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  • Writer's pictureDedan K. Bruner



Father of Carter (4) & Addelynn (2)

Hayward, California

“Carter, I need you to pick up your toys and get ready for bed.”

“No, I don’t want to go to bed.”

“Carter, I NEED you…to PICK UP your toys…and get ready for bed!”

“I don’t want too!”

For a stretch, this was a standard conversation with my 3-year-old son who recently turned 4. He was contrarian to just about every suggestion which lead to a tremendous amount of frustration on my part. His behavior was compounded by long work days and a younger sister who competes with her brother in the noise department.

All and all, I found myself resorting to old school tactics of raising children. A slightly raised voice, stern looks, pregnant pauses in speech and the occasional time out. These tactics only resulted in more tears, meltdowns, and frustration across the board. Before having kids, I promised that I would never spank my children, but I found myself inching towards that as my son’s verbal pushback became more defiant.

At one point, he told my wife “you don’t tell me what to do” and I almost lost it. During one of Carter’s faux meltdowns over snack options, I picked him up and took him into a quiet room. Once inside, I got on his level and explained calmly why he couldn’t have more snacks before dinner. I also explained why he wasn’t going to speak “out of turn” to his mother. I offered him a tissue and sat with him repeating the “why” a few times more times as the tears slowly stopped. I asked if he understood and he nodded. We hugged and went back into the outer room.

Fathering Tip

Early in my relationship with my wife, we established the “that isn’t how you speak to me” retort. This response comes in handy during moments of frustration or agitation—something which happens in just about every relationship. While the phrasing may change, the message it conveys remains the same. Take a moment and collect yourself. Then, and only then, should you try again.

My son is honestly one of the sweetest children that I have ever been around but when frustrated he acts out. If he escalates now, I remind him that he needs to “be nice.” I calmly explain why something can’t be the way that he wants and offer him an alternative solution. Nine times out of ten this approach defuses the situation. The tenth time sounds something like this, “Daddy, that’s not nice.”

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