School. Soccer practice. Homework. Dinner. Piano Recital. Bed. Repeat.
Does some variation of this sound all too familiar? Intentionally or unintentionally, our Generation Z kids are enduring heavy schedules filled with highly scripted activities. This leaves little (if any) downtime for unstructured play, learning, or even boredom -- all of which experts suggest are crucial to healthy development. In fact, according to author Dr. Tim Elmore in Generation Z Unfiltered and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), when our kids are heavily scheduled they are more prone to higher levels of anxiety and stress, decreased motivation, lowered sense of responsibility, and decreased problem solving and decision-making skills.
As alarming as this is, it’s easy to feel trapped as a parent. You want to provide the best for your child and set them up for success. It seems like every family you know is going through the same thing, and the fact is, you’re right. Over-scheduling and highly structured activities have become the norm.
Unstructured play, essential to healthy child development, is disappearing from the American landscape. Children still play, but today many of them engage in activities structured by a screen, designed to teach skills of some sort, or organized with rules and limits overseen by adults. The days of children making up their own games and activities with kids in the neighborhood are waning. Even if they wanted to do this, fewer opportunities exist.
Play is important for developing curiosity, creativity, and imagination. According to Dr. David Elkind, author of The Power of Play, “These abilities are like muscles. If you don’t use them, you lose them.” Many of today’s toys are programmed to solicit a specific response or reaction from a child, limiting their creativity and imagination. Toys with multiple uses, e.g., blocks, Legos, etc. are good options because children use them in a variety of ways.
Children who are encouraged to engage in unscripted, free play will often experience higher levels of self-confidence upon learning they can come up with creative solutions and ideas on their own. Many children today have schedules that are very structured from morning to night. While that has some value, it takes away from other opportunities for problem solving.
So, what can you do to encourage creativity in your kids? It might seem counter intuitive but try regularly scheduling blocks of free time for your kids. Let them explore, let them dream, let them play. Consider the following six tips from The Power of Play:
Who knew something so fun could be so important to your child’s immediate and long-term success? Not only that, but we haven’t even covered the added benefit when you get to join in the fun, dad. The AAP’s study also recognized that parents who play with their children experience a childlike joy, decreased stress and a stronger bond with their children.
Block out some time for your child to play today.
Stephanie Grandestaff is a wife and mother, and enjoys handling all aspects of marketing and media for Good Dads.
Whack. Whack. Whack. A four-year-old boy was continuously pulling and releasing the tray table on the back of my husband’s seat on a recent flight to Phoenix. It was late—probably past the boy’s regular bedtime. Belted into his seat for nearly three hours, he was clearly bored, tired, and doing what comes naturally to a preschooler. He was protesting the injustices of his life in the only way he knew how—whining, crying and distracting himself by whacking the tray table on the seat immediately in front of him.
It’s easy to see the problem with a four-year-old’s behavior. It’s annoying. It fails to produce the desired results. It’s a pain in the neck to anyone within ear shot. And, yet, it makes sense to a young child. It’s the only way he knows to register his discontent because he didn’t expect riding on an airplane to be so dull and confining. He thought it would be a lot more exciting.
This is one of the problems with the high-tech lifestyle to which most of us, and especially our kids, have become accustomed. According to Tim Elmore and Andrew McPeak (2019) in Generation Z Unfiltered: Facing Nine Hidden Challenges of the Most Anxious Population, “Our world is full of speed, convenience, entertainment, nurture and entitlement” (p. 115).
While these are not necessarily bad things, they do condition us to believe the following:
As we assume the above, we begin to believe we deserve to be treated in ways that are comfortable, caring, convenient and fun.
The problem is that life often fails to unfold itself in the way we like. Any mature adult recognizes this, but our children do not and today’s world makes it difficult for them to develop realistic expectations.
Parents know learning a new skill or habit takes time and expect that it can be difficult. Practice often feels a lot like work. Likewise, trying new experiences opens the door to the possibility of failure. Perhaps this is why more young people than ever before are delaying to obtain a driver’s license or move out of their parent’s home to a dorm room or apartment of their own. They want to avoid the risks associated with being responsible for one’s self. They’re not sure what to expect.
Here’s the thing, if we want to be happy in life, we need to learn to manage our expectations. It has been suggested that when reality (R) is less than our expectations (E), we are unhappy or discontent (D).
When we believe we are missing out on sometime we are entitled to have, frustration and disappointment morph into anger. We say, “That’s not fair!” and we believe we have been wronged. There is injustice in the world and we are the victim. It is not a happy place to be.
So how does a parent battle the persistent messages of entitlement his child receives? Here are three possibilities:
There’s one more thing. When we are able to overcome the bonds of entitlement, we are much more likely to see the bigger picture and demonstrate compassion. We can see a disagreeable, out-of-control child or we can have empathy for a tired, traveling mom returning home from a visit with her military husband. She’s tired; her son is tired; and a wiggly little body is to be expected. We can get over ourselves and our own expectations. We can see the world through a different lens and we are often a lot happier—something we want for ourselves and our children.
For more great insights and tips be sure to subscribe to our Good Dads Podcast.
In closing, if you click through and order a copy of Generation Z Unfiltered, Good Dads will earn from qualifying purchases and that helps us keep the lights on. Thanks for your support - today and always!
Dr. Jennifer Baker is the Founder and Director of Good Dads. She is the wife of one, mother of two and grandmother of eight. She may be reached for question or comment at email@example.com.
“It’s good. You’ll like it.”
“Yuck. No I won’t.”
“How do you know you won’t like it if you haven’t tried it?”
“It looks gross.”
“Well, it’s not, and your mother worked really hard at making a nice dinner for us, so eat it!”
“I can’t. I’ll throw up!”
“No you won’t – and you’re not getting up from this table until you’ve eaten it, young lady, so you’d better get started now!”
And so the lines are drawn, and the battle begins . . .
Sound familiar? I don’t know any father who hasn’t played out the above scenario in some form or another with his kids, and it can be a very frustrating experience on both sides.
Granted, if our children’s biggest struggle is with trying new food at dinner, they’re probably not going to be emotionally crippled for life. On the other hand, if they are paralyzed with fear about trying anything new, they could miss out on a great deal of the joy and adventure of living.
So what can we do as fathers to help our children overcome their fears and welcome new experiences in life?
We can proactively address four underlying beliefs that hold our kids back, and we can build a set of beliefs into the foundation of their character that will help them embrace the new rather than fear it.
4 Limiting Beliefs That Hold Kids Back
Belief #1: Inability (“I can’t do it”)
Kids sometimes think that because they haven’t done something before, that means they can’t do it. As fathers, we can help foster a sense of independence in our children by giving them small things to do from a very young age. We can encourage their natural inclination to want to “do it myself”, then congratulate them on their successes, and not criticize when the finished product is less than perfect.
My 8-year-old daughter Charissa and I were building Lego houses together a few months ago. After a while, I saw how I could “improve” part of her design. I started rebuilding a stairway so it would be more sturdy and, in my opinion, more aesthetically pleasing. My daughter saw what I was doing and said seven words that had me scrambling to put things back the way I found them. She looked at me with her big eyes and just said, “I worked really hard on that, Daddy.” I’m grateful she spoke up and helped me realize that despite my good intentions, I was sending her a message that she wasn’t good enough. I pray I never make that mistake again.
Belief #2: Incompetence (“I won’t be good at it”)
Even when a child realizes they have the ability to do something new, they may not have the assurance they can do it well. For some kids, that’s a show-stopper. As fathers, we can help foster a sense of confidence in our children by giving sincere praise for their accomplishments. By celebrating their achievements with them, our children grow more self-assured and more eager to try something new.
Charissa is learning how to play basketball, and before her first game, she was terrified she would make a mistake and be embarrassed in front of everyone. Fortunately, she has a great coach. He made a concerted effort to give positive feedback for every good move on the court, and by the time the game was over, Charissa’s main comment was, “That was fun!” I want to be an encouraging coach for her as well, so every new experience she has will end with the same feeling.
Belief #3: Insecurity (“I’m not safe”)
If children don’t feel safe, they have a difficult time taking risks with new situations. Kids need to know they are loved and protected unconditionally. As fathers, we can help foster a sense of security in our children by showing them how important they are to us and by providing them with a stable environment. We do this by spending time with them, enjoying them, and listening carefully to how they feel.
When Charissa was six years old, I took her to a local Daddy-Daughter Dance. I left the house early and purchased a white rose, then drove back home and rang the front doorbell. When my wife opened the door, I saw Charissa all dressed up with her face just beaming at me, and it brought tears to my eyes. I knew I’d done something right. I’d added to Charissa’s foundational beliefs about her value, her security and her confidence. I’d let her know she was loved.
Belief #4: Inadequacy (“If I fail, I’m a failure”)
If children get their sense of worth out of succeeding in what they do, then when they don’t succeed, their sense of worth plummets. Rather than take that risk, some kids just avoid trying anything new. As fathers, we can help foster a sense of strength in our children that helps them cope with the inevitable mistakes and missteps of life. We do this verbally by letting them know it’s okay to make mistakes, and by not criticizing, teasing, or disapproving when they mess up. We also strengthen our kids by modeling the process for them. We can do new things together with them, and when it doesn’t go as planned, let them know it’s ok, help them think through a solution, and show them we’re still having fun.
I decided that for my daughter’s birthday this year, I was going to build a cake for her in the shape of a castle. I’d never done anything like this before, but how hard could it be? At one point in the process, Charissa saw the cake, and although she was polite, I could tell she had some doubts about how it was going to turn out. So did I. When her mother called to reassure Charissa that it couldn’t be that bad, her response was, “Oh but Mom, you can’t see it.” Well, I modeled some perseverance and determination that day. After adding about 30 reinforcing skewers, a Rice Krispy retaining wall around the whole cake, and even a few nails pounded into the foundation, it turned out all right. Charissa loved it, and I think she learned a valuable lesson about how to accept mistakes and push on through.
Every child is different, and some will be more intimidated by new things than others, and that’s okay. But all will benefit from having a solid foundation based on these four core beliefs replacing the limiting beliefs outlined above:
As good dads, our influence over our children in these four areas is greater than that of anyone else. As we teach, encourage, support, and model these foundational beliefs for our kids, we will reap the reward of watching them grow and enjoy all the new experiences life has to offer.
For more great insights and tips be sure to subscribe to our Good Dads Podcast, and check out this Building Leadership Traits podcast where we discover ways we as dads can help prepare our Generation Z kids to be future leaders -- including the importance of letting your kids fail.
Steve Moser is the father of four and the husband of Mindy. He lives with his wife and his youngest child, Charissa, in Springfield, MO where he serves as the Parish Life Pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church. He can be reached for question or comment at firstname.lastname@example.org
Wondering why you need a special day reserved to show your wife you care? Is Valentine’s Day just a commercialized racket that pressures people into needless spending? Or maybe you want to get her something great, but you don’t know where to start. Maybe you’re thinking you’re both busy, and she’ll understand if you just skip it this year?
These are all valid thoughts and concerns, but the truth is, your wife appreciates when you show you’re thinking about her any time of year, and Valentine’s Day is a great day to celebrate your love for her. It doesn’t have to be expensive or showy. Often the best gifts are just the opposite.
To get in the right frame of mind, take a moment and think about what you already know about your leading lady.
Knowing her Love Language is helpful, but if you’re under a time crunch, keep it simple. How does she recharge? Does she seem to be in need of time to herself or time together? This might depend on if you have young kids (she may need some alone time!) or if your kids are a bit older (she may be craving time together to connect as a family). Perhaps she’d enjoy a morning to do her own thing, a date night out with you, or maybe she’d like to hit an indoor water park with the whole family. Does she love coffee, shopping, or massages, or is a handwritten note and breakfast in bed more her style?
We checked in with women coast-to-coast, and rounded up a few ideas to get you started:
“I’d love a morning to myself, getting coffee and my nails done.” – AM, Columbia, South Carolina
Bonus points if you give her gift cards to her favorite coffee place and nail salon so she’ll actually go do this. Otherwise women (especially moms!) can feel guilty spending the money on themselves, but giving her the gift cards shows you want it to feel like a treat that you’ve already set into motion.
“I usually ask my husband for household décor or updates that I wouldn’t normally request. For example, a few years ago I asked him to change out every single outlet and light switch to white ones. It took forever, but it’s something I enjoy literally EVERY single day! Another year I wanted our bedroom painted and new blinds. I enjoy these things so much. Though, I also like jewelry… I mean, who doesn’t?!” – JF, Chesterfield, Missouri
Has your wife mentioned any projects she’d love to have done around the house? Could you surprise her by carving out time to check an item off the to-do list or hire someone to get it done?
“Grocery store flowers are always sweet, and much less expensive than ordering from a florist this time of year. It shows he was thinking about me!” – BB, Jacksonville, Florida
If your wife loves gardening or being outdoors odds are good that she’d enjoy receiving some fresh flowers – especially if they don’t cost a ton. A simple bouquet paired with a favorite bottle of wine and cheese and crackers makes for an easy, impromptu pre-dinner date any day of the week.
“Every time we have a special occasion (anniversary, birthday, Christmas) I ask my husband to buy me a blowout package at my salon. My hair not only looks great, but I can make it a whole week without washing my hair if they do a double wash. It is seriously a godsend, especially with a young baby. Priceless.” – AD, Hermosa Beach, California
Does your wife love getting her hair done? Do you know what salon she goes to, or could you check her calendar for clues and surprise her with a gift card?
“What I want most is for my husband to make a great dinner for us to enjoy together. It’s nice that he will plan meals, grocery shop, and loves to cook. I can relax because I know he has it all taken care of, and he’s great at it!” – SS, Denver, Colorado
Has your wife been hinting she’d like a night out together, but maybe it’s too expensive or you can’t seem to pin down childcare? Try putting the baby to bed early one night or asking a friend to watch the kids and then surprise her with a special dinner for two at home complete with her favorite recipe and a candle on the table.
“My husband and I each have Amazon Lists that we add to throughout the year. It's so easy because you just add things to your Wish List as you see them so she knows what you like, and your wife does the same on her own list. Then when it’s time to look for a gift you’ve got a curated list of exact items she’s guaranteed to love!” – SG, Springfield, Missouri
Are you’re looking for something quick and easy (read: perhaps last minute? Life happens!) for this Valentine’s Day? Try a subscription to Amazon Prime or an Amazon gift card. It’s the perfect gift for a busy mom. She can get some shopping done while feeding the baby or sitting at basketball practice.
So what does your wife really want for Valentine's Day? As a good dad you know that no matter how you choose to celebrate this love-filled holiday, supporting your partner is what's important. When you show appreciation and love to your wife, you are not only filling her love tank, but you’re also modeling healthy relationships for your children, and it's safe to say that's a #winwin in any woman's book.
For more great insights and tips be sure to subscribe to our Good Dads Podcast, and check out this Keeping the Romance Alive podcast (Part I, Part II, and Part III) where three dads join us in the studio to talk about the importance of making time for your spouse... physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
In closing, if you click through and order a subscription to Amazon Prime Good Dads will earn from qualifying purchases and that helps us keep the lights on. Thanks for your support - today and always!
Stephanie Grandestaff is a wife and mother, and enjoys handling all aspects of marketing and media for Good Dads.