Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Society

That’s Why We Don’t Have a TV

television
“How many ‘nas’ are in Batman?”, a 6-year-old girl asks my eldest son. His response: “???”
“Sixteen! Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na BATMAN!”, she laughs.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Who is Batman?”, his answer. She stops laughing. Not quite sure whether she should believe him or if it’s him making a joke now.

You see, my kids (and often my wife and I) get this a lot. We meet people in playgroups or on playgrounds and too quickly just one topic becomes the centre of the conversation (well, that is after grown-ups have exchanged their opinion about the weather): The Television. And everything related to it: programmes, films, news, sequels … From there most dialogues roll like this:
“Ah, have you watched this or that last night?… NO? Oh, you missed something good… I really wonder whether Charlie will marry Sue in the next episode?… Ah, the game show was quite boring this time, far too easy, I knew all the answers… Do you have the big Sky package? …No, Netflix, I see… Yes, cost a lot but it’s worth it …”

UK children watch an average of more than two and a half hours of television a day and spend an hour and 50 minutes online a day. In total more than four hours a day in front of a screen. Are we really surprised that our offspring struggles more and more with problems like hyperactivity, obesity, social interaction, problem solving and the like?

About twelve years ago, before we had children, my wife and I made a decision: let’s get rid of our TV watching habit. So when we moved in together we decided NOT to buy one in the first place. The good news is, we didn’t miss it at all. Life was busy and we spent our nights with seeing friends, going out, playing board games and making love.

When our first child was born life got even busier. With some sleep deprivation and the general chaos most new parents experience, we couldn’t care less about what’s on TV.
Life went on, the children got older, and we had more time in the evenings. Still, we never missed TV. Instead of digital boredom, we rediscovered board games, good books, chatting on the sofa or just going to bed early (yes, really does help with those early morning starts!)

children tvOur children survived seven years without TV so far. And I would say they do pretty well. Yes, they know what TV is and yes, they sometimes watch some (educational) stuff on YouTube & Co. But, and that’s the difference to me, they don’t hang around in front of a screen just to kill time or to get brainwashed with buy-everything-you-don’t-need ads. Their screen time is about 2 hours. A day? No, a month. On average. Nearly no screen over the summer but usually a bit more when it’s cold and dark in winter.

Yes, our children don’t know most super heroes or cartoon characters. That’s fine. I believe they haven’t missed anything. Instead of watching ever repetitive plots, they spend time climbing trees. They have no desire buying the latest merchandise “as seen on TV”, but use their pocket money for motors, solar cells and wires to build electric boats. Their games aren’t about the good or bad guy – stories unfold by imaginary play and wonder.

No, I’m not totally against screens or TV. That would be too easy. But I just remember my childhood and early teenage years. I watched TV. A lot. When I was seven or eight, we only had a few channels but that didn’t stop me from watching it. Even if it was boring or the tenth re-run of something, I had to see it. And I remember too well the moment when I had watched all night, feeling tired and a little empty and wondering where my evening had gone…

No plans for tonight? Leave the telly off. Get a good story book out and read to your kids. Or invite some friends and play a board game. Or just chilling on the sofa and listening to your children’s adventures? It’s up to you.

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Parenting and Empathic Fathers

Say More YES! To Your Children

Yes

‘Papa, can I pitch up the tent in the garden?’, ‘Can you read me a book?’, ‘Please, I want to stay up a little longer tonight, just five more minutes.’, ‘Is there really chocolate ice cream in the freezer?!?’

I get those and probably a few dozen more (or maybe hundreds?) questions a day from my children. And not only me. All parents, I believe. The crucial point comes now: What do you answer? What do I answer? Sigh. I confess, I too often reply with an excuse like ‘Eeehm, maybe later’, or ‘Let me think about that’ (and not really thinking about it at all), or with a simple and straight forward NO! Full stop.

Often enough my NO will evoke disappointment, sadness or frustration in my kids. Yes, they might understand why they can’t have the ice cream right now, but why on earth is Papa not wanting to have a spontaneous campsite in the garden or isn’t in the mood for the favourite book?

The NO-word is easy to say. I’m the powerful parent and can decide and if I’m busy, tired, annoyed, stressed or simply not bothered many projects end up being dismissed before they even have a chance to take off.

Please, don’t get me wrong. There are very obvious and no-discussion-moments when you and I have to say ‘no’ to our children, to avoid danger and to simply protect them. Hey, that’s why we’re the parent and adult. And sure, children are more content, relaxed and co-operative when they know about clear and understandable boundaries.

No, here and now I’m talking about all those moments where I fired my NO without really thinking or reflecting. Sometimes just for the sake of my own peace and convenience. To get that moment of quiet or to enjoy the one little minute longer being on the sofa. And yes, that’s fine, too. We parents need to keep our sanity. But that doesn’t mean to use a NO as our power tool, or even worse, not take serious those things our children want to do.

We can make that change quite quickly and it doesn’t take too much effort. I started by taking my children’s requests for x, y and z more serious. When they asked me for something like ‘Can you play shop with me?’ and I just felt no desire at all in that moment, I decided this: give them the YES and just play for a few minutes. Honestly, a quick shopping trip to your child’s grocery doesn’t take longer than 3 to 5 minutes. I also asked my other son to join me and he went shopping as well. After a few moments they both were very busy with playing shop, so I could sneak out… I did my ‘duty’, gave a positive response by saying YES (even if I didn’t feel like it), but at the same time benefitted from it as both my sons were engaged in a game they liked and I could go back to – doing nothing.

(By the way, I prefer an honest NO (sometimes inevitable, I think) to ‘in a minute’, at least the child is not kept in the air and waiting. They know what to expect and continue in their game/do something else.)

Another way to show a more positive attitude is something psychologist Oliver James calls “Love Bombing”.

It could work like this: Spend this Saturday with the motto ‘Let the children decide!’ Yes, everything: from when they want to get up in the morning (hey, they might choose to stay in bed until lunchtime, so you have the morning to yourself), then the activities they chose for the daytime, their favourite food, to the point they decide it’s bedtime (agreed, it could be late!).

Oliver James says “I developed Love Bombing to reset the emotional thermostats of children aged from 3 to puberty. It gives your child a very intense, condensed experience of feeling completely loved and completely in control”. He advises to have a go at Love Bombing for a day or two or even a shorter period, followed by daily half hour slots devoted to it. He states that parents report a closer connection to their child and that Love Bombing balances the child’s behaviour and personality (read more about it here).

Of course you would have to negotiate. If your offspring ask for a super expensive day out (yeah, let’s go shopping and then to the fun park and then to the cinema and then to the zoo…), let’s calm them down a bit. Having a fun day, doesn’t mean you have to go bankrupt. We often spend an afternoon doing crafts with our children. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Try to see the day through your children’s eyes. They will love it – and you too!

Do you know the saying: When the children are happy, then the parents are happy too? I think that’s right!

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Creative Stuff, Parenting and Empathic Fathers

Grey Autumn Weekends To Come? Get Creative!

At DadsTalkCommunity I always have one common theme: creativity. Today’s post gives you an idea, how my wife’s and my creative brains get going to come up with some good ideas. This helps us a lot to keep balance and avoid arguments before they can start.

I don’t know how it is in your place, but we’re expecting another rainy, cold weekend. So, before we’ll get too depressive about it (which normally is ending in having too much chocolate), I would like to share three AWESOME rainy-days-things-to do with your kids. So, let’s get going:

1. Do Something New – Have You Heard Of Finger Knitting?

IMG_1776Well, me neither, before my 6-year-old explored it. He basically made a doll’s scarf in one afternoon. But the project isn’t finished yet. Now he wants to sew it into a hat for his doll.

The great thing: It’s soooo easy to learn (did I tell you that I hate doing crafts? Well, I could change my mind, slowly).

Wanna find out how to do it? Watch the easy version here (YouTube) but it will be in German (hey, you could just learn German while you knit, seriously you’ll be fine, even without a hint of German), or just type “Finger Knitting” into the search engine of your choice and get your scarf ready by Christmas; only two months to go.

2. Bake Bread

Do you know how much money you spend on buying bread? Yep, far too much. IMG_1804Turn it into a fun activity and let your kids burn off their energy by kneading the dough.

Here is our simple, yummy recipe:

600g Spelt Flour
400ml Water
1 Tablespoon Honey
1 Tablespoon Quick Yeast
Some Salt
Splashes of Olive Oil

Mix the flour with the yeast and salt. In a separate bowl dissolve the honey in a mix of 400ml lukewarm water. Mix it all together, adding splashes of olive oil and then have the kneading party! 10 min minimum. Let the dough rise for about half an hour and then bake it at 180C
for about 45 minutes. Now the best bit: After the loaf has cooled down a bit, EAT IT!

3. Wood, Hammer & Nails

2014-02-23 13.27.22How simple and awesome is that? Let your kids collect some sticks, bark and wood and introduce the simple concept of creating.

My eldest spent a whole rainy afternoon in our shed banging nails into a piece of wood. After hours of hard work (and still all fingers in the same place), he showed us his results. To us it looked like a beautiful piece of art (some stinking rich would probably pay Thousands for it) – it was and still is unique and we have found a good place for it in the house.

So, hope you feel inspired and motivated. Get going and enjoy your weekend and if you like, tell me what you did or made!

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Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Relationships

Checklist To Start The Weekend

  • Allow enough playtime for and WITH your kids
  • Surprise your family with a new dish that you cook (or even cook together)
  • Build a den
  • Make some musical instruments out of shoe boxes, elastic band, old yoghurt pots filled with rice or lentils – and have a family concert
  • Run over fields and chase cows
  • Have time to yourself (read, sleep, meditate, dance, do what you like)
  • Turn TV, laptops, phones etc. O F F (no stand by, no quick check, no cheating – off means off)
  • Invite your neighbours for a tea or coffee (they’ll bring the cake)
  • Say THANK YOU to your partner, or your parents, or to a friend or a stranger
  • On Sunday night meet with your family and talk about all the things that happened this weekend

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Parenting and Empathic Fathers

The Monthly Declutter Virus

Usually once a month I get it: the declutter-my-life-and-environment-virus. Don’t worry, normally it’s not contagious. It’s like a good fever: high and short. In the way my body tells me to get rid of things in order to feel better. And often the kids’ bedroom is my target. My wife and children don’t mind, as long as they don’t have to help me in my mission.

The cleaning out or let’s say – the healing process – involves: picking up all sorts of things and elements (blu tack, bits of sellotape, string, pens, books, food) from the floor; sorting the books (I think my boys own more books than me and the local library put together); dividing broken, half-broken and playable toys (yes, that’s where my eldest starts to argue: That toy is not broken, it just had an accident!); and to make the room generally more accessible (at least for the coming hour).

I find this cleaning out helps my inner peace and balance. Yes, it has something zen  (please tell me if you’re Buddhist and I’m wrong). And it reminds me of the simplicity of life. When I go through all this stuff, I often think: hey, we need so little, but have so much.

Leo Babauta, author of the Zen Habits Blog, brings it to the point when he says: “And when I’ve gotten rid of clutter, I’m freed. I can forget about those things, and live instead in this moment. … Decluttering can be a beautiful process of helping ourselves let go of the things we don’t realize we’re holding on to.”

I don’t think my children are overloaded with toys. We really try to keep it balanced and spend a great deal outdoors in the woods or by the sea. Every time we run over fields or collect millions of stones at the beach (to make the stones and pebbles collection we already have at home just a tiny bit richer), I pause and think: yes, that’s also what parenting is about: to see and to appreciate those little things; to enjoy that very moment and to take it home.

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Don’t get me wrong: this is not a post saying how bad toys are. No, not at all. It’s fine for me, after spending so much time outdoors, to come back and get the train set out and play. It’s good fun and I love playing with many toys my children own (did I really say that?). At the same time I want to keep that thought of a free, running-through-the-woods, awesome childhood. Because that’s what I did when I was little. So, my children deserve the same, at least!
Did you get infected now? Sorry. Should have warned you earlier.