How To Parent When You Are Angry

by John Hoffman

This might sound like a negative topic for a blog. But actually it’s pretty important. Raising children is an emotional experience. Positive emotions give us a good kind of energy that helps us connect with our kids and enjoy them. That helps us to be good parents.

But any dad (or mom) quickly learns anger is part of raising children too. Unfortunately, anger and other negative emotions suck the energy out of us. That makes it harder to be a good parent. So knowing how to parent reasonably well when you’re angry is an important dad skill.

I’m not going to pretend that this is a simple skill that can be learned easily from a blog. But here are few ideas that might help.

Accept that negative emotions are inevitable. Don’t kick yourself for getting angry with your kids sometimes. It happens to all parents. Just try to deal with it as well as you can and move on. If you do a good job of managing your own anger, your children will learn important lessons about how to handle their own emotions.

Avoid making important decisions and choices when you are angry. There’s a very old saying. “When angry, count to ten before you speak. If you’re very angry, count to 100.” There’s a good reason for that. When we’re upset we are all in danger of saying and doing things we will regret later. So resist the urge to deliver lesson-giving lectures or make important discipline decisions when you’re very angry. Usually there is no need to respond right away (unless there is a safety issue). Wait until you have calmed down. Whatever you have to say, it can wait. And you’ll say it better (and your kids will hear it better) if you say it later, when you’ve had some time to settle down and think about what you need to say.

Take a time-out. If you’re extremely upset it is often wiser to leave your child alone for a few minutes, than to do something you might regret later. If another adult is available, get them to take over.

Apologize for your overly angry words and deeds. All parents make angry mistakes sometimes. If you’ve done something you shouldn’t have done, you can’t take it back. But you can lessen the damage by saying you’re sorry. “I was really angry when I called you an idiot and I didn’t really mean it. I’m sorry.” Apologizing doesn’t make you seem weak to your children. It shows them that you care and that you are fair minded. It also sets a good example for them. Children need to learn how to repair their own angry mistakes. They can learn a lot from your example.

Ask for help. If you are angry a lot of the time, that’s not good. Not good for you, your kids or your partner. Chronic anger means something. Maybe your child’s behaviour is particularly challenging and your family needs expert help. Maybe you need more support from your family and friends. Anger can be a symptom of high stress levels*. It can even be a symptom of depression. So, if you are angry a lot of the time, seek help. Asking for help is not the sign of a bad dad. It’s the sign of a good man who wants to be the best parent he can be.

*The Psychology Foundation of Canada recently launched an online self-help management tool called Stress Strategies (www.StressStrategies.ca). The tool guides you through a problem-solving process designed to: help you understand your stress, choose a stress management strategy that makes sense for you and find resources that can help people solve problems that cause stress.

The Two Most Important Words in Baby Brain Development

by John Hoffman

Wanna build your baby’s brain? I’ve got two words for you:  touch and interaction.

We’ve been hearing about the importance of baby brain development for over 20 years. And it is true. Baby brains do a lot of important growing in the first few years of life. But there has been way to much hype about “smart” babies. Companies pitch us toys, videos and other products that supposedly make babies smarter. A few years ago the company that makes “Baby Einstein” videos was ordered to stop claiming that their videos made babies smarter. One of the weirdest things I ever heard happened back in the 90s. The governors of Tennessee and Georgia were giving classical CDs to new parents. They had been told that listening to classical music made babies smarter.  Um…no.

Obviously, all sorts of things affect the way baby brains grow, but touch and interaction are way more important than things like toys or “Giggles” software.

Touch

I don’t think we really need research to tell us that babies need lots of touch. All you have to do is hang out with babies and you’ll quickly see that they crave touch and respond to it. Babies were meant to be held, carried and touched. Most parents figure this out on their own, but if you need a scientific explanation, there is one. Over the first months and years of your child’s life all sorts of brain and nerve pathways are being built. The brain uses these pathways to talk (and listen) to the rest of the body.

At birth, the pathways that are most developed are the ones that have to do with the senses. In fact, these sensory pathways form a sort of foundation for the brain development that comes later. So it’s a no brainer (pun intended) that touch is particularly important for infants. Skin-to-skin contact is particularly good. Did you know, for example, that skin-to skin contact helps newborn babies learn how to breastfeed more easily? They used to put newborn babies to the breast right away after birth. But now they know it’s better to just let the baby lie on Mom’s tummy for a little while. Skin-to-skin contact seems to help them know how to nurse. You can find videos about this on the internet. Very interesting to watch.

Skin-to skin with Dad is good too. But, really, any kind of physical contact is good for your baby. And you know what? Being involved in your baby’s care is the single best way to ensure you and your baby get the touch you both need. All that touching is good for you too, by the way. When you cuddle your baby your body releases hormones that help you bond.

Interaction

People often say that baby brains need lots of stimulation. It’s true. Well, the best kind of stimulation for a baby brain is interaction with people who love them. First of all, babies need that interaction to feel safe and secure. Secondly, when a baby is interacting with Dad or Mom (or grandparents, aunts and uncles, siblings, or other nice people) she’s using all her senses. Her eyes, ears, nose and her sense of smell and taste, are sending her brain all kinds of information. Making sense of that information is a great workout for her brain. In fact, the ability to think starts with the brain’s ability to receive and make sense of information from the senses.

Interact with a baby and you’ll quickly see how incredibly interesting and exciting it is for him. Granted, communicating with babies can have difficult moments, and newborns interact on a very simple level. But babies quickly develop the ability to be active participants in communication. And they respond in ways that are incredibly rewarding for parents. That draws you in and makes you want to keep interacting.

You don’t have to be an expert on babies to figure this out. All you have to do is try things and – this is really important – pay attention to how your baby responds. Base the things you do and say according to those responses. The interaction should go back and forth, kind of like a game of tennis.

Bottom line. Kids will spend lots of time playing with toys, looking at books, and eventually, using tablets, smart phones and whatever else they invent in the next ten years. But when they are little babies (and even after that), what they and their brains need most is touch and interaction from people who love them.

Dad Central’s booklet, Daddy I Need You, has lots of great information about how baby brain development and how fathers can help.

The Best Start Resource Centre also has some great information on the development of babies’ brains.

Dad Central Ontario Training Opportunities

Dad Central Ontario is committed to supporting anyone working with fathers and families in their efforts to provide quality, effective programs and services for dads.  We love to train people in their communities to meet the needs of fathers.

Two things are coming up you may be interested in:

Super Dads Super Kids Facilitation Training – Windsor, ON May 1, 2015

Super Dads Super Kids is a father-child interaction program that is designed to strengthen the relationship between dads and their kids.  It focuses on activities they can share AND gives the dads some quality parenting information on topics such as setting limits, emotional health, injury prevention, and communication.  This full day training will help you understand the importance and context of the father-child bond and give you all you need to know to deliver Super Dads in your community.

Check out the details and to register:  https://sdsktrainingmay2015.eventbrite.ca

My Dad Matters Train-the-trainer – Toronto, ON  June 8 & 9, 2015

Are you looking to be a leader in your community when it comes to engaging fathers?
Would you like to have the tools and resources and knowledge to support others in your community?
Do you see yourself and your organization becoming a catalyst for a Father Involvement network in your area?

My Dad Matters is a toolkit that will help you do all that.  Check out the details of the toolkit at mydad.ca.

More information about the training can be found here: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/my-dad-matters-train-the-trainer-tickets-16287253614

Any questions? Contact us at info@dadcentral.ca.

My Dad Matters in Timmins, ON - Nov 5/14

My Dad Matters in Timmins, ON

Some work done at a previous My Dad Matters workshop

Some work done at a previous My Dad Matters workshop

Dads and Teens

by John Hoffman

I am by no means an expert on teenagers. Even so, I helped raise three of them and I’ve done a fair bit of research on adolescent development, including picking the brains of a lot of teenagers and young adults. Here are the three most important things I think I’ve learned. I hope they might be helpful to you.

Stay Connected (In other words, keep talking)

If there is one idea I have pushed over and over again throughout my career writing for fathers, and parents in general, it’s this: any sort of positive influence you could ever want to have in yMinolta DSCour child’s life is rooted in a good relationship. Developing good relationships with little kids is relatively easy (usually) because they need us so much and want to be with us.  As children approach the teen years, they spend less time at home and they start to be more influenced by their peers and pop culture. So, staying connected with teenagers requires more work.

A big part of that is good communication. And one thing that really helps in that department is showing kids that you’re willing to listen. If there is one parent behaviour that is a big turn-off for teens, it’s constant criticism.  I’ve had conversations with a number of teenagers who felt they really couldn’t talk to their parents because their parents could almost never listen without being critical and judgmental. That’s very sad. Sure, we are going to criticize teenagers sometimes. It’s part of our job. But try to be open to opportunities for more positive, easy-going conversations too. That requires turning off the criticism at times and just listening to their ideas. Ask questions. Show them you are interested in what they think.

But whatever you do, keep talking – during car rides, at meals, whenever you have the chance. The opportunities for good conversations don’t come all that often with some kids. So we need to be ready when it happens. In fact, the best advice I ever got about teenagers came from my wife’s Uncle Jim who said, “Be ready to listen, when they are ready to talk.”

Learn how to have influence when you have less control

For me, this is the central challenge of raising teenagers. It’s not that hard to influence four-year-olds. And if you need to control them –like, if they’re about to run into the path of an oncoming car — you’re a lot bigger, so can just pick them up and stop them. Parents can stop teenagers from doing things sometimes. But if teens really, really want to do something, they’ll usually find a way to do it when you aren’t there to see.

There’s no easy answer to this. What you want to do is find your balance point between over-control and over-permissiveness. I’ve seen situations where parents say, “Well, he’s 17, he’s going to do what he wants. Not much I can do about it.” Those parents seem to almost abdicate their responsibility. As a result, they have very little ability to influence their children.  That’s pretty risky.

On the other hand, I’ve seen parents try to exercise tight control over teenagers. The results are usually not good. Often the kids just “go underground” and do what they want, behind the parents’ backs. The other risk with over control is that it can cause resentment that pushes your child away from you As one teenager said to me, “The kids I’ve known whose parents are the most restrictive usually care the least about what their parents think about them. They assume their parents will be mad at them no matter what they do, so they may as well do what they want.”

The middle ground involves learning to have influence when you don’t have as much control as you once did (or would like to have.) I like the way psychologist Antony Wolf put it in one of his newspaper columns several years ago. He said kids need to know what your rules and standards are even though they don’t always follow them. The goal is not so much obedience but to convey that you are paying attention, that you care how they behave and that you will respond to misbehaviour.

As parents we often feel that if we set a rule, or give an instruction, and our child doesn’t obey, it means we have no influence. But Wolf believes, and I agree, that all that stuff you tell them – so long as it’s reasonable and expressed in the context of a good relationship – gets “inside” your child and becomes part of who they are. It influences them in the long run, even though we can’t always see that influence in the short run. Walking this middle ground requires a certain amount of faith – faith in your child, and faith that you all the work you’ve already put into raising them had an impact.

Whatever happens, don’t give up

I’ve known several kids who went through some pretty wild and crazy stuff during their teenage years, and I’ve seen pretty well all of them come out the other side into young adulthood in pretty good shape. They all had one thing in common. Their parents didn’t give up on them. There may have been times when the parents felt like they were having no positive impact whatsoever. But even so, they stayed as connected to their child as they could and they kept trying to be a positive and supportive influence. I have to think that that had something to do with those kids being OK in the end.

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Several years ago I wrote a booklet for the Psychology Foundation of Canada called Straight Talk About Teens. If you’d like to do more reading about raising teenagers, you can find the booklet online on the Foundation’s website.

Three good character traits for Dads to cultivate

by John Hoffman

What are the character traits of a good father?  Well, you could pluck almost any word from a list of virtues and make a good argument for it. Reliability, responsibility, love, kindness, integrity, compassion, fairness, self-discipline: all are important. But I want to talk about three positive fatherhood traits that wouldn’t usually be included on lists of virtues:  curiosity, teamwork and a sense of fun.

Curiosity makes you want to understand your child. And if you want to be a good parent, being able understand kids in general, and your own child in particular, really, really helps. Curiosity helps bring you to that understanding.

I remember, so often, gazing at my boys when they were babies and wondering: what is going on inside that little head? I so wanted to understand what they were thinking and how they made sense of what was going on around them.  Sometimes I could figure it out, but at times it was a mystery, one that I never fully solved, but never stopped trying to solve. I believe that my curiosity, my passion for trying to understand my kids, helped me learn more about my kids. So much of parenting is about making judgment calls. No parent always makes the right call. But curiosity helps you learn enough about your child to make the right call more often than not.

Teamwork has always been part of parenting in one way or another. It’s even more important these days because the nature of parenting teamwork (in two-parent couples) has changed. It’s now a given that fathers are expected – or to put it another way, have the opportunity – to take on aspects of parenting that were considered women’s work 50 years ago. The challenge is that, regardless of how far we may have come in terms of gender equity, sharing the “territory” of raising children is not necessarily easy. First of all, sharing any sort of responsibility is challenging. Secondly, even though many people aspire to ideals of 50/50 parenting and father involvement, we’re still influenced by a centuries-old mentality that the child-rearing buck stops with women. So we still often see mothers doing more than their (male) partners in the parenting realm.

I’m not saying it’s wrong if one partner assumes a more primary role, but I am saying it’s important to work as a team with your partner: to support her (or his) parenting and to take on your share of the responsibility. No matter what the exact division of labour is in your house, you and your partner will both parent more effectively if you work as a team, and feel like it’s a team. When the teamwork is good, both of you will feel supported. And feeling supported helps you be a better parent.

A sense of fun helps you find the rewards of parenting.  Why are rewards important? Raising kids is a lot of work, and some of that work isn’t a whole lot of fun, but it needs to be done. Being able to enjoy your kids helps you grab onto the good moments. Those little payoffs help you build up a sort of bank account of positive fatherhood feelings and memories. That helps you stay positive and keeps drawing you back to your children when the going gets tough.

Little kids can frustrate us at times, but they’re pretty funny too. And their enthusiasm, energy and zest for life can be rejuvenating. Having a sense of fun helps you tune into all that good stuff so you can be ready to enjoy the great moments of parenting when they happen. In fact, one my key pieces of advice for fathers (or mothers) I’d say, enjoy your kids. If you can do that chances are you’ll be a pretty good dad.

Life’s Unfortunate . . .

Here is another chapter in the story of Alex and Laura.  You can find other parts of their journey here:

Part 1     Part 2     Part 3


On a beautiful Wednesday in September the unimaginable happened.  Laura went for her scheduled ultra sound at the local Nipigon District Memorial hospital for her 17 week pregnancy exam the technician found no baby’s heartbeat.

Devastation is the only way to describe how Alex and Laura felt.  Their children Angelina (11) and Justice (8) could not fully fathom the news… mom and dad were heartbroken.  The baby’s February birth was just around the corner, what was going on?

The following day Alex took Laura and travelled the prolonged highway of over an hour’s drive from their home on Churchill Street to the Thunder Bay Regional Hospital where the infant was delivered at 3:00 o’clock the next day in the cold damp early morning.  Shock, anger, despair, Laura had so many questions.  Was it because she had over-exerted herself when moving to their new house?  Was it something she ate or was exposed to?  Why now when she had had three previous successful births?  Why her?  What could she have done to prevent this from happening?  The doctor said that it was not her fault a message which her mother Karin softly reiterated.

They named the baby Jordan Rae, for either a girl or a boy.  As the child was more than 20 weeks old they went back to Thunder Bay and retrieved their baby.  A funeral home in Thunder Bay graciously took care of the sensitive cremation arrangements.  They selected a beautiful small white ceramic angel urn and necklaces to bring Jordan home. Jordon was celebrated on Saturday, December 13th in Nipigon.  The local Anglican Minister, Reverend Dianne, had a beautiful and truly moving private family service to accommodate their grief.  Candles were lit to remember those whom we love and lost… with a pause to remember the dreams we had for them.  Jordan will never be forgotten.

Both Alex and Laura now have identical tattoos with angel wings and the name of their child with the date 09-05-14 inscribed as a memory and tribute to what was and what could have been.  Their loss is sad, so very sad, small and helpless, hopes-dreams-aspirations-love forever gone.  The pain has been unbearable at times.  They find it difficult to contemplate normal life in the near future.  Both are naturally dispirited.  As a supportive family we shall have to keep watch and pray, they are not alone, there is a future ahead.

Life does carry on.  Alex will continue looking after the kids, as reluctantly Laura returns to work.  She knows she has to.

 

 


Submitted by Gordon Mackenzie, DCO Steering Committee Member and Laura’s Father.

Fathers’ Mental Health Matters

by John Hoffman

It’s high time we started paying more attention to the mental health needs of fathers.

Mothers’ mental health has been on the radar screen for many years – it often gets mentioned in the same breath as children’s development.  And rightly so. It’s clear that if we want children to be mentally well, we need to support the mental health of their mothers.  That’s a no-brainer.

Well, supporting the mental health of fathers should be a no-brainer as well.  But is it? A fair bit of research has been done on postpartum depression (PPD) in mothers and how a mother’s state of mental health affects her children’s development. But it’s really only been about ten years since people even started asking if there might be a male version of postpartum depression. It turns out there is such a thing. And, it also turns out that a father’s state of mental health can affect his children. Here are a few stats about fathers and mental health.

• About 10% of fathers will experience some level of depression in the first year after a baby is born. That’s double the rate of depression in men at other times of life, although lower than the rate of maternal PPD.

• PPD tends to start later and develop more gradually in men

• Fathers with PPD often experience disruptions in partner relationships and tend to have less positive interactions with their babies

• Several studies suggest that, as with maternal depression, paternal depression is associated with an increased risk of behavioural and cognitive difficulties in children

• Fathers with mental health problems are less likely to seek help than mothers with mental health problems

• Between 24% and 50% of men with depressed partners will also be depressed themselves. This is particularly significant since a father’s support is crucial to mothers with PPD, and partners of depressed moms often also take on a heightened parenting role.

• Men whose partners had postpartum depression have told researchers that they didn’t really grasp what was wrong until after their partners recovered from PPD.

It all points to the fact that we need to bring fathers into the mental health loop. As Nicole Letourneau, Canada Research Chair in Parent-Infant Mental Health, says, postpartum depression is a family issue, not a women’s health or men’s health issue.

I am very glad to hear this from someone as influential as Dr. Letourneau.

We’ve been hearing a lot in recent years about “erasing the stigma” and talking more openly about mental health issues. This is particularly important with regard to fathers of young children since, as noted earlier, men are not only are at increased risk for depression in the postpartum period, but also less likely than mothers to seek help. And lots of mothers who recovered from PPD will tell you they didn’t find it easy to seek help.

So let’s normalize the idea that fathers have mental health needs too and that postpartum depression should be looked at as a family issue. Because, whatever else we do to support families dealing with mental health problems, we need to make it a little easier for people to speak up and say that they need help.

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