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The Best Advice for Dads…Ever

The other day, a new father asked me if I had any advice for him on parenting and fatherhood. I did not really think I had any unique words of wisdom. I mean, he had probably heard anything I would think to tell him. You know:

·     “Spend time with your kids now; they’ll be leaving for college before you know it.”

·     “Kids spell love T-I-M-E.”

·     “Have a date night with your wife on a regular basis. The stronger your marriage, the more secure your children.”

·     “Have fun with your kids. Build lots of happy memories with them.”

You know the advice. It is all good advice—important advice. But I’m sure he has heard it all before and I did not feel the need to beat the same drum over and over. So, when he asked if I had any advice, any words of wisdom, I replied, “Nothing out of the ordinary. You probably heard it all before.” His question did make me think though. What is one of the most important things I have done as a father? What would I definitely do again if I had to do it all over? After some thought, I went back to my friend and told him about one thing I found especially meaningful in my experience as a father. I would suggest this to every father, whether your children are young or old. My wife and I happened upon this jewel by accident; but I would not give it up for anything now. What is it? A “Daddy Night.” 

My wife works one long day a week.  So, starting when my oldest daughter was about one-year-old, I had the opportunity to care for my children solo one day a week.  My wife was not home, so I got to do it all. I enjoyed bathing them, feeding them, playing with them, getting chores done with them, and going through the bedtime routine with them.  My children and I developed our own routines…routines slightly different than the routines my wife had with them. She planned activities, we did more spontaneous activities. She played delicate games, we rough-housed. She really disliked playing Barbie, we played Barbie (much to my daughter’s dismay, Ken always tried to fly). Those routines changed as they grew. Over time, my daughters and I developed interests we enjoyed together. We went on outings together. We hung out at the house together. We had picnics, fancy dinners, cold pizza…you name it. We went to outdoor concerts, movies, parks, coffee shops…whatever. We had great times…and some not so great times. Either way, we had those times together.  I learned so much about my children by spending this time with them…and they learned about me. We shared so much.

I love our “Daddy Nights.” Amazingly, they do too—in spite of what they consider my “immature-boy-behavior” at times. In fact, they continue to shape their schedules around our nights together, even in their high school years. My oldest daughter is going away to college in the fall. We have enjoyed “Daddy Nights” for 17 years! This summer, she still plans to schedule around “Daddy Night.” My youngest daughter will go into her sophomore year of high school in the fall and we plan to continue our “Daddy Night’s.” Really, I think I’ll miss “Daddy Night” most of all when they are both gone.

My advice to fathers everywhere…dedicate one night a week as “Daddy Night.” Send your wife out with friends so she won’t be tempted to step in and take care of things. Spend the time with just you and your kids. You plan everything…until your children are old enough to share in the planning of course. Spend the evening together. Enjoy your time together, just you and your kids. The time will prove precious and the memories priceless! 

Baseball Reveals the Power of Dad

I read an interesting article that was initially published in 2016. It described the findings of “Called Out at Home” from the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture. In this study, I learned about the surprising increase of African American plays in Major League Baseball (MLB) between 1947 (when Jackie Robison became the first African American in the Major Baseball League) and 1981 when 18% of the players were African American (which was higher than the percentage of African Americans in the general public). However, the percentage of African American players declined to 7% through the 1980’s and 1990’s. Why did this drastic decrease occur? That’s the questions asked in this study.

To answer that question, the researchers looked at the birth data of about 85,000 college and professional baseball players. They sampled over 600 current Major League Baseball players and researched their families’ structure. They discovered something interesting.

  • 80% of the African American professional players came from a home in which their father was present (compared to 40% of African Americans in the general population).
  • Children who live with their father had about a 25% greater likelihood of playing baseball than those who lived in a home without a father. More specifically, 20% of those living with a father played baseball compared to only 16% of those living without a father.
  • While African American players in MLB declined, players from Dominican Republic and Venezuela increased…and many of these plyers had grown up in poor communities. This suggests that the decrease in African American MLB players was not determined by money or socioeconomic status alone.
  • As an aside, the researchers also discovered that high school students living with their fathers were actually less likely to play basketball than students without a father in the home.

As the authors of the study considered these findings, they suggest that some sports require a great deal of support and finances, like football, hockey, and lacrosse.

Other sports require little support or finances, like basketball and track. Kids can excel by practicing alone or with a group of peers in a “pick-up” game at the park.

Baseball falls in between these two extremes. In baseball you need one other committed person, a ball, a bat, and a glove (preferably two). The authors make the case that the best person to be the committed person in the case of baseball is a father!

Whether a father is in the home or not may not be the only factor explaining the decline in African American players in the MLB, but it does point to the power of a Dad. I’m not suggesting that a child can become a professional ball player simply because he or she has a dad at home either. But this research supports the idea that having a father at home helps a child thrive. Whether it be in the sports their children choose or the life choices their children make, a father makes a powerful difference. So, get your child and grab a ball and glove. Go outside and play some catch. After all, the real goal of playing catch is not just learning to catch and throw a ball. The real goal is to develop a relationship, impart life, and promote values of love and compassion.

**After I published this blog, a friend told me about another African American player who played in the Major Leagues 6 decades before Jackie Robinsons. Read the fascinating story of Moses Fleetwood Walker here. And thank you for correcting me and helping me grow.

“Cheat Codes” for Dads: Shared Rituals

If you play video games, you know the value of a good “cheat code.” They help the player advance to a new level or gain a special power. Other “cheat codes” help the gamer obtain a special tool or weapon needed in the game.

If you’re a Dad of daughters, you may feel as though you need a “cheat code.” You may want inside information to help you move toward an advanced level of understanding in relation to your daughter. You likely desire a “cheat code” that will open a gateway to a special power of influencing your daughter toward maturity.  If so, I have just what you’re looking for: “cheat codes” for dads raising daughters.

Previous “cheat codes” discussed include:

Now it’s time for another.

The Cheat Code: Shared Rituals.

Purpose: With Shared Rituals, you will…

  1. Increase the time you and your daughter spend together. This will help you build a more intimate relationship with her.
  2. With rituals in place, the need to discipline negative behaviors will decrease. (How to Discipline Before You Even Need To.)
  3. In addition, your daughter’s sense of security will increase. She will feel safer in a home with predictability.
  4. Because she feels safer, your daughter will have greater freedom to explore and learn about her world and herself. In fact, The Gift of Freedom is Wrapped in Safety.
  5. Rituals will also help your daughter pursue goals and have a greater sense of purpose in life. (Routines & rituals Add Meaning To Life.)
  6. Your daughter will gain a greater sense of independence and mastery with appropriate routines in place.

Value: Creating shared rituals with your daughter has two great values. First, your shared rituals will guarantee that you spend time with your daughter. Spending time with your daughter in a shared ritual deepens your relationship with her and increases her sense of security. Second, shared rituals build predictability into your relationship and your home. This predictability will increase your daughter’s sense of security. With the knowledge of her close relationship to you and the predictability of her environment, your daughter will feel safer to explore her world and herself. She will pursue greater goals. All in all, routines will deepen your relationship with your daughter, empower your daughter to explore her world, and increase your daughter’s sense of competence. Who doesn’t want that?

Instructions: ThreeShared Rituals to create…

  1. “Daddy-Daughter Time.” Set aside one time a week (an evening, an afternoon, a day…whatever time works best) as time dedicated to your daughter. This will become known as “Daddy-Daughter Time.” Let nothing interfere with that time.
  2. Find out what your daughter enjoys doing. If you don’t know, ask her. If she’s not sure, ask her what kind of activities and foods she would like to try or places she would like to visit. Each week during “Daddy-Daughter Time,” do one of one of those activities with your daughter. Or, go to one of the places you have agreed upon. You might play Barbies, go to a movie, get ice cream, or go rock climbing. Your options are as broad as your daughter’s potential interests and creativity. These first three steps represent what I believe to be one of the most powerful shared rituals you can do with your daughter. You will never regret having engaged her in this way.
  3. Become involved in your daughter’s bedtime routine. This may include reading with her, talking about the day, sharing things for which you are grateful, and giving her a simple hug and kiss goodnight. Bedtime is an amazing time to bond with your daughter.
  4. Create a shared mealtime ritual with your daughter and your whole family. Strive to eat one meal a day together. If you can’t do one meal a day, do at least 3-5 meals a week. Establish the nights and keep the “meal date.” The shared ritual of eating together offers a wonderful opportunity to talk, share, and bond. (Learn the benefits of eating as a family in The Lost Art of Family Meals.)

“Cheat Codes” for Dads of Daughters: TIME

If you play video games, you know the value of a good “cheat code.” “Cheat codes” help the player advance to a new level or gain a special power. Other “cheat codes” help the gamer obtain a special tool or weapon they need to succeed in the game.

If you’re a Dad of daughters, you probably feel like you need a “cheat code.” You want some inside information to help you move up to an advanced level of understanding or win points to deepen your relationship your daughter. You likely desire a “cheat code” for obtaining the special power needed to influence your daughter toward maturity.  If so, I have just what you’re looking for: “cheat codes” for dads raising daughters. 

The Cheat Code: Spend Time With Your Daughter.

Purpose: Spending Time With Your Daughter will…

  1. deepen your relationship with her,
  2. increase your understanding of her, and
  3. strengthen your influence with her.

Value: Why is spending time with your daughter important? Your daughter does not spell “love” with the letter “L.” She spells it with the letter “T” for T.I.M.E. Spending time with your daughter communicates your love for her. It increases her sense of value and self-worth.

Instructions: In order to communicate love effectively through time, you have to make some adjustments.

  1. Put down your cell phone.
  2. Turn off the TV. Quit reading the paper. Stop watching the game.
  3. Spend 20-30 minutes simply interacting with your daughter. You can do this by going for a walk with her or simply sitting down with her and talking. You could take a ride to the ice cream shop and talk over an ice cream cone. Let your creativity and your daughter’s interests guide the where and when of the conversation.
  4. Use your time to time to listen “twice as much as you talk.” Let her set the topic of conversation. If she does not initiate a topic, ask about her interests, her activities, her friends, or her dreams. Compliment some aspect of her that you admire.
  5. When she does bring up a topic, show interest. You may not really be interested in the “best color skirt” to wear to the dance or the ongoing saga of girl life in middle school. Show interest anyway. Ask a few questions. Be excited with her and mourn with her. Learn about how she thinks about everything. 
  6. As you spend time with your daughter, she will learn of her value. She will learn she is valuable enough to have your undivided attention for a period of time every day. You will also develop a stronger relationship with her…one that will last a lifetime.

Stay tune for more “cheat codes” to come!

The Work of Dad

I recently read an interesting article by John A. Cuddeback entitled Reclaiming a Father’s Presence at Home. In this article, he makes a “radical suggestion” that we measure a man’s success in life, his manhood even, by the quality of his presence in his home and with his family. Based on a historical analysis of the diminishing presence of the father in the home, he describes how the success of children and the ongoing success of family are impacted by a father’s presence or lack of presence. Without the active presence of a father, family relationships weaken. The depth of connections become more superficial. Beliefs around productivity and leisure change, succumbing to the more readily available cultural trends that also weaken the family unit (like technology, busy-ness, adult-organized and run activities). It was a very interesting article. I see the validity of his perspective.

Fortunately, the author did not stop with the description of how a father’s lack of presence impacts children and families. He also offered some excellent suggestions for reversing this trend. In my mind, these suggestions reveal the most important work of a Dad, the work that will transcend any other work he will every do. These suggestions reveal a work that will make all other activities of a Dad pale in comparison. Let me briefly share these suggestions for the work of a Dad.

  1. A Dad’s work begins with loving his wife well. A home begins with a man and a woman who love one another. With this in mind, a man’s presence in the home, a Dad’s work, begins with his presence to his wife. In loving his wife and being present to her needs, a Dad sets the stage for his children’s sense of security. From a loving, nurturing marital relationship flows the love and nurturance children need to thrive. When the marital relationship is marred with antagonism, mistrust, and harshness, children lose their sense of security. They experience the world as antagonistic, untrustworthy, and harsh. They become more vigilant, more skeptical, and more self-protective. When a man loves his wife well, his wife flourishes. Their relationship overflows with love and kindness. They function as a team. Children experience the world as loving, trustworthy, and cooperative. Truly, a Dad’s work in the home begins with loving his wife well.
  2. A Dad’s work involves engaging in “home arts” with his family. “Home arts” include activities in which parent and child engage together, generally with the parent acting as mentor. These activities often involved learning together and always mean sharing time together. “Home arts” may include cooking, gardening, carpentry, mechanics, landscaping, music…whatever the interests of your family happen to be. For other families “home arts” may also include activities such as reading, writing, historical explorations, biology, or similar pursuits. Whatever the “home art” that fits with your family, it will involve the Dad making an investment of time and energy in the lives of his children and spouse. It will require spending time together negotiating and pursuing common interests. That is the beauty of Dad’s work in the home. It involves time shared together pursuing a common interest and goal…which leads a third work of a Dad in the home.
  3. A Dad’s work means prioritizing shared activities. Shared activities differ from “home arts” because they often do not involve learning as a goal. Shared activities do allow families to enjoy time together and may, at times, overlap with “home arts.” But the main goal of shared activities is to have enjoyable time together sharing fun and life. One shared activity that research has shown to have a positive impact on family is the family meal. Another shared activity research has shown especially impactful when Dads participate is reading together. Other shared activities can include praying and worshiping as a family, singing together, and outdoor activities like playing catch, bike riding, or hiking. These shared activities provide fertile soil for conversations and deepening relationships as your family solves problems and overcomes obstacles together.

The work of Dad in the home involves his intentional presence. It begins with loving his wife well. From there it flows into “home arts” and shared activities.  Although this work takes intention, it culminates in joy and reveals man at his best! So, Dad, let’s get to work.

Keep Curiosity Alive in Mom & Dad

People love babies. Just watch a group of women talking around one baby. Everyone chatters away until the baby utters a single monosyllabic sound while waving his arm. Suddenly, all chatter stops and everyone’s eyes turn to the baby. Curious gazes watch to see what the baby will do next. Then, as the baby makes eye contact with the women, a collective “Awwww” will be released. Guys, we love babies too. Admit it. Research has already outed us by revealing many men get “baby fever” and go all “goo-goo” in response to babies (Read “Baby Fever is a Real Emotion”). Men and women delight in babies. They arouse our curiosity. We want to know what they are thinking and feeling, so we pay special grandfather and grandchildattention to their every move. We follow their gaze to see what attracts their attention. We engage them in a variety of playful ways to see what draws them to us and makes them smile. We present various toys to see which ones they like the best, to discover what interests them the most. We make faces and look silly in an effort to make them laugh and repeat that silly behavior until they tire of laughing. Every day our curiosity leads us to learn something new about our baby. We listen closely to every sound, learning to discern which cry sounds the alarm for a diaper change and which cry signals hunger. We observe their face with curiosity, learning which face calls for comfort and which means they have gas. We love babies. They arouse our curiosity and we become their students to learn as much about them as we can.

Unfortunately, those acts of curious delight change as our baby grows through toddlerhood, childhood, and into adolescence. Rather than following their gaze to discover what attracts them, we begin to tell them to “quit staring.” We direct their gaze in directions we believe will limit their risk and decrease our fears. Instead of exploring what attracts their interest and holds their attention, we tell them to pay attention to whatever we deem important (our directions, church, school, crossing the street). We don’t explore what it is that does attract their attention and so lose the knowledge and opportunity needed to present them with alternative attractions that we deem safe and interesting to them. When their play becomes silly we judge their maturity or lack thereof. Rather than playing to discover what draws them to us, we judge their pulling away from us as a lack of appreciation for all our efforts. Instead of creating opportunities for them to laugh at and with us, we tell them to grow up and get serious. We listen half-heartedly while labeling or minimizing their emotions rather than discerning the need that lies beneath the emotion. We scold and assume negative intentions instead of trying to figure out what is causing their outburst. I understand it. We want our children to learn. We want them to mature. We want to keep them safe.  So, as they grow, we replace our curiosity with discipline. As a result, our relationship, and our influence, suffers.

In reality, we do a better job of keeping our children safe, helping them mature, and teaching them important life lessons when we maintain our curiosity. Sure, we have to discipline; but when discipline replaces curiosity our children suffer. When we maintain playful curiosity, our children will more likely reveal their emotions, intents, fears, and desires to us. As we maintain a curious observation of what bothers them and excites them, we will also learn what comforts them and motivates them. When we find ways to continue laughing with our children, they will feel free to cry with us as well, providing us the opportunity to comfort them. Maintaining a playful curiosity in our children (even when we need to discipline) will enhance our relationship with them. It will increase our opportunity to influence and guide them. It will allow us to watch with great curiosity how they mature into confident adults. So have some fun. Be curious about your child and your teen. Be silly. Play. The world will be a better place for it!

Your Child’s “Best Teacher Eh-verrr”

I still remember the day it happened. My daughter came home raving about her teacher. She loved him. He was the “best teacher eh-verrrr.” In fact, he was a good teacher. She learned a lot from him. But, he really wasn’t THE best teacher she ever had. I know because the best teacher any child ever has is not a teacher from school. The reward for “best teacher ever” in a child’s life actually goes to (drum roll please)…his parents.  It’s true. Parents can’t help but teach their children. Even if they never teach a single formal Father Daughter Chatlesson, their child will learn more from them than any other teacher he will ever have. Parents teach the most important lessons of life—like values, priorities, how to manage emotions, how to manage difficult situation, etc.—on a daily basis. That whole “daily basis” idea is why parents become the most important teacher in their child’s life. Only parents have the opportunity to “join with” their child in a variety of situations on a “daily basis.” Only parents get to “experience life” with their child “24/7.” From this position of “experiencing life together,” parent becomes the most powerful teachers in their child’s life.  Parents, utilizing wisdom gained through their own life experiences, assist their child in managing the emotions of difficult experiences. Parents find their child acutely interesting and learn to know him very well. Based on knowledge of their child’s interests, parents can direct their child’s energies into safe avenues of adventure and joy. In other words, when a parent and child “experience life together,” a parent helps his child organize and understand himself and the world around him.  let me say this very plainly: Parents, you are your child’s “best teacher eh-verrrr,” whether you like it or not. To help you enjoy the rewards of “best teacher ever,” follow these four tips.

  1. Join in, experience life with your child. Don’t lecture. Join instead. This means active involvement and participation in your child’s life.
  2. Stay calm. Remember, your child learns how to respond to emotions by experiencing them with you. If you rant and rave when angry, your child will most likely do the same. Let your example teach him to express and share his emotions effectively.
  3. Listen to your child. Listen to understand your child’s motivation, intent, and perspective. When you understand your child’s motivation and intent, you can explain your ideas in a way he can understand. In a sense, you have to understand your child’s way of thinking before you can explain your own more mature thought.
  4. Allow your child to be a child. Do not expect your 4-year-old to discriminate between what is real and what is magic or your 16-year-old to be excited about the same things that excite you. Instead, enjoy the magical world of your 4-year-old and share in those things that excite your 16-year-old, channeling those thrills in a healthy direction.

 

Congratulations Mom and Dad. You truly are your child’s “best teacher eh-verrr,” especially when you take the time to join with your child and “experience life together.”

6 Questions You Didn’t Know Your Children Were Asking

Our children have questions that only we, their parents, can answer…and we need to answer them. They don’t ask these questions directly and they may not even realize they ask them at all. But they do. They ask these questions with their quiet presence and their disruptive presence. They ask them while waiting for us to notice and acknowledge them. They also ask these questions in the form of more subtle, seemingly benign questions like, “Do you like my new hair color?” or “Can we get dessert?” They even ask them with their misbehaviors. Let me share just 6 of the real questions our children are asking in these behaviors, 6 questions they need us to answer.

  1. Am I important? When our children know we value them, they feel valuable. We communicate how much we value our children by accepting them, listening to them, and taking time to learn about their world. We also express how much we value our children through gratitude. Become a student of your children. Spend time with them. Communicate how important they truly are to you.
  2. Am I good enough? In fact, am I enough? This question is a question of identity. Our children need to know we that know them and recognize their worth, even when they feel like they’ve failed. This requires us to give them space and assistance, support and encouragement, in exploring their strengths and interests. Our children also need to know they are good enough even when we discipline them. To communicate this message, we need to give them unconditional positive regard, even when we disagree with them or discipline them.
  3. Do I belong? As our children turn to teens, friends become increasingly important. Still, they need and want family. They need to have a sense of belonging in their family even while they explore and establish a sense of belonging among their peers. This is a tightrope for many families. Let your children try new things. Encourage then to recognize how various groups of people impact them and their behavior. Help them find the peer group in which they feel most comfortable, whether it be the theatre group, the music group, the sports group, the academic group, or some combination of them all. At the same time, always communicate that they will belong in your family no matter the peer group they choose.
  4. Am I romantic enough? I’m not sure this represents the best way to word this question. It’s a question delving into attraction, romance, and intimacy. Teach your children from an early age that romance entails mutual kindness and respect. Teach them that physical and emotional intimacy cannot be separated without resulting pain. Teach them that restraint and self-control are as important as sex; and, without self-control, sex leads to emotional hurt. “Ultimately, encourage them to wait and wait and then wait a little longer. Waiting for sex is based on good science” (From Raising Healthy Girls). (See Cheat Codes” for Dads: Your Daughter’s Beauty for more.)
  5. Do you trust me? The answer we give our children to this question begins much earlier than most of us imagine. It begins as early as those toddler years when our toddler says, “No” to our assistance and we step back, trusting them to work at completing the task. It extends into the school years when we put a reasonable structure in place and trust they will complete their schoolwork. They continue this question into adolescence when they ask us if they can “go to my friend’s party” or ” use the car tonight.”  Trusting demands a step of faith on our part. Take the step. Trust unless given a clear reason not to. Even then, leave the door open to reestablish trust by taking a step of faith. Remember, a child who feels their parent trusts them is more likely to act in a trustworthy manner.
  6. Am I strong enough to be my own person? The most difficult aspect of a parent’s job is to prepare their children to become independent adults, to let them leave home and become their own person. This goal is the end result of a process that evolves over their first two decades of life. It is the result of a parent teaching their child a task and then letting them do it independently, even if they want to do it differently than us. It is the result of letting go when they go to preschool, letting go when they go on their first dates, letting go when they drive to the mall on their own for the first time…all while remaining available in the background as a safety net, ready to respond to their call for help IF they need it.

Our children ask these questions every day. We answer them through our words, our actions, and our interactions. For your children’s sake, answer them wisely.

Using Repetition to Help Your Child

Remember those movies your children wanted to watch over and over again? They watched them so many times that they quoted the lines as they watched the show…and kept quoting them after the show ended…and when asking to watch the show again. If you were like me, the movie became boring. But our children never seem to tire of watching the same thing over again. They watched it each time with the same zeal as the last time.

In fact, children love repetition. It provides them with a sense of predictability that anchors them in the safety of something they know in the midst of a complex world they are navigating for the first time. When parents establish rituals that assure predictability in a child’s world, their children flourish. Children experience an increased sense of security within the repetitive pattern of a ritual. They grow more confident within the safety of daily (AKA: repetitive) rituals. They also gain mastery over their environment and develop a greater sense of agency as a result. Even better, rituals are simple, everyday practices you can establish. (Read Add Meaning to Life by Building Routines for more.) For instance, here are a few rituals you can easily establish with your children.

  • Give your children a hug every night at bedtime.
  • Read to your child at bedtime.
  • Eat breakfast at the same every Saturday morning with your child.
  • Send your child a text every morning.
  • Schedule a regular outing with your child every week. (This is the best advice for dads…ever!)

These simple habits become repetitive rituals that reap huge dividends, like a stronger relationship with your child, a growing sense of agency and confidence in your child, and a greater tendency for your child to listen to you.

You can also establish rituals that build their sense of ability and family involvement. For instance, children love to work with their parent. Let them do so.

  • When you “work” to get dinner on the table, let them be involved. They can put the silverware on the table, cut the vegetables, or put ice in the glasses.
  • When you “work” to do the laundry, let them help throw clothes into the washer or dryer. Let them fold the socks.
  • As you clean the house, let them dust the end table or empty the dustpan into the
    trash.
  • See What is Scaffolding in Montessori and How We Can Apply It At Home for more ideas.

As your child matures, their tasks may become more complex. Still, they will be “working” with you. That’s the ritual: working side by side with mom and dad to complete meaningful tasks around our home.

The repetition of ritual is a beautiful thing for you and your child. They will help your family “run smoothly.” They will allow you to know one another better. They will build a stronger, more loving family. Get started today.

Help, My Child ALWAYS Argues With Me

If you’re a parent, you’ve had the experience. You know the one. It’s the experience of making one simple request of your child only to hear them start to argue with you…AGAIN! Suddenly, the last few days come to mind and you notice that every time you said something to our child it turns into an argument. And, every time they spoke to you, it became an argument. Those days of arguments feel like weeks and those weeks suddenly feel like months of constant arguing. I know the feeling. So, if you’ve ever been there, if you’ve ever thought “Help. All my child does is argue,” here are a few tips to help stop the cycle.

First, recognize that arguing is normal for children. It provides them the opportunity to practice using their developing cognitive skills. It helps them assert their growing independence. It even provides them the opportunity to think through their priorities, values, and morals. After all, it’s a lot more effective to let mom and dad debate one side than to debate both sides of the argument in my own mind.  Knowing that arguing is developmentally appropriate means you do not have to take it personal. It’s not about you. It’s all part of the process of growing up. Let them bump.

Second, arguing is not about being right. Again, your child is asserting independence, testing your fortitude, practicing cognitive skills. You can focus on the relationship rather than proving yourself right and your child wrong. You can focus on connection. Remember, your child learns best from those they feel connected to, those with whom they have a relationship. As a rule: connect first, teach second. Relationships rule.

Third, sometimes the best way to stop the cycle of arguing it to not argue back. Take a breath, bite your tongue, and do not argue back. In fact, as soon as you take the bait and respond with an argument, you have given your child the power. By NOT engaging in the argument, on the other hand, you teach your children how to have a respectful argument with someone they disagree with.

Fourth, acknowledge your child’s stated concern and implicit feelings. Many times, our children simply want to be deeply heard. When you restate their concern and reflect their feelings back to them, they will know you are listening. They will learn you value them enough to listen deeply. They will feel deeply heard and trust you more. A simple pattern to assure you listen deeply is to say something like, “It sounds like you feel ‘x’ because ‘their statement of concern.’” After they confirm you understand, you can follow up with a statement like “Let’s work on that together” or “Could I explain my reasons as we work together on this.” This will open the door to discuss the issue at hand and, more importantly, connect with your child.

Arguing is normal. It is not about you. It is an opportunity to connect with your children while learning more about them and their development. So, do NOT simply argue back. Listen. Learn. And work together.

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