The Lawnmower Approach

Children are always growing, learning, and discovering. Part of this process is for them to come up against life, bang around, get into fights, have night terrors, and get big feelings. All of these normal things need to happen so they can learn to regulate. Yet, these normal things are often inconvenient for us parents.  In turn we easily label the undesirable behavior as bad or problematic.  On a high level this is not fair for the children for they do not know or have the skills to choose better…they are learning those skills by going through these tough situations.  This is how life is learned. 

Yet, even though I am aware of this, I still at times see that my first impulse is to take the lawnmower approach to their behaviors that appear inconvenient for me.

What is the lawnmower approach? It is the approach where I react emotionally and cut everything down in front of me. Essentially, this approach looks to immediately end the perceived problem.  It is impulsive and seeks to take immediate control of the situation. No good learning gets done this way.

Sometimes in this situation I may raise my voice: “HEY! Knock it off! STOP DOING THAT!”

Other times it may be when I react by giving an ultimatum: “If you guys don’t stop then no one gets the toy!”

In those examples, as simple as they are, I just took the easy way (for me) to stop the behavior. Yelling or taking away is often just a Band-Aid approach to problem solving (behavioral solving). It covers up the problem but does nothing to fix the issue.

So let’s return to our analogy. Weeds (undesirable behavior) are growing all over the place…We pull out the mower and mow them down….problem solved…for now. A week later those same weeds have grown stronger and spread….out comes the lawnmower and we cut them down again. The problem never has been addressed and grows back even stronger with more numbers. Not only do we cut down the unwanted behaviors we cut down opportunities to model great behaviors: listening, trust, empathy, and understanding.

Is there a better way to approach this problem?  Yes, we should treat children as a garden, not a lawn. We don’t mow a garden. We tend to it, get on our knees, dig in the dirt, and pull the weeds. We plant things to grow (values, virtues, and habits). Then we create the optimum environment for those seeds to flourish.

Gardening is not a convenient thing…not at all. To create a beautiful garden we have to observe and listen to what it is telling us it needs in the moment.  Things grow in their own time and all the while we watch, monitor, feed, pull weeds. It is a long process that needs patience and perseverance.

Good problem solving is not a race back to our easy convenient life.  Let’s aim to take time to understand the problem. Taking time to reflect and dig into a problem is the only way to properly stop it in its place. Gardeners pull weeds for a reason. By getting down to the roots you stop it from growing back. Mowing keeps the roots in place where they can continue grow…and get worse.

A few of reminders to go from lawnmower man to gardener: 

  1. When emotionally triggered by the situation, pause.  Wait and listen before responding.  Get back to the intellectual brain.
  2. Coach rather than yell.
  3. Ask questions. By asking questions we are helping the child move from an emotional state to a thinking state.

All behaviors are symptoms that are rooted deeper within a child. Work not to shame it. Do the opposite…pause, accept it, listen, and let it teach you something about what it needs…All behaviors tell a story….what story are you listening to today?

Be well!

-MJ

Photo by Gabriel Jimenez via Unsplash

Filling The Emotional Well

(This is the first post by our new contributor Coach Phil. Please take a moment to check out his profile in the Contributors page)

Every child has an inner well of positive emotion. Wells that are full, provide the ingredients for successful interactions and growth opportunities in our little ones. Confidence, acceptance, compassion, competitiveness, optimism all flow from this well.

Children perform better when they feel better about themselves. This is a fairly straight forward and a simple concept. However, as parents, we often get caught up in feeling we need to fix every perceived short-coming as they happen. Please notice the use of “perceived”. Not everything that you perceive as a parent truly matters in the whole of life. It is ok to let kids be kids.

In my experience as a father and coach I have found that it is human nature, especially in youth, to push just hard enough to not get yelled at. There are far better ways to get a child to want to please you and run through the proverbial brick wall for you! Yelling and punishments are not motivators! They tear down a child’s confidence and will dry up the emotional well often forcing them to look towards other mentors to help refill the well.

Constantly beating a kid over the head with what you see as shortcomings takes water from this well. Constantly taking digs in a joking manner equally add up and deplete the well. Kids naturally want to please us. Let them. How many times have you walked through the door after a long day and immediately start asking about the test they didn’t do well on, or the room that wasn’t cleaned? Ask them about their day, intently listen and find the positive that you can praise.  The chores can wait, corrections can wait, life mentoring cannot.

Help them maintain balance, help them bring water to the well when it ebbs. Teach them the power of positivity, after all we are raising the next generation. Let’s make it a great one! 

Take care!

-Coach Phil

Family Dinner: 5 Tips to make the most of this important time (and Tom Selleck)

Recently, I had a good conversation with my mom regarding a very popular show: Blue Bloods.  I don’t watch the show but I know it has Tom Selleck in it.  My mom said the reason why she liked the show so much wasn’t only because of Tom (sure mom…I know he is hot) but was because the show always ended with everyone joining together for a family dinner.

When I think of a family dinner, I don’t think of any show, but rather the Norman Rockwell thanksgiving feast painting (Freedom from want).  Everyone in the family is sitting around anxiously as the turkey arrives at the table.  I love that iconic painting because it reminds of how special and important family dinners truly are.

Looking back at my childhood, most nights my family had dinner together.  It was a time where play was over (or at least paused) and we could now focus on investing in each other.  Since I was the youngest, I did the most listening.  I would listen to my dad, my mom, and my brother bring the family up to speed on how their day went. I learned many things that I did not even think about during that time.  Things like manners, listening, good posture, problem solving and storytelling.  The family dinner at our house was a safe place for all to participate in the conversation.

Research and studies also backs up how important family dinners are for the development of children.  Per The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University children who have family dinner are:

  • Less likely they are to use drugs, drink, and smoke
  • More likely to get better grades in school
  • Less likely to have mental issues (anxiety, depression)
  • More likely to eat better foods and have better nutrition
  • More likely to have stronger relationships with their parents

My wife and I make it a point to have family dinners as much as possible.  We have experimented with how we go about it but one thing remains constant, we routinely have them.

If you are looking to make the most out of this special time or to begin a new family routine, here are some tips that have helped our family out:

  1. Have the children help with setting up or cleaning up of the table.  This instills that we all have a responsibility to the family and promotes teamwork.
  2. Allow children to assist with the preparation (cooking) of the meal (I love this one for all of the life skills that will be learned).
  3. Have the children wash and put away dishes.
  4. No smart phones present at the table.  The same goes with a television on in the background. Phones and television promote passive behavior. The goal of family dinner is to participate and interact in a bonding experience.
  5. Take turns asking about each other’s day.  This give everyone a chance to talk, vent, share stories while it gives everyone else a chance to listen (another great one as we can model a winning behavior).

Every family dynamic is different.  What I enjoyed about the data and research was that it didn’t really matter how you had your family dinner. What mattered most was that it was happening on a consistent basis. With this in mind, experiment and have fun. Different things will work for different homes. In a world of over scheduling, family dinner is the perfect opportunity to bring everyone together and demonstrate that family does come first!

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Pablo Merchán Montes via Unsplash

Be a Good Enough Dad, Part II

In the part I of this post we discussed what it means to be a good enough dad. The definition I used was: a dad who is present, engaged, and responsive to the child. We also mapped out that responsive parenting is the cornerstone of success. Responsive parenting has two steps: Fully listening to the needs child and (when they are done expressing) answering the needs of the child.

For part II, I would like to start by addressing the negative self-talk we as parents may have and what to do about it.  I continually struggle with this one and have to work on it every day.  Changing and ridding yourself of the “not good enough” feeling takes time, patience, and acceptance. 

Often my negative self-talk appears through the most ordinary of ways.  A good example would be when I let my kids watch too much TV or when I am short with them and raise my voice.  I know that I shouldn’t do these things so I beat myself up about it.  But when I look at any situation like this, what am I really dealing with?  Generally speaking I am dealing with two things. 

The first thing is that in my weakest moments I have an underlying unmet need.  In the case of letting them watch too much TV, the unmet need could be that I just need time to breath or time where the kids are not focusing on me so I can accomplish a task.  Unmet needs develop into less than wonderful behaviors.

The second thing is that I am dealing with a perfectionist attitude.  What is a perfectionist attitude?  Simply put:  Since I know better, I should do better…and when I don’t, I will feel shame.  Perfectionism is a terrible thing to get hooked into and to base all of our actions on.  Measuring ourselves against a perfect ideal is a sure way to suck all the joy out of our life.  On one hand it is good to have a perfect ideal in our mind to aim at and to guide us towards becoming the best version of ourselves.  On the other hand, it can cut us apart if we use the perfect ideal as a benchmark to judge ourselves. 

So, how do we begin to eliminate this negative self-talk and the not good enough feeling?  We have to change our optics in how we view our role as parent. 

I have been practicing this in two ways. First, I have been reminding myself that parenting is not only about raising a child.  Parenting is about developing personally while we raise and develop the child.  These happen in hand in hand. Secondly, parenting is not a science!  Parenting is pure artistry!  Art never has a perfect ideal.  Parenting is an art because there is no one size fits all approach to the daily struggles.  We as parents have to acquire many tools and use them in a myriad of different ways to work through all of the situations we may be faced with.  When we couple these two things together (developing self and it’s an art form) our new standard becomes something like this:  I am committed to do the best that I can each day.  I will learn and do better over time through observation and reflection.

All of this leads me to my favorite paradox: Failure is the only path to success.

Everything single thing I have tried I have failed at until I didn’t

I bet as you look at your life experience it reads the same way.  We try things and fall down…we keep trying and working at it until we are successful.  Get used to the idea that failure is expected and is the pathway to developing successful outcomes.  When we look at life with this understanding it is really hard to maintain a perfectionist attitude.  It is okay to fail so long as we are dedicated to the process of learning and doing better next time.  It is from the ashes of our failures from which success is born. 

When we fail or disappoint ourselves we should aim to accept that is happened.  It is critical to sit with it and own the experience.  Doing so will allow the failure to teach us something and help us grow stronger.  We should be careful not to judge ourselves too harshly on it for that leads to a defeatist attitude.  Fail fast by learning from the moment so we can get on to doing better.

What does all of this translate into?  Being a great leader/influencer in your household!  When we can dedicate ourselves to the process of self-development and being consistently responsive to our children, we can cultivate an environment where love and appreciation is found.

A great leader keeps their eyes on the goal, reflects/adjusts when needed, and builds up those who are following. 

Another big thing with great leaders…they don’t influence by words alone…they walk the walk.  Children will do what we do and it doesn’t matter what words we assign with it.  So let’s demonstrate and model for them more than telling them.

To recap both posts- Be a Good enough dad:

  • Responsive parenting (listen then respond)
  • Eliminate negative self-talk by being committed to personal growth and recognizing that parenting is an art
  • Expect and own failures for that is the pathway for growth
  • Lead by example with consistent well thought out actions (words mean little in the scheme of things)

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Paul Gilmore via Unsplash

Cultivating Joy part I: Happiness vs. Joy

Today’s post will be the the first of a three part series: Cultivating Joy. In this post I would like to bring some awareness on the differences between happiness and Joy. There are clear distinctions between the two and understanding these differences can help you cultivate wellness in you and your family’s life. The second post we will offer up great habits to adopt to cultivate lasting joy in your life. The third post we will work through how to coach your family to stop chasing happiness and bring up some good strategies on growing joy.

Below (in yellow) is from the page: Champion Dad’s Vision. Joy is a pillar that all dad’s (people) should strive for.

Joy: Through their encouragement of others they have a positive impact on everyone they meet. They tend to be happy go lucky by nature and are willing to try new things to experience life fully. They are the rock, or the person called when things go wrong. They are able to endure hardships with a sense of playfulness. Their actions speak to a win, win, win (expansion of self, expansion of others, expansion of community).

While on a recent vacation with my family I watched my kids closely on what makes them happy. Over a few days a pattern emerged and I could determine what gave them happiness and what allowed joy to emerge. From these observations I started to watch other families and the same pattern applied.

Coming back from our vacation I pulled together all of my notes that I could find on happiness and joy (yes, I collect and write down anything that speaks to me through life, training, movies, work…you name it…I am a collector of thoughts). What I found aligns with everything that I observed. With this, let us take a moment to delineate the difference between happiness and Joy. Having this basic awareness will give us a foundation to stand on for our next two posts.

Happy: feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.

Joy: a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.

Boy, those two definitions sound very much the same don’t they?! Well, they really do point at each other so let’s analyze.

Joy is manifested through living a good life. It is the result of living up to our values and living out our authenticity through our actions. It is a positive response to things going well and being lead well. Joy is something that emerges within us. Joy usually comes through the giving of the self to something or others. Joy is steady and is most often found in wonder and gratitude. Joy involves self forgetting.

Happiness is an emotion that is pursued. Happiness typically comes from achievement. Happiness is briefly attained when we receive something. It is fleeting and comes and goes like all other emotions. Happiness is the dopamine hit the brain triggers when we get something we desire.

Here are a couple of examples of each from my vacation I noted above:

Happiness example: Our hotel had an arcade, water park, and professional climbing walls. My kids chased happiness to go to the arcade. They were happy on the walk there (anticipation). They were then quickly consumed with desire to play the candy claw game. Happiness returned when they received candy. Once the candy was obtained they were consumed by their next achievable desire. They chased happiness bug all around the arcade until their money ran out. Their excitement and happiness was fleeting at best and not sustainable.

Joy example: My son each day worked on the climbing walls at the hotel. Over three days he got better and better. On the third day he completed the hardest climbing wall to the amazement of all who watched (he just turned six). Moreover, my daughter completed a hard balancing pool obstacle on day two. She was scared but pushed through it to the end. Their contentment was pure and could be seen for days after. My joy watching them give themselves to an effort (self-forgetting) and living up to their goals was something that will never go away (sustainable).

So next week we will really flesh out some great personal strategies to manifest Joy. Over this next week, take time to review things in your life that you chase for happiness and note all things you do where joy emerges. The ultimate goal is to realize that joy is sustainable and is found in the process of living….happiness, on the other hand, is fleeting and comes and goes based on what we achieve or get in the moment.

Aim for sustainable enjoyment….life is more peaceful that way.

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Sebastian Leon Prado via Unsplash

Be a Good Enough Dad, part I

Lately I have been having power struggles with my very determined boy. He is five and is testing every word I say. At my best, I don’t argue with him. I just state what needs to be said and move on, leaving him to make some decisions about how he wants his day to be. At my worst, which has happened more often than I would like to admit, I get triggered emotionally and we argue loudly. He screams at me about things and I boom back trying to get him in line (which, SURPRISE, does not work as I intend it to).

I worry about the effect this may have long term.  Honestly, I probably worry about it too much. My greatest fear is that I will slowly alienate my children as they grow. I would hate there to be a point where they no longer seek me out for help or guidance. I don’t want to be that dad….the dad they hide from, avoid, and keep things from.  Perhaps you have had similar thoughts and concerns as well.  But wait, there is good news…

Yesterday…in the midst of my obsessive worry, I heard a great line from Father Richard Rohr during an interview: 

“You don’t have to be a perfect dad, you just have to be a good enough dad.”

Hearing this was music to my ears as it was one of those magical moments where life moved in and reminded me that parenting is not a game of perfect. It is a game of experience with trial and error.  It is a game where showing up and being present every day is far more important than the impact of an occasional argument.

But what is a good enough dad?

A good enough dad is a dad who is present, engaged, and responsive to the child. Being there for the child..to play with…to argue (test) with…to provide boundaries…to guide…to love…to feel safe with.

Responsive parenting allows the child to create a secure attachment (trusted relationship). Having a secure attachment is critical to the child’s continued development.  Children who do not develop a secure attachment will endlessly be seeking to fill that void (for more information on Secure Attachments click here.)

There are two main steps with responsive parenting:

  1. Listen to the need of the child. Allow the child to fully express themselves before you respond. (In my case above, I need to work on staying regulated while listening to him test me. With practice, I will hopefully be able stay cool and patient).
  2. Allow the child to completely work out their message to you. When they are done, and only when they are done, respond to their need.

One of the great benefits of responsive parenting is that you are modeling a behavior for them to emulate when emotions run high.  By practicing patience and pause while listening you are creating a safe environment for the child work out their issues, emotions, stories, and needs. 

Being responsive is the cornerstone of great parenting.  Great parenting isn’t about being perfect or attaining your perfect ideal.  It is about creating the correct environment for your child to develop where their needs are being met. 

Arguments happen and are going to happen.  That is ok and as I have been reminding myself:  Keep showing up, keep engaged, and keep working at it.

In part II of this post I will dig deeper in personal strategies so you (I) can overcome the “not good enough” feeling.  I will also cover my favorite paradox: Failure is the only path to success.  I will then round it out with some philosophical points on how to be a leader in your own home.

Be well

-MJ 

Photo by Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash