Yesterday I ran a workshop with a high profile financial asset management firm. The dads in the room were all super smart. Hugely driven, disciplined and results focused. A great strength in the workplace. A real issue in the home.
The guys all wanted to know how to better persuade their kids. How to make them do what they were asked, and how to deal with the emotional push back they were getting.
One of those all too familiar situations, just like this…
“Son, we’ve got to leave for school in 10 minutes, please stop reading/ turn the TV off/ finish your breakfast”
Reasonable request repeated. 10 times.
Cue shouting, harsh consequences for non-compliance or physical interventions — turning off the TV, closing the book.
Listening to the language
The language the dads used when they articulated their problems was telling — how to better persuade their kids. How to make them do what they were asked, and how to deal with the emotional push back they were getting — telling because it’s about exerting control.
Sitting behind this desire to control is deep loving intent. After all, these dads have their childrens’ best interests at heart. The kids should do what they say. Or should they?
Unpicking a problem like theirs needs to be done at the right level. To get to the right level of context, I asked the dads what they thought their job as a dad is, because this gives insight into how they approach fatherhood, and therefore those moments. They gave great answers, every single one.
To give them opportunities.
Great answers. All part of the right answer, but missing one part. And that part is the key to the situations they wanted the most help in.
The job of being a dad is to raise amazing little people so they become brilliant big people.
If you approach the situation with that goal, that mindset, everything’s different. It’s a longer term view that helps you see the situation differently.
Acting for the long term
The real problem all the dads had was the frame of their thinking. It was too short term. Too focused. Which isn’t surprising. Decades spent working 8–6, if not longer has conditioned them to focus on the short term, to be assertive, to expect action. Naturally, they had taken that mindset into the home. As a result, they’d lost sight of the bigger picture.
Take that particular instance, the one that tends to result in eruptions, raised voices and slammed doors. When you see it with this long term view, the discussion ceases to be about the specifics. It’s just one small step of your journey together. If your job as a dad, as a parent, is to help them become brilliant big people, then you don’t need to get them to do what you say. That’s counter-productive. The aim is to get them to have the self-control and wherewithal to take responsibility for themselves and act accordingly.
The fireworks moment then becomes an opportunity for them to learn how to do that. Whether they do what you want or not comes secondary to them understanding what’s going on, deciding how to act, experiencing the consequences and learning from them.
If it means being late for school, then that’s what will happen. They’ll learn it doesn’t feel great to be late. With your help they’ll learn how their behaviour resulted in that uncomfortable outcome and understand what to do differently.
And of course there will be moments when you do just need them to do what you’re saying, because you can’t be late. But if your goal is that long term one then your approach becomes one of getting them to understand why it matters to you, why you need their help. Treat them with respect, after all, you want to be treated with respect by them. And you want them to treat others with respect as they grow up. There will still be the moments when it doesn’t go to plan, where eruptions happen, but the fewer they are, the stronger your bond will be.
All very logical but how do you do it?
The trick is to NOT be in the moment, because that moment, the one when you’re trying to get them to do something, quickly turns into a battle. When you see it in the right context, the one that says your job is to help them learn and grow, the moment changes. It moves from the scene of a potential battle, to a place where you can connect with them and help them learn and grow, because that’s your job.
To not be in the moment, it’s helpful to remind yourself what your job as a dad is. I’ve found the best time to do that is when you have a moment to yourself. The only time that happens (for me) is in the shower. A trick I worked out Years Ago when I was working very hard on improving my patience.
Every morning now I check in with myself. How am I feeling? What’s my energy like? What’s going to be tough today and how will I deal with it? What kind of dad do I want to be? What does that look like?
Four years ago, I was an angry dad, something I never wanted to be, so I set out to change it. Now I help other dads be more patient. Like the guys at the asset management company and others who subscribe to my site.
Being in the moment is bad advice for parents in these situations was originally published in The Ascent on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.