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.

Feeling unappreciated in your family?

Greetings! Fathers can often feel unappreciated in their families. Usually what this means is that they’ve forgotten a fundamental rule of being successful in their family relationships. If you ever, this article might be just for you. Enjoy!

I’d had about as much as I could handle for one day.

My computer was frozen, I was tired from a weekend with little sleep, and I was working in a yard that would soon need a scythe to cut it. Kids activities were crowding an already crowded schedule, and there seemed like no time to relax.

When do other people find the time to do all these things?

As I entered my house, I marveled at how sore a human body could get from yard work. I was still annoyed that my kids had left stuff in the backyard after repeated requests to pick them up. And, I’d been noticing that the rest of my family had done their share of relaxing while I toiled in the yard. I needed about a month to get caught up, and I was not ready for any more to be put on my plate.

“Honey, will you make dinner?” my wife called from the family room.

A very angry voice appeared in my head, saying things to me which weren’t supportive of maintaining a kind, loving family. I considered a few suggestions from this voice, before discussing the dinner plans with my wife. It became clear from this discussion that my wife had her own issues going on.

I swallowed hard, and went into the kitchen to start dinner. The angry voices went with me. “That’s some gratitude for you!” I said to myself. “Does anyone notice how hard I’m working? I’m absolutely invisible!”

Where was the adoration for a job well done in the yard? Where was the back massage and cold drink that I was so deserving of? (The fantasies of a victim have no boundaries!).

In the drama that played out in my head, I was a hard-working father who did all the right things, and a victim of an unappreciative family. I felt completely justified in blaming my family for not acknowledging me more. And of course, by blaming them I would spread the virus of blame around my family faster than a brush fire. I would feel “right,” and I could feel justified in seeing them as “wrong,” and as “blameworthy.”

Fortunately for me, there was no back massage and no cold drink. There was not even any acknowledgement for a job well done. There was only my own realization that I had failed to remember my purpose in my family and on this earth. I had failed to remember that I am not “owed” love by my family. 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.

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 every day to express the deep reservoir of love within us. But sometimes, because we’re busy blaming others, we miss the call completely.

Fathers go through periods when they feel “outside” of their family. We feel neglected, or we feel invisible. Or, we may feel like we’re simply a “paycheck.” But what’s really happened is we’ve forgotten we’re not on this planet to “get” love from our family members. We’re here to discover the boundless love that’s always been in us.

After catching myself in my “victim’s dungeon,” I began to climb my way out. “Hey, have I got a great dinner cooked up for all of you,” I said.

And although the response wasn’t overwhelming, I didn’t even flinch.

“Get up to your room!”

“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 followed. 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 has 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 temper. These feelings cause these angry outbursts to “stay in the family,” causing the cycle to stay the same, or even worsen. And the simple truth about men improving their anger is that it’s a matter of choice. It’s a choice to continue to alienate loved ones, and it’s a choice to take responsibility for your anger.

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.

When talking about health hazards for men, anger needs to be included alongside the other lifestyle factors that can shorten men’s lives. Managing your anger is a learnable skill, and it benefits everyone around you.

And just as importantly, it may save your life.

An Interview

I’m sharing an interview with Abel Cheng of on fathering from May 24, 2007:

1. Usually children are closer to mom for some reason. For a dad, how does he overcome this and form a closer bond with a child?

It’s important to understand that Dads get close to kids in their own way. It all depends on how we define “closeness.” Dads form a bond with their kids by doing things with them and sharing experiences. Mothers often are the ones that kids will go to when they have a problem or when they want to share their day, but Dads can be involved in that too. All they need to do is to listen well, not judge too much, and to share some of their life with their kids too.

2. How do we not lose our temper when our kids misbehave?

Have a plan! Practice being aware of your anger before it boils over. You can even say, “I’m feeling really frustrated right now!” This will help you to be more aware of the possibility of an angry outburst, as well as showing your kids how to express frustration in a healthy way. It will also help to employ a relaxation technique—deep breathing can be a great tool to use.

3. By working with your clients, what's the biggest problem dads face today and how to overcome it?

Dads are incredibly busy, like everyone else. They are stressed out and want to be involved in their kids lives, but are finding it very challenging. Dads need to make choices about their lives today and how they structure each day. They will need to say no to many things in order to spend more time with their kids—golf, TV, excessive newspaper reading, etc. There is a great personal development seminar waiting for Dads right in their own home—their kids!

4. Should you reward your child when he does something good? If yes, how to do it right?

Typically, no, rewards don’t work very well. Kids who receive rewards don’t tend to learn the intrinsic value of their work. Kids should learn to work around the house because that’s what families do—not because they get paid for it. You don’t want your kids to learn to expect a reward every time they finish a project, you want them to learn to feel satisfied that they did a job well. An occasional reward won’t kill anybody, but don’t use them often.

5. A personal question: Who has the most impact on you being a good father and why?

Actually, my father wasn’t a particularly involved father, and, like many fathers of his era, he wasn’t very skilled at it! I’ve been determined to be involved in my kids’ lives, in some part because my father wasn’t as involved in mine. So I think you could say he had the most impact.

6. What's the best activity a dad can do when he's alone with his child?

I wouldn’t say there’s a single activity, but as a rule doing what your child wants to do and being absolutely in the moment when you’re with them is the greatest gift you can give them. They want and need us to be with them and to enjoy our time with them.

7. How to instill discipline and raise a well-behaved child?

Very simple—Have high expectations, spell out the rules clearly and follow them. Be consistent and expect pleases and thank you’s, good manners, responsibility, etc. Limit the amount you reward and punish—use consequences instead—if you don’t get ready for bed in time, you lose your story! You can do all of this at the same time you’re being kind. Also, it doesn’t hurt to limit their time in front of screens—computer, TV, video games, etc., especially when they’re young.

8. When is the right time to teach our kids about money and how?

I believe about age 6 or 7 you could start giving them a small allowance, and give them a savings jar, a spending jar, and a donations jar. Let them learn the lessons of money for themselves, and show them how you do it yourself. Show them your check book at some point and teach them how to spend and stay on a budget.

9. A father's role is often neglected and undermined. What do you think a father's role should be in raising kids?

A fathers role should be one in which he is totally involved in discipline(not punishment), domestic duties, learning from his wife if he’s married, listening well to his kids, planning outings for his family, sharing his life with them, etc. A fathers role does not have to be undermined—he needs to educate himself, improve his fathering, and take his rightful place as an equal partner in parenting.

10. When you get disrespect from your toddler (yelling at you, being rude to you, etc.), what's the best thing you can do?

Be firm, but be kind. Punishing your toddler for this behavior will not solve the problem. Who said that making your child feel worse will make them better? Let them know that that behavior isn’t OK, and that if it continues they will have to leave the area, stop playing with the toy they have, etc. Stay calm. Give them choices, but do your best to keep your composure so they learn the skill from you. After all, you’re the adult, right?

Forgiving your Father for Fathers Day

The memory of my father stays with me like a shadow.

It’s a shadow filled with a complex array of gratitude, sadness, disappointment, and awe. It is the same for all men, for there’s no escaping these memories. They are deeply imbedded in us, and they impact us every day of our lives.

And whether you’re trying to live up to your father’s expectations, prove him wrong, or rid your memory of him, the shadow of your father will remain. Each effort demands its’ own cost. And each effort will keep the shadow close to you.

When you have children, the memories of your father grow stronger. The wounds that haven’t healed are poised to be inflicted on them. We all carry wounds from our father. We all feel the pain of not “measuring up” in some way. But whatever your wounds, it’s important to remember this: What is not healed in you will show up in your children. It will show up no matter how hard you fight against it, and no matter how hard you try “not to be your father.” It will show up, and transcend all your efforts to prevent it.

What’s left to us is a simple choice. Would we like to live with these wounds, and transfer them to our sons and daughters, or would we like to explore them, and find a way to heal them? To be an effective father is to understand the power of the memories you make with your child each day. These memories can be touched by the wounds from your childhood, or they can be touched by forgiveness and love. And while the path to forgiveness can be difficult, it’s worth every ounce of effort you give it. And most importantly, it is a gift to your children, and the generations that follow them.

The first step towards following this path is to identify the wounds that stay with you. In his book, “The Wisdom of the Journey,” Don Jones said, “Until a man learns what went wrong in his father relationship and finds healing for it, he never arrives at mature manhood.” To learn what went wrong in your father relationship, it’s helpful to ask yourself some questions. And since our issues with our fathers are so often associated with anger towards our kids, this is a good place to start. There are three key questions you can ask yourself:

• What makes me the most angry and frustrated when I’m with my kids? What’s the pattern I see most often? Is it when they don’t listen, or when I feel powerless? If I’m not sure, what does my spouse think?

• How are these patterns connected to my relationship with my father? When did my father get angry with me? What do I resent about my father’s relationship with me? When my kids behave in a certain way, what are the “reminders” this gives me about my childhood?

• What are the irrational thoughts I’ve created as a result of the wounds with my father? Thoughts like, “I’m not good enough,” “I should be in control of every situation,” or “My kids should always listen” can dominate your relationship with your kids.

Understanding these thoughts won’t make them go away, but it will make it easier to anticipate and change your behavior.

Forgiveness can be a powerful and transforming experience. It is a way of giving up hope that the past can be changed. When you forgive your father, you accept the past as it was, and ready yourself to move forward. No matter how abusive or absent your father was, you accept what happened, and stop blaming your father for your current problems.

Forgiveness is not a one-time event. It happens emotionally when we feel the pain and sadness from letting go of a better past, and what we might have had. It happens when we stop blaming our fathers, and stop using anger to shield us from our sadness.

Forgiveness happens in our thoughts when we see our fathers for who they were, and not for whom we wanted them to be. It happens when we end the illusion of the selfless father, who looks after our needs first and foremost.

Forgiveness is complete when we allow it to unfold. It is a process, and it may take years. But as each layer of anger peels away, your opportunities expand. The energy that was devoted to anger and regret can now be devoted to things that matter: passion, truth, and love.

Fathers Day is coming, and there is no better time to consider forgiveness. It will allow you to feel more accepted by your father, and to more easily accept your children. And among the responsibilities that fathers have today, none is greater than accepting their children.

If you can forgive your own father and accept your children, you’ve supplied many of the tools your children will need to thrive in a complex and challenging world.

The rest is going to be up to them.

Shame on You?

“What are you thinking? Haven’t we talked about this before?” My seven-year-old son looked down at the food that had just spilled on the kitchen floor.

He stood statue-still, as children often do after an accident. The words and tone I’d used were having their impact. He braced himself to fight the tears, and prepared to clean things up.

When I thought about it later, I realized the worst moment wasn’t the food hitting the floor. The worst moment was seeing his face hiding the shame and anguish he was feeling. It was realizing I’d been responsible for helping him “shove down” big feelings too painful to deal with.

The truth was difficult. I was teaching my son to feel shame.

So how is it that we can do something like this to our children?

The dynamics of shame are fairly simple. They are often at the heart oftoxic relations between parents and children. When you’re unable to change the behavior of your children, you may have a rush of feelings that include frustration, humiliation, and anger. These feelings have been with you since you were a child, and they are associated with feeling defective in your own childhood.

Most children go through periods in their life feeling misunderstood and mistreated. The feelings of shame that were generated from those times produced defense mechanisms that protected them from having to experience those painful moments again. They are “stored” in your body, but not in conscious awareness.

When you become a parent, you are constantly reminded of past shame-filled experiences in your interactions with your children. The shame comes rushing back in an avalanche of feelings and defenses. When you’re “in” your own shame, everything is distorted. When your children make mistakes, they’re your mistakes. When they appear defective, you feel defective. You can easily become overly concerned about other people’s opinions, and about what’s right and wrong.

And in this avalanche of shame, you can lose sight of the most important thing of all—the needs of your children.

Here are some steps to limit or avoid the impact of shame on your family:

Look at your own history of shame, and how it’s triggered by your children. Try to find the irrational thoughts and messages that are getting you into trouble. Get to know these triggers well, and be prepared for them.

Get to know your child’s reaction to shame, and how quickly they can reconnect with you after a shaming episode. Never forget that your child wants to be in a positive, loving relationship with you. The sooner you can reconnect after a shaming episode, the better.

Tell your children that shaming messages happen, and that most parents (and most kids) say irrational things and act in irrational ways at times. This will help them to process what’s happened to them.

Be the first one to initiate better feelings between you and your child after a shaming episode. If it takes awhile for your child to recover, be patient with the process, but don’t stop trying to reconnect.

Don’t beat yourself up after you shame your child. This only gets you caught up in the same cycle of shame that you unleashed on your child. Practice the art of being kind and gentle with yourself.

My son finished cleaning up the food, and sat back down at the table with a long look on his face. He didn’t look ready to reconnect with his Dad anytime soon.

“Thanks for cleaning up, buddy. If you’re done eating, you can wrestle this big, mean daddy to the ground in the family room.”

After shaking his head, a corner of his mouth curled up. Seconds later, we were doing battle on the family room floor.

This shaming episode was over, and the recovery was rapid. But the expression of shame does a great deal of damage to your kids, and it’s ready to rush forward in a heartbeat.

Learning more about your own legacy of shame can be the first step towards lessening the frequency of these unconscious reactions. All it takes is a willingness to visit a difficult part of your past, and a determination to leave a better legacy for your own family.

You didn’t deserve shame when you were a kid.

Your kids don’t, either.

Want To Have Responsible Kids?

It’s a good idea to remember that when your kids misbehave, they do it for a reason: Not enough attention, tired, overwhelmed, etc. When you punish them, you usually increase the chances of misbehavior again, and create a child who’s “sneakier” about getting caught.

Instead, try natural consequences: If your kids don't pick up their room in a timely fashion at night, then there isn't time for their story that's read to them before bed. If your teenager doesn't get the car home on time, then they don't drive for a while.

The point is to connect the misbehavior with the consequence — the closer the better. If your son keeps forgetting his glove to go to baseball practice but you keep retrieving it for him, he'll keep forgetting it!

If as a natural consequence you let him deal with it on his own, he'll probably learn pretty fast to remember it. You'll create kids who learn from their own misbehavior and who take more responsibility for themselves. Isn't that what we really want for them?

(I know I’ll hear from the “punishment is good” group on this one, but you may want to save your emails — I’m not buying it!)

Should You Tell Your Kids Everything?

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. So 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.  

Do You Let Your Children Help?

Greetings to you! The next time you consider whether you should have your kids doing chores around the house, consider this article. Hope you enjoy it:

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.

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.

Going Beyond "Getting Your Needs Met"

With a divorce rate in this country that approaches 50%, and a fairly sizable percentage of marriages that aren’t particularly blissful, it’s difficult to avoid searching for the answer to the battle of the sexes. Would you like to stop searching?

We’ve moved through the old paradigm of getting your needs met in relationships, and it has proven itself to be a miserable failure. Why? Attempting to get your needs met in your relationship causes some troublesome things to happen. First, it causes you to focus mainly on your needs and not on the desires of your partner. Secondly, it sets you up for disaster, because it has you believing you deserve something that may well not be delivered.

All across this great country of ours, battles are raging between men and women: She needs to talk and connect, and he needs his space and independence. Who wins here? The answer, of course, is that both lose because of a flawed view of what a successful relationship is all about. What also happens is that both people start to blame the other for not meeting their needs.

For those who are really serious about success in their relationships, it’s important to understand that blaming your partner is an enormous problem itself. It creates a bigger problem, and has you convinced that you’re not part of the problem. Nothing could be further from the truth. Blaming has never worked and never will. It may have you feeling justified, but it will always hurt your relationship.

Feelings may be very deceptive. They can deceive you in your relationship with your partner. This can be difficult for people who were raised during the “honor your feelings” era of relationships. Your feelings tell you things like, “I can’t believe she could do something like that to me,” or, “How could she treat me so badly?” These feelings are the result of your own low self-esteem and your own personal history of victimization.

While it’s true that your partner may treat you in a way you don’t like sometimes, it’s not true that you need to react to it with strong negative feelings. These strong negative feelings are a reflection of your own esteem issues. These feelings also have a way of keeping your partner engaged in the struggle with you so that you can continue to blame each other. When you’re both engaged in the struggle, you’ll believe that she needs to be fixed. She’ll think the same of you. Nobody wins and everybody loses. This isn’t very smart or effective.

What would happen for people in their important relationships if they gave up defending themselves and believing their needs needed to be met? What would happen if they worked at being kind and caring with their partners? I’ll tell you what would happen. They’d have great relationships! After all, the only thing that you can do to improve a relationship is to improve you.

So stop looking over at your partner and seeing all of the flaws. Stop blaming them. They have issues just like we all do. But if you see that person as a collection of flaws, you’ll have no chance at a successful relationship. And it’s successful relationships in life that make us truly happy.

A Father’s Gratitude

Fatherhood has a way of pulling you in and engulfing you in a sea of activities and emotions that you didn’t expect. It doesn’t often lend itself to quiet reflection about what it means to be a father. But as I look back on the fathering I’ve done so far, I’m struck by the changes that my children have helped to create in me.

Changes that will last forever.

And if I reflect on it further, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for their assistance on this path of change.

When your child is born, it’s a moment in which you have no other needs. Your children are born perfectly, and they provide all that you could ever want. Because they’re perfect, they call on you to meet that perfection. It’s the beginning of a journey to become a part of a bigger plan, one that’s much bigger than you are. And to meet this perfection, you’re forced to face the demons that are a part of your life.

For many fathers, there is no pain greater than falling short of the expectations of your children. It’s a reminder that these demons still exist, and that they’re passed on to our children if we don’t face them. My children remind me of my demons often, and for that I am thankful. For I can be blind to my own issues, and there is no greater incentive to improve than knowing that what isn’t healed in me will show up in my children as well.

I’m thankful for what my children have taught me about my parents. They’ve allowed me to understand my parents better and to honor them for all that they did. I have an appreciation for decisions made by my parents that I didn’t agree with at the time. I now know these decisions as acts of love. And I feel an increased desire to return the love and kindness that my parents showed me.

My children have helped me to increase my hatred for war and conflict. They’ve helped me to know the importance of teaching my son that the model of manhood based on showing power over others is outdated and destructive. And they’ve sharpened my eye for what’s worth fighting for in this world.

I want to thank my children for showing me the power and beauty of innocent, pure love. The kind of love that can take fathers outside of their own importance and into the life of another of God’s creations. The kind of love that is devoid of selfish interests and wishes.

Within the deep love that I have for my children, I’ve found some responsibilities and hardships. But mostly, I’ve found freedom. I’ve found the freedom to love others unconditionally. I’ve found the freedom to look at the world through different eyes. And I’ve found the freedom to expand my capacity to experience both joy and pain. Through all of it, I’ve had the freedom to experience a love for my kids that words don’t adequately describe.

It’s easy to get stuck on how much we do for our kids.

Let’s not forget that this is a path that goes both ways

Top Ten Ways to Raise Emotionally Intelligent Kids

Having a high level of emotional intelligence in your children is the best way to ensure that they live a happy, successful, and responsible life as an adult. Here are ten ways to help your kids attain a high degree of emotional intelligence:

1. Model emotional intelligence yourself. Yes, your kids are watching very closely. They see how you respond to frustration, they see how resilient you are, and they see whether you’re aware of your own feelings and the feelings of others.

2. Be willing to say “no” to your kids. There’s a lot of stuff out there for kids. And your kids will ask for a lot of it. Saying no will give your kids an opportunity to deal with disappointment and to learn impulse control. To a certain degree, your job as a parent is to allow your kids to be frustrated and to work through it. Kids who always get what they want typically aren’t very happy.

3. Be aware of your parental “hotspots”. Know what your issues are—what makes you come unglued and what’s this really about? Is it not being in control? Not being respected? Underneath these issues lies a fear about something. Get to know what your fear is so you’re less likely to come unglued when you’re with your kids. Knowing your issues doesn’t make them go away, it just makes it easier to plan for and to deal with.

4. Practice and hone your skills at being non-judgmental. Start labeling feelings and avoid name-calling. Say, “he seems angry,” rather than, “what a jerk.” When your kids are whiny or crying, saying things like, “you seem sad,” will always be better than just asking them to stop. Depriving kids of the feelings they’re experiencing will only drive them underground and make them stronger.

5. Start coaching your kids. When kids are beyond the toddler years, you can start coaching them to help them to be more responsible. Instead of “get your hat and gloves,” you can ask, “what do you need to be ready for school?” Constantly telling your kids what to do does not help them to develop confidence and responsibility.

6. Always be willing to be part of the problem. See yourself as having something to do with every problem that comes along. Most problems in families get bigger when parents respond to them in a way that exacerbates the problem. If your child makes a mistake, remember how crucial it is for you to have a calm, reasoned response.

7. Get your kids involved in household duties at an early age. Research suggests that kids who are involved in household chores from an early age tend to be happier and more successful. Why? From an early age, they’re made to feel they are an important part of the family. Kids want to belong and to feel like they’re valuable.

8. Limit your kids access to mass media mania. Young kids need to play, not spend time in front of a screen. To develop creativity and problem-solving skills, allow your kids time to use free play. Much of the mass media market can teach your kids about consumerism, sarcasm, and violence. What your kids learn from you and from free play with others will provide the seeds for future emotional intelligence.

9. Talk about feelings as a famil. State your emotional goals as a family. These might be no yelling, no name-calling, be respectful at all times, etc. Families that talk about their goals are more likely to be aware of them and to achieve them. As the parent, you then have to “walk the talk.”

10. See your kids as wonderful. There is no greater way to create emotional intelligence in your child than to see them as wonderful and capable. One law of the universe is, “what you think about expands.” If you see your child and think about them as wonderful, you’ll get a lot of “wonderful.” If you think about your child as a problem, you’ll get a lot of problems.

Having a high IQ is nice, but having a high “EQ” is even better. Make these ten ideas daily habits and you’ll give your kids the best chance possible to be happy, productive, and responsible adults.

Do You Keep Your Promises to Your Kids?

I was bringing my kids home from a long day of play one Fall night not long ago. It was a difficult ride home, and they were tired, hungry, and whiny. I wanted to get them home as fast as I could.

As we neared our house, my son exclaimed, “You said you’d take us for ice cream!” I cringed when I heard this, because I remembered that I’d promised that I’d take them for ice cream. I began to give excuses concerning why we needed to go home.

They would have none of it.

I turned the car around, and we went to get ice cream.

We got home past their bed time, and they were tired. But there was something that felt good about this ice cream trip. I kept my word to my kids. And my word is something that I always want them to be able to count on.

Your kids will have an incredible memory for the promises you make to them. In fact, you can assume that any promise you’ve ever made to your kids has been remembered.

It’s important to know why this is so. When kids are younger, they have very powerful emotions that dominate their lives. Can you remember how excited you were as a young child when you went to a ball game for the first time or went on a trip?

Kids live in their emotions, and when they hear something promised to them, they get very excited. They can picture the promise happening and keep it with them in a way that’s much more powerful than we’re able to. For this reason, they won’t forget what you promise them. Ever! So don’t even think about making a promise that you might not be able to keep.

It doesn’t take too much for kids to begin to lose trust in you. A few broken promises can have a big impact on a child. Very simply, one of your jobs as a father (parent) is to keep your promises. Treat them as sacred, and do what’s necessary to keep them.

Some day your kids may grow up and have their own kids.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see that they’ve learned the importance of keeping their promises with them?

My kids are driving me crazy!

It’s a refrain that’s being heard around the country. And when you conduct parent workshops, the same issues that produce that refrain come up over and over for parents. No matter where you go, parents are talking about the same problems with their kids. And the sad truth about these problems is that parents are usually a big part of the problem.

Here are three issues that keep coming up for parents, and an explanation of how parents can often solve their own problems.

Problem #1: My kids don’t listen to me. To expect that kids will listen to you perfectly all the time is an irrational thought. Kids don’t listen and attend to things in the same way that adults do. They can be intensely focused on the activity they’re involved with. Kids will often need you to repeat things a number of times in a patient, pleasant tone. And yes, your job is to be very patient with them.

It is often the “parental” tone of parents’ voices that is part of the problem when kids don’t listen. After all, who wants to be lectured constantly about what to do? If things still don’t work, take action—kids will respond to action much better than they will to words.

Problem #2: My kids aren’t respectful—they talk back and argue too much: One of the problems with not having obedient kids anymore is that kids feel more freedom to speak their mind. This can be irritating, but it’s far better than obedient kids who do what they’re told out of fear.

If your child talks to you in a disrespectful way, you have choices. One choice is to be angry with them and to actually create more of the very behavior that you dislike. Getting angry when your child talks back to you is a great example of creating your own problems.

A better choice is to ask them what’s bothering them in a compassionate way. Kids will often take out their feelings on someone who they feel safe with—you! And remember that you can tell them in a calm and firm manner that it’s not OK to talk to you that way.

Arguing is a choice for parents. It still takes two to tango. Most parents who complain about their kids arguing are pretty good at it themselves. You may disagree often with your kids, but arguments can usually be avoided if parents stay disciplined.

Problem #3: My kids aren’t achieving as well as they should. Whether it’s tying their shoes, getting better grades, or success at sports, parents will always be worried about how well their kids are measuring up. While there certainly are situations that require extra help and support, most of the extreme concern about your child’s development is a problem itself. When parents worry about their child’s capability, it sends a powerful message to this child. Einstein and Edison, by the way, were very poor students as children!

The responsibility of parents is to believe in their child’s ability to succeed and to set high expectations for them. The rest is to be patient and to be aware of your own insecurities. It is these insecurities that may be part of the reason your child isn’t doing well.

While it’s easy to point fingers at your kids, remember the old saying: “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

Parents who attend to their own issues first will find far fewer “rotten apples” in their tree.

Commitments for the New Year

What do you do as a father to strengthen your relationship with your kids? How can you make the limited time you have with them as meaningful as possible?

Here are three gift ideas to consider:

The Gift of Discipline:

The term discipline is often misunderstood. It comes from the Latin word "discipulus" and means a follower of truth, principle, or a venerated leader.

Disciplining your kids doesn't mean punishing them.

Your kids won't learn to follow truth and principle when they're being punished. They'll learn to resent you and learn the principle that "might makes right." In the case of fathers who strike or spank their kids, your kids will learn to fear you. Is that really what you want?

A more effective way of disciplining your kids is to model self-control yourself and to utilize time outs. The use of time outs is not a method of punishment, it's an opportunity for your child to work through their feelings and to be ready to resume their activities.

Using time outs in a non-punitive way fosters security in your kids by teaching them that when they can't control their feelings, their parents will keep them safe.

My children taught me the ineffectiveness of punishment years ago when I would tell them to "sit here" for their time out. They would sit down for a brief moment and then they'd get up and go somewhere else. Were they defying me or were they incorrigible?

No, they were just saving face and asserting their own power of choice. After awhile I gave up this battle; it wasn't that much fun to run after them and catch them, anyway!

Your kids need firm boundaries that are enforced consistently and lovingly. They need limited choices.

They don't need to be punished.

The Gift of Acceptance

While it's true that fathers are improving in the area of acceptance of their kids feelings, there is still work to be done for most fathers.

One of the most important things a father can do is to accept and try to understand their child's feelings. Psychologist Dr. Haim G. Ginott, who wrote the popular book, "Between Parent and Child," wrote "When children are in the midst of strong emotions, they cannot accept advice or consolation or constructive criticism. They want us to know what is going on inside of them."

For you fathers out there who'd like to improve--It helps your kids when you're aware of what they're feeling! Even when you don't know what they're feeling, fake it!

In other words, "Would you stop crying right now!" is probably not effective.

"You seem really sad right now," would be a much more effective response.

It may be helpful to remember that kids' brains are not as well-equipped to control emotions as ours are. What they need is parents who try to understand and who accept their emotions-no matter how unreasonable they may seem to you.

Fathers don't have to agree with their kids feelings. To be a more effective father, you just have to make an effort to be "with them" in their feelings. A simple statement ("that must be upsetting for you") can mean all the difference in the world.

On the other hand, demanding that your kids change their feelings or stop feeling a certain way is guaranteed to create more distance between the two of you. It also reflects on your own insecurity and increases the chances of your child becoming upset again.

What seems like a more effective choice to you?

The Gift of Time

We live in an unusual time. Never before have fathers been as busy at work and at home. There are still alarming statistics that come out about the state of the American family, in particular when fathers are not involved in family life.

For instance, according to the Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, teenagers watch an average of twenty-one hours of television a week. By contrast, they spend only 35 minutes per week talking with their fathers.

The gift of time to your children is beyond measure. And while it's essential to spend some time in self-care for your own mental health, there are few fathers who couldn't afford to give up at least one thing each week for their family.

How about you? A round of golf, a TV show, a night of cards with the boys?

Fathers will do well to remember the words of so many other parents who talk about how fast the time goes with their kids.

You'll have plenty of opportunities to play cards when your kids are gone.

A Fathers New Year

“The great man is he who does not lose his child's heart, the original good heart with which every man is born.” -- Mencius

It is a time in our history when it’s increasingly difficult to feel optimistic about the state of the world. And it’s a time of the year when we are flooded by the memories of the years past, and by the hope of a better year to come.

There is no better time than now to reflect on our life. And there is no better time to examine the state of our important relationships.

For when all of us turn around someday and look back at our lives, we will treasure most the memories and bonds we have with our loved ones. As Mencius stated, those who don’t lose their child’s heart have achieved one of life’s greatest callings, that of bonding with their children.

And if we are to heed this call to bond with our children, we must ask what our children really need from us.

In a survey of over 2,000 primary school-age kids by Fathers Direct, kids were very clear on what they wanted from their fathers. They did not want expensive holidays, new bikes, or computers.

They wanted their father’s time.

They wanted to play ball, to chat at bedtime, to get help with their homework, and to spend time “just hanging out” together.

They wanted to be “known” and accepted by their fathers, and they wanted to know their fathers.

This can be difficult in a country in which, according to the Family and Work Institute, the average man works 49 hours per week, and the average woman works 43.5 hours per week. It’s difficult to do in a country in which a large majority of employees at American businesses (67%) say they don’t have enough time with their children.

It is interesting to note that what kids want from their fathers is the same thing that fathers want for their kids. And it is the same thing researchers say is best for kids. It is not just pockets of time devoted to the kids that we call “quality time.”

It is time, period.

And as you look ahead at the choices you’ll make about your family, what are your priorities? What would you like your relationship with your kids to look like?

For fathers who would like to keep their child’s heart, the choices will be clear.

And they’ll be clear to your children, who will remember them forever.

© 2007 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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