. Holidays are stressful. All the events get kids off their sleep and eating schedules. That builds up stress in kids' bodies. By saying no to one more story or to cookies for after school snack, that may push your child over the emotional edge. Hold your limit and allow the tantrum to come: That will give your kid the chance to blow off steam in a big way. It will be hard to stay with her during the tantrum, but she will be much more pleasant and cooperative when you go the the Christmas party Friday night.
3. SAY NO TO "SHOULD"
Christmas is very often a long list of things you have to do. It is not that some of the things on the list aren't very nice, but there is so much stress around them that they aren't fun anymore. Believe me. There is very little that MUST be done for Christmas to happen, and the cost of experiencing the season as a SHOULD is very high. So, what's the solution? You've guessed it. Go stand in the Land of Want to, the Land of Get to and consider which part of the Christmas season matters most to you. You can't do it all. No way. So there is no use just transferring your "should" list to your "get to" list. Really narrow it down. You should go to your neighbor's party, but do you want to? You should make Christmas cookies for the cookie exchange, but do you want to? You should go see the Nutcracker. It's a tradition and the kids love it! All these things sound nice, but to what on the list are you saying, "I can't wait!" Take that "I Can't Wait" item, and put it in your I want to list. Now plan for it. Make space for it. Make sure you are really going to enjoy it by anticipating what is going to pull you off course--traffic? no parking? your partner's cooperation?--and see what you can do to plan for it and smooth the way.
4. SAY NO TO CHRISTMAS FALLING ON MOM'S SHOULDERS ENTIRELY
I have had many conversations with women over the last month about the burden of Christmas. But how much of the burden is our own fault? When as parents we set out to create this magical time, then that is what it feels like to our children (and sometimes our spouses)--magic! But it is not magic. It's a lot of work! And what is the point if it makes us witchier and witchier? However, now that the pattern has been set, if you have taken on too much for Christmas, it may fall to you to retrain your family. How about a family meeting tonight? First step, go back to sorting your list into HAVE TO and GET TO. Remember, Christmas will come and go whether you do anything or not: There really are few have to's here. So talk as a family as to what is the essence of Christmas for your family. What do people value the most? How do you create that? And what part will EVERY person in the house contribute? Even a toddler can be given a helper job. If saying, "No," seems too harsh to you, think less. Think this year we are going to decorate less: We are going to just have a wreath on the door and say no to garlands of evergreens on the stairs. We are going to decorate the tree with two boxes of ornaments not four. We are going to make one kind of cookie, not three.
1. SAY YES TO ENGAGING KIDS IN THE PLANNING
Good for you. You have clarified what is on your "should" list and your "I can't wait" list. Now it is time to do the same exercise with your kids. Ask each child to write down the five activities/events that are important to him. Work with your child to make sure there are five ideas that are actually doable. Now promise to make at least ONE happen. By asking for five and only promising one, you make that event extra special. If you are lucky, there will be overlap among the kids--and maybe even with your list. Family Want-to's! Imagine how much happier the kids will be feeling it is their special request being honored! If you have a lot of children, you may have to put tighter parameters around the requests they can make. Perhaps each child gets to request a favorite meal sometime during the season. Maybe Grandma is insisting on ham for Christmas dinner and your oldest really wants you to make your famous beef stew. Good to know that you can honor the meal choice if not the day. For group activities that are going to pull at the family budget, you can work together to choose one. List out all the family events your kids want to do: going to a holiday show, going ice skating, getting your picture taken with Santa, etc. Have each child rank their lists from most desired to least desired. Look at the lists to see if there is a pattern: Can you give everyone her top first or second choice? This process may take a couple of sessions, but imagine at the end of it that every family member has felt heard. You have asked, "What is important about that to you? Why is that your favorite? Why else?" Really take the time to listen to their thinking. You might be able to get some of the needs met in other ways.
2. SAY YES TO GETTING A BABYSITTER OR EXTRA CLEANING HELP
Yes, of course you need a babysitter for the company holiday party. Lining that up is on your to do list. But what about just those extra date nights that are going to help you get through the holidays? Tell the kids you are holiday shopping and then skeedaddle out of there for a couple of hours in a coffee shop or an extended dinner. If you can't get your shopping done on line, at least make life easier by getting a sitter for a weekday night early in the season when the mall won't be such a zoo. Is a babysitter too expensive? Offer to take another family's kids for the evening if they will take yours another night. If you are NOT the parent who usually arranges babysitting, lining a babysitter up may be the most enormous, appreciated gift you can give. Perhaps your family would most benefit from spending money on extra cleaning. Does it stress you out that your in-laws are coming and you want the house beautifully clean for them? I would certainly give up a package under the tree for that kind of peace of mind. Your children will benefit from you being less stressed. Given the choice between more presents and parents who are hanging by a thread, most kids will choose to parents who are in a good mood, ready to be loving and present.
3. SAY YES TO YOU
Underneath all the things you are and will do this season--underneath all the love you give and help you offer and empathy you share, underneath all the thankless and Herculean feats you pull off every single day of every year for the family that you love so dearly — underneath it all, there’s a YOU. And YOU matter. You matter so much that your whole family couldn’t be and do what it wants and needs to do without you. You matter so much that your kids couldn’t survive or succeed or live happy lives making the world a better place if you didn’t do what you do. You even matter so much that people like me dedicate our lives to support you. And you do so much for others, for your family, that it matters how well you take care of YOU, too. So, say yes to self care. Say yes to enough sleep, to eating healthy food, to putting your feet up for ten minutes in the middle of the week. If you apply regular self care, you will have the energy and good will that will make the rest of the season fun.
4. SAY YES TO AWE
These days--whether Christians or not--most Americans participate in aspects of the Holiday season. If yours is not a family that worships regularly, you might have to work extra hard to find meaning in all the frenzied activity. Don't worry about the specifics of the spirituality but do look for the sense of awe. Look for beauty--in decorations, in colored lights, in the nighttime sky, in a candle flickering in the window. Look for examples of people's kindness. Maybe people only do things in the spirit of Christmas when they should be helping year round, but I'm just glad that they are reaching out for whatever reason. Over my years in the classroom, I have seen students touched by the season who are really moved by being ask to reach outside themselves and their own pleasure. I think they are looking for that awe, the respect you feel when you are aware of how strong people have to be--of their challenges and burdens, of the stunning examples of how they push on despite life being hard. Hearing those stories has a profound effect on me and my students, causing us to focus on being grateful for each other and for all we have. Finding moments to let that awe fill you is the best thing of all to say yes to.
I sincerely hope you consider this list and look for ways to make this season merry and bright.
Here's to you and yours!
As always, if you are feeling overwhelmed, that is a time to engage with a coach. I love working with my clients on becoming clear, confident, focused and sane--especially in this most wonderful--but let's face it--most crazy time of year. Sign up today for your complimentary session HERE.
www.elisabethstitt.com • Joyful Parenting Coaching • 650.248.8916
by Elisabeth Stitt
YOU'RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!
Has your child said that to you? Did it make your blood boil? It can be really hard when a pint-sized person pits every cell in his body against you and down right scary when he is taller and outweighs you. Of course, all you want is what is best for him--clean teeth or the benefit of kale or the sleep that will restore her brain--and there he is, hands clenched, opposing you strenuously, demanding his due as a person with his own wants, needs and desires. You might be tempted to wring his neck.
But did you ever ask yourself what you are doing to contribute to your child's bad attitude?
MISTAKE #1: Treating your children rudely.
Not being rude does not mean we don't get to tell our kids what to do. We do. What it really means is that we need to show our children the same consideration we would show a work colleague, a neighbor or spouse in asking them to do something. We wouldn't dream of just demanding that a neighbor do something. No way! We are polite. We say please and thank you. We use softening phrases like "I would really like it if..." or "It would be very much appreciated if..." and then we make our request. I hope you would never march up to a neighbor and demand compliance instantly. And yet we do it with our kids all the time.
Now, that being said. With strong willed children, less is often more. Using too many words will allow for loopholes and ambiguity. You will command--not demand. What's the difference? The tone and the attitude. A command is clear, firm and confident: Coats on hooks, please! The tone is not harsh, strident or critical. The attitude is not I-am-your-mother-so-you-better-listen-to-me-or-else. No. Your cheerful reminder needs to connote we are a family and this is our routine.
Some people say you shouldn't thank children for tasks you expect them to do anyway. I disagree. I am big in favor of thank you. My husband is the hunter and gatherer in our house. He pretty much always takes responsibility for ordering and picking up take out. Just because it is the pattern in our house that that is his regular job--to the point where I expect that he will do it without having to ask him--does that mean I am not going to thank him? Of course, not. I am very grateful to be fed. I am always going to say thank you. In the same way, when my kids set or clear the table or take out the garbage, I show my appreciation. I certainly have trained them to say thank you to me for the things I do to make our house run more smoothly.
MISTAKE #2: Demanding instant compliance my way or the highway
Clearly, we are not going to stop making demands on our children. We expect them to do their homework, to eat their dinner and to take the family dog for a walk. On the other hand, we need to recognize how hard it is for a strong, independent soul to be told when, how and where to do something--especially without any explanation. I don't know if you feel this way, but I find it very annoying to have to put down something I am doing to jump up to do someone else's bidding. I still remember cringing at the sound of my mother's heals coming briskly through the house. I never knew when she was going to swoop in with some proclamation of What-needs-to-be-done-right-now! It wasn't that I didn't want to be helpful. I just wanted some advance warning, so I wouldn't get caught in the middle of an especially good chapter of Nancy Drew.
The trick to finding the balance between your child as an individual with wants and needs and the needs of the big picture is choice. Keeping within the guidelines of what will work for your family, look to where you can offer choice, starting with questions like do you want peas or squash and moving on to choices like would you like to do your homework before snack or after? There are lots of ways to give your child some options without giving up the expectation that something is going to be a certain way. If you find it difficult, think through your child's day and write down the choices you might offer. Here are some examples to help guide you:
With little kids:
Would you like to fly to the car or be a choochoo train?
Am I brushing alligator teeth tonight or polar bear?
Are we washing your face first or brushing teeth?
Are you going to brush your teeth and have me inspect or am I going to
brush your teeth and have you inspect?
Do you want your dinosaur coat or your penguin sweater?
Is your coat Elsa's cape or an invisibility cloak?
With elementary school kids
Are you going to do math first or reading?
Would you like to chop the veggies now or be in charge of stirring the soup later?
Do you want to take a walk or shoot some baskets?
Are you taking your bath before dinner or after?
Do you want to work here or in the kitchen?
With middle school and high school kids
Would you like to walk the dog this morning or this afternoon?
Would you like to walk the dog or clean out the fish tank?
When cleaning the garage are you going to clear the heavy things or the light things first?
Are you wearing a dress or nice slacks to the theater?
We are having dinner at Grandma's tonight. Will you drive with us or meet us there?
If your child chooses to put off the task until later, you can double check that he has agreed to do the task at the time with no further argument. If your child won't choose either, you can offer another choice: Propose an option that will work for me, or I will choose for you. A child who is unused to being given choices and is just blindly rebelling against being told what to do will push the limits for a while to see if you really mean it. Just stand firm; she will come around eventually.
MISTAKE #3 Telling your kids to do the same thing twice
When I learned to train my dog, the dog learned what he needed to learn in around six weeks. It took me six months. The hardest part for me to learn was to give the command once and then use my focus and body to see that he followed through. When we call out commands from the other room or as we are busy adding salt to the soup, we cannot expect to be taken seriously. Think about it. How responsive are you? Do you leap the first time your child makes a request for something? I bet not. Usually we keep doing whatever task we are involved with and wait either until a natural break in the task or until the child ups the ante in his insistence. Likewise, your kids will not follow your wishes when requests are made in such a haphazard way.
Here's what to do If you want your child to do something the first time you ask: Stop what you are doing. Go to the child, get his attention and make the request (cheerfully, firmly, confidently). Now, I am assuming that you have already corrected Mistake #2 and have given your child some choice about when or how to do the chore, so now you are really giving a reminder. Stay present until your child transitions to the requested task. Make eye contact. You may need to put your hand on whatever it is the child is doing. Let your eye contact and perhaps a hand on the shoulder do the work here. You don't need to repeat yourself, just be quietly, calmly unyielding. Most children will shift to the agreed upon task. Some will need to have a tantrum before they do it. The tantrum is likely totally unrelated to the request at hand. That's okay. Let him have the tantrum anyway. We he has had a good cry, he will be ready to follow through on the task. Obviously, the more you have done this with your kids when they are young, the more they will know that you are not moving until they move.
MISTAKE #4Treating your kid as an unthinking child rather than as a reasonable human being
You want your kids' cooperation--not just today but over time. Short term compliance is easy to get with yelling and intimidation. You get it at the cost of the long term relationship, however. Your goal needs to be to include your children in a way that honors who they are at their core.
In his work The Prophet. Kalhil Gibran, the 19th century philosopher, writes
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
What this really means is that we have to be very careful about telling our children what to do and how to be. That authoritarian approach appears to work with mild children who just want to make everyone happy, but it is at a very high cost. Telling your child what to do all the time can end in one of two ways: rebellion (and that makes life miserable for everyone) or submission, which appears to be the better option but results in children who are not only afraid to express their own views but who may cease to have opinions all together. If every time you open your mouth to express a desire or interest, you are redirected or immediately shut down, you very quickly learn not to express your preferences.
Even well intentioned parents fall into this trap. It is time to pick next year's classes, and a parent gushes about how beautiful French is and why would anyone want to learn a language as guttural as German. This parent may well think she has left the choice to her child. But such a comment will feel like a proclamation to a mild mannered child. The mild-mannered child would never risk falling into the group of people his mother has contempt for (ie, those who want to learn guttural languages); he will certainly take French rather than risk her disapproval or disappointment. The rebellious child may well choose German just for satisfaction of thwarting his mother. Neither child has chosen out of true interest.
So, how do we find the balance? Of course it is your job to keep your child safe, and it is also your job to raise an adult who treats others kindly and behaves with consideration for the wider community. At the same time, it is not respectful to constantly tell your child what to do, how to behave and certainly not to suggest that they may or may not like something. This is a slippery slope. Think how often we tell our young children to try something to eat. You'll like it! we say in a bright cheery voice. I remember I told my mother once that I didn't want to go to the beach, and she said to me, "Of course, you want to go to the beach. You love the beach!" And that is true. I do love the beach. But that day I didn't feel like going to the beach. How presumptuous of her discount my opinion and brush it aside. Similar events happened often enough that I found it was much easier to just not care very much--about where we went or what we ate or what we did when we got there. A rebellious child, on the other hand, who is not given some space to assert herself will not shut down. No, she will push back harder and harder until every request becomes a battle.
The way to give your child space to assert herself is by using open ended questions that require her to think and plan. More open ended questions might look like this:
What kind of help do you anticipate needing with your homework this week?
Here is a list of activities that will work with our schedule this fall. Which do you want?
Of everything that we do over the Christmas season, what is most important to you?
It is important to me that we go to the Christmas Eve service. I know you don't
like going to the evening service. Can you think of anything that will make
it easier to go?
If you get cold in that outfit how are you going to deal with it in a way that doesn't
impact the rest of the family negatively?
The pediatrician is concerned that you are not getting the protein you need. Here is list of good protein sources. Please rank them from the one you are most willing to try to least willing to try.
Wet towels left on the floor get moldy and stink up the place. Please come up with a plan to make sure that doesn't happen.
These questions acknowledge that your child is a person and can be part of the solution. Your expectations are still clear. Homework will get done, kids will sign up for activities and protein will be eaten. If the child feels her views are heard and considered, she will be more willing to go along even when your answer is no and even when it is not something she really wants to do.
Perhaps you grew up in a household where you just did what your parents told you to do. You didn't talk back. You didn't question it. Those kinds of households are increasingly rare, however. Society has shifted such that we no longer blindly accept authority--not that of our police keeping forces, not that of our bosses, not that of our teachers, and by extension not that of our parents. For this reason, cooperation has to be earned and won. And actually, that is fine with me. Treating kids respectfully teaches and models for them how to treat others respectfully. We want our kids to be thinkers. We want them to come up with solutions that will work for the whole family.
Correct these four mistakes that often have your kids talking back to you, and you will be on your way to having a more harmonious home.
Is talking back a big problem in your family? Let's do a complimentary 20-minute strategy session. I'd love to help you fix these issues with your particular child. Sign up HERE.
Please leave a comment. What techniques have worked for you when it comes to backtalk? My post Set Your Kids Free: 10 Things They Need to Be Able to Do on Their Own by Middle School generated a lot of interest. Engaging your kids in a positive way about cooperation in your household is another of those skills that your kids should have mastered by middle school. It is all a part of taking responsibility for your own actions within the context of the greater community (in this case the family community).
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There is no doubt that your child is going to have qualities that drive you crazy. There is no doubt that your child is going to have qualities that cause you concern. But your job as a parent is to be your child’s champion, to find the good in what your child presents to you. Why? Because I bet you have experienced the pain of being mislabeled or misunderstood.
Try something for me. Fill in the blank: I am too _________________. What’s the word that popped into your head? Were you too shy? Too anxious? Too loud? Too bold? Too Forward? And whose voice in your head gave you that message? Your mom or dad? A grandparent? Or maybe a teacher?
Try this one: I am not ____________________ enough. What word did you use this time? Fast, smart, tall, thin, athletic, talented. All those come to mind.
Over the years as a teacher I would ask my seventh graders to complete those two sentences. What surprised me first was how easy it was for them to do the exercise, even though they were just twelve. These were not labels they were getting in their teens. No, these were labels that were already deeply stamped on them, ones that they had absorbed fully not as labels that could be removed but as gospel truths. The second surprise was that as I heard their labels, they were so often not qualities that I associated with the child I knew sitting in my classroom.
What became clear to me is how fully children accept the labels we give them as adults. Well, let’s start working that to our advantage. When we think about and talk about our kids, instead of focusing on what we perceive as their deficits, let’s focus on their strengths.
My daughter Julie is as stubborn as the day is long. Isn’t that wonderful?! From the get-go her persistence has been a sight to behold. As soon as she could crawl, she went everywhere that was open to her, whether it was leaving no toy undiscovered on the toy shelf or no stone unturned in the garden. She is a committed truth seeker. She didn’t have much language as a toddler, but I sure knew what she was asking as she tested me over and over: Really, Mom? Is the stove really hot? You say it is, but I better try it out for myself. What does hot mean? Oh, and Mom, will you really follow through when I do something you have told me not to?
A lot of children will cross some limit you have given because they are tired or hungry and they just lose their control. Julie had superb control. I would tell her not to throw sand, and she would wait until I had moved away to sit on a bench for some adult conversation, look to make sure I was watching her and then, her eyes on me and not on the person she was throwing sand at, would carefully, deliberately throw the sand. And yes, every time I would follow through. What other children would accept as true, Julie investigated three times as long, coming back to whatever was in question again and again. Wow! What a kid. And what an adult she has become! A college sophomore, she is diligent and dogged. She wants to go into neuroscience, a field where I think her stubbornness will serve her well. I have no doubt that she has the stamina and tenacity to keep pushing and poking for the answers just the way she pushed and poked my patience when she was small.
I hope I never told her, “Julie, you are too stubborn” or even “Stop being so stubborn,” though I’m sure when I asked if she had to have all the answers right now, she heard the threadbare frustration in my voice. Maybe even she even heard my internal prayer, “Please, please, please keep me from killing this kid!” She was not an easy toddler. Nope. She was the Energizer Bunny on steroids and at times she did me in, but her strong will and her clarity did leave me in awe.
So, your assignment this week is to consider the qualities in your children that you find the most difficult or worrisome. Perhaps you have labeled them—out loud or in your mind. Are they irresponsible? Bossy? Rebellious? Now, go online and do a search for synonyms of the quality that is such a challenge to you. Pick 8-10 synonyms and rank them from most negative to most positive, from a weakness to a strength. For Julie, in my dark days it was obstinate, obdurate and obstreperous, but when I was my best parent I rejoiced at how single-minded and steadfast she was, how fixed and firm.
Once you have done your assignment, let us know here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org what positive terms you have found. What surprised you? How has doing the assignment shifted your perspective?
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I was speaking with a mother about training her son to do things on his own, and her concern was that she would miss the opportunities that those tasks give her for extra hugs and kisses with him. I love that she is worried about that (especially with her boy, because I've read studies that show that even in infancy we touch our boys less than our girls), but to me that is a separate issue. After all, I don't get my husband up and dress him, nor do I make his breakfast. Yet I am there along side him, getting myself dressed and making my own breakfast. We chat and laugh and share things (including some extra hugs and kisses!) as we orbit around each other. The kids fold into this scene naturally as we are all getting ready. So how do you create it?
If you are already having to wake your child in the mornings for childcare or school, it is not too early to introduce him to an alarm clock. If you want some hugs and snuggles, ask him to wake YOU up. You can have a ritualized morning hug before you get out of bed. If you are concerned about connecting with him in the morning, have him help you make your bed and then go help him make his bed. The skill of interdependence is also an awesome one for kids to learn. When the family is helping each other, a child is still gaining a sense of importance and competence. It is not just that Mom and Dad serve me all the time (which leads kids to either feeling entitled or to doubting their own self-efficacy).
Make getting dressed in the morning easy for little ones by putting clothes that fit (and you are willing for them to wear given the season) in drawers or on shelves that they can reach. Look for pants with elastics and shirts with neck openings wide enough that your child can push his head through fairly easily. Either buy clothes where the colors match or let him develop his own fashion sense over time. Undressing is easier than dressing, so starting at 12-18 months, pull your child's cloths off most of the way and have him wriggle out of the rest giving just enough assistance that he gets to struggle a little but not to the point of getting really upset.
For breakfast also set kids up for success by putting their bowls, spoons, and cereal low enough for them to get to those items themselves. As soon as they are using a booster seat at the table, they are big enough to get those items and bring them to the table. You can still pour the milk, though if you give him a little pitcher, a three or four year old can pour his own milk. Train him first by giving him lots of opportunities for practice pouring water--in the tub or the backyard on a warm day are great places for this. Provide a variety of different kinds and sizes of containers. Through lots of experimentation he will internalize a sense of how much water in one container will be needed to fill another container. His control and ability not to spill will get better and better.
When it comes to making lunches, have your two year old right there next to you. Get her a stool she can pull up next to the counter. As you make her sandwich and cut up her fruit, talk her through what you are doing. Narrate how you scrape off the extra peanut butter on the inside of the jar and show her over and over how you use a knife safely. She can start to practice using a butter knife by spreading softened butter on a piece of bread. This is a skill she can practice on a Saturday afternoon for snack when you have the time and patience to monitor her. Children love to help and they love to do things on their own. Three and four year olds can take responsibility for putting any staples--baggies of crackers or fruit snacks--into their lunch boxes. Again, they can help you with this task on the weekend when you have time to fill up containers for the week. Just as they practiced pouring water, sacrifice a box of cheerios and have them practice using a 1/2 cup measuring cup to scoop out cheerios and put them in baggies or small boxes.
Keeping the Long Run in Mind
But it is just so much faster if I do it myself, I hear you saying. And yes, that is true in the short run, but by the time my daughter was seven or eight she was making lunch entirely on her own, including adding things we needed to the shopping list. That took five or six years of training. But for the next eight or nine years, I didn't give one thought to her lunch. Eventually, since I also packed a lunch to take to my school, we streamlined the process. Mom, she would ask, do want a sandwich today? Yes! Thanks, Darling. Meanwhile I would fill two baggies of carrots--one for her and one for me. We each knew we were responsible for our own lunches, but we were happy to help if we were doing it together. By the time she was in high school and super stressed by schoolwork, there were days from time to time when I would make her whole lunch before she got out to the kitchen. The look of gratitude on her face was as great as if I had given her a precious jewel wrapped in a box. Likewise, there were days when she was up early to study for a test, and she would make me my tea, so it would be hot and ready when I walked into the kitchen. That felt like a gift from the heavens! But really it was just the payback for the work I put in in the early years.