The Unique & Special Role of Dads

“Fathers are far more than just ‘second adults’ in the home. Involved fathers bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring.” Dr. David Popenoe

Happy Father’s Day! If you follow my blog you know that I support and conduct research on the importance of fathers. Fathers play a fundamental and profound role in their child’s development. Over the years, our culture has shifted from one where fathers were the breadwinners and mothers were the caretakers to one where fathers want to be more involved in the nurturing and caretaking aspects of childrearing.  Still, fathers bring their own twist to caretaking, one that is found to have a positive impact on their child’s thinking, psychological well-being, and social behavior. Let’s look at one of the things that make dads so special, PLAY!

Dads spend a much higher percentage of their time engaged in playful, stimulating, one-on-one activities with their children.  How does that impact their development? From the very beginning, play is essential to a child’s cognitive development. According to psychologist Jean Piaget, an infant’s mental development begins by using his/her senses and motor activities to interact with the environment.  Lying on their stomach, touching a mobile, and playing with their toes add to their knowledge of the world. As children get older, they add imitation and language to playful interactions. By the time they are teens, they do a variety of activities with their dad.  They may wrestle, shoot hoops, ride bikes, go to movies, play ball, go out to dinner together, frequent the ice-cream shop, or go on road trips. Dads pay attention to what their kids like to do and then they DO IT with them!

dad&teen

However, play does much more then make children smarter. Play teaches them how to regulate their feelings and behavior.  For example, wrestling with dad is a fun way to develop self-control.  Through this type of roughhousing, children learn they can be physical and aggressive without loosing control of their own emotions. Self-control leads to prosocial behavior and positive interactions with adults and peers. Finally, fathers are much more likely to promote independence and achievement.  This is often balanced by a mother’s tendency to be nurturing.

I asked a few teens what made their dad special. As you read their response, notice how these teens express the importance of play, independence, and simply spending time together.

To me, my father is more than the normal dad. Not only is he a brave, strong, and heroic dad, but he also has a childish side.  He is fun and loves to mess around and hang out with my brother and I. Without my dad, I would never have that extra shoulder to lean on or that friend that I can always trust, no matter what. He has always told me, as his father used to tell him, that he will always be my best friend. He will always keep his promises, support me, and be on my side. Ever since I was very little, my dad has strived for me to do my best, from teaching me to ride my bike and bike up a hill near our house to teaching me how to do my times tables in third grade. He never gives up. He is always pushing me to do my best. So, in the end, my dad is not just a father, but a support, teacher, and most importantly, my best friend.

My Dad is my best friend. My favorite part of our relationship is that every morning, on the drive down the mountain from our house, we talk about life in such a free way that there seems to be no communication barriers between us that the “average American Father-Daughter relationship” is prescribed to have. We trust each other and we have each other backs. The kind of relationship I have with my Dad is the result of a long journey together and can be largely attributed to my parents divorce when I was 13. Sometimes things got really hard and money and living with my Dad was tricky. Through it all we were forced to be vulnerable and open with each other, which is why we can be so comfortable today. I am thankful for all of it. I love my Dad.

When I was little, my dad was like my superhero. Everything he did was amazing! As I got older I learned that he was not perfect, but he was authentic.  He has shared his wisdom and his mistakes with me, and through it all I have learned a lot. My dad is a role model, teacher and a friend. He is always there for me. My dad has bailed me out when I made mistakes but it wasn’t free. He showed me that he loved me, but also helped me to make up for what happened and grow past it. My dad is the guy that will learn to play hockey so that he can coach you and see you more often.  I think my dad would even pick up ballet if that was what I liked and it meant he could see me more. My dad will always be a big part of my life. I love him very much!

Never underestimate the impact you have on your child’s life!

Happy Parenting,

Shelly

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New On-Line Program for Fathers Experiencing Divorce or Separation

Just as divorce or separation is the furthest thing from a man’s mind on the day he says, “I do.”, being separated from his child is the farthest thing from his mind when he hears, “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” Yet, close to 50% of marriages end in divorce, and roughly 80% of mothers receive primary custody. This can leave fathers feeling disconnected from their children.

Children need their father in their life.  In fact, decades of research tells us that no single factor contributes more to the well-being of adult children of divorce than having a relationship with both parents while growing up.  Fathers and children share a special bond with one another, one that is unique from that of mothers.  Regardless of divorce, fathers want to protect, guide, and provide for their children. They have an endless amount love, a selfless kind of love that is unlike any of their other relationships. And, they express wanting lots of strategies for making the most of their time together.

I would like to let you know about a new online program I have developed, as part of my doctoral program in Human Development & Family Studies at the University of Wisconsin -Madison.  I am currently looking for fathers to participate in a free, new online, multi-media program designed to help them adjust and parent after divorce or separation. I would greatly appreciate your help in sharing this program through your available networks, websites and newsletters.

Below are some ways you can share this program:

  • Copy and paste the program information provided below into an email, newsletter, or other forms of communication
  • Post the program information on your blog and social media accounts like Facebook and LinkedIn
  • Tweet:  New Online, multimedia program for fathers to adjust and parent after divorce/separation available at www.divorceddadinstitute.com
  • Direct people to the Facebook page: www.facebook.com/ApartNotBrokenLearnConnectCreate
  • Send people directly to the homepage: www.divorceddadinstitute.com
  • Share directly with fathers you know and encourage them to sign up!

Thanks in advance for your willingness to share this program!

_____________________________________________________________

Program information: 

Fathers who experience divorce or separation can feel like they are starting over. Many say it is not what they expected, and harder then they thought it would be. They feel alone and miss their kids.

Apart, Not Broken: Learn, Connect, & Create gives fathers a place to:

Learn: Learn from the real experiences of other fathers. Get current information and recommendations for dealing with divorce and parenting after separation.

Connect: Use concrete examples and creative strategies to connect with their child and manage their relationship with their child’s mother.

Create: Create the relationship they want to have with child. Build new traditions and lasting memories.

This program is equipped with: 

  • Videos reflecting the real life experiences of other divorced fathers;
  • A discussion forum for you to connect and share with other fathers;
  • Online tools for sharing photos, comparing calendars, journaling, using a whiteboard, and communicating via chat, video chat, and email;
  • Current and concise information about divorce & parenting after divorce;
  • Recommended activities for you and your child; and
  • Additional resources such as book lists and helpful websites.

This innovative, multi-media program is:

  • Free of charge;
  • Released over a 12-week period, with a minimum time commitment of 30-45 minutes/week;
  • Available 24/7 at any location with an Internet connection;
  • Flexible, allowing you to spend as much time as you would like on various aspects of the program.
  • This program is for fathers who have a child between the ages of 8-16, and have been divorced or separated within the last two years.

CONTACT INFORMATION:

Shelly D. Mahon, Program Director
Ph.D Candidate at the University of Wisconsin, Madison
http://www.divorceddadinstitute.com
apartnotbroken@gmail.com

What’s Going On? My Teen Seems So Far Away!

One of the barriers to communication is the naturally occurring distancing that takes place during adolescence. Communication during the teen years can be especially challenging because of the rapid changes that occur in their physical bodies and social worlds.  The first thing to remember is that as your child moves through the teen years, he/she will become more private. Teens often move toward writing in their journal, hiding in their bedroom, and holding private conversations with friends via text or instant message. Recently, a mom who was trying to monitor her teen’s use of Facebook and cell phone told me, “My 12-year old hates it when I am in her business. The other day she screamed ‘Don’t read my texts! That is just weird. I don’t want you to see my private conversations!’”

Think back to your own adolescence. Were there certain things that you really didn’t want to talk to your parents about? How did you decide what to share and what to keep to yourself? The truth is, most often teen are not trying to be devious or dishonest; they are simply in the process of separating themselves from their parents. While it is important to remember that this individuation is part of how teens develop their identity and become their own person, it is also important to remember that sometimes you have to interject yourself into their world to keep them safe and healthy.  This requires paying a lot of attention to what is going on in your teen’s life. Everything from school, friends, and activities to feelings, moods, and actions is important. You know it is time to intervene when you sense that something is wrong, or suspect that your teen is holding something that could put him/her in danger.

Certainly, too much distancing can have other negative impacts on your relationship by removing opportunities to share and connect with one another. Remember that giving your teen space is not the same as staying out of the way completely.  Even though increased independence can reduce the amount of one-on-one time you have with your child, it does not have to translate to zero time or poor communication.  Part of parenting is being able to find the balance between giving children room to grow, while also establishing a safe environment with rules for behavior that match your beliefs and values.

The difficult part of this life stage is that these changes take place at the same time that your teen requires lots of guidance and monitoring to navigate new freedoms and opportunities. Teens need continued structure, attention, reassurance, and love from their parents as they try to find their way.  Often times, your life experience will help you to recognize when your child needs you.  Remember, sometimes teens will push their parents away so that they will pull them closer. Let your teen know that you pay attention because of your love and your ability to use the knowledge, experience, and the resources you have gathered over time to help them grow and develop.  Your teen will be more likely to share with you when the message is “I can help you” versus “You are going to be in trouble”.

Finally, don’t take it personally when your teen is quiet and distant. Focus on taking advantage of the opportunities you get to make connections and show interest in them. If these opportunities do not come frequently enough, create the space you need to interact in such a way that you have more opportunities. The virtual world we live in, and the ease with which teens use cell phones and other technology, opens up new doors for connection. Regardless of your means of communication, reaching out to your child says, “My mom/dad thinks of me. My mom/dad loves me”.  Staying in touch while being compassionate and understanding of your teen’s need for independence can go a long way in building understanding and trust between the two of you.

Other things to consider in maintaining a connection with your child during this phase:

  • Share aspects of yourself with your teen.  This can prompt your teen to share in return.
  • Be creative about how you interact with one another. Find ways to communicate regularly. You may have to schedule something a trip to the coffee shop on the way to school or a weekly lunch outing.
  • Make your communication engaging by talking about things he/she enjoys. Help your teen see that you are not prying or snooping, rather you are interested in who they are as a person.
  • Take personal responsibility for creating a loving relationship with your child. Making your teen feel like he/she is responsible can backfire, or make your child feel burdened with guilt, uncertainty, and/or sadness.
  • If you feel it in your gut, there is probably something going on that you need to know about. Your knowing could keep your teen safe, or give you an opportunity to you’re your teen make an informed decision or better choice.  Don’t be afraid to be up front with your child about your concern.

Stand By Teens When They Make Mistakes

Recently, I shared some bad news with a  good friend of mine and she sent me this video. The video served two purposes: (1) She wanted me to know that she would stand by me through the hard times and (2) she wanted to communicate how important it was for me to stand by others.  Her sharing was a real gift to me. Instantly, I thought of how important it is to “stand by” our teens.  It is much easier to stand by them when they do something great. However, it is in the times that they struggle, or make a mistake that they need it the most.  Check out this video, and then lets look at how we can stand by our teens and coach them through their mistakes.

Stand By Me | Playing For Change | Song Around The World from Concord Music Group on Vimeo.

Most adults have experienced heart break, hurt a friend’s feelings, or told a white lie.  Some have gotten a speeding ticket, failed an exam, or lost a job.  The reality is that we are human, and we have all made mistakes.  Along with those mistakes, we have had to live with the consequences of our actions.  Think back to the mistakes you’ve made.  How did you feel? My guess is that  you knew you made a mistake and felt pretty bad about it.  In reality, we are often our own worst critics.

Sometimes parents forget that our teens are much like adults. They know when they have made a mistake and sometimes get defensive when someone points it out.   Teens can feel a range of emotions including sadness, embarrassment,  and disappointment in themselves.  They are often scared to tell mom and dad, afraid of the punishment, and worried about what people will think of them.

So, how can you coach your teens through mistakes? Let’s start with what your teen does not need. Avoid rescuing your teens from making mistakes. Rescuing does a few things. First, it  tells teens that they should not make mistakes.  This can lead teens to have performance anxiety or feel unrealistic pressures to be perfect.  When adults jump in, it also  communicates that they are not capable of taking care of the situation themselves.  This takes away opportunities for them to build self-confidence and learn from their mistakes. The other thing parents can avoid is lecturing teens.  Lecturing does not help teens, especially when they already recognize and feel bad about their mistake.  Often times, lecturing leads teens to shut down and stop listening.

Your teen does need to hear that you will stand by them.  Being supportive is not the same as excusing their behavior.  Along with the appropriate consequence, it is important to have a conversation with your teen about what happened, what they made it mean, and what they are going to do about it.  When you take the time to listen, you get an opportunity to hear what is really going on in their head. When they feel heard, they are more likely to be open to your thoughts or suggestions. Outside of being a good listening, your job is to ask good questions.  Here are some questions that can help you coach your teen through his/her mistakes:

  • What’s up?
  • Let’s talk about it? I’m all ears.
  • Why do you think this happened?
  • How can you make this better for you?
  • What do you wish you had done differently?
  • What is really important to you? Why?
  • What are you going to do about it?
  • Who might you want to talk to about this?
  • Please say more so that I can really understand.
  • How do you want to move forward?

You may be surprised how much head nods and words like uh-huh, yeah, I see, etc., will prompt your teen to keep talking. As they share, reflect back to them:

  • Can I tell you what I am hearing?
  • Did I understand this right?
  • I heard you say….. is that what you meant?

You may have some important things to share after you have listened to what you teen has to say.  Keep in mind that the idea is to help them deal with their mistakes without telling them what to do.  The teen years are a time to practice good decision-making and problem solving.  These questions may open the door for you to share your thoughts without sounding like you are taking over or giving too much advice.

  • How can I help?
  • Can I share a different way of looking at this?
  • Can I give you a suggestion?
  • I have some ideas. Would you like to hear them?
  • I have seen this before. Can I share some things that have helped others?

Sometimes, teens make mistakes that need a lot more adult intervention.  Try this if you want to provide more guidance but you still want the conversation to be inviting to your  teen.

I would like to talk about something really important, and I am not really sure how to talk to you about it? Will you help me work it out?

Finally, it is important to encourage your teen to apologize when he/she makes a mistake. Apologies are as much for the person apologizing as they are for the one receiving it.  When teens apologize, they are able to come clean for their mistake and ask for forgiveness.  It is in that moment that they can accept the mistake as  an event, instead of something that defines them. Not apologizing can leave teens making assumptions about what someone thinks, feels or believes about them. If a teen take these thoughts, feelings, and beliefs on as being real, they can become a part of how the teen defines him/herself.  It may be helpful for you to share a story or two about apologies that you have made.  This will help them see that they are not alone in making mistakes.

Happy Parenting!

Shelly

How You Respond Can Influence Your Teen’s Behavior

Think back to when you first brought your baby home. There you sat, fully responsible for the livelihood of this child. You may have felt exhausted, or even a little overwhelmed by all that had changed. Yet, you loved this baby more than anything in the world and very quickly realized how much he/she enriched your life. I remember people calling my house, saying “What are you up to?” Often, my reply was “Just sitting here watching my baby sleep” I thought to myself, who would have believed that I could just sit and watch someone sleep for hours at a time!”

The following video is a profound illustration of the importance of parent-child interactions, and the impact that our responses can have on the actions and behaviors of our children. While this video shows a mom and her infant, there is an important message to parents of teens;  how we respond to our teen influences their behavior.

As parents, we try to do all we can to nurture and provide for our baby’s needs. When they smile at us, we smile back. When they cry, we try to sooth them. We play, touch, laugh, coo, feed, clean, rock, and tickle them. These interactions play a very important role in both their social-emotional development, and their attachment to their parent. It is through these interactions that they begin developing a relationship with you. And, it is through that relationship that they develop patterns that guide their perceptions, emotions, thoughts, and expectations in relationships they will have as teens.

We have very different interactions with teens.  We typically don’t coo, tickle toes, or rock teens, but they still need us to respond to them in a way that connects and builds relationship. And just like the infant in this video, teens may pull away, act out, or cry for help when we don’t pay attention and respond to their needs. They simply act out and cry for help in different ways. In fact, psychologists suggest that even rule breaking or delinquent behavior is often a wake up call for families that their teen needs something that he/she is not getting.

The following tips can help you pay attention and respond to your teen in a way that strengthens your relationship and prepares him/her to have good relationships with others:

  • Pay close attention to their emotions.  They will not be as transparent as infants. Give them lots of opportunity and room to talk about how they are feeling.
  • Listen with an open mind. Make a big effort to understand where they are coming from, even when you feel differently.
  • Understand that adults tend to use logic, while teens use emotion to explain their behavior. Often times, you must connect with your teen on an emotion level before they can even hear your logic.
  • Learn to identify the cues they use to show you that they need you. For example: While a baby may shriek to engage you, a teen may withdraw, play basketball, or draw a bath.
  • Realize that teens may not see or understand their own behavior. Help them to recognize what they are feeling and thinking by making observations and asking gentle questions like: “You look sad. Is everything ok?” or “I imagine you feel overwhelmed with everything that is due at school this week.”
  • Listen without trying to solve things for them.  It can be helpful to ask permission when you really want to offer your advice: “Can I share with you what has worked for me?” or “I have some thoughts about that. Would you like to hear them?”
  • Be mindful of your body language. Just like the mom showing no expression in the video induced a desperate response for her infant, your body language will communicate how you are hearing your teen. Showing sincere interests and not overreacting communicates trust that they can keep talking.
  • Show empathy. This demonstrates understanding and normalizes their feelings. Teens can feel guilt and/or shame when they feel like the only person in the world to experience something or feel a certain way.

Happy Parenting!

Making a Difference in Your Teen’s Life

Parenting teens is so different than parenting younger children. Parenting young children involves teaching them about the world, giving them boundaries, and keeping them safe. The older they get, the more parents learn about who their child is and what their child needs to grow into adulthood. Home can provides a place where teens can talk about their day and ask questions in a safe environment. In that way, parents try to provide the scaffolding and unconditional love that allows their teen to take healthy risks and learn from their experiences.

Recently, a parenting professional by the name of Laura Kaine sent out a YouTube video called “You are Special” by Nick Vujicic. A few years ago, I saw another presentation of his. He was speaking to high school students about never giving up. In this presentation, he gave the message that if he could do the things he does with no limbs, they should be able to accomplish anything they put their mind to. This message leaves us with the reality that our teens must choose to put their mind to it. When teen are struggling to make that choice, parents have to try to stay in relationship and support their teen as much as possible.

Of course, parents are not unaware of the power of peers. Who your teen chooses to spend time with provides another context for information. Sometimes it is the parent’s role to intervene when that information is either inaccurate or creating an unsafe environment for their teen. It is important to remember that even though it can feel like your efforts go unnoticed, parenting is involves conveying unconditional love, providing appropriate boundaries, and having lots of conversations. It doesn’t mean that you are going to get it right all the time because we are all human. But, as much as possible parents can try to have an open dialogue with their teen instead of lecturing them.

Check out this video about the impact of parents …. it is inspiring! AND continue to remember that you really do make a difference.

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Motivating Teens: Pain, Pleasure, & the Pressure to Achieve

Have you ever found yourself doing something for fear of negative consequences?  Ever tried to achieve something difficult, just to prove to yourself that you can?  Have you ever pushed yourself to do a dreaded task, only to find you truly love what you are doing?  Think about each of these scenarios. Why do we do what we do?  What is the source of our motivation?  Motivation can be thought of as a movement away from pain or toward pleasure.  You may do your best on a project at work to avoid getting laid off.  This is a movement away from pain.  You may bump up your training miles so that you can run a marathon.  Gaining the personal satisfaction of completing a marathon is a movement toward pleasure.

We have all done things to avoid pain or feel pleasure.  In fact, chances are good that we have all used these strategies to influence our teen’s actions.  Think about these scenarios. “Be nice to your sister, or you will Continue reading “Motivating Teens: Pain, Pleasure, & the Pressure to Achieve”