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Joyful Musings--a weekly blog

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

Filtering by Category: Trust

Expanding the Parenting Circle

Elisabeth Stitt

EXPANDING THE PARENTING CIRCLE


I LOVE THAT I AM MOM.  My daughter once pointed out that she holds the special spot in my life of being the only child to grow in my womb.  That does give us a bond that says I am her primary parent.  I love being her primary person. 

But her dad and I have been divorced since she was three, and her stepmother has been in her life almost as long (and her stepfather a few years after that).  That means that while I am her primary parent, Julie has a lot of other parents.  And a lot of other parent figures. 

Now, that could feel threatening to me.  But it’s not.  Instead, it is a source of supreme comfort.  Seriously.  Parenting is a lot of pressure.  I can think of dozens of ways—mostly small but some large, too—that I have messed up.  On the other hand, I can also think of ways that Julie’s stepmom or aunts or grandmothers or good family friends have gotten it right.  They have been able to provide what I wasn’t at the time Julie needed something.

The biggest example of other adults providing help where I couldn’t was when I got remarried.  Because I got married in India and didn’t know I was getting married (long story!), that meant that a) the kids were not with us and b) we did not prepare the kids for our marriage in the way that I normally would have.  You can imagine the guilt I have felt over that—guilt that was reinforced by how long my daughter stayed mad at me.  Thank goodness Julie had my friend Leslie during this time.  Julie spent lots of hours at Leslie’s (supposedly to play with Leslie’s daughter, but I know that she saw Leslie as someone who absolutely understood and who (unlike my family) didn’t take my side but just kept agreeing with Julie that having your mom remarry must be really hard).    

Think of who the special adults have been in your life.  Middle school is a stage where kids begin to examine the world through their own lens.  Up until that point, they follow their parents’ views on things pretty closely.  I was miserable in middle school.  But my school librarian was a big help.  She seemed to get me.  She was ready to listen to me without lecturing.  Even when I complained about my mother, she acknowledged my feelings but didn’t make me feel bad for feeling them.  At that stage in my life, I was busy trying to pull away from my mother in order to get some space to figure out who I was.  No matter how much she wanted to, she was not the person who could help me at that point.  It took an outside, caring adult

It was just lucky that I found Mrs. Anderson, the school librarian, but I also had my godmother.  She was someone my parents had deliberately chosen to be an extra adult in my life.  She loved me and cared deeply for me, but because I wasn’t ultimately her responsibility, she could love me exactly as I was.  Unlike a parent whose job it is to civilize a child (to set expectations for him, to hold him accountable, to push him beyond what he can see for himself), a godparent’s job is mostly just to be there as a wise advisor.  The godparent can give counsel, but the child has no obligation to follow it. That means the child is much more likely to listen (even if the message is pretty much what the parents have been saying al along.  Whereas my godmother clucked over her own boys like a nervous mother hen, with me she could be supremely confident that “only nice things could come to such a nice girl.”

Parents can do much to extend the family circle beyond the nuclear family.  Obviously, how you interact with adults around you will signal to your child how comfortable you are with particular adults as people.  You can go one step farther, though, by helping your children to connect to potential caring adults.  Point those people out.  Guide your children when they might have an interest in common with a caring adult.  Maybe you find out that a teacher at your child’s school exhibits her own art.  You yourself don’t know Jackson Pollock from a Kindergarten project.  By suggesting to your child that she show the artist teacher her work, you are telling your child that you honor her interest in art even if you don’t know anything about it. 

Populating your child’s life with a circle of adults to love and support her is an excellent example of being the architect of your family.  You don’t have to do all the heavy lifting yourself, but the design will be yours.  

How Do You Deal with Your Kids When You and Your Husband Disagree?  

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

WE CARE SO DEEPLY,  IT IS HARD TO SHIFT OUR POSITION

Ideally, spouses will agree with each other.  Indeed, were the world ideal, that would be easy.  Parenting is so personal, however, that it really is hard for parents to have worked out ahead of time what they want their approach to be. Parenting decisions are arguably the most important you'll ever make!  Talk about pressure. It is hard to give up your own point of view.

FIND AREAS IN COMMON AND HAVE EACH OTHER'S BACKS

I find it helps when parents focus more on what they agree on than on what they disagree on.   The first key is that the core values are the same.  I find it very constructive when parents narrow in on 3-4 absolutes.  For example, “In our family we are kind” or “In our family, we take care of our things.”  Which values parents focus on is less important than the power of a consistently presented message around agreed upon ideas. If parents have a lot of agreement and emphasis on the biggies for their family, there will be less need to micromanage each other.  I coach most parents to give their partner more space to parent the way each wants to.  

The second key is that at least there is an agreement in place to support each other.  In my blended family, my husband and stepchildren agreed to eat at the table with the t.v. off when I was there.  Nights I wasn’t home, they ate in front of the t.v.  When my younger stepson asked why they didn’t when I wasn’t home, my husband said, “What matters is that Elisabeth cares, so when she is home, we do it for her.”  In this case, my husband didn’t share the value of sitting at the table, but he did have my back.  I, for my part, let go of trying to convince him that I was right or even why it was important to me.  It was enough that he supported me.  By each giving each other some space, we both kept peace and presented a united front.  

ACCEPT DIFFERENCES IN THE LITTLE THINGS

As long as the core values are in place, it is okay for parents to have different approaches.  If Dad is supervising homework and he says yes to 15 minutes of shooting hoops before getting started, Mom should walk away, even if she has a problem with it.  In the same vein, if Mom is happy to have all the toys thrown into one big bin, Dad needs to wait until he is in charge to have kids sort the toys into separate bins.  Kids can handle two standards to some extent.  That being said, I do find it useful for spouses to have a rule that says kids have to take the first answer they get.  Of course, sometimes this will just mean that kids will go to the parent from whom they can get the yes.  In my own family growing up, that meant that my father always defaulted back to, “Ask your mother” or “Yes, if Mommy says so," but what is really important is that one parent's yes cannot fall to the other parent.  In other words, if mom says yes to a sleepover at Annie's, she cannot now expect dad to drop what he is doing to drive their daughter to the sleepover--or to be the one to pick her up in the morning.  Or if dad says yes to watching a movie that will keep kids up after bed time, it is not fair if mom is the one dealing with rude, grumpy children in the morning.

MAKE SURE THE DOWN SIDE OF YOUR PARENTING DECISIONS DON'T FALL TO YOUR PARENTING PARTNER

Similarly, for parents co-parenting from two separate households, I like the rule that dad cannot say yes to something that is on mom's day.  If my daughter wanted a play date on my weekend, she had to call and ask me.  That made it simpler as for the most part as we didn’t have to agree.  On the other hand, we had little control over what the other spouse did—and sometimes that made it really hard for me to hold my tongue.  For instance, my daughter's dad said yes to her going rock climbing with friends.  That freaked me out, but in the short run a) it was too late for me to do anything about it, and b) it was more important to back up my trust in her father than to make a big scene.  

IN MOST CASES, RELATIONSHIP SHOULD TRUMP PARENTING STYLE

The bottom line here is that the relationship between the parents is usually more important than a particular parenting decision.  Children can thrive with a wide variety of parenting styles as long as they feel safe and secure.  They get that from having their parents on the same page.  

My #1 Tip for Helping with College Admissions Essays (The younger your child, the more you need this!)

Elisabeth Stitt

was an English teacher for 25 years and worked as a writing tutor on the side, often helping kids with their college app, including my own three children. That experience has given me my own perspective on the college admissions essay process. 

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5 Skills to Focus on This School Year

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

It’s back to school time, and most parents ask themselves what academic skills are my children going to learn this year?  What number concepts will they have mastered?  How will their writing improve?  

Not to worry.  Your children’s teachers have those topics covered.  

But what are you going to focus on teaching your child this year?  Life skills are first and foremost the responsibility of the parent.  Here are some of the key skills that will support your children’s school success:

Emotional Awareness

Emotional awareness has to do with being able to identify emotions in yourselves and others.  This is built in children first by helping them identify emotions and states of being in themselves by narrating their experience.  That means guessing what is going on with them by connecting their physical clues with their likely emotional states.  You might say things like, “You’re shivering.  You must be feeling cold” or “You are pulling your eyebrows tight together.  Are you angry about something?”  Increasing the emotional vocabulary beyond mad, sad and glad also helps children be more aware of the range of emotional states.  Are they annoyed or furious?  A bit blue or down in the dumps? Content or jumping for joy?  Emotional awareness can then be extended to their interactions with other people or characters from a book.  You might say, “I see that Camille’s lower lip is jutting out like this and the corners of her mouth are turned down.  How do you think she is feeling right now?  The more sophisticated kids get at perceiving their own and other’s emotional states, the more efficiently they can offer solutions for altering that state. 

Resiliency

Resiliency means bouncing back relatively easily from difficult experiences (Note that it does not mean sheltering our children from difficult experiences!).  Being emotionally aware is a good first step in building resilience in children.  Naming emotions and connecting them the physical states allows children to step back from their emotions and be less overwhelmed by them.  Let’s say that a child is feeling some strong emotions because she has lost a game.  Perhaps she is disappointed at her own performance.  Perhaps she fears being judged as “less than” compared to her peers.  Perhaps she feels disconnected because attention has shifted to the winners of the game.  Knowing what the strong emotion is allows her to take an action that will address that specific need.  If she is disappointed in her own performance, she might make a plan for what to practice for next time.  If she feels being judged compared to her peers, she might remind herself that there are lots of other things she is good at.  If she feels disconnected, she might reintegrate herself by congratulating the winners on their accomplishment.  Each of these actions has the potential for helping to regulate her strong emotions.

 Taking Responsibility for One’s Own Actions

A big part of taking responsibility for one’s own actions is seeing oneself as being “in process.”  When we accept that as we learn new things we are bound to make mistakes, it makes it easier for us to own up to actions or decisions which in hindsight were maybe not the best choices.  Parents can help their children learn this by encouraging their children to reflect on their actions rather than to just be critical about them.  Children who have parents who model forgiveness learn to forgive themselves.  That makes it safe for them to admit when they have messed up. This in turn aids in their picking themselves up and moving forward.   (For a complete blog on accepting blame, go HERE.)

Problem Solving

One of my favorite questions for kids is, “What needs to happen now?”  Spilt milk? What needs to happen now?  Lost sweater? What needs to happen now?  Little brother crying because you grabbed a toy from him?  What needs to happen now?  Failed to save your homework on the computer and don’t have it to turn in?  “What needs to happen now?”  

Many parents have a tendency to rush in too fast.  They rush to make things better.  They rush to punish.  They rush to find a solution.  But given the chance, kids are natural problem solvers.  Milk spills?  Even a toddler has seen you wipe things up dozens of times.  Next time try asking, “What needs to happen now?”  Most toddlers will run grab a rag (You can help them out by hanging some rags or having a paper towel rack at their level).  Computer glitches?  Maybe you can work some magic to recover a lost document.  If yes, great.  Take the time to teach your child how to do the same trick.  If no, offer lots of sympathy, but at the end of the day, let your child suffer the consequence whether that is redoing the assignment or getting in trouble with the teacher.  When you solve things for your child, he might be grateful in the short run, but in the long run you have failed to teach him anything. 

Independence

     Mentally walk through your child’s day and consider where she could be more independent.  If she is a toddler or preschooler, could she do more to put on her own clothes? Handle her own ablutions? Pick up after herself more?  With training, bit by bit, a child can do all these things before entering Kindergarten with very little supervision.  An elementary school child can learn to get his own cereal, make his own lunch and pack his backpack for school.  He can begin to read the weather and make guesses based on the season (or check the app!) to decide whether he needs a sweater or a jacket in that backpack. He can sort his laundry and make sure it gets to the laundry room.  He can fold it and put it away.  An upper elementary school child should be doing homework independently and asking for help only after trying a couple different strategies.  She should be getting comfortable with walking away from you physically—next door to borrow some sugar or to the other end of the store to pickup the milk or down the block to a friend’s house.  A middle school child should be keeping track of her own schedule and communicating her needs (for carpooling or other support) to her parents and coordinating what will work for them.  She should be able to talk to her teachers and coaches when she has questions or concerns.  

The Bottom Line:  Parents Set Their Kids Up for Success

Parents are their kids' first teachers.  Kids who have learned these five life skills come to school ready to learn.  They have the external structures which allow them to work efficiently and the internal structures that allow them to cope when things get hard both socially and academically.  In the end, these are the skills that allow your child to focus more fully on her academics, so if you want your child to do well at school, don’t ask him to do extra assignments or get him extra tutoring.  Help him learn to regulate his emotions, to find ways to stay positive when things get hard, to see the effects of his own actions (positive or negative), to find solutions to problems and, finally, to take charge of his own life as much as he is developmentally ready to do so.  

These skills do not happen over night.  The mastery of each of them represents many hours of thoughtful parental guidance.  It is easy to feel impatient as a parent.  You might wail, “I’ve told him a thousand times to….”  Look for improvement and take heart.  As much as possible, try to use questions rather than “I told you’s.”  Asking, “What is the result of leaving wet towels on the floor?” is much more effective than yelling for the umpteenth time, “Hang up your wet towel!”  A child who can verbalize that wet towels lead to mold, smelly bathrooms, and maybe even wood rot is much less likely to just throw the towel on the floor.  

Get Support in Supporting Your Children

Parenting is a life skill.  It is something we learn, not something we just know how to do.  How effective are you at instilling life skills in your children?  Which ones come easily?  With which do you still struggle?  I hear a lot of variations from parents along the theme of "But my kid just isn't ready" or "Well, my kid has ADHD, so I can't trust him to do that on his own."  Few children are able to jump from A to Z, but all children are capable of learning if you break the learning down into small enough chunks.   

Do you need help scaffolding these life skills for your kids?  I can help!  Sign up HERE for a "On the Road to Responsible" 20-minute Strategy Session.  

 

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

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! 

 

Set Your Kids Free: 10 Things They Need to Be Able to Do on Their Own by Middle School

Elisabeth Stitt

Reposted from October 18, 2015

 It used to be that kids were treated as mini adults, and now the pendulum has swung the other way and young adults are being treated (and acting) as overgrown kids.  You have probably heard about the damage of being a too intense parent--whether that means tiger mom or helicopter parent.  Now you may be wondering what should you be expecting of your child?  The early childhood markers of independence--sitting, walking, potty training, etc.--get talked about a lot, but what is reasonable to expect of our older children is not as clear.  Just what should our early adolescent/ middle school kids be able to do on their own?

    I started thinking about this from the kids' point of view.  That made me remember the children's literature I grew up on.  Many of my favorite books were about young people taking charge independently--often away from their parents.  Let's start with Enid Blyton's The Famous Five series.  Beginning with Five on a Treasure Island, five cousins spend the summer having one adventure after the next.  There is home base where meals are offered and the children check in, but the assumption of the adults seems to be that as long as they are out in the fresh air, together, that they are generally fine no matter what they are getting up to.  In the Swallows and Amazon books by Arthur Ransome, six children are given permission to camp on an island in the middle of a lake.  They cook over open fires and deal with the local "natives" (as the children refer to the adults) to procure supplies.  Another popular example of kids on a mission is From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. It is about two children who run away from the suburbs to New York City and who handle themselves very well.  In all these books, the children are supported by friends, cousins or siblings and range in age between around 9 and 13.  For me the common themes are that a) children are generally seen as very capable and b) they relish in the opportunity to show how able they are to take care of themselves.  

    When kids are very little we are aware of teaching them what they need to take care of themselves.  We do not expect infants to learn to sit, to walk, to talk, to use the potty by themselves.  Day after day, month after month, we train them and encourage them to take things one level further.  We also give a lot of enthusiastic reinforcement for each new thing they learn.  These days, however, as soon as kids hit school--whether that is preschool or Kindergarten--we tend to focus solely on their academic and extra curricular progress.  Once they learn to tie their own shoes, it is like they get frozen in childhood where we are still taking care of everything else for them.  The result is that we leave them to do a lot of learning on their own when they get to college or out into the world.  Doesn't it make more sense to bring them along a continuum of self care and autonomy right from the start?

    Based on twelve years as a middle school teacher, I have a good idea of what 11-14 year olds are capable of if it has been expected of them and their parents have taken the time to teach it to them in stages.  Here are my Top Ten Responsibilities Kids Should Be Taking by Middle School. 

1.  Get up, dressed and washed on their own.

    Do you still wake your child up for school?  Stop!  It should be their job to set their own alarm, to pick out appropriate clothes, and to have good routines for washing and brushing themselves.  Your only job should be to introduce deodorant when the need for it arises and to support the school's dress code.  

2.  Make their own breakfasts

    Kids are certainly capable of getting their own cereal, toast, frozen waffles, etc.  If your family manages a hot breakfast, that's fantastic.  Kids can also learn to make pancakes and eggs and the like with practice.  Starting around eight or nine, have them work alongside you.  Model the steps.  I hear you saying, they don't have time to get ready.  It is easier if I just do it for them.  Of course it is easier and faster not to take time to give kids the skills they need in the short run.  In the long run, it doesn't pay off.  (And while I'm talking about food, teach your five and six year olds to cut their meat with a knife.  With care and attention, they will not hurt themselves).  

3.  Make their own lunches

    Are you under the illusion that your child is eating her lunch?  I spent years--years!--lecturing students about not throwing away perfectly good food.  You know what their answer was? My mom doesn't like it when I come home without eating what she packs me. So, rather than deal with the conversation about why they didn't eat what was provided, kids throw away the evidence. Children who pack their own lunches pack food they know they'll eat.  They know what to pack and how much to pack. 

4.  Get to school on their own 

    Okay, you may balk at this one.  I know that lots of kids no longer go to their neighborhood schools and few school districts provide busses.  There are still ways to give kids their independence.  For one, stop being in charge of checking if they have remembered everything they are going to need for the day.  They are big enough to keep track of that on their own--and if they are not, suffering the natural consequences of not remembering will be a much faster teacher than your nagging and reminders.  Even if you are driving your kids to school, give them the anonymity of dropping them off three or four blocks away.  This ten minute walk will allow them at least a little taste of freedom--and you will make the school happy by improving the drop off/pick up congestion.  

5.  Do homework on their own

    The sooner you let your kids manage homework on their own the better.  So how do you scaffold that?  Help them set up a place and a routine for doing their work.  When they ask for help, encourage them to attack it on their own by asking supportive questions:  How could you approach this?  What is the assignment asking for?  How does this assignment look like other assignments you have done?  What strategy could you use here?  Ask--and then back off.  Give your child a chance to do it on his own.  Offer a lot a reassurance that he will figure it out.  If he has worked on it a reasonable amount of time (ten minutes per grade level total is a good overall recommendation--but that's a whole other blog), let it be okay for him to go to school without it done.  Help him set up a method like a folder for homework to turn in. Initially you can check that it gets into the folder and the folder into the backpack, but by third or fourth grade, if kids do not have the system down, they have not been taking responsibility for their own learning. (That is not to say that as each new school year begins it might not be necessary to check in with your child's system again.)

6.  Do some cooking and some cleaning

    It used to be that kids had to help out with chores just to keep the family alive.  In fact, the need for extra hands was one of the reasons for having large families.  Then for a long time, that was not true.  Modernization meant that machines started taking over some of the work and there was less to do.  Many mothers were able to stay home to take care of their households and their families.  Now that the pendulum has shifted back and 70% of mothers are in the workforce, families where everyone pitches in are much happier.  Children may groan about doing chores, but they hate having stressed out parents even more.  Get your kids involved in the daily tasks of cooking and cleaning, and they will have the pride of knowing that they have contributed positively to the family.  Being needed means that you are important, that your family couldn't get by without you.  That gives children a tremendous sense of security.  Knowing you can take care of yourself also reinforces your own self worth. 

7. Choose their own electives and extra-curricular activities 

     Parents have a tough job finding the fine balance between encouraging kids to try new things and at the same time to stick with activities long enough that they have the satisfaction of feeling truly accomplished.  At the end of it all, though, don't you want to know that your kids have found something they really love?  Not something that will look good on their college apps or will help them as adults--or even something that they are really good at--but just something that has them fully engaged and alive.  I had a sad conversation with a teen this summer who started off playing two sports:  Her mom loved one; her dad loved the other.  When she needed to choose just one do just one because of time constraints, she felt like she was choosing between making one parent happy or the other.  I asked if she is just crazy about this sport.  She said she liked hanging out with her friends on the team but that no, she doesn't just love it.  Imagine, she has spent hours and hours of her life pursuing something she only likes.

8.  Talk to teachers to get clarification on assignments, to ask for help, to ask questions about comments and grades received.  

    Your child's teacher is his first boss.  There is no academic lesson your child will learn that is more important than learning to negotiate his relationship with his teacher.  Learning to communicate with people in more powerful positions than you is an essential life skill, and practicing with one's teacher is the perfect opportunity:  The teacher may have power, but she is highly motivated for your child to be successful (after all, his success is her success).  Support your child in this relationship by role playing and rehearsing what he might say when he needs something from his teacher.  The more he can interact with his teacher, the easier it will become.  Only step in on your child's behalf if your child has tried a few interactions and hasn't gotten anywhere.  Again, the goal is not to swoop in and rescue your child from any feelings of discomfort.  Rather it is to support him through an uncomfortable situation so that he will be more at ease next time.

9.  Be able to handle money.

    Personal finance is not my area of expertise, so for this one, I'm going to connect you to Bill Dwight, CEO of a nifty website/product called FamZoo (FamZoo.com).  Read his blog here on 7 Practical Tips for Raising Money Smart Kids (http://blog.famzoo.com/2014/09/7-tips-for-raising-money-smart-kids.html).  This was the area I failed to scaffold and had to scramble to fill in the gaps as my daughter went off to college.  How I wish I had been developing her independence in this area all along.  

10.  Get around by themselves. 

    These days it seems like kids sit in the back seat of a car glued to an electronic device, oblivious to where they are, trusting their parent will get them to where they want to go.  When my stepson was learning to drive, my husband and he went to a store they often had gone to before in the next town north.  When they got back into the car, my husband said I want you to take us home without any help.  The ten minute trip took forty-five minutes because even though he had made the drive north, my stepson hadn't really paid attention to where he was beyond the step-by-step instructions my husband had given him.  Meanwhile, my daughter, two years away from being eligible for her driver's permit, was able to describe perfectly how to get home.  I chalk this up to the fact that because she and I had taken public transportation--and she had taken it on her own once I had done it with her--she had learned the major streets and landmarks near by.  Knowing she could find her way home--whether driving or on foot or using public transportation gave her enormous confidence.  

     Teaching your kids these lessons and setting these expectations for them for middle school means they will have time to master them by the time they hit high school.  Armed with self sufficiency and self efficacy, your teenager will be able to focus on expanding into the world--for jobs, for internships, for summer travel programs, to be leaders on school teams and in school clubs.  Most importantly, they will be ready to go off to college as the 18-year-old adults the state considers them to be.  They will have skills to handle roommates, a large campus with lots of buildings, clean clothes, getting themselves fed, handling their money, talking to professors, deans and resident assistances, etc. etc.  They will not find the need to text their parents every day just to stay on track.  Can you imagine checking in with your parents every day when you were in college?  No way!  To set your kids free, train them up bit by bit.  

Want more tips for kids and couples?  Get my blogs and newseletters HERE right in your inbox. Need support in setting your kids free?  get started by signing up HERE for a free 20-minute consult.  

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.

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

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt

YOU'RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!  

     Has your child said that to you?  Did it make your blood boil?  It can be really hard when a pint-sized person pits every cell in his body against you and down right scary when he is taller and outweighs you.  Of course, all you want is what is best for him--clean teeth or the benefit of kale or the sleep that will restore her brain--and there he is, hands clenched, opposing you strenuously, demanding his due as a person with his own wants, needs and desires.  You might be tempted to wring his neck.  

But did you ever ask yourself what you are doing to contribute to your child's bad attitude?

MISTAKE #1:  Treating your children rudely.

Not being rude does not mean we don't get to tell our kids what to do.  We do.  What it really means is that we need to show our children the same consideration we would show a work colleague, a neighbor or spouse in asking them to do something.  We wouldn't dream of just demanding that a neighbor do something.  No way!  We are polite.  We say please and thank you.  We use softening phrases like "I would really like it if..." or "It would be very much appreciated if..." and then we make our request.  I hope you would never march up to a neighbor and demand compliance instantly.  And yet we do it with our kids all the time.  

Now, that being said.  With strong willed children, less is often more.  Using too many words will allow for loopholes and ambiguity.  You will command--not demand.  What's the difference?  The tone and the attitude.  A command is clear, firm and confident:  Coats on hooks, please!  The tone is not harsh, strident or critical.  The attitude is not I-am-your-mother-so-you-better-listen-to-me-or-else.  No.  Your cheerful reminder needs to connote we are a family and this is our routine.  

Some people say you shouldn't thank children for tasks you expect them to do anyway.  I disagree.  I am big in favor of thank you.  My husband is the hunter and gatherer in our house.  He pretty much always takes responsibility for ordering and picking up take out.  Just because it is the pattern in our house that that is his regular job--to the point where I expect that he will do it without having to ask him--does that mean I am not going to thank him?  Of course, not.  I am very grateful to be fed.  I am always going to say thank you.  In the same way, when my kids set or clear the table or take out the garbage, I show my appreciation.  I certainly have trained them to say thank you to me for the things I do to make our house run more smoothly.  

MISTAKE #2:  Demanding instant compliance my way or the highway 

Clearly, we are not going to stop making demands on our children.  We expect them to do their homework, to eat their dinner and to take the family dog for a walk.  On the other hand, we need to recognize how hard it is for a strong, independent soul to be told when, how and where to do something--especially without any explanation.  I don't know if you feel this way, but I find it very annoying to have to put down something I am doing to jump up to do someone else's bidding.  I still remember cringing at the sound of my mother's heals coming briskly through the house.  I never knew when she was going to swoop in with some proclamation of What-needs-to-be-done-right-now!  It wasn't that I didn't want to be helpful.  I just wanted some advance warning, so I wouldn't get caught in the middle of an especially good chapter of Nancy Drew.  

The trick to finding the balance between your child as an individual with wants and needs and the needs of the big picture is choice.  Keeping within the guidelines of what will work for your family, look to where you can offer choice, starting with questions like do you want peas or squash and moving on to choices like would you like to do your homework before snack or after?  There are lots of ways to give your child some options without giving up the expectation that something is going to be a certain way.  If you find it difficult, think through your child's day and write down the choices you might offer.  Here are some examples to help guide you:

        With little kids:

            Would you like to fly to the car or be a choochoo train?

            Am I brushing alligator teeth tonight or polar bear?

            Are we washing your face first or brushing teeth?

            Are you going to brush your teeth and have me inspect or am I going to 

                brush your teeth and have you inspect?

            Do you want your dinosaur coat or your penguin sweater?

            Is your coat Elsa's cape or an invisibility cloak?

        With elementary school kids

            Are you going to do math first or reading?

            Would you like to chop the veggies now or be in charge of stirring the soup later?

            Do you want to take a walk or shoot some baskets?

            Are you taking your bath before dinner or after?

            Do you want to work here or in the kitchen?

        With middle school and high school kids

            Would you like to walk the dog this morning or this afternoon?

            Would you like to walk the dog or clean out the fish tank?

            When cleaning the garage are you going to clear the heavy things or the light things first?

            Are you wearing a dress or nice slacks to the theater?

            We are having dinner at Grandma's tonight.  Will you drive with us or meet us there?    

If your child chooses to put off the task until later, you can double check that he has agreed to do the task at the time with no further argument.   If your child won't choose either, you can offer another choice:  Propose an option that will work for me, or I will choose for you.   A child who is unused to being given choices and is just blindly rebelling against being told what to do will push the limits for a while to see if you really mean it.  Just stand firm; she will come around eventually. 

MISTAKE #3 Telling your kids to do the same thing twice

When I learned to train my dog, the dog learned what he needed to learn in around six weeks.  It took me six months.  The hardest part for me to learn was to give the command once and then use my focus and body to see that he followed through.  When we call out commands from the other room or as we are busy adding salt to the soup, we cannot expect to be taken seriously.  Think about it.  How responsive are you?  Do you leap the first time your child makes a request for something?  I bet not.  Usually we keep doing whatever task we are involved with and wait either until a natural break in the task or until the child ups the ante in his insistence.  Likewise, your kids will not follow your wishes when requests are made in such a haphazard way.  

Here's what to do If you want your child to do something the first time you ask:  Stop what you are doing.  Go to the child, get his attention and make the request (cheerfully, firmly, confidently).  Now, I am assuming that you have already corrected Mistake #2 and have given your child some choice about when or how to do the chore, so now you are really giving a reminder.  Stay present until your child transitions to the requested task.  Make eye contact.  You may need to put your hand on whatever it is the child is doing.  Let your eye contact and perhaps a hand on the shoulder do the work here.  You don't need to repeat yourself, just be quietly, calmly unyielding.  Most children will shift to the agreed upon task.  Some will need to have a tantrum before they do it.  The tantrum is likely totally unrelated to the request at hand.  That's okay.  Let him have the tantrum anyway.  We he has had a good cry, he will be ready to follow through on the task.  Obviously, the more you have done this with your kids when they are young, the more they will know that you are not moving until they move.  

MISTAKE #4Treating your kid as an unthinking child rather than as a reasonable human being

You want your kids' cooperation--not just today but over time.  Short term compliance is easy to get with yelling and intimidation.  You get it at the cost of the long term relationship, however.  Your goal needs to be to include your children in a way that honors who they are at their core.  

In his work The Prophet. Kalhil Gibran, the 19th century philosopher, writes

            Your children are not your children.

        They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.

        They come through you but not from you,

        And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

What this really means is that we have to be very careful about telling our children what to do and how to be.  That authoritarian approach appears to work with mild children who just want to make everyone happy, but it is at a very high cost.  Telling your child what to do all the time can end in one of two ways: rebellion (and that makes life miserable for everyone) or submission, which appears to be the better option but results in children who are not only afraid to express their own views but who may cease to have opinions all together.  If every time you open your mouth to express a desire or interest, you are redirected or immediately shut down, you very quickly learn not to express your preferences. 

Even well intentioned parents fall into this trap.  It is time to pick next year's classes, and a parent gushes about how beautiful French is and why would anyone want to learn a language as guttural as German.  This parent may well think she has left the choice to her child.  But such a comment will feel like a proclamation to a mild mannered child.  The mild-mannered child would never risk falling into the group of people his mother has contempt for (ie, those who want to learn guttural languages); he will certainly take French rather than risk her disapproval or disappointment.  The rebellious child may well choose German just for satisfaction of thwarting his mother.  Neither child has chosen out of true interest.  

So, how do we find the balance?  Of course it is your job to keep your child safe, and it is also your job to raise an adult who treats others kindly and behaves with consideration for the wider community.  At the same time, it is not respectful to constantly tell your child what to do, how to behave and certainly not to suggest that they may or may not like something.  This is a slippery slope.  Think how often we tell our young children to try something to eat.  You'll like it! we say in a bright cheery voice.  I remember I told my mother once that I didn't want to go to the beach, and she said to me, "Of course, you want to go to the beach.  You love the beach!"  And that is true.  I do love the beach. But that day I didn't feel like going to the beach.  How presumptuous of her discount my opinion and brush it aside.  Similar events happened often enough that I found it was much easier to just not care very much--about where we went or what we ate or what we did when we got there.  A rebellious child, on the other hand, who is not given some space to assert herself will not shut down.  No, she will push back harder and harder until every request becomes a battle.  

The way to give your child space to assert herself is by using open ended questions that require her to think and plan.  More open ended questions might look like this:

            What kind of help do you anticipate needing with your homework this week?

            Here is a list of activities that will work with our schedule this fall.  Which do you want?

            Of everything that we do over the Christmas season, what is most important to you?

            It is important to me that we go to the Christmas Eve service.  I know you don't

                     like going to the evening service.  Can you think of anything that will make

                     it easier to go?  

            If you get cold in that outfit how are you going to deal with it in a way that doesn't 

                      impact the rest of the family negatively?

            The pediatrician is concerned that you are not getting the protein you need.                                              Here is list of good protein sources.  Please rank them from the one you are                                    most willing to try to least willing to try.

            Wet towels left on the floor get moldy and stink up the place.  Please come up with                                  a plan to make sure that doesn't happen.  

These questions acknowledge that your child is a person and can be part of the solution.  Your expectations are still clear.  Homework will get done, kids will sign up for activities and protein will be eaten.  If the child feels her views are heard and considered, she will be more willing to go along even when your answer is no and even when it is not something she really wants to do. 

Perhaps you grew up in a household where you just did what your parents told you to do.  You didn't talk back.  You didn't question it.  Those kinds of households are increasingly rare, however.  Society has shifted such that we no longer blindly accept authority--not that of our police keeping forces, not that of our bosses, not that of our teachers, and by extension not that of our parents.  For this reason, cooperation has to be earned and won.  And actually, that is fine with me.   Treating kids respectfully teaches and models for them how to treat others respectfully.  We want our kids to be thinkers.  We want them to come up with solutions that will work for the whole family.  

Correct these four mistakes that often have your kids talking back to you, and you will be on your way to having a more harmonious home.  

Is talking back a big problem in your family?  Let's do a complimentary 20-minute strategy session.  I'd love to help you fix these issues with your particular child.  Sign up HERE.  

Please leave a comment.  What techniques have worked for you when it comes to backtalk? My post Set Your Kids Free: 10 Things They Need to Be Able to Do on Their Own by Middle School generated a lot of interest.  Engaging your kids in a positive way about cooperation in your household is another of those skills that your kids should have mastered by middle school.  It is all a part of taking responsibility for your own actions within the context of the greater community (in this case the family community).

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

Setting Your Kids Free by Teaching Them a Love of Learning

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt      

One of the reasons parents do so much for their children in the areas of self care and daily life is not because they honestly think their children incompetent.  Rather, they are trying to free their children up to spend time on their academics.  While we all understand that a college education is as necessary today as a high school education was in previous generation, it is not the be all and end all.  It is a piece of your child's journey to adulthood, yes, but their success and happiness as an adult will ultimately rest on broader life skills like self-initiative, cooperation and teamwork, creativity and motivation.  And the perhaps most important of all life skills:  A love of learning.  

DEVELOPING A LOVE OF LEARNING

     Children who have a love of learning are naturally motivated.  They go seeking answers on their own.  School becomes a pleasure, not a half to.  If you have a child who loves school, he is willing to play the school game--get there on time, do the homework, memorize seemingly random facts--because he will see all those thingsas a part of his opportunity to do experiments, to reenact the landing of the Pilgrims, to interpret or write a poem.  He will see homework as a way to check his understanding.  He will want to know how he did not just to make a grade but to know where to correct his learning.   

     A love of learning does not thrive in an environment where parents are constantly looking over your shoulder, micromanaging assignments and monitoring grades as if the health of the stock market were tied to your performance.  Or more likely in many homes, as if the success or failure of a research paper in fourth or fifth grade were an indicator of what college a kid is going to get in to.  No.  A love of learning thrives when school is seen as a process--a time and place to fail.  Imagine a skater trying to learn a salchow and not falling down.  Not possible, right?  We know that every fall requires enormous risk and faith.   And from every fall comes a great deal of learning--learning of what not to do, learning about what to try next time.  And the coach knows she cannot go out on the ice and do the salchow for the child.  What would be the point?  Where would the learning be?  Likewise, when we take over our children's learning--by managing them to death--we rob them of any benefit.  

ARE YOU A HELICOPTER PARENT?

     If you have been a helicopter parent when it comes to schoolwork, stop and ask yourself why.  What do you fear?  What are you protecting your child from?  What are you protecting yourself from?  To some extent, I know that parents are just going by what the school or other parents expect. Ironically, many teachers I know would like to give less homework but get pressure from the parents or are accused of being lazy if they don't assign it.  These are not good reasons for homework.  Studies routinely find that the efficacy of doing homework drops off precipitously after around 30 minutes, and in fact, even then the value is in the discipline of remembering you have homework, knowing what the assignment is, doing it and actually getting it back to school and turning it in--not in whatever the homework actually practices.  My own anecdotal experience bares this to be true.  My daughter went to a school where there was no homework before fourth grade and by middle school it was maybe an hour or two a week.  Did this hurt her?  No, she stepped into top classes at a large public high school without missing a beat.  

MAKE THE LEARNING THEIRS

     So how do we motivate our kids to become lifelong learners?  First and foremost, we need to make the learning theirs--the assignments need to be theirs, the grades need to be theirs and the mistakes need to be theirs.   I am reminded of the proverb, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink."  Knowledge has no value if you do not put it to use.  You can cram facts into a child's head by sheer route learning, by threatening and bribing, but to what end?  If the child does not have an intrinsic interest, each thing he learns will be in isolation, a box on a checklist to mark completed.  Keep the emphasis on the knowledge and experience gained, on the process, on the lessons and not on the outcome.  

     Good teachers find ways for kids to have ownership over their learning by giving them as much choice and leeway as possible.  Good parents do the same.  Support your child by asking questions.   What help do they think they will need?  How much time will they need to do the assignment?  Will it require back burner energy or front burner concentration to do compared to their other assignments?  When they get the work back, ask your kids if they got what they expected.  If not, why?  What went wrong?  What could they do differently next time?  What will they commit to doing?  What resources are available for help?  Your support comes in the form of supporting their metacognition--their thinking about how they learn and what they'll get out of it.  

A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE

     I know that some of you are concerned that if you do not push your child academically, you will be failing as a parent--you will be closing the door to the top slots at the top universities.  For you, I offer the perspective of Julie Lythcott-Haims, former freshman dean at Stanford.  Listen here (https://www.freeconferencecall.com/wall/recorded_audio?audioRecordingUrl=https%3A%2F%2Frs0000.freeconferencecall.com%2Fstorage%2FsgetFCC2%2FaQ2s9%2FdpsMH&subscriptionId=4985870) to get my interview with her where she lays out why she is urging stressed-out parents to stop trying so hard to make sure their kids succeed.  

     Perhaps you are reading this and disagreeing strongly.  Perhaps you think I don't understand.  I do get it.  Watching my child go through the stress of getting into college--as grounded and together as she was--was heart wrenching.  Every fear I ever had of how I had failed her boiled up.  I had to firmly squelch my need to push her--to insist--she take actions in certain directions.  I had to trust that with the help of a good college counselor to tell her about a wide variety of schools, she was going to find one that was a good fit for her.  And she did.  And she is thriving, excited about her interactions with her professors and the classes she is taking.  She is at a school most people in California haven't even heard of, and yet I have every confidence she is getting a first rate education.  

     Please put your comments below.  Do you really think having high expectations for our kids and at the same time teaching our kids to take responsibility for their own learning, their own successes and their own failures are not mutually exclusive ideas?  I want to hear from you.  

Mining for Gold

Elisabeth Stitt

by Elisabeth Stitt 

There is no doubt that your child is going to have qualities that drive you crazy.  There is no doubt that your child is going to have qualities that cause you concern.  But your job as a parent is to be your child’s champion, to find the good in what your child presents to you.  Why? Because I bet you have experienced the pain of being mislabeled or misunderstood. 
     Try something for me.  Fill in the blank:  I am too _________________.  What’s the word that popped into your head?  Were you too shy? Too anxious? Too loud?  Too bold? Too Forward?  And whose voice in your head gave you that message?  Your mom or dad?  A grandparent?  Or maybe a teacher? 
     Try this one:  I am not ____________________ enough.  What word did you use this time?  Fast, smart, tall, thin, athletic, talented.  All those come to mind.   
     Over the years as a teacher I would ask my seventh graders to complete those two sentences.  What surprised me first was how easy it was for them to do the exercise, even though they were just twelve.  These were not labels they were getting in their teens.  No, these were labels that were already deeply stamped on them, ones that they had absorbed fully not as labels that could be removed but as gospel truths.  The second surprise was that as I heard their labels, they were so often not qualities that I associated with the child I knew sitting in my classroom. 
     What became clear to me is how fully children accept the labels we give them as adults.  Well, let’s start working that to our advantage.  When we think about and talk about our kids, instead of focusing on what we perceive as their deficits, let’s focus on their strengths
     My daughter Julie is as stubborn as the day is long.  Isn’t that wonderful?From the get-go her persistence has been a sight to behold.  As soon as she could crawl, she went everywhere that was open to her, whether it was leaving no toy undiscovered on the toy shelf or no stone unturned in the garden.  She is a committed truth seeker.  She didn’t have much language as a toddler, but I sure knew what she was asking as she tested me over and over:  Really, Mom?  Is the stove really hot?  You say it is, but I better try it out for myself.  What does hot mean?  Oh, and Mom, will you really follow through when I do something you have told me not to? 
     A lot of children will cross some limit you have given because they are tired or hungry and they just lose their control.  Julie had superb control.  I would tell her not to throw sand, and she would wait until I had moved away to sit on a bench for some adult conversation, look to make sure I was watching her and then, her eyes on me and not on the person she was throwing sand at, would carefully, deliberately throw the sand.  And yes, every time I would follow through.  What other children would accept as true, Julie investigated three times as long, coming back to whatever was in question again and again.  Wow!  What a kid.  And what an adult she has become!  A college sophomore, she is diligent and dogged.  She wants to go into neuroscience, a field where I think her stubbornness will serve her well.  I have no doubt that she has the stamina and tenacity to keep pushing and poking for the answers just the way she pushed and poked my patience when she was small.
     I hope I never told her, “Julie, you are too stubborn” or even “Stop being so stubborn,” though I’m sure when I asked if she had to have all the answers right now, she heard the threadbare frustration in my voice.  Maybe even she even heard my internal prayer, “Please, please, please keep me from killing this kid!”  She was not an easy toddler.  Nope.  She was the Energizer Bunny on steroids and at times she did me in, but her strong will and her clarity did leave me in awe. 
     So, your assignment this week is to consider the qualities in your children that you find the most difficult or worrisome.  Perhaps you have labeled them—out loud or in your mind.  Are they irresponsible? Bossy? Rebellious?  Now, go online and do a search for synonyms of the quality that is such a challenge to you.  Pick 8-10 synonyms and rank them from most negative to most positive, from a weakness to a strength.  For Julie, in my dark days it was obstinate, obdurate and obstreperous, but when I was my best parent I rejoiced at how single-minded and steadfast she was, how fixed and firm.    

     Once you have done your assignment, let us know here or email me at elisabeth@elisabethstitt.com what positive terms you have found.  What surprised you?  How has doing the assignment shifted your perspective?  

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Talking So Your Kids Feel Seen and Heard

Elisabeth Stitt

 

by Elisabeth Stitt

Communication Tips you may have learned in an office setting or couples workshop work great with your children, too.

Let's look at how active listening and I-Statements might play out with your kids.  Remember, the purpose of the skills is to open up space in the relationship, to establish good will, and to get and share information.  

Active Listening is a great one to use when your child is upset.  Imagine that your child is mad because you have asked her to clean up the puzzle she is working on before dinner.  You have given her a five minute warning, you have cheerfully given the command, clean up!  You have moved in to help her get started--and not just yelled from the other room.  In short, you have have done everything you can to set the transition to dinner up for success.

But still she is screaming at you!

It is time to move in with some active listening.  The conversation might go like this:

Mom:  Clean up!  Dinner in 5 minutes. [Mom moves into room and touches child lightly on the shoulder.]

Child:  [screaming] No, I'm not done yet.

Mom:  You're frustrated because you thought you would finish.

Child:  No, I'm mad at you Mommy.  I have to finish my puzzle.

Mom:  Mmmm... yes...  tell me more.

Child: It's not fair.  I have to finish my puzzle.

Mom:  It is really important to you to finish that puzzle.  

Child:  Yes, I have to finish it or it won't get done.

Mom:  You feel like you'll never get to finish it if you don't finish it now, is that right?

Child: Yes, that's it. I have to finish my puzzle now.  Let me do it! [screaming again and trying to put her hands on her puzzle].  

Mom:  [Low and soft and looking child in the eye] What's important to you about finishing the puzzle?

Child:  I know I can do it.  I can.  I can do it all by myself.  

Mom: You care a lot about showing you can do this puzzle on your own.  

Child:  Yes, I do Mommy.  I want to show you.  All by myself.  

Mom:  You are a capable girl and like doing things independently.  I can see that.  

At this point Mom has some choices.  She can still insist that the puzzle be picked up before dinner, but maybe she can offer to carefully break it into big chunks and put it in the box so it can be reassembled easily.  Perhaps she can leave the puzzle out until after dinner.  Perhaps she and her daughter can brainstorm where in the house it would be possible to start a puzzle and leave it out until the puzzle was done.  Maybe it is not possible to leave out the puzzle, and her daughter destroys all her work because she is is still so frustrated.  That is not the best outcome, but in terms of Mom's relationship with her daughter, she has taken the time to really hear her.  She has also been reminded of how much her daughter wants to do things on her own from start to finish.  This allows Mom to try to structure things in the future so that her daughter can get that need met.  Mom can also help daughter plan out for next time she gets out a puzzle by reminding her about last time:   She can ask, "How are you going to feel if you don't get a chance to finish the puzzle?  Is it worth it to you to start even if you have to pick it up for dinner?"  All this conversation ahead of time gives her daughter choices which gives her control (and we all like to have control over our lives).  

I-Statements with your Child. 

You can train children to solve problems peacefully just the way you train them to do anything else--by modeling and by scaffolding.

First, model I-Statements with your kids from your own point of view:

Mom:  Sweetie, when I have asked you nicely and you still do not pick up the puzzle, I get really frustrated because dinner is getting cold and I put a lot of effort into getting dinner ready. 

Child:  But Mommy, I have to finish my puzzle.

Mom:  I hear that you want to finish your puzzle, but when I have cooked dinner, and you don't come eat right away, I feel deflated like a big balloon that has popped because I tried hard to make a good dinner.  

Child:  You're not a balloon, Mommy!

Mom:  But that's what I feel like--a popped balloon with all the air out of me--when I have worked hard to cook dinner and it gets all cold.  

Notice how the child's attention has shifted away from her puzzle.  For the moment, in a small way, she is putting herself in her mother's shoes.  This is the beginning of teaching empathy.  The child may shift back to her obsession with the puzzle, but Mom has introduced the idea of an I-Statement.  (As a side note, although metaphors are a pretty abstract idea in some ways, I find they often work with kids because they engage kids' imaginations and shift the child to something visual which is more concrete than a feeling.)  

The next step is to help your child use an I-statement bit by bit (that's the scaffolding).  

This time when Mom comes in to transition to dinner, and her child gets upset, Mom might encourage her child to use an I-Statement.    

Mom:  Clean up!

Child:  No.  I have to finish my puzzle.

Mom: [Putting her hands over the puzzle and making eye contact]  You had your five minute warning; now it is time to clean up!

Child: [Screaming] No, No, Mommy.  I have to finish my puzzle!

Mom:  [Using I-Statement phrasing]  When I asked you to clean up, that made you really mad because you really want to finish this puzzle. 

Child: Yes, yes, I want to finish it now!

Mom:  Can you use your words to tell me that?  Start by saying, "Mommy, when you asked me to clean up..."

Child: [doubtfully] "Mommy, when you asked me to clean up.."

Mom:  Say, "I felt mad..."

Child:  "I felt really, really mad!"

Mom: Say, "Because I wanted to finish this puzzle."

Child: "Because I wanted to finish this puzzle."  I have to finish this puzzle!

Mom:  Let's put it together.  You say it, and I will say it with you.

Child and Mom:  "When you asked me to clean up, I felt mad because I wanted to finish this puzzle."

Mom:  Thanks for telling me how you feel in a respectful way, Sweetie.  

By this time, Child has probably calmed down.  She knows she has been heard.  Plus the process of calmly expressing herself has given her over-wrought nervous system a chance to regulate.  

I had an exchange much like this one with a child I was baby-sitting.  After the I-statement, she took my cheeks in her hands and looked at me seriously and said, "I was really, really mad.  But now I'm sad."  Wow!  What a great job tuning into her feelings.  I was then able to ask her if a hug would make it better.  She agreed yes, and after a great big hug and a gentle raspberry, her mood was re-set, and she was able to let go of finishing the puzzle right then and there.  

The I-Statement might feel formulaic and awkward to you, but kids like structure.  It gives them something dependable to reach for.  Once you have modeled it and walked them through it a bunch of times, you will be able to require it by asking, "Can you please use an I-Statement to tell me how you're feeling?"  Knowing that she will be listened to and that she is going to get a chance to explain herself will help a child calm down.  Most parents are more willing to cooperate with a polite child so a positive feedback loop is quickly formed here.  

Once your children have gotten good at using I-Statements, you can ask them to use them with each other.  The next time your kid comes running to tattle on a sibling, you can say, "It sounds like you're really upset.  Did you use an I-statement with your brother?  No?  Well, why don't you practice with me, and then you can go tell him."  I have my own theory about I-Statements here.  Because it is a little bit tricky to make sure you have all three parts covered (When you... I feel.... because....), a child has to really slow down and think.  My guess is that the process itself is calming.  

You can teach the other child to use some active listening in response (All he has to do is repeat the I-Statement back: When I took the red pen, you got mad because you were about to use it.).  Now it is his turn to use an I-Statement.  He might say something like, "When you hogged all the pens, I felt hurt because I wanted you to share with me."  

At first your kids will need a lot (a lot!) of support with each of these steps.  What really works for the adult in this situation is that you are not in the middle in the sense that you are arbitrating or trying to decide who was right.  You are simply supporting their constructive expression of their emotions.  Once everyone has calmed down enough, you can help brainstorm solutions.  

Teaching our children to express their emotions and to get their needs met calmly is enormous.  Huge, in fact.  As a teacher I could always tell whose parents had taken the time to arm their kids with good communication skills.  Those were the kids who were ready to come to school and learn.  Of course they had conflicts with other kids, but they approached the conflicts with a certain amount of confidence that they could make it okay for every one.  

The trick to teaching kids these skills is to feel fluent in them yourselves, so make that your goal.  Really try to create the time and space to listen actively.  Even an exchange of 2-3 sentences where you are acknowledging feelings and asking for more information will make a difference over time.  

Give it a go, and then leave a comment here let us know on the Joyful Parenting Facebook Page

3 Steps to Getting Your Kids to Listen

Elisabeth Stitt

COOKIES, KIDS!  COME GET 'EM WHILE THEY'RE HOT!

Can't you just see the stampede of kids that would follow this call?  And wouldn't it feel good to get all those squeals of delights and efuse thank you's when you did make the call?  But what about all those other times when what you are singing out does not seem to reach their ears--as if they are surrounded by an invisible force field that protects them from requests they would prefer not to process?

Let's try applying my 3 Steps to Effective Parenting--clarity, connection, and consistency--to see how you can get your kids to listen to you.



CLARITY


In this case, clarity has two aspects.  The first is your own clarity about what is important to you.  You are going to get much further with your kids if you are clear that you want your directions followed.  If you request something from your kids, but you don't really expect them to do it--and it really isn't that high on your priority list--chances are, it just isn't going to happen.  You might say with a long suffering sigh,  I wish you kids would hang up your backpacks and coats when you came in the door.  Your children are going to hear that request exactly as you stated it, as a wish--something they may grant or not grant.  That gets us to the second aspect of clarity:  how you say something.  Short and sweet.  When you really mean it, use simple phrases.  Meeting the kids at the door with Backpacks! Coats! said in a bright, cheery tone will get through much more effectively.  As a general rule of thumb, the younger the child, the fewer words you should use, and the more sing-songy your tone should be.  


CONNECTION


For the most part, kids really do want to be helpful.  They like being part of a warm family unit that is running along smoothly.  It is when they feel disconnected from you or are carrying stress and anxiety from some other part of their day, that they freeze up.  They get stuck.  Instead of going with the flow, they get fixated on something. It is a little like having a bad itch:  You are so distracted by the itch, that until you scratch it, you can't focus on anything else.  When your kids are in this state, they are not going to listen.  To get their attention, you are first going to need to attend to them as people.  Perhaps that means a hug right when they walk through the door or getting down to their eye level and making eye contact and telling them warmly I'm so glad to see you!  With some kids, a hug is too much, but you can take their hands in yours and squeeze. Having established that connection and reassured them with your words, tone and body language that you are the safe home base, your reminder of Backpacks! Coats! will have them hanging things up before they move into the rest of the house.  The reminder called from the other room when they are still carrying the emotional weight of their days, will almost certainly fall on deaf ears.  

CONSISTENCY

Kids have pretty good radars for when you really mean something and when you don't really mean it yet. The best example of this is when we announce to our kids it is time to go.  Then we go back to our conversation or looking at our iPhone, neither of which communicate  anything about going.  A long time ago Garrison Keillor did a wonderful sketch called the Minnesota Good-Bye.  Sung to a tune by Handel, it started out with something like It really is time for us to be going with a response of Oh no, you can't possibly leave without one more slice of pie.  Well, maybe just one you say.  And so on.  In the song, it takes five minutes of pleasantries to get out the door.  Any child worth his self respect will keep right on playing through all this polite leave taking.  He knows he is not required until the adults are actually standing at an open door at the very least.  So, when you make a request, it is your job to mean it--and to mean it right when the request is made.  Certainly, you can give your kids a five minute warning, but when that five minute warning is up, your full attention needs to be on that child, seeing that she follows through on what you have asked. My suggestion is to do your own good-byes during that five minutes:  Sweetie, you have five more minutes to do one last thing, while I say good-bye here.  When that five minutes is up, you have to keep your promise and actually leave.  


REVIEW

1.  Only demand of your kids those things you are actually going to follow through on.  Expressing a demand as a wish or vague option leaves things wide open for your child to choose.  They may well hear you, but they do not register the request as something you are serious about.
2.  Use simple, clear language.  Even with 7th graders, I still get much further calling out "Line up, please!" firmly then "Okay, class.  It is time to line up now, if you please."  Some kids--often very brilliant ones--are slow processors.  The more words you give them, the more there is to process. 
3.  Speak with energy and conviction.  Your tone doesn't need to be strident, but it does need to mean business.  
4.  Check in with your kids on an emotional level first.  Don't shout orders from another room (Do you like it when they yell at you from another room?).  Go to them.  Make eye contact.  Smile.  If they are absorbed in a book or glueing something in place, get in close so they feel your presence, but try to give them a moment to get to a better stopping point.  If they continue to ignore you, you could give them a three minute warning (Darling, in 3-minutes I'm turning the machine off, so find a good stopping place before then) or you can put your hand on whatever it is they are doing.  Calmly, firmly, gently, you ask for their attention.
5.  Most importantly, you follow through by staying focused on them until what you ask for has happened.  Let's go back to the kids coming in the door.  You have hugs and love, you give the simple command clearly, and then you use your physical body to block their way out of the hall until backpacks and coats are hung up.  You can point to the hooks as a gentle reminder.  

If you are consistent with your behavior, your kids will listen to you pretty consistently.  They won't spend any energy asking themselves does mom really mean it?  Do I really have to respond now?  They will know that they can rely on you to follow through until they follow through.  

Give it a try.  If you have your doubts or try it and are still struggling, set up a free 20-minute consult with me HERE.  We will figure out what you might tweak to have cheerful, cooperative kids in no time.  

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I Love My Spouse, but I Hate Parenting with Him: TIP #2 for Constructive Couples Communication: I-Statements

Elisabeth Stitt

 

How has it been going with Tip # 1--active listening?  Did you miss it? You can catch up HERE.


With Tip #2--I Statements--we create room for conversation, but instead of just listening, we learn to express our emotions so our partner knows what is going on inside our heads.  

Have you ever sat in a busy place like an airport or a café and made guesses about people?  I love doing that.  People always fascinate me, and I like to tell stories in my head about the people around me.  In the process I make a lot of assumptions about who they might be.  I look at their clothes, how they are standing, their expressions, who they are with, what language they are speaking.  I take it all in and I start making guesses.  Well, I may make a game out of it, but we all make assumptions, all the time--with strangers and with the people we love.  We tell ourselves stories about people's motivations, as if we could see inside their brains.  And perhaps just as harmful, we assume that others can see in our heads, too!  

Lots of times we make positive assumptions--like when my husband makes hot tea and brings it to me, I assume he loves me and is thinking about me--but often times we make negative assumptions about what our partner is thinking or feeling without doing a reality check. Here’s an example:  Barbara is washing the dishes while Bob sits on the couch reading.  As she furiously scrubs, she might be seething thinking, “It’s not fair that I’m working and he’s just sitting there relaxing.”  She might go on to tell herself, “He’s okay letting me wash the dishes alone because I’m home all day and he thinks I don’t do anything all day.”  

In reality, Bob might not be aware of her at all.  He might just be enjoying his good book.  Or he might have his own internal dialogue going. He might be thinking, “I am so stressed out from work.  I just need 30 mins. to veg out.  I wish she’d stop doing the dishes and relax for a bit!”  Fear of an argument can make it hard to reasonably ask our partner’s motivations, but what are we supposed to do with all our hurt or hostile feelings?

The technique I want to tell you about today is called an I-Statement.  It is used for introducing a difficult topic in a gentle way.  Here is an I-Statement Barbara might have used to express her negative emotions about the dishes:  

Addressing Bob, she would say, “When you sit on the couch reading while I am doing dishes, I feel resentful and put upon because I am working and you have leisure time.”  

Let’s look at each part.  The I-Statement starts by identifying one concrete situation.  It goes on to express a feeling (in this case resentment) and the underlying cause of the emotion (Barbara would like to be resting, too, but feels she cannot until the dishes are done).  Notice what the I-Statement does not say: It is not used for broad general character defamations (like “You’re so inconsiderate!") and it does not go over past history (as in “You always let me do the dishes and never help"). It does not go on and on with a lot of detail.  

What are some other times you might feel upset with your spouse?  Perhaps she comes home late without calling.  Perhaps he leaves to do a Costco run without telling you, leaving all three children in your care.  Perhaps she makes plans for the family without asking you first.  The list could go on and on, right?  In each of these cases, you could use an I-Statement to start the conversation that communicates your distress.  Here are some sample statements you might calmly use with your partner. 

When you came home late without calling me, I felt worried because I imagined you had had an accident.

When you left me with all three kids without telling me first, I felt furious because I've been point person on looking after the kids all day and I need a break.  

When you said yes to our going to dinner at friends without checking with me first, I felt ignored and insignificant because I didn't get a chance to weigh in with my desires or opinions. 

Of course, the feelings and the reasons behind the feelings could be different than the ones I have suggested here.  The important part is that you are expressing your emotions rather than expecting your partner to guess them.  At the same time, you are delivering your message in a way that is not an attack. Tone is, of course, still important, but if you stick to the formula--because you are mentioning a specific event and sharing only your own feelings and not your partner's motivations--you greatly avoid the chances of anger, sarcasm, or bitterness taking over.

Got it?  It can help to think through some possible I-Statements before you actually start using them.  You might even want to write them down.  

Once you have delivered your I-Statement, then what?  At the very least, you will have expressed your emotions and that feels good.  But let's suppose your partner gets hostile and tears into the one part of the statement she can defend.   In response to your comment, "When you came home late without calling me, I felt worried because I imagined you had had an accident," for example, your partner may mitigate how late she was, arguing it was only 15 minutes.  That's fine.  If that is true, use it in your I-Statement response: "When you were 15 minutes late home without calling me, I felt worried because I imagined you had had an accident."  Maybe now your partner will say you are being ridiculous!  Use that, too:  "Even if it was ridiculous, when you came home late last night, I felt worried."  As long as you you keep sticking to the truth of your feelings, your partner will not be able to argue around them.  It helps to picture your spouse and run through the conversation through your head as you imagine it will go, so you can think out your responses.  

On the other hand, if you and your spouse can train each other, you can keep the conversation going in a peaceful vein.  Let's go back to Barbara and Bob and the dishes.  When Barbara uses her I-Statement to tell Bob how she is feeling, what should Bob’s response be?  Well, this would be an excellent time for some Active Listening.  He might say something like “You’re really frustrated that you are doing the dishes alone.  It doesn’t feel fair to you.”  By not defending himself, Bob gives Barbara a chance to off load her emotions and really tell her whole story.  At the end of the active listening, he might ask Barbara, “What would you like me to do?”  Now if Barbara says, “It would make a big difference to me if you would help me with the dishes,” Bob is likely jump up from the couch and grab a dish towel. Not having felt attacked, he will have listened with an open heart.  Most spouses do want to support each other if they are asked in a way that assumes the best in them.  

As with active listening, I-Statements are a skill you can use just from your side of the conversation and you will still have an effect on the health of relationship.  Find a few places this week to give them a try.  

Let me know how it goes.  Not signed up for my newsletter?  Sign up HERE and you won't miss my favorite communication tip of all coming next week.  

My Spouse and I Just Can't Seem to Get on the Same Parenting Page

Elisabeth Stitt

I hear that from clients all the time.

In fact, the first time I heard it was from my sister complaining about my brother-in-law.  Now, my brother-in-law is just about the nicest, most generous man you can imagine.  I love being a guest in his house because the moment I walk in the door, he makes me feel like a queen who should get her every need and desire met.  Great qualities for a good host!  But unchecked, meeting a child's every desire is not healthy--especially when Hank would come in the room and contradict what my sister, Allie, had just said. 

The scene might go like this:

Kids:  We want waffles for breakfast!

Allie:I know you do, but we've run out of eggs, so it is going to be cereal this morning.

Kids:  But we want waffles!

Hank:  What's this? You want waffles?  Of course, you can have waffles!

Allie:  Hon, we have no eggs, and I've just told the kids it's cereal instead.

Kids:  But, Daddy, we want waffles!

Hank:  You want waffles?  We can do waffles.  I'll run to the store for eggs.

Lucky kids, right?  Yes, in the sense that they feel seen and heard and important, but kids really do need to learn that sometimes they don't get what they want.  Sometimes they have to make do with an alternative.  Most importantly, however, kids need to know that their parents are in agreement and that they won't undermine each other.  

My sister and brother-in-law are a great example of how qualities which are attractive in a mate--who wouldn't want to be made to feel like a queen?--are not always the ones you want in your child's father or mother--unless toned down to the common ground  Allie and Hank were eventually able to work out.  

And I get it. I've been there, too. Here's an example.  (It may seem petty, but the fact that it drives me nuts is exactly what makes co-parenting so hard.)  My husband is not a conserver of natural resources.  In other words, he leaves on every light in the house and he lets the water gush forth while shaving (Did I mention we live in drought-stricken California?).  In the interest of marital harmony--and perhaps because I am secretly envious of his confidence that the world will provide him all the resources he needs whenever he needs them--I had long since learned to roll my eyes at him rather than nag him to turn off the lights and the water.  

The day came, however, when I called to one of the kids to turn off the lights when leaving the house, and he looked at me blankly and said, "Why? Daddy never does."  You know in the cartoons when the character's face turns beat red and steam comes out of his ears?  Well, that was what I am sure I looked like. That innocent question was like waving a red flag in front of my face.  I'm afraid in the scene that followed I was not at my best.  

So, how do couples find common ground, so they can provide a united parenting front?

First, let's consider why issues with our spouse feel so much more charged when our children are involved.  Here's the thing.  We care about parenting so very, very deeply that it is hard to be reasonable when it comes to our kids.  It is often a shock when our parenting partner has a very different idea about what is appropriate.  So, yes, it is hard.  On the other hand, Penn State reported earlier this year in a 7-year longitudinal study that “Parents who have better co-parenting relations feel more supported and confident, less stressed and depressed and they show more warmth and patience with their children” (Indiver 19 January 2015).  That reminds us how very important it is to work on the issue, even when it is hard and really uncomfortable.  

But don't despair.  I have some tips for improving communication with your parenting partner.  Each of the tips is designed to increase the good will between partners--to prepare the soil for the really sticky points.  

TIP 1: ACTIVE LISTENING

 Active listening refers to listening with the purpose of allowing one’s partner to reveal what is on his mind.  But more than that, it really means listening without judgment and wanting to know not just the facts of the story or issue but what is in the speaker’s heart

Here’s how to do it:

 *      Listen: Don’t comment, disagree or evaluate.

 *      Use your body: Eye contact, head nods, brief comments like “yes” or “uh-huh.”

 *      Prompt information: Tell me more.  What else? What is important about that?

 *      Repeat back: Recap the gist said and wager a guess at the emotions present.

 I recommend practicing this first with topics that are not controversial.  For example, you might ask your partner about a happy childhood memory or a person he admires.  Your main purpose in using active listening is to open up space in the relationship.  By really digging into your partner’s feelings and motivations first you activate your own empathy and secondly you gather a lot of information about what is important to your partner (which provides you useful data when you are looking for places to find happy solutions that will work for you both). It feels good to be listened to.  Think back to early in your relationship.  Chances are you listened to your partner hanging on her every word.  Just giving your partner that rapt attention again can bring those loving feelings he had when he courted you.  

Once you have mastered active listening with noncontroversial topics, introduce a topic that could become more touchy like “What is a lesson you would really like our kids to learn?”  This can be a scary question because your spouse might say something that really throws you for a loop like, “I’d really like the kids to learn to hang glide.”  Your comfort levels might immediately go into high alert.  What?! Teach the kids something that dangerous?!  What kind of responsible parent lets his kids up into the sky attached to a giant kite?!  

If you can take a deep breath, however, and settle down into some active listening, you are likely to learn something really interesting.  Perhaps your spouse did it as a young man and it is the most alive he has ever felt.  Now he wants his own kids to experience that intense appreciation for being alive.  Perhaps he felt closer to God.  Perhaps he was terrified doing it but having done it, nothing in life has ever been as scary, and he wants his kids to know that facing their fears will serve them later in life.  

Imagine how different you would feel listening to your spouse share such a meaningful experience and how touched you would be that he wants his children to experience something that meaningful, too.  Listening Actively does not mean you have to give in to your children doing something you really disapprove of but having listened, you are now in a position to thoughtfully suggest an alternative. 

I know some of you are saying no way could I get my spouse to start talking like that, much less to learn to listen actively.  That's okay!  You will find a shift in your relationship, even if you practice active listening only from your side of the fence.  I want you to go and try it.  The next time your spouse says something--about the kids or otherwise--that gets your dander up, instead of getting angry (or sullen), start getting really, really interested.  I challenge  you!  And then leave a comment here or email me at elisabeth@elisabethstitt.com about how it went.  You can also email me for a copy of my Constructive Couples Communication Webinar.  

Not on my mailing list? Sign up HERE for Tip #2 on constructively communicating with your parenting partner.  

Be the Caring Adult Who Makes a Difference

Elisabeth Stitt

 

When I tell people I spent twelve years teaching twelve-year-olds, most people make a face and offer me sympathy.  But I miss them.  Twelve-year-olds are awesome.  If you can take their awkwardness in stride, they are that perfect blend of child and grown up.  On the one hand they are becoming great abstract thinkers and are ready to take on the world.  On the other hand they still have a childlike appreciation for silly.    
        
What I love most about twelve-year-olds, however, is that while they might not talk to their parents, they are very interested in talking to other adults.  No, they won't admit it, but really they are busy trying to figure out the adult world, gathering information in every interaction they have.  That is why I believe that as a caring adult in a young person's life, you can have a greater influence on twelve-year-olds than any other age group. 
        
Mrs. Alexander, the librarian at my middle school, was my savior.  Talking to her was the one place I felt safe and known at school.  For my daughter it was the band teacher who became her friend and inspiration.  One of my clients was reminiscing about her neighbors down the street who made her feel welcome and special every time she walked through the door in a way that her parents never did. 

 Imagine the impact you can have on a young person.  True, it takes time to make the connection strong enough to support a high-quality relationship, but any adult can lay the groundwork for teens trusting and looking to adults.  Teens are everywhere.  What you can do is notice them, reach out to them, show them you value them. 
        
Sometimes the way you will connect will be unexpected.  I recently saw three boys playing outside around the grocery store.  It was Friday afternoon and they were emitting that school-is-out-for-the-week euphoria that we still remember as adults.  I smiled at them as I went into shop, admiring their attempts to flick their skateboards.  Later, I was hanging out at the front of the store waiting for my mother-in-law.  The boys were in the store, and I had a strong suspicion from their body language that they had shoplifted the candy they were walking out with, but I wasn't sure enough to get the store management. 

As I was driving out of the shopping center parking lot, I saw the boys had moved around the corner outside the drug store.  So I stopped the car and opened the window.  I told them everything I has seen and what I suspected.  I looked at them and said, "Obviously I can't prove it, but if it is true, I want you to know that I understand you didn't do it because you are bad boys.  But you are only thinking of yourselves, your own pleasure and your own power, and I expect more of you.  I expect you to find ways to have fun and enjoy Friday afternoon that are not illegal and that don't hurt anyone else."  They didn't deny my accusation but hung their heads and listened.  When I was done and asked, okay?  They nodded their heads and mumbled okay back. 
                               
What do I hope that they got from this interaction?  Certainly they know that people are keeping an eye on them, but I hope they also could feel that I approved of them.  I didn't approve of their behavior if indeed they were shop lifting, but I approved of them.  And I trust in the adults they are going to become.  Growing up is a process, and even adults are not always at their best.  Our young people need our smiles, our positive comments, our questions, our curiosity.  So, the next time you are standing at the crossing light with a teen or are served your coffee or have your grocery bag filled by some adolescent, look past the acne, the bad hair day, the piercings, the perpetual sneer and reach out to them.  Make it a mission to be the caring adult in your community.

I'd love to hear who the caring adults were in your community.  Was it a relative? A neighbor? A Coach? A teacher?  Maybe it was the crossing guard or the bus driver.  Take a moment to honor that person by telling us about him or her by leaving a comment below or by emailing me at elisabeth@elisabethstitt.com.

Special Time: The Silver Bullet to Getting to Connection

Elisabeth Stitt

 

Okay, by now you have the message:  Connection is key.  But how do you get there?  

I have a parenting technique from Hand in Hand Parenting in Palo Alto, Ca that goes a long way to helping our kids keep their equilibrium (truly, the silver bullet!): Special Time!

Special Time formalizes an opportunity to connect to your kids. Of course, we all look for chances to have special, warm times with our kids—snuggling at bedtime or a Saturday morning walk to pick up bagels—but YOU probably decide when, if and how those events are going to happen.  What Special Time (capitals intended) provides is a period of time where the child is completely in control of the play or activity.  

The trick with Special Time is that in order to keep it special, the time is limited.  This helps both the parent and the child.  It helps the parent because it is really hard to step into the world of the child 100% where it is his rules that matter, not yours.  [Just to be clear, before special time starts, you can say which--if any--of the house rules can be waived.  For example, you might decide that just for special time you are going to permit jumping on the bed.]  However, we can do almost anything for 15 minutes at a stretch.  The child needs the limit because whereas it feels good to have complete power as a treat, when kids have the power all the time, it actually makes them feel very insecure.  

One of my clients, Maggie, found herself rolling around on the floor the victim of attack by pirates and then moments later she was cast as the bad guy forced to succumb to her son Matty’s heroic subjugations.  Another day she had to be the poor helpless, frightened victim her four year old bravely protected.  With more and more special time, Matty has grown in stature.  Getting to be powerful (whether good or evil), he works out the petty hurts and confusions of his day.

With her two year old, Maggie has to build impossibly high towers only to find out that no tower she builds is good enough (though her daughter Katy is happy to show her how it is REALLY done).  At first it was hard for Maggie to over and over let her children dictate the script and the activity, but she has found that by going along with it (and biting her your tongue when she has the need to control things), her children are more grounded and ready to go with the flow.

Some parents fear that if you give over control for Special Time, you will lose all your control with your kids. I like to think of it as the equivalent of Mother’s Day.  Do you think that because you spend a day catering to your wife’s every need and desire that she will expect that every day? No, right?  In fact, I bet you have experienced that after her emotional cup has been filled up with love and attention and spoiling, your wife is more willing than ever to jump back into the swing of family life.  The same is true for your child.  By having fifteen or thirty minutes when he gets his every need met, your child is more willing to wait his turn, to fall into line, to do what is needed to be done.  It might not feel logical, but Special Time is a tremendous tool for helping a child to process some of the big, heavy emotions of childhood in a light and playful way.  

Here’s the bottom line:  The more unloving your child is behaving, the more she needs Special Time.  I realize that it may feel counter intuitive:  Why would you want to give a whiny, recalcitrant child more attention?  But what I can tell you is that it works.You may think you don't have time for Special Time, but I promise you, when you use it regularly, you will find that the cooperation levels in your house will go up so much that you will have more time than you had before.

What is the biggest challenge you're facing right now as a parent? I'm offering a complimentary strategy session to help assess the needs of your family and come up with the #1 suggestion for how to make your home more harmonious.

Click HERE to get on my calendar. Let's get started making life with your kids easier and more enjoyable.

The Birds and the Bees, Part II

Elisabeth Stitt

I have been asked to weigh in on what sex education looks like in older years. 

I will start by saying that when teaching middle school, long before my own children got to be that age, my standard message was that there isn't anything you might think to do in middle school that couldn't wait until high school.  I was a staunch supporter of the dress code, and when 12-year-olds told me about their Facebook pages, I reminded them that legally you had to be 13 to sign up. 

Of course I knew that there was sexual activity among my students (looking at the broader definition of what constitutes sexual activity), but I wanted to be at least one voice in their life that was saying, “Stay a child!  You have lots of time to grow up.”  As an English teacher, I was not responsible for the cold, hard facts.  Instead, I used literature to have students examine characters’ lives—their decisions, their mistakes, their values.  

As a mother, I was obviously responsible for making sure my daughter was well informed (I was let off the hook with my stepsons).  One of the messages I really wanted her to get was the fact that what you could see on the internet, on television or in the movies was not indicative of everyone’s sexual behavior.  Also, I pointed out that what she heard about what other kids were doing may or may not be true and, most importantly, she did not have to model her choices on them.  I told her that not even all our adult family friends had the same values when it came to sexuality.  

The next message was hard for me.  It meant I had to put aside all my fear of the “what ifs.”  It meant I had to trust that I had raised an informed, thoughtful, responsible young person.  The next message was that sexuality is not easy:  It is not cut and dried.  Not only would it have been useless to day, “Don’t even look at a boy!”, I wouldn’t have wanted that.  I can think of nothing scarier than sending a girl child off to college who has had no practice negotiating romantic/sexual relationships.  My biggest concern was/is that as my daughter developed her sexuality that she could look back on her choices--even if they brought some pain--and know that she had really listened to her inner self--body, mind and spirit--to make her decisions. I was such a "late bloomer," as she puts it, that I had very little in the way of concrete advice about what was okay to do when. I just kept reminding her that once you've done something--held hands, kissed, petted, etc.--you can't undo having experienced that and that all I wanted for her at the end of the day was that she had no regrets.   

The final tool in my tool belt was to bring up the topic of relationships and sexuality a lot.  We talked about news items and magazine articles, research I found, stories I heard from fellow teachers or other parents.  All along, I wanted to know what she was thinking, how she was seeing the world, what her concerns were.  Lots of times I was uncomfortable with the conversations.  I had them anyway.

 

Confidence is Key

Elisabeth Stitt

In 2012 Pamela Druckerman wrote Bringing Up Bebé about her experience of observing the differences between French and American parents.  In 2013 Christine Gross-Loh, author of Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us, offered an even wider view of different parenting approaches.  The take away from both books is that there are lots of different ways to parent—and they all have their benefits.  Thousands of students passing through my classroom over the years certainly confirmed my experience that there is a very wide range of  “doing parenting right.” 
 
I didn’t always feel that way.  I had some pretty fixed ideas about what were good parenting techniques.  In fact, in the 9th grade I even wrote a paper called “Effective Parenting.”   Don’t get me wrong.  It was researched.  I didn’t just write the paper out of my head, but I cringe when I imagine how sanctimonious I must have sounded
 
Well, the last laugh was not mine.  Growing up in India someone made my husband’s lunch for him every day of his school career, and yet, when he came to Stanford for graduate school, he had no trouble looking after himself.  With that as his experience, he rolls his eyes at me when I enforce my motto, “Never do for a child what he can do for himself.”  So who’s right?  We both are.  Children benefit from loving attention and care.  Attentive service to a child does not have to mean the child will be a spoiled brat.  In fact, just the opposite.  I’m convinced that one of the reasons my husband is so generous is that he has always trusted that he will be taken care of, that everyone’s needs will be met.  On the other hand, I firmly believe that it is human nature to want control—and one way to give children control is to make them responsible for themselves.  
 
Okay, the research is clear that there are pretty wide parameters when it comes to parenting.  Where does that leave us hand-wringing, anxious Americans?  Believe it or not, I have an opinion about that!  Teacher, mother, stepmother.  Each of these roles has reinforced my belief that the one key ingredient to good parenting is confidence.  If you can transmit absolute, calm confidence in whatever you allow or ask of your child, you will be providing the security that is essential.  For some families that might mean being absolutely certain that bedtime is at 7:00 so that the parents have time to reconnect.  For other families that might mean knowing that children who fall asleep in their parents’ arms no matter how late, fall asleep knowing they are a part of the family.
 
The short take away? Do what works for your family, and it will be right!
 

June Newsletter: Building Trust

Elisabeth Stitt

 

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

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

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

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

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

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