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.


The Balance of Discipline

As a father today, I don’t condone the use of physical punishment. (Although, my lack of patience at times brings the thought of implementing it into to my head.) I also don’t see how nuns thought that such physical reprimand helps and supports the discipline they were probably seeking.

My opinion is that these nuns or educators were taking it upon themselves to play a role of God. “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves.” (Proverbs 3:11-13 NIV)

My problem with the physical discipline is that I believe it causes resentment. How would you feel if someone hit you? The physical punishment causes anger, and another spot in the bible says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4 NIV.)

Words can have the same effect:  to teach and mold or anger and exasperate. Personally, I find myself reverting to a mocking sarcasm if my five-year-old-son isn’t listening. Which effect do you think that had?

Whining is a default for him to get his way, which is incredibly draining at times. And yes, maybe I have enabled this behavior. Say he defaults to whining when he wants a second helping of dinner, and then I jump in with a whining repeat of what he just asked for. How is that disciplining him into proper behavior?

Hence the balance of discipline enters the play. The discipline needs to be painful enough to change the action, but loving enough in effort to not evoke anger.

Boundaries by Henry Cloud has been a great place for me to start.

Parenting young children is hard work. But the mantra, “Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life,” comes to mind. (Recently attributed to 62-year-old Olympic weight lifter Jerzy Gregorek.)

We put in the work now to teach out kids what types of behavior is acceptable and unacceptable, so they can be successful as they enter the word on their own.

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.

If the Problem Isn’t the Problem Then What is?

Screaming about not wanting me around at the breakfast table, and then continuing to say Daddy help me over and over as we were approaching t-minus ten minutes before departure to morning drop-off.

Antagonizing his one-year-old sister with mussing her hair and picking her up until she screams with frustration.

Lost keys. Missing shoes. Arms wrapped tight unwilling to let go at daycare drop off. A hand digging in her own diaper early in the morning when it desperately needed changing. And by desperately, I mean poop-filled.

All of these problems are enough to make me want to scream at times. And I have to admit I have. I can be one of those brute force you-better-stop-it-right-now kind of dads. Sometimes. Sometimes I can playfully laugh off the innocence of kids expressing their independence or exploring the world.

Sitting in church, the idea was presented that the problem is not the problem, but it’s how you approach the problem. Meanwhile, I’m trying to figure out the problem of how to stop my five-year-old son and one-year-old daughter from fighting over snack. (Each had a different dried cereal and each wanted to dig their hands into each others.)

I can’t say I handled the above snack situation real well, so I decided to try handling a different problem not as how I wanted to react, but rather by responding in a manner that turned the “problem” into something else.

Every Monday night, I have a 7:30 meeting, and my wife puts our two kids to bed. On this particular evening, my son and I were wrapping up an impromptu sorting of his approximately 200+ marble collection when it was time for me to head out.


He then proceeded to turn it into a flick-the-marbles-down-the-hall game as I hugged him good-bye. Marbles began flying everywhere across the hall and into the guestroom and bouncing off walls. My problem alarm started sounding inside my head.

But rather than say, “don’t” or “that’s not how marbles are supposed to be played,” I used a string to make a circle across the hall and turn it into a game. He didn’t really buy the game idea, but he continued to enjoy flicking the smooth pieces of glass everywhere.

I calmly walked away thinking to myself, “He’s having fun, and they’re just marbles. Let him have a good time entertaining himself with them.” (You could say I didn’t lose my marbles.) “We can pick them up together later, or I’ll just do it.”

I let it go and really didn’t even think about it again, until my wife mentioned the marbles when I got home. And guess what? My son picked up the marbles.  Without even being asked. Without. Even. Being. Asked.

What I perceived as a problem didn’t even become a problem. Our problems are of our own making, and I chose to not make this one a problem at all.