Keeping Your Kids In Mind

What can you do as a father to strengthen your relationship with your kids? How can you make the limited time you have with them as meaningful as possible? Here are three gift ideas to consider.
Mark Brandenberg, MA, CPCC

The gift of discipline
The term discipline is often misunderstood. It comes from the Latin word "discipulus" and means a follower of truth, principle, or a venerated leader. Disciplining your kids doesn't mean punishing them.

Your kids won't learn to follow truth and principle when they're being punished. They'll learn to resent you and learn the principle that "might makes right." In the case of fathers who strike or spank their kids, your kids will learn to fear you. Is that really what you want?

A more effective way of disciplining your kids is to model self-control yourself and to utilize time outs. The use of time outs is not a method of punishment, it's an opportunity for your child to work through their feelings and to be ready to resume their activities.

Using time outs in a non-punitive way fosters security in your kids by teaching them that when they can't control their feelings, their parents will keep them safe.

My children taught me the ineffectiveness of punishment years ago when I would tell them to "sit here" for their time out. They would sit down for a brief moment and then they'd get up and go somewhere else. Were they defying me or were they incorrigible?

No, they were just saving face and asserting their own power of choice. After awhile I gave up this battle; it wasn't that much fun to run after them and catch them, anyway! Your kids need firm boundaries that are enforced consistently and lovingly. They need limited choices. They don't need to be punished.

The gift of acceptance
While it's true that fathers are improving in the area of acceptance of their kids feelings, there is still work to be done for most fathers.

One of the most important things a father can do is to accept and try to understand their child's feelings. Psychologist Haim G. Ginott, who wrote the popular book, Between Parent and Child, wrote "When children are in the midst of strong emotions, they cannot accept advice or consolation or constructive criticism. They want us to know what is going on inside of them."

For you fathers out there who'd like to improve -- it helps your kids when you're aware of what they're feeling! Even when you don't know what they're feeling, fake it! In other words, "Would you stop crying right now!" is probably not effective. "You seem really sad right now," would be a much more effective response.

It may be helpful to remember that kids' brains are not as well-equipped to control emotions as ours are. What they need is parents who try to understand and who accept their emotions -- no matter how unreasonable they may seem to you.

Fathers don't have to agree with their kids feelings. To be a more effective father, you just have to make an effort to be "with them" in their feelings. A simple statement ("that must be upsetting for you") can mean all the difference in the world.

On the other hand, demanding that your kids change their feelings or stop feeling a certain way is guaranteed to create more distance between the two of you. It also reflects on your own insecurity and increases the chances of your child becoming upset again. What seems like a more effective choice to you?

The gift of time
We live in an unusual time. Never before have fathers been as busy at work and at home. There are still alarming statistics that come out about the state of the American family, in particular when fathers are not involved in family life.

For instance, according to the Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, teenagers watch an average of 21 hours of television a week. By contrast, they spend only 35 minutes per week talking with their fathers.

The gift of time to your children is beyond measure. And while it's essential to spend some time in self-care for your own mental health, there are few fathers who couldn't afford to give up at least one thing each week for their family. How about you? A round of golf, a TV show, a night of cards with the boys? Fathers will do well to remember the words of so many other parents who talk about how fast the time goes with their kids. You'll have plenty of opportunities to play cards when your kids are gone.


recommended for you