Thought you might enjoy reading this summary of a telephone parenting consultation I did for a divorced dad who was angry, bewildered, and upset that his six year old son was having physical symptoms of anxiety.
Although my advice was specific to this father/son dyad, I thought some of it might be relevant for other fathers too. As always, please take only what seems helpful to you and disregard the rest. Each parent must decide for themselves what approach will be most appropriate for their unique family situation.
Your son might prefer to communicate with you while doing a physical activity side by side rather than just sitting across the table while you ask him questions. Try inviting him to shoot hoops or play a video game when there is something you want to discuss with him. You might be amazed at how much longer he will talk with you while his body is otherwise engaged.
Pay attention to which activities seem relaxing and fun for both of you – and plan to do more of that together. Expand upon what is already working well.
What many boys want more than anything from their dad is approval. He hopes you see him as strong and capable and smart. You are his hero, so he takes your opinion of him very seriously. Don't take that responsibility lightly. Notice and comment on his strengths at every opportunity.
Decide carefully what messages you give him now, because your voice is so important to him that he will carry it in his head forever. One day, he will share it with his own son.
When he gets anxious, the best thing you can do for him is to keep yourself calm. If you start to feel upset, or an internal pressure to make him stop feeling anxious, take a few deep breaths or a drink of water or a bathroom break to settle yourself down before you try to be there for him. When you show him that you can calm yourself down at will, you are setting a very powerful example for him.
After you are calm, then just be there with him. You don't have to fix the source of his anxiety - sometimes he won't even know what triggered it. Just be there with him, sort of like a big strong calm rock in a stormy sea.
Being strong and calm yourself shows him that you are not worried about him, that you trust that his anxiety will pass, and that you are not going to leave him all alone to cope with it. It also makes it easier for you to listen to his feelings without judgment if he wants to talk about them.
And as you mentioned, your anger at his mom could easily pollute your relationship with him if you let it. So find some other way to deal with your thoughts about her. Challenge yourself to never speak negatively of her when you are with your son. She has no power over your relationship with him - that's all up to you. Be the best dad you can be, and leave her out of that equation.
copyright 2007 karen alonge
Sometimes, big changes can happen when we hear just the right advice in just the right context. I agree wholeheartedly with Hazel Hawke's statement:
A mixture of empathy and brainstorming can move mountains.
If you know any parents who are tired of struggling with their kids or would just like to learn an easier way, send 'em my way for a free 15 minute telephone conversation to sample my work. Consultations take place by phone and email, as well as face to face for parents living near Boulder, CO. firstname.lastname@example.org