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.

Do You Encourage Your Children to Play?

Your children need to play. They need to play for many reasons. Many fathers today remember spending countless hours playing with siblings or friends during their childhood. Parents would drop you off somewhere and your imaginations would take over as you became soldiers, famous ballplayers, dinosaur hunters, etc.

There are many factors that make it more difficult for children to play in today’s world. There is an emphasis on early academics. There is more TV watching today by children than ever before. There is the seductive attraction of video games. There is also the need for constant supervision of our kids in urban environments.

These factors and others have helped to create children who sometimes have forgotten how to have imaginative play. They’ll have a house full of toys but say “I’m bored” or that they have nothing to do. They may look to their parents to entertain them, rather than creating their own play.

What is the importance of having your children engage in creative play when they’re young? Creative play is believed by many child researchers to form the foundation of emotional, creative, and intellectual growth in later years. It should be considered a normal part of a child’s development. Sadly, many young children don’t have the opportunity to engage in much creative play because they are presented with “alternatives” like video/computer games or excessive TV watching.

While some of these alternatives claim to benefit children (train your child on computers early to get a head start!), there is nothing like creative play. Other alternatives do not allow your children’s fantasies to roam freely. The idea of replacing your child’s creative play with academic work may be based on good intentions, but will rob your child of a precious opportunity.

How can fathers help to encourage imaginative play in their children? Many of us are not knowledgeable about this topic and have left this work to others. Here are some ideas:

  • Be willing to be fully involved with your child’s creative play. Yes, that means that you will be a wild horse running through the desert (your living room) at times. Too adult for that? Get over it!
  • Realize that you don’t have to entertain your kids all of the time. When they start to expect to be entertained, they will be less likely to engage in play. Set them free in a room without TV or video games and let them go to it.
  • Get them into nature when possible. Let them play with the soil, the sand, or the water whenever you can.
  • Consider “tapering down” the quantity and types of toys that your children have around the house. Having huge numbers of toys that leave little to the imagination does not encourage creative play. Children often do best with simple toys, or even household items that are readily accessible (wooden spoons, pots and pans).
  • Provide artistic opportunities for your child to express what he/she is feeling.
  • Tell stories with rich images to your children and read to them often. Reading fairy tales is a wonderful way to provide these images as well.
  • Consider the amount of TV watching that your child is engaged in each day. Explore alternatives to watching TV that would involve more creative play. You may have to be the catalyst for your child if there is initial resistance to this.

All around us, the adult world is being thrust upon our children at earlier and earlier ages. We are encouraged as parents to help our young kids “get ahead” academically or to buy them the latest fads in toys. As fathers, it is our responsibility to look beyond all of this to what our children truly need. Our children need to do what they do very naturally when they are given the opportunity. They need to play.

Give your children the chance to prepare themselves for life as an adult in the best way possible. It’s the only chance that they’re going to get.


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 family. 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?


Are Your Kids Driving You 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.


How Do You Listen To Your Child(ren)?

“This was the worst day of my life!” my son hissed.

“First mom shrunk my favorite hat, then you guys lost my favorite book, then I did my alphabet for you and you didn’t even care!”

My seven-year-old son wrapped his arms around his head and tried his best to “shut out the world,” including me. My first thought was to convince him things weren’t so bad, and that tomorrow would be a better day. But by doing that, I’d also convince him that I didn’t understand his feelings, and what he was going through.

“Sounds like a pretty rotten day,” I replied.

That was all he needed.

For the next fifteen minutes, he told me about all of the awful things that he’d gone through, and who had committed the “crimes.” We ended the night in laughter, talking about the possibility of running naked through a winter storm to the corner store and back. It was decided neither of us would try, but we could do it, “if we really wanted to.”

Later that night, I thought about my son’s anger and his rapid recovery. I thought about how much more our kids share with us these days, and how little I shared with my parents. And I thought of what a blessing it is to have a son who’s able to share his life with me.

Back in the days of seeing and not hearing children, parents could often skip the part of parenting that involved listening closely and empathizing with their children. They could tell their kids to “shape up” or “stop whining” when they were struggling, and they could control them with fear. Children would respond by stuffing feelings, and holding onto their anger for long periods of time.

After my son had shared his feelings with me, I shared with him how glad I was that he could tell me what was bothering him. I told him that “anger energy” needs to be released from your body, or it starts to grow. And I shared that I was glad he didn’t have to stay angry as long as I did when I was a child, because I didn’t learn the “secret” of talking about my problems with someone I loved.

If we are to listen well, we must open ourselves to the good, the bad and the ugly in our children. At times, it is excruciatingly difficult to listen, when we want them to “get over it.” But all they need is one comment to show them we understand, and their mood shifts before us. All we need is to understand that kids are not adults, and that they often feel their emotions more strongly than we do.

And, they will remember how you responded to their emotions for the rest of their life.

So the next time your child is struggling, remember the blessings within the struggle. Remember the opportunity to join your child with kindness and compassion.

And remember that if you really want your child to “get over it,” you’ll have to get over it first.


© 2009 Mark Brandenburg

Other Father Issues, Books, Resources

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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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