Super Dad to the … Burnout…

I step forward.  My chest puffed out.  An award winning grin gleams white across my face.  You can see the red cape whipping gently behind me.  I am Super Dad.

No diaper has defeated me.  No tantrum has wavered my spirit.  I am impervious to late night crying.  Immune to vomit.  Fully resistant to all crises.

Then you hear the record scratch.  Screeeeeeetch.  What?  Where am I?  What was I saying.  Puke?  Noooo! Not again.   Poop coming out of the diaper?  Please no!  Tantrum in full swing?  Run and hide.   Help me!

Wait.  I’ll calm down.  Let’s back up.  I am Super Dad.  I put in the effort, emotion and energy everyday, but I certainly don’t possess any superpowers.  I grit my teeth when things go wrong.  Adapt when the unforeseen occurs.  And problem solve when the need arises.

If you are a parent, you too are SUPER.  Don’t let any setback tell you otherwise.   You give, you sacrifice, you love.  Don’t get me wrong.  You aren’t a martyr.  You don’t require any awards.

Some of us struggle a little more than others at adversity, I’ll admit that myself, but we ‘keep on keeping on,” and persevere.

I’ve read a lot of articles recently about parent burnout and associated mental health conditions.  I’ve decided to take the first step and acknowledge the existence of burnout in my own life and work toward defeating its terrible symptoms.

What can we do as parent to take care of ourselves when we are reaching burnout?

I’ve compiled a list below of what I’m currently trying in my own life.

Take time for yourself

This is possibly the most difficult of all remedies.  In order to stay Super Mom or Super Dad you can’t possibly take and reserve time selfishly for yourself.  But you must!  Find a way to give yourself some down time.  It can be doing something you love like reading, gaming or watching a tv program.  It could also be a productive task time.  For instance you can have your partner watch the kids while you get to focus on doing the dishes alone without interruption.

Get good sleep

You may have to sacrifice a little of your self time, but be sure to be going to bed early enough to get a good night’s rest.  A huge contributor to rough days for me involves being too physically tired to keep going.

Be Present

When things start to overwhelm you stop and decide how to tackle a single task in front of you.  Don’t be concerned with anything but that one thing in the present.  Work on conquering tasks in order until you have regained control of the situation

What else can we really do?  I have been focusing on the above things because these are related to basic needs and are attainable goals to reach each day.  Small steps everyone.

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Powers of the Parent: Behavior Correction over Discipline

When I was a single man, yet to be married, and yet to be a parent I thought I had a pretty good grip on what it would take to “discipline” my future children.

Yes discipline was the word and it seemed pretty simple.  Be stern, stand your ground and they will ultimately comply.  No results, yell a little louder, get a more serious looking face.  Maybe growl a little.

Now as a parent of two things appear very different.  I have my wife to thank for my openness to change regarding behavior correction.   We don’t always “win” every battle, but we’re trucking along fairly well.

There are certainly the hellish mornings of “No.” “NO.” “NO!” “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” coming from my two year old.  His shoes and coat looking like a straight jacket and cement boots in his young eyes.  We dig deep, take a breath and usually find a way.  Sometimes it feels like a hostage negotiation.   Yet, in the end we get him dressed, settle his behavior and have him and his brother settled into the carseat for the ride to the sitter.

So what’s the big deal then?  It’s not as easy as it might have once seemed.  Behavior modification is a science it takes a bit of finesse.  You can be stern, you can “stand your ground,” but ultimately you have to find a reason for the child to want to comply.

Here are the ________ things we use on a regular basis to curb behavior issues.

Extinction – This can be best described as “the silent treatment.”  It has a very specific purpose and must be used properly however.  Imagine a child is intent on having a certain snack and has begun a meltdown of behavior when told they won’t get it.  Instead of trying to redirect, negotiate or otherwise ‘push’ them harder you just stop and try to end their outburst through silence.  Sometimes this is in the form of “I will talk to you when you are calm,” and other times this will look like hardset ignoring.  I mean no talking, no eye contact.  They become invisible to you until they calm themselves down.

The idea here is that you are not acknowledging the bad behavior and “rewarding” them by responding.

This / Then That – This one is great for diaper changes, snacks, TV time, and toy time.  If there’s something the child wants you basically withhold it until they complete a task you wish them to comply with.  For instance, “Diaper change first, then you get snack.” or “Eat two noodles from your plate, then you get milk.”

The key here to to NEVER CAVE IN.  If they don’t comply with the desired behavior you do not award them the item. EVER.  Set this precedent and then you will see compliance as consistently as you use this method.

Regular Positive Reinforcement – Always acknowledge good behavior.  ALWAYS.  Thank them.  Say, “Thank you for eating your food nicely,” “Nice job letting me change your diaper.  What a big boy!”

Do this even after that horrible knock down drag out screaming tantrum.  Once they settle and you get your desired outcome, acknowledge that they’ve finally done the right thing.  It’s going to be hard. VERY HARD.  You’ll be exhausted.  You’ll possibly be angry.   Set that aside and say “Good job!”

This is the best way to build intrinsic motivation.  When they feel good, feel appreciated and feel acknowledged for finally settling down and completing the desired activity, the tantrum times will begin to shorten.

Just remember the ultimate goal of all actions you take regarding child behavior.  You want the child to change their behavior.   Being punitive for the sake of being punitive is ridiculous.  Then you’ve simply reached a point of playing a game of “I’m stronger than you.”

It’s like making an exam for a math class.  What should the goal of the teacher be?  For all the students to know as much as they can about the math topic.  It is not about seeing how many questions you can stump them on.  “You got 85% of them right and this what was wrong and why,” and not “You got 15% of the questions wrong.  Did you even study?”

We want our children to be receptive to correction and be open to change.  I certainly would like my boys to be more worried to disappoint me with their behavior than to fear having something taken away.  Once they lose the privilege they have nowhere else to go.  Zero incentive to rebound back.

I will not utter the words: “That’s it you just lost your dessert.  That was sassy.”  In that case I would end their opportunity for change and for learning.  They would not be able to make a correction and move forward positively.

Think otherwise?  Tell me about it.  I’d love to hear someone else’s take on this.