Tip # 1 - The Problem
Many of us were brought up with selfish parents. During the 60’s the local culture was about drinking, drugs, cigarettes and who could screw their neighbor’s spouse without their own spouse finding out. This was a pitiful time for being a child as many adults of the “hippie” generation made their decisions from the waist down while treating their children as afterthought to their personal interests. Based on what I observed as a child, many of the local “elders” were more concerned about the next party they would be attending than about providing guidance to their offspring. At a recent class reunion, several of my high school classmates and I were reflecting on our childhood. Our consensus was the combination of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll during the 60’s led to a generation of parents that were rather selfish and consistently put their personal pleasure ahead of the needs of others. Enough of the negative, let’s now discuss the solution.
This is the 1st tip – realize that your job as a parent is not to develop a new “party buddy”, but your role as a parent is to identify what bothered you as a child and embrace the idea that you are a parent with responsibilities! You will not live forever. You will die. After you die, your children will need to make decisions on their own. Money will not solve all their problems, especially if they were raised to view money as a “comfort provider”. Trying to control your child while they are young will not provide your child a foundation for making informed decisions on their own down the road. Cultivating good decision making skills, confidence, and independence in your children requires effort on your part.
My 1st suggestion is to focus a large portion of your energy on showing your children how to problem solve and openly discuss with each of them how to develop long-term relationships with other individuals. Wealth is the positive impact you have with others. Money is not wealth. Money is a tool (an asset) that should be used to provide a positive impact for others. Focus on cultivating a “how to” approach to decision making and a passion for developing solid relationships.
Tip # 2 - Breakfast
Cooking fosters problem solving skills. The process of preparation develops planning skills. The process of learning about tools (utensils) develops a knowledge and respect for safe use of potentially dangerous items. The process of understanding a recipe develops structured learning and planning. The process of recovering from mistakes, for example dropping an egg on the floor or burning French toast, provides them confidence in themselves knowing it is okay to fail. The most important part of the event, as a parent, is your approach to the process.
I view the process of breakfast as an opportunity to share knowledge, laugh a bit, and develop a good dialogue. Provide a relaxed setting, developing a calm conversational tone, and initiate humorous topics for discussion, while they are at an early age, is the “secret” to developing an open dialogue with your child for when they turn 12, 15, or 18. A non-judgmental tone when they burn your toast while cooking breakfast at age 6 will pay dividends when they tell you “the bomb” mistake they made as a teenager. Build the relationship as an exchange of ideas and not as a boring lecturer will develop their interest in talking with you openly.
Tip # 3 - Sports / Games
Sports are exercise, but also are an opportunity for children to spend time with their friends. Participating in sports is obviously healthy, not only for the body, but also is a healthy setting for developing relationships. A question for you to consider, in what situations did you develop your closest relationships? The military, combat, college, and elementary school are common answers. But why are they common answers? Sharing difficulties with others fosters a bind, an emotional link to a moment. When your emotions are high with anxiety, those settings become a reference point in your memory. That mental link to the setting developed your BFF. Success, failure, and challenge may raise anxiety but it also provides for opportunity.
Playing games at home are also beneficial. We play cards with our girls, a game called 3-13 along with a game called Pitch. The setting provides a forum for open conversation and off-topic discussions, but also develops math and decision making skills. The intensity of competition also provides for “good sportsmanship” discussions and for establishing a culture of treating others fairly.
Tip # 4 - Riding a Bike
The process of learning to ride a bike is an event every child remembers. The excitement, the wind, the fear of falling, and the panicking parent chasing you down the road - all become lasting memories. The day’s event is either short-lived, ending with the need of a few Band Aids or a trip to the doctor’s office, or goes on most of the afternoon with much fanfare. Few kids remember the conversation they had with Dad prior to getting on the seat, but many remember the enthusiastic conversation after the event.
This is the 4th tip – Make the event about them, not about you with a glory filled trip down memory lane. Yes, give them some instruction before plopping them on the seat, but the conversation afterwards, let them tell the story. The day is about them. Their memory of it will primarily be an enhanced snapshot of the story they tell 4 seconds after they get off the seat, the mistakes forgotten and success enhanced. Their ability to share the event, in the end, becomes the event. You can learn much as a Dad by listening to how they tell a story.
Tip # 5 - Watching a Movie
Watching a movie in our house is an event. At different stages in their lives, I watched similar movies with each. With my oldest daughter we must have watched Lion King and Winnie the Pool not less than 50 times each. With another we watched Dinosaur not less than 30 times. And yet with another we watched Shrek and the Indiana Jones series. With each, a pattern emerged. We’d sit in my recliner, toss a fleece blanket over us, and both fall asleep 30 minutes into the movie. One would snore, the other would drool. Both would wake up, go to the bathroom to go pee, and run back to the chair to re-queue the movie. This has been my Saturday afternoon for the past 5 years.
This is the 5th tip – Start a tradition. However hokey this might seem, the process of talking about what they like about a movie and scheduling one-to-one time together works. It establishes an air of stability to the relationship. It also provides a chuckle later in life when one of their children watches “their favorite” movie.
A relationship is the culmination of shared events, shared thoughts, and shared interests. Developing your child’s confidence and communication skills will pave the way for an open dialogue down the road. If you have any suggestions, please share them in the Comments section below.