The Art of Leaving Your Kid in the Car to Make Drop-Off Smoother

Your son or daughter probably never resists going to school or daycare, but if they do, this could help. At least, I found something that worked for me in this particular situation.

Cease the fighting. My initial reaction can be to say something to the effect of, “You better get your butt out of the car,” when my pre-schooler defies going into school (or insert destination here.)

So today, I let go. I went the opposite direction of my instinct. I said, “O.k., I’m going to go in to drop your sister off,” and I closed the door. I held my one-year old in an arm and we both waved at him, still sitting in his booster car seat.

It was at least five minutes of me going through the morning routine with my daughter’s daycare moms and watching the growing baby settle in to her happy home away from home before I returned to the car. The empty car.

Turns out he had decided to head into his preschool classroom on his own. With no one there to tell him what to do, he made his own decision. The right decision at that. 

One of my son’s friends had pulled up after us and while I was gone my son decided to join up with him into the school. I didn’t have to entice, cajole or even carry him in to the class.

Kind of reminds me of my initial reaction to “have to.” If anyone told me that I “had to” do anything when I was a teenager, my initial reaction was always to think, “I don’t have to do anything.” 

So rather than force my son into a situation, I find the art of getting him to do what needs to be done is to creatively present options, so that he feels like he had a role in making the decision.

It’s kind of like asking the toddler if they’d like to walk or be carried to bed. Either way they are going to bed, but at least they feel like they’ve had a choice in the matter.


Incentives, Threats and Bribes for Doing Things My Way

“I’ll give you a snack if you get in the car.”

“Come to the dinner table or there won’t be a bed time snack.”

“Stop whining or you can get your pajamas on and get ready for bed.”

Anyone with little kids will tell you the power of bribes and threats. After all, there are certain things we must do in life:  work, eat, sleep and brush your teeth for starters. Incentives, threats and bribes help the family system move forward to achieving these goals.

There are even times where I am so fed up with my four-year-old’s whining that I ride the fear-inducing edge of an undefined threat, such as “I’m going to count to five, and if I get there, you’ll be sorry.”

This is a healthy amount of fear to get my pre-school aged son to obey, but does the delivery of such stern fear plant resentments in him? I don’t think so. Real young children are the closest thing to God there is, so loving and forgiving.

My goal as a father is to support my children’s development, so they can go out into the world with a strong foundation and stay true to themselves.

Most likely they will stray a little. Isn’t that human nature? Isn’t that the story from the beginning, from Genesis’ Garden of Eden? God lays out his suggestions, and we have to experiment with our own free will. At least, that’s what I had to do. Eventually, I came around and surrendered to His will.

As far as being a father to young children, they are already tuning me out and excising their own decisions-making. The only thing I can do is guide and model my behavior that I work to align with God’s will. Guide, model, reward and bribe.

I believe trust builds trust, so when I ask my son if he brushed his teeth and he says yes, I believe him. Even if I know he didn’t brush (I didn’t hear the water run and he never even set foot in the bathroom), I will say okay, I believe you. It’s usually only a minute or two until he admits he was “just joking” and didn’t actually brush hist teeth.

His inner guidance led him to the truth. There was no need for me to threaten or bribe.

The Free Range Kids movement has merit in my eyes because it puts kids in drivers seat, as long as they are developmentally ready. If my son and daughter are self-reliant, they can make decisions that are responsible, or at least appropriate for their age, and I don’t have to be the helicopter parent.

Lately I’ve been asking myself how these bribes and threats support self-reliance. Yes, honor thy mother and father, but shouldn’t the mother and father help build decision-making skills? Maybe it’s not quite time for my kids–at the ages of four years and four months–to walk home from the park on their own, but who’s to say my son can’t pick up his crayons after a color session on his own.

There is something to be said about positive reinforcement, rather than discipline. So as positive reinforcement, he will get a little extra treat for snack time.




It’s In His Blood and There is Nothing We Can Do

The scene was one of laughter and joy, reading the Berenstain Bears Go To School book. Sister goes to get on the bus, and my son imagines himself being in her place.

“What if I just stood there and didn’t get on the bus?” he asked.

Go To School

“The bus driver would say, ‘come on,'” I said, waving my arm. My son repeated the question.

“The bus driver may honk his horn and ask you to get on the bus,” I said in reply. I could feel my sons tension build, as he didn’t seem to be liking my answers.

This back-and-forth continued until my four year old used all his strength to squeeze my arm. I laughed in confusion, which only escalated his anger. What did he want me to say? That the bus driver would leave him behind?


Looking back I know I could have taken an alternate route. I continued to smile, laughing at times, and even told him that his punches tickled. Yeah, who’s the father in this situation?

I ended up having to leave the room, so he could cool down, which did not go over well. I’m not sure exactly where this fit came from, and I’ll probably never know. I do know that I can relate to being frustrated when things don’t go the way I envision.

But I ask anyone reading this how does a father best hold himself in such a situation? I don’t want to just accept that this, “is in his blood” or something. Yes, alcoholism runs in families. Poverty runs in families. Abusive fathers are often followed by abusive fathers or abused mothers. But goodness and love also run in families.

I learned of a study published in 1915 by the Carnegie Institution of Washington, when a member of the New York prison board recognized that there we six family members serving in one of the prisons.

Max Jukes, born in 1720, was known as a…let’s just say he wasn’t exactly a role model. He had six daughters and two sons. From there, 1200 of their descendants were studied, 341 were alcoholic or drug addicts (and not of the recovered variety), 310 were homeless, 150 criminals, seven of them committed murder.

Both of these examples bring up the environment and lineage forming a child’s future. Is it nature or nurture? Is my son or daughter set to repeat my mistakes? Maybe, as long as they repeat my strengths and positive characteristics, too.

Another family around that time was also studied was John Edwards, born in 1703. He was the president of Princeton University. He was a family man, had 11 children. 1400 of his descendants were studied. Among these, 13 were college presidents, 66 were professors, 100 were attorneys, 85 were authors, 32 were state judges, 66 were physicians, and 80 were holders of public office, including three governors, three senators, and one vice president of the united states.

Now, I haven’t dug deep into the many contributing factors of each of these blood lines. Granted, there is a lot at play when we are talking about life influence, but I know which one I’d like to guide my son and daughter toward.

Now, if I could just pinpoint how my son developed his quickness toward anger.


Which is more Fatherly? Parenting So They Like You or Giving Them What They Need

I’ve written before that I‘ve always been a little more of a pushover than someone who stands up for what they believe. At least this has been true up until my mid-thirties.

I’ve recently heard hindsight as described as 10K rather than 20/20 vision, and I am feeling like that is true. I can now see the value in being able to stand up for my views, saying no and not always making decisions on whether I think I’ll be liked or not.

So keeping this hindsight in mind, what position do you think I should father from? The position of wanting to be liked by my son or the position of doing what is best (however you define best).


Recently, my four-year old and I pulled up to a soft serve ice-cream stand. I ran in to grab three treats, so the they could be shared by my son, myself and my wife. My son proceeded to whine and cry about wanting to get out and eat at the picnic table.

This was a beautiful day outside. The type of day in Minnesota that should not be ignored. However, bedtime routine was approaching, and I wanted to include my wife, who was stuck at home with the infant, on this occasion. I wavered, and there was a part of me that felt it would just be easier to eat outside than to put up with the whining and crying.

And then he resorts to, “You’re a boring daddy.” How can this three foot tall pre-schooler drive an arrow through the very goal of my fatherhood? By pushing this very button. I fear being a boring daddy. The growing culture of disrespect is discussed well in this blog post from July 14.

I’m happy to report that I didn’t give in. I came close but held strong. Which is what I find I have to do when I am doing something that is worth teaching or something I feel is in their best interest. I need God’s help in this because I want to please my son.

God always hasn’t given in when I’ve thrown my tantrums. My world slowly got smaller and smaller until there wasn’t much remaining for God to take away. And then I came around.

Stay strong, guide children the best you can and they will respect you for it. (This is me talking to myself, so I can continue to not give in.)

I recently had coffee with a new friend. He told me about his upbringing as an immigrant family in Chicago during the 80’s. They experienced many challenges and didn’t have much. He told me how his father would assign book reports to him and his sisters. Yes, book reports, outside of school assignments, from a father who didn’t even know English very well.

My friend told me how he hated his dad for this. But knowing my friend in his late 30’s. Knowing how sharp, intelligent and successful he is. I can see this paid off. (I also picked up that his sister is a successful doctor making a quarter million a year.)

All money aside, look at the impact this father had on his kids. He wasn’t liked for it, but the lesson he taught in valuing education spread through to his children.

Spilled Milk and Bike Accidents

Things can be going along exactly to my plan, and then boom. A fresh cool glass of milk is spilled at the table. The kind of spill that reaches the center leaf and drips through the cracks of the wood. Boom. And we were just sitting down to the just plated dinner.

The spill isn’t my fault. I’m not going to say it’s been years since I spilled milk but longer than I can really remember. This is my pre-schooler’s fault. I told you this would happen. I could see it coming, and he put his cup right in the line of his serving arm. AAAAAAaaaaaah!

milkI can take this in two directions:  1. Get pissed. Angrily grab a towel and rapidly mop. 2. Calmly wet a towel and involve my son in the cleanup.

A few years ago option number one would easily have taken rank. Now a days, I see the value in how situations are handled, rather than trying to have the situation go the way I envision. Mistakes and blunders are going to happen as long as I’m living, but I expect perfection. That’s part of my problem. And things get real tense when I expect my pre-school-aged son to perform at perfection.

The other day I asked him to come in for dinner. He was just finishing up with his first ever successful pedal ride on a two-wheeler with training wheels. He stepped in the front door, thought about dinner and proceeded to head back out toward the bike.

How could I blame him? I had as much pride for him as he was wearing on his sleeve. I stepped away to ask for guidance on how to handle the situation. When I returned and told him it was still time to head in, he was climbing aboard the saddle. He’s what you call “strong willed.” I could see this was going to be a battle, so I backed off and reminded him to at least wear a helmet.

He stormed out after ripping the helmet out of my hands in a I’ll-show-you-action known so well to parents whose kids start thinking dad doesn’t know anything. I felt that he was going to have a fall, but there was nothing I could do.

My wife went out to coax him in the house when before I knew it I heard the bloody scream. He was sitting on the sidewalk in front of a tipped bike, and I could feel the rage rise in myself. He didn’t listen. His helmet wasn’t buckled. And now dinner is delayed. I could have raged.

What’s more effective, getting pissed and rushing my son into the house? Or waiting to compose myself to show compassion and love to my son in his time of need?

When I step back and look at the spilled milk or the scraped knee, what is the difference? Is there a difference beside one is white and one is red?

I find again that the situation has a much better outcome with myself and those around me when I ask God for help to focus on what is really important. A little spilled milk or a bloody knee is something that I get easily upset over. Why is this happening!? But if I display a Fatherly tone to the situation, the situation that I can’t really do anything about, what am I teaching my son?

You Don’t Have to Eat

Transitions can be difficult for anyone, but they can be catastrophic to the world of my pre-school aged son. He will be four May 1, and my wife and I can never anticipate how dinner will go. There is no signal to help us anticipate.

My wife and I have instilled the dinner ritual at our house, as this is the one main hour of family time where we are all the least distracted by devices, toys or chores. We also have tight budgets and enjoy home cooked meals. So it’s time to sit down, and my son is deep into fantasy sword play or running around the back yard. Here we go.

We prepare his food, separating the ingredients as much as possible, so everything is cool enough to eat right away should jump immediately into his chair. Yes, jumping right up into the chair does happen. This usually occurs when he is not strongly encouraged to join us. He’s what you could call “strong willed,” and it’s best if the decision is his. But if we get the I-can’t-hear-you-because-I’m-too-busy-playing routine, we know things could get ugly.


I know three year old bodies have different food needs, and after all, he does eat every three hours or so. So dinner time is more about being together. We use Maryann Jacobsen’s suggestion in Ending Mealtime Battles Forever With These 5 Simple Words:  “You don’t have to eat.” And this does work, but I feel like he’s also defiant to the point of holding out simply because of a power struggle.

My wife, God bless her, usually rolls with it until I end up threatening to take away the toy that is getting his attention. A threat can also turn this struggle into a pure hour of unadulterated screaming. By my son. Mostly. It dwindles as we try to at least get him into his room, so my wife and I can gather our thoughts and consider reheating our food. Thankfully, these battles of screaming really only happened for six months on and off around his third birthday. We have seen him recover quicker as he ages emotionally.

We (okay, credit again goes to my amazing wife) focus on the good by praising the nights when he casually jumps into his chair and chows down, sharing events in his day, making up stories for laughs and throwing out random questions. Focus on the solution, not the problem. We also have great success enjoying our food when he chooses not to join us at the table, so that he is attracted to the family dinner rather than have the event be forced upon him.

I tell myself we are building a foundation. Modeling the importance of gathering around a meal, sharing stories, providing each other with eye contact are all things that nurture the well being of our children, and let’s face it each other as well.

If you see food as a spiritual act, and after all it is, then modeling the importance shouldn’t be difficult. It’s only my impatience to get him to join us that can force the power struggle. I’d say four out of seven nights a week is a success.

Bedtime Book Stew

I’m proud of my four-year-old son’s library. He has about 200 books on his shelf plus a rotating allotment of 15-30 library books at a time. These range from board to picture books. So I was livid when every volume was piled into a stew of toys and art supplies. The topping was his full-sized bedding layered on the heap, mattress protector included.

After an already 30 minute negotiation to put pajamas on so the bedtime reading could commence, I saw the pile and could have lashed into obscenities and even a swat or two. Except I’m working to better myself and model character only God could bring to the table. I expressed my disappointment and exited the room.

Five days ago we brought our newborn  daughter home. I’ve heard the transition out of being the only child can be difficult, but I survived, quite alright and even prideful if I do say so myself. The first night we went home my son did this same empty-the-book-shelves stunt. Last time, grandma and I jumped in quickly to rescue the situation and shelve the abandoned material. This time, I didn’t have it in me. And I wanted to take this opportunity to teach.

First, I enlisted the help of a Power greater than myself and knocked on his closed door to offer a water bottle. As I entered he humorously launched a woven basket onto the pile. I last my hand out and caught the folded baskets and told him, “I don’t want you throwing these around.” I added that his action showed me that he can’t keep such toys and books in his room.

I exited again.

I had to regain myself before I really did loose it. This was too much for a tired dad whose exhausted wife was was dozing in bed with the infant. I sat on the couch and surrendered. I closed my eyes and asked for help. Then my son came down and asked me for help. I firmly said no. “You took the books off the shelf, and now you can put them back.” He was crushed when I followed it up with the fact that we weren’t going to be reading books tonight. Bedtime stories are our bond, our nightly relaxation and time of discussion. I was crushed, too. But the lesson needed to be learned. There are consequences to every action.

I told him I’d help with the sheets but that he was on his own with the books and toys. The task was overwhelming even for an adult. I slowly gathered the sheets and made his bed, and then asked him to find me once the books were back on the shelf. To my surprise, he started applying himself to the task, one book at a time. Sure, after about 15 minutes of working, he became distracted and started finding “new” toys to play with. So I entered, redirected and kept trudging the road of fatherly coaching, rather than fatherly scolding, giving him a hand to move things along.

Eventually, the books were in organized enough–sure there were sections of the bookshelf stacked vertically–to commence the bedtime routine. He asked if we could pick out books, and I told him a firm but disappointing sounding, “no.” Anger erupted in him again with kicks thrown in. I held firm and asked him if he remembered why there would be no books, and that I was sad about not being able to read to him, too.

We commenced with prayer, and “cuddling” which involves me laying in bed next to him. There are consequences to every action. Although he may have succeeded in stretching the bedtime routine beyond two hours, I feel that he will think twice about piling the books and blankets into a stew to stall again next time. Or at least will understand that a consequence comes with every action.