Three amazing teenagers. How did that happen?!? Parenting tips from the pleasantly surprised.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

For All of Us

Like all of us, I’ve noticed the terrible things happening around the world due to racism, politics and religious fundamentalism.

As I watch the racial turmoil in my homeland – the USA – and see vitriol, murder and division caused by the many shades of grey that consider themselves black and white; I see one thing.

As I watch refugees drowning in stateless seas and stranded on islands of (in)convenience; I see one thing.

As I watch people of faith myopically claiming they’re right while others are left for dead; I see one thing.

The one thing I see is me.
Rather than us.
I see the breakdown of community, the fragmenting of family, the loneliness of each of us.

When was the last time you attended a gathering for the sake of the many?
When was the last time you sat in a circle facing those you love?
When was the last time you smiled at a stranger?

So, I’m going to make a commitment – and I invite you to join me – to celebrate the other.

Take a group to a local footy game. Eat lunch with family. Laugh at a child’s joke.
Go to a place where everyone is singing and join the song.
Tell someone pushing a pram how beautiful their baby is.
Buy something at the market made by the person sitting behind the table.
Tell your kids you love them. Then say it again. And again.
Until they laugh. Until they feel the joy they are to you.

Community is the best form of humanity – until it closes its eyes, doors, borders and hearts.
Then it’s the worst.

So, let’s build the world up. Make it stronger. Together, all of us.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Dog Attack!

A few years ago, while sitting in a booth representing a company, a young man approached me and said, “Hey Dave, my name is Matt. Can I tell you a story?”

I love a good story, so of course I said, “Yes, please!”

“You came to our church a couple of years ago,” Matt said. “You told the story of The BMW Driver and I remember thinking I could never be like that guy. I get mad easily.”

Matt played rugby and was accustomed to taking his anger out quickly and fiercely. Looking at Matt, who stood nearly 2 metres tall and was built like a brick wall, I cringed at the thought of being on the other team.

“I sell books door to door,” Matt continued. “One door burst open and a huge dog jumped out. It sunk its teeth into my arm, which I had raised to save myself.” Matt pulled up his sleeve, revealing long angry scars on his forearm. “And it raked its claws down my leg, gouging me through my jeans. I heard a boy screaming at the dog and saw him pulling on the dog’s collar. I was so angry!”

“Then something really weird happened,” Matt said. “My eyes met the boy’s eyes. I saw fear and terror on his face. My mind cleared and I had one thought: ‘I want to be the BMW Driver.’ And, Dave, it worked! I stopped worrying about myself and helped the boy wrestle the dog into the back yard. We called the ambulance and talked while we waited. The dog belonged to the boy’s recently deceased uncle. It was all they had left of his dad’s brother.”

Matt shook his head. “I still don’t understand what happened. That story about the BMW Driver just popped back in my mind and took over. I became just like him.”

And that, my friends, is the power of story.

Keep changing the world, one story at a time!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Think - Feel - Do

There are many ways to explore and explain the nature of ourselves and the other people in our lives.

Some of us share our star sign with others and expect them to deduce things about us from their knowledge of astrology. I’m a Libra. Yep, I’m an ideas person.

Others of us declare the foundational characteristic of our personality:  Sanguine (easy going), Choleric (driven), Melancholy (emotional) or Phlegmatic (relaxed). That’s me – the last one - phlegmatic. Garfield the cat described himself and me best when he said: “If I was any more relaxed, I’d be in a coma.”

Then there are those serious personality analysts who go for the Myers-Briggs Personality test and get to know the deep nitty-gritty about themselves. There’s sixteen types that fall into four basic categories – the Analysts, the Diplomats, the Sentinels and the Explorers. I’m an ENFP and, yes, my email signature actually says, “Keep changing the world!”

What about you? Do you enjoy doing tests to explore your personality? It’s a good practice to know yourself but the variety of tools and techniques can be daunting, so… Here’s another one!

Thinker-Feeler-Doer. Each of us is a combination of all three. Knowing our primary area and the primary area of each of our kids will save us a world of struggle. Thinkers love time to consider the options. Feelers thrive when given space to express themselves. And Doers relate the best to others when they are active. Which are you? Which is each one of your children?

Imagine a Doer dragging a Feeler to an activity to motivate them; or a Thinker using words to explain something to a Doer; or a Feeler asking a Thinker to ‘just listen’… You’re smiling. I know why! We all Think – Feel – Do right past each other nearly every day. Imagine if the Doers learned to slow down, the Feelers learned to be practical, and the Thinkers learned to get their hands dirty.

It can happen. As we parents model the ability of stepping out of our comfort zone to relate to our spouses, extended family, friends and children – our kids will see and copy us. Kids learn how to deal with things outside of their normal processing patterns when they see it done by the significant adults in their lives.

For some of us “just do it” works great. For others “Take time to care” motivates us. And for others “Think it through” rings true. All of us will benefit if we intentionally learn to think – feel – do the way those arounds us think – feel – do.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The BMW Driver

Driving with my family, I reached down to adjust the radio.

My wife’s scream brought my eyes back to the road. It happened so quickly and yet took forever. The car in front of me was at a complete stop. I braked, swerved and smashed my Daihatsu Charade into the back-end of a very nice BMW.

It was only then, looking above the BMW, that I saw the red light.

Staring across the front of my crumpled car, I followed the bruised BMW to the side of the road. My three kids were crying in the back. My wife was beside herself beside me. And I was terrified of the angry tirade I was about to receive from the other driver.

Instead, the BMW driver walked to my wife’s window and asked if she was ok. She said she was. Then he looked into the back and asked the kids. They nodded. Then he looked across at me and said, almost serenely, “We should swap details so our insurance companies can sort this out.”

We did.

And I spent the rest of the day thinking, How did he do that and how can I become like him?

Our children learn from us and how we react to things. The BMW driver has been a repeated story in our home. When we encounter things that happen to us – things that just aren’t fair – How can we be like the BMW driver?

*Note: This story took place years ago.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

My Tummy Hurts

While setting up our campsite in Tasmania with our 5, 6 and 8 year old, the middle child wandered up to me and said, “Daddy, my tummy hurts.”

Like a good parent, I knelt down, looked him in the eye and said, “Are you hungry?” He nodded and I gave him a banana.

After finishing the Banana, he came to me again and said, “Daddy, my tummy hurts.”

“Are you thirsty?” I asked. He considered his answer and then said yes. I gave him a bottle of water.

Finally, probably more than an hour since his first complaint, he came back to me and said, “Daddy, my tummy hurts.”

I said, “I’ve given you food and a drink. What is making your tummy hurt?”

He lifted his shirt, revealing a huge patch of angry red scratches.

“What happened?” I asked in amazement.

“I slid down a rock.”

Now, when someone tells me about their hurts, I start with more questions, until I understand what they mean by, “My tummy hurts.” Quick solutions fade quickly. Careful questions lead to greater understanding and true healing.

Ask more questions.

Listen well.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Good, Better, Best

Each person on this planet is unique. We all look different – even twins have some defining feature that their parents use to tell them apart. But there is something much deeper that makes each of us infinitely individual. Our thoughts.

Brain scientists are becoming more fascinated with the brain. The brain has incalculable storage. Literally – they cannot calculate how much it can store! In fact, it appears that the brain stores everything we see, hear, smell, taste and touch – and what we think about each of those sites, sounds, scents, flavours and sensations. Then there are the thoughts we think without sensory input – thoughts about the past, our opinions and values, etc. The brain records every memory and stores it in long term memory. Many of those records are never accessed again but they are there – in storage – and there is always room for more data. The brain is amazing.

The brain can also be trained. By thinking and rethinking things we are able to add more complex layers to those areas of thought. So, if you do maths every day, practice violin every day, tell a joke every day, read a book every day or cook a meal every day – that ability becomes stronger and your brain is more able to add the next level to it.

There are three ways – within the brain – to train the brain.

1. Plan things. By thinking things out ahead of time, we notice more options and therefore create opportunities for more choices (better and worse!) than we had before thinking it through. Planning can also be called imagining. When we think about things that haven’t happened yet, we imagine realities that do not (yet) exist. This can be a good thing – like planning a delicious meal – as all the ingredients will be purchases and prepared correctly. It can also be a destructive thing – like worrying about something out of your control.

2. Do Things. Involvement in activities shapes the brain better than anything else. A thousand phrases come to mind: Repetition is the greatest teacher. Practice makes perfect. If it is to be it is up to me. The best way to learn something is to teach it. Each time a sight, sound, scent, flavour or sensation hits the brain it reinforces all previous experiences of that thing. So, the more we repeat the things we want to be good at, the more capable we become.

3. Review Things. Reviewing and retelling the plans that became activities allows you to reframe them. The way we retell the story gives it emotional ties – joy, sadness, anger, pride. Retelling events in the review phase with a positive spin trains the brain to be positive during the planning and doing phases. By retelling the things we have done we are thinking them again – and laying another track down on that learning objective. Tell the story of your day focussing on the positives. You will naturally talk about the things that interest you (the tracks you are laying in the brain repeatedly) as these are the things you have strengthened in your thinking.

good, better, best
never let it rest
until your good is better
and your better best

Our thoughts and feelings combine to make up our moral character. The more time we spend planning, doing and reviewing the skills, activities and relationships we enjoy – the better we will become at thinking clearly and positively about them. You become your thoughts and your thoughts become you.

And this is why the brain is what makes each and every one of us unique.

I think, therefore I am!