Catching & Spreading Emotion

Whether you realize it or not, your mind is an open book. Maybe not all the time but a study published in Psychological Science in 2014 shows how the thoughts or moods can be transmitted through the mother and infant relationship.

Simulate to watching a movie and getting anxious at the same suspenseful scene as the others in the theater, a mother who is stressed often finds her baby stressed. They are both perceiving the world on a similar “screen” if you will.

Any child who grew up in a household where maybe dad or mom yelled a lot probably doesn’t need to read such a study to understand. Or would it help them understand more of themselves?

Either way, this study came to my attention because we, as fathers, can have a great impact about how our offspring–and even others living in the household–are experiencing the world.

The mothers in the study are asked to perform a speech. A group of the mothers perform the speech in front of a frowning, disgruntled looking group of judges, while the other group is asked to perform a speech by themselves.

Babies in the study are then reunited with their mothers, and the babies whose mothers went through the stressful speech, didn’t engage with the researches as much, avoided eye contact and were overall stressed similar to the state of their moms.

Think about that next time you’re in a hurry to jam your elementary-aged student into a jacket and rush off to school. What state are you in as you leave?

Emotions travel from one person to another. Maybe not surprising to most of you who have felt the sharp pang of urgency when your child screams in anger or pain. It takes effort to react in a stoic, comforting manner is situations like that.

But just like any work, the work you put into such a thing can have great rewards. What is your smile generating in your child? What is that fist in the wall transmitting?

People are sensitive. As adults, we like to think of our emotions as happening inside our little worlds without anyone, especially our kids, knowing. But feelings leak out and are absorbed by others. A caring and loving parent regulates their emotions before interacting with their child.

Simple? Yeah, sure. The idea is simple. Easy? No.

This is why I recommend meditation. Mediation can strengthen our ability to let go of these thoughts of fear and anger, so we don’t have to stew in them and transmit them as long or at all.


No. No. No.

The resistance is upon us.

I’m not talking about politics or civil rights. I’m talking about the toddler “no” stage.

Everything is no. Time to go. No. Let’s get your pajamas on. No. Are you all done with your food. No. (Even after the ASL signal for all done/no more was thrown.) Would you like to go outside. No. Would you like some milk? No. And then she thinks about it…yes, milk.

It is practically a muscle memory response. And maybe it is. Maybe it’s that my almost two-year-old is expanding her vocabulary but has seen such great results from no that she can’t stop using it.

One thing that is for sure is that this is normal. She has realized that she is her own person, and she is staking a claim on the land that is her independence.


Her job is to be defiant. My daughter is going through what is a normal developmental phase for a toddler. And there may not be an end in site until she is approaching four years of age.

Here are a few ways I battle, er communicate with my Toddler’s no:

Injecting energy. I’m in sales. And sales really is all about energy. One of the hardest sells can be for my toddler to put on her jacket and get ready to go. But if I make it exciting, she is more likely to accept her fate.

Distraction. Welcome to the world, girl. There are things that we, as people, don’t really want to do, but we must. Groceries need to be shopped for. Learning happens at school. Diapers need to be changed. Mom and dad have careers. But I find that if I distract her by pointing out the birds, trees, snow or a song, she is more likely to forget about being defiant and go with the flow.

Reasoning. Yes, I do try this tactic, but to much failure. The more rational adult mind likes to discuss and reason but the toddler brain isn’t there. I usually deploy this as a last result.

Call in reinforcements. We have the advantage (or maybe disadvantage, depending on your perception) of having two kids. And the younger looks up to the older. When the stars align I can pull in my Kindergarten-aged son to help dress my toddler. Try calling in your partner or a friend to help can work, too.

She is my second child, and it’s always a learning process. I have learned though to slow down and take time to decide on my response. Before, I may have been quicker to stone wall, but now I let her say no and decide which response may handle the situation best.

Let’s face it. Conflict is inevitable. And healthy for that matter. So once a course of action has been decided upon, us dads (and moms) must stick together. Giving in will only give your child something to shoot for in the future. This Zero to Three article ends with this note.


Letting My Son Lead Even Though It Isn’t Where I’d Choose

We kept things simple New Years Day, hanging out in pajamas for the majority of the day. We played Play-Doh, ate various snacks, read books and continued our adventure sessions with various Christmas toys.

There’s been a pattern over this holiday break, one  driven by an extremely cold streak–we’re talking negative air temps for several consecutive days, and that is when my one year old takes a nap, my five year old gets some TV time.

I’m not the biggest TV watcher, and I’m proud to say the TV isn’t on consistently in our house. No, I’m not anti-TV, but my time is so limited, I’m lucky to find time for even a 50 minute show. My view is that kids will have the rest of their lives to immerse themselves with screen time.

So today, when my son asked to watch some TV, we set him up on Netflix and he selected an already watched favorite DreamWorks’ Trolls.  


Despite critical reviews from bloggers regarding subliminal messages about the movie representing recreational drugs or presenting assimilation as the only way to happiness, I found the time with my son to be relaxing and enjoyable.

I was able to meet the infamous Cloud Guy who has started a pop culture movement morphing the classic fist bump into sandwiches, shark attacks and gear shifts. Hilarious.

My sons humor was exposed naturally through various slap stick scenes, even asking to repeat especially hilarious moments. Priceless.

And there is a certain relaxation that comes with being able to unplug and just hang with my kindergartner. Let’s face it, there will come a time when I’ll probably be asking him to watch movies with me. Chilling.

Over all, the movie was light-hearted, funny and musical. The battle between the Bergens and The Trolls shouldn’t be perceived as subliminal messages for hate and evil. But this rant isn’t about a movie review.

This post is about allowing our sons and daughters to lead us at times. Chances are what they want to play or watch will not always be something you want to do or are interested in. But what’s the harm in taking an hour or so to learn from them. Learn about what they are investigating, watching, playing.

Let’s face it. How many choices do your kids have? They are told and directed much of their young lives, why not give them the power to lead you from time to time?

What can it hurt, besides giving you a lazy afternoon on the couch eating snacks? That is if you choose to follow down the movie route.


The Good ol’ Days of Changing Diapers 

My daughter and I were debating the need to change her diaper, which at one-and-a-half means her saying no and running from me, in the middle of an extended family gathering on my wife’s side.

The debate was a mild inconvenience and allowed me to step away and be with my daughter. Just as the small thought of “I can’t wait until she’s potty trained,” may or may not have been entering my mind, my wife’s uncle mentioned “those are the good old days.”

He said something along the lines of, “Ah, the good old days of diapers.” And he said it to his daughter who is now in her mid-twenties, as she was walking down the stairs.


To me, it was not only a reminder of how fast life can travel but it was also a reminder to be where my feet are. Or in this case, be where I’m kneeling and getting a diaper out of the bag.

You see I’ve tended to be one of those people who say I can’t wait until my kid can dress himself, or things will be better if I only owned my own business, or once she can talk things will smooth out. This type of thinking is also known as grass is greener syndrome. But the thing I’m realizing is that none of these things are until they are now.

There is the basic childish behavior of I want what I want and I want it now. Or there is the I’m not getting what I want, so I’m going to have a fit to try to get it. Either way, if the child doesn’t get what they want, you may find yourself with a full blown fit on your hands. (Hopefully the child’s and not yours.)

What I find is that when I’m practicing this grass-is-greener mindset or wishing for a certain part of my life to be here or be over, that I’m not fully wherever I am. My kids have been great teachers of this to me. Since my son could talk through about the age of four and you’d ask him what his favorite fill-in-the-blank–could be a food, a toy, a color–is and he would say whatever is right in front of him.

He’d be eating a roast, and maybe not even eating it for that matter, but he would say that the roast would be his favorite food. As him as he runs around with the stuffed animal that he never plays with, what is his favorite stuffed animal, and he’d hold up the animal in his hand.

This lesson in itself can help me remember that right now can be my favorite. After all, let’s face it, twenty years from now I may look at diaper changing as the good ol’ days.

Is the Quantity of Toys in My House Hampering Imagination?

I love giving my kids presents and watching them receive presents. They get pumped up, eyes wide and explore the wonder of the new object. Whether it is a car that pulls back and races on its own or a fresh plush animal, it brings me joy to be able to give them things. Let the shopping season begin.


However, I was sent a recent article exploring the idea that my kids are not benefiting from a plethora of toys. So many toys that bins of them need to be stored in the basement and rotated to keep the toy room cleaner. (Why yes my four-season sun room is a toy room.)

The recent article by Emily Wade explains benefits from fewer toys, besides the increased chance of not piercing the underside of my bare foot in the living room.

She says kids use their imagination more when they have less toys. Kids maintain focus with less toys (and this may explain my overwhelm when I clear a spot to kneel and assist in picking up this previously mentioned sun room.)

My default mode is bigger, faster, stronger. More. But what if I could teach my kids to be happy with what they have? Have you ever heard, “a place for everything, and everything in its place.”

I’ve encountered moments of trying to put toys away where I don’t even know where to put it. How am I supposed to place an expectation on a five and one year old to put their toys away if I can’t even handle the job?

Look around at the things you have, wherever you may be reading this. All of that stuff stays here on earth. I’m writing this to remind myself what true gifts are.

“‘For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either.’ (NAS, Timothy 6:7)

Christmas is a time for giving and receiving. But the most valuable thing you can give your children or grandchildren, or anyone in your life, is the intangible.

Gifts like patience, imagination, joy, laughter and peace are more valuable than any toy I can give. Hand over perseverance any day, but you can bet that my kids’ will be receiving some gifts from their wishlist, too.


All Kids Are Home Schooled

My kids aren’t home schooled as you may think of the traditional parent-become-teacher home school program. But according to Seth Godin, we are all home schooled.


Think about it. There are 186 hours in a seven day week. My kindergarten son sleeps an average of nine hours a night, so eliminate those off the bat. That leaves us with 105 hours of vertical wake time.

I work a solid 40 hour work week, and my son and daughter are in school or after-school care at that time.  That leaves 65 waking hours together as a family.

Hours in the week = 168

Hours spent working/in traditional school = 40 (23.8%)

Hours spent sleeping = 63 (37.5%)

Hours remaining together = 65 (38.7%)

Cleaning, playing, shopping and living together. There are endless chances to teach here. More time during the week being a family than being away from each other at work and school.

How are you spending those hours? What distractions are you using to get away from the kids? Or what problems are you involving them in? What are your kids watching you do? What other circles of friends and family are you exposing them to?

You don’t have to be separated from their mother to be a “Disney Dad,” always wanting your time to be pure fun with the kids. You could be married but avoid house-work and only spend time with the kids when you’re taking them to ice-cream, fun parks, etc.

Teachers make a huge impact. There is no doubt about that. But if home life is creating a larger negative impact, the teachers are fighting a losing battle.

The Foundation for An Easy Child

One of my favorite parenting books is Your Baby Your Child by Penelope Leach. She does an amazing job presenting a psychological approach to parenting, really digging into the why she suggest things should be done a certain way.

My son is strong willed (and a friend questioned me the other day….”I wonder where he got that from?) So I thought I’d bring up her suggestion for keeping an easy child. My son is past the point of being a toddler, but maybe theses tips could be applied to my 18-month-old daughter.


The example, in the section one year to two and a half years of age, is getting your toddler to help pickup blocks. She uses gentle suggestions and the analogy of a competition, saying “I bet I can pick up these books before you pickup those blocks.” In the end, the toddler doesn’t put the blocks away because dad said so, they put them away because they wanted to.

Self direction is big, whether you are analyzing education, corporate culture or personal life. We all perform our best when we decide upon the next action to take, rather than someone demanding we do something.

Leach also looks at the opposite effects. Have you ever demanded your son or daughter do something? Who hasn’t? What happened? If they are a typical toddler or strong willed, you’ll get a similar oil and water effect that I received with my kids. They do the opposite of what you are demanding.

As fathers, we must get creative in presenting our demands. Rather than presenting demands, competitions as the above example work well. Games, rewards and and making something as fun as possible can have the same effect.

She goes on to say that if your son or daughter reaches the next state of growing up feeling that you are on his or her side that he will behave as you wish. But if he or she sees you as overpowering, incomprehensible and basically against him, your son or daughter will see you as unpleasurable and throw trying to please out the window.

That can sound like a lot of pressure, but I interpret that in the form of a question to myself. Am I battling with my kids or are we working together? No matter where life takes them, they are going to need to learn to work with people, so it is our role as dads to help them learn these skills.


Boys Don’t Cry and Girls Really Shouldn’t Either

I’ve said it. And even it you haven’t said it to your son, he’s probably picking up on it. Boys and men are not supposed to cry.

Granted, when I’ve said it, it’s usually over something like an extra scoop of ice cream or a bonked head that he’s crying, so I rationalize my words, saying “don’t cry.” But no matter what it’s over, I do find myself cringing a little when he does. And deep down if I take a hard look, I don’t want him to be weak.

I recently ran across the blog Remaking Manhood, and the author, Mark Greene says in his video, “It is through our expressions of emotions that we connect in relationship to others. In fact, emotions are born in those relational spaces between people. So if we tell our children, don’t express emotions, what we are basically doing is limiting their capacity to form relationships. ”

Humans are social creatures. We need our tribe to survive, and we need relationships to feel value and connection. So am I basically making him weak by limiting his capacity to form relationships? Isolation can be deadly.

Remaking Manhood goes on to say that American men over the age of 45 are chronically lonely. Male suicides also outnumber women three to one, and they say it is because men don’t have a robust network of authentic relationships.

Researchers and even mainstream media understand the importance of emotional intelligence and being vulnerable. Brene Brown’s 2010 TED Talk The Power of Vulnerability has just under 31.5 million views as of this posting. Disney Pixar’s Inside Out made 857.6 million at the box office alone.

A person who is authentic, someone who can stand up strong and face difficult situations one day, but then next day, he or she can be sympathetic, understanding and vulnerable is someone who can lead and make an impact.

There Goes The Neighborhood:  Come on Over

A half-dozen liquor bottles were in view on their three-season porch, cigarette smoke wafted and the f-bomb was was dropped at shouting volume while I played in the backyard with my five and one-year old. There goes the neighborhood.

The next-door neighbor of mine for the past nine years sold his house. Then the rental sign went up, and the new neighbors just moved in.

My son wanted to “see” where the noise was coming from. Rather than peer over our fence, we introduced ourselves. Only the grandpa came to greet us, and he appeared genuinely warm through red eyes. He even has a grandson on the weekends who is the same age as my son.

The grandson was encouraged to come out, and he hit it off right away with my son. I’m a pretty understanding guy, and I understand the drive to indulge. I also understand the insanity that can proceed rounds of drinking. There are also certain behaviors I’d rather not expose my kids to at this age, but I said yes when my son asked if the grandson could come over and play. You could also bet that they were within my view the entire time.

“Love your neighbor as yourself,” says Jesus in Mark 12:31. But these aren’t the neighbors that I want to love I think to myself in response. I was hoping for a quieter family, with two kids the same ages as mine, maybe even going to the same school. Heck, throw in a dad that I can relate with and invite over for BBQ.

He wants to teach me something else. Sure, these neighbors act differently that I choose to in my life now. They even look different than my family. So in order to help me find what He may want me to learn with this change, I think of what I’d like my son to learn.

Learn to respect people. Learn boundaries. Learn that underneath various shapes, sizes and colors, we are all really after the same thing. Learn to hand over the fear. We can love our neighbors without being close friends.

The thing with fear is that it is learned. My son wasn’t afraid of the f-bombs, the smoke or the drinking. Kids aren’t born afraid of people who look different than them. Even when you think your son or daughter isn’t watching, that’s probably when they are watching the most.

Honestly, I didn’t really want to go outside of my privacy fence to introduce myself. But I hope I my kids learned something from the action. I know I did.

Are You Enjoying Being A Dad?

It was picture day. My son even asked for, “hair stuff.” His mom picked out his best school shirt, pants and he even seemed excited. We were walking down the hall on the way to the morning club before school when he asked for a belt. Or maybe it was more of a whine.


His pants were a little too large, and he wanted me to go all the way back home to get the belt. I’d be frustrated and want to whine about such a thing, too. Fortunately, the pant designers placed these elastic belt-like straps into the waist, so that they can be tightened with a matter of buttons.

I remember thinking he looked good as I knelt down to adjust the elastic around his waist. There was a certain humble pride (if that is a thing) coming off of him. I sure was proud of him. There was no elementary embarrassment–thankfully, we haven’t gotten there yet–about fiddling around with the belt-line of his pants.

Content and geared up for picture day, we were now on our way. Drop off was smoothly executed, and I picked up pace down the hall. That is when a teacher asked me, “Are you enjoying being a dad?” The question caught me off guard, but I answered with a yes that came out with a surprise, almost saying why yes, yes I am thank you.

“Good,” she answered. “I saw you with your son there, and it just looked so cute. I hope you are enjoying it.”

What a reminder. Life is busy. Work days involve being with the kids a matter of about two to four waking hours, depending on the day. What a simple, crucial reminder to enjoy life.

Happy fathers raise happy kids. Happy fathers and mothers for that matter. And happiness sometimes grows after pushing through the monotonous, daily activities like getting the kids dressed, picking up toys or reading books. These are the moments that make up lifetime memories.

Sure, we remember the big vacations and the milestones, too. And it’s easy to be happy when you take your picture with a graduating pre-schooler (or fill in the blank with whatever grade they are graduating from.) But it’s the daily “grind” that builds character. It’s the daily grind that lays the foundation for your kids.

Are you rushing around barking orders, keeping order? Are you frustrated that you have to deal with the kids? That’s normal. Just remember to take moments to enjoy the teaching, the building of relationships and the foundation for your kids to handle life. Hopefully the latter outweighs the former.