RSS

Tag Archives: boys

Be a Better Mirror

Red Head Sad squareRed Head Happy Background 2 squareWhat’s the difference between these two boys? Yes, this is a shameless trick question. On the surface, they have a different mouth and background. One looks happy, the other a little sad. The REAL reason I asked this question is because there’s another less obvious but more significant difference: Me.

I made these drawings when my wife was recently out of town for a week…in Hawaii. The boys and I were not in Hawaii. We were at home…in Minnesota. In January. Minnesota and Hawaii have the ability to create different moods in people, especially in January. Add in a very busy week full of long hours, solo parenting, and science fairs my stress level went up a few points.

By the end of the week, I realized that the look on my boy’s faces had changed too. Sure, they missed their mom, but I knew that wasn’t the most significant factor. I had let my stress, low energy and winter blues get the best of me. My boys were mirroring the expression they were seeing from me. No only that, they were taking on my mood as well.

When children and youth see a steady stream of adult expressions that are moody, depressed, frustrated, stressed and in general less than happy, it sends a non-verbal message. Non-verbal messages are powerful for boys, especially when they come from men. They can easily internalize the belief that it’s “manly” to be frustrated, over-concerned, controlled by circumstances and in general less than happy.

The good news is that we don’t need to leave it that way. We can be a better mirror. We can model self-awareness. We can choose our response to our circumstances. We can show with our actions that, even though life isn’t always easy, our mood is our choice. We can make a joke. Crack a smile (if it feels unnatural, you need to practice it more). Be playful. If you’ve forgotten how, just lay down on the floor in the middle of the living room. If you’ve got little boys around they’ll remind you.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 8, 2015 in Present Moment Parenting

 

Tags: , , ,

Ninja dad wins by quitting

bo 2 Joshua KoeppLast night at karate Braden had a big win. It wasn’t against another kid, nor was it by breaking a board. For me, it was even better than that, because it reflected a parenting achievement as well. The interesting thing about this achievement was that it came from me taking myself OUT of the picture. Here’s the story.

I have posted about being a Ninja Parent and Perfectionist Dad in the past. Both of these were mistakes I made that I tried to remedy. At Braden’s karate lessons, I had been making too many comments and giving too many looks when he would make mistakes. Yes, I knew better, but sometimes we all get caught up in the moment.

I clearly saw the negative effects of my critical eye in the way Braden performed. He constantly looked over at me to see if I was happy or unsatisfied with him.

His frequent glances cost him. He lost sparring points and got punched and kicked when he looked over to see my reactions. During form practices, he missed instructions, got distracted and lost his spot.

In the Perfectionist Dad post I explained how difficult it can be for kids when nothing is ever good enough for their parents. It’s easier if we can pick one bite-sized goal to work on. I had done this with Braden and usually asked him in the car what HIS goal was for the lesson. I did not to judge or evaluate. It was his goal, not mine.

However, we still had the problem with dad distraction whenever I came to watch. His teacher commented on it one day when he performed far below his skill level: “Braden, one day you won’t need to look at your dad because you’ll already know what he thinks when you do your techniques.”

I decided to back off even more. We created a hand signal together. When he sparred or did forms, I would subtly shade my eyes with my hand like a visor. For him, this meant, “Don’t look at me.” For me, it meant, “No comments—verbal or nonverbal.” If he looked, he would see the reminder. He should focus on his moves, his targets, and the instructor. Nothing else. I even stopped asking him about his goals. I had to let it go.

Last night, I stayed at the lesson, and was amazed by his focus. He practiced a new, very complex form with the bo staff and made several mistakes. Still, he kept his eyes forward and made corrections according to Mr. Carnahan’s instructions. I didn’t say anything at the moment, but when we got home, I mentioned it.

His answer: “THAT was my goal.”

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 18, 2014 in Present Moment Parenting

 

Tags: , , , ,

Here’s one way to truly “man up.”

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 1, 2014 in Present Moment Parenting

 

Tags: , ,

Dads, Sons, Discipline and Adrian Peterson

dad son talkI’m a little late to the Adrian Peterson discussion, and that’s probably good timing. The media frenzy has settled a little bit, and we’re left with the more productive work of reflecting on ourselves.

First, let me say that this is not a rant against Adrian Peterson. Primarily, this post is going to be about fathers and the unique role we have in disciplining (word chosen intentionally) our sons.

I think it’s impossible for men to understand childbirth. Not just because of the pain involved, but also because of the brain and body chemicals present during labor and throughout the entire time a mother is carrying her baby. To a lesser degree, I think there are aspects of the father-son bond and discipline relationship that are very unique. Some of it seems alien and incomprehensible if you haven’t experienced it first-hand.

Just in case you were getting worried, let me say up front that I do not defend or excuse whipping a four-year-old boy repeatedly until he bleeds or punching a child in a car seat. That’s not discipline.

Let’s talk about terminology. In child development circles, the term “discipline” isn’t popular anymore. It has largely been replaced with “guidance.” Guidance accurately describes what great teachers, coaches, youth workers and many others who care about children engage in on a daily basis. There are all sorts of trendy and effective ways to do this. A few of my favorites are Jane Nelson’s Positive Discipline and Jim and Charles Fay’s Love and Logic.

The word “discipline” has taken on a negative connotation. It generates thoughts of punishment like spanking, whipping, switching, isolation, withholding needs, causing pain, physical abuse and in extreme cases causing severe bodily harm, even death.

In truth, discipline isn’t any of these things. I believe that healthy discipline is one of the most positive, affirming, and life-giving things a son can experience from a dad. True discipline is the core of what the father-son relationship is all about. In fact, for boys, I will go as far as to say that it is what sons want MOST from their dads. Let me explain.

Discipline provides the skills and strength we need to succeed. Discipline shows you a vision of your best and encourages you to get there. Discipline breaks an impossible goal into manageable steps. When we’re living and behaving in ways that hurt others and ourselves, discipline gets in our face and says, “Enough!” When we are slacking at life, discipline kicks us in the butt. When we disrespect others and ourselves, discipline holds a mirror in our face and says, “YOU are better than THAT.”

The father-son relationship is a rare container for discipline. When a dad does it right, the power it holds for a boy is incredible, thrilling and transformational. It can refine and support you like nothing else can. It gives you the courage to do anything.

On the flip side, the pain it carries when a dad drops the ball on this sacred role is devastating. Hurtful words from a father or father figure are searing. Neglect is withering. Abusive, torturous actions can send boys to a very dark place. I’ve been with boys who were there, and cried for ones who couldn’t see their way out.

Any time we, as fathers, choose abuse, fear and rage, we risk sending our kids down that road. It’s an awful exchange. It’s like losing our home to the bank when we have a winning lottery ticket in our back pocket.

When we use violence to train our kids it’s like trying to slice cheese with a chainsaw. It doesn’t do a very good job and makes a horrible mess of things.

None of us had perfect fathers. Some of us had rotten ones. The good news is that no matter where we start from, there are plenty of people and resources out there that can help us get better. There’s always room to grow. Contact me if you want a few ideas.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 25, 2014 in Contemplative Parenting

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Cullen, 4, wants to be a…

CullenDadJump1:50 P.M.        Me: “Existentialism can help you figure out what gives you the will, the drive, the courage to continue pushing through all of the challenges you’ll face during your college journey. That’s what experiential values, creative values, attitudinal values, transcendent values are all about. That’s why you’ll tell me about them in Assignment 2…”

(Must wrap-up lecture. Cullen’s pre-K graduation. Must leave by 2:00)…

1:55 P.M.        Student: “Professor did you get my email…?”

1:59 P.M.        Me: “I’ll be sure to look at that grade again…”

2:01 P.M.        Walking to parking ramp. On the road soon.

2:45 P.M.        Ms. Ann: “Next we have Cullen…”

Today, I had the pleasure to attend Cullen’s graduation from Roseville Friendship Connection’s Jump Start to Kindergarten program. I went to Braden’s ceremony two years ago and wrote a post about the importance of rituals. This time, however, the change hit me a little harder.

Cullen was born early, and it wasn’t an easy road for him or my wife. I took a leave from work, and we decided, because of the shape our lives had taken, that I would stay home with the boys and not return to full-time career life.

I moved into the wonderful and challenging world of being a full-time dad. Honestly, I find that term disingenuous. Sarah also became a full time mom, AND she worked full time. While some don’t think it’s possible, I know that many dads and moms work full-time AND parent full-time. But I do believe there is an experiential difference when you are not committed to a full time job.

I say experiential very intentionally. There was a difference in my EXPERIENCE, not in the quality, the significance, nor the emotional investment between me and other fathers and mothers. It was different…different because I’m a man, and male culture attaches a lot of meaning to careers. It was different because I was frequently figuring-out my next paycheck. It was different because I’m unique, just like all of us.

Today, however, I didn’t think about the differences. Instead, I thought about how happy I was to have enjoyed the gift of the last five years with my boys. It was wild. It was joyful. It was frustrating. It was rewarding. We were real.

It all came together when Ms. Ann called Cullen up for his certificate and reported the 2 things he said he wanted to be when he grew up.

“Next, we have Cullen. He wants to be a doctor when he grows up and a DAD.”

I couldn’t have asked for a better endorsement.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on June 12, 2014 in Present Moment Parenting

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Boys: Testosterone and Emotional Repression

9947161_sIn Wave Riders we talk about boys, testosterone, and the effect it can have on their emotions and actions. It shouldn’t be minimized, and Noah Brand, an Editor-at-Large at Good Men Project, explains his take on it below. Follow this link to read the full post Five Important Things Women Don’t Know About Men

 

Short version: testosterone is a hell of a drug. Those who’ve taken it as adults as part of a gender transition tend to report intense cravings for physical catharsis, flashes of inexplicable rage, and similar effects. And that’s taking it on purpose, knowing that it’s a drug, with an adult level of brain development and emotional maturity. Now imagine that happening to you without warning when you’re thirteen and have no idea what’s going on.
 
Almost every adult man walking around spent at least part of his adolescence dealing with sourceless, purposeless anger and a desire for violent catharsis. It’s like having a little devil on your shoulder constantly making the same unhelpful suggestion.
 

“I don’t know how I’m going to deal with this test Friday, I can’t cope.”

“Have you considered… VIOLENCE?”

“Shut up, shoulder devil, nobody asked you. Hmmm, what do I want for lunch…”

“Have you considered… VIOLENCE?”

“Shoulder devil that is NOT EVEN A FOOD.”

And so on. We spend years learning that our immediate emotional responses to things are absolutely not to be trusted. The first response to an emotional impulse must be to ignore it and repress it, just for safety. The men who didn’t learn that reflex? They’re the ones with criminal records for assault.
 
Once we mature out of adolescence, the hormones calm down and we’re fine, but by that point the cultural conditioning has been drilled in beyond repair, a million repetitions of “man up” and “crying is for girls” and on and on and on. What was a safety precaution in high school becomes a socially mandated norm.
 

 

The message to stuff emotions starts long before the teen years in early childhood with dire consequences long term. In Wave Riders we talk about how we can help boys understand and appreciate the full spectrum of their own masculinity and unique style.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on May 7, 2014 in Present Moment Parenting

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Feedback on Wave Riders: Nurturing Boys for Emotional Health

Joshua KoeppThe 5 week online offering of Wave Riders: Nurturing Boys for Emotional Health just concluded and I thought I’d share one of the final reflections I received.  If you’re interested, the course will be offered again in November. Here’s the Eager to Learn Link.

Reflecting on this course it is wonderful the amount of information that was covered in such a sort time period. I feel I have gained a greater understanding of what makes boys, boys. I am more comfortable talking to boys about their emotions and helping them process their emotions. Lastly I have a more concrete understanding of emotion intelligence.

During this course I learned about the difference in brain development between girls and boys. This has been very useful and was very meaningful to me. Having the knowledge that boys brains develop differently helps to have an understanding on why they behave the way they do sometimes.

The verbiage I learned from this class has been very beneficial to the boys and has helped give them the words to describe their emotions. The boys in my care seem to understand their own emotions more and are improving on being able to label their emotions. I also feel more comfortable with my overall knowledge on emotional intelligence, what tools to use in supporting boys’ emotional health and regulating emotions. I can see that my comfort with discussing emotions is passing on to the boys in my care. They are becoming more comfortable with handling their own discussions.

Reflecting on the class and the learner goals I set for myself, I believe we covered all of them with this class! I can now identify how boys are “programmed” and what causes them to behave the way they do. I learned tools/tips to use when managing boys and their behavior. I know how to support boys to process their emotions and to support them with their emotional health.

I really enjoyed this class. It was helpful to have a variety of people in class to network with. Hearing other providers and teachers experiences is nice to know I’m not alone. I felt the structure of the class was smooth and the content/material was very useful. I am thankful I participated in this class.

 
 

Tags: , , , , ,