3 Things to Do Before Your Next Anger Outburst with the Kids
One evening I was home feeding dinner to my little girls while my wife was out. It had been a long, stressful day, and in my distracted impatience, too self-absorbed to calmly handle a seven-year-old complaining about a meal she had “loved” just a couple weeks before, I rose up and said…Well, what I meant to say, incredulously, was “Do you really want to argue about this meal Mom cooked that I know you really like?” But instead, for some inexplicable reason, I blurted out “Do you want to fight?”
She froze, suddenly silent, her eyes as huge as could be. My tongue-tied, careless words and actions frightened them, and I felt small and humiliated. We didn’t let too much time pass before we set things right with each other, but it reminded me that an anger outburst can be really damaging. Every interaction with our kids is either building a wall or building a base of trust with them. Whether you’re dealing with an occasional outburst or a chronic habit, we can reduce the intensity and damage of future angry outbursts towards a child with some preparation, shared expectations, and a dose of humility.
Here are three things to do now, in the calm times, to better avoid or handle those anger outbursts:
1. Honestly Name the Problem.
In calmer times, perhaps during a meal or a pre-bedtime conversation, let your family know that you want to get better at controlling your anger, and you want to help the whole family, too. Discuss how anger, when it is not dealt with, can get more and more damaging over time, maybe by sharing examples from your own past relationships. Share how important it is to avoid and overcome anger, and to work together to help each other. Set the tone for the team.
2. Give Your Child Permission to Tell You How Your Anger Hurts Them.
Kids are often too frightened with an angry parent to be honest about how their angry outbursts affect them. But ask any adult who had a very angry parent and you’ll quickly learn, those wounds can run very deep. Assure them that you respect their opinion and want them to be able to honestly share their feelings for you. It will help you understand the impact of your anger and be more specific when you seek to make things right with them. Above all, do not be defensive as they honestly answer you. If something unresolved from the past is mentioned, take time to apologize without conditions or justifications.
3. Give Your Wife or a Close Friend Permission to Hold You Accountable.
When our anger is welling up in a tense situation with a child, sometimes our wives can see the outburst roiling more quickly than we can. Let her know that you need and want her to help you see when an outburst is coming. Give her permission to gently remind you of your desire for calm and control. Help her understand the best way to communicate with you when your anger might be building. Though she’s as imperfect as you, she also can be your best teammate in keeping your cool and dealing constructively instead of destructively in the heat of the moment, if you let her.
If you are a single dad, seek out a close friend or family member that you trust to help you with this step. They may not be there every time you have an outburst welling up. Ask them to check on you regularly, being blunt with you if necessary, about how you’re handling your heart with your kids. A team that is accountable and responsive to each other’s needs is one that builds resilience and grace for the hard times. And ask them if they’d be willing to take a call or text from you on the spot if you need their help to take a break and cool down in the heat of the moment.
A team that is accountable and responsive to each other’s needs is one that builds resilience and grace for the hard times. Applying these three actions will not guarantee the end of all outbursts, but it will set you up better to avoid them.
Sound off: What do you do to control your angry outbursts?
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5 Most Common Mistakes Dads Make
A friend of mine was on a business trip when he received a phone call from his son. His son had been running for student body president and in the last week the most popular kid in school decided to run. My friend’s son lost the election and was explaining to his dad what had happened. My friend snapped back over the phone, “He can’t do that! That’s unfair.” A work colleague on the trip with him, an older man with grown kids, heard the whole call. When the call ended, the older gentleman told my friend, “I know it’s none of my business, but I think that was a mistake.” He went on to explain to my friend that he was making excuses for his son’s failure. Rather than making excuses for why his son lost the election, he should have walked his son through how to respond in the midst of loss.
None of us are perfect, especially when it comes to fatherhood. We need all the help we can get to point out our blind spots, minimize the mistakes, and get better. Speaking for myself, I probably have more blind spots and make more mistakes than most. In fact, I could probably call this, The 5 Most Common Mistakes I Make. But I’ve observed many other dads doing the same thing. So with that in mind, here are some of the most common mistakes dads make.
1. Thinking I Don’t Need Help
Being a good father means loving your kids well and being engaged in their lives. It doesn’t mean being perfect, having all of the answers, and always responding the right way. One of the greatest gifts you can give your kids is the gift of humility by seeking the wisdom of others and receiving critique well, just as my friend did on that business trip. He thanked his colleague and put the advice into action.
2. Being Overly Critical
Our kids need to know that we are their best ally, not their worst critic. When it comes to teaching our kids we have to choose our spots, especially when pointing out when they have erred. Our kids need to know that we are their best ally, not their worst critic. You don’t need to have a discussion about every mistake they make. They probably are aware already that they messed up. Instead, ask them questions about how they feel, what they think they might have done different, and then give them encouragement. Tell them stories of your own failures at the same age. Listening and empathizing will earn you currency. Also, make sure you get excited and ask a lot of questions when they experience success. That will be their favorite subject.
3. Thinking There is a Fix to Everything
Sometimes life is just plain heartbreaking. Every time my kids express sadness, my quick response is, “Yeah, but…” I’m always looking to fix their problem or give them some silly silver lining, often times minimizing their pain. There are times when they need a perspective shift, but too often I miss an opportunity to provide a much needed safe space and empathetic hug. Sometimes my response is even worse. I’ll get upset because of the pressure to make everything okay. That can be exhausting and cause me to make the next mistake.
4. Disengaging/Being Passive
When the responsibility of fathering becomes heavy I can feel paralyzed. I just want to unplug and hide. My son is getting into street hockey and he loves playing goalie. I was hitting shots at him the other night and one shot hit his arm. It hurt. He flinched on the next shot. He said getting hurt affected his confidence. I told him that’s when he needed to make a conscious decision to move toward the ball/puck, even taking a step towards the shooter. He did, bravely, and made a bunch of great saves. As a dad, when the weight of responsibility gets heavy I need to follow my own advice and step into it.
5. Not Being Vulnerable with Your Kids
Kids need to see our emotion and the things that cause us pain. We all want to be a source of strength in our families. However, strength is not the absence of emotion and hurt. Strength is how healthy we are in processing our emotions and the experiences that cause us stress, pain, and loss. Our kids need to see us labor in our trials so they can see how it’s done, while also giving validation to their struggles.
Sound off: What is the biggest mistake you have ever made as a father?
Helping the Kids Finish Strong at the End of the Year
Believe it or not, teachers and students are already looking at the wind down of the current school year. We raced through the fall, we negotiated an interesting winter, and now we’re well into the spring. Ready or not, summer is just around the corner and with it hopes and dreams for the next year. It’s not too late to finish strong.
The school year is a marathon of sorts. It doesn’t matter how well prepared they are, or how well they pace themselves in the middle of the event because now they have to make it over the finish line on their own two feet. We nagged our kids and we encouraged them too; they’ve come a long way – now it all comes down to finishing strong. So here are a few important things to remember as they round the last turn.
1. Showing up counts.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a series of missed pop-quizzes in high school, a formative science field-trip, or a couple of spelling tests in the second grace, being there is ninety-nine percent of the battle. Learning well is a community experience and if our kids miss too much – for whatever reason – the repercussions are developmentally real.
2. Talk with the teachers.
Learning also plays out in the context of relationships. Keep communication open with the teachers and approach education as a team. Families that are talking with their kids’ teachers are seldom blindsided by end of the year surprises.
Children are more likely to rise to the occasion when they feel they actually have a chance to succeed.3. Keep expectations reasonable.
Know your child, their learning history, and their capabilities. Always look for improvement, but make sure your expectations are in line with what is reasonable. Children are more likely to rise to the occasion when they feel they actually have a chance to succeed.
4. Be an encourager.
An extension of #3. Encouragement always bears more fruit than disparagement. Be firm, be kind, be realistic, and be a cheerleader.
5. Cultivate a culture of family learning at home.
When the family values learning so does the child. Limit screen time, keep the television off during dinner and homework time. Sit down alongside your child and read, or do a crossword, or do some of your own homework. Celebrate learning and participate in knowledge growth yourself.
All these factors will serve to encourage and support your child as the academic year winds down. They will also set a pattern for the summer break, when #5 will continue to lay a foundation for next year. Because the commitment to finish strong will result in beginning strong too, and that’s half the battle for the fall – and the fall will be here before we know it.
Sound off: How do you keep your children motivated and engaged at this time of the year?
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5 Ways to Raise a Change Agent
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
― Leo Tolstoy
It’s easy to wonder what the future will hold for our children. We see the challenges that face the planet – climate change, deep divisions at home and abroad, extremism, etc. – and the temptation can be to play it safe. Sure, we hope that those issues get addressed, but our goals for our kids are to be safe, happy, and successful.
But the fact is, our children will be the ones who shape the future of the world, for better or for worse. We will raise agents of change. The question is, ‘What kind of change will our children bring?’ and ‘How can we raise our children to be adults that move us toward a more just, free and healthy world?’
While our children will make their own choices and shape their own future, there are some things we can do to prepare them well to be change agents. Here are 5 ways to raise agents of positive change in the world.
1. Teach your kids to be self-differentiated.
Differentiation is understanding where you stop and another person begins. (If you’re unfamiliar with this concept, you can check out this brief video:
It means having a strong sense of self. You can’t be a change agent if you don’t have a clear sense of who you are and what you are and are not responsible for in the world.
2. Help your children take responsibility.
As parents, we often think it’s our job to take care of all the cleaning, cooking, and general upkeep of the home so that our kids can do their thing: sports, homework, hang out with friends. But our children need to learn that they share responsibility for the space they inhabit. In order for the home to thrive, it takes everyone. Everyone takes turns helping with dinner. Everyone helps to wash the dishes. Everyone straightens up when guests are coming. These are shared responsibilities. Sure, not everyone can help every night. But teach your children to take responsibility for the environment in which they live.
3. Foster creativity.
A future we don’t yet understand will need people who can engage creatively. The solutions that will solve tomorrow’s problems probably don’t exist yet. We often focus on obedience and performance with our kids, but what about creativity? We need to encourage creative pursuits. We need to allow our kids to be bored. Boredom is the birthplace of creativity. Musical instruments, art, creative play, reading fantasy novels; there are many ways to encourage creativity. We must become creativity coaches for our children.
4. Talk about real life stuff.
Obviously, this must be age-appropriate, but we can begin talking with our children about the actual stuff of life at any age. If your children are young, talk to them about what it means to show compassion and to learn empathy, that people of all ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds deserve respect, that you can treat someone with dignity even if you disagree with them, etc. If your kids are older (pre-teen & teen) talk to them about political, social, and environmental issues. Discuss emerging technologies. Help them think about the impact of these things on the moral sensibilities you are trying to instill.
5. Character trumps competence.
We need to spend more time focusing on who our children are becoming than we do on how they are performing. I know, we all want our children to excel in everything – school, sports, friendships – but in doing so we often overlook the one thing that will help them become the kind of people who both live well and do well in the world: character. We need to spend more time focusing on who our children are becoming than we do on how they are performing. To do this, you’ll need to first have an anchor point from which you derive your moral framework. Where do your moral sensibilities come from? How will you work to cultivate that worldview in your children? This will not happen accidentally and it must begin with you. If you care little for your own moral development, it will be difficult to properly cultivate your child’s.
Bonus: Just do it.
Who do you want your kids to become? Compassionate? Generous? Courageous? Model it. Do it with them. These characteristics take hold as they are lived into.
Sound off: Where do you think the world needs change agents the most right now?
5 Situations that Might Require Therapy for Your Child
I never would’ve expected that a child of mine would need kids therapy. Put aside the fact that I myself have had therapy; I just thought that my children’s stable home life would protect them from those types of challenges. I had to think again. One of my children did need counseling, received it, and is living a better life for it.
It wasn’t an easy decision. We did everything we could at home before we reached out for help, but finally, we realized that for the good of our child, we needed outside input. When do kids need to see a therapist? There are 5 areas of struggle that might require counseling for your child.
When a marriage breaks up, a child’s world does too.When a marriage breaks up, a child’s world does too. Even if mom and dad do their best to make the change as easy as possible for their children, and even if the children say they’re fine, they might benefit from seeing a professional.
2. Mental Issues
A friend of mine’s daughter has severe social anxiety. It was so debilitating that at one point, she had no friends at school — for years. The situation was deteriorating and the little girl was miserable. A wise counselor guided the child and her mother. She gave them the tools they could use to battle social anxiety. Mental issues like anxiety, depression, and phobias can be treated very successfully with counseling.
3. Learning Issues
Learning disabilities are best caught early. But even an attentive mom can miss them. If your child has learning disabilities, address the impact they are having on your child’s schoolwork, but also address the effect they might have on his sense of self.
4. Social Issues
When my son was in elementary school he had a friend who was so polite and fun — unless something made him angry — then he would lose control. If your child’s behavior is hindering his social development, get help. Social problems can include anger issues, lack of empathy, and the inability to read social cues.
5. Traumatic Issues
There are some issues that are so life-changing that professional help is almost always in order. If your child falls victim to any kind of abuse—physical, emotional, or sexual—seek professional help. Bullying can also fall into the traumatic issues category. If your child is struggling with being bullied, address the problem with his school first, and then get him the professional help he needs.
To help talk about some of these topics, download the Q & U app and start asking questions.
Sound off: When have you turned to professional help?
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Why You Should Use Life Events to Teach Life Lessons to Your Kids
Someone once said that childhood is the university of life. If that is the case, then parenthood is the costly tuition. Any parent knows that parenting can be one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences in all of life. But with all the things that parents need to do to “get it right”, how in the world can a parent ever do enough or give their child full instruction to be prepared for this unpredictable thing called life?
One of the simplest ways I’ve learned to make your parenting job easier is to teach life lessons to your children through the everyday circumstances all around them. Rather than parents feeling overwhelmed by all the things they want to teach their children in the fleeting parenting years, it’s often easier than many parents think. Whether it’s an event, a tragedy, or just a movie, life is full of teachable moments if we’ll look for them – timely opportunities to use as stepping stones into important conversations about life-lessons. Here are a few important ones to consider the next time they happen.
Nothing speaks to the value of each and every person like coming face to face with the realities of life and death. Even for children, if dealt with wisely, death and loss can be a positive learning experience that sets them up for a lifetime of successfully dealing with grief.
Because marriage is a sacred union meant to be a life-long commitment, a wedding is a beautiful way to remind kids of the importance of not only the institution of marriage but many other life lessons. So many important lessons could be discussed from a wedding including the value of choices, love, commitment, purity, promises, etc. In addition, it’s a great way to discuss what it takes to make a marriage last for life and the reasons why some marriages don’t.
Tragedies open wide a door of conversation for us as parents.When pain and suffering hit close to home, whether it be in your family, your community, or simply in the news, it is a teachable moment to help your children understand how to respond and how to help those who are directly affected. Whether it’s a school shooting, a natural disaster, an unexpected death, or the life-changing negative effects of someone’s choices, tragedies open wide a door of conversation for us as parents. So rather than just sweeping them under the rug as something that just “happened again”, use them to discuss the realities of people’s choices, or sometimes things that are completely out of our control.
Few things are harder in life than what a kid experiences at school, but school is a training ground for life success. Whether your child struggles with friendship, an authority figure, the difficulty of their work, or something else, what happens at school provides us as parents with an innumerable amount of teachable opportunities to develop character in our children.
Teach your children that failure is a part of life, but failure is never final unless you choose for it to be. Some of the greatest life lessons your child will ever learn are from their mistakes, some of which you need to allow them to make.
TV & movies
My boys love Spider-Man; and we recently went and watched the movie, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Not only was it a fun time together, but we were able to have some good discussion about the movie after it was over. Movies make for great discussions starters and are an easy way to help your children identify both good and evil, as well as people’s motives and struggles. Just start by asking questions. There are always tons of practical and moral life lessons to be learned from most movies.
These are just a few ideas, but there are so many more. The world is full of life lessons all around us every day. As wise parents, we would do well not to overlook these opportunities, but to take advantage of them.
Sound off: What other life events come to mind that you could use to teach life lessons?
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