Mark Brandenburg has a Masters degree in counseling psychology and has been a counselor, business consultant, sports counselor, and a certified life and business coach. He has worked with individuals, teams, and businesses to improve their performance for over 20 years. Prior to life and business coaching Mark was a world-ranked professional tennis player and has coached other world-ranked athletes. He has helped hundreds of individuals to implement his coaching techniques. Mark specializes in coaching men to balance their lives and to improve the important relationships in their lives. He is the author of the popular e-books, 25 Secrets of Emotionally Intelligent Fathers , and Fix Your Wife in 30 Days or Less (And Improve Yourself at the Same Time ). Mark is also the publisher of the “Dads Don’t Fix your Kids” ezine for fathers. To sign up, go to or E-Mail him.

Mike's Christmas Envelopes

Just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past ten years or so.

It began because my husband Mike hated the commercial aspects of Christmas: overspending, the last-minute running around to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma--gifts given in desperation because you couldn’t think of anything else. So one year I bypassed the usual shirts, sweaters and ties, and I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.

Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, had a wrestling match shortly before Christmas--a non- league match against a team sponsored by an inner- city church. These youngsters, dressed in ragged sneakers, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes. I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling with no headgear to protect their ears--a luxury they obviously could not afford.

We ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. And as each of their boys got up from the mat, he swaggered around with false bravado, a kind of street pride that couldn’t acknowledge defeat. Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly. “I wish just one of them could have won,” he said. “They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them.” Mike always loved kids-- all kids.

That’s when I got the idea. That afternoon, I went to a sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes, and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I placed the envelope on the tree with a note inside telling Mike what I had done as my gift to him. His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and in succeeding years. For each Christmas, I followed the tradition--one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on.

The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last gift opened, and our children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents. As the children grew, the envelope never lost its allure.

The story doesn’t end there. You see, we lost Mike last year due to dreaded cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree, and in the morning, it was joined by three more.

Each of our children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing around the tree with wide-eyed anticipation watching as their fathers take down the envelope.

Mike’s spirit, like the Christmas spirit, will always be with us.

The Gift Every Child Wants

Whether we observe Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Solstice, the holidays have become more stressful for many parents and less happy for many children. By the time we add shopping, wrapping, baking, decorating, and holiday events to our already busy schedules, we have less time than ever to spend with our children. When children don't get enough attention from the people they love, their "love cup" gets empty and they feel disconnected and unhappy.

If adults try to make children happy by buying them more presents to compensate for spending less time with them, we teach children that "things" are supposed to make them happy. When gifts become a substitute for love instead of a symbol of love, children begin to measure how much they are loved by how many gifts they receive. The more empty their "love" cup, the more "things" children ask for to try to fill the emptiness they feel.

The saying, "You can never get enough of what you don't really need," is especially true for children. No matter how many gifts we buy for children or how much money we spend, if their "love" cup is empty, there will never be enough gifts to make them happy. When children with an empty "love cup" have unwrapped all their gifts, they are still looking for something more. The "something more" that children are looking for is something money can't buy.

The gift every child really wants is the gift of feeling connected, loved, and valued. Those feelings can't be found in any present or in any amount of presents. Children want to be with us and to do what we do. Feeling connected, loved, and valued comes from spending time with the people they love and from doing things with and for the people they love.

Here are some tips to make your holiday season simpler and more joyous:

  • Make the decision that presents will not be or will no longer be the main focus of the holidays.
  • Invite children to join in creating a list of fun and meaningful holiday activities the family can do together and a list of kindnesses your family can do for others.
  • Request that family and friends honor your fewer gifts decision by asking them to show their love for your children in other ways. A one-on-one "Holiday Date" is a welcome gift and a wonderful way for family members to form closer bonds with children.
  • Slow down the frantic pace of the holidays and reduce post-holiday let down by spreading out family and friend gatherings throughout December into January.
  • Try giving children their most special gift first instead of last. The reason children tear through opening presents and keep asking for another is that they are looking for that special one they've been hoping for. When they get their special one first they enjoy the rest more.

Most of all, we can stop trying to "do it all." The people who really love us will still love us no matter what gifts we do or do not give them and whether or not we send greeting cards. We can tell family and friends that we are changing how we "do" the holidays and that we have decided to spend more time connecting with our children. When we slow down the pace and stop doing and buying too much, our children are happier, we are happier, and our holidays are happier.

Fathers and Holidays

This year, it’s going to be different.

Like many fathers, I’ve felt a bit disconnected from the holiday season. It’s not that I don’t buy my presents and help with decorations. And it’s not that I don’t spend some wonderful time with my kids.

It’s something deeper than that.

My eight-year-old daughter ran up to me the other day with great excitement and anticipation.

“This Christmas is going to be the best ever!” she shouted.

I marveled at her excitement, and I wished I could match her enthusiasm. She’d already found the spirit of the holidays, while I was mired in “things that I must to do.”

The list was long. This holiday season, I’d be buying presents, coordinating family visits, updating lists and writing cards, doing decorations outside the house and in, volunteering, running a business, etc., etc.

There are times when it all seems like too much.

Fathers (and males in general) have a tendency to focus on goals. Rather than looking at the “big picture” of the holidays, we break things down into “what tasks need to be accomplished.” When one task is done, we move on to the next. And while this style does get some things accomplished, it reduces our capacity to capture the “spirit” of the holidays. The result is that many fathers have a sense of being on the “periphery” of their families during the holidays. The tasks are done, but the spirit isn’t captured.

This scenario mirrors what happens to many fathers in their families—they feel outside of the “emotional core” of the family, and aren’t able to experience the depth of warmth, closeness, and love they want. They don’t have some of the skills of “emotional intelligence” that women have been learning from a very early age.

And this dilemma is further complicated by the fact that fathers are working longer hours than ever before. According to the International Labor Organization, Americans work 1,978 hours per year, or a full nine weeks more that the average Western European. Thirty-eight percent of fathers reported that they usually worked fifty or more hours per week.

It’s easy to see why fathers can have a difficult time capturing the spirit of the holidays.

And while this may be a challenging dilemma for fathers, there are a number of things that fathers can do to enrich their experience this holiday season:

  • Shift your thinking away from a “things to do” mentality to a “what does the family need this holiday?” mentality. See things with a wider lens. Give this approach a week and see what happens.
  • Volunteer to help someone in need this holiday. Take the kids and spend time enriching the life of someone who needs it. There’s no greater way to capture the spirit of the holidays than being of service to others. And your kids will experience something they’ll never forget.
  • Do something this holiday that you haven’t done before. Bake some holiday cookies or create your own cards to send out. Expanding your creative skills can help you to “receive” the spirit of the holidays.
  • Simply choose to have more joy, openness, and spirit this holiday. After all, most of it is choice. Remember your kids are watching you very closely!

I crept up behind my daughter and tackled her, pinning her down onto the couch. “We’re going to have an amazing Christmas this year, you’re right!’ I told her. “What do you want your Christmas to be like?” She sat up and began to tell me all of the things she wanted to do for Christmas, and about all the presents she wanted. I sat there with her and listened, forgetting all of the work and the errands that had been on my mind most of the day.

And as I sat there listening to her, I felt like a spark of the holiday spirit was already on its way.

A Christmas Cry with Kids

I was worried my kids wouldn’t get to bed on time.

It was close to the time they’d normally get their pajamas on, but it was a special night. Tonight was the night to decorate the Christmas tree.

When I saw the excitement in their eyes, my concern with their bedtime ended. While my thoughts were fixed on late bedtimes and tired kids, their thoughts were on hope, promise, and the excitement of the holidays.

On this night, hope and promise won out.

As I watched them running from the decorations to the tree, I began to feel their hope and excitement. I felt further and further from the “everyday worries” of moments before. And as I watched them working together to create something beautiful, something else happened.

I began to be filled with love for them.

I watched them for awhile longer, and said, “You know, you two are great.”

My 6-year-old son hesitated for a second.

“You are too, Dad,” he said.

It was my turn to hesitate. For a moment, I felt numb, and then the feelings came. Tears of joy and gratitude streamed down my face. “Thanks, buddy,” I whispered back. My eight-year old daughter glanced at me and asked me if I was crying. “Yes, honey, I’m very happy right now,” I told her. She walked over to me and gave me a hug. A second wave of feelings came, and I breathed deeply.

As I sat there hugging my daughter, there was a part of me that was concerned about my kids taking “emotional care” of me. It felt a bit uncomfortable to be crying in front of my kids, and it felt odd for my daughter to comfort me.

But there was something else happening here.

We were having “a moment.” It was a moment where we felt how close we could be, and it was a moment when my kids were seeing my authentic joy and gratitude. A moment we would all remember for the rest of our lives.

After “the moment” passed, we continued to decorate the tree with lights and ornaments. When we’d finished, we got back into the “daily routine” of bedtime preparations. When my wife and I had gotten our kids to bed, I reflected on the moment that had passed, and my life as a parent.

I thought about how easy it was for us to feel unappreciated, disrespected, and taken for granted as parents. It seems we do so much for our kids, and we don’t get the recognition we deserve. When life gets hard, we often long for the past, or look to the future, but we avoid the beauty of the present.

And then a moment like this comes along. One of the moments that creates meaning in your life. The kind of moment that reminds you of why you’re doing all you’re doing. And when you experience this kind of moment, it’s easier to live each day and each moment with joy and gratitude. It’s easier to face the occasional drudgery of everyday life. And it’s easier to remember why we were put on this earth: To love each other, and to help create a better world through that love.

As you move into this holiday season, remember to open yourself to your own “moments.” They can happen at any time, and they’ll appear when you have the courage and awareness to open yourself to the present moment. These moments can be filled by joy or pain, but they shouldn’t be judged by the happiness they create.

They should be judged by whether you open yourself to that moment, and whether this moment fills your heart and your spirit.

May your heart and spirit be filled with “moments” this holiday season, and may you teach your children to open themselves to this spirit as well.

Wait 'Til Your Father Comes Home

When you hear the terms “father,” and “discipline,” it appears to be a natural fit. The notion of a father as the punishing disciplinarian runs deep in our culture.

But fathers have much more than punishment to offer. And, if you look at the origins of the word “discipline,” you’ll find little connection between discipline and punishment.

The word discipline originates from the Latin word, “discipulus,” which means, “a pupil,” or “one who is learning.” Fathers who use smart discipline tactics are actually engaged in a reciprocal teaching and learning process. No screaming, hitting, or cattle prods are necessary.

Let's say it one more time: Punishment does not work well, but discipline done in a positive way does. Most parents "who've tried everything" have actually tried many different forms of punishment.

Reciprocal learning and teaching--try it, it works.

Ten Ways to get your Kids to Listen to You

There are times when every parent feels as if they’re not getting through to their kids. And the harder you try to get your kids to listen, the more resistance you get.

Here are ten ways to improve your children’s ability to listen to you:

1. Make sure your relationship is solid. It must always start here. If your kids don’t like you, they’re a lot less likely to listen to you.

2.) Remember that actions speak louder than words. If your kids know that what you say won’t be backed up with action, they’ll more easily tune you out. Having logical consequences for not listening (toys disappear if kids don’t listen and they’re not picked up) has a way of improving your kids attention.

3.) Talk about listening to them. Make it a point to discuss the importance of listening when your kids are receptive. Talk about how nice it feels when someone else listens to you completely, and what a great quality this is.

4.) Have a sense of timing when you talk to your kids. Don’t expect them to listen well when they’re in the middle of something. Kids can be very focused. If it’s important, make sure you have their full attention. Try to talk to them when they’re more relaxed and receptive.

5. Model great listening yourself. Give them your absolute attention when they speak to you, and try to reflect back what you heard. Show them you understand the meaning behind what they said.

6. Each child listens in a unique way, get to know their preferred style. Your child may be a kinesthetic learner who listens and understands by writing something down, or by walking through something. Find the way to reach your child in the way that works best.

7. Avoid Lectures. Many parents have a lecturing style that they’re unaware of. Their kids are very aware of this style however, and tune them out. Speak in a casual and pleasant tone that you would use when talking with a friend.

8. Limit their “Screen Time”. Kids who spend a lot of time with TV and video games tend to be more easily distracted. Limit their screen time early in their life, and you’ll see kids who have the skills to listen well.

9. Talk to your kids in a non-judgmental way. The more they feel judged by you, the more shame they’ll feel and the less they’ll hear. See your kids as great, and they’ll listen as though they are!

10. Be genuinely interested in your children’s lives. Ask them curious questions about what’s they’re experiencing. When your kids know that you have a real interest in their life, they’re more likely to look forward to what you have to say.

Spare the Child, Ditch the Rod

Spare the rod, spoil the child! This philosophy's been around a long time. In fact, a study done by Zero to Three, a nonprofit child-development group, found that 61 percent of the adults who responded condone spanking as a regular form of punishment. The percentage of parents who actually use spanking is believed to be much higher.

And when my six-year-old son's behavior went beyond annoying a few days ago, I briefly felt inclined to join the majority and "teach him a lesson."

Most parents reach this point with their kids. You feel like you can’t take any more. It usually happens when you're tired, stressed, and overdone.

So what are your choices when you reach this point?

Spanking certainly can take care of things quickly, and can temporarily change your kids behavior. But there are many reasons to question the practice of spanking your kids. Here are five of them:

1. Do you really want your kids to be afraid of you? Kids will sometimes obey more readily when they're afraid of you. Is this what you really want? What happens when your not around? What happens when they're six feet two, and two hundred pounds? Effective parenting is based on love and respect, not fear.

2. Spanking shows your kids that you lack self-control. The huge majority of spanking incidents come when a parent is angry. What is quite clear to your child is this: when my Dad or Mom gets angry, they hit me. And when the same child hits his sister when he gets angry, do you demand that he shows better self-control?

Something’s wrong with this picture. You teach your kids best through your own actions.

3. You may breed resentment and anger in your kids. Kids who are spanked usually don't learn a great deal about "correcting" their misbehavior. They don't usually sit in their rooms and say, "Gosh, I can really see after getting spanked that I was wrong. I'll do better now." They do think about how angry their Dad or Mom is, and they can develop a good deal of resentment for their parents.

4. Spanking shows your kids that "might makes right”. Children aren’t the only ones who make mistakes. We make them every day, right? Can we use our imaginations, and visualize what it would be like for someone four times our size to pick us up, and swat us on the butt? What would we learn from that? Would we feel any injustice? You can bet your kids are feeling some.

5. Spanking isn't effective in the long run. Parents who are asked why they spank will report that they use it to "teach their kids a lesson," or so they won't misbehave again. Many kids who are spanked will go underground with their misbehavior, and become more cunning to avoid being caught. If you're spanking your kids fairly often, doesn't this show that it's not working very well?

Kids who are spanked occasionally aren’t ruined for life. But spanking isn’t necessary to discipline a child. Not when a little self-control and a little creativity is considered.

Parents who don't spank their kids use time outs, re-directing, or distracting with their kids. They can pick their kids up and let them cool down, or simply leave the area themselves, so they don't do something they'd regret later.

While these methods aren't always perfect, they help to form the foundation of a certain kind of household: One in which violence is not "taught" as a means to better behavior.

After all, we live in a world that's filled with violence.

Can't we provide a place for our kids where there isn't any?

Fathers, Anger, and Secrecy

“Get up to your room!” Frank shouted at his kids. The two of them sprinted out of the living room and up the stairs.

They’d been lucky this time. Although they’d been terrified by his screaming, they were far enough away to avoid the blows that sometimes came. And as they huddled together in their room, they hoped they wouldn’t hear the footsteps coming up the stairs. For if they did, there would be more anger, and more fear.

Sadly, this scenario plays itself out in millions of households across the country. For centuries, men have learned to use anger in an attempt to control their kids.

And while it does have short-term results, the long term damage is tremendous, both for the children and for the fathers who carry this anger.

In fact, a 2002 study on men’s anger at Johns Hopkins University (Archives of Internal Medicine 2002; 162:901-906) showed just how damaging anger can be.

The study followed 1,055 men for an average of 36 years following their schooling. It examined the risk of premature and total cardiovascular disease associated with anger responses to stress during early adult life.

The results of this study were that young men who quickly react to stress with anger have three times the normal risk of developing premature heart disease. Also, these men were five times more likely than men who were calmer to have an early heart attack, even if they didn’t have a family history of heart disease.

While it has been clear for a long time that anger damages relationships, the health problems associated with anger have never been made as clear. Anger not only hurts your relationships, it can kill you.

Anger like Frank’s damages relationships more than any other single factor. It hurts loved ones, and creates mistrust. It’s caused his own children to fear him. And it prevents him from getting underneath his anger to experience his own fears. For underneath all of his anger is fear. Fear of not being able to control his kids, or even a fear of failing completely in his life.

Frank, like many other men, keeps this a very private matter. A sense of failure and shame surrounds men who struggle with their anger. These feelings cause these angry outbursts to “stay in the family,” causing the cycle to stay the same, or even worsen.

And even though the road to reducing anger is a difficult one, those who are willing to commit to change have a very good chance for improvement.

Here are some options for men seeking to improve themselves:

• You are the only one who can make you angry—accept this responsibility and you’ve a come a long way towards getting better.

• Write down the irrational thinking that contributes to your anger (people should always treat me kindly, etc.). Ask yourself where you developed this thinking and give yourself some alternative thoughts that are more productive.

• Become more aware of tuning into your body when you begin to become angry. Deep diaphragmatic breathing is a great way to do this. The idea is to focus on you, not the “target” of the anger.

• Prepare yourself before a stressful situation and “practice” your new, calmer response to it. Be aware that it might take some time to feel comfortable with this new response.

• Find the stressors in your life that might be contributing to your anger—do what you can to reduce these stressors, and add some self-care into your life.

It’s time to include anger alongside other lifestyle factors that can shorten men’s lives. Managing your anger is a learnable skill, and it benefits everyone around you.

More importantly, it may save your life.

Tell the Truth with your Kids?

“Dad, can we stop and get some ice cream on the way home? I’ll pay for it with my own money.”

I cringed when I heard it. My six-year-old son knew exactly what he wanted. Lately, he’d shown a strong interest in ice cream. He’d also been showing a strong will.

It was a challenging combination.

I summoned my courage, and said the words that so many courageous parents have said before me: “Maybe, we’ll see.”

When we left the store, I drove the car past the ice cream shop, wondering whether he’d forgotten.

“Dad, you said we could get some ice cream!”

“Well, I don’t think that’s what I said. We’ll get some another time.”

My son fumed in the back seat, angered by the injustice of my decision. I felt badly as well, but it had nothing to do with stopping for ice cream. My decision to give my son a “maybe” answer, when I knew the answer should be “no,” was the problem. My desire to avoid an argument was the problem. And, my decision to seek harmony over truth was the problem.

As our kids get older, they become skilled negotiators. We can easily tire of the endless parade of arguments about what to wear, what they own, or when they need to be home.

Unlike times when they were younger, our kids can skillfully make their own case. At certain points, we choose harmony over truth. And when we do this enough, we create problems in our family.

Our kids will emulate what they see from us. When we avoid the truth, our kids will do the same. And there are many ways we can avoid the truth.

We avoid the truth when we tell our kids they’re doing a “great job” when they’re really not trying very hard. We avoid the truth when we allow our kids to say and do things that hurt others without consequences. And we avoid the truth when we fail to tell our kids our honest expectations for them.

There is an old saying: “The truth shall set you free, but first it will make you miserable.”

Are you telling the truth in your family? Your kids can handle it. And believe it or not, so can you.

Should Dads Tell their Kids the Truth?

Some day, you’ll be sitting with your child, listening to the radio or watching a program on TV. Somebody will be talking about premarital sex, illegal drug use, breaking the law, or some other highly charged issue. And then, your child will start to ask questions. What did you do when you were younger? How often?

While some fathers might consider leaving the room, the best idea is to have a plan to address these kinds of questions.

So how should you handle this?

Do you just tell them everything, and hope they don’t do the same things you did, or do you avoid telling the truth?

For a while, psychologists were suggesting to parents that the best strategy to use was telling the truth about your past. If you experimented with or used drugs, just let your kids know. Being honest with your kids was more important than any other consideration.

The problem with this strategy is that it doesn’t take into account your child’s maturity level. It doesn't consider their readiness to hear this kind of information. Some kids just aren’t ready to handle the fact that Dad smoked pot when he was younger, or that he had sex with other women before he was married.

If you‘re telling your kids this kind of information just to feel better, and “get it off your chest,” you’re guilty of trying to make yourself feel better at the expense of your kids. This may not only shatter an image your kids have of you, it may seem like an endorsement for them to have the same kinds of experiences.

Kids often have an idealized vision of their parents (although their comments and behavior may belie this), and information about a parent’s prior transgressions can be very difficult for them to handle. It adds confusion to an already complex and difficult relationship.

While honesty with your kids is important, one should also consider timing, and a child’s readiness to hear. All of these factors should be considered when fathers decide on a strategy to use with their kids. And when a strategy is used, it should be consistent. Here are a few of the strategies that can be used with your kids, with a few of the advantages and disadvantages:

• Only speak about your past if asked. This strategy will work for almost everyone. There’s no need to go into your past transgressions if it’s not necessary. In this case, “What they don’t know won’t hurt them.” However, it’s important to be ready with your responses, because the questions can come at any time.

• Tell your child that you’ll talk about these things at a later date. If you don’t feel your child is ready for this kind of information, there’s no need to lie to them. It’s far better to be honest, and let them know you’ll fill them in at some later time. They may howl and accuse you of being guilty, so you'll have to handle it.

• If you do feel your child is ready to hear about your past transgressions, make sure you tell them as little as they need to know. They don’t need to know the specific details of what you did, or exactly how many times. If they ask for this information, you can tell them you’re not quite sure (Which I believe for most fathers would be true). And by all means, don’t give them the message that, “I did these things, and look how well I’m doing now!” This is a clear message to your kids that doing these things can work for them, too.

• Gather the “lessons learned” from your experiences, and relay that to your child. If you had negative experiences, be very clear with your child concerning what these negative experiences were. Be careful not to preach to them. The “lessons learned” can be lost in a flash if your child feels "lectured to." Just let them hear what you have to say, and make their own decisions. Your negative experiences will speak loudly enough. Whether you speak about your own experiences, or just talk about the perspective you now have as an adult, let them know the risks associated with the behaviors.

• When your child asks about your past, find out the reason they're asking. Is it something they're experiencing at school, or do they want to find out some "secrets" about their parents? It's important to make this issue about your child, and the reason for the questions, not about your past, and whether you did the "right" things. More often than not, your child is seeking some guidance on this issue, and would like to share your experience. Ask them directly about what's going on, but ask in a way that shows concern, not in a way that accuses them.

This doesn't have to be a huge dilemma for fathers to face. Being prepared is the best way to turn this process into a learning experience for both sides. Fathers who want to remain "perfect" in their children's eyes will struggle mightily with this issue. But your kids don't need perfect fathers. They do need a father who's willing to keep growing with them.

So tell them the truth. Just tell them as little as possible, and tell them when they're ready.

Ten Ways to be a Better Father

Expectations for fathers are greater than ever before. They’re taking on more responsibility at home, while the demands at work have never been higher.

Here are ten ways to be a more effective father, during the precious time fathers do have with their kids:

1. See your kids as capable. The achilles heel of many fathers is to see their kids as “not good enough.” Your kids will feel this, and they’ll live up to these expectations. The more you approve of them, the greater they’ll be!

2. Make time for your kids. There will always be more work, but you won’t always have the chance to be with your kids. Are there ways to include them in chores around the house? Your kids will know if they matter to you, by the effort you make to include them in your day.

3. Use positive forms of discipline. Punishment is not very effective. It tends to create more of the very behavior that fathers are seeking to eliminate. Use natural and logical consequences instead—if you don’t pick up your toys, they calmly get put in a bag, and taken away for awhile. Give them choices. Positive discipline methods help kids learn responsibility, while punishment helps them learn to dislike you.

4. Have a great relationship with your spouse. You are the main role model for your kids, and this is the main source of information about how to have an effective, loving relationship. They’re watching very closely to learn how to do it.

5. Be aware of your kids lives. How much do you really know about your kids? Are you aware of their hopes and dreams? Do you know what inspires them? Do you know their friends names? What they like and dislike about you? If there are things you don’t know about your kids, you can always ask!

6. Be nurturing with your kids. Hug and kiss your kids, and let them hear plenty of “I love you’s.” And, don’t forget to wrestle with them! Both boys and girls benefit from wrestling with their dads. Kids need to see your “fun, physical side,“ but they need to see your “soft side” too.

7. “Really” listen to your kids. Put down the newspaper and look your kids in the eye when they talk to you. Be aware of your own tendency to “filter” what your kids say. Reflect back what you heard from them. If you want them to listen to you, you’ve got to show them the way.

8. Examine your relationship with your own father. A poor relationship with your own father will affect your ability to be an effective father. Are there things you want to say to your father? Forgiving your father will help you to father to the best of your ability.

9. Take care of yourself. It’s difficult to be kind and nurturing to your family if you’re not kind to yourself. Find ways to take the time to relax, exercise, and keep your stress levels lower. And use friends and family to support you—don’t become an “island” in your family. Your family will appreciate it.

10. Have a plan for your anger. Men can have a difficult time with the emotional intensity that families bring up. The result is often anger, which breeds anger in your kids, and creates a vicious cycle. Make a plan with a specific relaxation technique that helps to defuse your anger. Remember that one bad episode can impact your kids for a long time.

A Father’s Family Wishes

Dave (not his real name) is a 42 year-old father of three.

He’s married, and he owns his own business.

Dave became a client of mine because his wife complained that he “wasn’t there” much of the time, and that he was becoming more distant from her and the children. She told Dave that if things didn’t improve, she would consider a divorce.

When we started working together, I had Dave write up a list of things he wanted in his life. The list was long and impressive, and included things like writing a book, traveling extensively, learning to fly a plane, and building his own car. When I pointed out to Dave that his list didn’t include anything about his children, he paused for a long time.

“Something’s wrong with this,” he finally said.

Indeed, something was wrong.

Dave was guilty of doing something that’s increasingly common, in an age when Americans are working more than ever before. Dave had become overly focused on his job. And when things at home became stressful, he slowly began to “check out.” He spent less and less time with his kids. And when he was with them, he often thought about work issues.

Dave wasn’t too different than millions of other American men, who learned the “values” of independence and emotional distance while growing up. He’d learned a philosophy that stressed hard work, and being smarter than the other guy.

And he learned to fool himself into believing that providing financial security for his family was enough.

It wasn’t nearly enough.

What he hadn’t learned was what his family needed from him, and how he could provide for them emotionally. This took some time, but Dave began to realize how far he’d moved away from his family, and how much damage this had done. We worked on a new list, and this time Dave included goals that involved his children. Slowly, Dave began to “live into” the goals he’d set with his kids. After four months, he’d strengthened his marriage, developed some intimacy with his children, and felt like part of the family again.

Dave changed his life when he took an honest look at his role in his family, and when he specifically defined success for himself with his children. Working with Dave and other parents has allowed me to see the value in setting specific goals with family members. It’s also made me question why more of us don’t create this specific vision for our own families. After all, haven’t we learned the importance of setting our goals and priorities in a specific way in our businesses? Is there a reason to avoid doing this with our own families?

I took some time to write down some of my family goals to “live into” during the next ten years or so:

1. To continue to grow and learn in my marriage, and to remember my tendency to want to be “right.” Instead, I’ll work on being kind—to both my wife and my kids.

2. To tell my kids I love them, no matter what age they are.

3. To have consistent family rituals, and to eat family dinners together 3-4 times each week.

4. To have kids that are unafraid to come to me with their problems, no matter how serious they are.

5. To teach my kids to love themselves

6. To be a great listener to my kids

7. To laugh often and loudly with my kids

8. To always be able to hug my kids, no matter what age they are

9. To have the courage and foresight to say “no” to my kids often

10. To teach them that only two things matter in the world: loving each other, and the search for God.

How about your list? Are you concerned about the future of your family? Are there specific things you’d like to see? If so, step up, write your goals down, and start making them happen.

Writing your goals down may only take a few minutes.

Your busy life can handle that, can’t it?

Men are Killing Themselves

On April 22, 2002, an amazing study done at Johns Hopkins University was published on young men and anger (Archives of Internal Medicine 2002; 162: 901-906).

The study followed 1,055 men for an average of 36 years following their schooling to examine the risk of premature and total cardiovascular disease associated with anger responses to stress during early adult life.

The incredible results of this study were that young men who quickly react to stress with anger have three times the normal risk of developing premature heart disease. Also, these men were five times more likely than men who were calmer to have an early heart attack even if they didn’t have a family history of heart disease!

While it has been clear for a long time that anger damages relationships, the health problems associated with anger have never been made as clear. Anger not only hurts your relationships, it kills you!

Anger damages relationships more than any other single factor. It hurts people and creates mistrust. It causes your own children to fear you. And it perpetuates a way of being that’s a lie.

It’s a lie because there are many emotions floating around under your anger that are never discovered as long as the anger hides them. There’s a part of you that remains a mystery to you and to the world because it never sees the light of day.

And while there is some information for men on managing their anger, not many men seem to access it.

In fact, it tends to remain a very private matter for many men. A sense of failure and shame surrounds men who struggle with their temper. These feelings keep this a private matter, causing the cycle to stay the same or worsen.

And the simple truth about men improving their anger is that it’s a matter of choice. You no longer need to accept the notion that you’ve “got a temper,” and that’s the “way it is.”

Here are some options for men seeking to improve themselves:

  • You are the only one who can make you angry—accept this responsibility and you’ve a come a long way towards getting better.
  • Write down the irrational thinking that contributes to your anger (people should always treat me kindly, etc.). Ask yourself where you developed this thinking and give yourself some alternative thoughts that are more productive.
  • Become more aware of tuning into your body when you begin to become angry. Deep diaphragmatic breathing is a great way to do this. The ideas is to focus on you, not the “target” of the anger.
  • Prepare yourself before a stressful situation and “practice” your new, calmer response to it. Be aware that it might take some time to feel comfortable with this new response.
  • Find the stressors in your life that might be contributing to your anger—do what you can to reduce these stressors and add some self-care into your life.

When we talk about health hazards for men, we may need to include anger alongside fast food and a lack of exercise among factors that can shorten men’s lives.

Managing your anger is a learnable skill, and it benefits everyone around you.

More importantly, it may save your life.

I Yelled at My Kids

I really hadn't meant to yell. But the aftermath of it lay before me. My son was a wimpering mess on the floor and my daughter sat statue-like on the chair in front of me.

As I sat there considering my next move, it occurred to me that I needed to do something quickly.

The deafening sound of silence reminded all of us that an ugly moment had just occurred. And a voice inside me continued to insist that my kids were at fault.

"OK, you two, I'm sorry I yelled like that, what a dumb thing to do!" As I moved toward my son, it became evident that he wanted no part of me. "Get away from me!" he shouted.

I thought better of telling him not to yell at me, so I did the only thing I could think of doing. "Crabby Daddy is back," I proclaimed as I transformed my hands into pincers and crawled in crab-like fashion towards them. "I love to yell at children, then eat them!"

My son continued to yell at me to go away, but now he was laughing and crying simultaneously. My mission to undo the damage my yelling had caused was underway. I’d been able to recover quickly this time, but I knew that this moment would be remembered for awhile.

Most importantly, I wanted to remember what had really happened. What happened was that I wasn’t disciplined. I failed to control my emotions in a way that my children could emulate.

Were my children misbehaving? Absolutely. Is there a part of me that wants to blame them and let them know how badly they were acting? No question. But this is the part of me that serves my ego. It shows my children how to avoid responsibility and blame others. It’s not my “best self.”

And it’s our best self which we must always search for when we’re with our children.

Our kids don’t need perfect parents, and they won’t get them. But they do need parents who strive to get better. I’m reminded of the words of Emerson, who said, “When a man lives with God, his voice shall be as sweet as the murmur of the brook and the rustle of the corn.”

If in our lifetime we could speak to our kids with a voice this sweet, it would be enough.

But until we reach this level, what should we do after we yell at our kids?

Here are five ideas:

1. Recover quickly – Recovering emotionally (or faking your recovery) will make it much easier on your children and show them how to be resilient themselves.

2. Apologize, but don’t overdo it – It’s important to say you’re sorry, but don’t dwell on it and don’t show signs of pity. This will help create a victim of your child faster than the drop of a hat.

3. Avoid finding ways to blame them – It’s incredibly easy to blame your kids when you’re angry. It’s OK to say, “When I saw you hit your brother I felt angry,” but avoid saying, “You made me angry.” You’re responsible for your own anger—teach this to your children.

4. Process the incident with them – Children can be traumatized by yelling, and it helps to talk about what happened for each of them. Ask them questions about it and allow them a chance to talk about it if they’d like.

5. Don’t beat yourself up about it – You don’t have to envision your kids twenty years from now telling their therapist how you screwed up their life! Kids are pretty resilient and they’ll recover, especially if you follow these steps and keep working on yourself.

While we’re not perfect, we can still search for the voice as “sweet as the murmur of the brook and the rustle of the corn.”

It might even keep your kids out of the therapists’ chair.

Fathers and Little Things

I was packed and ready to leave for my two day trip. My mind had been consumed with work and with many of the small details of getting ready to go.

As I got into the car to leave, my thoughts turned to my children. I'd been preoccupied for the last few days, and now I'd be gone for a few more.

How to stay in touch with your kids during busy times is often a father's dilemma. Men tend to focus on one thing extremely well for long periods, but this can lead to trouble. Shifting from work to your family life isn't always the easiest thing to do. And if you don't show your kids that you're thinking about them, they may assume that you're not.

As I started down the road, I suddenly stopped the car and turned around.

I drove back to my house, found a couple of cards, and wrote a short message to each of my children. I put each in a "secret" place where I knew they'd find it.

When I called the next night, it was clear that they'd received the cards. "Daddy, I got your card," they both blurted excitedly. "When did you do that?"

My heart was warmed to hear this. It was such a small thing. But it had a big impact on my kids. It was their "proof" that I was thinking about them. And it was encouragement for me to continue to do the small things that have a big impact.

Here are some ideas for fathers to show your kids that you're thinking of them.

  • Call them to say hi when you're at work. It doesn't have to be more than two minutes a week, and they'll notice your efforts.
  • Leave special messages for them around the house when you're not there. This lets them know that they're in your thoughts, even when you're not there.
  • When you're out of town, call your kids and keep them up to date on what you're doing. This helps your kids to feel involved in your life.
  • Surprise your kids by showing up at an event where you weren't expected. This shows them that they're high on your priority list.
  • Make sure you tell your kids that you're thinking of them when you're away from them. Tell them that you think of them when you're at work.

They may not realize this until you tell them.

As fathers get busier and work longer hours, the little things can sometimes be lost. Don't lose the opportunity to show your kids how important they are.

Take a moment to do the small things for your kids.

It won't seem small to them.

Dads, Give Them Household Chores

You have a chore to do around the house, and your kids want to help out. You know it might be nice for them to help, but you're feeling a bit impatient.

And you know it might turn into a two hour project, with a big mess to clean up. A mess that could be avoided if you did it yourself.

We've all been there, haven't we?

It can be so much easier to do the household chores and projects without the assistance from your little friends.

After all, who's got the time in today's world to make a project longer than it needs to be?

You do.

Why is it important to include your kids in household tasks?

Once in a while, there’s some research that unveils something so important and relevant that it screams for parents to hear it.

Researcher Marty Rossman, at the University of Minnesota, studied a group of young adults from the time they were young children. The startling results of the study were that the young adults who’d participated in household chores when they were age 3 and 4, were more successful as adults than those who didn't.

Specifically, these young adults were more likely to complete their education, get a good start on a career, develop adult relationships, and avoid the use of drugs.

The early participation in household chores was deemed more important in their success than any other factor, including IQ.

On the other hand, if children didn’t begin participating in household chores until they were teenagers, the experience seemed to backfire, and had a negative effect on their success as young adults, using those same measures.

What does this really mean?

When your young kids feel as though their dad (or mom) believes they're capable of handling simple chores around the house, it’s an incredibly powerful message to them.

Dad believes I can do it!

If your kids believe that's how you feel about them as they go through life, you'll also be the parent of confident, responsible, and happy kids. That's what’s created when you choose to see your kids as capable, and you show them you believe in them.

But it's not as easy as just seeing them as capable. You also have to show patience when they tackle these chores.

You can't take over for them when they struggle, or "correct" what they did. Often, it’s what you don’t do that communicates you believe in them.

Imagine the difference you can make with your kids by allowing their participation in the family chores.

Imagine the difference in your kids esteem when they feel like a productive participant in the family from a young age.

You do have time to include your kids in chores and projects at home. Tell every other father and mother you know that they have time, too.

It's too important not to.

Top Ten Ways to Keep Your Kids from Fighting

Fighting among siblings is as natural as the changing of the seasons. And contrary to what many parents believe, sibling rivalry is a sign of mental health in a family. While there may be times when it’s difficult to deal with, there are some simple things you can do to limit fighting and make it tolerable:

1. Ignore their fighting. Fighting is often a way for kids to get you to notice them. If you ignore their fighting (unless weapons are involved) there will be less incentive for them to do it.

2. Treat your kids the same when it comes to fighting. If you get into who started things, you may be training your kids to be victims and bullies. Put them in the same boat and don't take sides.

3. Give your kids positive reinforcement when they’re cooperating. Let them know that they're doing a wonderful job when they get along. This one's easy to forget, but vitally important. Give them attention when they're behaving the way you want. Continually telling them to stop may actually be creating more fighting!

4. Limit your own fighting and arguing. Your kids will learn how to be peaceful from you. Don't expect them to do it well if you don't show them how.

5. Create an environment of cooperation. Do projects together as a family that involve cooperation. Talk about how important it is for the family to cooperate. Avoid games or activities that promote fighting or excessive competition in your kids.

6. Train your kids in peacemaking when they're away from conflict. Talk to your kids about fighting at a time when they're relaxed and open. Ask them about what other options they might have taken, rather than to hit their sister. Help them to brainstorm better solutions.

7. Avoid punishing your kids in general. Punishing kids usually just creates angry kids who are more likely to fight. While some consequences are inevitable, do your best to give choices and alternatives. Punishment may bring short term solutions, but will also bring long term problems.

8. Control how you react to their fighting. When you must intervene, make sure you stay calm. If you're angry and shaming, you actually make it more likely that fighting will occur again.

9. Limit the number of fighting opportunities you give your kids. Think about what has the potential to start fights. Don't buy a red ball and a blue ball, this can easily result in a fight by your kids. Buy two red balls—no fight. Be familiar with the times in which fighting occurs the most—when they’re hungry or tired. Take precautions, like having dinner ready before the “bewitching hour” occurs.

10. Love your kids for all they're worth. Every day, tell them you love them, and more importantly, show them. Kids who feel emotionally connected to their parents are the least likely to fight. This won't eliminate it, but the alternative isn't pretty at all.

Annoyed, Impatient Dads

"Guys, get out of the mud! How many times do I have to tell you?"

The words spilled out of my mouth. I felt myself re- creating the same words my parents had said to me so many times in the past, and I felt powerless to change my kids' actions. An alarming thought came to me, one that comes to most fathers at some point:

"Am I becoming my father?"

We were on a short vacation, and my daughter and son were doing one of the things eight and six-year- old kids like to do--playing in mud. They weren't rolling or wrestling in it, just splashing in it with their boots, and enjoying the feeling. You know, one of those feelings that we adults are far too "adult" to enjoy anymore.

It was the third and last day of our trip, and I'd been with the kids on a solo mission to northern Minnesota. My wife had stayed home to catch up on work issues, and to enjoy some time to relax. And while we'd experienced some great times on the trip, it didn't feel too great at the moment. I was struggling with something many fathers struggle with: a gnawing sense of impatience with my kids, and a feeling I should be in control of their behavior.

My son turned around to me and said, "Dad, relax, it's OK!" I smiled back at him, realizing he was right. Indeed, the mud could be washed off. No lives were in danger.

The only problem here was my desire to control them.

I wanted to thank him for his reminder. It's useful to remember that our kids are not to be controlled. They are to be guided and led, but not controlled. This impatience and desire to control can lead many fathers to an emotional disconnect with their kids. And while many fathers have an acute awareness of this issue, they convince themselves that it can't be helped.

The truth is that it can be helped, and fathers can transform the relationship they have with their kids. Here are some of the steps:

Accept responsibility for your issues and your part in this problem. Identify your "irrational thoughts," things like, "I should be in control of this situation," or, "My kids should always obey me immediately."

See how these irrational thoughts play out when you're with your kids. When does it tend to happen? What do you do? Being aware of these thoughts goes a long way towards helping you to respond to them-not react to them with anger.

Get some help to identify these issues from someone who's familiar with you. Your spouse, a close friend, or coach can help you sort it out.

When you do feel these feelings of impatience or a lack of control, practice "being with the feelings." Don't fight them. Use a calm voice-no yelling, shame, or criticizing. Stay with the feelings until they pass. Don't worry, you'll make it through, and you will get better at it!

As we neared the end of the five-hour trip home, I noticed that my kids had gotten along perfectly, and hadn't complained once about the length of the drive. They spent most of their time quietly drawing.

Finally, I said, "You two are so nice to travel with. You're so patient and get along so well!"

As I drove the last stretch toward home, I realized again that we can't control our kids, but we can control what we pay attention to. If we can catch them in the "act" of doing wonderful things, and let them know about it, we've solved most of the "problem."

So, what are you paying attention to?

Ten Ways to Have Responsible Kids

We'd all like our kids to develop into responsible people. How can we help to ensure that our kids learn the lessons of responsibility? Here are some ideas:

1. Start them with tasks when they're young. Young kids have a strong desire to help out, even as young as age two. If you're patient and creative, they can do a lot more than you think . This helps build confidence and enthusiasm for later tasks in their life.

2. Don't use rewards with your kids. If you want your kids to develop an intrinsic sense of responsibility, they need to learn the "big picture" value of the things they do. They won't learn that if they're focused on what they're going to "get."

3. Use natural consequences when they make mistakes. If they keep losing their baseball glove somewhere, let them deal with the consequences. Maybe they have to ask to borrow one for the game. Maybe they have to buy a new one if it's lost. If you rescue them every time they screw up, they'll never learn responsibility.

4. Let them know when you see them being responsible. Specifically point out what you like about their behavior. This will make it more likely to continue to happen.

5. Talk often about responsibility with your kids. Make responsibility a family value, let them know it's important.

6. Model responsible behavior for your kids. This is where they'll learn it from. Take care of your stuff. Try to be on time, and clean up the mess when you make mistakes of any kind. They're watching you very closely.

7. Give them an allowance early in their life. Let them make their own money decisions from an early age. They'll learn their lessons in a hurry. Don't bail them out if they run out of money.

8. Have a strong, unfailing belief that your kids are responsible. They'll pick up on this belief and they'll tend to rise to the level of expectation. And keep believing this, even when they mess up!

9. Train them to be responsible. Use role play and talk to them about exactly what kind of behavior you expect from them. It's hard for kids to be responsible when they don't know what it looks like.

10. Get some help and support for your parenting. There are times when it's hard to know whether you're being too controlling or too permissive as a parent. Talk to other parents, read books, join parent support groups, whatever will help you feel like you're not alone.

Parents who make responsibility for their kids a priority, and who do it in an atmosphere of love and acceptance, seem to end up with responsible kids. And, it's never too late to start!

Fathers are often very effective handymen

Fathers can have an answer for just about any problem. When your kids have emotional issues, however, you may want to avoid these "answers:"

  • "It's no big deal"
  • "Just deal with it"
  • "That's not hard at all"

These are the answers that are most likely to drive an emotional "wedge" between you and your child. The irony is that allowing them to have their feelings now will have them "getting over" their feelings more easily when they're adults.

So, repeat after me--"that must be hard for you."

That wasn't so bad, was it?

What Not to Say to Your Kids

When we're annoyed with our kids, we say a lot of things that drive our kids further from us. Michael Santoro, Ed, came up with 12 examples of things that we should avoid saying to our kids:

1. When I was your age

2. What part of the word "NO" don't you understand?

3. Because I said so!

4. Who pays the mortgage around here?

5. You're NOT going out dressed like that!

6. What do you see in him? You can do better!

7. You kids have it so easy today!

8. I didn't say that!

9. You live under my roof, you live by my rules!

10. Are you PMSing?

11. When are you going to grow up?

12. This conversation is over!

Let's all make sure our brains are engaged before our mouths drive a wedge between us and our kids.

I'm a Father, Doesn't Anyone Care?

The snow was getting heavier with each lift of the shovel. My back ached, and I was chilled to the bone.

I'd had enough for one day.

I entered the house and heard the sounds of voices engaged in a friendly game of cards. My wife and kids were sprawled out on the floor of the family room, and they were oblivious to my arrival. "Hi guys!" I yelled. There was no answer. "Hi there!" I tried again. "You can't use that card!" I heard my daughter shriek.

Then the feelings started to come. "I'm invisible to them!" I told myself. "All the stuff I do around here, and does anybody notice it? I'm working my tail off again, and they're in here playing!" As I went downstairs, I took along some heavy baggage with me.

I took blame with me, and a sense of feeling justified in my blame. My wife and kids were to blame. In my victim-filled mind, they should have been there at the door to greet me with hugs and kisses. They should have been filled with adoration at the wonderful job I did on the driveway. And they should have taken me right to the couch, where a back massage and warm food would comfort me. (The fantasies of victims can be pretty wild!)

I can't say that I felt good blaming them, but I did feel justified. And for those of us who occasionally feel victimized by our families, feeling justified can be plenty. It allows us to feel "right," while they're "wrong," and it allows us to "prove" how worthy of blame they are.

Once again in my role as a father, I'd made the fundamental error. The error that prevents us from being who we were meant to be.

I'd gone into my head, and away from my heart.

I was expecting my family to "give" me love. You know, the love that I was "owed." Fortunately, love doesn't work that way. I'd forgotten that I wasn't a parent to "give" or "get" love. Our job as parents is to discover love as the fundamental fact of life. It is to bring this expression of our love into the world. It's more a matter of "being" love than giving it.

Parents across the world have reason to be grateful, for we've all embarked on the world's most complete and intensive course on love. While we may resist it at times, we're called virtually every day to express the deep reservoir of love within us. And sometimes, because we're busy blaming others, we miss the call completely.

Fathers go through periods when they feel "outside" of their family. They feel neglected, or they feel invisible. Or, they feel like they're merely a "paycheck" to their families. But what's really happened is they've forgotten they're not on this planet to "get" love from their family members.

They're here to discover the boundless love that's always been in them.

I calmed down my thoughts and emerged from my "victim's dungeon." "Hey Dad, want to play some cards?" my son called. I dropped myself down onto the ground next to my family. "Sure, what's the game?"

My back was feeling better already.

Dads, Life, and Death

When he looked at me, it was clear my father wasn't sure who I was. And as I looked back at him, I wasn't sure who he was, either.

My father had just endured two heart surgeries and 6 days in intensive care. He'd returned to the hospital where he'd worked for 40 years. It was the hospital where all his children had been born. And as he sat in his bed gazing at me, I knew he might never be the same. The doctors said that he may have a long period of confusion after the surgeries. And because he's eighty-six, it may be many months before he returns to normal.

It's also possible he may never be "normal" again.

The roller coaster of feelings we've had the past week have settled a bit. Now, we simply wait. We wait to see if the memory comes back and the confusion fades. We hope that he regains what he once had, as we realize who he was may be "gone."

It's a realization that feels a lot like death.

To spend two days wondering if your father will live or die brings you many things. It allows you to appreciate every moment of life. It fills you with memories, and it fills you with pain. It reminds you of something that can easily be forgotten as you run around in your busy life: life is incredibly fragile, and can be taken away in an instant.

I sat there in this hospital room, spoon-feeding the man I've seen as powerful and capable my entire life. It felt like the full circle of life had come around us. It was both satisfying and frightening. It felt good to support him, yet part of me wanted to tell him to "be normal" again. I wasn't sure if I was ready to accept the full meaning of it: that my father may never be that powerful and capable person again.

My mother has been married to my father for sixty years. During the darkest time before the second surgery, she said, "You have sixty years with someone, but you just want more."

Pain and suffering have visited my family, as it will visit all families. And while we hesitate to face pain and suffering, it has great lessons to teach us. Pain and suffering are well outside of the boundaries of our everyday life. When it comes, it shatters these boundaries and turns our world upside down. We become a family with all of the others who have known pain and suffering. And we have another chance to prioritize what's truly important in our lives.

This crisis will pass, and we'll all be changed by it. The healing hands of time will do their work. I'm thankful that I've told my father everything I've wanted to say to him. And I'm thankful to have my family to lean on during this difficult time. We'll all be challenged by this to show more support, care, and love. This is as it should be.

Sometimes, it takes a crisis to remind us of why we're all here.

You and Your Kids Mistakes

We're sitting at the breakfast table, and we're in a hurry. The kids were slow to get dressed for school this morning, and we needed to get out the door soon. "Clank!" My five-year-old son spills his glass of milk all over the table and the floor. He and my daughter become statues as they gaze at the mess. I feel my mind begin to race and an urge to raise my voice.

And then, I remember to take a breath. "What do you need to do, buddy?" My son jumps out of his seat and gets a towel to wipe up the mess. I'm able to avoid critical comments, and he's able to feel better after cleaning up. Yet I know it was a close call. It was another incident that might easily have gone a different direction, a direction that could cost my son dearly in terms of esteem and confidence.

One of the most difficult parts of being a father is learning to accept your children's mistakes. It's easy to be loving, supportive, and helpful when your kids are mistake-free, but most fathers who pay attention don't find too many mistake-free periods of their kids lives.

Let's be clear about this. Kids don't enjoy making mistakes. They usually try to do their best; but they're doing their best considering the resources they have at the time. Sometimes they're tired, sometimes they're easily distracted, and sometimes they're strong-willed, but they generally do the best they can.

Making mistakes is simply one of the ways that kids learn about the world!

When our kids make mistakes, we have choices to make. Fathers can either make choices that help create kids who are defensive and who lie to them, or they can make choices that help create kids who learn from their mistakes and improve on them.

Kids who fear punishment or the loss of love in response to their mistakes learn to hide their mistakes. These children live in two different places-- one where they have the love and support of their father (parents), and one where they feel if their mistakes were discovered, they'd be undeserving of that love. It's hard for these kids to fully accept their parents' love and support even when it's expressed. It's also difficult for these kids to set high standards for themselves, because they tend to be fearful of failing.

In short, these kids have learned the painful feelings of shame. They weren't born with these feelings- they learn them.

Here are some ideas for fathers who are committed to helping create kids who can learn from their mistakes, and who aren't afraid of making a few:

Absolutely accept the notion that your kids are doing their best, and that they'll learn faster from their mistakes if they're in an environment that accepts mistakes.

Understand that your difficulty with your kids' mistakes is in fact a reflection of your own esteem; be aware of this and deal with your own issues first.

Know the shaming messages that you give to your kids--messages that do a lot of damage. Here's a few of them:

  • How could you have done that?
  • You don't listen to me!
  • You can do better than that!
  • What's the matter with you?

Keep providing your kids with learning experiences, but at the same time structure their environment so they can't make too many mistakes (don't have expensive glassware around the house where children play).

Provide a great model for your children by the way you react to making mistakes: do you get defensive and stretch the truth, or do you own the mistake and learn something from it? Create a culture that's based on learning from mistakes.

Shame and judgment don't need to be family values in your home. Before you shame your kids, reflect back on your own mistakes. Unless, of course, you haven't made any.

TV, Video Games, and Your Kids

There's been a great debate in our country for the last number of years concerning violent TV and video games.

There are thousands of studies indicating that there's a link between violent video images and increased aggressiveness and violence in children.

There are also studies that say there's little relationship between the two, and that there may even be some visual/spatial benefits that kids receive from video games.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics the average child in this country will see 200,000 acts of violence by the time they're eighteen.

Common sense tells me this is probably not benefiting them.

But the truth is that it's difficult to prove the exact impact that these images have on kids.

For parents, this may be the wrong question to be asking. Perhaps there are other issues here that would be useful to consider.

As a coach who works with parents, I see the frequent power struggles that come up around video games and TV watching. When I see young kids in front of a screen, I wonder about all of the other things those kids might be doing.

But it's extremely difficult to be a parent without the "electric babysitter" these days, especially considering how busy parents are today.

There is also the added complication of other parents who allow greater access to video games and TV to their kids.

So what do you do about this issue?

How about using your gut instinct and taking a firm stand?

A while back my wife and I decided that when our kids were young we'd like them to spend the large majority of their time interacting with other human beings, not screens. We also realized that at some point in the future this may change. But because of this decision, we're sometimes looked at as peculiar by people we know.

And while it does cause some hardship, we haven't regretted it for a moment.

It simply seemed like the right thing to do.

I would challenge all parents to look at this issue and to make a decision about what kind of family culture you want. And don't base it on what the Jones' are doing across the street or what popular culture tells you to do.

Make your decision, set your limits, and do your kids an enormous service by standing by your limits, no matter what. Firmly and respectfully state that, "this is what we do in our house" and then stand by it.

I don't know if video games and violent TV make kids more violent. And I don't think TV or video games are inherently evil.

I just want the best for my kids, because they'll only be kids once in their life.

Saving Memories of Your Children

A few years ago, my three-year-old son and I settled in for the last stage of his good night routine. It had been a good day for him, he had been very active and had spent a great deal of time in the sand and in the water.

Right now he was tired, and I was as well. We lay down together in his little bed and after a few moments he said, “Daddy, when I get big can I live with you?” I assured him he could live with me any time he wanted to.

A moment later he said, “Dad, when you die you’re going to feel something on your face and it will be me touching your face.” Then he added, “I will kiss you on your cheek.” He moved over, kissed me lightly on the cheek and cuddled in next to me.

I was aware of tears suddenly welling up in my eyes and rolling down my cheeks. I was also aware that I didn’t want to have to explain why I was crying; as I opened my eyes to look at my son, I noticed he was fast asleep.

I spent some time just looking at him, savoring the moment and wondering about the depth of the reaction I had just had. It occurred to me later that I didn’t remember having many of these kinds of tender moments with my own father. I felt both happy for a chance to experience it with my son, and saddened that I didn’t remember more of them with my own father.

It also occurred to me that this was a time in our lives that would be extremely short-lived. This time of innocence, and the magical moments that make up a three-year-old’s life, would soon be gone forever.

What will remain, however, will be my memory of this moment that we had together. It was a moment that made all of the difficult work of being a father worthwhile. It was a moment worth remembering.

Being a committed father can at times feel like an incredibly thankless and unending job. It can feel like you are no more than the janitor, chauffeur, and handyman in the house where you live. And then you will have “a moment.” A moment like this in which your child expresses absolute, pure, and unconditional love for you.

When your kids have left home and you look back at these years, it will be one of the memories--strung together with many others--that make up the recollections of your fathering.

As we collect these important memories, it seems worthwhile to discuss how it is that you remember them--both for yourself and for your children. Here are some ideas:

  • Write a letter to each of your children, in which you remember the experiences you had with them and also some reflections on what you were experiencing while they grew up. It can be a valuable way to remember these experiences, and also a wonderful gift to your children when they get older.
  • Regularly tell your children about some of the most memorable times you‘ve had with them and some of the entertaining/funny things that they said or did. Kids love to hear stories about themselves from their dad or mom, so have a boatload of them on hand.
  • Form rituals around your children whenever possible, whether it’s for some event in their life or a changing of the season. Using rituals will be a great way for all of you to remember these things and to make them more meaningful.
  • Start your own parenting journal in which you chronicle the joys and struggles of being a father. It will not only give you a priceless piece of reading years down the road, but will help you to better understand yourself as you reflect on your own joys and struggles.
  • Encourage your children to start their own journal when they are old enough. This is a great way for your kids to help themselves process their own feelings. They’ll be more likely to do it if they see you’re doing it as well.

Many fathers lament the speed with which their kids grew up and were out of the house. They feel that they’d like to have more to remember of their children while they grew up.

Videos and pictures are certainly valuable ways to remember your kids, but they don’t capture what you were experiencing during those years. Keeping a written record of your reflections during these years will provide you with a valuable way to capture these experiences.

There’s going to be a time, soon after your kids leave home, when all you’ll be able to “hold” is your memories of them.

May you find a way to hold them that honors the precious times.

Ten Ways to Teach Values to your Kids

In a consumer-driven society that broadcasts values you don't approve of, how can you teach values to your kids? Here are ten ideas to help you:

1. Tell them your life stories and teach through your stories

Kids love to hear stories about your childhood. Weave in some moral dilemmas, and you've got great opportunities to teach them values. It's especially effective at bedtime, when there are fewer distractions. They'll fall asleep with the story swirling around inside them.

2. Live your own life according to your values- walk the talk.

Kids learn by imitating, especially at a young age. They're very adept at seeing the match between what you say and what you do. Don't give them confusing signals; follow your own values every moment.

3. Expose them to your religion, faith, or spirituality

It seems especially important to let your kids know they're not alone. Guiding your kids towards your faith or spiritual beliefs will strengthen their values, and provide parents with a framework for their life.

4. Pay attention to who else might be teaching values to your kids

Get to know your child's teachers, coaches, friends, etc. Anyone who spends time with your children may be influencing them. Know their values and beliefs as well.

5. Ask your kids questions that will stimulate dialogue about values

Telling your kids what values they should have won't be very effective, especially when your kids get older. Asking them "curious" questions will allow discussions that will eventually lead to values. "What did you think about that fight?" will be more effective than, "He shouldn't have started that fight!"

6. Talk to them about values in a relaxed and easy way

Nothing will turn your kids off more than preaching values to them after they've screwed up! Talk to them when everyone's relaxed, and do it in a light, conversational manner. Be aware of using the "parental tone," which has your kids wanting to run for the door.

7. Limit their exposure to TV and video games

One of the ways to teach values to your kids is by showing them what you avoid. Advertisers in the US will be spending over 3 billion dollars to try and convince your kids that they'll feel better if they have the right clothes, etc. If you really want to show them there are more valuable ways to spend your time, limit your own TV watching as well.

8. Involve your kids in helping others

Kids learn values when they experience them. Allow them to experience helping others by donating a portion of their money to the needy, or by getting involved in charity work. When your kids can see first-hand the results of their efforts, an important value will be established for a lifetime.

9. Have frequent conversations about values in your household

Don't make the mistake of only talking about values when something goes wrong. Your kids need to hear your values reflected often in conversations. It's another way for them to know that it's important.

10. Have high expectations for your kids' value systems

Your kids will tend to rise to the level of your expectations. Their value system will often reflect yours, as long as you expect them to make it an important part of their life. When your kids are making a decision, ask them to consider how their decision fits into their own value system.

Simple Living Amidst a Holiday Frenzy

We were sitting in the family room.

My kids had finished their first day back at school after the holiday break, and my wife was working late. My six-year-old son was finger knitting, and my eight-year-old daughter was knitting a scarf. I sat near them and folded clothes. Occasionally someone would share something that had happened during the day, but otherwise it was quiet.

And as we sat there doing our chores, I began to appreciate this time we were spending together. The orgy of presents, travel, and Christmas cookies was over. The routines and rhythms of the work week had begun again. My kids needed structure as badly as I did, and we were getting it by being together in this quiet, simple way.

As I sat there folding clothes, I marveled at how little we really needed to be happy. It was quite enough just to be together as we did our work. Many of the gifts my kids received for Christmas were already put away. As often happens, there was a brief flurry of excitement when the gifts were first discovered. Shortly after, the thrill of ownership faded away.

And while my kids may be too young to understand it, I’d like them to know that possessions don’t really make them happy. When you live in a materialistic society, it’s just the message you receive. As author Christopher Lasch states, “A mass advertising culture creates consumers who are perpetually unsatisfied, restless, anxious, and bored.”

I’d like my kids to know someday that the pursuit of possessions has made more people unhappy than happy, and that it actually ends up limiting their freedom of choice in the world. I’d like them to know that possessions can keep them focused on their own self-interest, rather than focusing on how they can benefit others. And I’d like them to know that one of the keys to a happy life is the pursuit of simple pleasures, which, in today’s day and age, is an act of courage.

I thought about all of the possessions I had somewhere in the house. How many of them had I really used in the last 6 months? How many of them really had an impact on my life, or made me happy beyond the first few minutes of receiving them?

Only a handful.

And as I sat there with my kids enjoying our time together, I sensed that more trips to the Goodwill were in order, as well as a greater commitment to simple living in our family. John Burroughs, the nineteenth-century naturalist, observed that “The number of things we can really make our own is limited. We cannot drink from the ocean be we ever so thirsty. A cup of water from the spring is all we need.”

As parents in America today, we’re often made to feel thirsty. We’re made to feel as though we need to provide the latest gadgets for ourselves, and for our children. And it seems that at the rate we’re going, these gadgets will cost us most of our money, and most of our time.

Don’t be fooled. All you and your kids really need is a “cup of water from the spring.” It’s all we’ve ever needed.

© 2006 Mark Brandenburg

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To this day I can remember my father's voice, singing over me in the stillness of the night. - Carl G. Jung

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