Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Things Our Dads Teach Us When They Aren’t Even Looking

Many thanks to Parkland Life Magazine for allowing us to reprint this article that I wrote for their June 2013 issue.

My dad taught me things about life when he wasn’t even looking.  He wasn’t consciously teaching.  He was simply being who he was, going about his day.  He didn’t know that I was looking and learning.  I had no idea of the breadth and depth of what I learned from my dad until I became an adult.  His teachings filled my life when I became a parent. 

Some of his best lessons took place when he was doing his favorite things, like driving the boat down the Crystal River, cooking his special breakfast for the family or lying in bed on a Sunday morning reading the paper.  At those times, he had a focused yet pleased look on his face, like everything had come together in that moment and was exactly as it was supposed to be.  Those were some of my favorite memories of my dad as well as my earliest exposures to what Eckhart Tolle talks about in the Power of Now.  Daddy had no idea he was teaching me about flow and being present.  He thought he was just cooking breakfast and watching the water in front of the bow.   

My colleague Jane Sisoian of Positive Solutions for Children and Families [www.positivesolutionsinfo.com] has had similar experiences.  Her favorite memories of her father are when he would take her fishing.  He would help her put the live worms on the fish hook and they would patiently wait for a fish to come along and bite.  Jane said, “His patience, kindness and positive attitude are the qualities he had that made him so special.  It is those qualities that have helped me in my adult years to be a better mom and teacher.”  Jane’s own patience, kindness and positive attitude have influenced the children in her third grade classroom, her own children and the adults who participate in her Redirecting Children’s Behavior™ course.  I would go so far as to say that her dad even influenced the name of her company!

The biggest lesson from my dad was about responsibility.  He never talked with me about being responsible.  He demonstrated it daily.  He finished everything that he started.  He always happily assisted others.  He took pleasure in doing a good job, and he appreciated that quality in those around him.  He persevered.  He always went the extra mile and gave 110 percent.  That was who he was.

In All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Robert Fulghum wrote about the people in our lives who “teach us, bless us, encourage us, support us, uplift us in the daily-ness of life.”  We don’t tell these people about their influence.  They never know.  And we are that person to the people in our own lives, too.  Fulghum said, “There are those who depend on us, watch us, learn from us, take from us.  And we never know.  Don’t sell yourself short.  You may never have proof of your importance, but you are more important than you think.”

On this Father’s Day – and every day – I am grateful for the lessons my dad taught me when he wasn’t even looking.  Right now, dads everywhere continue this tradition, and their children are watching and learning.  In those moments – especially those filled with the wonderful, stillness of being – dads are teaching precious life lessons.  My wish for you, dads, on this Father’s Day, is to experience at least a glimpse of how valuable and influential you are just by being who you are.  There is so much going on when you aren’t even looking!    

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Wonderful Results of Saying "Yes"

Around the time that your child began talking or walking, did you notice that a key component of your vocabulary was the word "no"?  “No, don’t touch that!” “No, I am on the phone!” “No! Stop grabbing things.” “No cookies before dinner!”  Saying "no" gets old as you begin to feel like the barrier between your child and his desires while you repeatedly deny him what he wants. Saying "no" has some other down sides as well.  It really doesn’t give your child useable information, and it sets up your relationship as adversarial rather than supportive.  Imagine your relationship with someone who repeatedly said "no" to your requests.  How to resolve this?  Begin saying “yes”!

This doesn’t mean you become a doormat saying “yes” to every request your child makes.  It means you set healthy limits and find the “yes” in your “no”.  You then give your child useable information while modeling cooperation rather than setting up power struggles.

If your child asks for a cookie before dinner, find the “yes” by acknowledging him and then following with a limit or a choice.  You might say, “Wow, a cookie would be delicious.  After dinner, would you like a peanut butter cookie or a chocolate chip cookie?”  You have side-stepped the power struggle and acknowledged his desire. 

If your child grabs a toy from another child, rather than saying, “No, we don’t grab!” practice saying something like, “I see you really want to play with that toy.  Jane is playing with it now.  Do you want to play with it when she is finished or pick another toy?”   There are many lessons in that positive response, and both you and your child will be on the same team. 

If your child touches things in the store or picks up breakable or unsafe objects at home, reduce the “drama” and big energetic charge by calmly saying, “You must like that necklace, vase, toy, fill in the blank [while you gently retrieve it and put it back].  That is something we look at.”  It helps to “prepare your environment”, as Maria Montessori advised, by having fragile or unsafe objects up high enough where young hands cannot reach them.  In the store, let him know that those bright, shiny things do not belong to you and request that he use his eyes for looking rather than his hands for touching. 

Practice saying “yes” with others.  If your husband says, “Let’s go on a camping trip to Montana” and camping is not your cup of tea, respond with something like, “I love your idea of a trip!  Let’s talk about all the places we could stay and visit!”  That opens the conversation and is the beginning of an exciting adventure.  Notice how different the feelings and results of the reply “No, I hate camping” would have been, totally shutting your husband down and ending the discussion. 

The results you experience from saying “yes” will be a more cooperative relationship with your child, fewer power struggles, and a warmer feeling in your heart.  Say “yes” to yes!   

Monday, March 17, 2014

Check the Balance in Your Emotional Bank Account

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey talks about the concept of emotional bank accounts or trust accounts that you have with the people in your life.  Sean Covey, Steven’s son, refers to them as “relationship accounts” in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens.  Noticing the balance in your emotional bank accounts with your spouse and with your children is a terrific way to keep your relationships connected and to make repairs for any disconnects.  Teaching your children about these accounts is a wonderful tool for their life skills tool box.

You have an emotional bank account or trust account with everyone that you know.  Just like an actual bank account, the balance in your emotional account can be influenced by debits and credits.  Debits can include yelling, ignoring, minimizing, using sarcasm, rescuing, name calling, talking about someone behind her back, and fighting.  Deposits can include making eye contact, listening, physical affection, words of affirmation or endearment, gifts, time spent with someone, and acts of service.  The higher the balance, the more trust and closeness you create.  The higher the balance, the greater the buffer to your account when you happen to be human and yell, don’t listen intently, or forget to do something that you agreed to do.

If the amount of cooperation you are receiving from your daughter is low, check out the balance in your trust account with her.  It is probably low or over-drawn.  For example, if someone has ignored you – maybe he didn’t return your phone call or she failed to reply to a question in an e-mail or he pretended to listen while he was actually focused on something else – are you more or less likely to be cooperative with him?  When you imagine that happening over a long period of time, you can see the impact on your emotional bank account.  Over time, the small things – listening to your spouse talk about a difficulty at work, making eye contact when your child walks in the door from school, or fixing that flat tire on her bike – make the biggest difference in your relationships.

The balance in your emotional bank accounts is a great barometer to measure the closeness and cooperation in all of your relationships.  Make it a practice to check your account balance every week with the significant people in your life, and have fun adding deposits.  You will experience a wonderful return on your investment!    

Monday, January 6, 2014

Heart Felt

Pema Chödrön, author of Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living, said, “When you begin to touch your heart or let your heart be touched, you begin to discover that it's bottomless, that it doesn't have any resolution, that this heart is huge, vast, and limitless. You begin to discover how much warmth and gentleness is there, as well as how much space.”  From that space, parenting takes on a new dimension – one that creates connection, authenticity, and joy.

It is through your willingness to open your heart that you develop your capacity for empathy.  With empathy, you will most likely listen more and judge or criticize less.  You will enthusiastically get behind your daughter’s desire to play the violin or dance or write a novel.  You will sensitively take time for yourself, guide your children to do the same and maintain more balance in all aspects of your life.  With deeper empathy, you will probably feel safe enough and curious enough to take a glimpse inside at the beliefs that are very powerful influences both in your daily decision-making and in the course of your life.

With empathy, you are able to understand how your child feels in response to you.  If your child tells you he doesn’t like it when you yell at him, you are able to say, “When I yell at you, like I did this morning, that must make you feel hurt.”  With empathy, you feel the depth of his hurt.  As we expand our capacity for empathy, we become more loving.  Pamela Dunn, President of Your Infinite Life Training and Coaching Company, says “Love is the only thing that can transform, and fear is simply a product of not acknowledging our innate magnificence in any given moment.”   How do you drop the fear, expand your heart, and gain more empathy?

One way is to look at your relationship with your children from the inside out.  Pam suggests that rather than looking at a relationship from a place of need, meaning looking at what we want someone to give us or how we want the other person to be, that we look at what we bring to the relationship. 

With your children, instead of looking at what you want your children to give you – obedience, respect – or what you want them to be – smart, creative, honest – begin looking at what you bring to the table as a parent.  What can your children count on you for?  Let them know that they can count on you to be clear in your requests, willing to listen, willing to spend time with them, dependable, truthful or whatever qualities are important to you.  Then consciously practice what you have chosen in your daily life.  Practice being clear in making requests, practice listening, and spend more time with your child.

Check out what you are finding most challenging with your child right now.  It could be that you wish your child were more focused, more responsible, more sensitive or more trustworthy.  Pick the biggest challenge and then YOU bring that quality to the relationship.  If your biggest complaint about your son is that he is not reliable, then consciously bring reliability to your relationship.  If you wish your daughter honored limits, begin honoring more limits.  If you wish your child were more cooperative, find ways to cooperate more with others.  You will find yourself modeling what you desire for your child as well as becoming more empathetic.  And if you are desiring obedience from your child, is that really something you would like to take on?  I think not!  You can let that one go!   

As Pam says, “Love is the only thing that transforms.”  By looking at your relationship with your child from a place of empathy – from your heart – the transformation will begin!