In writing we are told that the active voice is preferred. In education we are given both the syllabus and the rubric for our work. In employment we have our job description. In spirituality we have our doctrines. All of these things have something in common. They all tell us what is expected of us. Being a parent means doing the same thing. Yet when that isn’t happening or some negative behavior crops up a father will tell his children to “stop it”.
That gets repeated over and over, louder and louder each time, until they’ve reached the height of their booming voice and terrified their children frozen. Then what? You’ve successfully stopped them from doing everything except stand there afraid of you. That isn’t the way of the dad, but for a concise answer we’ll need to look at what is happening in the mind of a child while their father is yelling at them.
Let’s use the real-life example of licking. Yes, licking. I don’t know what it is about small children, but all the ones I’ve had myself or been around, especially the boys, have gone through a phase where they want to lick people. It’s weird and frankly a little creepy, but I digress. One brother is licking another, this does not sit well with the second brother who does not appreciate being licked, nor would I.
Enter a father, who tells them from across the room “stop it.” Which causes no pause in the behavior. It is perfectly clear to the father what is supposed to happen, but since there is not a clear call to action nothing changes in the situation. What happens next is an escalation. “Stop it!” gets louder and louder, until the voice comes out full blast in a yell.
When the man of the house yells everyone stops dead in their tracks. Father is angry that nobody has been listening to him and so he metes out severe punishment. Punishment out of anger. Which is always a bad thing.
Now enter the dad. Dad still might have to raise his voice to get the attention of the misbehave-er, but there are two ways to do this. One is to make eye contact with the offender, however this isn’t always possible. The second is to call them out specifically by name. The next bit is the real trick though.
Tell them what needs to stop. If the little one is licking his brother, then you call them out by name, perhaps loudly to get over the noise caused by the one being licked, and then instead of saying “Stop that!” you say, “Stop licking your brother!”
Now we have something! A clear call to action, an assertive command from dad. The child knows what behavior is inappropriate and that he needs to stop doing it. It also establishes a clear line for when discipline will happen. If the licking doesn’t stop then (age-appropriate) consequence will follow.
For the child knowing what is wrong is such a valuable thing. Their natural inclination is to want to please you and make you happy and proud of them. Giving them an active command allows them to know how to do that. Starting this when they are young makes it easier. After all, we want to feel proud of our children, and they want to know they have our approval.
Pleasing a father like this is difficult at best, impossible at worst. However, pleasing a dad in this situation is much easier. Even the best dad can fall into this trap though. Catch yourself. When that word “Stop” comes out of your mouth because someone is licking someone else, catch the word before it gets too far away from your mouth and change what follows to give them an active command. That is what a dad will do.
Because any man can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a dad.