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Joyful Musings--a weekly blog

Joyful Parenting Coaching is focused on clarity, consistency, connection, being an effective parent, finding balance as a parent, and above all being a confident and joyous parent. Topics include communication, having difficult conversations, having constructive conversations, chores, routines, family meetings,  I teach parent education and parenting classes because parenting is a skill—not something we are born knowing. Get the parenting skills you need today!

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Why Kids Lie and What Parents Can Do About It

Elisabeth Stitt

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


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? 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 






From Monster to Citizen

Elisabeth Stitt


I wish I could show you a picture of my girl.  I'd say, Isn't she beautiful?

And she's pretty fantastic, if a mom may brag.  
And as a toddler she was fantastic, too--fantastically strong-willed, fantastically persistent, and fantastically hard.  
Seriously.  On her first birthday, I woke up and burst into tears.  Everyone had told me that if I made it through the first year, I would be just fine.  Well, I knew that with this kid, year two was going to be twice as hard and boy, oh boy, was I right.  

When she was a baby, I could distract Julie from something she wanted or could charm her through things she didn't want to do.  Then it was a like a switch went off.  She used to look at me like, uh, Mom, you know I'm not really that stupid.  I was going for that electrical outlet and even taking me into the other room isn't going to make me forget that.   She had very clear ideas about what she wanted--and it felt like 90% of the day, it was the exact opposite of what I wanted.  Other children you could distract or redirect.  Other children would sit quietly on your lap--at least for a little bit.  Other children did not have to discover everything for themselves (Is it really hot, Mom?  Maybe it is not as hot as you think.  I better touch it and find out for myself!). 

Julie was a late talker.  For a long time she used muh, duh and bah to communicate most of her needs.  Her one articulate phrase early on was I do!  

Well, there wasn't enough time in the day to let her do everything on her own.  The result was what felt like around 18 months of nonstop crying, whining, kicking, and running away from me.

I thought it was going to do me in.  But I guess my daughter comes by her personality naturally because when the going gets tough, the tough get going.  

In a moment of clarity--after the end of an especially horrific day--I realized that one of us was going to have to be the adult--and I guessed it was going to have to be me.  

So, what did I do?  Well, for one, I continued to love her to pieces and to give her a ton of empathy that it is hard when you want to do things by yourself, your way, and that just is not going to work for everyone else.  Then I set firm limits, breathed deeply through her crying jags, and waited her out.  Slowly, the combination of knowing she could trust me not to budge if she had a fit and the increase in her own physical competence meant she was able to do a lot more on her own and when she couldn't, it wasn't a need for tears.  

That time seemed like it went on for ever, but as I look back, really as she approached three, she was a quite reasonably civil human being most of the time.  

And now?  Wow.  Words cannot describe how proud I am of her.

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

Elisabeth Stitt

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

Having a regular routine helps.                               

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you struggling to let go of your worry and doubt?  Let me help!  Sign up for a complimentary coaching session on any of these topics HERE.

Elisabeth Stitt

Happy Mother's Day

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

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