Monday, November 28, 2016
My 19 month daughter spotted a drone in the park today, and she was quite interested. We maneuvered her tricycle towards it and got up close. The man flying the thing brought it over to show it to her, hovering close to the ground. He and I talked a bit, and then he took it up a bit into the air, but still not too far away. The more power he gave it, the louder it got.
A couple moments later, my daughter turned around in her tricycle seat, visibly upset. "Daddy hold you! Daddy hold you!" By the times I got her into my arms, her face was quivering with fear.
There are two well-intended ways I could have handled this situation.
(1) "You don't have to worry about this drone. It isn't going to hurt you. Look, the man has it and it won't come any closer. I know it's loud but the loudness can't hurt you. It's just loud."
(2) "I gotcha. Let me pick you up. I want you right here safe in my arms. I am so sorry that you got scared. That loud noise is scary isn't it? Well, you know what, I'm going to keep holding you and we're going to walk away from it. You can keep watching it but we are going to get away. I gotcha. That drone was scary wasn't it? It was exciting too but very loud and scary. But, don't worry, I gotcha. I'm not going to put you down. Let's keep walking and look at it from far away."
The first reply was a very well intended one that has been issued by many parents, especially fathers. We want to try to help dissipate the fear by rationally explaining to our son or daughter about why they don't need to be afraid of something. However, the reality is that our child at the age of 19 months hasn't even grown most of their cognitive brain by this point, so it's almost like it's going in one ear and out the other.
The second reply is meeting our child right where they're at. By first creating a sense of safety with them, we help them to calm down right away. In this case, I took my daughter into my arms and right out of the situation. That already began to help calm her. The second thing I did was to help her identify her feeling with a word. I know it might seem hard to believe, but a 19 month old can probably identify "scary" even if they can't produce the word. In any case, they know you are giving them a word to name their feeling, and moreover, they feel like you are connecting with them intimately.
Thus, the child of the second parent knows they have been made safe, feel emotionally connected, and have been given a word to name the feeling they are experiencing. John Gottman's research, among others, shows that this is one of the best ways to help a child learn how to regulate their own emotions in the future, in addition to the moment ("How to Raise an Emotionally Intelligent Child" p. 93).
It might sound counter-intutitive, but the child who receives safety, comfort, and emotional connection will ultimately grow up to a higher level of emotional stability and self-soothing. They will fear less in general, or at minimum, they will learn how to sooth themselves via self or others when they do feel fear. Also, in a counter-intuitive way, the child of the parent who tries to explain away their fears will wallow in their fears much longer and more frequently over time, unable to learn how to calm down in future situations. The parent in scenario is well meaning, but will not be successful in helping their child grow emotionally or learn how to problem solve very well.
(photo taken from flickr creative commons with permission from Richard Unten at https://www.flickr.com/photos/unten44/)
Thursday, November 17, 2016
In general, heterosexual dads struggle to find meaningful, emotionally close relationships with other dads, or other men for that matter. Although a lot has changed over the past fifty to a hundred years, it is still a norm that men struggle to find emotionally close relationships with other men. As dads, the stakes are even more crucial because the research is clear that dads who are emotionally connected to others will, in turn, become more emotionally available to their kids and/or their spouses and partners (Gottman, Raising and Emotionally Intelligent Child). Our kids, partners, and families reap the benefits in their own lives.
For dads who are emotionally connected to themselves and others, we have an opportunity to form same sex partnerships with other dads in order to influence and support one another in raising our children. In my particular situation, my wife is my closest ally, but I and others need emotional connection with other dads in our various communities. Many men who fought in World War II reported that their relationships with the other men in their units were lifetime friends. This is the sort of thing that we need to be going for in forming same sex partnerships with other men and groups of men in our lives.
I recently started up a book club for dads, and we are reading Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman, Ph.D. This is an opportunity I have to fight for the emotional well being of myself and other dads in my community. In addition, it benefits my daughter and my wife. My desire is to continue to be in the business of forming same sex partnerships with other dads as we fight for the emotional well-being of our families.
Two things you can do: Look for dads' groups on Facebook or Meetup.com, or maybe you are part of a faith community that has such a dads' or men's group. If you are an entrepreneur of sorts, then start one up in your area. It is these sorts of same sex partnerships that we need in order to influence one another and influence our children and families for the better. The research is very clear that an emotionally connected life on our part and the part of our children leads to more fulfilled lives for them and for us.
If you would like to start a Dads' Book Club or any other type of dads' group in one of your communities or networks, then please feel free to contact me for support.
(photo taken with permission from flickr creative commons by Mike Maguire at https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikespeaks/)
Wednesday, November 2, 2016
The research* is very clear that when we focus on healthy, vibrant adult relationships with our spouses, partners, or other adult friends in our communities that our kids feel safe and secure. When our kids feel safe and secure, they are able to develop more deeply in the ways of emotions and cognitive skills. Once a kids feels emotionally safe and secure, they are able to relax, thus freeing their hearts and minds.
Why would our kids feel more safe and secure when we focus on having close relationships with other adults? The reason is because our kids aren't meant to be our primary sources of emotional support. If we make our kids out to be our whole world, then they feel the pressure to be adult sources of emotional support for us. In this way they feel unsafe and thus become less able to grow emotionally and cognitively.
The best way to bring strength to our children in this area is by developing close relationships with other adults in our family or our communities. When our kids see us intentionally relating to other adults to meet our emotional needs, then they feel less pressure to try to do so with us. Ultimately, this allows them to focus on their own play, growth, and emotional and cognitive development.
As parents, this can be extremely difficult. We live in a demanding world with high expectations on our time and resources. Sometimes, we get home from work and just don't have time for anything else except our kids. Believe me, I totally get that.
The other difficulty is that many of us as parents are single, divorced, or our spouses and partners aren't emotionally available for us to get deeper relationships with. On that note, John Gottman's* research points out that even if we try to have good relationships with our ex-spouses or ex-partners that it helps our kids to feel safer. And, doesn't that make sense? Regardless of divorced or ex-status, our kids feel safer when their parents are trying to have a good relationship.
Getting back to the business of our lives, the reality is that we have to seek out adult relationships where we can build community. The smallest community is a group of two, of course. That could be working on our relationship with our spouses and partners or our ex's, or it could be that none of that is available, in which case, we need to take it out a step further. Finding adult connection at play date groups at the local library, school parents, soccer parents, meetup.com groups of any variety, faith group communities, or even our neighbors can be places to find these people. Sometimes, finding a good therapist is a good start.
All of this unfortunately, takes work. We've got to stick our hand out and say, "Hi, nice to meet you." It takes effort. It certainly is for me. However, what I know is that not only is it good for me, but it is good for my wife and kids.
My wife is really good at doing this. She's on all these Facebook groups and ends up going on walks and play dates. I think she has at least half-a-dozen women that she connects with in this way. In fact, "Buy Nothing" has even been a source of connection.
Parks are another source of connection. I've been promoting my Dads' Book Club recently, and to be honest, it takes a lot of work to promote something like this. About every other day, I'm at the park on the top of my hill with my daughter and if I see a dad or a mom, I'm talking up the book club with them, handing out fliers. Recently, I met a mom and told her about Dads' Book Club. She gave the flier to her husband and he's planning to attend! Moreover, I set her up for a play date with my wife and they met up at the park. The other night, the six of us (dads, moms, and two kids) went trick-or-treating together. It was a great first date, so to speak.
We have no idea how the relationship will continue, but one thing our kids know is that we are pursuing adult support systems in front of them. The more they know that they don't have to provide the primary source of emotional support to us, the safer they feel, and the more free they feel to play, growing emotionally and cognitively.
Do you have an adult in your life who is a primary source of emotional support for you? If not, then looking for one, two, or three in your life could be one of the best things you could do for your child's emotional and cognitive development.
Finally, if you are a dad in the Seattle area, consider joining Dads' Book Club. If you are interested in participating, then like the webpage so that you can keep updated on our meetings.
*John Gottman, Ph.D. & Kenneth Adams, Ph.D. are good sources among many.
(Photo taken from flickr creative commons with permission from Scott Robinson at https://www.flickr.com/photos/clearlyambiguous/)