Trust Children When Engaging in Risky Play

Helicopter parents. We all have seen them at the playground, hovering around their child’s rear end as they climb a ladder. Or constantly reminding their child to be careful at various platforms throughout the jungle-gym.

I’ve been there. The last thing I want to experience is my son or daughter getting hurt, and it’s only parental instinct to want to protect them. Playgrounds offer a chance to explore, push limits and learn to interact, often without the boundaries of adults, depending on children’s age of course.

There is a nature center I visited recently where the rock has been sculpted and formed as the play area. There are caves, a climbing wall and various cliffs that can be scaled and stood upon.

But before entering any sort of elevation, if you want to call it that, there is this sign:

Let go

This is a tough thing for a new parent to learn. Again, I’ve felt the fear of my son or daughter hurting themselves, especially the first born. As a new parent, I knew absolutely nothing.

But what I’ve slowly come to realize is that this sign is true. As my baby girl, our second child, was learning to explore the playground, she approached a step head first. I began to make a move forward to stop her, when she stopped just in time, turned around and inched herself backward.

My five year old climbed up a side of a cliff and sat there. Legs dangling down and enjoying the view. Fortunately I wasn’t around when he decided to stand up and jump off. The ledge was probably four feet. And for a five year old, that would be like a six foot tall man jumping off a seven foot tall ledge.

The point is to trust, let kids learn their own boundaries and grow. Pushing my own fears on my kids, whether that’s about falling or acceptance by childhood peers, need to be kept where they belong. To me. A goal of mine is to allow my kids to develop and grow with their own fears, rather than share mine with them.

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An Eye for An Eye vs. Turning the Other Cheek

There are many things I didn’t prepare myself for when I became a father. Among these is the great wonder of what I did with all of my free time prior to children.

I also didn’t prepare myself for the fact that children can bring the worst out of you. But the idea that I am focusing on is that I can stop certain behaviors from moving down generations.

There are certain things that I know I said I would never do that my dad did. Now, my dad is a very good man in many ways, but we all have flaws. Whenever I would be upset at a friend, my dad would say don’t get mad get even.

This “tooth-for-a-tooth mentality” built up many resentments within me over the years. I never really sought revenge but rather wished ill will towards people who I felt had done me wrong. What kind of good does that do?

And just yesterday, I’m in church hearing that I should love my enemies, especially my enemies. For everyone loves their friends and family, but how many people can say they love their enemies. Simple basic Christian stuff, right? Sure, but far from easy.

A recent example of this that comes to mind is the representatives from Charleston who forgave the assassin after the Charleston Church shooting in June of 2015. Here are church members who lost loved ones in an act of pure hatred, and they are forgiving the shooter.

I can only hope to model such behavior some day. I know I am no where near capable of this at this time, but I can sense the concept that forgiving others is relief to ourselves. There is something about freeing up my headspace from those negative thoughts.

We are currently experience a strong test against listening in our household, both with our pre-schooler and the almost one-year old. And when I’m in the throws of such defiance, I am one to hold threats like, “please do not talk to me like that or you will need to go to your room.”

This came up just the other day when my pre-schooler was in my face and antagonizing the baby. I had asked for space and he continued.

Drawing the line, I carried him upstairs after numerous threats. I’m pretty sure he wanted to see if I would in fact follow through. (History shows that I can be a pushover a times.) So I did. I set a timer for three minutes, and he took time in his room to think about listening.

I made sure to provide a loving boundary rather than a stomping foot of judgement to make my point. He is obviously not my enemy but there are definitely times where fatherhood can feel like a battle. And in those times, be sure to love your enemy.

 

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.

referee

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.

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.

head-construction-cordless-drill-41209

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.

 

 

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.

cellphone

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.

 

Can Patience Be Taught?

I want what I want and I want it now. Thanks to the Internet I can instantly look up the answer to table topic questions. I want my burger well done and on my plate as soon as my mouth starts watering, and I lean toward going to the farmers market rather than grow my own vegetables.

My patience is short. Especially when it comes to my child’s behavior, it is hard for me to not react with a “I told you not to color on the floor without a piece of paper underneath your drawing,” instantly. So how can I teach patience?

This recently came up at a church gathering, and my pastor answered that you can’t. He says patience can’t be taught. Patience has to be modeled.

This challenged my whole notion of asking my pre-school son to wait for the chips at lunch until he finished his vegetables. Just one mention of serving chips with the sandwiches sent him into a frenzied tailspin of wanting the chips instantly and screaming for them.

The one area where I feel patience can be taught is in not responding immediately when my son struggles with something, say zipping up his jacket. I’ll often say, in a minute or an I believe you can do it for some support. Even my nine-month old infant doesn’t need to be picked up instantly when whining ensues.

patience

Scholastic Parent’s resources mentions several things that can help teach patience:  using reflective listing, keep expectations reasonable and even using a timer. However, the first bullet in their list of ways to teach patience is to model patience.

There is an old anti-drug PSA where the father holds out the paraphernalia and asks his teenage son where he learned to use this stuff. “I learned it by watching you,” the son shouts back.

And why is the old axiom of do as I say and not as I do ringing in my ears right now?

This question of whether patience can be taught is debatable, but the more I look at it, the more I think it must be modeled. I don’t instantly need to rush in at my son’s frustrating whines. The baby doesn’t instantly need soothing when fussy. And ignoring the tug at my shirt while talking to my wife is healthy, for both our marriage and modeling patience.

 

 

Forgotten Matchbox Cars and losing My Sanity with My Parking Ticket

I write about the the necessity of God in my life to be a good father. And I believe it, after all that’s what keeps me writing about it over and over.

However, there are times where I feel like an absolute fraud, wondering why anyone should even take my advice. There are times when complete irritation takes over, and I lose my connection with God.

Like when I found myself trying to exit the parking ramp and I scream out the window in frustration at 9 a.m. I felt I should have been at work. I shouldn’t have forgotten my son’s show-and-tell in my car. And upon exiting, I somehow find the parking-ramp ticket sliding between the windshield and dash, and I’m unable to retrieve it. (I still haven’t been able to retrieve it.)

Now, if I would have been in the moment with God, I wouldn’t have felt the need to holler out the window.

I find that there are certain things–often very little things–that God likes to continue working on with me. Now, in the past I may have gotten to work and chose not to drive the 20 minutes back for my son’s show-and-tell. But I love my son, and what better way to show him my love than to bring his tin of Matchbox cars to school. I know he was overjoyed to show his fellow friends.

Little things like being forgetful have been a notorious reason for me to validate negative self talk. Maybe this is His way of working that out, and showing me just how useless such behavior is.

My son is only four. He’s not going to remember me stepping in to save his pre-school show-and-tell. But if this at least touches the core of his being and verifies his trust and faith in my never-ending love for him, then maybe he will have faith in Our Father as he matures. Thankfully, he wasn’t present when I acted like a fool in the parking ramp.

The saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff,” is one of the hardest things for me as a dad. Walking on the floor with dirty shoes. Snagging two cookies right out of the box instead of one. Threatening with a tantrum over Star Wars Marshmallow Cereal (yuck). Screaming bloody murder when I know she’s tired and just needs to fall asleep. This stuff can be frustrating, but really, it’s all small stuff.

OnlySmallThings

“We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” –St. Mother Theresa.

 

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?

SONY DSC
SONY DSC

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).

food-city-theme-summer-ice-cream-large

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 Fatherly.com 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.

Getting Back on the Horse

My four-year old has built the confidence to ride his two-wheel bike with training wheels. The joy and confidence on his face that grows during this accomplishment is priceless.

We are two days into the “training” and I swear I can see the power of his pedaling increase.

We are blessed to live less than a block from over 30 miles of trails winding through Minneapolis. After about 3/4 of a mile one way, we turned around. A small downhill faced us, which he had no problem going up, and I internalized the decision to let him take his confidence to tackle this hill.

biking

I won’t describe in detail how it exactly happened because I could speculate in a number of ways:  a narrow path, an oncoming biker with a trailer, me biking too close or just plain nervousness when biking too fast. He fell off, face first.

I am very much a helmet advocate, so he was wearing his brain-bucket. But from behind I pondered if there were going to be teeth leftover on the concrete after this incident.

Layers of skin shaved off on his cheekbone underneath his eye and ran down his cheek for several inches. I jumped off my bike and picked him up, sitting him on my thigh. A mix of panic and anger swirled inside of me.

There were no broken bones and all of his teeth remained in his head, so I calmed myself, squeezing him and telling him he’ll be alright.

My first reaction was to set him on the cargo carrier of my bike, leaving his in the bushes and roll him home as fast as I could. Then I recalled again that this wasn’t life threatening and maybe this is a chance to teach. That and I didn’t want to have to come all the way back for his bike.

I lifted him off of my bike, gave him a squeeze and told him he had to get back on. I received a screeching, “Noooooooooooooooo,” in response.

After more blood, tears and crying, he remained on his bike as I rolled us home. It was quite a site, me bending down to pull the handle bars on his small bike while keeping hand on mine and rolling us both home.

It’s hard for me to look at his scab but easy for me to be grateful the accident wasn’t worse.

The old axiom of needing to get back on the horse after falling off rings true on so many levels. Whether I fail at work, a side project or fixing something at home, I need to continue to bring this with me. He continues to teach me as long as I am open-minded.

Seven hours later, my son was asking to go back out on the bike.  So we went back out. Sure, we avoided the hills, but he got back on the bike. And showing up is half the battle.