Being an Effective Father (Parent): Building an Effective Relationship
Too many young men are floundering in this society. One way to prevent this is to focus on effective “fathering”. We often talk about “parenting”, but often this topic revolves around “mothering”. I believe we need to talk a lot more about effective “fathering”.
We should have goals for parenting. We want to build self-disciplined and responsible, successful young men; success in career, health(including emotional intelligence), happiness, living a family life (family engineering and planning; independent living skills), spirituality(positive outlook on life; resilience), and relationships. We want to do this in a way that also builds a strong relationship between ourselves and our sons. So, we need to learn how to do this. We need to know that being dictatorial, “tough”, negative, controlling, unloving, is not the way to do this.
As director of The Parenting Center, and throughout my life, I have seen so many young men floundering, not doing well. I believe that the main reason for these cases that I have seen is ineffective, negative, controlling fathers. Also, many of these young men do not have good relationships with their fathers. A short phrase for this is “dictatorial parenting”. If I had to encourage men on how to build successful sons, in a short description, it would be to examine how they were fathered, and then read articles/books on successful, positive, active parenting; compare the two and relearn how to do it effectively, if they see that the way they were fathered was not so great. They will also have to “re-parent” themselves along the way. We cannot study effectiveness if we do not read methods of parenting. If we are not exposed to options, given a “tool box” of methods, we will fall back on how we were parented. We need lots of effective tools in our box. I would also encourage men to examine “attitudes” regarding “how to be a man”, “how to build a man”. The old paranoia regarding being “manly”, fearing being unmanly, ego controls regarding being “a man”, have hopefully fallen by the wayside. Dictatorial, cold, negative, non-active, controlling, does not work.
Also, fathers need to model a great romantic relationship with their wives, for their sons: respectful, loving, encouraging, fun, and wanting their wives to be fulfilled as people.
Basically, effective parenting is the same for males and females. If, for instance, a man defines manhood by being good at sports, and teaches, focuses on, and pushes this on his son(or daughter), to the exclusion of other more important things, like valuing an education, being intelligent, and the things listed in goals above, this is not good. If this is the only thing the father and son talk about and do together, this is not good. Truly, finding balance in life, is a good thing. Examining ego issues of the father is good too. Is it you, the father that wants a sports star for a son, or is it the son that wants to do this? Is that how you define success for a boy?; succeeding at sports? Are you giving him the message that that is how to be a man? Messages, attitudes are very important. If your son gets to 17 and you and him have been focusing on sports to the detriment of everything else, including excelling at his education, it is very likely that he will struggle in life, unless he is in the 1% that does well in professional sports. But as we know now, even those folks need all the other life skills and strengths, to truly succeed in all areas of life and living, and to have something to fall back on later, when their sports careers fade. They need to have that strong foundation, built by their parents. Do you have a need to define being a great father, winning at fathering, as building a great sports star? That is ego driving you, not wisdom and love. Do you only talk about and focus on sports because that is all you know?; That is what you are/were good at?; That is your comfort zone? When we become parents we have to leave our comfort zones and grow and learn how to do something we have never done before, and how to do it well.
Boys need to learn to discuss and care about things other than sports and “male things”. They need to know what they value other than sports heroes, sports, male things. They value things(people) other than winning, being the best, being better than others, themselves, money, material things, “I want it now”, being right. Sons of controllers do not learn to value conversation. Their fathers are quiet except when negative communication is needed : to correct, scold, or when talking about sports. Communication for these boys becomes being “talked at”, talked over, yelled at, and criticized.
One goal, as mentioned, should be to be self-disciplined and responsible (not controlled or controlling), and for our children to be self-disciplined and responsible. Our parents build either a self-disciplined child or a “controlled” child (actually out of control), who is only in control, “disciplined”, when around authority figures. Controlled people tend to sneak around, lie, and manipulate. Controlled children usually “cut loose” when they leave home and are no longer under the controllers’ control. They are not self-disciplined. Many “controlled” children flounder for many years when they leave home. Our reaction to our children’s behavior determines whether it stays or goes: our behavior has to change too.
Again, effective parenting means raising self-disciplined, responsible children who can go off on their own and be successful and happy: successful in their career (if they choose one) and in relationships. It involves knowing the tools to discipline, communicate, encourage, love, etc. Some parents think the way to parent is to “model” proper behavior, and that it will “rub off” on their kids; won’t happen! Raising “nice, polite” kids is nice, but NOT enough. If all you do is sit around and “model” behavior you have missed the boat. Then when your child’s behavior is out of control, you will punish. This will not work. That is called passive, lazy, uninvolved parenting; and it does not work. Parenting has to be active, informed, positive, effective, and teaching children life skills, values, etc. Modeling is a small part of parenting. The more tools and knowledge you have in your skillset the easier parenting is. Knowledge also helps you to relax and not be stressed out. Reading books on parenting is something all parents should do.
Controlling parents sit around and exercise lazy, passive parenting: dictatorial. “You will do as I say”; (the only problem is they usually forget to tell the child the rules). They usually don’t “lay down the rules” until the child has done something wrong. They do assume that the child will watch them and do as they do. The problem is, the child sees them being passive, negative, ordering the mother around, ordering them around, yelling, correcting everyone, criticizing everyone, arguing, etc. The child learns these behaviors also.
Effective teachers, leaders, and managers don’t play the roles of “know-it-all”, judge, critic, psychologist, moralist: the know-it-all lectures, advises, and shows how superior they are, that they know the best way; the moralist says “you should do this…”; the judge says I am right and you are wrong; the critic criticizes and uses sarcasm and ridicule; the psychologist tries to fix everything: knows all the answers. Neither should parents, and people in relationships, play these roles. Parents are really teachers, leaders, managers in their homes.
Again, the main dynamics of control are: A person who is controlling: (his parent had the same traits):
1) Is a negative person; Wants to control others; judge them, criticize them; give them advice, order them around; tell them what to do; when, where, how to do it; argues a lot; is often irritated, irritable(anger, anxiety)(anger: yelling, raging); has their own definitions of right and wrong ; “my way or the highway” attitude; there is only one way to do things: my way; wants you to do what they want to do; eat what they eat, etc.; then you must give them praise for their ideas, how they do things: they are constantly fishing for praise; perceives things and people negatively; is a very serious person (intense), looks for mistakes; These are the modes of their communication with others. They don’t really know how to carry on a “real” conversation: pleasant, fun, interesting. They instead argue your points, criticize you and others, criticize everything around them, judge you, others, and things going on around you, tell you how to do things, how to think, etc.
2) Doesn’t want to be controlled, told what to do; perceives ideas and recommendations as telling them what to do, or criticizing or challenging their ideas; when you have ideas they see you as thinking you are smarter, have better ideas than them; can’t apologize; can’t admit mistakes. Dictatorial fathers do not allow you to disagree with them, or challenge them.
3) Is not in “control” of themselves: of their actions, attitudes, words, thoughts, perceptions (mostly negative); their lives are often out of control: jobs, relationships; can’t handle frustration; lack of patience; so they try to control their immediate environment: children; they value turmoil (so they can use their advice skills, obtain power, and get attention); are ego-oriented: have a need for approval; never feel they are good enough(due to how they were parented); controllers are actually out of control;
The opposites of being controlling: An effective father will try:
1) Operating within choices and options; using problem-solving, exploring alternatives, communication, decision making skills when there are problems, issues, decisions to be made. Learn to act and not react. Effective fathers use these methods: offer their sons choices and options and allow them to operate within those options. They allow them to try, and to fail, and then pick themselves up and try a different option. Sons develop the courage to be imperfect.
2) Being able to regulate your attitudes, moods, negative perceptions, anxiety, frustration, (self-awareness and good stress management); and teaching this to your son.
3) Being optimistic and positive rather than negative. A positive person will use positive words with a partner or child during a day; a lot more than they say negative things, and teaching this to your son.
4) Being encouraging, kind, compassionate, and respectful to others and to yourself. No yelling, hitting; no punishing others and yourself, and teaching this to your son.
5) Knowing how to have real fun (not just competitive pleasure); find the child in yourself and play with others. Explore new fun, new experiences. Find joy in simple things. Be able to see, feel nature’s beauty and peace; Able to step out of one’s box.
6) Knowing peace; knowing happiness.
7) Being self-disciplined and responsible, but not hard on oneself and others when mistakes are made. Finds balance.
8) Being able to feel feelings, even negative ones; know it, feel it, express them effectively; work through negative ones. Know the huge range of feelings.
9) Being giving and thankful for other’s giving/gifts. Being in gratitude daily for all that is good.
10) Is open minded and a good listener; a good, eager learner: reads, discusses, watches; experiences growth.
11) Is OK with uncertainty: freedom.
12) Being able to love and receive love; to trust; to become vulnerable.
13) Knows that winning is not what is important in relationships. What is important is relationships is: peace, love, kindness, respect, encouragement, sharing, caring, balanced give and take, fun, sex, intimacy, affection, showing appreciation, acceptance of the person for who they are, compromise (not compromising your values), knowing what your values are; choosing your battles (choosing not to battle on little things: knowing what little things and big things are); knowing how to disagree respectfully, and how to problem solve, make decisions jointly; apologizing.
Adult pointer: The opposite of control is operating within choices and options. An effective parent (person) gives choices and options and teaches a child (themselves) to operate within those choices. They know that there is usually more than one way to do things. A parent of an older child/teen teaches problem solving/exploring alternatives/ decision making ; teaches the child to think and decide on options; children of controllers do not learn to think and make decisions because the parent makes all the decisions, does all the “thinking”; gives orders and gives no choices/options. Controller: there is only one way: my way, and you will do it; In a relationship, be open to ideas, options with your partner. Explore options, enjoy it. Let go of, “My way is the best way; she comes up with other ideas because she doesn’t like mine; she is challenging me”.
Adult pointer: You may have heard (you may say), “you make me so mad”. (controllers are angry/mad a lot); It is very important that you know that no one, nothing, can “make” you mad. Someone does or says something; you perceive it negatively: you “get” mad. You choose to be mad. We choose to perceive things negatively. Controllers perceive LOTS of things/people negatively. They are negative people, looking for something to criticize. Children of a controller soon develop a need to have power over you (the controller), because they see that you value power, so they learn to value power also. One way to feel powerful as a child is to “make a parent mad”. They have made you mad. They have power over you. So if you are a controller this behavior will show up in your child: they will value controlling you also (misbehaving to get power over you). So, in a discipline situation, it is actually ineffective to “get mad” at a child (yell, etc); It accomplishes nothing. If it is done a lot, the child learns that they can “make you mad”; control you. The most effective thing to do in a discipline situation is to use calm communication and consequences (more later). We must learn to act thoughtfully in situations; not react;
So we want to discipline, not use rewards and punishment, which causes a child to be “other” directed: you do things to get rewards and to avoid punishment instead of because: doing good things, doing well, improvement feels good inside; doing the wrong thing causes consequences, natural and logical, (being inner-directed). A controller uses rewards and punishment, devised by them, because it is a way to control the child. Punishment is ineffective and so usually escalates and becomes severe punishment or even rage. Punishment/threats can end up erasing a sense of trust and security in a child: “If you do this you are out of here”, or “I will hurt you”: builds fear. The child then forgets about feeling bad about his act, but rather is “mad” at the parent punishment spurns revenge. “I will get back at you”. “I will hide from you and lie to avoid (resentful) for the unfairness, meanness, hurt. “I don’t trust you; you hurt me”. And severe, unfair punishment”. The tendency to lie is born when a parent uses punishment instead of discipline. Rewards, praise, and punishment are used by controllers as ways to control children (and others). These controllers value perfectionism, being the best, being better than others, materialism; they focus on mistakes, negative possibilities, and the end results—such as winning; do not focus on process, creativity, and thought processes. Praise tends to compare children with other children, especially siblings: one is better than the other. This is not good. Siblings will always be different from one another. You cannot compare children. Each is unique with their own strengths and weaknesses. Encouragement focuses on the strengths of each.
We want to use encouragement instead of rewards and praise. Using praise and punishment builds a child who does not have a strong conscience (inner-control). Your controlling parent is your conscience. They praise you when you do well: “You are only good when I say so”. Praise is reserved for things well done, the best, etc. (judged according to you). It is vague and unspecific “Good! Great job!” Encouragement is very specific. With praise children may come to believe that their worth depends upon your opinion. Encouragement is used for strengths, assets, effort, qualities, attitudes, improvement, trying hard, goodness, kindness, contribution, joy, having fun, sharing, caring, learned a lot, learning a new skill, creativity, patience. Things that we can encourage (in children and in ourselves) are: the ability to control anxiety, motivate ourselves, be persistent. Encouragement teaches values and what’s important. Encouragement motivates a child to want to do better. Praise teaches a child to try to get the parents approval. “I did not feel good about my work until someone told me I was doing good”. So controlled children fish for praise, “Did I do good?” A child needs to be able to tell himself that he did well, was responsible. Rewards teach a child to say “what’s in it for me?” not, “what makes me feel good and makes me worthwhile.” Reinforce positives by rewarding with non-material incentives: a celebration, an outing with the family, friends. Do not reward with food. As adults we then reward and punish ourselves with food. Material things are easy to see and value. Non-material concepts and values are not easy to “see”; they are felt: love, kindness, happiness….The child needs to feel good about themselves, inside, not be dependent upon the parent’s (or other’s) approval. Then the child develops self-talk: “I am competent; I am doing well…”, and is able to define what they did well, what they improved upon. A controlling parent gives praise only for things extremely well done (or done to their standards). Otherwise, the child gets lots of criticism while doing tasks. A child needs to develop their own standards. A controller tends to give praise with one hand and take it away with the other: “That was good BUT…… (this is what you did wrong)”.
Be a “good-finder” in people. Find the good in people/children, and in yourself. Controllers find the “bad”, mistakes, faults in people and in beauty. This evolves back to attitude and perceptions: seeing the beauty and positives in people and things. Peter only saw mistakes, imperfections, and used his talents to scrutinize beauty and show that he would’ve done it better. When he looked at the beautiful bronze statues, he had nothing but criticism; saw nothing but mistakes. How sad!
Second, to prevent problems and teach children up front, you must know that children must be taught to do things: trained. They do not pick things up just by watching you, or being told what to do (ordered). Controllers set children up for failure here. So, on the weekend, think what it is you want the child to do this week. Sit down, (with older kids, have family meetings), and tell them what their chores will be this week. (with young children, one or 2 simple chores or tasks). Tell them this is how we contribute to our family, make it work smoothly. Pick one task and tell them you are going to train them. Tell them the rules for getting this done: when etc. Tell your 4 year old that she is going to “make the salad” on Monday and Wednesday evenings. Show her the calendar and mark in pink her days. (or do salad every week night). Then you go through each step with her, in detail: with her doing it, get the lettuce out, wash it, wash your hands, put it in a salad bowl(plastic or wood), tear it up…. This is the training stage; ask her if she has any questions. When Monday rolls around tell her it is time to make the salad, “I know you can do it; go for it; ask me if you need help”. This is prevention and training. It is giving a child something constructive to do while dinner is being prepared (prevents misbehavior or boredom). She could even be munching on some lettuce on a side plate while she’s working.(prevents hunger). This is structuring for success and so much more. Don’t expect perfection. The goals of this task are not perfection. It teaches so many things. Then of course when the family is eating it, they offer encouragement: thank you, you really helped, this is so good; what skills did you learn? what did you enjoy doing most? what was the hardest part?; … You do not correct the child at this stage. You just encourage and enjoy, and talk. If you noticed she needs a lot more instruction, you go back to the table on the weekend and re-instruct; no need to tell her what “she did wrong”; do tell her what she did right: she will want to do it again. If you only criticize, the child will not want to do it again, and it will become a battle.
Thirdly, with prevention, communicate your rules, limits for behavior, your house rules, etc. BEFORE your child does things, before they misbehave or act irresponsibly. Then communicate what the consequences will be for breaking the rules. Rules must have consequences attached. The consequences should be logical: attached to the misbehavior. Or if you cannot set a consequence beforehand, learn to let natural consequences happen. Example: You tell your child to put their coat on; it is cold outside; they don’t: they will get cold; the next time they will put their coat on; this will teach them more than if you drag the child back in (before they get cold) and punish them, and yell and scream; Example: you are going to the store with your child. You tell them before leaving, where you are going, what you are going for. These are the behaviors I expect from you:…… If you misbehave (list some misbehaviors: stand up in the cart, beg for candy, cry, throw temper tantrums….) you will not be allowed to play outside for one hour when we get back. You can buy one snack, not candy, so be thinking about what you want. If the child is well behaved, when you get back you offer encouragement: thank you, your behavior really helped me; the other people in the store really appreciate it…. Now you can go out to play. How many times do you see children misbehaving in stores? These parents have not learned effective, preventive, positive parenting.
Prevention includes setting structure, schedules, routines for children. They need to know when to get up, eat, go to bed, do homework etc. This prevents misbehavior, and gives children a sense of security. Having rules and routines gives children predictability. Having an unstable, unpredictable parent causes insecurity.
Controlling parents do not use these positive/preventive techniques. They simply “control” their children; are constantly telling them what to do, when to do it: “now”; or criticizing/punishing children for doing things wrong. They are dictators. Children raised in this way become angry and defiant. It comes to fruition when they are two and need to start feeling a sense of self and some degree of independence, smarts, and talents. If they are raised by controllers, they develop the words: “no”, “I don’t want to”, “I want to do it myself”, and use those phrases all the time (along with the attitudes and behaviors). They throw temper tantrums. Controlling parents then bear down even harder, get angrier, and punish more. These children get stuck in this stage, and then when they are adults they still go by: “no, don’t tell me what to do”, “I don’t want to”, “I want to do it myself (my way), “I am not going to listen to you”; they throw temper tantrums: they are now controllers.
Fourth, on prevention, be respectful to your child, just as you would with an adult. It will prevent misbehavior. Example: A father is playing football in the yard with his son. A neighbor walks over and all of a sudden the father stops and walks over to the neighbor to talk. The 8 year old gets angry and is pouting; he walks over and is pulling on his dad and telling him to hurry up; Prevention, respect: “excuse me son, I am going to talk to Joe. When I am through I will come back and we will play”. Example: You are in the kitchen. Your children are in the next room playing and being loud. It is not a misbehavior. The phone rings and you are trying to talk to a friend. All of a sudden the behavior becomes a misbehavior, but the kids don’t know that. A controller would yell for them to be quiet and get angry. An effective parent will walk into their room and tell them that she is now trying to talk on the phone and so they need to now be quiet. She will tell them when she is off. Children must be told how their behavior affects you (the consequences for you) (affects others). Use “I” messages: Example: Your child is sitting on the sofa with her feet on the sofa. You walk up “When you put your feet on the sofa, the sofa will get dirty. I get very frustrated when you do this. The consequence for me is that I will either have to clean it myself or pay to have it cleaned. This is not OK with me. You can either sit with your feet on the floor or sit on the floor.” (choices). When we give children choices we communicate respect. “I laid your clothes for school on your bed. There are 3 choices. Please pick one and put it on.” A controller does not give choices, is not respectful to children, and does not use positive, preventive parenting. They only know how to order, yell, remind, scold, criticize, punish and get mad when these don’t work. Their children learn to use power, revenge, attention getting behaviors, and display of inadequacy.
Also, do not ignore positive behavior—encourage it. That is what we are trying to build. Example: Usually your kids are quiet on Saturday mornings knowing you want to sleep. One morning they are being noisy and wake you up. You quickly let them know this is not OK and use a consequence. But just as important is to encourage them and thank them on mornings when they are quiet. Positive behavior should not go unnoticed. Our question should be how do I build positive behavior, values, not how do I get rid of misbehavior. Children are learning how to act appropriately.
Lastly, make sure there are lots of positives in your child’s day (and in yours). The list of positives for them, should be longer than their list of negatives: what they did wrong, how many times they were corrected etc. Do things with your child, even if it is just chores. Create chores so that you can be together. Try to have some one on one with your child each day. Most importantly, have fun with your child. Learn to play again.