Look at me when I’m talking to you… (or not!)
As dads, we are kind of a big deal. Like Anchorman Ron Burgundy, we are big in stature, big in voice, and big in power. We need to very aware of that ‘power’ and only use it for good.
I am going to keep it short and simple this week and share an amazing and easy parenting trick – a trick that works well with younger kids but can pay huge dividends with older kids… sitting side by side with your child.
That’s it – sitting side by side – not towering over, not ‘up in their face’, but simply beside. When you stop demanding your kids, “Look at me when I’m talking to you…” cool things can happen.
Let me share a quick story from last weekend. It was a cool crisp Sunday morning; 4-5 year old kids are being introduced to rugby. There are many excited dads (and a few moms) there helping coach and control the absolute chaos that is 4 and 5 year olds with cleats, a ball, and sunshine.
A whistle is blown, and the kids are corralled. It’s time to warm up. “Okay everybody, run all the way to that fence and back!” — Boom, the running of the bulls is on. It was really hilarious to watch.
All the kids are running except one boy. He runs a bit and then takes a hard right turn, runs, and stands by a soccer goal post. His dad, complete in authentic rugby attire, was running with the herd, stops and calls to his son. When his son doesn’t come back, dad somewhat calmly walks over to see what’s up.
Now, I must say, I don’t know this man or his son. I have never spoken to either one. I just want to share what I observed on that rugby pitch.
So the rest of the 25+ players have all jogged back and are onto a new drill, the dad and boy are still where they were. There is obviously a conversation going on.
Now, this is where it gets interesting. Many other parents, me included, would likely have been all over their child, trying to urge/entice their child back into the game. “I didn’t get up at 8 am to have you sit here….” But Rugby Dad, instead of dad towering over his son, is sitting beside him on the grass, watching the fun practice and talking with his son.
This lasted for at least 10-15 minutes. I kept watching. Are they coming back? Will he talk his son into rejoining the team? I should have had popcorn and junior mints as I rubbernecked the 2 of them, completely ignoring everything else.
The body language of the dad remained open and positive. After about 20 minutes, the dad and son walked over to the sidelines. I thought for sure they were rejoining, but the dad very calmly picked up their bag, said some goodbyes, and they walked hand in hand across the parking lot and left.
I was dumbfounded. I have no idea what was said, but playing rugby today wasn’t more important than a relationship. Maybe I’m reading into this too much, but all I know is that if that dad had played it differently, there would have certainly been tears. I can’t wait to see if they come back this weekend!
Here is my take away point for today. When in a tough situation with your children, pay special attention to YOU, where are you sitting, standing, what message is your position and body language sending?
Are you towering over, arms crossed, perhaps in an intimidating closed posture? Or are you open? Can you make yourself an equal in height, get down to their level, but not look directly at them or force them to look at you?
Try to be onside with your child. Think of it like a couch, (that flowery orange couch in all of your old family pictures) you need to be sitting side by side with your child looking across at the problem; not towering over, or in between your child and the desired outcome.
I know and preach that “Collecting the eyes” is something you need to do to effectively discipline and guide your child. It has merit and is necessary when giving instruction.
There are times though when it is of far greater value to sit beside.
I remember telling my parent(s) some personal things and asking some difficult questions as a teenager while we were travelling in the car. I was giving furtive side glances to see what Dad’s jaw was doing.
Many parents will tell you that some of their best conversations with their kids happen in the car, washing dishes, or folding laundry. Rarely will you hear a parent say that the best conversation they ever had with their child was when they were all up in their kids grill with questions and intensity.
I challenge you to think back to a memorable conversation with your own parent (s) that wasn’t easy but left you feeling good. Where did that conversation take place?
Put this theory to the test; try to sit side by side with your child more. I’m very interested in what you discover!
I look forward to your thoughts and stories at jeff@ thedadvibe.com
Until next time…
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Road trips with my pre-teen and teenage sons always evoke the best conversations. With close proximity and extended time frames, many interesting and important topics are covered together.
Side by side…..
Road trips are awesome Kathryn — that’s why I love National Lampoons Vacation movies —
Time spent in a car or camping, away from daily distractions, can be magical… and most remembered by our children…
I look forward to hearing more from you!
Excellent point Jeff. I know that most of my best two-way conversations with my daughter have occurred while our eyes and hands were focused on something else. Building a Lego castle; fixing her bike; or assembling a runway/feeding stand for the birds (I bet the birds didn’t realize how much they needed a runway, but my daughter knew).
I had attributed most of the benefit of these conversations to the fact that kids don’t have to look into their parents faces when they ask or reveal embarrassing thoughts, but having read your article I think there’s more to it. These situations level the playing field. It becomes more of a conversation than a lecture. Perhaps the child can talk more freely without feeling judged. I’ll be more aware of this the next time I have to talk about something serious or uncomfortable for either of us.
Keep up the good work Jeff!
Great to hear from you again! you are right — not looking at parents faces can open up dialogue – lessen the fears of judgment…
What topics can you tackle side by side?