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4 Things Dads Should Teach Their Daughters About Balancing Health & Beauty

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A Guest Post by Tyler Jacobson

I was going through Pinterest one day, and I noticed something. The website, which is traditionally most popular with women, was full of photos depicting other women who fit the average supermodel physique. Glancing down at the titles of the pin boards they were placed in, I saw titles like ‘Thinspiration’, ‘Fitspo’, and ‘Goals <3<3’.

What first hit me hard was thinking of my wife. I wondered if on her Pinterest account, or perhaps any other, she might have similar boards. If she filled galleries with photomanipulated images of alleged perfection, pitting her own image against those of what we have been pushed to believe is the ideal. The very idea that she may have fallen victim to such thoughts, this beautiful, perfect woman I loved, broke my heart.

But then, a much darker thought occurred to me: little girls are seeing these same messages. Looking at a couple of the boards confirmed that at least some of them were no more than teenagers. And in the descriptions of each image were phrases like, “How I want to look by next summer”, or “I need to stop being so fat.”

What are we teaching our young girls? How many of our daughters are suffering under the same negative sense of self, and how many will grow up to be women facing the same self-hatred?

Being Proactive: Teaching Our Daughter’s Balance

The solution, I truly believe, begins at home. It is too easy as a father to take a backseat with daughters, leaving the majority of lessons to come from their mother. While not a conscious decision for many of us, it just feels more natural to split the parenting between genders. Who would know better what a young girl goes through than their mother?

But this is a view to be overcome. Fathers have just as much responsibility as mothers to help teach their children (all of their children) to love and respect themselves. On the topic of finding balance between health and beauty, that effort is all the more crucial.

Our girls are living in a time where everything from their phones to their computer screens are bombarding them with messages about what is normal, beautiful, and a goal to achieve. We have to be there to teach them the reality, and to foster a sense of acceptance and self-love based around who they are.

These are four lessons that I feel are our responsibility as fathers to help teach our daughters about health and beauty.

Lesson #1: The Media Lies

Looking through those images on Pinterest, it is plain to see that they are unrealistic. It isn’t a problem isolated to social media, either. Just typing ‘Photoshop in magazines’ into Google will show you the ridiculous ways the media will manipulate photos into fitting an ideal that no one is capable of reaching in real life.

That picture of Taylor Swift that your daughter is staring at, wishing she matched up? Everything from the clearness to her skin to the size of her thighs have been altered with software. And that is after all of the makeup, corsets, careful posing, and lights have been added to hide “imperfections” spotted by the photographer.

Lessons #2: There Is No One-Size-Fits-All Body Type

There is no “right size” for a human being. Some women are tall or short, heavy or slender, stocky or petite. The world is full of all types, and all types are beautiful in their own right. What it doesn’t show is what is inside that person, the things they are capable of doing, the strength or limits of their bodies.

We have to get away from this concept of an ideal. It is individuality that makes someone stand out, not conformity to a clothing size. If we teach our daughters that their worth isn’t related to their frame, and that they are worthy of respect no matter their type of build, we can steer the conversation to more productive avenues, such as their interests, talents, and achievements.

Lesson #3: Health Is a Holistic Process

Health isn’t all about weight. It isn’t even all about the body. Health is a holistic issue, which means it is the combination of all factors that make up a whole person.

You are truly healthy when your body is nourished and cared for, your mind is calm and strong, and your emotions and stable and happy. At least when they are those things most of the time…we all have bad days.

Lesson #4: Self Image Is The Most Important Image

It is impossible to ignore what people think of us all the time. But that doesn’t mean we can’t begin to show our girls that the real opinion that matters is their own. Sure, someone might say they are too fat, too skinny, not tall enough, not have clear enough skin. Who cares?

As long as they can look at themselves and see that they are healthy, happy people with their own skills, talents, personality and qualities (both good and bad), we have done well as parents. A measured and largely positive sense of self is one of the greatest gifts that they can carry with them throughout their lives.

Our Mission Is To Save Our Daughters

Girls face constant examination, ridicule, and an unfair standard that is hard to understand as men. We are rarely confronted with the same standards, and so it is easy to forget the stress being put on their self-esteem.

As fathers, it is our job to help put a buffer between our children and these false images of perfection. We have to teach them to be happy with themselves, and to see the beauty in their individuality. To show them that it is health that matters, not waist size, or how thick their eyelashes are.

If we can show our girls that they are smart, strong, fun, and healthy, we can change a culture that is designed to hurt them. That sees well worth the effort.

 

tyler-jacobson-large-squareTyler Jacobson is a father, husband, and freelancer, with experience in writing and outreach for organizations that help troubled teens and parents. Tyler has offered personal, humorous and research backed advice to readers on parenting tactics, problems in education, issues with social media, various disorders, addiction, and troublesome issues raising teenage boys.

Connect with Tyler on: Twitter | Linkedin
(Images provided by Shutterstock and Tyler Jacobson)

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We Need A Cultural Change In The Way We Treat Children

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Whether it’s shaming, shouting, bribing, ignoring, threatening, over-powering, punishing, hitting, or spanking. The list of disrespectful behaviour towards our children is long and miserable. Easily parents and other adults find a good reason why a child deserves a little smack, some time-out on the naughty step to get him thinking, or the taking-away of treats and rights. Because the child misbehaved, didn’t co-operate or just didn’t listen – to cut it short: ‘the child was naughty’.

As a parent of three young children I can relate to stressful situations. This afternoon we wanted to go to a playgroup, the car was in the garage and we had to take the bus, which only goes every hour. My children took ages to find their shoes, coats, a favourite cuddly toy, a snack, and so on. For twenty minutes I had been running around, calling and reminding them. With rolling eyes, increased pulse rate and mumbling under my breath, I tried to help them. Then, finally, when I thought we really could make a move the youngest shouted ‘I need a wee’. In less than a minute we solved that problem (yes, we skipped washing hands due to time shortage), ran to the bus stop, arrived with our tongues hanging out, just to see the red rear lights of our bus driving off. The knock-on effect felt big: we missed the bus, the playgroup, seeing our friends and, of course, the post office, where a parcel is waiting for us, would be closed later on.

My children wailed, complained and moaned. To make my situation worse it started raining. I could  feel that big wave of annoyance and irritation rising inside me. Just an eye blink and I could explode. A tirade of shouting and swearing was about to be poured onto my kids: “Because you didn’t hurry up when I told you. Because you couldn’t find your shoes (and didn’t put them by the door in the first place after you used them last time). Because you needed a wee. Because… because, damn, it’s just your fault. That’s why we missed the bus, the playgroup, seeing our friends, the post office. And, on top of that, we’re dripping wet. I’m not taking you on the bus again. When we get home you can go to your bedroom and stay there for the rest of the day. Serves you right!” People passing by and seeing the scene would probably turn away feeling embarrassed or nod their heads in agreement with me.

I did say, I could explode. And here’s my choice: I, the parent, can choose to control myself and respond differently than just described. Or I can blow.

You see, situations like those do happen every day thousands of times – in our family homes, on playgrounds, in public places, yes, even in schools, kindergartens or playgroups. Adults’ overreactions towards children is a culturally accepted concept. Unfortunately. Would I shout, threaten or hit my neighbour, colleague or partner, I could end up – rightly – in court for assault. Doing the same stuff to my kid would come under the term ‘disciplining’. I’m showing him what’s right and wrong, I’m setting boundaries, I’m teaching her a lesson. Right? Bonkers.

love meI’m not teaching, I’m not setting a boundary, I’m not changing any behaviour. Instead I’m threatening, over-powering, shaming and punishing. The lesson my child will learn here? Not to trust me. To be afraid of me and my responses. He will learn to supress certain feelings and try to manipulate himself and situations to avoid my hurting reactions. He will feel disconnected, unloved, unworthy, a bad person. Next time my child might shout back at me or (if that’s yet too scary) let it out on his sibling or a younger, equally helpless child.

What we need to understand is the simple fact that our children are not naughty. Their plan is not to annoy or irritate us. They are doing the best they can, with their current ability. We need to understand that we are their models. They will copy us and our behaviour. If we show disrespect towards them, then we shouldn’t be surprised at all if this disrespect comes back like a boomerang. But if we choose to show understanding, empathy and unconditional love, then we will see co-operation, reassurance and trust. Not in every situation, but overall.

The most important thing one can hope for in parenting is to establish a loving relationship with one’s child – this goes above everything else. In every moment of the day ask yourself: is this actually connecting us further or disconnecting us? If you think, e.g. table manners is a must, then ask yourself: at what price am I trying to force my ideas on my child here? (Doesn’t mean that your ideas are wrong, just that your way of achieving your goal might not be right at this moment in time).

Deeply rooted in our culture and society is an understanding that we can treat our children as we wish. Often this behaviour is just a response from our own upbringing. If we were hit or otherwise mistreated by our parents, then – even if we made that promise to try better  than our parents – we are likely to repeat similar patterns. Because that’s what we’ve learned and copied many times. So, you misbehaved as a kid and your Mum took your ice cream away? There is a good chance that you punish your own child for not tidying his bedroom with a similar threat. We are repeating our stories, past wounds are still hurting our inner child. Often we watch ourselves act helplessly wondering why on earth we are behaving as we never wanted to.

Pretty grim eh? The good news is you can change that. It is hard, as it is so ingrained in us, often we unconsciously choose to repeat this learned behaviour. Be patient and kind to yourself while in the process of ‘re-programing’ yourself. Take time to reflect on your thoughts and actions and rather than beating yourself up for failing to change your behaviour today, think about what will help you to avoid that stressful situation (in which you might overreact) next time.  Any behaviour can be learned and un-learned.

The second major problem of today’s society is TIME. Most of us feel under permanent pressure: family, work, children, household, money, bills, friends – and in between, dozens of digital gadgets to distract us. Our lives have become like a 24/7 non-stop show. Being ‘on call’ all the time shift priorities from the really important things – like our children and how we treat them – to less important gossip, comments or feedback on social media and the like.

Take a look around you and observe parents and their children. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the playground, the bus stop or in a café: the grown-ups are glued to their screens while the kids entertain themselves.

We need to change our life styles. We need to change the way we treat our children. We need to show respect, empathy and love. Now.

Let’s go back to my example where the kids and I run to catch the bus. What could I, the parent, have done differently to avoid the whole situation in its first place? To put it simply, it’s all about time again. I could have started preparing for the outing earlier. I know my children need longer putting their shoes and clothes on. They can’t find their stuff? Well, I can help. My 8-year-old normally does his shoe laces by himself but he has days where he wants me to do it. Not because he’s lazy, because he’s looking for connection. It doesn’t hurt me to do it for him once in a while. OK, but even though we could still have missed the bus, right? Yes. And the news is, it has happened to me. Not only once. Still, I can decide whether to lose the plot and shout and blame – or to pause, breathe in and out, reflect and to offer a plan B. Missed the bus? I wonder what else we can do today as we won’t be able to meet with our friends? Shall we call some other friends and invite them to us for games? And, yes, the parcel at the post office can wait until tomorrow. It’s not the end of the world. – I appreciate that this needs training and practise. For me as well.

And now, let’s go further. Saying that we need a cultural change is good and easy. But we need to make the right steps. All of us – you and I. To challenge mainstream patterns, we need some ideas to help us changing the current climate of disrespect:

  1. Awareness starts with myself. I need to reflect on my own childhood and find out how my parents treated me. I’m not doing this to judge them. I’m doing this to learn and to see whether my responses are similar. I can write down my emotions and thoughts and discuss them with my partner, a friend or a specialist to overcome past issues.
  2. How do I talk to children? Am I polite? Do I sound threatening or too loud? Would I choose the same language with my partner, friends, colleagues, a stranger in the street? My kids deserve the same respect I am expecting from everyone else.
  3. I feel helpless, confused and angry in a tense moment. I acknowledge my feelings, take some deep breaths, if possible I leave the situation for a moment, or I communicate to my children that I need a short break. I take that time to reflect what other options are available.
  4. I sit down with my partner or a good friend and talk about my parenting and the challenges I face. I don’t expect anyone to fix my problems but someone who can listen to me and reflect with me.
  5. I am taking time for my children without any distractions. Phones, laptops and gadgets are turned off or not in the same room when I spend time with them.
  6. I apologise to my and other children. Yes, I make mistakes and I acknowledge that. Apologies are a good way to reconnect and to show authenticity.
  7. When I plan for an activity, outing, holiday etc. I’ll include my children’s thoughts. I’ll invite them so they can voice their needs and wishes.
  8. When I set a boundary, I’ll explain to my child why. E.g. to your 3-year-old: I need to hold your hand right now because it’s a busy road and we can’t run around.
  9. I can always make a quick assessment in my head: how much harm would be done if I ask x, y or z? E.g. the room is untidy but my child is absorbed by playing. Do I really need a tidy room now or could it wait for the moment?
  10. No bribes, threats, punishments, violence, shaming, ignoring – ever!

Finally, I’m asking for one big thing. This one sounds very easy to be done but I know we as society have still a long way to go. We need to start treating children with equal respect and empathy as all other human beings. Let’s start today.

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Raising Confident Children Through Trust

person-1037607_1280“Sharp knives don’t belong into children’s hands”, “That’s not safe, let me do it”, “A kitchen is no place for kids” – sounds familiar to you? Well, that’s some stuff I had to cope with when growing up myself, and – bad enough that’s still the mantra for many parents or adults working with kids nowadays.

I just recall some playgroup situations: the parents’ response when their two-year-old picks up a plastic knife (yes, the good ones for butchering play dough) to murder a cucumber at snack time. Eyes wide open, panic mode, shrill voice: “Ah sweetie, Mummy will hold that dangerous knife for you, don’t you think?”. A millisecond later – the object of mass destruction is safe in Mummy’s hand. All other parents exhale a sigh of relief.

playground-408658_1280Another example comes from the next-best playground of your choice. Little Joe tries to balance over the climbing frame. He concentrates hard enough and works his way up. Before he reaches the top little Joe hears his Dad shouting “Oh Buddy, that’s quite high. Just watch out. Hold tight. No, not left, go right. Easy man. Not quite sure if that’s a good idea”. Smiles nervously. Dad that is. “Hang on. Let me guide you. Stop. Stop I said!” Joe loses his balance and falls off the climbing frame. “Told you to stop!”

Clever omniscient grown-ups have created a fluffy, pink, bullet-proof world of health-and-safety where we all wear safety goggles to watch the wind and face masks to breathe nature. Because…, just in case…, because we’re rather safe than sorry…, because to make sure… because. Well, just take a moment and stop breathing – just to be safe!

What has gone wrong here? Have we lost the very basic connection and trust in our children? Or, was there ever a time when we trusted them? Hmm… Let’s see. Just back in the 19th century children would have lots of responsibilities: cleaning, cooking, looking after their siblings, helping on the farm… and, yes, brutal hard labour in dark factories, ten or twelve hours a day… good that we left those times behind us (well, over here in the rich part of the world…). And, yes, many of those household chores were done by children because of living in large families or parents having to work twelve and more hours a day as well.

When World War II was over, still many children played important roles in helping their families with household chores. You could argue that this happened because out of necessity or desperation. Indeed, that’s one reason. Another one was simply called trust.

Trust and a strong bond between parents and their children. Only from the 1950’s onwards, something strangely has been happening in our society. Families started to spend less time together. The so-called classic family model, where dad leaves in the morning for his desk in an office while his wife stays home to look after house and kids, took over.

That quite artificial construction became a bit of a relationship killer. While in the past fathers and their sons, as an example, would often work and spent time together (on the field, in their business…), now children missed their father for most of the time under the week. Mums got busy in their brand new kitchen with all the latest inventions and gadgets. Kids? Go to school or your bedroom.

You see what else went on here? Skills. Not only relationships suffered, there’s a whole generation of lost skills. Cooking, working with tools, fixing and mending – you name it. Fixing something, why? Buy it new, it’s easier. Cooking? Get a ready meal. I still remember my parents’ pride when they bought the latest of modern cooking inventions in the mid 1990’s: a shiny, adorable, handsome, easy-to-use microwave! Plus 200 packs of ready-to-microwave food. Yuck! I can still sense the aftertaste. They probably spend two or three weekends in deciding which microwave to buy… I wished they had taken one afternoon to teach me the basics of cooking.

You know, I’m not the least surprised that today three-quarters of children in the UK have no idea how to boil an egg, or that 30% have never chopped veggies. I probably was 18 or so when I found out that kitchen knives have more purposes than just hanging on the magnetic knife holder. And another five or so years to get serious about cooking.

Starting to trust our children is the very foundation of a well-connected relationship. Children (and, indeed us adults too) learn by trying. They give it a go. They might fail, they might succeed. It doesn’t matter, as long as we provide a bit of a safety net in the background so that they won’t ever get seriously hurt. If they feel excited and stimulated, they will try again… and again.

cookingMy eldest, who is nearly 8 now, showed a great interest in preparing meals and cooking lunch and dinner. He’s been watching my wife and me since babyhood. When he was about three, he used a sharp knife (not one you are able to cut your fingers off with, but one that’s just sharp enough for cutting with – a bland one would be safest, sure, but equally useless and only frustrating) for cutting up an apple. Yes, he cut himself a few times, but that’s how he learnt, and nothing happened apart from some quickly dried tears and a cool plaster on a tiny wound. With four he cooked himself porridge on the hob for the first time. Yes, his first cooking session was guided and supervised by me, but I didn’t interfere. I just watched. Today his cooking repertoire includes pasta and tomato sauce, scrambled egg, various cakes and biscuits, and – hold your breath – sushi (ok, the sushi rolls can’t compete with a sushi bar, but it’s just a question of perspective and expectations. Expect a perfectly cooked and awesome looking meal? Do it yourself).

It’s a great learning curve for us parents to lower expectations and to be more prepared for a giving-it-a-go mantra. And, yes, sometimes we get pushed out of our comfort zone as well. In our family it’s a bit of a tradition to make pancakes for Sunday breakfast. Often – I admit my sins – they go with chocolate spread. This morning we had run out of the sweet treat and no-one seemed to be willing to go down to the local shop (2-minute walk) to get more. Only my nearly 5-year-old volunteered. I hesitated as I wasn’t sure whether he would manage. I trusted him with finding his way to the shop and paying for the item, but I feared the road he would have to cross.

My wife’s response was more clear. Yes, he’ll be fine. And off he went. But, I threw over my invisible cloak and sneaked after him to watch his adventure. He didn’t see me and I had a great time hiding behind bushes and trees. My main fear – the road – was quiet, he stopped, checked, checked again, and crossed. No problems. A woman stopped him (she was probably a little anxious… as me), but he carried on.

At the shop I peeped through the window (gosh, if someone had observed me they must have thought I’m a little… well, crazy) to make sure he’s alright and the shopkeeper is not calling the police or social care. She didn’t. With a great smile she scanned his jar and gave him receipt and change. I stood there – watching and with tears in my eyes. My little son, so great and independent. He skipped all the way home. Just fifty metres behind him, I – his dad, full of love, joy and trust. At home we both hugged for a long time. And, of course, we enjoyed our chocolate pancakes!

The confidence and self-esteem he gained from his independent venture was giving him a glowing buzz all day – he knows his parents trust his abilities.

Next time your little one is climbing up high on the climbing frame or tree, just position yourself, discreetly, so that if they fall, you could catch them, and just observe. Neither encouraging nor anxious, just observing and trusting (your facial expression and body language can communicate that, too!) that when they are able to climb something unassisted they’ll know how to get down again by themselves. Soon enough, they have learnt to use their body well, trust themselves and know where their limits are.

Trust your children and you’ll be amazed by what they are able to do by themselves and how their self-esteem grows each day!

PS: A few days after I published and shared this post on facebook, I had this reply:
Untitled…just awesome! 🙂

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Raising Boys To Become Gentle Men

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When I became a father I was full of excitement, joy and happiness. My wife and I felt well prepared as we had read dozens (it felt even more) of parenting books, we went to two antenatal courses, and we took every opportunity to sit on the sofa and chat about our baby. I hoped this would make me into one of those super-dads (because actually I was quite apprehensive about having a son and all that this might bring up, at first)!

From pre-baby time it was clear to us that we believe in attachment parenting, co-sleeping, feeding on demand and unconditional love. I always imagined me to be a gentle, relaxed and easy-going father. Today, seven years later, I can say that I have achieved some of that gentleness and peacefulness. But it was a long journey and I’m still on it.

When you believe mainstream media, it often seems harder for men to be a great parent. Too often dads are being pictured as the workaholic money machine with no or little interest in his offspring. Is that just a stereotype or a real problem?

When comparing figures, one can definitely see that more women care for their children full time or working in part time jobs to spend more time with their kids, than men. Not all fathers take time off work when their baby is born. There are various reasons for this I believe. One of the main reasons is the lack of positive male role models, taking on an active role within the family.

2014-07-09 16.16.44When I was a teenager I probably considered myself as a nice, friendly and gentle person. But, after a lot of reflecting, I now would say that I couldn’t communicate very well. I did hurt other people’s feelings and I sometimes was very mean as I couldn’t deal with my emotions and feelings. Why is that? I had never learnt to talk about them. Not to my father or another man. I had some very good female friends and it always seemed easier talking to them. I felt heard and listened to; they took me seriously. Still, something was missing.

The search for men who really can open up is not unusual for boys, young men and the older generations as well. I was lucky enough to meet one man (it’s always that one person who can change your life) who I met in my early twenties. He touched my soul and opened my heart. He let me cry and held me tight. For the first time I discovered some genuine, true closeness and real manhood. No games, no masks, no pretending. I could be myself.

From then on I could start my personal journey in becoming a better man, and yes, a better father. To me being better means more authentic, more empathic, more myself. To stop playing a role in order to find appreciation. To stop strengthening myself at the expenses of others. To be confident and clear, without upgrading my ego all the time.

Being masculine is all about hyper-competition, being super-hero-hard and strong. Men are labelled (and often it’s true) with exactly those attributes. And that’s the second key problem: our society. How can we expect gentle and empathic men when we already start treating boys as the stronger gender? Boys don’t cry, they are the emotionless super-heroes, they should “man up”, and certainly they should not play with girls (toys) or dollies. “Their” toys are action figures, fast cars, modern day heroes (fire fighters, police men), monsters, toy weapons and the like. The same stereotypes get applied to them when they turn into men: They are expected to have a lucrative and prestigious career. Men are strong leaders who will govern countries from behind their desks, go to war for our western ideologies, and they… well, they just save the planet. Right?

Yes, I know, in many ways things have changed. More and more men decide to put their families first, take longer paternity leave or even consider working part time to spend greater chunks of time with their families. (And obviously there are women now who are filling these traditional “male careers”). There is a shift in society, away from the ego-driven hard men to “new” men who believe in equality and mutual respect. But it’s still a very long way to go and a minority of men feel able to (or want to commit to) a more active role in family life.

happyWhen I stayed at home to look after our children for about two years, I painfully realised how alone I can feel. Don’t get me wrong. I made many female friends, mainly stay-at-home mums. I very much appreciated their company and I had a great time being at home with our kids. But I also longed for some other men and fathers; to share the experience and to see how they cope and feel. I also think it would do many men good to experience this role of full time carer (even if only for a few days a week); it certainly got me more connected to how I want to be and less focused on outside pressures.
Especially that time as a stay-at-home dad made me realise how important it is for me to give my sons a better start into the beauty and chaos of life. They don’t need a super-dad I pictured to be, but someone real, someone authentic, someone they can trust and talk to. A male person (or preferably a few) who loves them unconditionally – who has (lots of) time for them!

As a start I looked at the way I communicated with my sons: Am I really listening to them? Do I judge them? Are there any pre-conceived ideas I have about how they “ought” to be (because they are boys)? Will they feel respected and loved when I say x, y or z to them/are my actions communicating my love for them?

I also introduced an evening-check-in with my eldest son, who was 5 years old by then. When we are cuddled up in bed and have finished our night time story, we do a ‘check-in’. I normally start off by talking about my day, what I liked and disliked, things which made me happy or sad. I really try to name my feelings. Nothing needs to be covered. Equally important in our talks is being honest. Bloody honest. That includes to apologise. (That’s another thing many men struggle with. I can’t remember that my dad had ever apologised for anything.) I want my boys to see that I make mistakes. I mess up, I say things I don’t mean to say, I lose my patience, I’m unfair. That’s ok, as long as I do the aftermath: reconnecting and apologising. And, yes, kids are so great in forgiving.

The just-before-bedtime-talk is a win-win for my son and me. This way I learn about what’s going on inside him and he sees how I talk about emotions and feelings, that I take responsibility for them and reflect on my actions and words.

Start those talks asap. And carry on. Don’t stop when they turn teenagers. Especially then they need you and your open ear more than you might think.

world changer newI also notice how the culture we live in influences our sons. The other day on our walk through the local park, we watched a soccer match of 9-year-old boys. For many boys sport is an extremely important activity in their life (obviously same applies to girls). As we watched the game my boys and I observed those boys swear, shout, spit, push and make a fall look dramatically heroic (probably copying their professional counterparts). It left all three of us baffled by how much they seem to be putting on adult behaviour. It was difficult to explain why they were shouting so much and hurting each other, well it was nearly impossible. Equally, to make sense of parents on both sides shout and scream their heads off, in quite an aggressive manner. Sports are naturally good for physical health, but what about emotional health? What is it we are teaching boys here? What is competition, pressure, fear to fail doing to our children’s emotional development? One could argue it prepares them for the “hard” world out there, where being ambitious and competitive is valued highly. While I am all for having determination when you really want to achieve something, I believe getting to your aim without making others fail along the way, is preferable.

Don’t get me wrong, not all kinds of sports work like that, but definitely most competitive ones. The game, the joy, the fun and a good team spirit should guide our sons games. In fairness, whether they lose or win (does it always have to be one or the other?) I am confident there are teams out there, who are achieving this, we need more of them!

I want my sons to grow up to become gentle, empathic and kind men. Men who love and respect their partner and children. Men who treat other women, men and transgender with tolerance and kindness. Men who can listen and reflect before they speak. Men who are confident and strong without polishing their ego. Men who truly have something to give. As I am working on becoming one of those, I hope my children will copy and follow me into a more peaceful future.

Read further and get your copy of my book ‘The Empathic Father’

This article was originally published in The Natural Parent Magazine (June 2015)

Interested in more? Enjoy my Love-Letter video to my sons:
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How Staylistening Builds Family Connections

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Today I would like to introduce to you Kate Orson. She is a Hand-in-Hand Parenting Instructor (love, love Hand-in-Hand and their philosophy) and will be publishing her book Tears Heal: How To Listen To Children this year.
I very much love Kate’s writing and I feel inspired by her suggestions and ideas. Here she shares a great post about how Staylistening can support strong family connections. – More links at the end of this post. Enjoy!

One evening when my daughter was 9 months old, my husband came home, and went over to say hello to her where she’d been happily playing on the floor. She burst into tears, and when my husband picked her up she reached out her arms for me.

I was surprised that she’d cried so suddenly. She wasn’t a newborn anymore. It seemed as if she’d been in the world long enough to understand this was her dad, that she was in a completely safe situation. I was right next to her on the playmat too! We had just spent a lovely, connected day together. Why did she suddenly need me so desperately?

Before I learnt about Hand in Hand parenting I would have taken her back in my arms to stop the crying. I would have automatically assumed that was the kindest, most naturally thing to do.

But now my perspective about crying has changed. I discovered that there are two reasons babies and children cry. The first reason is when they have a need, perhaps they are hungry, too cold, or are in pain. The second reason, is to heal and recover from an upset that has already happened.

In our busy, modern, society, it is sadly inevitable that all babies and toddlers will experience some degree of stress or upset. It could be from a difficult birth, medical intervention, or just the daily stimulation from getting used to being in the world.

Crying is a healing process, and there are actually stress hormones contained in tears. The psychologist Aletha Solter calls this the ‘Broken Cookie Phenomenon’ that often babies and toddlers will use a safe, everyday situation as a trigger to heal from

a bigger upset from the past. In these moments all we need to do is to listen and allow this natural healing process to happen.

We can see this phenomenon at work in our own lives. For example the other day I washed my favourite woollen dress on a normal cycle, and ended up shrinking it! I started crying, and quickly realised that the dress was just the trigger for a deeper upset. It was about the build-up of stress before christmas, my exhaustion from parenting, and my work responsibilities. Now the holidays were coming, I sensed the space to let go and relax, and release some feelings.

In that moment when my daughter started crying I knew that everything was fine in the present. My daughter loves her dad, and they have a great bond. So I didn’t pick her up. Instead I moved close to her, and reassured her that she was safe with her dad, that I was there too. He held her as she cried, and we both gave her lots of warm, loving attention. This is what Hand in Hand parenting calls ‘Staylistening,’ which means simply staying in the moment and listening to feelings without distracting or trying to stop them.

After a few minutes my daughter stopped crying. She smiled, started ‘talking’ and pointing things out around the room. She was completely at ease being held by her dad. We had dinner, and my daughter tried two foods she had never tried before, potatoes and cheese! This is often the case, that when we listen to our children’s deeper upsets, they can gain confidence in many unexpected ways.

Babies, and toddlers often choose little everyday moments to ‘work’ on their separation anxiety. They may suddenly have a desperate need to be with one parent. When our baby or toddler has a good relationship with both parents, and there is trust and safety there, then often, these moments, are simply a ‘broken cookie,’ a trigger for deeper feelings. If we listen, then these feelings no longer need to get in the way of our child having a joyful, connected relationship with both parents.

Separation anxiety often appears around bedtime. When my daughter was around 15 months old, she would sometimes start crying in the evening. For example if we were all hanging out in our bedroom, and then I needed to use the bathroom. By this age, I sensed she understood almost everything I said to her. I was pretty sure she understood when I told her I was just going to the bathroom and would be back in five minutes.

I could of tried the quick-fix approach and just dashed off to the bathroom leaving her crying. Or I could of taken her with me to stop the tears. But I knew this wouldn’t help her with her underlying fear about me leaving.

For a few nights my husband and I decided to staylisten during these moments. I would gradually try to leave, and would hold my daughter in my arms, listening to her feelings, slowly waiting until she was happy to be left with her dad. Often after having a big cry about separation she would suddenly flip into laughter, crawling from one parent to the other, as I playfully tried to put her back with her dad.

Then when I told her I needed to use the bathroom she would happily let me go, as if she had forgotten that she’d ever been upset about it. Afterwards she would be in a really happy mood, playing and laughing and enjoying the company of both of us. She had got through all the separation fear, and come out of the other side.

Staylistening has helped my daughter to be happy to be put to bed by her dad or to spend time with him while I work during the evenings and weekends. I can leave guilt free, knowing there’s no feelings of upset hiding beneath the surface. Most times I need to leave her, she’ll give me a big hug, and a smile. We’ve given her the space to be heard.

katephotoKate Orson is a writer, and Hand in Hand parenting instructor. Originally from the UK she now lives in Basel, Switzerland with her husband the author Toni Davidson, and their 4 year old daughter. Her book Tears Heal: How To Listen To Children, is now available to pre-order here  https://www.waterstones.com/book/tears-heal/kate-orson/9780349410104

You can follow her on facebook here https://www.facebook.com/ParentingByConnectionWithKateOrson/

 


 

 


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Whose Needs Matter More?

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My sons race around the house, jump up the sofa and down again, while shouting something to each other. I decide to go to the other room. Hey, it’s nice they are playing imaginative games and have fun together, right? I, however, feel incredibly tired, the night was broken by far too many “I need the loo’s” and “I can’t sleep’s”…for the hundredth of times I wonder “WHEN will this child do this basic thing of just SLEEP at night?” My tired thoughts are broken when my sons come racing into my “quiet space” continuing their game around me. This is the point where I lose my patient- and-“oh they play so nicely”-feeling. I at first ask them, really nicely, to play their game somewhere else. It takes a while to get through to them, finally I succeed. They go into the other room, but sure enough, a minute later I am made part of the game again, a game I don’t want to play!

So, here we have it again: my needs (peace and quiet…if only for 20 minutes!) and their need to get rid of that energy and well, just play (in summer time we could go outside, but it is dark and rainy and I know I can’t get them outside now…). I become increasingly angry at their ignorance of my needs and they are becoming more and more agitated because they cannot live out theirs. In no time their game will turn into fighting with each other and then when worse comes to worse we are all shouting angrily at each other. Everybody is suffering here.

So, what to do? How can we make sure everyone gets what they need?

From my perspective, I as the parent, already lowered the expectations of getting my needs fulfilled to the basics. But those I need to keep sane and be an “as good as possible” parent, which is what my kids need (they really don’t need perfect by the way! Which helps!)

In many situations where one need has to be fulfilled at the expense of the other’s (siblings and us adults needs included) I ask myself: who is suffering most here now? It’s not always easy to answer this question, but sometimes it helps to see the picture more clearly. For example, if someone’s basic need is waiting to be fulfilled then they usually get this fulfilled first. You can’t be cooperative with an empty stomach for example. So, let’s have a break, have something to eat and then we find a solution. Or one child has had a difficult time/an illness etc. and needs his needs for attention for example fulfilled now before I can give attention and time to the other.

I decide that I need to stop the situation spiralling into the worst case scenario and say “let’s go and look at all the winter lights outside” or “shall we have a snack first?” I relent, but I have hopes… that when we come back they are more content to spend some time playing, without needing me, so that I can sit and have that cup of tea (hot, actually, you know, really tastes better, that way!) and daydream a bit, just switch off and get my energy levels up again. 🙂

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How To Create A Straightforward Approach To Losing Your Angry Dad Voice

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I very much enjoy reaching out ot other (dads’) blogs, parenting websites, and parenting coaches. Today I would like to introduce to you Ian Hawkins. Ian is a coach and teacher from Australia, and he supports “…Dads to rediscover their passion and to inspire their own children to be their best.” Here’s a post by Ian with an intersting take on how you can lose your ‘angry dad voice’. More links and info at the end of his guest post. Enjoy!

A few years ago I had reached a point in my life where I was not happy with where I was at. I was always feeling tired and frustrated, and I was bringing this frustration home to my wife and kids.  Not only was I impatient but when I snapped it was often with an aggressive tone which no matter how soft, felt like yelling to my kids. Even when I was trying very hard to talk quietly, they told me to stop yelling. My angry voice was more than just my voice. It was my body language, it was the look on my face and even though I was trying to talk quietly and calmly there was an edge to my voice that was not sounding kind or loving to my kids. I no longer wanted to see the sadness and pain in my child’s eyes and face after I had overreacted with my angry voice.

And I see the same thing from other Dad’s every day, in the street, on the train, at the shops and particularly at children’s sports. They have unrealistic expectations of their children and have lost focus of what’s really important in their relationship, having that loving connection that your child craves and that you crave. Your angry voice has a negative impact on the happiness and wellbeing of your child and can damage your relationship with them. Should you continue this way as your children grow older, you will end up fighting more and more and worse still, they may end up with a similar issue with anger as they grow up.

Here’s what I have learned. There is another way. By making some changes in your life and by changing the way you approach situations with your children, you do have the power to be able to stay calm and speak in a loving and kind way to your children every single time.

If you get this right you will develop a calm that allows you to speak to your children with a smile and a kind voice, even after the most challenging day of work or play. Your children will love your new approach and be more likely to respond to your requests. Your children will model your behaviour and develop the ability to stay calm and speak in a softer voice as well. As time goes on this calm response and kind voice will become a natural response that comes out with little to no effort and as your children get used to your new approach, you will be pleasantly surprised at the massive improvement in your relationship with your children and overall happiness in your household. 

As with anything that you want to achieve in your life, the best way to reach that goal is to have a plan. It can be very challenging to change a habit and I believe the best way is to have a process to follow so that you know exactly what to do every single time. This process will be specific to you personally so you will need to create one for yourself. The good news is, right now I am going to give you the framework to do just that. Create your own process using my steps below as a guide:

1. Deep breaths.

The first step in your process should always be to pause and take 3-5 deep breaths right into your belly. Step away from the situation for a minute if that helps too. You may need to intervene if there is the potential for something to get broken or someone to get hurt, but most of the time you will be able to take 10-60 seconds to calm yourself first. Also as I have mentioned in previous blogs, deep breathing helps you reduce stress and can immediately stop your natural “fight-or-flight” response. You will be less likely to react with frustration and more likely to stay calm.

2. Be the observer. 

Also in this 10-60 seconds and after you have taken some deep breaths and stepped away physically, mentally step away as well. Be the observer for a second and look at the situation from the outside, as if you were looking on at someone else in the same situation. That is, take the emotion out of it. If you had to suggest the best solution for this situation to yourself, would it involve you using an angry voice, or staying calm and connecting with your child? And further still, is what your child is doing really a problem at all? They are only kids – are they just testing the boundaries or have they made a small mistake or are they just looking for attention?

3. Positive emotion. 

Next look for a positive emotion in your child. You are far more likely to get the result that you want when your action triggers a positive emotion in the other person. This is your child so this will be something unique to you. For example, you could smile and say something that will bring out that positive emotion or even laughter from your child.

4. Aim for connection not aggression.

Think about the type of people you are most likely to do something for. The ones who talk rudely to you?  Yell at you? Or the people who are really nice and speak in a calm and non-threatening way? Instead of towering over your child with an aggressive or grumpy tone, crouch down to their level and speak how you would like to be spoken to by someone you love.

5. Empathise with your child. If they have made a mistake, done something they shouldn’t have or are just plain upset, it is not a time to punish or speak aggressively. Empathise with them so they feel understood. “I understand” is a great way do to that. Tell them that you understand whatever they are going through. For example – “I know you don’t want to stop playing now and you don’t want to go in the shower” OR “I realise you are feeling upset”. And do so with clear boundaries. “I see that you don’t want to go to bed yet. I can also see that you are looking tired, it is your bedtime and you need to get a good night sleep so you are full of energy tomorrow.”

As I mentioned, use these 5 steps as a framework to create your own process to follow. You know your child better than anyone else so create a plan that works for you and for them. Go into as much detail as you need, but not so complicated that you won’t be able to follow the steps in a real life situation. Write it down and don’t be afraid to refer to it as required until you change the habit or are at least until you are comfortable you have committed your process to memory. Good luck, be patient with yourself and remember…..

”Change is hard at the beginning, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end.”Robin Sharma

 

ian hawkinsRead, what Ian says about himself: “I have a passion for personal growth and inspiring others to reach their full potential. With a background as a trained teacher, years of leadership as a sportsperson and coach and over 10 years as a manager at Fox Sports Australia, I have a unique ability to bring out the best in others. After my own growth through the last 5 years of personal development, I decided I wanted to help other Dad’s to rediscover their passion and to inspire their own children to be their best. I pride myself in helping Dads through their transformation into high energy, calm, patient, loving and very happy individuals.”

Connect: http://www.inspireddads.com
http://www.facebook.com/InspiredDads
http://www.twitter.com/InspiredDads