Dads, Amp It Up!

My youngest son’s plans for a high school Senior Trip did not materialize as he had hoped, so he invited my wife and I to host him in Chicago for a long weekend. Our pleasure!

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Over five days we took in all the sites and calories our feet and waistlines could withstand. Downtown Chicago is very accessible by walking or by short hops on mass transit. But what amazed me was Gideon’s “competency” in this new, big city. (Kansas City is the largest city he’s ever been in and, as locals know, the downtown area on weekends is not as busy as a single Chuck E. Cheese.)

As I watched Gideon order from a complicated menu, introduce himself to strangers, or navigate around a strange new town, I thought back on the “home work” we’d put into helping our boys be confident travelers in a huge world. Maybe some of these ideas will encourage other dads.

I’ve spoken previously about teaching my sons map skills and navigation. That’s a direly urgent competency every maturing child needs – and you can’t start too young. It was enjoyable to have Gideon correct me when my navigating sense escaped me in the concrete jungle. Dads, teach your kids to know where they are and find where they want to go!

I also enjoyed watching Gideon navigate menus, sometimes complex ones. Almost as soon as the boys could speak, I was encouraging them to look at the waiter and state their order. Yes, even saying “Happy Meal” is a developmental step in the right direction.

My wife and I would take time to talk with the kids about the menu, help them explore options, and anticipate what the server was going to ask. Watching a seven year old look the waiter in the eye and order “a pork chop with mashed potatoes and green beans” seemed like such a great accomplishment. I still relish the compliments we received about the boys from impressed servers. (By the way, I quickly taught the boys to say “I would like…” instead of “Can I have…”. Economics 101 is understanding that when you bring the money, the answer is always “yes, you can have…”.)

I also prepped my sons on how to engage retail personnel. For example, if they wanted a pair of pants in a size not found on the shelf, I’d kneel down to their level and say, “I’m going to help you find a store clerk. I’ll be right beside you. You should look at the clerk and kindly ask, “Do you have these in a medium?” I’d say by the time my sons were five and six, I was very active in helping them connect with adults this way. Dads, teach your kids how to function in the material world.

The third thing I noticed on this trip I noticed was Gid’s comfort in greeting strangers and even engaging them in conversation. Granted, personality has a lot to do with this one, but dads can do a lot to instill social confidence in their children.

Looking back, I never treated my children like shadows, just an extension of me. When I met a friend, I always introduced them to my children. And, if possible, I’d try to make a connection between my child and the acquaintance – “Hey Bob, Noah here is an arrowhead collector, too.” That shows my children that they have worth even in the grown-up world.

I would often take my sons with me when I met with men’s groups I was leading or even to casual lunch. This helped them learn how to “navigate” relationships beyond the playground. Dads, teach your kids that they have value to adults even though they are still young.

On the whole, I always tried to recognize the skills I was using as an adult and help my children begin developing those skills very early on. I see a lot of dads “waiting” for their kids to mature before amping up the life skills. Hmmm… I guess amping up the life skills sooner than later is how they mature.

Food for thought. Hope you find something that helps.