Tag Archives: conversation

How To Tackle Tough Subjects With Your Kids

Last night, dinner conversation turned to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.

We had seven people at the table with four under 14 and three between 40-60.  Perspectives varied based on snippets from the news, political views, emotional reactions, and forming views based on respected opinions.

Photo Credit: Zed The Dragon via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Zed The Dragon via Compfight cc

I could not help but think about other difficult conversations.  Especially those between me and my son about the divorce.  It reminded me how important our job as dads is in helping our kids formulate opinions, inform their perspectives, and take on an attitude of learning.

Here are a few helpful guidelines:

  • Only answer questions they ask.  My son’s therapist, when asked about good tactics to discuss the birds and the bees, instructed me to answer questions honestly and to only answer the questions asked.  In other words, if asked if babies grow in mommy’s stomach, just answer the specific question and do not begin to tell them how the baby got there.  Keep an open, honest dialogue going with your kids so they will be willing to ask you questions as they come up.  Do not overwhelm them with details and information they likely cannot process anyway.  You may find yourself taking conversations a step further, but rely on common sense and age-appropriateness.
  • Allow them to own their emotions.  If your kids express fear of a terrorist attack or sorrow about the loss of a parent through divorce or death or deployment, affirm their feelings.  Find ways to help them process those by telling about a time where you felt the same thing. If they feel heard with respect to their emotional reaction, they will probably be more open to the rational/logical follow up you may want to share with them.  I remember the fear I felt in the 80s during the height of the Cold War – as unlikely as nuclear war may have been, I went to bed many nights afraid of Russia attacking the US.  I can now tell my son about the value of recognizing fear but not allowing it to paralyze me.
  • Encourage learning.  This may not work quite as well with respect to the three D’s (divorce, death, and deployment), but when it comes to world events or “monsters in the closet”, find ways to help your kids learn more and help them inform their reactions and feelings.  I remember being very scared of monsters as a young boy.  I checked out a book from the library at my elementary school about monster movies which demystified them.  I saw the transformations of the actors by makeup artists and while I still had some fear, I knew Bela Lugosi and Lon Cheney, Jr. were the ones scaring me…not the real thing.

As our kids get older, the conversations get more interesting, engaging, and often more complex.  Consider what voice you want to have with your kids and how you will ensure to be part of their conversations.

What difficult conversation have you had with your kids?  What lessons did you learn from it?

FLASHBACK – 4 Ideas To Improve Your Bedtime Ritual

At the ripe old age of “I’m almost 10” it happened.  My son has asked me to stop laying down with him at bedtime.  He’s a big boy now and it’s time to go to bed alone despite all the zombies outside his window and a forecast for a 50 percent chance of sharknados.

But I’m still in control.  I inform him I will be laying down for a moment to read to him, scratch his back for 10 seconds, and say our prayers.  I confidently assure him it will be quick and painless and I’ll be out of the room in no time.

Rewind four years to when we started this discipline.

I’m thankful for lots of great advice from professional psychologists who worked with me and my son during our transition to a single-parent home.  To a person, they instructed me to maintain and improve upon his bedtime ritual to both provide comfort and promote a strong emotional connection.

His primary therapist insisted recreational book reading happen in bed because, in her experience, it enhances the emotional connection between parent and child.  An added benefit I discovered was an overall easier time falling asleep because of the consistent and safe routine.

So, here are four things I’ve learned about bedtime:

* Bedtime stories (not associated with school) need to be read in bed.  It’s a safe and comforting place to bond during reading.  This, somehow, enhances emotional bonds between father and child.  I don’t understand and don’t have any metrics to prove anything for certain, but I know my son’s emotional state was stable when I did this consistently.  He had his moments (and me mine), but it must have helped.

* Just suck it up and scratch their back.  After a long day (still anticipating folding laundry and doing dishes before I could turn in) the last thing I wanted to do was lay in some awkward position and scratch my son’s back while propping up my arm on a pillow so it didn’t fall asleep.  But I knew it mattered.  A lot.  Touch is so important with our kids and a lot of us dads forget.  So just do it.  Scratch their backs and give them a good night kiss.

* Invite questions and conversation.  Your kid will benefit from being in an emotionally safe place where they feel connected with you because they will be more likely to share their feelings and engage in some amazing conversations.  Depending on your circumstance, your kid may experience some deep hurt, fear, and guilt – what can it hurt to let them know you welcome their questions or want find out what’s on their mind?

(DISCLAIMER)  I have tried the question thing with mixed results.  I told him he could ask me anything and I would answer honestly…even if my response was “I don’t know” or “we will need to talk about that when you’re older” or “that is a grown-up issue between your mom and me.”  He occasionally pressed to get details about our divorce, but I stuck to my script (more on this concept to come in another post).  Sometimes he said he didn’t have any questions or want to talk.  That’s fine – it’s an invitation, not a requirement.

* If something has to get done before you go to bed, try to get it knocked out before the bedtime ritual.  Your day probably began 15-16 hours before it’s time to lay down with your child.  You will, occasionally, fall asleep.  You will barely function after your brief, pre-bedtime nap.  As they get older, this gets more important because their bedtime is closer to yours.

Connection with our kids keeps coming back to communication, time and touch.  So, invest some energy into your bedtime ritual.  It will make a difference.

If you miss a night here and there, don’t worry about it – just be as consistent as you can and know it will pay dividends.

As for me, I’m going to get this bedtime ritual in as long as I can, even though it’s abbreviated.  Plus, you never know when a sharknado will strike.

Sex, Drugs, Violence And Dirty Words

My son and I sat down to watch a classic movie with a PG rating – Beetlejuice.  

Photo Credit: Muotoilla * via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Muotoilla * via Compfight cc

I had fond memories of the 1988 movie – the Tim Burtonesque feel, the comic genius of Michael Keaton, and the Banana Boat Song.  And it was not even a PG-13 film like Iron Man or The Avengers – both of which he saw and I had no problem with.

I had forgotten a few critical scenes, words, and concepts my son might not have been ready to take in.  I had forgotten a PG rating in the 1980s could be just this side of an R rating.  Watching it again, I wonder if Beetlejuice should have been rated PG-13.

I began talking with other dads about this.  There was the one who showed his son The Bad News Bears having forgotten about the amount of language and drinking in that PG film.

We have also talked about our tendency, especially with our boys, to afford more leniency with violence than we do sex and nudity.  How can we show them Braveheart and The Patriot because of the overarching story and message and turn our heads at the brutality, violence and blood?

I have another friend who will allow for a moderate level of violence in the media his son consumes, but draws the line when the story involves the mistreatment and disrespect of women.  But even those story lines can provide great opportunity for conversation about the consequences of being a jerk toward women.

So, what is the right answer?  Do we let the Motion Picture Association of America decide what our kids can watch based on their age and MPAA guidelines?  Do we say “no” to everything with adult content?  Do we shelter our kids as long as we can?

I do not have all the answers and, frankly, have quite a few questions.

Even if I censor the content at home, my son still goes to school, still visits friends (with older siblings), still rides in the car and sees billboards for local adult boutiques and Captain Morgan Rum.

I want to hear what you think, but here is my attempt to develop some boundaries:

  • Stay engaged in your kids’ lives and know what media they consume.  This seems like the first, logical step.  Ignorance is not bliss.
  • Educate yourself on the content they want to consume.  I routinely use sites like IMDB, Kids-In-Mind, and Common Sense Media to get reviews and recommendations about the content my son consumes.  He usually knows which films I will say “no” to, but often I need more information – especially if I have not seen it before and want a sense about what he will see.  Some of the sites even give you topics to discuss following the movie.
  • They probably know what you watch, so do not be surprised if they think the same content is OK for them.  In the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do category, our kids take cues from us, so if you do not want them watching horror movies, you may want to reconsider your Friday the 13th movie marathon.  They can see the “recently watched” shows on Netflix just like you can.
  • Engage in the discussion with your kids.   I remember watching a movie called Phantasm at a friend’s house when I was in late elementary or early junior high.  For whatever reason, I could barely go get the mail in broad daylight for several days after seeing it.  I was just waiting for the Tall Man to jump out from behind a tree or show up behind me when I looked in a mirror.  I have told my son about that experience, and it may have tempered his desire to watch a horror movie…for the time being.  Be honest about why you set boundaries on the movies they watch and let it be a conversation, not just a lecture.

What limits have you set on movie/TV content for your kids?  How do you approach the subject with them?

Life Lessons From Saturday Morning TV

What television show you loved as a kid did not quite live up to the memory when you saw it one night on TV Land?

I have had this experience – especially some of the old Sid and Marty Krofft shows from Saturday morning. What could possibly go wrong with Ruth Buzzi and Jim Nabors as robots piloting a flying saucer? (Yes, I’m that old).

When I was about seven, one show really captured my imagination and provided source material for hours and hours of play with my friends and me. The story involved another boy who stumbled across a secret and was given the power of six immortals – Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury. The show was SHAZAM! I not only watched the show, but had the comic books as well.photo-3

Fast forward nearly 40 years and I heard the studio released the show on DVD.

I ordered the series on DVD in 2014 hoping to share a little of my childhood with my son. The package arrived and it only took a moment to look at the jacket art to know this show would probably not age well.

With some trepidation, I put in the first disc, called in my son, and pressed play.

What shocked me was how much he engaged with the show. Yes, he chuckled at some of the “special effects” and did not always understand the cultural references from the early 1970s when the show was filmed, but the stories went deeper.

Today’s superhero movies have amazing special effects, compelling super villains, A-list actors, and reams of source material to draw stories from.

But my son seemed to connect with SHAZAM! because the hero, Captain Marvel, did not fight super villains, but instead interacted with everyday people (mostly kids and teens) facing everyday issues like peer pressure, bullying, not fitting in, and the occasional car thief.

The show addressed issues and questions my son had either asked or could imagine himself asking. The show sparked conversation about why people do bad things and how to make better choices.

We do not have the same conversations after today’s superhero blockbusters – we talk about the big battle scenes or the funny lines.

But following those 25 minute episodes of SHAZAM!, we had some good talks about making good choices, how we treat friends and family, and the consequences of telling what seems like a small, white lie.

I hear DC Comics will make a movie adaptation to be released in 2019 starring The Rock as the super villain (of sorts), Black Adam. Whether or not the movie ever happens, I expect the green screen effects will blow us all away, but I wonder if the story will connect with those important questions our kids ask about everyday life.

What show from your childhood have you shared with your kids? What was the reaction? What source material do you use to assist you in teaching your kids moral tales (Aesop’s Fables and the like)?

“Ts” Of Single Fatherhood – Talk

“Hi, son!  How was your day?”


“What happened at school?”


“Anything happen you would like to talk about?”


Sound like a familiar conversation when you pick your kid up?

For our purposes, we will acknowledge conversation between father and child benefits both the father and child.  We will acknowledge the importance of verbal communication for the development of our kids from a social and emotional standpoint.

Photo Credit: Alkavare via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Alkavare via Compfight cc

If you have had experiences like the one I shared above, we need to move beyond the “why” and get to the “how”.

OBSERVE:  When do you like to talk to others and when do you like to be left alone?  Do you want peace and quiet before breakfast?  Until you get to work?  Do you need some time to decompress after a long day and collect your thoughts without engaging in conversation?  Well, our kids have similar preferences.  Learn yours and learn theirs.  Use that information to determine the best time to engage in meaningful conversation.  Many kids do not want to talk about their day at school immediately after leaving, and instead would like to listen to music or shoot some hoops – not a good time to actively engage.  Instead, figure out when they are most open.  For many, it is at bedtime (see my post about bedtime rituals for some thoughts on this).

ASK QUESTIONS:  Would you rather get a lecture or engage in a dialogue?  Often, we equate talking to our kids with telling our kids what we think.  Instead, observe which questions pique their interest and elicit a response more than a simple “yes” or “no”.  Sometime our kids need to hear from us in the lecture format, but talking to them involves a two-way dialogue.  Properly worded questions can sometimes teach more than any droning lecture because they encourage our kids to think about choices and the reasons behind them.

INVITE QUESTIONS:  We used to have a time before bed where I told my son he could ask me any question he wanted with the promise I would give an honest answer.  When he would ask about the divorce, I honestly told him it was not appropriate for me to discuss and went right into my “broken record” explanation.  When he would ask a question about an aspect of science I did not know, I told him I would do some research and get back to him. Sometimes he had no questions and sometimes I knew the answer.  Encouraging our kids to ask questions seems to make them more comfortable with talking – at least it did with my son.

LISTEN:  In those moments you want to really talk to your kids and connect, give them your attention when they talk.  Let the phone keep ringing.  Do not check your text messages like Pavlov’s dog when the alert sounds.  Turn off the television.  Engage in eye contact and repeat what they said to you so they know you listened and understood.  If our kids sense we do not pay attention to them, why would they talk?

DO SOMETHING ACTIVE WHILE YOU TALK:  Throwing a football, going for a walk, or swinging at the park can be great ways (especially with boys) to connect and converse.  They still have your attention, but there is just something about walking and talking….

Because we regularly play the role of dad and mom, we need to redouble our efforts to connect with our kids in conversation.  They need to express feelings and ask questions, but they may not if the foundations of regular communication do not exist.

My son has recently shared some concerns with me on his own, with no prompting and seemingly out of the blue.  I have told him how appreciative I am he asked me and thanked him for trusting me with something bugging him.  I do not believe he would have asked had we not developed our communication skills.

Having said that, I still get “fine” and “no” when I pick him up from school.  And then he turns on the radio.

When do you find your kids most willing to have a good conversation?

FaceTime, Your Ex, And Your Kid

Depending on your parenting agreement (and probably the age of your kid), you may have a regular schedule for communication between your ex and your kid.  You may also have received input from a therapist or parenting coordinator for building some regularity and consistency into that communication.

For a time, my son (in kindergarten at the time) and my ex spoke via Skype every day at 6pm.  Because of certain technological constraints, we had to be at the house each day at the appointed time – not always an easy or convenient task.  But it came at a crucial time where the regular vocal and visual connection made a difference.  I do not have scientific data or double-blind placebo tests to prove anything, but I know my son benefited from the time with his mom.

Fast forward a few years and my son and my ex communicate differently.  Between FaceTime on his iPad, texting on his iPad, and phone calls with my phone – they find their own groove.

What advice would I give you with respect to facilitating communication between your kid and your ex?

Assuming there is no legal or therapeutic guidance to restrict communication, here are three thoughts:

Never force your kid to speak to mom.  While your intention to ensure keeping to a schedule promotes consistency, your kid may have the occasional off-day.  If you force conversation, it could make it seem like a punishment.  Instead, you may try informing your ex about the circumstance and also encourage your child to send a text message, pose for a picture you could send her, or write a note/draw a picture you could scan and email.  You will know if your kid uses this as manipulation, but my recollection is my son had the occasional day he just did not want to talk and did not make it a habit.

Remind your kid to reach out to mom.  As kids age they get caught up with friends, homework, hobbies, and any number of distractions.  Make a point to ask if they’ve spoken or texted with mom lately.  Not only does this promote connectedness between mom and kid, but it also communicates you care about their relationship.

Do not eavesdrop.  Many court-ordered parenting agreements already require privacy, but sometimes, with mobile devices and the normal course of walking through the house to do everything you have to do, you will hear parts and pieces of the conversation between kid and mom.  Do your best to minimize and give them privacy.

You have been given the gift of custody of your kids, and the emotion linked to your ex can be strong.  I encourage you to take a step back from those emotions and make sure you appropriately nurture as positive a relationship between kid and mom as possible – I believe your kid will benefit.  I have seen it in my son.  If you have a question about it, ask a counselor, parenting coordinator, or your lawyer.  It never hurts to get a second opinion from a neutral party.

What suggestions do you have to promote healthy communication between your kid and your ex?

Your Child Always Hears What You Say About Your Ex

My son informed me I do not have eyes in the back of my head.  To which I inquired, “then how did I know you were playing on your iPad when you were not supposed to?”

He scrunched his face a little, appearing to think hard.  “I don’t know, but you don’t have eyes in the back of your head.”

Our kids, on the other hand, have huge ears.  Massive, Dumbo-like ears.  They hear everything you do not want them hearing.  Like that time you stubbed your toe on the table.  Or that time you tried to plan a surprise birthday party and your kid overheard you on the phone inviting one of their friends.

Photo Credit: eltpics via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: eltpics via Compfight cc

They also hear everything related to your prior marriage.  They do not really hear everything, but you must assume they do.

As best I know, I have not said an unkind word about my ex-wife or our divorce where my son was remotely nearby or able to hear.  He has asked me questions and I answer those as appropriate (see my post on this topic).  But as much as I have uncanny dad hearing, he has amazing kid hearing when he wants to.  Why is it never when I ask him to clean his room?  That discussion is for another day.

If your kids hear words said in anger or sarcasm or cruelty or revenge toward your ex, the damage will be significant and those words will not be forgotten.  They put your kids in the position of reconciling those words about a parent they love without context, maturity, or wisdom to process.  Bottom line: it does harm to everyone – including you.

If you find yourself needing to deal with conflict and issues involving your ex, talk to a therapist, clergy or a trusted friend.  Venting where you kids could hear you might indicate you need to do some of your own relational work.

As time has passed since my divorce, emotions level out and I seem to think less about the issues surrounding my ex and more about how I have matured and changed as a man.  If you find yourself recently wounded and angry, I get it and understand the desire to vent.  But know your kids will be wounded if they hear you saying anything negative about their mom.

I also understand some of you may be in a situation where their mom could pose a real threat to your kids’ safety.  Even in that case, I would encourage you to seek help from a professional who can give you words and tools to help your kids cope.

If you said something negative about your ex, intentionally or not, in front of your kids, how did they react?  What did you do next?