Friday, June 14, 2013

Midnight Milkshakes, Blanket Forts, and Other Family Fun

One of the best ways to develop relationships and build confidence is to have fun together as a family.  I just discovered there is a month long celebration aimed at that very thing, strengthening families and building healthy, confident kids.  National Family Month is exactly what it sounds like, a celebration of family.   It runs annually from Mother's Day to Father's Day. 
An easy way to have fun with your kids is to remember what you enjoyed when you were their age and then do it with them.  Blow bubbles, fly a kite, build a blanket fort, play marbles, have a water fight, play tag, climb a tree, lay in the yard and watch the stars.  There are so many options that are free or low cost, but will have a huge return on your investment.
One of my fondest memories of my dad is of him getting on the floor with me and teaching me how to play jacks.  Picture this, a large Army Sergeant, who was also a third degree black belt in Karate, sitting on the floor with a seven-year-old in pigtails.  Quite the picture, makes most people laugh, but it left a huge impact on me.  It made me feel special and showed me that he really cared when he got down on my level and taught me something new.   
Speaking of laughing, remember that anything that gets the whole family laughing is probably a good place to start.  Remember the goal is to laugh with one another, not at each other.  Laughing is a huge way to relieve stress and can be contagious.  Watch a funny movie together, read a book of jokes together, tell funny stories about when you were a kid, tell funny stories about when your kids were babies.  Kids love to hear stories about themselves when they were little.  Remember to build family jokes that are specific to your family and then bring those up when everyone needs a little stress relief.
Make family dinners fun!  There are some great ways to have fun at the dinner table.  Have a night when everything you serve is finger foods and no silverware is used.  If you are really brave, serve a regular meal without silverware.  Do a meal in reverse, eating dessert first.  Or better yet, just have dessert for the meal.  Do a progressive dinner, where you start at one restaurant or house and eat a course and then move to another place for the next course.  Let the kids plan, shop, and help cook a meal.  Put food coloring in something (for example, make green mashed potatoes or red oatmeal).  Do the switch-a-roo, everyone order something different for dinner and then switch plates half way, a third of the way, or a fourth of the way through the meal. 
Be silly and spontaneous!  Sometimes as adults we become very task oriented and serious.  Do something completely out of character for you and see if it doesn’t get a laugh or smile out of the rest of the family.  Make a funny face when they aren’t expecting it, use silly voices when you are reading to them, put your clothes on inside out or backwards, have a pj day, get them up at midnight and make milkshakes.
Remember, when people are engaging in something fun they are more willing to try something they have never tried before and to be less critical of themselves.  Trying new things helps to build confidence.  Trying something new with others strengthens bonds and attachments.
For more suggestions on ways to engage in family fun, build confident children, additional ways to strengthen and support your family, and for other great parenting tips call the Family Support Line at 1-800-CHILDREN (800-244-5373) OR 1-866-Las-Familias (866-527-3264) for Spanish speakers. You can also e-mail with questions or concerns. Check us out on Facebook, at Families First Colorado.  The Family Support Line offers parenting tips, resources and information only and does not serve as legal or mental health advice. We believe you are the paramount person to decide what is best for your family. Comments provided by non-Families First individuals are not the opinion of Families First.

Monday, June 3, 2013


In honor of Father’s Day, a special guest post from single-dad Dave Taylor from
Nothing has been so profound in my life than the day my first child was born. Suddenly I went from being an adult focused primarily on myself to being a caretaker, protector and guardian to a tiny little creature, a baby so helpless that she couldn't speak, couldn't communicate her needs, and couldn't give me encouragement when I did the right thing or feedback when I was doing something wrong.
Contrary to popular belief, however, I don't think that men are born with the "great Dad gene", so learning how to go from being a typical self-absorbed adult to being an attentive, nurturing father involves effort. It involves you being able to accept criticism, ponder your behaviors, remember the good (and bad) of your own childhood, and expend effort - sometimes a lot of effort - to change who you are and how you interact with the world.
Don't worry, women aren't born with the "great Mom gene" either, by the way. They're just way better at talking about what's difficult with their pals, sharing their ups and downs, and learning through childhood play how to nurture and coddle a baby. Yup, the sad truth: while we boys were busy practicing for battle, the girls were practicing to eventually be moms. Oops. 
Still, you can learn how to be a great Dad and with three kids of my own (16,13, and 9) I figure I have a combined 38 years of parenting upon which to base my advice. Since I'm a single Dad and have been for over six of those years, it's really like a 2x multiplier, so I'm giving myself credit for 50 parenting years. We good with that? Cool.
Based on all that accumulated parenting experience, I believe that the two most essential skills that any good Dad can acquire and nurture are: LISTENING and EMPATHY.
If you're like me, you live your life at a pretty fast pace. Emails, text messages, phone calls, it's often hurry up, I've got three more things I need to deal with. That can be fun and there's a certain sense of satisfaction when lots of things can be managed simultaneously, but that's exactly the wrong approach to take with your children.
It's like that idiotic myth of "quality time". That's BS. What your kids need at all ages is ATTENTION. In large doses. That's the basis of LISTENING and the reality is that if you're busy texting your colleagues, setting up a tee time or skimming the latest spreadsheet from the boss, you're not paying attention to your children. Whether you take them to the park or are helping them with homework, they need to be front and center.
A radical experiment: when you're spending time with your children, put your devices away. Really. Unless you're a trauma doc on call, email from the boss (or wife, or girlfriend) can wait 30min or an hour. Remember that golden rule you learned in school? Model to your children the behavior you'd like to have them exhibit towards you too. (that's why I have specific acceptable cell phone use times for my teens: I hate talking to the top of their head while they're texting friends as much as I imagine they hate me doing the same thing).
Attention is important, but the reason you want to give them undivided attention is so you can LISTEN to what they're telling you. Buried in that stream of babble and trivia about their daily lives are their concerns about school, friends, family, the future, the drama of their existence, the reality of their lives. If you're not actually listening, paying attention and processing what they're telling you, they'll just learn to shut up. When they hit those teen years you'll be long since shut out and they'll be isolated or just find someone else who listens. Perhaps Mom, perhaps some gang-banger in the 'hood, perhaps that creepy old guy down the street.
The harder skill to learn is EMPATHY, however. It's one thing to listen to your children tell you what's going on, the problems they're having with the class bully or their first crush and how the teacher yelled at them even though they were innocent of the crime, but another skill entirely to CARE about what they're telling you.
I know, I know, you're busy negotiating a $5mil deal for work and a problem's come up, all while your son is telling you how he hates baseball because he can't hit the darn ball when he's at bat. His problems? Just as big to him as yours are to you. That's where you get to work on that key Dad skill: being able to take a deep breath, get out of your own world and recognize that to your son, being a better baseball player might actually be life and death important. It's certainly just as important to him as being able to close the deal is for you.
Quite frankly, empathy is something I had in short supply when I first because a father. With a crying newborn and little experience around babies (moms have us beat in that department because they socialize with other moms + babies and babysit as teens, while we're out working on our cars) I found the experience of a newborn both astonishing -- it's MY baby! -- and frustrating as heck, since I had no idea why she'd be crying, upset, irritable, not sleeping.
Here's the good news: Empathy is not only a beneficial skill for parenting, it's a good skill to have in life overall. It'll help you understand why Joe in accounting is so depressed about his cat dying even though you personally hate cats, why your sister Mary refuses to speak to Uncle Bill even though you and Uncle Bill get along splendidly, and why your daughter's tattered shoes really are a big, big deal in her world.
So there you have it, my advice for how to be a great dad on this Father's Day: learn how to LISTEN and EMPATHIZE with your children. Oh, and remember to be silly and have fun with them. Children are such a blessing, such an amazing addition to your life. Don't forget to enjoy it!
Dave Taylor has been writing about parenting and fatherhood for over a decade and maintains the popular site where he writes about his experiences as a single dad to three wonderful children. He's also a well-known tech expert and film critic, and is completely unsurprised his kids love movies and gadgets too. Find him online at
For additional ways to support your family and for other great parenting tips call the Family Support Line at 1-800-CHILDREN (800-244-5373) OR 1-866-Las-Familias (866-527-3264) for Spanish speakers. You can also e-mail with questions or concerns. The Family Support Line offers parenting tips, resources and information only and does not serve as legal or mental health advice. We believe you are the paramount person to decide what is best for your family. Comments provided by non-Families First individuals are not the opinion of Families First.