When to Referee, When to Coach and When to Sit the Bench

My son and daughter are four years apart, so I haven’t experience fighting exactly. I have experienced the my four-year-old becoming jealous and/or hogging toys, utilizing his physical power over the situation. The conflicts I experience have a lot to do with obtaining parental attention and blockading the crawling 10-month-old away from small toys.

But I have noticed something with various disagreements, especially pertaining to “new” toys that managed to evolve from the depths of storage. My son is more interested in the baby toys than my daughter.

The older one will instantly get his hands on it, even and especially if it is presented to the infant first. The baby usually gets frustrated (of course) and screams and cries in complaint, hoping the toy is returned.

My inclination as a father and as a fixer is wanting to jump in and advocate for the one who is just learning to use her voice. And I do. I’ve gotten quite firm with the pre-schooler explaining the importance of sharing, that he is seen as the teacher and that when the younger is older, she will do the same things to him.

These far ranging concepts are close to impossible to understand by someone who is in the moment and wants a toy when he wants a toy. This would be my coaching approach. Teach, encourage and work to direct positive behavior.

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There is also the referee approach. A foul is called and penalty ensues. Usually, the penalty involves me taking the toy back from the older one to give to the baby. Sometimes, I’ll try to mimic the experience he is putting the baby through, with a tackling type hug.

The referee approach gets my point across, but I also feel that this provokes additional hostility, usually toward me (similar effect of snapping as mentioned in this previous post.)

And then there are times where I just need to sit out, ride the bench and let the two of them navigate their new and evolving relationship. I’ve observed interactions when physical play turns into a little more than the baby can handle, and she’ll reach out to grab the pre-schoolers face.

The grabbing often involves a scratch (as those baby fingernails grow like weeds), and I was surprised at the reaction of the four-year-old as if we need to rush him to the emergency room. Referee then called off the play.

After all, he is learning that even though the baby is small, she can still defend herself.

The art lies in balancing the three methods and deciding when to coach, referee or ride the bench. And when I’m lucky, I’m graced with a moment of a deep breath or a light pause that allows me to decide the response, rather than a quick reaction. The end result is ultimately out of my hands.

There are always those inevitable moments where the game is on and it’s necessary to coach and referee simultaneously of course.

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That’s Nice. My Pre-schooler Has a Powerdrill! Put It Down. And Now He Hates Me.

My four-and-a-half year old son is as independent as it gets, unless we’re visiting extended relatives that are new to him every time we visit, every couple of years.

So he’s rummaging downstairs in our unfinished basement. This place is full of treasures to a boy his age and full of junk waiting to be thrown or organized by me.

There’s nothing too toxic down there, so I hadn’t thought much about it. And there is a designated office space where he can drive Matchbox cars. But then he turned the corner and my wife could see (and hear) from the top of the stairs that he is playing with my power drill.

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The battery was charged and he was revving it full bore with the Phillips-head screw driver spinning on the end, and my wife kindly asked him to put it down. And then I reacted with a shout, “What is he doing! Hey, put that down!”

Yes, it was abrupt of me, but I’m trying to keep his safety. (Maybe I could do that by putting my tools away.) So I wanted to get my point across, and I snapped a little at him to do just that.

He came up sniffling, with tears in his eyes. A mix of remorse, shame and probably anger fueled the protective surrender. I’ve been there. I’m in trouble, so I’m going play I’m sorry. But the truth is in hindsight, there is a more impactful way of handing the situation.

As my intelligent wife points out, you can get the same result through a loving, caring conversation, too.

So why do I yell? When I really think about it, I want him to feel bad and not pickup the drill next time for fear of more yelling.

This particular study by the Journal of Marriage and Family says 90% of Americans utilize “psychological aggression” in disciplining their kids. And these are parents with kids under the age of two that have used at least one episode within the last 12 months.

The article goes on to focus on the effect in adolescence, causing the young teenager to feel rejected or that their parents don’t like them.

Now, relating such feelings toward God, I can tell you that I gave up on that relationship quickly when I thought he didn’t like me. I have to ask myself, would I want my young adult child (who I can’t even imagine as a teenager at this time) to turn away from me as I turned away from God.

I can tell you my life didn’t go very well when I tried to run it on my own, so I now work to keep a relationship with God.

Mirroring this to the relationships I hope to have with my kids, I hope they see me as someone who does care. So maybe next time, instead of snapping at the use of a power drill I could walk down the basement and explain, in a caring a loving way, what the tool is and why it is a grownup tool. God willing.

 

 

How Much is That Doggie in The Window Correction

My nine-month-old daughter received a mechanical plush puppy that plays the Pattie Page classic “How Much is That Doggie in The Window” when you push a button on the side of its right paw.

It’s funny watching her older brother as she gets gifts, because he doesn’t waste any time jumping in and getting his hands on playing with her toys.

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In this case, he quickly memorized the song to a point of exhaustion. It wasn’t long before I had the song stuck in my head. On one particular cleanup kitchen interlude I sang the lyric, “I am so glad that he is for sale.”

However, my four year old was quick to correct me. “Dad, it’s I do hope that doggie’s for sale, not I’m so glad that he is for sale.”

Deep inside my reactive brain I thought my four-year-old is pretty brave for correcting an adult. How dare he? But then the other side of me said aloud, “Thank you for correcting me. I’m reading through the proverbs lately, one chapter per day, and just this morning I read, “Reprove an arrogant man, lest he hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you” (New American Bible, Prov. 9:8).

As a father I’ve learned you teach most by example, so I can only hope by repressing my reaction toward a how-dare-you-correct-me reaction, I can teach a generous thankful response for when my son is corrected.

I do correct quite a bit as a father after all. Sometimes it’s for safety, other times it’s for simple sanity. In example, please stop driving that large Tonka truck over the wood floor, because I can’t hear myself think.

So I can only expect my son and daughter to be open to correction if I am. Times like this reinforce to me that my son is as much of a teacher to me as I am to him.

The Weight and Responsibility of Defining Your Child’s Self

Be you.

Discover your dreams and chase them.

Don’t let anyone hold you back.

All of these inspiring and motivating sentences are great, and I’m a big proponent of dream chasing and self improvement. But how do I figure out who I am to chase my dreams? Or better yet, as a father, how do I help my children grow with a solid foundation about themselves and their self worth?

I recently dove into Making Sense of God by Timothy Keller, and in a chapter dedicated to hashing out the problems of self he makes an interesting point.

You cannot get your identity through introspection. You must learn about who you are through other people.

He says, “Only if we are approved and loved by someone whom we esteem can we achieve any self-esteem.” My fatherly prospective felt the weight of this, and I was brought to do something I rarely do. I made a note in the margin of the page.

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There are two pieces to this that I feel are striking. One, in order to support my kids with any self-esteem, I must approve and love them. Not only when they are “being good,” but also when they are throwing a fit in the isle of the grocery store.

The other piece is that I must carry myself so that they must respect and admire me. This brings me to, “the base in me–he must not see..” in the anonymous Little Chap Who Follows Me poem.

I can be fearful, resentful, jealous and angry. I don’t want my son or daughter to see this. Granted, we’re family. There has been and will be occasions where they will unfortunately experience me in these states. Hopefully, these instances are minor and are overshadowed by admiration worthy examples.

The love part comes pretty easy for me. Yes, there are always those time when a low blood sugar morning erupts out of my son before breakfast is served, when I wonder why he has to express himself in this way. But if I approach the situation with understanding, I can approach the situation with love.

I can only hope to be carried along in this journey as someone my son and daughter look up to and can really believe my words when I give them supporting “you can do it” compliments.

Have you ever received a supporting word from someone you don’t admire? Maybe I have. I can’t recall. Because chances are, I didn’t hear them even if they were spoken. I was too busy closing off this person from my head.

 

Fatherhood Stripped of Technology, for at Least One Night

The nightmare was real. I had pulled up to my house after ending the work day naked. Not without clothes naked but without technology naked. Stripped of Facebook announcements,  text messages and the ability to check my email five times per minute.

I’m ashamed to admit there was anxiety about missing some important phone call or message, but I didn’t want to make the drive back. So I jumped into the turbulence that is the family of four work to dinner home transition.

Now, I don’t consider myself a technology addict needing to untangle my life. But just the other day, my son asked me in a bold tone over the breakfast bowl, “What are you doing on your phone?” I was surfing news while replying to my brothers invitation to hang out, but still. It hit me a certain way.

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There is such noise in our high speed world that it impacts brain development. This particular occupational therapist for the Huffington Post makes the argument that the effect of technology on children can lead to depression, behavioral disorders and an unsustainable life.

This slippery slope argument doesn’t sit with me very well, but I have seen reactions from my pre-schooler that are extremely irrational when the TV is shut off or the You Tube video ends. I place trust in healthy support networks and interventions long before the negative affects she threatens.

Technology gives us things like video chat, picture sharing and learning apps that can help support learning and the support of our children’s village. We utilize technology in my house, and my four-year-old has his own Leap Frog tablet. But we don’t give free reign.

So my evening without my 5.5 inch smartphone screen went buy with some withdrawal. I reached for it several times when I wanted to check the weather or take a phone and even thought I heard my ringtone this morning.

But you know what, I found myself reading an extra book to my nine-month-old and even sang to her while my wife was bathing our son. I’d like to think that would have happened anyway with my phone within arms reach (so I could capture it on video of course), but I wonder.

There was this freedom I felt with the inability to check messages and instantly get sucked into an internet search.

And the cherry on top:  two text messages and one Facebook notification when I returned in the morning.