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Elisabeth Stitt - How to use anticipation to get your kids to cooperate

This interview is part of How To Get Kids To Listen: Leading International Parenting Experts Reveal Their Best Secrets For Getting Kids To Cooperate, an ebook containing a collection of interviews I did with parenting experts from around the world.

I asked each expert one simple question: What is your best strategy for getting kids to listen and cooperate? and then listened as they shared their best parenting tips and advice.

How To Get Kids To Listen is available for free download here

In this interview with Elisabeth Stitt, an author, parent educator, coach, and retired school teacher, we talk about how to anticipate problem times (like getting kids ready for school in the morning), and then develop plans in collaboration with your children to make things go easier and smoother.

Tags: Elisabeth Stitt

Also in this interview:

About Elisabeth Stitt

Elisabeth Stitt is an author, parent educator, coach and retired school teacher, but first and foremost a mother and a stepmother.

She was teacher for 25 years and supports parents through her own extensive experience and expertise. She's been there and knows how to navigate the difficult world of parenting.

You can find out more about Elisabeth's parenting coaching at Joyful Parenting Coaching.

How to use anticipation to get your kids to cooperate

Sue Meintjes: Thanks for joining me today. Please tell us a bit more about yourself and your work with parents.

Elisabeth Stitt: I have been a parenting coach for nine years, and I came to it from 25 years of teaching, mostly middle school. I work with parents of kids of all ages. I love middle school parents, but actually a lot of the parents who come to me are parents of slightly younger kids, like two to eight year olds.

Sue Meintjes: What is your favorite technique or strategy for getting kids to listen and cooperate that's working well for you or your clients?

Elisabeth Stitt: Well, one of the things that I talk to my parents about a lot is setting our kids up for success. And one of my favorite tools for that is anticipation.

So I really ask parents to take the time to review with kids what's going to happen, and what the expectations are going to be in a particular situation.

Sue Meintjes: Yeah. This morning my kids were busy crafting, but they they had to go to school. It ended up being very difficult to get them to stop playing and start getting ready for school. How can I use anticipation to make this easier?

Elisabeth Stitt: Well, for one, we're going to have fairly routine ways of going through the morning. If kids tend towards ADHD, then you may go so far as to writing it down and having a checklist that they check off every day.

When and how to use routines and checklists to make your day go smoother

Sue Meintjes: Yeah, I think a checklist can work for anyone.

Elisabeth Stitt:Checklists can work for anyone, but lots of kids don't need them, and I don't want to burden kids with things that they don't need. But there's no reason why you can't write it out and post it on a whiteboard, and then the child who needs it can physically check it off every day, and then they get to see that it's done. Whereas another child is going to be done before they even look at the list.

Let's say that we're going to set them up for success by having the same routine every morning. And we know that some will need more prompting of what's next on the list or what needs to happen now. But I'm going to have a conversation with them as I'm making that list, to say when all of this is done, then we might have some time for play before we have to leave to go to school.

How to make transitions easier (like going from playing to leaving for school)

But what can we do to make transitioning from playing to leaving the school easier? Enlist their conversation and enlist their input. Acknowledge that it's hard to start playing and be in the middle of play and then having to go and do something else.

Sue Meintjes: Do you acknowledge that? Do you tell them it's hard to stop playing?

Elisabeth Stitt: Yeah, sure. Because it is hard, for adults too. I always remind adults, when's the last time you got hooked into one more episodes of the Netflix series that you were watching? It was probably last night because it's hard to stop doing something pleasurable to go do something we have to do.

Sue Meintjes: How do we make it easier?

Elisabeth Stitt: Give kids lots of warning. Some kids like to have a five minute warning, or even a five minute and a ten minute warning.

Another idea is if you have something like Google or Siri to remind them, it can help them feel more independent than if mom or dad is nagging. But mom and dad might set something up, like when the timer goes off or when Siri says it's time to go, we're going to stop what we're doing and clap three times. And that's a great method because it requires kids to put down out of their hands whatever they were doing.

And chances are they're going to clap and they're going to look up to where the sound came, either to you if you gave the reminder, or to wherever the sound came from. So they're going to put down what they're doing, they're going to look up, they're going to clap three times. By the time we've clapped three times, of course, we are engaging our musical brain, and that's using two sides of the brain. So that helps us also to get out of the focus or concentration of whatever we were doing while we were playing.

And if the parent is stepping in right at that moment, saying what needs to happen now, with a bright, cheerful voice, there's much bigger chance that the child is going to go put their shoes on, or get their backpack, or whatever the next step is.

How to anticipate and plan when things don't go well

If it's still not going well, then it's a great opportunity to, maybe on the way home in the car, say, "You know, our plan for getting out the door smoothly this morning didn't work as well as it could have worked. It needs some new ideas. What do you think?"

We engage them in their thinking again, not right in the moment that they're trying to get out the door, but we're anticipating.

It doesn't really matter what the kids suggest. I always say try what the kids suggest first and say, "Let's see if that will work." If it doesn't work, then we can suggest something ourselves. But by going with the kids suggestion, we build credibility, we get credit for having listened to them and taken their views into consideration, and we have helped them to develop their critical thinking skills. And whatever it is, they're going to have more buy-in into a solution that they proposed.

So if I'm driving home in the car and we're talking about it, we're making a plan. Before we get out of the car, I'm going to turn around and I'm going to say, "So tell me again what our plan for tomorrow morning for getting out the door smoothly and easily is." Have them repeat it. And when they repeat it they're laying the neural pathway to have that be the plan.

And part of the plan may be adding it to the to-do list. So we have our before play to do to-do list and we have our after play to-do list.

The three types of choices you can offer your kids (and which ones works best)

Sue Meintjes: That's really good, I like it. What else can parents do to make this easier?

Elisabeth Stitt: Well, kids love to play. That's their "mode". If we can keep things playful, that helps, too.

So when the alarm goes off, and I come in and say, "Okay, what needs to happen now in order to help them go right away?" I might offer an A or B choice. And it might just be a what choice. "Are you wearing your red boots today or your sneakers?"

Or it might be a when choice. "Are you putting your jacket on first? Are you putting your shoes on first?"

But my favorite kind are how choices. "Are you going to fly to the front door or are you going to be a tutu train to the front door?" Because, that's going to require kids to engage their imagination, and the very act of imagining the two possibilities is going to help disconnect them from whatever they're playing and move them towards something else but still in a playful mode.

How to train your kids to take responsibility instead of doing everything yourself

Sue Meintjes: Yeah, playfulness is really helpful to ease the parent's stress as well. This morning I was so stressed and I ended up yelling at the kids because they didn't want to get ready for school. So is there anything you can tell us about how to manage your own stress as a parent so you are not so stressed in the morning just before they have to go?

Elisabeth Stitt: Well, one of my favorite methods is to train my children young to do things for themselves. For instance, my daughter made her own lunch when she was three, in as much as I would have made the elements of her lunch the night before. But she was responsible for getting them out of the cupboard, out of the refrigerator, and putting them in her lunch box.

Sue Meintjes: And you can also make that part of the routine and part of the checklist.

Elisabeth Stitt: Right, that was absolutely part of the checklist, but it just meant it was something which I was taking off of my list and putting onto her list.

And so that gave me a little bit more time. And by the time she was probably eight or nine, she was making lunch for both of us. Because I was a teacher, I also needed my lunch packed.

And so then getting ready in the mornings was a cooperative effort. When we were together, we were having fun, we were talking, we were chatting, but we were both getting our tasks done.

Three techniques for finding the joy in parenting again

Sue Meintjes: Thanks, that was really insightful and helpful, thank you very much. You talk a lot on your website about finding the joy of parenting. How can parents go from feeling overwhelmed, overstimulated and stressed to finding the joy of parenting again?

Elisabeth Stitt: I really have three techniques to find joy in parenting again.

One is to use structure and routine in our favor. Of course it takes them more time in the short-run to really teach their children to take responsibility for themselves and to do things themselves. But in the long run, kids are happier because they basically don't want to be told what to do. So if it's routine, then you're not nagging them every day.

So right away there's more joy in the fact that your first ten interactions in the morning aren't you telling your kids what to do, because they're just doing them.

In the classroom setting, we call this time on task. Time on task is the time where you are actually teaching curriculum as opposed to handing out books, collecting homework, collecting lunch money or permission slips, telling children to sit down, be quiet.

With my children, I spent a lot of time at the beginning of the school year making sure my students knew exactly what to do the first 10 minutes of class without me. That meant that I could stand at the door and I could say, "Hi Betty, how are you today? How'd your soccer games go yesterday? Hey, John, I really liked that poem that you wrote. Louise, is that a new shirt? You're looking so handsome today."

I was interacting positively and joyfully with my students, while at the same time they were just executing on coming in, turning in their homework and getting their books out, because they knew where to look, where it was on the board.

So the routine was running things, freeing me up to be joyfully interacting with my kids. That's one of my favorite techniques for finding joy in parenting.

My other technique for finding joy in parenting is to really be deliberate and clear about your boundaries for your family. That means limiting the number of activities that your kids are signed up for. It means saying no to 28 birthday parties just because there are 28 kids in the class. It means having some chunks of time during the week where you are going to say "No, I can't go to a meeting on that night. No, I can't sign up for this."

And sometimes that means your kids are going to be disappointed, but in the long run, it's going to mean that they have a clear sense of "this is our family, and our family is important, and it's fun to be a family."

And then the third thing really is to make sure that you're just bringing a lot of playfulness in.

If you're going to do chores on Saturday morning, that's great, but turn up the music, put on funny hat, start dancing, and have everybody dancing and moving and doing chores all at the same time, as opposed to "You need to do this. Go do this. Go do that by yourself. Go do that chore by yourself." Rather, let's all work together to make our house welcoming and fun, and afterwards, let's make sure we schedule something fun.

How to stop feeling resentful about doing all the chores

Sue Meintjes: Yeah. Thank you for your advice today. You personally helped me too.

Elisabeth Stitt: How old are your kids?

Sue Meintjes: I've got a daughter. She's four, and I've got a son. He's six.

Elisabeth Stitt: Okay. Yeah. Perfect age to really capitalize on the fact that they basically want to spend time with you and to help you. And so try to come at it with a sense of fun and adventure.

There's just lots of ways to be creative about making family life fun rather than what most parents are doing. Most parents are slogging through their chores while they're letting their kids be on their devices, and then they feel guilty because their kids are on their devices too much, and they feel resentful because they have been doing all the chores.

If we're just all doing it together and we make it a routine and we make it light hearted, then everybody is helped altogether. The kids have bragging rights. The kids feel the pride of having contributed and been a part of making things nice, and then the whole family can go celebrate.

I'll leave you with a simple technique to make cleanup more fun. Hide quarters in places that you want to make sure that they've dusted. Then they can search for the quarters while they are cleaning for an extra allowance. Don't let them know how many quarters there are, so that they don't give up after they found a few.

Action steps

Here are my action steps that I got from this interview. I hope you’ll find these useful as well:

  • Identify the "problem times" in your house and then talk to your child to get their suggestions for making those times go smoother.

  • Instead of doing all the chores yourself, break them down until you find the parts of the chores suitable for your child to do themselves, then slowly give them more responsibility.

  • Create checklists for the common routines in your house - for example, getting ready for school in the morning or getting ready for bed at night.

  • Visit Joyful Parenting Coaching for more parenting tips and resources.

This interview is part of How To Get Kids To Listen: Leading International Parenting Experts Reveal Their Best Secrets For Getting Kids To Cooperate, an ebook containing a collection of interviews I did with parenting experts from around the world.

I asked each expert one simple question: What is your best strategy for getting kids to listen and cooperate? and then listened as they shared their best parenting tips and advice.

How To Get Kids To Listen is available for free download here