Ever have one of those times where you saw a problem, knew you needed to do something about it, and really searched all around for the source of the problem so you could make the right adjustment or find the right solution? And you really felt the pressure to figure this out, because you knew it was a serious matter? And you looked here, and you looked there, and you tried this, and you tried that, but you just couldn’t seem to get to the root and straighten things out?

And then you finally came to the painful, sobering, yet freeing realization that YOU were the source of the problem, or at least the biggest contributor by your attitudes and actions?

Me neither. I was just curious. Okay, busted. This is totally me right now! After realizing my attitude has been the chief contributor to the marital struggles my wife and I are now beginning to see primarily in the rearview mirror, I have come to the conviction that I have been a primary contributor to one of the biggest behavioral challenges we have seen in our four year old son. Once again, the wise expert on marriage and family life is served up a big plate of humble pie. I am happily realizing, however, that the taste of this humble pie is largely determined by my attitude – defensive arrogance, self-destructive shame, or genuine humility (but that is really a topic for another post). I’ll take key lime, thanks very much.

Here’s the deal: Our son has had trouble realizing and respecting the boundaries of his playmates. He isn’t mean or vindictive. He just doesn’t know when enough is enough, and he is getting too rough too often. And this is a problem that my wife and I firmly believe needs to be corrected now, before it has time to establish into bigger, more ingrained problems. My wife and I have tried different variations of appropriate consequences with clear explanations. But it seems like things just improve temporarily, and then there are three more incidents. Something has clearly been working against our efforts, and as I said, the culprit is not some kind of personality or character trait in my son. This week, it finally clicked for me. I feel certain I now see the factor that has been undoing our best efforts and my son’s loving, friendly personality. And now that I see it, I am humbled at the simplicity of it. This ain’t rocket science. I am even more humbled at the fact that my wife brought this dynamic to my attention like a year ago, and I essentially dismissed it.

I haven’t taught him appropriate boundaries when we play together. When I wrestle around with him or get into some kind of imaginative, interactive play with him – both of which he absolutely loves, especially with his Dad – I have consistently let him go way too far in how hard he hits me and pushes me. I guess I’ve always figured it is an important part of my job description as Dad to be physical and “roughhouse” with my son, and I can easily take it when he dishes out blows that would hurt another child his age. That’s what Dads are for – right? Well, close, but not quite. Yes, I believe a very important aspect of Dads’ roles in their children’s lives is to bring a level of energy, adventure, and even wildness that Moms just don’t typically do in quite the same way. But with this high-octane, adventurous, and often physical play and interaction comes a tremendous responsibility to teach healthy boundaries. Healthy boundaries for self and healthy boundaries for others. And I train my child to set and respect healthy boundaries by setting healthy boundaries for my self through clear positive and negative feedback, and respecting healthy boundaries for him (or her) self, even if he doesn’t know to set those boundaries for him self yet.

Okay, here’s the simpler version. I need to quit letting my son get so rough with me, so he will learn to quit getting so rough with his friends. And so far, so good. Last night wasn’t nearly as fun for him (or me, to be real honest) as he would have liked, because I set better boundaries and he got a time-out, an attention-getter light spanking, and an early bedtime out of the deal. I don’t expect him to thank me for it – but hopefully his friends will appreciate his increasing respect for them as they play together.

I hope this is helpful to you, and I welcome your comments, questions, and stories.

With Hope, Roger

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