Recently, I was on vacation with my family up in Old Orchard, Maine. Our hotel of choice has a really nice swimming pool between our room and the ocean. This is really neat since our kids like to jump between swimming in the ocean and the pool throughout the day.
During our second afternoon, I was walking out to meet my family by the pool. Halfway there, I walked by a dad who was lighting up his children for showing too much excitement. The kids couldn’t wait to get to the beach and were acting up a little bit (from what I can tell). The dad, clearly at his wit’s end, blew up at them with the typical lawnmower stuff: “STOP IT RIGHT NOW!……KNOCK IT OFF, OR WE ARE NOT GOING TO GO!!!”
I took the safe route and gave this gentleman plenty of space as he tore into them. Yet, even a few minutes later, while I was picking a place to sit, I could still hear the dad barking at his kids. However, the kids never stopped being happy and excited as they had clearly tuned him out (good for them…funny how I take the kid’s side unless it is me yelling).
Twenty minutes later, I witnessed another dad act exactly the opposite. He had two boys roughhousing in the shallow end, making noise and splashing other pool users (not on purpose but through their play). Once things escalated to where he needed to take action, this man was unfazed. He looked up at his boys and slowly closed the book he was reading. He looked over again, stood up, and deliberately (yet unhurried) walked across the pool to where his boys could hear him. He knelt and started talking to his boys. Midway through the conversation, one boy giggled, said something fresh, and turned to swim away. He placed his hand on the boy’s head for emphasis, letting him know he was to be taken seriously. The child stopped. He then stood up, smiled at them, and walked methodically back to his book and chair. The kids cooled down and were now echoing how calm their dad was. No one was embarrassed, no one was angry, and no fun was lost on the kid’s behalf.
WOW! If there was ever a Jedi mind trick at play, this was the guy who could do it. I was amazed by how cool, calm, and collected he was. He meant business and was in complete control of his movements and the words he used. What an influential way he had!
Before we comb out some gems here, I only know what I witnessed about the two families. I don’t know how rough of a day the first family had compared to the second. I have been both dads over time. I think it is safe to say that we all have been both at one time or another.
However, let’s analyze their influence on their children.
First thing, we cannot give our children what we ourselves do not have. Our children are not motivated by words alone. At least 90% of what we pass on to our children is how we behave and model for them to see. When it comes to communication, up to 80% of what is communicated is non-verbal. If we yell and scream in disapproval (or adult tantrum), they take this as how to do business in life. Words mean little to them. What is more important (always) is how we are delivering the words. The delivery method has the most impact.
The second thing, when our kids become unregulated, it is not an open invitation for us to become unregulated. No matter how bad their behavior may be, it does not justify the parent to act the same way and blow up. When we do, we are only reinforcing their behavior to continue. They do as we do.
A third thing, we empower what we emotionally react to. The divide between these two dads is wide. The first man caved and was triggered by his children, whereas the second man remained calm and controlled. It is our job as parents to work on ourselves to disengage our personal triggers continually. It is not the child’s job or society to change their behavior, so we do not become triggered. Let me repeat that once again: Work on yourself every day. Do not try to make the world act in a way that does not set you off. Controlling the external world does not work. Our work should be done internally. Take time and diffuse your triggers’ emotional charge (I will have a post on how to do this soon). This is how the battle is won long term.
This post was fun and painful to write all at the same time. I had to forgive myself every time I recognized where I was the first dad internally. I was also able to feel good when I was a Jedi like a dad number two. The point really is to bring awareness to our actions. The more we can become aware of our triggers and behaviors, the more we can take steps to change. When we change, our kids will naturally follow suit.
Photo by Andrew Seaman via Unsplash