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Joyful Musings--a weekly blog

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

Filtering by Tag: respect

When is a Demand for a Popsicle Not Really a Demand for a Popsicle?

Elisabeth Stitt

We get thrown as parents when our kids ask (demand!) something that they know we are going to say no to. Have we ever said yes to a popsicle for breakfast? No! So why would they even think to ask? Read to find out .

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How to Bring Out the Best in Your Kids

Elisabeth Stitt

Parents often worry that their kids aren’t motivated to do anything beyond play video games or post on social media. The truth of the matter is is that there is a lot in kids’ daily lives that works to squash personal motivation. Here are some tips parents can use to rekindle their child’s natural eagerness to interact with the world and to take pride in what they do.

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Should You Make Your Kid Apologize? (Part I)

Elisabeth Stitt

Should You Make Your Kid Apologize?

That’s a tricky question! There is no doubt that our children need to understand the idea of an apology but given that there are different kinds of apologies for different situations, teaching our children to offer an apology is not a straight forward task. It certainly won’t be taught with a simple rule. Or with a single iteration. Let’s consider the nature of apologies and where our own practice lines up with our expectations of our children.

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When It Is Time for Consequences

Elisabeth Stitt

So far, everything you have done to build your consistency muscle has focused on the positive--you have modeled correct behavior, praised correct behavior and trained for correct behavior.  But still your child is using disrespectful behavior!  Now is when it get's real, when you are going to set an expectation and then hold the limit.  This will probably mean that you need to have a consequence ready--one that you can absolutely follow through on.  

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4 COMMON MISTAKES PARENTS MAKE THAT CAUSE THEIR KIDS TO TALK BACK TO THEM.

Elisabeth Stitt

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).

Did this blog resonate with you?  Use the share button below to further the conversation.   

Building the Consistency Muscle: Tip 4: Anticipate the Need for Consequences

Elisabeth Stitt

Let's review the first three steps to becoming a more consistent parent:

1.  Find the Positive:  Start noticing your kids and pointing out behavior you are liking.

2. Follow Through on Your Promises:  Teach your kids your word is good.  

3. Pick Your Battles:  Being consistent is hard, so stick to the values you really care about.

So far, everything you have done to build your consistency muscle has been in stealth mode--your kids haven't known that you've been doing all this hard work.  Now is when it get's real, when you are going to set an expectation and then hold the limit.  This will probably mean that you need to have a consequence ready--one that you can absolutely follow through on.  

The hardest part of following through with children when you it is something is knowing in the moment what your next step is going to be.  Let’s say you and your partner have come to agreement that a particular expectation is important to you.  Perhaps you really want family members to speak respectfully to each other.  You are committed to calling your children on it every time.  So, the first time one child puts his sibling down, what are you going to do about it? 

The exact next step is not so important as long as you both agree on the step, and as a general rule the reaction needs to get a little stronger each time.  When thinking about consequences, it has to be something you are willing to carry out, or there is no point in putting it on the list.  Go do half an hour research on line and you will find lots of strong opinions on consequences. 

Here are mine:  Consequences should be as light as possible to get the job done.  With some children, their desire to please you is so great, it is enough to state your strong expectation that In this family we speak respectfully to each other.  For another child, the threat of a consequence will be enough:  The next time you speak disrespectfully, you will write a paragraph on how it feels to be disrespected.  Some children will actually have to write the paragraph for the lesson to sink in. Some children will have to write the paragraph and even choose something nice they can do for their sibling, as well. With some children, they will need your help writing the paragraph.  That's okay!  Remember, the purpose of the consequence is not punishment.  It is learning.  Sitting down with you to organize a paragraph on respect is a great chance to open up the conversation about what makes, say, the relationship with a sibling hard.  

Do not take it personally when one child needs more opportunities to learn the lesson.  Stay calm, and have the next consequence ready when the child chooses to ignore the rule.  Quite possibly the child is really trying.  Encourage them to keep trying.  Tell them, Next time I know you will choose to think before you speak.  Tell them, don’t worry; it will get easier with practice.  (Keep reminding yourself how hard it is for you to be consistent with your rules!  It is likely at least as hard for your child to learn to be consistently respectful.) 

Once you have stated the rule and the consequence, it is essential for you to follow through.  That does not mean, however, that you cannot or should not have taken time to hear the child’s side of the story.  What is he feeling?  Why is he having such a hard time being respectful towards his sibling?  What does he need from his sibling?  How could he express his feelings and his needs in a way that is respectful?  Have these conversations early and often.  Again, always keep in mind, discipline is about teaching and training a way of being: It is not about punishment. 

One final note:  If the rule is In this family, we speak respectfully towards each other, that includes you!  If you or your partner uses sarcasm or insults or a disrespectful approach with children or adults, you need to follow the same stream of consequences.  If it is really hard for you to curb your language, get some help.  Find a coach, see a counselor.  Do whatever it takes to figure out what the block is.  In the meantime, be prepared to model taking your consequence with good graces!

Okay.  It is time for you to give this a try.  You have the pieces all lined up.  Give it a go, and then leave comment about how it went.  Don't forget:  This is a skill.  It takes time and practice.  Don't get discouraged if your kids throw you for a loop.  The good news?  You'll get lots of chances to practice!

More questions? Feel free to contact me directly for a Complementary Strategy Session.  

www.eliabethstitt.com

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September Newsletter: Back to School: What Teachers Expect

Elisabeth Stitt

Do you ever feel judged by your child’s teacher?  

I promise you, teachers have an internal checklist of what they hope their students will be bringing from home.  They know they won’t get it all the time. They know that their job is to deal with the child who walks through the door no matter what he brings.  They know that every family—no matter how wonderful the parents—suffers ups and downs and may take some time to right itself.  But if they were able to write a list of what they consider primarily the parents’ responsibility for sending kids ready to learn, this would be it: 

1.     BASIC NEEDS MET.  Perhaps it seems obvious that it is the parent’s job to make sure that the child comes to school with enough sleep, not smelling, well fed and appropriately dressed.  This is too often not the case, however.  Parents will claim they can’t get their child to bed on time or they can’t get their child to wear anything but the too short shorts and the diaphanous top slipping off the shoulder to school.  Many of us teachers are parents ourselves.  We get it.  We know it is hard.  We still see it as your job to figure out how to make it happen (though we are happy to offer our perspective and experience). 

2.     SHOWING RESPECT AND CONSIDERATION.  A teacher has to help kids develop a definition of what respect means at school, but the basic concept needs to come from home.  Have you worked in an office where in the break room there is a sign that says, “Your mother doesn’t work here; clean up after yourself"? Well, the same idea goes for school.  Your teacher is not your mother.   Her job is to teach you academics, not to nag you to clean up after yourself or to lecture you about touching other people’s things without their permission or to stop interrupting. 

3.     HOMEWORK DONE BY THE CHILD.   Someday, I will write a whole column on homework (including my general belief that there should be very little of it), but for today let me say this:  The main purpose of homework is to give the child the chance for independent practice.  It is much less important that the child do the homework right than that she do it herself.  If she has worked the allotted time (find out what your school’s policy is), have her stop. If her teacher gives her a hard time for not finishing, train her to talk to her teacher ahead of class, to explain to her teacher that that is how much she got done in the allotted time.  Teachers do not know how long the work they assign takes:  They need accurate feedback.  They do not need perfection, and they certainly do not need you to sit with your child, while he does his work.  Sure, if you have a kid who takes 15 mins. to settle down, you can make sure the timer starts after that 15 mins., but the actual work should still be done on his own. 

4.     TEACH YOUR CHILD TO ADVOCATE FOR HIMSELF.  Did your mother write notes to the teacher all the time?  Mine didn’t. She would, however, talk through with me my conflicts with a teacher.  She would listen to me, acknowledge my frustration, but then she would ask me how the teacher was likely to be feeling, what the teacher’s priorities were.  She would help me sort out where I was only one of thirty children in the room and where I could reasonably make a request.  She would role play how to talk to teachers, so I could respectfully let them know my wants or needs.  If a few of my tries did not solve the problem, only then would she approach the teacher—and then it was to enlist the teacher’s help in solving the problem, not to condemn her, and certainly not to make excuses for me. 

5.     LIFE AND CHARACTER SKILLS.  Caring, consideration, compassion, gratitude, thoughtfulness, diligence, organization, persistence, tolerance, trustworthiness, patience, etc.  These get practiced at school, of course, but they need to be taught and modeled at home regularly and explicitly.  These are all traits you can start working on in toddlerhood.  Yes, mastery takes time and repetition, and teachers will work to reinforce these skills, but you have the greatest power to train your children in these areas.  Your daily reflection with them of where they have—or how they could have--displayed these qualities establishes their importance to your child.    

Kids who come to school with the above conditions in place at home learn better and take more joy in their learning.  They are able to regulate themselves and are ready to take full advantage of all that a teacher has to offer.  This is teachers’ greatest hope. 

June Newsletter: Building Trust

Elisabeth Stitt

 

As parents we want to be able to trust our kids.  So how do we raise kids we can trust? 

First and foremost we model trustworthiness right from the very beginning.  Every time your baby cries and you pick her up, you are teaching her she can trust you to attend to her needs. With your toddler, you show her trust by being consistent with your discipline.  As soon as you find a need to say, “no, that will hurt you,” you show her she can trust you to keep her safe.      

Later, you show your preschooler trustworthiness by keeping your word.  You pick her up on time.  You read her the story you promised you would read tonight.  You make cookies when you say you are going to.  If you can't keep your word, apologize sincerely, explain why and genuinely try not to let it happen that often. 

For your school age child, you model the truth by telling the truth in front of her.  If you want to take a sick day to do something fun with your kids, either communicate that to your boss in private or let your children hear you being up front with your boss about why you are taking time off:  Don't let your kid hear you "call in sick" and then take her to the zoo.  Remember, actions speak louder than words. 

One of the biggest ways to build trust is to protect your family time.  The debate over whether quality time is more important than quantity time continues.  Ask any child, however, and she will say she wants both: she wants to be involved right along side her parents’ lives, and she wants them to be involved in hers.  A parent helps build trust with a child by being there along side her, not taking over but guiding her when needed.  Do not confuse time when you are checking your email or texting a colleague as time with your children, even if they are standing right there; that is not something they cannot be a part of.  Helping you to fold laundry or prep dinner or water the garden are activities where she can show her competence and responsibility.  Those shared activities build trust. 

The connectedness gained through shared activities pays off when you have teenagers.  If you have been working along side each other, she has learned to trust you and she has shown over and over through her behavior that you can trust her.  In high school, she has no reason to lie because she respects you and does not want to lose your respect.  She may argue with you about her curfew, but in the end she will accept your word because she can trust your judgment.  After all, you have shown that she can trust you from day one.