Thursday, March 22, 2012

For Many Dads, There is No Room for Weakness

I was recently giving a presentation about the power of using empathy instead of anger when dealing with kids’ misbehavior. Afterwards a dad came up to discuss how conflicted he felt around not yelling at his kids when he’s angry.

Growing up he had learned that if he didn’t want to be bullied, he needed to stand up and fight for himself. Backing down was a sign of weakness and the other kids would jump all over him if he did that. Likewise he felt that if he didn’t stand up to his children by yelling at them when they made a mistake, they would walk all over him.

Researcher Brené Brown has found that for men the biggest thing that triggers feelings of shame is to be perceived as weak. There is an unspoken expectation for men that they cannot be seen as weak. For this dad, this expectation translated into feeling he needed to yell in order to appear strong to both his wife and his kids.

Even though he saw that yelling at his kids often shut them down and didn’t really improve their behavior in the future, he struggled with the idea of trying out a different response. However, if he does try using empathy instead of yelling, his underlying beliefs will begin changing to match his new behavior. Changing your own behavior is never easy, especially when it involves challenging a deeply held belief.