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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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WHAT SHOULD I DO IF MY KINDERGARTENER IS OUT OF CONTROL AT SCHOOL?

Elisabeth Stitt

 

There can be lots of reasons why your child is out of control. What you should do depends on why he is out of control. (For the purpose of simplicity, I am going to address this with the masculine gender, though it could just as easily be a girl who is out of control.)

Is this his first experience with school? These days, Kindergarten can be a real shock for kids who have had not gone to childcare or preschool up until now in their lives. It could just be that he is totally unused to having restrictions placed on him. Other children may have already learned “school” skills like lining up quietly, taking turns, sitting still, listening to the teacher’s directions. If your son has not, start by reassuring him that he will learn these skills and it will get easier and easier to control himself.

If he is not out of control at home, is it because you always accommodate him? Perhaps he has never had to throw a fit to get what he wants, because it has always been easy to give him whatever he wants. Again, sometimes with an only child, a parent does not even realize how often he is giving into his child’s demands because there is no other child making counter demands. If that is the case, although it might make life at home harder in the short run, you can lovingly teach him about limits by beginning to set some expectations. Perhaps you are going to ask him to sit at the grown-up table and turn off the tv during dinner. If he has always eaten in front of the tv, this could be a big battle. That’s okay. Right now, you are trying to teach him that life will not always be arranged just as he would like it to be. Just offer him lots of sympathy that it is hard when expectations change but assure him that you are looking forward to having him at the table so that there can be pleasant conversation at dinner. If he has a tantrum, stay with him, empathize that change is hard and keep repeating that it will get easier. The day will come when he will sit happily at the table and share in the dinner conversation. Learning to do this at home will help him to learn to do it at school.

Kids can also lose control at school because they are overstimulated. Again, if he has not been in a group setting before, the shear number of kids could be overloading his system. Or the noise. Or the lights of the classroom. Or the many transitions. Talk to your son. Say, “You seem to be having a hard time controlling yourself at school. Why is that?” If he has a clear answer, go to the solution phase. Talk with his teacher and get her input on ways to give your son some relief. Ideas might include permission to go to a quiet corner, to step outside, or to find a desk that is away from everyone else (or at least is together with quieter students). Some teachers might allow him to wear ear plugs or ear buds (that aren’t attached to anything) if noise is an issue. If light is an issue, maybe he can work underneath his desk. Keep trying different solutions until you find one that allows him to remain in class without over loading.

Does your child lean towards anxiety? This could be another reason he is out of control at school. If this is the case, yelling and running around may be an effort to calm his nervous system. He can learn to replace out-of-control outbursts with other calming, anxiety reducing techniques like deep breathing, closing his eyes, squeezing a ball or stuffed animal. At home you can help him by training him to be able to imagine a calm, safe space so that he can call that image up in his mind when he gets stressed at school.

If none of these possible reasons for his out of control behavior feel right, see if you can get permission from the teacher to observe him at school some day. Just sit in the back of the room and take notes. Write down the time and what you see in language that is neutral as possible (ie, what any objective observer would, not what his loving mother would intuit). Share these observation notes with the teacher and principal of your son’s school. They are experienced professionals and this data will help them make recommendations tailored to your son.

Teaching Kids to Meditate: Ages 2 to 12

Elisabeth Stitt

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

What Is the Best Resource to Teach Kids Phonics?

Elisabeth Stitt

You. You are your child’s best resource.

The more you engage with your child, the more language she will learn. When you sing songs and chants, especially nursery rhymes, you are training her ear to hear differences and similarities in language. When you exaggerate the “buh” of bat and compare it to the “puh” of pat, you are teaching phonics in an organic way. Of course, you can also name the letter. Point out to your child she needs to p-p-p-pat the cat. That’s the letter P! You can even make a joke. You can say, “Don’t b-b-b-bat the cat with a B! Cats like p-p-p-pats with a P!”

Phonics is simply teaching the sound or sounds associated with a letter, combination of letters (like “sh”) or syllables.

Teach phonics awareness by connecting words to his how life.

Start with words that are the most meaningful to your child: his own name, Mom, Dad, the names of his siblings and pets. If he has a dolly or stuffy he is attached to, teach that. If he has a name like Thomas, teach “Th” as a unit and point out that sometimes it says “t” but mostly it says “th” as in Thank You.

Encourage your child to write. First this will be scribble. Just ask him what he has written. If he has written something about someone in the family, you can say, “Let’s write Mary’s name again.” Ask, “What sound do you hear in Mary?” He will probably pick out the “m.” Write a capital M. Then ask, “What other sounds do you hear?” He will probably identify the “r” or maybe the “e” sound from the Y. Leave the spaces for whatever sound he doesn’t hear and write down the sounds he does here. Then just tell him, “Mary also has an “a” here and and a “y” at the end.

As he gets more sophisticated he will begin to write words with the main sound. It might look like this: I lv mi dg rky. You will see he has written I love my dog Rocky. Pick out just one word (probably Rocky) to write out fully for him. Identify the “ck” combination as one of the ways we write the “kuh” sound.

Read, Read, Read

In addition to talking and singing lots, read lots. Lots. If you have a wiggler who can’t sit still, ask her to sit with you for the first story or the first few pages or the first chapter but then let her engage her hands with a puzzle or blocks or drawing. Even as she plays, you can stop your reading from time to time to highlight words or letters. Say things like, “The boy in this story is named Robby! Look. Robby starts with R and ends with y just like Rocky does. Can you tell me what the sound in the middle of Robbby is?”

The trick is to incorporate awareness of sounds and letters as you go throughout the day with your child, NOT to think, Oh, we have to drill phonics for 10 minutes a day! Leave the formal lessons to the teachers. You can do the fun lessons at home. As you are making cookies, ask your child to get you the flour container. He will probably be able to pick out the jar marked flour as compared to the jar marked sugar. (Don’t ask him for the jar marked sugar to begin with since the spelling of the “sh” sound as an “s” is not very common and is confusing. Of course, if he asks, just point out, “Mostly the letter S makes the “s” sound, but sometimes it makes the “sh” sound. Pretty sneaky, uh?”). If you print out the ingredients list in big print, he can help you read the ingredients. Adding pictures will help. In this way, he will see the purpose of reading in action. Reading = cookies!

Learning can happen anywhere.  

When you go outside, help him write letters and words in the dirt, in the sand, formed out with pebbles or sticks. In the bath, write letters with soap bubbles on the tiles. Finger paint is another awesome place for kids to practice letters.

Above all, don’t get carried away with teaching. As soon as it is no longer fun, you are being counter productive. Children naturally want to communicate. They see that letters and words are communicating all kinds of important information to adults all the time, and they want to be a part of that—if they are not pressured unduly.

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

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

What do sibling rivalry and scarcity have in common?

Much of sibling rivalry really stems from the fear that there is not enough to go around.  In the law of survival it makes perfect sense that a child would do her best to push her sibling aside so that she is sure to get what she needs.  Parents can counter that innate fear by making sure that each child gets enough attention and her share of resources

What it really comes down to, though, is teaching a philosophy of sufficiency rather than the tension of scarcity vs. abundance.  If a person sees the world as black and white—as I am one of the haves or one of the have nots—there is always the fear of loss on the one hand and the need to grab on the other.  This produces an internal anxiety which not only sets up a rivalry among siblings but carries insecure attitudes towards money and other resources into adulthood.  

Teach your kids: Once the bucket is full, you don’t need one more drop of water—or love

When kids learn that what they have is sufficient—whether that is clothes or food or parental attention, they let go of worry.  Knowing that everyone will get what he needs means that kids don’t have to get equal resources in order to feel secure.  Think of it as a bucket.  A full bucket of water is sufficient; there is no need for one extra drop of water.  A full bucket of water is enough, so you don’t really need one more drop, and it will probably go to waste.  It may even be unpleasant.  Consider how it feels to keep drinking water when you are no longer thirsty.  You feel bloated and tight and perhaps like you want to throw up.  Even very little kids can see that if you keep adding water to the bucket, all it does is flow over.  This begins to give them the sense that there can be too much of something--even a good thing.  

Another activity you can use to teach the concept of sufficiency is lighting one candle with the flame of another.  Tell your child that there is always love to go around.  Show how when you use the flame of one candle to light another candle, the first candle has just as much flame as it had before and can be used to light a third candle.  And even a fourth and fifth.  Some families “pass the love” by lighting a candle for each family member at dinner every night.  What a beautiful way to concretely remind a child that there is sufficient love for every one.

Help your kids understand that fair does not mean equal

Developmentally kids go through a stage where they are very concerned with fairness.  They tend to believe that fair is the same as equal.  They think if Brother has 3 trucks, I must have 3 trucks, too. One way to explore this concept with your kids is to observe your kids at play.  Note how many of something do they use.  I recently babysat a three-year-old who had his six fire trucks lined up ready to play with.  Once he started playing with one, I kept waiting for him to go back for more trucks with the idea that he was putting out a really big fire.  He did put out a big fire.  But one truck was all he could deal with at a time.  Watching him, it became clear to me that 6 firetrucks were certainly sufficient—likely even more than enough.  Would he have gotten more pleasure out of an 8th or 9th or 10th firetruck?  No!  Even if he had a sibling to compete with, there would have been no need for more fire trucks to have a good time.  And yet had he a sibling, I imagine that if he is living in the mode of scarcity, he would believe his brother having more took something away from him.  If all he needs is one truck to have fun, it is ridiculous to think that his brother having more robs him of his chance for happiness. 

Siblings who are reassured that there are sufficient toys—or treats or turns or hugs or whatever precious commodity of the moment—and that they are going to get what they need they learn not to confuse wanting and needing.  They let go of having to hoard what they have.  Just keep reminding kids (and modeling through your own words and deeds) that they have enough and that they should focus on fully enjoying and appreciating what they do have.  

Finally, families that have clear gratitude practices see less sibling rivalry.  That is especially true when it comes to love—there is more than enough to go around and as siblings they are especially fortunate because unlike some kids, they have parental love and sibling love!  When kids feel and express their gratitude for what they have in the world, they step into the idea of sufficiency. 

What else? 

Teaching your kids the idea of sufficiency does not mean they won't fight.  

At different ages and stages, you will need to take extra steps to make each child feel secure.  For example, making sure your second child feels fully included in the activities of the new baby being introduced to the household is key.  And you will still need to teach both children how to communicate peacefully and how to resolve conflict constructively.  It is just human nature that as individuals with different needs and sensitivities rub up against each other, there will be conflict.  It takes lots of support to teach kids the empathy and emotional awareness needed to be great friends as well as siblings.  

Is Sibling Rivalry Making Your Household Miserable? 

Let's talk!  Your kids are going to have each other a lot longer than they have you.  Having a good relationship with one's sibling is a gift your children will treasure their whole lives.  Sign up HERE for a complimentary strategy session where we will identify a plan for connection and warmth among your kids. 

Warmly,

Elisabeth

Elisabeth Stitt

Joyful Parenting Coaching  •  Elisabeth@stitt.com  •  650.248.8916

Every Day is Labor Day

Elisabeth Stitt

Every Day Is Labor Day!

September 5, 2016

And Every Day is Independence Day...

by Elisabeth Stitt

Maria Montessori's rule of thumb is, "Never do for the child what he can do for himself."  Her entire educational program is built around the idea that by building on kids' basic skills and giving them more and more to do, we build their power--their self-confidence, their self-control and their self efficacy.  

I love the word self efficacy.  It means a person's "confidence in the ability to exert control over one's own motivation, behavior, and social environment."  

It is worth remembering that when we give kids positive control over their lives, they have much less need to gain negative control through whiny, bratty, out of control behavior.  

Set Kids Up for Success with the Skills and Tools they Need

By asking kids to help--to labor--along side you, you will be giving them a sense of personal power.  There are a lot of ways to do this with toddlers and preschoolers.  I outline some here in my blog on making pancakes.  My blog on Making the Bed is really about connecting with your children through daily activities, but it also demonstrates how a daily chore can increasingly be given over to the child.  HOW TO GET THEM UP AND OUT THE DOOR ON THEIR OWN is a blog that also resonated with lots of parents. Another really great resource is Jeanne-Marie Paynel's videos on how to set up basic living skill development for your kids. Here, for example, is a demonstration of how to teach a small child to peel a hard-boiled egg and what competencies it will help develop.  

For young children helping out means being a connected part of the family.  It means stepping into their own power--not as dependents but as contributors.   Many kids' first real phrase is along the lines of "Me do.  No Mommy do.  Me do."  

Historically, children worked along side their parents, learning the tasks of home and hearth, field and barn from the moment they could toddle.  Now they mostly spend the day separate from us.  Depending on the preschool curriculum, your children may get opportunities to learn independence tasks at school, but it still mostly falls on us to structure home life in such a way that kids become increasingly independent.  

Recommendations for Building Independence:  

•Make a list of basic skills that kids need for daily tasks.  This includes things like pouring and squeezing with control, spreading and cutting with a knife, snapping, buttoning and tying, stirring and mixing dry goods and wet goods without spilling.

•Look to where kids can practice these skills in their daily play--in the sandbox, with play doh, dressing and undressing stuffies, in the bathtub. Use whatever old bowls, spoons, pots, cups, etc. you have on hand. Be willing for things to get messy and be willing to sacrifice things like cups of rice, dried beans, expired pancake mix or baking soda to their exploration.  

•Look to where kids can help you--sorting the laundry, fluffing the pillows, cutting something soft, brushing teeth

•Decide on one or two tasks you'd like to focus on.  Make sure your kids have opportunities to practice these skills as part of their play.  Then start practicing the daily living task on days when you have a little more time (like the weekends or a day you don't have an early meeting).  

•When they are competent enough (not perfect), hand the task over to them as a daily responsibility.  A two year old, for example, can put his dirty clothes in the hamper or hang them on a low hook.  Yes, she will need lots of reminding, but eventually it will become habitual.  

•As your kids become automatic with one task, start introducing the next one.  The aim is to provide challenge without letting it get to the point of frustration.  

Seeing Kids as Being in Progress While Keeping the Long Term Goals in Mind

Your long term goal is to have children going through their off to school and going to bed routines independently (which should free you up to go through yours!). Most children are capable of getting there eventually if you are persistent.  It will take some longer to get the physical coordination they need; it will take some more reminders.  Some kids will need visual reminders; others will respond to a timer being set to keep them on track.  Many will just fall into the routine.  The trick is to keep your long term expectations for independence high while keeping your day-to-day expectations realistic.  

If you are struggling with getting your kids to do things on their own, I am always ready to help.  Sign up HERE for a complimentary Labor Day Strategy Session.  

Middle School: the Time for Parents to Step Away or Not?

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

It’s not time to leave your child completely on his own yet.  

Too often parents who have stayed at home or worked part time think that middle school is the time for them to start working full time.  That’s a mistake!  The switch to middle school is a big step—often even bigger than going to high school.  Middle schools tend to be big—more than twice or even three times as big as the elementary schools that students are coming from.  Kids feed in from sometimes as many as six or seven elementary schools.  To top that off, instead of moving through the day with the same set of kids, most middle school kids regroup every period.  A student is lucky to be in class with someone he knows much less a friend.

The middle school curriculum really does get harder.

The middle school content standards make a jump in the amount of critical thinking and problem solving required.  The pace is relentless as the emphasis is on getting through the whole list of standards rather than mastering a few key ones. At my school, when we looked at the 6th graders’ marks, they were lower first trimester than second and lower second than third.  Even the best students wobbled a bit while adjusting to the change in academic expectations. Parents should know this and reassure their kids that they will figure out how to handle middle school work given time, but most schools don’t give parents that information.

Middle School teachers get “harder.”

The biggest change, however, is the mentality of middle school teachers.  Unlike elementary school teachers who see their primary goal as encouraging self-esteem and a love of learning, middle school teachers lean towards focusing on kids accepting that a lot of life is about jumping through hoops and doing things in a certain way.  Docking points for incorrect paper headings and throwing away papers with no names on them is common practice.  

Students will complain their teachers are mean.  We don’t see ourselves as mean.  We see that we are the last stop before high school where kids can still get low grades with no consequence to their long-term future.  We feel it is our job to teach what high school is going to be like before it counts towards graduation and college admissions.  In middle school, grading shifts from assessment of a student’s ability to an assessment of her performance.  That means the student who has skated by on test scores and an occasional brilliant project is now going to learn that consistency and attention to detail are actually more highly valued.  These are important skills to learn before high school. 

It feels like parents are not wanted, but that is not true.

Parents often feel left out of the equation in middle school.  Because their children might say they don’t want them there and because there is no room parent organizing volunteer activities, they feel unsure of how to be a part of school or, worse, they feel unwelcome.  While it is true that you might not be asked to man math centers every week, it is not true that parents are not needed or wanted.  Being involved at school in any way gives you a chance to stay connected with your child at time when his instinct is to shift toward his peers.  

Even if you do not volunteer in your child’s class, by finding a volunteer job at school, you will hear more about what is going on.  You will learn what clubs and activities are available to your child and will be able to encourage her at home to participate whether it is the joining the soccer team or signing up for the spelling bee.  As you fold flyers or stuff envelopes, you will overhear gossip about which administrators are supportive and which are a waste of time to approach.  You will learn the rational for the new homework policy and what teachers are doing to prepare kids for the state tests.   

Middle school is a time for parents to step back, but not to step away.  

Parents are still a child’s touchstone.  They are still the best person to help a child process what she is experiencing.  Getting grades based on percentages for the first time can be a real blow to the ego.  A child’s sense of himself can be seriously shaken as he will associate his grade with how smart he is.  A parent can help a lot by making the distinction between intelligence and following procedure and letting a child know that both are a part of being successful in life.  Parents can continue to be there as a sounding board, but if in the past they have done most of the talking, it is time to develop deep listening skills.  Asking your child, "What is your next step here?" might get you farther than, "Here's what you should do."  

What does stepping back look like?

Stepping back might take the form of letting a child suffer the consequences of lost or incomplete homework without swooping in to defend the child.  (Do continue to offer a lot of empathy that it feels awful to have worked hard on something and then not get credit for it because of one little mistake—like not putting your name on your paper or forgetting it on your desk at home.)  Stepping back can mean not micro managing students’ projects but asking questions like, ‘What’s your plan for spreading out the work of the project?” or “Have you done your best work?” or “What part of this paper are you especially proud of?”  When students get graded work back, instead of focusing on the grade, parents can ask, “What is your plan for doing better next time?” or “What resources do you have for getting help understanding this?”  Above all parents can help their kids talk to adults at school not by doing the talking for them but by roleplaying how conversations with a teacher or administrator might go.  In this way, a parent is still staying connected and supporting his child and at the same time allowing his child to stand on his own two feet.  

Middle school is the time for parents to stay connected and know what is going on, but it is also time for them to position themselves as guide rather than driver of their child’s life.  

Are you struggling with making the shift from driver to guide? 

It is the key task to successful middle school parenting.  Sign up HERE for a complimentary strategy session where we will identify where your child might need a steadying hand (and what that looks like at this age) and where you need to loosen the training wheels. 

Warmly,

Elisabeth

Elisabeth Stitt

Joyful Parenting Coaching  •  Elisabeth@stitt.com  •  650.248.8916

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

Elisabeth Stitt

 

 

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

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

 Have a Deliberate Plan for Connection

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

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

Here’s an idea you might try:  Family Placemats

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

Procedure:

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

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

Ex:  What I love about our family is _________________________.

        We are the kind of family that __________________________.

      My favorite family memory is when ___________________.

      Our family is special because we ________________________.

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

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

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

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

 

Benefit:

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

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

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

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

Constructive Conversations: 4 Tips to Reveiw

Elisabeth Stitt

One of the most important skills we can teach our children is how to have a difficult conversation calmly.  Kids can learn these techniques, but they work just as well with other family members, friends, colleagues and even bosses.  

 

Because we can always use the reminder, here are a couple of my favorite techniques:

 

1.  Announce you are having a hard time with something and ask for a good time to talk about it.

 

Example:  I am having a hard time with the current schedule and would like to talk to you about it, when would be a good time?

 

If you don’t want to admit you are “having a hard time with” something, alternative phrases would be “I have some questions about X.”

 

If the person says, “right now,” and you are not ready, just say so!  (Example:  I really appreciate that you are willing to discuss this right now, but I want to be sure that I present my thoughts clearly.  When is another time we could meet?) 

 

The advantage of this technique is that it assures you get the other person at a time when he is more likely to listen.  

 

2.  If the topic is a very emotional one for you—or you get easily overwhelmed by even thinking of bringing up a potential conflict—own it and ask to just be heard.

 

Say, I’m not sure why this is so hard for me to bring up, but I have something weighing on my mind that I would like share with you.  What I would really appreciate, actually, is if for right now I could just tell you about it but that we wait a few days to talk about it.  Would you be willing to just listen for right now?

 

Often, if you know that person is not going to immediately yell at you or start tearing your ideas apart, it is easier to fully express what is going on for you.  You will be able to offload your emotion and share your concerns.  Once you get permission to share, be sure to stay focused on your own perspective.  

 

Example:  I really value your friendship and want to spend time with you, and at the same time I feel like I am always the one reaching out to you.  That makes me wonder if you value our friendship as much as I do.  I don’t want to impose myself on you and neither do I want to do all the work of arranging for us to meet.  If you want to spend time with me, it would make a big difference if you would reach out to me more often with a plan.  That would make me feel that you cared.  Thanks for listening and being willing to give this some thought.  Let me know in the next couple days when would be a good time for me to hear your perspective.

 

Note that there are three likely outcomes with this example:  1) the friend never arranges a time to meet, sending a clear message she does not, in fact, value the friendship.  2) the friend responds not by sharing her perspective but by taking action and proposing a date or an outing.  Take this as having been heard and go with it.  3) the friend proposes a time to meet and shares her perspective.  This is not the time to make a counter argument.  You got to be heard by her; now it is your turn to listen.  When she is done, you can ask if she’d like to talk about it now—or if you think you are going to be too emotional, you can ask to respond in a few days.  Just say you really want to think carefully about what she has said.  

 

This technique allows you to be an emotional mess with someone you trust, while at the same time getting your position out in the open.  If it is not appropriate to be emotional, knowing that the other person isn’t going to say anything about it right away can help you say your piece calmly.  

 

3.  Use an I-Statement to succinctly express your position without going into a long drawn out conversation.

 

Example:  When you arrive late without calling to let me know, I feel disrespected, because I need that information in order to make adjustments in who is working what station.  Next time please call me  if you even think you might be late.

 

Let’s break that down:  The first part identifies a specific behavior (arriving late without calling).  It is important that you stick to the specific incident at hand.  Do not use phrases like “When you are always late” because that gives the person a chance to argue with you (probably he is not always late).  The second part shares your feelings (I feel disrespected).  Note that it is not accusatory, i.e., you are not saying “you are so disrespectful.”  Just stick to your own feelings.  The third part explains your feelings (I need that information to do my job).  This shows that you are not throwing out something random.  The forth part is a concrete request of what you would like next time (Please call me if you even think you might be late).  

 

Now, an I-Statement does not guarantee a response. Ideally, the person will apologize and next time will call if he is going to be late.  But often people will not respond with more than a “yeah, sure.”  You might have to circle back to this topic (perhaps with technique #1), but it does allow you to get an issue out into the open in real time, so your position is clear.  That can make it easier to address later and will keep you from stewing about it resentfully.  

 

4.  Invite their feedback and use Active Listening to gather information and acknowledge their feelings or situation.  

 

Example:  I notice you have been have not been meeting all your commitments on time.  I’m wondering what is going on with you about that?

 

Once you make the opening bid, your job is to listen carefully.  As the person goes along, you may stop to recap by saying, “Let me see if I got this right.”  Then identify their feelings as well as their situation.  Even if they have not expressed a feeling explicitly, you can make a guess:  “It sounds like you are feeling overwhelmed because you have taken on some extra projects, and now you are finding it hard to juggle everything.”  Always end with, “Is that right?”  If they correct you, just repeat their correction back to them, “Oh, so it is not that you are overwhelmed, it is that you feel resentful that so much extra work is getting piled on to you, and that doesn’t feel fair.”  This is really important information.  Overwhelm requires a different kind of solution than fairness does.  Without finding the true reason, you might jump to the wrong conclusion, make the wrong adjustment and have the other person really feel like you don’t get him.  

 

This is the best technique for really stepping into the other person’s shoes and examining the impact the problem has on them.  That is going to allow you to find a solution that near as possible gets both your needs met.  At the end of the day, even if it is someone working underneath you or is a child, if you do not have their good will at heart, life is not going to run smoothly.  It is always better to find win win solutions.  

 

Having difficult conversations is a skill.  If it is hard for you now, keep practicing these techniques.  As you become easier with them, you will find you are so relaxed in the face of conflict, such conversations will no longer feel difficult.  If you would like to practice these skills or figure out how you are gong to approach a difficult conversation without falling apart, contact me for FREE Peaceful Resolution Strategy Session and we will create the plan you need.  

5 Tips to Raising Happy Children

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

Ask most parents and they'll say, I just want my kid to be happy.  But how are they teaching their child to be happy?  

That's right.  I said teach.  Maybe you think that happiness is something that either happens or it doesn't.  Not so!  Aren't you glad to hear that?  Happiness is something you can develop in your child.  Why?  Because like learning to read or write or draw a picture or throw a ball--or become an effective parent!--much of happiness is built with specific skills. Sure.  Some children are born with naturally sunnier dispositions.  Does that mean you accept the grumpy kid "for who he is"?  Well, no. No more so than you would accept a child who was struggling to read.  In fact, it is with the child who is struggling with whom you sit down and break the task into ever smaller and manageable bits

How do we teach happiness? 

Let's look at some key practices that have come out of current positive psychology research.

1. HAPPINESS BRINGS SUCCESS. 

As parents we need to rethink the idea that success brings happiness.  Current research suggests strongly that the reverse is true:  Happiness brings success.  So lead your child towards happiness practices and let nature take its course.

2. NOTICE THE POSITIVE. 

Is the glass half empty or half full?  Help your child learn to see that the glass is half full by having her focus on the positives in her day.  Model it by showing appreciation for the little things in life.  Here are some positives from my day yesterday:  Someone let me pull into traffic in front of him; the weather was the perfect temperature with a slight breeze; I got in an extra walk in the afternoon. 

3.  AMPLIFY THE POSITIVE. 

Research shows that when we feel something, certain neuro pathways are excited.  The cool part is that when we tell someone about what excited us, the SAME neuro pathways are re-excited.  That's like getting two for one!  So what does that mean?  It means we need to actively share all our little joys.  When I was able to pull into traffic easily because of someone's generosity, I told my friend, "I was afraid that I was going to be late but this really nice guy let me pull into traffic.  I LOVE that!"  Not only have I modeled finding the positive for my friend, I get to feel gushy all over again.  It turns out, my brain doesn't know the difference between the actual event and the relived event!

4.  DEVELOP A WIDE POSITIVE EMOTION VOCABULARY. 

Research suggests that the richer vocabulary we have to draw on, the greater the variety of positive emotions we can feel.  Partly, what you are doing is teaching a child to appreciate a wider scope of emotions as positive.  Stuck with just the word "happy" a child develops a very narrow view of what he can count as happy. Teach him delighted, content, elated, or genial, and he can recognize when he is feeling all those things. 

5.  MODEL GRATITUDE. 

Of all the positive emotions we can feel, the super power of them all is gratitude. In general, a life lived directed towards others is a happier one.  Feeling and expressing gratitude supports our happiness in so many ways.  It reduces stress which improves our health, it causes us to be less materialistic which gives us easier access to a spiritual life, and it improves our relationships by establishing a positive feedback loop. 

The very best part of teaching our children happiness skills?  By modeling the skills, we increase our own happiness!  And if it is not enough for you to be happy, it will comfort you to know that happy people learn better, are more productive and are more resilient in the face of setbacks. 

 

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.

 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. 

 

 

 

 

 

CHORES! The Way to Making Your Kids Successful and Happy

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

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

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

1.   Doing Chores Raises Self Esteem

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

2.  Doing Chores Makes Kids Feel Needed

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

3.  Doing Chores Shares the Work

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

4.  Kids Doing Chores Reduces Parental Stress

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

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

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

And that's not all!!

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

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

Do You Have a Case of the Middle School Mom Blues?

Elisabeth Stitt

Did you see the article in the Wall Street Journal about Middle School Moms’ Blues?  

A new study finds the stress and anxiety Middle School Moms feel is even greater than that of moms of infants!

Well, with the bulk of my teaching career spent with middle schoolers, that is no surprise to me.  In fact, I started my business, Joyful Parenting Coaching, because of a conversation I had with the mom of a 7th grader whose daughter was coming home crying every day.  This mom felt at a loss, but to me the saddest part was that she did not trust she could share what was going on with other moms in the class.  The feared being judged, looked down on or pitied kept her from reaching out.  

That broke my heart.  

But I don’t think she was alone.  The more work I’ve done out of the classroom and directly with parents, the more I see how many of them are carrying the burdens of parenting in isolation.  

I would never have survived parenting—any stage of it—if I hadn’t felt like I had trusted people around me with whom to compare notes—or to just let off steam!!  I don’t know about you, but I have certainly had days when I could have killed my child.  Or at least cheerfully sold her to the gypsies.  Of course, I never would, but it sure helped to have close and loving friends who could give me their Amen to That, Sister! rally before helping me find constructive solutions.  

The article does not really break down why Middle School Moms are so stressed.  

Here is my theory on why Middle School Moms find parenting harder than other stages: 

1.  As our children go up in grades, the ways society measures their success gets narrower and narrower.  Academic ease and performance become key.  Sports and Artistic proficiency can provide some secondary credit, but in our get-into-a-good-college-at-all-costs society, measurable numbers (grade point averages, state testing scores, SATs) hold the most weight.  Lots of parents start obsessing about those things and find it hard to stop.  

2.  As our children go up in grades, the percentage of moms who are working full time also goes up.  That means as women we spend the whole day talking business, not kids and parenting.  Last week I volunteered at the high school for a couple of hours stuffing envelopes (the beauty of working from home, being my own boss and living close to the high school).   I realized it was pretty much the same moms I had seen the two other times I have volunteered this year.  Their chatter was incessant and far ranging.  These moms knew each other well and clearly had spent a lot of hours together.  They felt perfectly comfortable airing their dirty laundry—and getting and receiving advice from each other.  

But most moms don’t have that.  Many moms drop their kids off at school in the morning and pick them up from childcare or after school activities in the evening.  Not only does that not allow that mom much time for connecting with her kids, it really doesn’t allow her much time to meet up with a girlfriend and compare notes (and I am not saying you cannot or should not be comparing notes with your spouse, but it is really useful to get the perspective of what is going on with other kids in other households).  

3.  Perhaps the most significant reason parenting a middle school child is harder than other ages and stages is that the rewards are not as great.  With an infant you are exhausted and lose sleep, but then that child smiles at you—or laughs for the first time—and in a moment you are totally in love again.  The preschooler balances tantrums with ardent declarations of “I love you, Mommy!” In lower elementary, kids become a lot less work and at the same time still look to you for you insights and views on the world in general and their own worries in particular.  But the middle school child?  Well, I don’t know how you were in middle school, but I was miserable.  I hated school, I basically had no friends, and I was an emotional wreck.  On top of all that, I was convinced my mom (who always painted a picture of her friends and fun activities in middle school) could never in a million years understand what I was going through.  8th grade was the year my grades went down, I lied, and I even cut school!  My poor mom!  

So in middle school we have all the worry, doubt and work of other stages but few opportunities to be our children’s heroes. 

Our kids may still need our advice and counsel, but they won’t admit it to save their lives.  Furthermore, they need us to step away from our god-like positions and become the wise elders who walk beside them.  One of my favorite analogies for teens is that they are on a roller coaster ride; Mom’s job is not to get on and ride with them but to stand on the platform ready to be there when they get off.

For all these reasons that make it especially challenging to parent kids in middle school, that’s why I have created the Middle School Moms’ Mastermind.  

Are you familiar with the concept of a mastermind?  I am in one for solo entrepreneur women.  We are smart, motivated and we face similar struggles.  While only our intrepid leader claims to be the expert, we still get a wealth of advice and good ideas from our fellow entrepreneurs.  We have a community of people to ask, What do you think of this idea?  Or Has anyone of you tried X before?  I love this group of brave, creative go-getters.  They are at once my role models and my friends, and when I get to share my own advice and experience, it makes me realize how far I have come as a business woman.  

We use a Private FB group as the primary means of communicating with each other (though I have also had private phone conversations from time to time with individuals who have a lot to share about a given topic). In twice monthly group coaching calls, our outstanding business coach gives us concrete advice both through direct instruction and through answer our specific questions about our specific situations.  

Imagine having that kind of support for your parenting!

That is exactly what I want for you.  The Middle School Moms’ Mastermind  will bring together a maximum of 15 moms of middle school kids.  I will moderate our private FB group where moms can post questions and observations.  Both moms and I will post relevant articles that we come across.  Moms will be free to post advice for people who ask for it as long as they do so in a way that has no shaming, blaming or judgment.  Additionally, I will lead two monthly calls (recorded so you can access them any time).  On these calls I will spend the first 15 to 20 minutes educating participants about some topic specific to early adolescents and then the rest of the call is your chance to ask me about your particular needs.  

Of course, I do not have all the answers (no one does!), but I do have three adult children and in my 25 years of teaching, I have dealt with more than 3,000 kids between the ages of 11-14.  That means I have pretty much seen it all—all kinds of kids and all kinds of families.  Working with such a large and diverse sample has taught me how many different ways there are to parent effectively.  It is incredibly useful to hear the views and insights of fellow parents.  Hearing a lot of different approaches allows you to get new perspectives and ideas for your own parenting.  

 

 

Does this sound like a group for you?  

Could you use a safe haven to share your woes, to compare notes, to get ideas on how other families handle things and to get access to my 25 years of expertise?  Let's talk.  Email me at elisabeth@stitt.com or call me at 650.248.8916 (Pacific time) to find out if the Middle School Moms’ Mastermind is the tribe you have been longing for!

Act now to reserve your spot.  

I am gathering a group of moms who are dedicated to supporting each other in being the best moms they can be.  I absolutely believe that you can love parenting your middle school child.  I know that I love helping parents find the joy in whatever age or stage their children are, and while I cannot guarantee 100% that you are going to love parenting your middle school children as much as I love teaching them, I do guarantee the fellowship of other women, lots of laughs and unstinting faith that you are the parent your child needs.  

Why don't you try a complimentary group coaching call?  Our next call is Wednesday, October 19 at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time.  (If this time doesn't work for you, let me know what does so that I can let you know when else we are meeting).  

I can’t wait to talk to you.

Warmly,

Elisabeth

Elisabeth Stitt/ Joyful Parenting Coaching/ 650.248.8916/ www.elisabethstitt.com

THE ART OF CONVERSATION

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

 

Using technology to babysit buys a moment’s peace at dinner:  Developing conversational skills gets a lifetime of delightful dinnertime companionship.     

I witnessed two father/child conversations this week. 

On Tuesday, I was eating in a restaurant next to a father and daughter out to dinner. My guess is that the daughter was around four.  The pair sat down, and Dad immediately pulled out the iPad and set it up for her.  Dad quietly sipped his glass of wine.  For the moment I will put aside my own personal rant about the blurps, bings and dings from the video disturbing my own meal and focus on the idea that ten years from now this father is going to be lucky to get any conversation out of his child at dinner at all.  

 

The Cost of Relying on Technology to Parent

 

Obviously, I don’t know what their day or their week has been.  Perhaps Dad and Daughter have already spent a couple hours playing together.  Perhaps the iPad at the dinner table is screen time she earned for being cooperative about doing her chores all week.  Perhaps they had a long conversation while driving to the restaurant.  Perhaps going out to eat is a big treat and it is the only time Daughter is allowed screen time at the table.  

But for the moment, let’s go with the assumption that as Dad was in his business clothes, he probably picked his Daughter up from Child Care at 6:00.  Hopefully they did have a good conversation about her day in the car.  But it would not surprise me if she had access to the iPad in the car, too.  And just as at dinner, Dad was not watching it with her.  He was not engaging with her about what she was watching.  Not commenting, not asking questions, not explaining what might be new concepts.  

Now don’t get me wrong.  I have certainly gone to dinner when my daughter was young and brought coloring books or other quiet games with the hope that she would quietly entertain herself.  Especially as a single mom with just one daughter at home, I spent a lot of time playing with my kid, and if I could snatch a moment of self-absorbed contemplation, I certainly did.  Likewise, we go to dinner with my nephew almost weekly and for much of the meal he is absorbed in whatever book he is reading.  That is okay with me because I recognize that sitting at the table for more than an hour—as we do most weeks—is a lot to ask of a nine year old.  Nonetheless, once the food does arrive, we do get his attention and he joins in the family conversation.  

Conversation Is an Art

Conversation is an art.  Children need to practice it.  Adults have the responsibility to scaffold the learning by helping kids structure their answers.  Later in the week I saw a dad do this beautifully with his daughter.  She was also around four—maybe a little younger than the girl from earlier in the week.  He started by asking her what she had done during Outside Playtime at school.  She answered I don’t know.  Instead of letting that stop the conversation dead in its tracks, he asked her to think a moment and assured her that she would remember.  Then he just looked at her quietly and patiently.  When she said she still didn’t remember, he coached her:  He said, “Start by saying, ‘Usually during Outside Playtime at school, I _______.'”  She filled in the blank and said “go on the slide.”  He praised her, but had her repeat her answer using the whole phrase.  She repeated the complete sentence, and then without prompting she continued on saying, “but today I played in the sand box with Jesse.”  Then Dad said, “Oh! Tell me about that!”  By now Daughter was off on a roll and she shared quite a bit about her sandbox play.  Clever Dad.  Chances are if he had asked, “What did you play?”, he would have gotten a one-word answer.

Conversation is a Two-Way Street

Now, what happened after this conversation was the part that impressed me the most.  When Daughter had finished telling about her day, Dad said, “I had a good day, too.”  When his daughter didn’t pick up on his conversational gambit, Dad reminded her, “Honey, when you are talking to people, the conversation has to go back and forth.  I asked you about your day.  Now you should ask me about my day.”  Daughter perked up and looked right at her dad:  “Tell me now, Daddy!”  While Dad shared a few details, she kept her attention on him the whole time.

If Dad keeps up gently prompting his daughter through having a full conversation, imagine the benefits they will both reap.  Not only will he stay in touch with his daughter as she grows up, she will have an awareness of him as a person who also does interesting things and has thoughts and feelings of his own as an individual.  No doubt, over the years, their conversations will range far and wide.  Remember, connection is a key to effective parenting, and conversation is an easy way to feel connected with a person.

  In January 2015, Mandy Len Catron wrote an essay published in The New York Times called, “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This”(http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/11/fashion/modern-love-to-fall-in-love-with-anyone-do-this.html).   In the essay she tells how she and a mutual acquaintance increased their trust and intimacy using the 36 questions from a study done in the 90’s by Arthur Aron et al designed to see if you could make  people fall in love with each other.  The study found you could.  Carton found she did.  Imagine using these questions—or questions like these—over the years to connect to your kids.  

The Cost of Not Developing Conversational Skills

Now let’s ago back to that other Dad from earlier in the week.  Presently he has the easy love that a small child gives her parent.  To a four year old, you are the sun, the moon and at the stars all connected.  But over the years, as a child makes the shift to peers, parents who have not already established conversational habits have to work much harder to not drift apart.  Just because you are physically at the table with your kids does not mean you are reaping the many (many!) benefits of eating together.  Harvard professor and researcher, Dr. Anne K. Fishel, points out that, "the real power of dinners lies in their interpersonal quality” (http://thefamilydinnerproject.org/food-for-thought/science-eat-dinner-together/).  The more we get sucked into our electronic gadgets, the more parents have to systematically teach their children good interpersonal skills.  In less distracted eras, family members looked to each other for entertainment.  Card games, board games, story telling, and singing together were some of the only sources of entertainment available.  All of these required families to not merely be near each other, but to actually talk to each other.   

Keep the Flow of Conversation Going

Once you have gotten them to the table (and banned the distractions), getting your kids to talk to you is a two-part process.  First, help your kids give detailed, complete answers to daily questions like, “How was your day?”  Teach them that while that might be a courtesy question out in public to which a polite “fine” is acceptable, when you ask it, you are looking for some real sharing without having to pull teeth.  Of course, for your part, you have to be a good listener who absorbs what your kids are telling you before you jump to criticize or solve.  Your primary job is to keep the flow of conversation going.  Use prompts like Really?  What else?  Tell me more. How do you feel about that?  Especially in the short run, listening is much more important than your response.  If you are really worried about something that comes up, I suggest you circle on back to it at a later time—maybe in private at bedtime. 

Getting Creative and Thinking Outside the Box to Get to Your Kids Talking

The second part of getting your kids to talk is coming up with good questions.  You want to balance questions about daily life with questions that will expand your kids' thinking.  The Family Dinner Project ( http://thefamilydinnerproject.org/conversation-2/conversation-starters/ ) suggests questions like, “If you joined the circus, what would your circus act be?”  As someone who long had fantasies about running away to join the circus, I love that question.  (I would have definitely chosen being a trapeze artist, in case you were wondering!)  

TiffinTalk—A Tool to Help

Another fabulous resource is a company called TiffinTalk.  TiffinTalk creators Kat Rowan and Michael Friesen have written over 4000 cards each with a question that provides "thought-provoking, open-ended questions that prompt meaningful conversations – no matter what the age of your child.”  4000!  And every card is different. That is extraordinary. The cards are boxed into groups by age from preschool through high school.  Like Arthur Aron’s questions designed to help two people fall in love by increasing intimacy, TiffinTalk’s questions start out more general and broad and go deeper over the course of the each themed week.  Themes from the boxes for 6-9 year olds, for example, include topics like Clean or Messy, Homes & Houses, Being More Than You, How to (Not) Argue with Adults, and Firsts. These cards are not games; each are meant to be personalized cards from parent to child and are meant to be shared in one-on-one, face-to-face discussions. 

In June 2015, I interviewed TiffinTalk Creative Director and CEO Kat Rowan.  One of the points we touched upon was how opening the lines of conversation on a host of topics makes it much easier to bring up more difficult topics like death or sex education.  If you and your child are not used to talking about touchier topics, when the time comes to bring them up, they feel much heavier and weighted than they need to be. In fact, some parents never do have “the Sex Talk” because it seems too overwhelming—a mountain when it could be a mole hole. On the other hand, parents who have been exploring a range of themes like the ones TiffinTalk provides have likely already dealt with a lot of related topics, having discussed questions about relationships, friendships, how dress affects how people see us, our bodies, etc.  TiffinTalk’s boxes of cards (beautifully produced) are complete and comprehensive.  By the time you work your way through the whole series, there will be very little you have not touched on. The inclusion of blank cards allow parents lots of flexibility to address questions that occur to them, while the themes give the parents something concrete to fall back on.  

Of course, you may be able to come up with lots of topics on your own.  If that is the case, you probably already know the joy of having kids who are mentally present and eager to join you at the table—a daily touchpoint of love, warmth and connection.  

You will never regret putting energy into teaching your children the Art of Conversation.  Well, you may regret how much you miss their sparkling wit when the grow up and go away, but I trust they will come home to visit! 

 

Rewriting the Scene

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

Do you fall victim to other people’s opinions and judgment?  Do you go out into public and cringe every time your child doesn’t behave?  Do you get tenser and tighter and lose track of your best parenting self? 

You’ve probably heard that quote (or something like it) that says, “Between stimulus and response there’s a space.  In that space is our power to choose a response.  In our response lies our growth and freedom.” 

Let’s consider that quote.

At your best—when you are well-rested, calm, in love with your children—you make good parenting choices, don’t you?  As your best self, they do something naughty or rude or irritating, and you are warm, firm and creative.  Whatever the problem was, you smooth it over and reengage them in something constructive and fun. 

But let’s think of some of those agonizing parenting moments when you are tired, stressed and at the end of your rope.  Maybe some stranger is ready to tell you exactly what you should be doing. Their comments are like an arrow in your heart and you are ready to die of mortification

 Who I Am at My Worst

I know what I am at my worse:  I’m bossy, insensitive, hyper-aware of who’s looking at me and overanalyzing my every parenting move.  I snap, I grab, I glare, I threaten, I bribe.

See if you recognize yourself in this scene:

[Scene: grocery store]

Me:  Stop that!  Don’t touch.  Put that down.  Julie, I’m warning you.  Put that down.  Put that down right now. 

[I grab Julie’s arm, glare at her, and pull her away roughly.]

Me:  Put that down right now or we are going to march right out of this store with nothing for dinner tonight.  Come on, dear.  Put that down and you can have a cookie. 

And here is what the internal monologue would be:

Me:  You are such a bad mother.  Why can’t you control your child? Look, look over there.  That toddler is just sitting quietly in the cart.  Why can’t my child be like him?  I am so mad at you, Julie.  I am going to die of shame.

And here is what I would be hearing around me:

         You should take that child outside!

         Stop yelling at your child.  That is not going to help anything.

         When are you going to teach that child some manners?

         If a child of mine behaved that way, she’d get a swift swat. 

Shifting from Our Worst Selves to Our Best Selves

So how do we shift from being our worst selves to our best selves?  Let’s go back to our quote:  Between stimulus and response there’s a space.  In that space is our opportunity to make a choiceThe bigger the space, the more likely we are to reject our own fight or flight response.

The million dollar question becomes, what can we do to stretch the time between stimulus and response?  My answer? Rehearse!  Yep. I spend a lot of time rehearsing conversations/scenes in my head.  For example, as I am driving from work to picking Julie up knowing we are going to have to nip into the store, I rehearse how I am going to handle my daughter’s inevitable whiny crankiness. 

In my mind the scene looks something like this. 

[As we walk towards the store entrance and get a cart]

Me:  [warmly squeezing Julie’s hand and infusing my voice with excitement]

Are you ready to help Mommy in the store?  You can help me put things in the cart.  You can help me count things.  You are such a big help to Mommy.  Here we are.  Can you find the apples? 

[Julie cries out and points to the bin of caramel candies.]

Me:  Not today, darling. 

[She squawks louder and bangs on the cart.]

Shopper:  That child should be taken out!

Me [to Julie]:  I know, sweetie!  Those candies do look good and you’d really like to have one.  Hold this apple while a get a bag.  Thank you!  Are you ready to count?  Into the bag!  There’s one.  Here’s two.  Last one.  That makes three! 

 The Cheerfully Calm Parent

Feel the power of that scene.  Are you rolling your eyes going, yeah, right, like that would work.  It does! 

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Parenting is a confidence game.  The cheerfully confident and calm parent can smooth over a host of dicey situations

Remember that Rogers and Hammerstein line from The King and I:  “And when I fool, the people I fool, I fool myself as well.”  That’s the trick. 

When you rehearse scenes in your brain ahead of time over and over, you are laying down the neural pathways for that response.  That means that in that moment—that space between stimulus and response—you have a pre-rehearsed script for your brain to retrieve and apply.  As with anything you practice, this tip will help you react as your best self.  More and more, calm and confident will become your ingrained, automatic response. 

As with so much in life, effective parenting starts with setting a positive intention, but it is habit-forming practices that will see you through when the going really gets tough.  

 Putting It into Practice

To get started, take one of your worst parenting moments and go ahead and rewrite it.  If you really want to fix it in your mind, take the time to literally write out the scene by hand.  Then anticipate when you are going to next need your revised script and be ready to pull it up.  You can do it!

Rewriting scenes is the kind of exercises in each of my chapters in my book Parenting as a Second Language: A Guidebook to Joyfully Navigating the Trials, Triumphs and Tribulations of Parenthood. The book provides excellent opportunities for reflection and coming to know yourself better as a parent.  Or if you'd like help directly, sign up for a 20 minute Rewrite Session.

Happy Parenting,

Elisabeth

 

 

What Is Your Parenting Color?

Elisabeth Stitt

 

Parenting is a confidence game.  The question is, how do we as parents put aside our own doubts and embrace our role as parent?  How do we quiet the many voices around us telling us how to parent?  Nothing sucks the joy out of parenting like anxiety, and nothing grows anxiety like trying to sort out people’s opinions on parenting. 

So, let’s do a little exercise.  I want you to think a color you associate with a brilliant parenting moment---one where you were confident, loving and joyous.  Really take the time to sort through your memories and find one that just makes you smile.  Got it?  Now, what color comes to mind when you remember that parenting moment? 

That’s it!  That’s your top-notch parenting color! I don’t mean your favorite color, or even the one you like to dress your child in.  Your parenting color is that one you thought of, that one you associate with parenting at your best.  Let’s look at how to use that color to trigger that joyful, confident feeling in your parenting. 

Color can be a great mood changer.  It can make us feel a certain way.  Do you want to know my top-notch parenting color?  It’s gold.  Harvest moon gold.  Why?  Because the full harvest moon was there on one of my lowest parenting nights.  Uh?  How could my top-notch parenting moment come out of one of my lowest nights?  Well, sometimes we have to feel the lows to fully appreciate our shining moments. 

One night, when my daughter was around four months old, she was teething and just miserable.  All afternoon she had been fussy, she hadn’t napped well, and by bedtime she had worked herself into quite a frenzy.  It’s not like she had been an easy baby up until now—she was colicky well into her third month—but that day was just a doozy.  I had called my mother for advice; she swore by a wet washcloth put in the freezer for some time.  Didn’t work.  My friend Alice recommended letting her suck on a cold binky, but my daughter was born without a suck reflex and had never learned to take pacifier.  My other friend extolled the virtues of a little rum rubbed along her gums.  No, thank you.  Not only did I really not like the idea of giving alcohol to a baby, I’m not a drinker.  I didn’t even have wine in the house much less hard liqueur. 

With each passing moment, I was feeling more and more desperate, more and more incompetent.  A good mother would know what to do!  A good mother would find a way to comfort her baby!  The baby was bawling streams of tears down her hot, tense face.  I was crying, too, as I tried to mop up the snot out of her mouth and nose so she could breath.  My first tears fell, and I couldn’t stop.  I felt so alone.  It didn’t feel like anyone would have the advice I needed for my baby.  I was ready to stick her in her crib and run away.  This mothering thing was not all it was cracked up to be!

Hot and sticky from having a sweating baby pressed up against me, I finally walked outside into the night’s air.  Though almost November, it was warm for a fall night, but blessedly cool after the closed air of the house.  The moment I walked outside, I felt myself begin to calm down.  But it was the full harvest moon that really did the trick.  High in the sky with that sort of textured gold that looks like velvet rubbed the wrong way, the moon seemed to blaze with a light of its own. 

I was mesmerized.  And so was the baby!  She stopped crying and just stared.  My heart stopped beating so fast.  Her heart stopped beating so fast.  As we gazed at the moon, our collective blood pressure dropped breath by breath.

We lay in the hammock and let that golden light wash over us like it had some kind of magical force.  I felt one with my baby and one with the world.  I was powerful and strong and whole.  I was Mother.  I was my baby’s rock, her center.  I had figured out the secret code.

That’s not a feeling you forget.  That’s something you carry with you.  And harvest moon gold is a color I carry with me, in my mind and in my heart.  It is my secret parenting weapon.

The next time some grandmother on the street tsk-tsked me for not having enough clothes on my baby, at first I saw red and then I pictured that harvest moon in my mind’s eye.  “Thank you,” I said and smiled and pushed blithely on.  You don’t know my baby, I thought, but I do!

When we hit the toddler stage I remember a mother in my daughter’s gym class warning me that I better get her under control and nip her stubbornness in the bud.  Such a deflating comment!  For a moment I was as limp and gray as Eyore’s broken balloon.  Visions of my wild child growing up ever wilder swamped me.  I looked at that woman trying to think of something to say.  Ah ha!  She was wearing a ribbed, gold turtleneck that at once reminded me of my old friend the full moon.  I felt a surge of energy rush through me.  “Do you think so?” I asked as calmly as if she had commented on the need for an umbrella.  Victory again. 

Bit by bit, harvest moon gold infused me.  I was Mother!  This was my child.  I knew her best and I knew what was best for her.  Hooking into the image of gold gave me the courage of my conviction.  I couldn’t rely on what other parents were doing with their babies.  I had to trust my own instincts.

What is your parenting color?  How do you remain confident as a parent?  What gives you strength?  

I'd love to hear.  Come over to the Joyful Parenting Coaching Facebook page and share your story. 

Happy Parenting,

Warmly,

Elisabeth

Joyful Parenting Coaching

www.elisabethstitt.com

      

by Elisabeth Stitt

The Confidence Game: What It Takes to Empower Parents

Elisabeth Stitt

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

1.    What does it mean to empower parents?

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

2.   How do you empower parents in your work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Awesome Tricks to Add to Your Bag for Your Hardest, Most High Energy, Most Challenging Kid Ever!

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

Do you feel like your child is more difficult than other children? Guess what?  Lots of parents feel that way!  So, chances are yours is not actually the most challenging ever, but that doesn’t help much when you are in the thick of things and you are at the end of your rope

So what does help?  You never know!  But here are some ideas that have worked for me over the years:

Creativity/Imagination

Lots of paths can be smoothed by inviting the child into an imaginative state. 

     I was recently with a five year old who was refusing to eat his oatmeal.  I looked at him and said, “What oatmeal?  You mean this bowl of newts and slugs?”  Of course, he immediately looked at me like, Lady, you’ve got to be kidding me!  But he took a bite.  Victory.  Then he said, I don’t want newts and slugs.  Not to be foiled, I tried, “What newts and slugs?  What you have there are fish eyes and blindworms. Try some!”  He did.  By this time he had entered into the game and asked me, “What’s this bite here?”  Fried ants and crickets, said I.  But what got this five-year-old to finish his breakfast?  Moose poop. Yes, you heard me right.  He ate his lovely bowl of moose poop all up.  

Now, I am not generally in favor of forcing kids to eat (I prefer to let them suffer the natural consequence of going hungry), but when I am caring for other people’s kids, I try to honor the house rules.  As the “substitute” parent, I didn’t have time to get compliance through consequences.  I needed results right then.  By shifting the conversation from You have to eat your breakfast to imagining eating all sorts of gross things to eat, the oatmeal got finished up in five lively minutes of laughter and rich vocabulary. 

Silliness/Being Weird

         Silliness can be another great way to go.  With older kids, they just think you are weird, but as with younger children, being weird can often get you where you want to go and the only thing it will cost you is your dignity.  I was babysitting a sixth grader who refused to talk to me.  I could have just ignored her and used the time to get some work done, but I could see this girl was unhappy.  It was going to be a much more pleasant evening if I could get her to give up her stance of silence.  I went into reporter mode and took up a wooden spoon as my microphone:  Ladies and gentlemen, I started my best Access Hollywood voice. Tonight we have the first actual documented case of the cat who got her tongue. I am here with Veronica Lopez, a sixth grader at Shady Oak Middle School.  This morning when she woke up, she found she could not talk.  She looked over to see that her cat, Justin Bieber, was actually playing with her tongue as if it were a dead mouse. I went on in this vein for a while until she couldn’t stand it any more and she finally asked me could I please shut up?  That was enough.  All I needed her to do was say one thing to me.  Sure! I readily agreed and then I switched to asking her about how her mom generally defrosted the chicken needed for making dinner.  Having established my capacity for being annoying and weird, she decided it was easier to talk to me than risk spending the evening with a deranged loony

Get Physical

     Lots of times we have problems with kids because we do not respect their need for movement.  Instead of getting a child to stop wiggling in his chair, sometime it is easier give him the physical outlet he needs.  You are trying to have a peaceful dinner and all you want to do is sit quietly and eat, but you are never going to get peace if your child cannot sit still.  Sometimes it is better to acknowledge that, get the whole family on their feet and have two or three minutes of physical activity.  That might be cranking some tunes for a quick dance or doing the hokey pokey or playing Simon says.  With older kids it might mean sending them out to take the stairs to the top of the building and back down before returning to your apartment or having them run to the bottom of the driveway and back.  If it is really cold and they don’t put on their jacket, that will just make them run faster! 

         You might resent having to put aside dinner for five minutes.  It is going to get cold, after all, and you are hungry.  It might work to firmly ask your kids to sit still or stop rocking their chair.  If you are good at being consistent and your kids know that if you give a consequence you will follow through, they may well make the effort to comply.  But you put less stress on everyone by giving them a chance to get the ants out of their pants and go from there.  This is especially true if your kids are transitioning from some sedentary activity like doing homework.  Given the chance to expel some energy, you might just get that happy family dinner you were hoping for! 

What are your best tricks?

         Remember, no approach is going to work for all children all of the time.  That is why the bigger your bag of tricks the greater the chance you’ll have the one you need.  So share with us!  What are the techniques that work well for you?

         Feeling like you need more tricks in your bag?  I’d be happy to have a complimentary Tricks for Your Bag coaching session.  Let’s brainstorm together what might work for your hard, high energy or challenging kid.  Sign up at https://elisabethstitt.acuityscheduling.com/.

Can’t wait to talk to you!

Warmly,

Elisabeth

www.elisabethstitt.com

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.

Some Final Words on Becoming a Consistent Parent

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

If you have not been following our series on Building the Consistency Muscle start here: Find the Positive and then follow the arrows at the bottom of the post. 

You have all the steps for becoming a consistent parent; now it is just a question of putting the pieces into place.  Here are some final tips:

Prepare Physically for Battle

Do I really mean go to the gym and work out?  Well, only sort of.  But we all know that we never do our best parenting when we are feeling tired and worn out.  So, set yourself up for success by being well rested.  Develop a meditation practice or find some simple yoga practices on YouTube.  Plan on taking a walk on your lunch hour at work.  At home with the kids all day?  Nap when they nap.  Let's say that you have set a clear rule of no distractions (reading material, video games, phones, etc) will be allowed at the table and you are worried that your new meal time expectations are going to increase the tension for a while.  They will, so you might even want to sneak in a high protein afternoon snack so that even if your meal is upset, you will have energy to sustain you.  Really need a break?  Get yourself a babysitter one night and forget to mention the new dinner table policy!  Maybe plan a meal in an alternate setting where the rule just won’t come up.  A picnic with all finger food would make it mighty hard to hold a phone!  Put whatever structure in place you need to sustain your determination to see the new policy through until it becomes a habit.  If you are not absolutely convinced this is a rule you want, don’t even start.  To build success, you need to start with something you care deeply about.  (That is what makes the values clarification piece so important.)

Prepare Mentally for Battle

If there has not been a rule in place around an issue—or there has been a rule but it has never had any teeth—expect things to get worse before they get better.  Face it.  None of us really like policy change unless the previous policy was so bad that we are desperate for any change at all.  If dinner has been a free for all with each family member doing what he wants, no one is going to want to put down his video game or book in favor of polite family conversation.  Things WILL get worse before they get better, so before you make a big announcement, spend a lot of time thinking through your responses to as many unexpected situations as possible. 

How can you structure things so that no distractions even come to the table? What are your consequences going to be for texting under the table?  What is your consequence going to be for yelling, crying or talking back when you take the phone away?  What consequences will you be able to absolutely follow through on consistently?  What if your children sit tight lipped and stony faced every night for a week? 

Role play if you need to practice staying calm:  Have one spouse be the recalcitrant child and the other be the enforcer.  You know your partner’s week points:  Will Dad give in if his little girl starts to cry?  Is Mom so uncomfortable with swearing that she will just lose her temper completely?  Practice, practice, practice.  This is a new part you are playing.  It will not feel automatic.  It will be uncomfortable.  Support each other in whatever way you need to.

Celebration, Reflection and Recommitment

Being consistent is hard!  So celebrate any step or part that is working.  Was dinner a nightmare, but you held your ground?  Do a private jig for joy.  Call a friend and crow.  Give yourself a gold star.  Changing our way of being and reacting takes going back to the drawing board over and over.  Have a pow wow before the next meal to reflect.  Did you support each other sufficiently?  Were you able to stay calm?  Did you reward the compliant child with genuine interest and lively conversation?  Would it help to have a different seating arrangement next time?  Did it go better than you thought it would? Give yourself another pat on the back!  Remind each other of why you are doing what you are doing. What values are you honoring by following through?  In your mind’s eye see the warm, connected family dinners that you are in the act of creating.  Take a deep breath and recommit to the vision.  Tomorrow is another day!    

Go Public!

I mean it!  One of the biggest impediments today to effective parenting is isolation.  We have got to start sharing our stories.  So be brave!  Be the first person to post your failures and your success here.  Will we think less of you?  No, way!  We will cheer you and thank you for having the courage to say what everyone else is thinking.  In my classroom, I used to give cut-out paper stars to kids for Acts of Conspicuous Bravery when they were willing to have their work commented on in class.  It is not easy, but it provides tremendous learning for every one else--and it is one way to get my input on your exact situation!  So, who's going to earn the first gold star?  

I am fully committed to you being a consistent parent.  If you are looking for individual support, let’s start with a complimentary coaching session.  Sign up HERE.  

Warmly,

Elisabeth

Joyful Parenting Coaching

www.elisabethstitt.com   

 

Making Pancakes: Teaching Independence from Toddlerhood

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

Earlier this fall I wrote a blog called Set Your Kids Free:  10 Things They Need to Be Able to Do by Middle School.  People really wanted to hear what they could expect from their kids by that age.  But they were unsure how to get there.  So, I wrote this guide to making pancakes to give you a sense of how to break down tasks.  All learning can be scaffolded and all kids can learn--often much sooner than you than you think.  Remember, your job is to do yourself out of a job one small skill at a time.

With Your Infant

Talk/sing to your child to narrate what you are doing as you do it:  

Now it's time to measure the flour, measure the flour, measure the flour/Now it's time to measure the flour early in the morning. [crack the egg, mix the batter, test the pan, etc.]

With Your Toddler   

Begin to ask, What do we need? What's first?  As soon as he can safely stand on a sturdy stool next to the counter, you do the measuring but let him dump the contents [except the eggs] into the bowl.  He can do the mixing.  You get the pan to the right temperature.  By putting your arms under his from behind, you are going to protect him from the hot pan. Hand him a small pitcher (like a creamer size) of batter and guide him as he pours it onto the pan.  Do one pancake at a time to make the flipping easier.  (You can have a second pan going at the back of the stove to actually feed the family!) Have him watch for bubbles in the batter.  You take the spatula, lift up the pancake and flip it.  When it is ready, guide his hands on the spatula and help him get the pancake to the plate.  Put a spatula in his toybox, and he will start flipping all kinds of things.  

With Your Preschooler

Show him the recipe.  Model how you follow along with your finger and check that you have each ingredient.  Have him gather all the ingredients he can reach (alone or with a low stool).  Begin to have him do the measuring.  It is easier to start with smaller measuring cups and a sturdy, wide-mouthed container for things like flour and sugar.  For hard tasks like pouring out the salt, start by having him hold the spoon and scrape the excess off with the back side of a butter knife.  If cracking the egg is hard, have him practice with half a dozen eggs at a different time, warning about the dangers of raw eggs and being super careful about his not putting his hands in his mouth.  Teach him to wash his hands carefully afterwards.  Flipping the cakes will get increasingly independent.  Give him a hand when he needs it, but also be ready to sacrifice a few pancakes to the floor as he is learning.

With Your Kindergartner/First Grader

Have your child read the recipe.  This should be easy as by now he should have memorized it.  If he is struggling, print it out in the big type--a piece of paper is easier than a cookbook--and read it aloud with him.  At this point, you and your child have made a ton of pancakes.  By this time, he should be capable of handling the whole process on his own, with a few assists in turning on the stove and checking the pan temperature.  You will be standing near by--at the ready in case anything becomes dangerous--but you will let your child make mistakes (like putting the bowl too close to the edge of the counter and having the whole thing tip onto the floor!).  Remember, the purpose here is not the pancakes.  The purpose is the learning.  Having to clean up a bowl of batter is a much better teacher than reminding him for the millionth time.  

With Your Second/Third Grader

Your child makes you pancakes.  You eat them up happily.  Whoo hoo!  Good job, Parents!

Breaking It Down 

Pancakes are a great place to begin with independence because children love to eat them, so you have built in motivation.  But you can break down any task and engage your kids in it--making their beds, doing the laundry, planting a garden.  You name it.  When kids master skills, they feel important, and when those skills help the family, they feel needed.  That brings families together.  

Taking Action

Are you afraid that you are doing too much for your kids and that you are failing to teach them to stand on their own two feet?  Not to worry.  Earlier is better, but it is never too late.  Just give it a go, starting wherever your child is developmentally ready and going one step at a time.  

If you still feel insecure, let's troubleshoot together.  Sign up for a complimentary introductory strategy session HERE.