THE BULLY FREE ZONE

bullyingSometimes I mentally rehearse how I would respond if my family were in danger.  If an intruder broke into my home what would I do?  If we were attacked on the street would I be courageous enough to protect them?  I am not sure what gets me thinking about these things, and many times I try to put them out of my mind.  Today however, I watched the documentary Bully directed by Lee Hirsch, this film has got me stirred up again, but this time it is more disturbing.

In my fantasies of family danger I am powerful, swift to action, and able to put myself in the place of my children when they are in danger.  Bullying is a much different beast.  Those who bully tend to be more covert, they have practiced and honed their skills, and many times they are bullied themselves.  The problem with bullying is how powerless adults seem to be in protecting those who are bullied.

Bullying usually does not occur when adults are around, adults cannot sweep in and meet might with might.  In many cases, as depicted in the film all adults can do is talk with the one who is bullying.  They sit in an office and rationalize about kindness, respect, friendship, and permanent school behavioral records.  It all just seems very weak and vividly demonstrates a universal principle that adults hate to admit.

“ADULTS CANNOT CONTROL THE ACTIONS OF CHILDREN”

            I think we hate to admit it because of how scary it is.  Aside from physical coercion we have absolutely no control over the behavior of children.  I cannot make my son clean his room, do his homework, be kind to the neighbor, or apologize to his brother.  Children tend to behave based on what they perceive will get them the thing that they want.  Many times we adults do not understand the pay off for a child’s behavior and therefore fail to find a way to change it.

            I think one solution to this problem is to stop trying to control something that we cannot.  We cannot control a child’s behavior so let’s give it a rest.  Let’s be real and honest with our kids.  Let’s end the charade we have been perpetrating all these years and tell them the truth.

“SON, YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE THAT CAN CONTROL YOUR ACTIONS”

            I believe that when we let go of attempting to control our children they will become better citizens.  Please do not misunderstand me I do not think children should be allowed to do whatever they want, have no rules, and no responsibility.  I believe that adults should set the structure and expectations for behavior so that WHEN the child crosses the line appropriate and logical consequences follow.  Adults have fallen into the trap (myself included) of wanting to control a child’s behavior in order to get a certain outcome.  This outcome based parenting sends the message that adults control the child’s behavior; I want to send the message that kids are in charge of their behavior.  They are able to choose their actions and the consequences that follow are part of their choosing.  When adults control behavior, children can blame the adults for the following consequences both good and bad.  When children control behavior the consequences are theirs, they own them.  These owned consequences are the powerful payoff that reinforces or discourages certain behavior.   This is how children learn that they can make life what they want it to be.  In the long run children that know they are in control of themselves are children that step up to stop bullying.  These type of children will “Be More Than Bystanders” by engaging in the following activities

    • Be Their Friend
    • Tell a Trusted Adult
    • Help Them Get Away
    • Don’t Give Bullying an Audience
    • Set a Good Example

Bullying is a very difficult problem.  Solutions must be long term rather than short term.  All adults must play a role in protecting and empowering children at school and in neighborhoods.  A first line defense is to remember that children are in charge of their own behavior.  We want them to be in charge of their actions because when they are in charge they are actively choosing what they want life to be.

For Further reading on how to empower children to stop bullying visit stopbullying.gov

 Have you or your kids ever been bullied, how did you respond?

Doll Play VS. Gun Play and A Parents Worst Fears

Read: ANGRY ARTthe meaning of play

Play is the language of a child, it is the expression of inner most thoughts, feelings, and desires.  Or is it?

I was playing dolls with my daughter the other day and found myself reflecting on the meaning of her play.  We were alone in the playroom and she brought me her doll over and over again asking (without words) that I swaddle it in the small blanket like I had swaddled her when she was an infant.  She would pick it up and nearly fall over from the weight and size of her child.  She mimicked the back and forth rocking of “rock a by baby” and eventually rocked so hard that the doll fell to the ground while rolling out of the blanket.  She gathered the doll into her arms and slammed it into the tiny wooden crib, making a loud smacking sound as the head knocked against the side rail.

I found myself analyzing her play.  Does she completely lack empathy?  Is this play a sign that she will grow up to be a bad mother? What if she has no ability to care for others?  My thoughts began to race, and the “parents worst fear” meter was redlining.  As I continued to watch and observe I stopped analyzing her play and began analyzing the meaning I ascribed to her play.

I found that I was thinking like an adult.  I was observing her play and assumed that she was doing what she was doing for the same reasons an adult would be doing it.  An adult that drops a baby or slams it into a crib does so because of a lack of empathy, inability to care, and probably anger.  So, of course that must be why she was doing.

OR PROBABLY NOT!!

I began to think more about the meaning that adults ascribe to a child’s play.  Is the meaning that I interpret the same as what the child hold in their mind? I remembered back to several articles I had read about children being suspended from school because of play deemed inappropriate by school administrators.  Both instances involved young children and make shift guns.  One involved pointing a pencil at another student like a gun and the other involved chewing a pop tart into the shape of a gun.

I tend to get pretty frustrated with these situations in which play is criminalized.  It seems to me that children are being punished based on the projected fears of adults.  Do we really believe that a pencil is dangerous for other children?  I wonder if these decisions come from fears of what our children might become.   At some point we just have to laugh at these ridiculous stories but I wonder when we adults will realize that children do not think like us?  I wonder how the world would be different if adults could play like a child?  What if adults were less fearful and more adventurous like children? Oh what fun we might have!

Read Angry Art

Daddy Will You Hold Me: Containing Feelings

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One of the most important aspects of holding a child involves emotions.  A child will feel held when their parent is able to contain the powerful emotions of the moment.  A child will feel dropped when the parent is either overwhelmed by or unresponsive to the child’s emotions.

I readily admit that I tend to drop my children when they are feeling powerful emotions.  At times I feel too busy, too tired, or just plain sick of dealing with the chaos.  The truth is unfortunately that in these moments I am more concerned about my own feelings than I am about my child’s.  I have become overwhelmed with what is going on in me, and do not have the capacity to deal with what is happening in my child.

I just read a nice article titled Attunement Parenting The New Attachment Parenting and was reminded that my ability to contain my child’s emotions is directly correlated to how well I am taking care of myself.  In other words my ability to handle my son’s anger is impacted by my ability to handle my own anger.  Arriving home from work frustrated from the day significantly impacts my interactions with my children.  I must do a good job of taking care of my self in order to take care of my children.

I struggle with this, I tend to give, give give, and then give out.  I wear myself to the bone, attempting to be the best parent I can be, constantly striving to meet everyone of my child’s needs, never allowing my self to be distracted from the task of engaging in their lives.  THIS IS EXHAUSTING!! It is not possible to be the perfect parent, it is not possible to meet every need, and it is not possible to engage at every moment.

I have learned that I need time to refuel.  I am a very reflective person, and when I have neglected the time I need to slow down, and think I become short tempered, impatient, and depressed.  I am thankful for the reminder that it is OK to do something that I enjoy.  I am allowed to put the headphones on and listen to my favorite album.  But where does one draw the line? How much parenting is enough? And is it possible to measure up?

How do you RE-FUEL as a parent?  Where do you draw the Line?

Before We Talk Gun Control, Let’s Talk Self-Control

 

d4a89-8281447_sI see the video of students running to embrace their parents after the Columbine shooting.  I hear the 9-1-1 calls from Aurora Colorado.  I fear for my child’s safety following Newtown Connecticut.  The images of these tragedies continue to raise serious questions in my mind, what is wrong with our society?  Where does this violence come from?  And what can be done to protect my children?

In the months following the Newtown Connecticut shooting my questions have been societies questions.  The issues have been discussed on news shows, experts have weighed in and there are all sorts of opinions.  Recently however the discussion seems to have focused on gun control.  Who can own them?  How many rounds should they hold? What is the difference between hunting and military style weapons?  And should there be a national gun registry?

I am afraid that these discussions about gun control miss the more important point.  If we are seeking to answer the questions, “what is wrong with society?” “Where does this violence come from?” and “How can we protect our children?” then we must instead be talking about self-control.  We have become a nation of self-indulgence.  The Centers for Disease Control reports that over 1/3 of American adults are obese.  The collapse of the U.S. housing market revealed a pattern of gross overspending and irresponsible lending.  In my work as a school counselor I see many parents indulging their child’s every desire while expecting very little responsibility.  We are surrounded by technologies designed to make life quick and convenient while avoiding the arduous and difficult.

Our children are told that happiness comes from living in the moment, following their heart, and being themself.  Yet according to the U.S. census bureau between 1990 and 2009 for every 6.8 marriages there were 3.4 divorces.  The emphasis placed on self-indulgence does not seem to create successful relationships. What if this over indulgence of self actually makes it easier to discard important relationships?  What about the influence celebrity?  In 2012 Americans spent $1.37 billion on movie tickets.  Many look to these movie stars as well as athletes as role models for success.  However, based on the number of front-page mug shots and court appearances even these cultural figures struggle with self-control.    I am very concerned that my children are growing up in a nation that views impulsivity, selfishness, and self-aggrandizement as virtues rather than vices.

Why are we surprised when a product of this culture does exactly what he was taught to do?  He follows his angry heart, disregards the value of others, and impulsively, irrationally, and selfishly murders innocent people? The real solution for the gun control problem is a radical shift in our national values.  Self-control must not be viewed as an attempt to limit individual freedoms.  Instead, it must be viewed as the ability to choose what is best rather than what is immediate.

Self-control provides a person the power to direct ones life.  I have encountered many students who do not know this.  They seem to believe that self-control is a position of weakness rather than strength.   They are convinced that limiting themselves will result in limited freedom.  What they don’t realize is that controlling ones self is the ultimate in freedom.  The ability to control our impulses, emotions, and desires may be the most difficult task of life.  However, as we learn to harness these inner experiences we are set free from the ups and downs of inner volatility.  We realize that others have absolutely no control over our inner world and thus no control of us.  “I am the only one who can control me.”  What a great freedom and responsibility.  The freedom provides the path to make life what I want it to be.  The responsibility requires that if life is not what I want it to be, I have no one to blame but myself.  Man Life is tough!

My guess is that those who perpetrate mass shootings never learned the lesson of self-control.  They never realized that they were ultimately in control of their thoughts, emotions, fantasies, and actions.  I would guess they felt a sense of their life being out of control.  I imagine they felt provoked to commit these crimes and saw no other escape from their prison of anger, hurt, and loneliness.  My hope is that as we shift from a culture of self-indulgence to self-control that the would-be murderers will regain the power to direct their life.  I hope they will find freedom in valuing others, connecting in relationships, and living in reality.  That is the best gun control only an individual can create.

This post originally appeared on The Good Men Project

Permission to Laugh

7bec8-5335004_sThis morning was a little different than normal.  I was taking the boys to school.  My wife was leaving early to drop our daughter at daycare.  She had to dress professionally in preparation for her clinical training day.  The boys had slept in a little longer than normal and we parents had taken advantage by sleeping in ourselves.  Things were going OK but we were late and nerves were running hot.

The boys were eating their biscuits and jelly, while my wife was holding our daughter and trying to prepare her breakfast at the same time.  She needed to rinse a bowl in the sink when it happened.  She flipped on the faucet, the sprayer nozzle stuck and water went flying across the kitchen soaking her, our daughter, and the floor.  The surprise of the cold water caused my wife to let out a loud high pitched scream, which scared the 9 month old daughter causing her to cry.

The boys and I sat eating breakfast not knowing quite how to respond.  The 3- year old covered his mouth trying to keep his breakfast from spewing out as he stifled a giggle.  The 5-year old let out one lone giggle and then shut up quickly sensing that mom might not appreciate his response.    I stood there dumbfounded remembering the night before when I had the same problem but was too lazy to find a solution.  The 7-year old forced out the obligatory, “don’t laugh, it’s not funny!” reprimand of his younger brothers.

Now, this situation could have gone a number of different ways, but thanks to a patient and playful response things took a positive turn.

My wife paused a moment, seemingly to gather her super human strength, took a breath and said playfully, “well, it was kinda funny!”

                  The boys burst into laughter!  They let loose with belly laughs and howls that are normally reserved for only the most hilarious moments.  The previously tense feeling of the morning had been shattered, nerves had been instantly cooled and we shared a family laugh in a stressful time.

As I reflected on this moment I was struck by the importance of giving children permission to laugh.  They desperately wanted to laugh, but they needed to know it was safe.  My wife could have responded with anger, and continued the morning with increased tension and pressure.  In her patience and playfulness however she sent the signal that she could laugh at herself and they could follow suit.

We have laughed about this moment several more times in the days to follow.  We remember back with our boys about the time mom got sprayed by the sink.  We share mini moments of laughter in the midst of the daily grind.

What a blessing we were given, a moment to laugh on a busy hectic morning and a lifetime to remember that wonderful feeling of connecting in joy through the power of laughter.

What are your funniest family moments?

I Hope My Son Drops Out of High School…

03a60-5372669_sI hope my sons drop out of high school if they find it to be a total waste of their time.  I have long considered schools unfriendly environments for boys and a recent article in the New York Times only confirmed my hunch.  The article sights a study finding, “that boys across all racial groups and in all major subject areas received lower grades than their test scores would have predicted.”

The researchers attributed the discrepancy to, “noncognitive skills”: attentiveness, persistence, eagerness to learn, the ability to sit still and work independently.”   As a father of 3 energetic boys I know that “noncognitive skills” can be very challenging for young boys to master.

 I was reminded of two recent interactions that fueled my frustration as I considered the educational challenges many boys face in the coming years.

            The first interaction was an enrollment meeting for a student that was returning to our school after having missed most of a semester due to truancy, spending some time in the department of corrections, and being “home schooled”.   He sat silently and solemnly as we spoke about his need to take responsibility, complete his work, attend regularly, and have a positive attitude.  He barely acknowledged us but with a shrug agreed to the expectations.  I was struck by how horrible it must feel to be stuck for days and years in a place that seemed purposeless.  Had this young man just traded a prison of bars and guards for one comprised of textbooks and teachers?

The second interaction was a fourth grader who has not done good work at school for years and has done minimal work for the last few days.  His acting out had grown worse and his unpredictable behavior required one-on-one supervision.  He is a wonderfully likable boy; his hands are stained black from his hobby of fixing and selling broken bicycles.  He knows more about an engine than I ever will.  Every time I enter the room he pretends to pull the thumb off my hand.  We joke around, I act surprised and he puts it back as we say hello.  Today’s interaction was like many others but I was again struck by his imprisonment.  He has 8 more years of school before he will be able to make a living doing what he enjoys.  He will likely work with his hands fixing cars, building houses, or driving machinery.  My guess is that he will be very good at it, but until then he is stuck inside pushing pencils and causing “problems”.

These boys do not want to be in school, they discovered a long time ago that it does not work for them.  They do not see how math, english, and science are going to help them in the real world.  They do not care about following rules, sitting still, or reading a loud, these skills will not help them survive their environment.

My mind immediately moved to solutions.  How can these boys be re-engaged in the learning environment?  What can be done to provide an increased sense of success? Here are my thoughts.

Provide a sensory rich educational environment.

Fewer recesses, cuts in P.E., pressure to perform on standardized tests, and limited budgets all contribute to sensory deprivation in schools.  A lot of classroom instruction is limited to the senses of vision and hearing.  Many boys learn best by touching, smelling, tasting, and especially doing.  A varied and dynamic learning environment could engage all the senses and cells of a child’s body.  Reasonable breaks for large muscle movement, snacks, and social interaction could also reinvigorate a student.

  Increased parental support

Many people would like to blame the parents for not providing enough support.   It is true that many parents do not have the emotional, psychological, or financial resources to provide the support their children need to find success in school.   Many of these parents are struggling to provide for basic needs, they may be preoccupied with personal difficulties, or have had bad experiences in school themselves.  For whatever reason many parents struggle to emphasize education as a family priority making it extremely difficult for their child to succeed.  Parents need to step up!  Too much responsibility has been placed on schools and teachers.  Parents teach values, self-control, and work ethic. Abdicating these jobs to schools creates an impossible task and an adversarial environment.  Parents must trust schools and work to reinforce the shared goals of hard work, responsibility, learning, and growth.

Create clear connections between future work and current curriculum

I have found very few boys that were not willing to work hard as long as they could see the purpose in their effort.  It may be difficult for boys to see how toiling for years in math, english, and science books will prepare them for careers as a welder, carpenter, business man, or engineer.  Some boys desire skills, hands on training, and practical experience.  What happened to vocational schools?  Can a 15- year- old apprentice with a plumber for his last two years to earn his high school diploma?  Learning outside the classroom, in real work situations could provide purpose and engagement that cannot be found in a book.

   A realistic valuation of college vs. career paths

Is it true that everyone should go to college?  I think not! Not all students are interested in or capable of continued studies.  Students are warned that they won’t be able to get a good job without a college education.  This is just not true.  Many times college-educated students struggle to find work while those with practical skills are in high demand.  The skills of hard work, perseverance, and intuition can be just as valuable as a college education.  I hope that we will begin to see careers in the trades as equally honorable as compared to a professional career.

            I am hopeful that my sons will graduate from high school.  However, without a sensory rich educational environment, increased engagement from yours truly, clear connections between future career and current curriculum, and increased valuation of the trades they may not make it.  If they choose the path of GED and trade training, I am confident they will find success.  I will be proud of their hard work, honesty, and integrity.  I will be honored to be their father.

What has school been like for your son or daughter?

The Original Dad 2.0

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This past weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to attend and speak at the Dad 2.0 Summit.  It was a gathering of bloggers, brands, media, and authors interested in changing the perception of dad as buffoon to dad as valued parent.  I had no idea that there were so many dads from a wide variety of backgrounds passionate about raising their kids and making the world a better place.

            I was especially surprised to meet the most inspiring Dad 2.0 on my ride from the airport to the conference.  One of the sponsors of the event was Honda and they provided attendees with free rides from the airport to the hotel.  James provided my ride and my inspiration was provided by his story.

            I am not sure how we got on the subject but the entire trip from the airport was spent talking about life and fatherhood.  James’ story was like many I have heard before.  He described his father as physically, emotionally, and verbally abusive.   His father was powerful and never let anyone disrespect his name.  Living in one of the toughest neighborhoods in town James quickly figured out what it took to be safe.  He discovered that if he intimidated people they would join him rather than fight him.  After being kicked out of his house at a very young age he started down a self-destructive path.  He met a girl, broke the law, and ended up in jail.

            “I always knew I wanted to do it differently.” James said.  He inherently knew that hitting, yelling, and aggression were not the best way, but he struggled to find other approaches.  As he fought to free himself from prison that girl he met remained committed.  When he was finally released he set his sights on making life for his children different.

            James told me more stories of how he raised his kids differently.  He described himself as strict but loving.  He told me about the long hours he worked to establish his own business.  He beamed with pride as he shared about the accomplishments of his daughter.  We joked about his desire to have another child so his family name could live on.

            This original Dad 2.0 inspired me.  He did not have a model of positive fatherhood.  He had made some serious mistakes.  Had he given up his kids would have added to the statistics about fatherless children.  But, he was committed to doing it differently.  He was not going to let his negative experiences and decisions forever impact the lives of his descendants.

            James is what Dad 2.0 is all about.  It is about breaking the cycle of fatherlessness, disengagement, and hurt.  It is about dads being vulnerable, taking emotional risks, and leading families despite the hard times.  Dad 2.0 is about supporting one another, encouraging one another, and challenging one another to raise the bar.  Fathers that “babysit” the kids are no longer good enough.  This world needs fathers that are committed to doing it differently while being actively involved with the next generation

How are you doing it differently?

THE ANGRY GROWL

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As a younger man I thought anger was a really effective tool for working with kids.  I thought it worked because when I got angry I yelled, when I yelled my voice changed from monotone kindness to something that sounded like a growl from hell.  When my voice changed to this scary growl from hell kids listened.  In my mind this worked.   I would ignore frustrations, hurts, or annoyances until I could ignore no more, then I would explode with a scary tone.  Once I had exploded I felt a lot better, my feelings had been expressed and the people around me seemed to “understand.”

            I have two vivid memories of discovering that my explosive anger was not helping people to understand me but to fear me.

            I was working as a direct care staff at a residential facility for teens.  These were normal kids who had struggled at home; they came to us to heal their family relationships.  I was very young myself but had been charged with the task of “parenting” and leading these teens.  One day toward the end of my yearlong commitment of service, I had asked a young man to complete his chore by taking out the trash.  A few minutes later I peeked out the door to check on him and realized he had been distracted while “sword fighting” with a broom.  I felt the anger well up inside of me, whipped open the door and growled, “Stop screwing around and get to work!”

            Just then a new staff member appeared around the corner. (Literally having arrived the day before) I had this instant feeling of being caught.  I felt embarrassed and ashamed.  I also felt powerful because of how quickly that boy jumped to attention and finished his chore.

            A couple years later while working as a youth pastor, I taught a 7th grade Sunday school class.  This class was challenging for me; there was a difficult mixture of the “popular” kids and those that were “annoying”.  One Sunday was filled with especially snotty remarks and I could take it no longer.  I laid into them with talk of kindness, respect, and love all in my characteristic growl of anger.  The room grew silent and I could see their faces fill with what I thought was remorse.

            Shortly after arriving home from that Sunday school class I received a phone call from a concerned parent.   Her daughter who tended to be pretty sensitive and was not involved in the snotty remarks had returned home in tears.  The parent asked what had occurred and if I could speak with her daughter.

            As I began to mature and gain some much needed self-reflection skills these two incidents stuck in my mind.  What was this experience that simultaneously produced feelings of guilt, shame, and power?  Was this technique that seemed to produce such a swift response in people really working?

            More growth and first time fatherhood brought about increased pressure and self-reflection.  The most profound realization of my need to change came one night as I was attempting to console my newborn baby.  He had been crying for what seemed like hours and we had tried everything we knew to soothe him.  I held him close to me as he screamed and writhed in my arms.  The thought that kept coming to mind was, “STOP BEING SUCH A BABY” I wanted to yell it at the top of my lungs.  I felt the anger welling up and had nothing but a worthless growl voice to rely on.

            That is the moment I realized that anger is a primitive and under developed parenting skill.  My growl was useless in the face of my son’s tears.  Actually, if I had used my go to skill it would have only made the situation worse and created fear rather than love.   My growl of anger had evoked action in the teens I worked with but only out of fear.  All these years when I thought I was effectively motivating, I was really fearfully motivating.  If I was to become the parent my son needed I would be required to find new ways of managing my emotions and responses.

            In the years since that night in the nursery, I am thankful to have gotten a handle on my anger.  I have learned to express frustration and discontent in the moment rather than allowing it to build up.  I have developed a better sense of personal boundaries in relation to work, family, and friends.   I have learned that an out of control parent is very scary for a child.  When children are scared of their parents they miss out on the opportunity to learn from their own mistakes.

            There are still moments when my anger builds inside of me.  I feel warm and become tempted to motivate with fear.  There are also moments when I slip back to using my primitive and underdeveloped skill of anger.  I am hopeful that as I continue to grow and reflect these moments will become less intense and less regular.  May you experience the same joy of self-control.

Read Angry Art

Read Angry parents

How have you learned to control your Anger?

Stuff Dads Say is a FREE BOOK

 Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction; pay attention and gain understanding. Proverbs 4:1

I am always a little shocked by how much my children actually hear what I say.  It is even scarier to realize how much they watch what I do.  Several years ago I had picked our boys up from school and was driving home when from the back seat I heard my oldest say the word stupid.  I quickly turned around and said,  “Son we do not say stupid.”   Later that same evening the boys and I ventured into the back yard to play in our sandbox.  As I dragged off the cover, designed to keep the neighbors cat from pooping in our sand, I discovered a nasty deposit.  I scooped out the poop and said under my breath, “stupid cat”.   My son came running over from about 15 feet away, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Dad, we do not say stupid!”  Ouch, the painful humility of realizing my own hypocrisy.  I was reminded of how powerfully the words and actions of a father impact the lives of their children.

I strongly believe that the messages fathers send, stated and unstated, have a profound impact on how their sons (and daughters) come to view the world, God, themselves, and others.  “Stuff Dads Say” is a short and encouraging read covering the top ten most important messages all children need to hear from their fathers.  I believe these messages should be sent over and over again throughout a child’s life.  They are paying attention and will gain understanding.  The question is, understanding of what?  This challenging E-book will be available Free for the next three days only.  Browse the list below for a sneak peek.

The most important messages every child needs to hear from his father:

  1.  No kicking in the face
  2. Where does it hurt?
  3. Come on, I need your help
  4. Let’s go on an adventure
  5. Oh, Let’s try that again
  6. Let’s go help mom
  7. How are you going to handle that?
  8. I’m sorry
  9. What do you think about that?
  10. How do you ask nicely?

I have caught myself saying each one of these phrases.  Before having kids I never imagined that they would become part of my parenting vocabulary.  I am excited to share with you how they have shaped my journey as a father and how I believe they continue to shape the way my sons view the world.

ANGRY ART

 

6d302-img_0229This article can also be found on Huffington Post Parent

“A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control” Proverbs 29:11

Several weeks ago, my son became very angry with me.  It was a slow Saturday morning, and a bit cool outside.  I was attempting to find some indoor activities that would keep the “wheels” on for a little while.  We have a large roll of butcher paper in a closet that was purchased precisely for these types of days.  So, I got the roll out cut a piece about my son’s height and asked if he wanted me to trace him.  He said yes and things were looking up.

I completed tracing his body and right away I knew something was wrong.  I noticed a certain tone in his voice when he said, “daaaaad.”  I checked in to see what the problem was and he said, “you did it wrong!”  I could see the emotion beginning to overwhelm him.  His face was a little red, his eyes were filling with tears and I am pretty sure a crayon flew by my head.  “What did I do wrong?” I asked.  “You traced my hand wrong!” he yelled.

The next few seconds consisted of me trying to understand what had upset him and he yelling through tears, pacing around the room.  The intensity and speed with which he felt this anger surprised me.  What he did next was also quite a surprise.  He sat down next to the outline of his body and began to furiously scribble over the entire thing.  At first it seemed he was doing this to upset me.  He looked at me as he scribbled waiting to see if I would react.  When I did not react however he just kept scribbling and scribbling and scribbling.  As he scribbled he seemed to gradually be getting calmer and calmer.  He changed colors several times until he had filled up the entire sheet of paper with ANGER.

In this moment I was a little angry myself.  I had attempted to create a nice memory and it turned into something quite uncomfortable.  As I have reflected on what happened however, I have become thankful for the experience.  I have learned several valuable lessons about my son that I hope to never forget.

My son experiences his emotions quickly and intensely.  No matter what he feels, he feels it to the full.  When he is happy, excited, sad, angry, or frustrated his cup is one or two drops away from over flowing.  This truth will be a great strength for him, he is passionate, hardworking, physically active, engaging, and fun to be around.  This truth may also be a challenge for him; he can by hyper, impulsive, rough, and reckless.  Most importantly I learned that when he is allowed to express his emotions he will be OK.

As he scribbled I could see the anger pouring out of him, I could feel his upset as he glared in my direction hoping to get a reaction.  But the longer he scribbled the less intensely he felt this anger.  Children need parents that are not afraid of their intense feelings.  They need parents who can “contain” them even when they cannot contain themselves.  When their cups are over flowing with anger, sadness, energy, or excitement they need parents to accept their expressions of these feelings and to help contain the overflow.

I am not perfect at this, my son is not perfect at this, but I think we are learning more and more about it every time he is overwhelmed.  Each experience of these intense emotions is another opportunity to practice the ANGRY ART.

What emotion does your child feel most intensely?

How does your child express this emotion?