Reacting When the Kids Surprise You

Early on in fatherhood experience, I decided that if I wanted the kids to believe that they could come to me with questions or problems, I would have to learn to control my responses when the questions and comments got uncomfortable.  In today’s smartass age, it’s too easy to be sarcastic and kids are looking for answers instead of sarcasm.  And as they age, they’ll shy away from conversation and question if they believe that Dad’s going to overreact.  I haven’t fully mastered it even now, but it’s a damned sight better than it ever used to be.

What are some of these circumstances?

  • When your four year-old pipes up in the backseat and asks "what’s a mother*&^%$@?"
  • When your fourth-grader makes a caustic, off-color remark (ignoring the paternal pride that it’s a really funny and on-target remark).
  • When one of your children makes the first reference to a sexual act, not involving intercourse.

When these things happen – and believe me, they have – what do I try to remember?

  1. Keep things calm and don’t blow a gasket.
  2. Where is this coming from and what’s the source?
  3. Oops, if that’s from me, how do I fix this?
  4. Is this something requiring immediate action or can I address it at a more opportune time?
  5. How much do they really understand what they just said?  If they’re asking, it’s safe to assume that they don’t understand.
  6. My response(s) need to be straight-forward and honest, regardless of how uncomfortable that might be.
  7. After providing the simple fact, provide a bit of morality to put it in context.  For example, that’s not something that we ever say, even Daddy.
  8. Don’t make it a joke afterwards or followup with some sarcastic remark.  For example,  we don’t say that someone is "on the rag", even if Mrs. Ferkley could be a spokesperson for Tampax.

This is an ongoing exercise and even now, I have moments where the comment or situation is so outrageous that my reaction overwhelms my practice.  But it’s worked often enough that I continue to hear them.  Which is what I want.

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