This little guy may reflect the feelings of many on Thanksgiving.
One of the greatest feelings in the world is taking a standing for a friend. “Either men will learn to live like brothers or they will die like beasts.” –Max Lerner
When I played as a kid, getting out was assumed, at least for me. When I started working with children, cooperative games became the focus. I understand the benefits of noncompetitive cooperative games (heck, I teach workshops about them), and last night, I was also reminded of the incredible benefits of getting out.
My seven-year-old son Braden had a Cub Scouts Pack meeting last night. (Those of you who know me well will be shocked that Braden is in Scouts. In another post, I’ll explain how he convinced me to sign-up even though I strongly disagree with one of their policies. ) There were about 35 boys present, ages 6-10. The activity for the evening was basketball. We started with 4 stations; at one station the boys played H-O-R-S-E.
I won’t go into detail about how to play HORSE. If you aren’t familiar, look it up. The main point for this post is that in the game of HORSE, you get out after missing 5 shots (one for each letter in the word HORSE). Like his dad, Braden isn’t basketball star. Even though there are public hoops that we can see from our house, we’ve never gone over to practice our jump shots. Given my lack of fatherly encouragement and coaching, I wasn’t surprised when most of the B-mans shots sailed under, over, beside and past the hoop without touching it.
The other Tiger Cubs weren’t much better, so he didn’t show too much disappointment in his performance until he got out. Now, there are many different ways I could have handled this. I’ve seen many different techniques used to “soften the blow” of getting out in a game. Here are some of the most common.
Since it was my own son I was dealing with, I didn’t choose any of those. After he missed his 5th shot, I told him he was out. He looked at me with a nervous question mark on his face as if to say: What does that mean? I said, “You missed 5 shots, so you’re out of the game.“
I knew this would be hard for him to deal with. It was his first Pack Meeting. He was playing with boys that he barely knew. He hadn’t made any shots, and now he was the first one out. He was embarrassed, and Dad wasn’t helping. Tears came to his eyes. His lips quivered, and he made them tight and sucked them in to keep his emotion from showing. He didn’t want to cry in front of the other boys, so he scooted up to me and stood stiff as a board with his face tucked between my arm and my body.
I let him stand there for a few seconds and squeezed his shoulder. Then I said, “I know it’s disappointing. I used to get out every time when I played horse.” After another few seconds I let him in on they key to getting out gracefully. I leaned down so I could see his face and said, “One of the best things you can do right now is to give one of the other guys a compliment. It will make you feel better. When you’re ready, go over there and do it.” It took him about two seconds to blink away the tears and turn back to the group. As he called out, “Nice shot, Ben!” he ran back over with a smile enjoyed the rest of the activity.
For boys, the art of getting out is learning that there’s no shame in it. It’s not a rejection; it’s part of the game.
Tips for helping boys get out with style:
Here’s the post about crying that I mentioned Wednesday night during the workshop. http://mommasaid.net/2013/11/19/when-the-cry/
Warning: This is kind of heartbreaking, but important to see. It shows 30 seconds of one of those “boot camp my kid” shows. I’m opposed to such shows and think they exploit children for entertainment and financial gain. However, this kid’s answer to the drill sargeant’s question is profoundly revealing and brings the drill sargeant to tears. Dads, mentors, caregivers of boys, don’t let the message slip by you. (You’ll need to turn the volume up)
My son started karate when he was 5 years old. His school, National Karate Arden Hills, has a viewing gallery for parents. The instructors at the school have developed a curriculum they call “Little Masters” that is fun, challenging, and gets the youngest students started with a strong foundation. I guess it worked, because when he was six, only five months into his program, he broke board a board in front of a crowd of people. I think he was almost as shocked as I was.
During the first year, I watched almost every lesson. While watching the lessons, I was able to think about what kind of “karate parent” I wanted to be. I had the opportunity to watch other parents and reflect on their style as well. Sometimes I realized that I was putting on too much pressure and getting too involved. Other times I saw opportunities to intentionally inject some strategic parenting to juice up his performance and take advantage of the growth opportunities karate provides.
This post is the first of three about being a black belt karate parent. In this one, I talk about why you shouldn’t be a ninja parent (aka helicopter parent).
In the next, I’ll share some successfully tested ideas for getting the most out of karate when it comes to social/emotional development and transferring that to home and school.
The last one will wrap up with strategies to harness karate’s potential to help with ADD/HD
Ninja parents are the karate version of helicopter parents. They’re always watching and jump out of hiding to rescue their kid and fight his battles. While I don’t really consider myself a ninja parent, I realized I was starting to act like one when I caught myself making comments from the parent gallery. In hindsight, there are only a couple that I would repeat. These comments are usually a bad idea. Why?
Think back to when you were a kid and your parent stuck his or her nose into you and your friends business. How embarrassing, right? Even if you have a very young child in karate, it’s important to remember that this is a time when he wants to see himself as strong. He may be nervous under the surface or even outwardly, but this is his chance to put his game face on. There’s no better way for me to screw that up than to chime in with advice about how to correct his form or execute his move.
Even “encouragement” isn’t really all that helpful. If he does something good, he already knows it. I need to let him enjoy his moment of accomplishment and soak in the satisfaction that comes with it. If I bust out with all sorts of praise and affirmation (even non-verbal), I run the risk of making my kid’s success dependent on my approval. He can start to always look to me for a thumbs up or thumbs down about everything he does. I’ve learned to save my affirmation for after the lesson and let him relive the moment again in the car on the way home.
I learned this lesson the hard way with my son. I had the bad habit of shooting him a frown during the lesson if he was being lazy or sloppy. I’d also give him a nod if he did something good. He started looking over at me after every move to see what I was thinking. This caused the most problems when he was sparring, because in the moment that it took for him to look over and “check in” with me, his partner usually threw a kick or punch and scored a point. Besides that, he wasn’t rating his own performance and self correcting. He was constantly looking to me.
But what if my young karate kid gets frustrated and starts to cry? What if the instructor is being too hard on him? What if he loses it and gets angry? I observed this a few times with students. For the record, in case someone from the school is reading this, I was impressed with the way the parents responded.
When these situation come up, it’s important to keep in mind that the student/instructor role is a subtle dance, especially in karate. Karate instructors are like coaches, teachers, role models, and trainers all wrapped into one. When they’re working with little kids, they walk the line between pushing and praising. Let your child and his instructor develop their own relationship. It will be something they value. Sometimes instructors might tough on them (just like you). Sometimes they won’t push hard enough. That’s okay. Karate instructors are long-term. Kids often stay with the same teachers for many years. They grow up with them. This kind of long term relationship has GREAT benefits and goes through different seasons at different times. Unsolicited “help” from the parent gallery sends the message to your child that you lack confidence in his or her ability to understand the relationship and grow with it. It sabotages the subtle dance between student and instructor.
I don’t watch every lesson anymore. I stop to observe now and then, so I can be connected and help my son celebrate his achievements. Children learn best when they work out their challenges and solutions themselves. Especially in a karate lessons, they are combining cognitive and physical learning that integrates fine motor, large motor, right brain, left brain activities. It takes time. It can be frustrating; I know because I tried to learn one of my son’s forms. But it’s also very rewarding.
I’m the featured speaker on the Dakota County Technical College Early Childhood and Youth Development blog this month. Follow the link above to hear me talk about boys and emotional development tips.
I love the way this illustrates the desire to rescue children from the small box and share with them the life, energy, spirit, and flow that their hearts, minds and bodies long to find in nature and play.
I came across this brilliant website when I was looking for some fresh activities for my Power of Play workshop. The section on games is especially EXTENSIVE. It’s the kinds of activities that we should be doing with kids and even trying out and modifying with other adults, at work, with our families. This kind of play helps us experience community and remember what it’s like to have fun and feel joyful.
It's back to school time and children all over are starting preschool. Many parents are frantically searching the internet to find out if their little ones are "on track" and know everything they should.
I wrote this article about what a four-year-old should know many years ago but it continues to be the most popular page on the Magical Childhood site.
Only three months to go…
The countdown has begun. We’ve got just under three months to go until the release of our new documentary PROJECT WILD THING.
In conjunction with the film we are be launching THE WILD NETWORK - a new movement made up of people dedicated to reconnecting kids with nature.
Spending time in nature makes children happier.
I just read a blog post from Dan Pearce on his blog Single Dad Laughing. The name of post was “You Just Broke Your Child. Congratulations.” It tells the story of an angry dad he saw at Costco who was emotionally and physically abusing his son while waiting in line. He goes on to give a pretty impassioned exhortation to all of us dads to be present with our kids, understand our impact, and learn to control our emotional lives.
I know there are many of us who have done and said things to our kids that we deeply regret. I know there are many dads out there who would like to do better and be better. If you’re interested in judgment free coaching to improve your skills, get in touch with me.
Braden gave me a calendar for Christmas (he wanted to make sure I mentioned that). It was the Paper Airplane Fold-A-Day Calendar by David Mitchell and Kyong Lee. Today we did the January 12 & 13 page. Arrow, as the design is called, was our fastest plane and best flyer yet.
This calendar is brilliant. It only costs about $15.00 and is a ready go-to activity for playing at home. The image above shows how it looks. You follow the directions on the current day’s page to fold the previous day’s page. Each page is printed with fun colors and neat designs that make the final airplane look really cool.
The image and the link above go to the publisher’s website, but it is also available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Incidentally, the publisher, Accord Publishing out of Denver, CO, looks like the have lots of really neat titles for children.
Here’s what Braden had to say:
Me: What do you like about the calendar?
BK: That you get to make paper airplanes.
Me: Anything else?
BK: That we get to do it together.
Me: Me: Anything else?
BK: It was a Christmas present from me.
Me: If you were going to tell somebody else why they should get one for their dad, what would you say?
BK: Because it’s a nice and quiet thing to do. It’s relaxing. It’s good to do when someone is napping like your little brother so you don’t wake ‘em up.
It’s important to be able to stay in the “parent place” when it happens. Here are some tips and insights that help me.
First, (as always) be self-aware. I use Daniel Siegel’s C.O.AL. acronym for this.
What it feels like “I HATE YOU” means:
It’s important to note that many of my automatic emotional reactions above are fueled by fear, anger, or sadness.
What “I hate you” REALLY means:
Responding during the situation:
Responding after the situation:
Here’s a video from this morning. Love it when the boys make up songs. Cullen is notorious for it. Not exactly sure where the idea came from, which is what makes it so fun.
The importance of a secure parent-child attachment is not a new revelation; this is what sets the foundation for all future relationships a child will have in his life. But there is also something to be said for security between siblings. A connected relationship between brothers and sisters also provides a foundational context. It is an opportunity to develop the groundwork for peer relationships in a child’s life.
I’m an idea guy. Good ideas are exciting to me even if they’re unrelated to my work or interests. I’m also passionate about parenting and child nurture, growth and development. I’ve observed that some people become very ideological about parenting approaches, almost like a religion.
What do I mean? People frequently attach themselves to a certain philosophy, technique, style or personality. Once we find our guru or ascribe to an approach, we evaluate everybody else through that lens.
At this point, we are still on the edge of being thoughtful and reflective parents, caregivers, practitioners. What we do next determines whether or not we go down the rabbit hole into ideological wonderland or stay on the path toward healthy child development.
A contemplative approach to parenting keeps the door open. It appreciates the value of every approach. It rigorously filters the flash of gold from the mud. It recognizes that what triggers aversion likely irritates the raw nerve of our own exposed shadow. That’s often where we will find our learning edge or, more importantly, a wound waiting to heal.
The reflection I read stated: “A great disappointment in our time is that organized religion itself has become more ideological than transformative.” The same can be said for parenting approaches.
We’re at our best as parents when we do our own work first. Helping our children overcome challenges and gain strong life skills follows naturally. It’s a journey toward mutual transformation. When this is true, no single philosophy, approach, or technique will be an exclusive, comprehensive or permanent fit.
It is a happy talent to know how to play.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Creative people are curious, flexible, persistent, and independent with a
tremendous spirit of adventure and a love of play.
- Henri Matisse
The true object of all human life is play.
- G. K. Chesterton
Men do not quit playing because they grow old;
they grow old because they quit playing.
This morning was kind of stressful getting the boys ready and out the door. I feel sad about the less-than-happy energy that we had, so I want to prep something fun for us to do this evening. I have the idea of a scavenger hunt with clues that lead from one place to the next with a surprise at the end.
Since my oldest is in kindergarten and just learning to read, I will use pictures instead of words. I just walked around the house and snapped close-up photos of different locations in the house. I figure that five stops will be enough to make it fun, yet not too long. Also, since it will most certainly destroy the fun factor if my youngest is left in the dust by his older brother, I will prepare two different hunts.
I’ve got my ten photos printed on plain paper, and am about to tuck them in their locations. I’ll show them the first photo. Then they will find that place in the house. Once they get there, another photo will be waiting, and they will go to the next spot. When they get to the last spot, their prize will be waiting for them.
I haven’t decided what the prize will be yet.
Check back to find out how it goes. I’ll report later this evening…(time passes)…
SUCCESSFUL HUNT!! The boys had a blast. Fun to notice the difference between how a six-year-old and a three-year-old recognize places in the house from the photos. It was challenging for little brother. Next time, I’ll use some written clues for our kindergartener.
I watched Star Wars with my oldest son yesterday afternoon after days (maybe months) of requests to do so. Of course, he wanted to play “lightsabers” afterward. I’ve moved past the debate about whether or not this kind of media and follow up play teaches kids to be violent. The jury is in on that topic, and the verdict is: wake up. Children’s physical, social, and emotional development is much more complex than that.
During our follow up light-saber battle (which was postponed until dinner was eaten, dishes were done, and rooms were tidied) I tried to follow my son’s lead as much as possible. I wanted to see where he would go with it. We used Nerf™ brand foam swords, which I love, because they let the boys experience the painful natural consequence of hitting too hard without anyone getting really hurt. Truthfully, there are very few more effective ways to teach gentleness.
If one of us maneuvered past the other’s blocks and made contact with a body part, the “injured” player had to stop using that body part. To get the use of that body part back, we designated the basement step as the goal. We had lots of laughs watching each other hop, creep, slide, and inch our way over to the step.
Tiring of that, my son made a new innovation. After making contact and “cutting off” an arm, leg, butt, etc., the swordsman had to flip the sword over, grab the blade, and “heal” the other player by touching him with the handle of the sword. After being healed, both players resumed full “health” and participation.
How profoundly this one simple rule of play demonstrated the difference between violence and rough-and-tumble play. Violence is vicious, self-serving, and hurtful. Sport and rough-and-tumble play recognize the importance of caring and keeping all players in the game. The wisdom of many traditions teaches that our wholeness is often, sometimes only, found by being wounded. Even more so by healing and being healed.
Mike Collins, Senior Press Officer at the National Trust, on why snowy days are a great opportunity to spend time outdoors.
Whenever it snows I think back to my childhood. Hours spent in the freezing cold with my fingers tinkling as we built snowmen or had snowball fights. Those were the days when memories were made that would last a lifetime.
I was reading Richard Rohr’s Saturday meditation from the Center for Action and Contemplation today and was impressed by how well it complimented what we know to be the best of “current” parenting. Should I be surprised by this? I suppose not since over and over again I’ve found the parallel between the ancient and timeless contemplative wisdom and what we think of as the “new best practices.”
In his reflection “Moralism Instead of Mysticism” Fr. Richard points out that moralism tells us we need to change and “do things right” in order to be loved and accepted. Many of us were parented this way and heard this message in church, school etc. It’s easy for our own children to get this message from us (even if we don’t mean to send it) and the world in which we live, work, and learn.
The contemplative perspective is inspired by the mystics who tell us that “what empowers change, what makes you desirous of change, is the experience of love and acceptance itself. This is the engine of change.” Fr. Richard continues, “when you fall into God’s mercy, when you fall into God’s great generosity, you find, seemingly from nowhere, this capacity to change.”
It’s not much of a stretch to paraphrase the message above and hear the voice of what I’ve come to call contemplative parenting. When we immerse our children in generous acceptance, love, and encouragement, they gain capacity to change, grow, thrive and overcome all of the challenges they face. To use the language of the Nurtured Heart Approach, we nurture their greatness. Present Moment Parenting would say we are downloading positives into their heart. The foundation of the parent coaching I offer, both of these approaches are INCREDIBLY effective with challenging behaviors, including ADHD.
Even parenting approaches that emphasize natural and logical consequences, boundaries, and an authoritative stance are most effective with a foundation of unconditional love, acceptance, and positive regard.
Get in touch if you’re interested in more information about personal or parent coaching.
I’ve been taking an online Eager to Learn professional development workshop through the Minnesota Childcare Resource and Referral Network. The name of the course is Stop It Now! Understanding and Responding to Children’s Sexual Behaviors can Help Prevent Child Sexual Abuse. Stop It Now! is an organization that has developed an innovative approach and many resources to help adults stop child sexual abuse. One of the hallmarks of their program is shifting the responsibility of child sexual abuse prevention from children to adults.
It seems strange that it would be necessary to CHANGE the focus to adults when it comes to preventing sexual abuse. Isn’t that where it should have been all along? On the most basic level, is seems to almost go without saying that it is the job of adults to protect children. But when we think about what has been done in the past, we have been putting a lot of responsibility on kids:
It’s the job of children to play, learn, be curious, pick up their toys, do their homework, help around the house. The job description for being a kid should NOT include the responsibility to figure out how to stay safe from confusing, unpredictable, strategic assaults from under-cover individuals who are disguised as people they love and trust. Can anyone think of a better recipe for child anxiety? It’s absurd almost to the point of daftness to tell kids that there are people out there who we don’t understand that want to do things to them that they have no context or developmental capacity to comprehend, and that it’s their job to know how to be safe.
Somebody will say to me, “Hang on there! Don’t we want to teach children how to be SAFE? We don’t want them to be getting in the car with strangers.” Of course we don’t. But it’s not strangers in black vans baiting children with candy who are the problem. Lets face it: If “those people” have a bead on your kid, they’ll probably succeed. Just ask Shawn Hornbeck, Ben Ownby, or the families of Jacob Wetterling and Johnny Gosch.
Over 90% of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by the respectful, helpful, caring friends, relatives, and neighbors that we come in contact with every day. As much as 30-40 percent of it is perpetrated by other children and youth. Our children’s playmates. Sorting all that out isn’t a job for kids. It’s a job for all of us.
One of the most innovative things about Stop It Now! is the focus on talking to adults about their own sexual feelings and behaviors. As difficult as it might be for us to accept, there are clearly many adults who are sexually attracted to children. Many of them never act on their feelings, and some do. If we truly want to prevent the sexual abuse of children, adults need to let go of naïve denial and start talking to each other about the complex nature of sexual attraction and how to be individually and socially responsible.
If adults don’t have the experience and tools to handle this issue, how can we expect children to have them? If adults find child sexual abuse emotionally uncomfortable and mentally challenging, how must children feel when we tell them to be safe? How confusing must it be for a teen who feels sexually aroused by children who are younger than him or her?
Adults who abuse children have years of experience figuring out how to hide their intentions and desires. The time they have spent living in society and thinking about their desires makes them a predator far overmatched to its prey.
Sniffing out suspicious behavior and intentions is the job of adults who have at least had enough experience to know when something is a little rotten. Taking advantage of Stop It Now! resources can help us to be even better at spotting problems early and responding in a way that helps ALL parties.
I found a great post from a blog called Parenting from Scratch. It hits all the keys that are important to me: brain science, an Adlerian perspective, and most importantly being intentional about parenting in the face of social/peer disapproval. I’ll let you read it from the author by following this link to It’s OK to Cry. One of the thing that I love the most about this perspective is that it doesn’t pamper children, but gives them credit for being able to solve their own problems and the room within which to do it.
Thanks for your great thoughts, Kelly Bartlett.
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.
A hundred always a hundred
ways of listening
of marveling, of loving
a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds
a hundred worlds
a hundred worlds
–Loris Malaguzzi, from No way. The Hundred is There.
My brother-in-law,Ryan, tosses scoops of sand into a mound at the wooded patch we call a beach on the shore of a small lake in Northern Wisconsin. It’s an overcast day at the cabin. Occasional raindrops dot my page, and when they hit the water they make patterns that remind me of solar systems with concentric orbits expanding from the center. It may not seem like an ideal beach day at the cabin, but the water feels warmer than the air, which makes it perfect for digging, packing, building in the sand with our four kids: my two boys, three and five-years old, and their two cousins, girls, also three and five.
There are some clumps of grass in the mound of sand, and my oldest is patting it with a short canoe paddle. “What are you making?” I ask.
“Tell me about your castle.”
“It’s an underground castle ’cause, see, it has grass on it.”
“Wow! I want to hear more about the underground castle.”
“They’re really, like, strong because they are underground. Underground castles are really important because they can’t get broken easy. Water and force fields protect them.”
“Who lives in underground castles?”
“Water people,” he says pointing to the puddles seeping up to fill the bottom of the trench Ryan is digging.
Turning to my son’s oldest cousin I ask her what she thinks about the castle. She tells me that she was thinking it could be a castle for Barbie and Ken and Jasmine and Ariel (you know that Ken, he’s such a lady’s man). As they played, they worked out the dynamics of melding Anya’s ideas with Braden’s. It became a castle that worked for both of them.
I’ll wrap this up with the words of Jerome Bruner taken from the preface of The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation.
Here we were not dealing with individual imaginations working separately. We were collectively involved in what is probably the most human thing about human beings, what psychologists and primate experts now like to call intersubjectivity, which means arriving at a mutual understanding of what others have in mind. It is probably the extreme flowering of our evolution as humanoids, without which our human culture could not have developed, and without which all our intentional attempt at teaching something would fail.
To cultivate it requires an atmosphere of reciprocal respect and support, the type of respect that distinguishes schools that achieve success–like the municipal preschools of Reggio Emilia.
I’ve experienced a lot of benefits from Centering Prayer in the past, both for drawing closer to God and managing the stress. I thought I’d share a couple practical benefits I’ve experienced since starting the 40 day immersion journey (part of the Contemplative Life Program).
First, there’s a time in the evening after Cullen gets up from his nap and before dinner, bath and bedtime when the boys are pretty crazy. I’m prepared for this, and try to be intentional about my response. Sometimes I’m more successfully than others. Yesterday I noticed a new level of control, patience, humor, and grace with the boys.
Second, this week we’ve had a perfect storm of events between getting ready for visits with extended family, preparing for pre-K graduation, jobs for both parents, and my wife’s VERY busy week with the National Lutheran Choir and Chorus America. There were several times when I was surprised by my level of composure, grace, and presence with everyone in times of stress.
When I say I was “surprised by my level…” I’m not taking credit, but rather noticing how the added time in prayer helped me carry that presence into my life and be a better dad and husband.
Many people who practice meditation report the same kinds of results, and there are certainly many similarities between meditation and centering prayer. There are also some important difference, but more on that in another post.
I took the boys to “Free Comic Book” day at Source Comics and Games today. For those unfamiliar with the comic and gaming subculture, this is a big deal. The event has its own website which describes the day like this:
Free Comic Book Day is a single day – the first Saturday in May each year – when participating comic book shops across North America and around the world give away comic books absolutely FREE* to anyone who comes into their stores. *Check with your local shop for their participation and rules.
My brother-in-law introduced me to this event. He’s the geek that I never had the courage to be when I was a kid, and my sons are lucky to have an uncle that’s got the inside scoop on everything super-hero and comic related. I’ve come along for the ride and am getting pretty into the whole adventure. Braden and I have “Justice League Nights” every Tuesday and have watched the complete series a few times by now.
When we arrived at this event, I wasn’t expecting the crowd, and was really surprised by the reaction of my boys. Normally, they’re pretty outgoing and it’s hard to keep track of them. This is even the case with big crowds like at the Minnesota State Fair. But when we hit the ground at Free Comic Book day, they both changed. I wasn’t sure if it was the four-block walk from our eventual parking place or the full-sized real-life superheros that were gathered for pictures near the door, but both of my guys were suddenly very shy. Braden didn’t want to leave my side to take pictures, and Cullen didn’t even want me to put him down. Something had frozen them up like a blast from Iceman.
I noticed that many of the other kids were the same way, and then it hit me. They were star-struck. Sure, if I’d have said “Wow, I think that’s really Wolverine” my five-year-old would have set me straight right away. Even though his experience with the complex kid-social structure is still at the pre-K level, he’s already got an edgy “I’m exasperated with my parents” tone of voice down pretty good. I can almost hear it: “Dad. Come on. It’s just a costume.”
But in spite of that, for this moment, in this place, both of my boys were so nervous that they didn’t even want me to suggest that they get their pictures taken. Sure, they weren’t REAL superheros, but if you get to dress up like one, there must be something pretty awesome about you. On our way to the back of the store to pick up our free comic books, we passed Storm from X-men, Superman, Batman, Loki, Wolverine, Thor, Luke Skywalker, Darth Maul, Princess Leah, a Storm Trooper, Anakin Skywalker, and Spiderman in the black suit.
On our way out, Braden mustered up the courage to get his photo taken with Wolverine. It was at that point that I saw through the crowd, the long walk, the waiting in lines, and tired kids to the blessing that was being bestowed on me by the geeks dressed up in costumes for this event. They made it possible for my boys to understand that it’s okay to keep wonder, imagination, and playfulness alive in a world that forces kids to be grown-up way too young. They were giving my kids the chance to muster-up the courage to have a picture with an imaginary hero. These guys were embracing their own sense of wonder and playfulness to provide something that I couldn’t ever reproduce for my kids. Thanks Wolverine.
When I was little my Dad would tell me “as long as you’re proud of yourself, those that matter will be proud of you also.” One of our daily chores was to do something that made us proud of ourselves, and we talked about it at dinner. Now we do this with our kids.
This idea struck me as a powerful way to help kids learn an internal locus of control. Kids who rely on others to tell them when they are doing a good job don’t develop authentic confidence. Instead, their confidence is always dependent on the praise and affirmation they’re getting from others. Any sense of achievement they get can be stolen if somebody else puts it down or doesn’t affirm it for them.
We want kids to know in their own hearts who they are. While data from outside sources plays a part, they should be their own best critic and encourager. The idea above is a great family ritual that can help kids develop the intrapersonal intelligence and skills necessary to be healthy and confident.
Mommy was out of town, so I and boys Braden (4) and Cullen (1.5) were on our way up to the Shoreview Community Center, which is our favorite place to blow off a bunch of pent-up little boy energy during the winter months. We like to go the big indoor playground since he gym is usually full of too many stray basketballs to make it safe for Cullen to play freely. The boys were getting excited as we drove, and then we passed Flaherty’s Arden Bowl.
“Look Dad, it’s the bowling alley,” Braden observed.
“Yeah…” I started to say and then an idea hit me. “Would you like to go bowling?”
“Do you mean now?” He said, not quite sure what to make of this novel idea.
“Yeah, we could go bowling for a little bit and then go up to the community center.” Braden was kind of shocked in good way. He couldn’t believe I was being so spontaneous. He has only been to a bowling alley once, with all of his older cousins, so the experience still held a lot of wonder and excitement for him. After putting on some cool looking shoes and being given a special 6 pound kid ball, he was ready to go.
We had a great time. Sure, it took his ball a good 5-10 seconds to get down the lane, but he still did a little happy dance every time he knocked a few pins down. Because there was too much room and two many heavy, toe busting balls around to let a one-and-a-half year old go free, I had to bowl with a toddler in one arm and swing a 15 pounder (ball, not kid) with the other.
My score was only slightly higher than Braden’s, but there’s nothing better than having your four-year-old yell, “NICE SHOT DAD!” and give you a high five.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I’d like to be a professional guide in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness leading paddle trips in the summer and cross country ski adventures in the winter.
What was your best experience training professionals?
Presenting Power of Play for the first time at the year 2000 annual MnSACA conference. It was a thrill to be able to share great ideas for helping children develop community and social skills through play, and I got connected with Rick Gravrok and Lisa Walker.
What was your best experience learning?
Starting the School Age Care B.A. program at Concordia University with the B015 cohort. I was so pumped-up that there were other professionals who shared my vision for the out-of-school time professions.
What is your best experience teaching children?
That’s difficult. Here are so many. The first thing that comes to mind was when I created a large, wall sized mural with the third-grade Friendship Connection group in Roseville, MN. They were my first group in School-Age Care, and the excitement, creativity, and fun the kids had with this project was euphoric.
What is your best experience teaching adults?
I’m taking teaching to mean in the classroom, rather than training in workshops. So, teaching, I think it was seeing the light bulbs and satisfaction on the faces of MCTC students as they got in touch with their Strengthsquest Signature Themes and then created final portfolios using those strengths.
Shifting gears a little bit now. Since you have such passion for helping boys understand themselves and grow up healthy, what was the first time you remember being proud of yourself as a boy?
Interesting question. I think it was when I learned to pump on a swing set and keep myself going. It was one of the first times that I remember doing something for myself that I used to have to depend on my parents to do for me.
What is the first time you remember being bullied or teased?
The high school boys on my first grade bus used to steal my hat every day. It was a blue hat with my elementary school’s name on it and a white tassel. They used to say that the tassel was a “lice” (I didn’t know what that meant) and toss it around like it was a hot potato. Then they would hit it and stomp on it. I would try to correct them and tell them it was a tassel, and they thought it was funny that I knew that word and would call me a “gay boy.” I thought gay meant happy, but I was pretty sure they meant something different by the way they were saying it. I don’t remember very many peaceful bus rides, although I wasn’t always the focus of their entertainment.
That’s a pretty vivid memory. Was it traumatic for you?
Honestly, it sounds a lot worse telling about it. I feel more angry about the idea of that happening to one of my own boys than I do about it happening to me. When it happened, I remember feeling sort of scared that I wouldn’t get my hat back because I thought it would have made my mom sad. But I didn’t really feel like I was in danger. I just figured that I’d be at school soon and the bus ride would be over and that I’d be all right. We always want to keep our kids safe, but I think that going through a few experiences like that helps boys become stronger and more secure in the long run, especially if they can return to a safe, caring family context to recharge and process.
You talk a lot about how important it is for dads to understand their emotional world in order to help their sons be emotionally healthy. When was the first time you ever felt angry at your children?
That’s a tough question to think about. I remember feeling frustrated with crying and some of the other things new parents deal with when their babies are really young, but I wouldn’t really call that feeling angry. I remember one time when Braden was about two. My wife and I were playing with him on the bed and he was feeling energetic. He threw his head backwards and smacked me right in the nose. It was a strange experience, because my first reaction was this angry feeling at him for hitting me in the nose, as if he knew what he was doing or tried to do it. It scared me a little that I could have such a visceral reaction to this little kid that I loved so much.
When you shared that story, it reminded me of some of your workshops about emotional intelligence for boys and men.
Yes. It’s absolutely critical for dads and all men to get in touch with where there emotions come from and what they can do with them. We’ve all got a shadow, and if we don’t get to know it and learn how to be friends with it, our emotions and reactions will get the best of us in all areas of our lives. When we develop emotional intelligence, we set ourselves up for success and are able to teach our boys to do the same thing for themselves. Our culture isn’t always a very boy-friendly place. Dads, moms, and caregivers need to help boys learn to understand, respect, and appreciate themselves, their biology, their feelings, and the gifts that come with being a male.