Where I live, In Port Townsend WA, homeschooling families have a Thursday afternoon meetup for kids and parents during the summer. Last week I took note of an interesting scenario at the beach which I thought might be interesting and helpful for dads.
Jake and David (names have been changed to protect the innocent) were bugging each other–pushing, throwing sand, etc. These two six year old boys have a (short) history of not getting along with each other. Jake’s mom said, “I don’t know what it is about David, he just doesn’t seem to like Jake and he’s mean to him.” As they annoyed each other, Jake’s mom was talking with some other parents on the scene trying to figure out what to do and why these two were at odds.
Sometimes parents talk and talk and talk about how to help their kids get along, but often actions speak louder than words.
While listening to the conversation about what to do, I got up, went over near where the two boys were scuffling and started playing on some logs that were laying on the beach. Presto, like magic they joined in (along with another 8 -10 kids) and forgot about being mean to each other. For the next hour, we created a very nice sand castle city. Eventually I stepped out of the picture and the kids all kept playing happily. A little later we all packed up and went home.
After I left work on the sand castle city, a few of us parents were talking about how quickly my interaction with these two boys had scuttled their scuffling . “I think I became the Alpha-Dude.” I said. Indeed, it appeared that as soon as I stepped into the mix, these boys stopped trying to be the strongest, coolest, and smartest, turned their attention to what The Alpha-Dude was doing, and fell into a comfortable state of relaxation and play.
After ten years of fathering, I’ve seen this happen over and over again. Sometimes a group of boys just can’t stop one upping each other long enough to enjoy each other’s company, until, some adult (a fun-loving dad usually does the trick) steps in and does something interesting. This person becomes The Alpha-Dude.
My favorite Alpha-Dude activity is starting up a good game of capture the flag. Capture the flag is an amazing game. Fast runners are great, but anyone can be valuable to the game. Even the littlest kids can guard the flag and make it hard for the other team’s players to get it. Kids quickly learn they have to work together to win. As the Alpha-Dude, you choose teams by a variety of counting off methods so kids can’t split up in their standard groups every time. And sometimes you make ridiculous teams (like The Alpha-Dude against everybody). Keep shifting the teams and make sure everyone gets to be on a winning team at some point. I could talk about capture the flag all day long (but I’d rather be playing it!).
So what’s the secret to being the Alpha-Dude?
You’ve got to be relaxed, confident, and enjoying yourself. You can’t come in all pumped up and start telling the kids how to behave. I’ve tried that too… it rarely, if ever works. When I come in calm and confident to a motley crew of boys calling names, wrestling too hard for fun, ganging up on each other, excluding certain kids, etc., and offer an engaging alternative, I find the results are staggering. The Alpha-Dude trumps the Lord of the Flies.
Mike Biskup is a Stress Relief Educator, Artist, and Father residing in Washington State. You can learn more about Mike, his work, and his trainings by visiting: www.mikebiskup.com.
Image by: Shira Gal, Flickr