Wacky Races

In which our reluctant hero is going for gold. Or something.

I recently attended “Strength Based Conversations” training as part of work’s latest sheep dip of staff, introduced to give the impression of engaging and developing us all.

This latest most genius (probably) initiative encourages managers to focus only on the positive aspects of performance, with discussions relating to weaker areas strictly out of bounds unless your team member instigates it. I suspect that in practice this will be as likely as them unexpectedly turning into a turkey and voting for the Christmas Party, which is another thing best not discussed at appraisal time for some.

I can see some positives in being positive about the positives, but I wonder why business feels the need to do this now. Has the great British workforce suddenly gone soft? Or perhaps the first generation of children who were repeatedly told that it doesn’t matter if they’re rubbish at things and winning isn’t important as long they do their best, finally grew up and got jobs. Bless them.

Further disengaged by this failed attempt to artificially engage me, I took the day off to attend my daughter’s sports day.

Being responsible middle-class parents, we carried out a pre-sports day briefing, explaining that it doesn’t matter if she’s rubbish at things and that winning isn’t important as long as she does her best. She nodded, unexpectedly turned into a turkey, then joined her team.

We took our seats, playing “Name That Tune” as each 1980’s TV sports theme blared out to welcome the teams. My daughter’s yellow (or “old gold” as you are legally obliged to call it in Wolverhampton) team got “Ski Sunday” on one of the hottest days of the year. Award yourself five bonus points if you correctly identified this as “Pop Looks Bach” as I did.

Sports day consisted of four events, which played out like so;

The Summer Holidays Dash
This was a race where the children collected holiday related items on the way to the finish line. Our daughter is a good runner but fell behind while deciding whether to swap her hat with a new one (item one) or simply wear two. She made up loads of ground but was pipped to the post.

No matter, it’s only a bit of fun. Or perhaps not judging by the repeated screams of “JUST RUN!” at the eventual winner by his dad. Hmmm…

The Obstacle Course
Event two started with a hula hoop muddle, our daughter unnecessarily squirming through the hole several times as the other children jogged off. Like a tomato sat alone at a piano, she was left playing ketchup and ended up finishing last.

In this event we learned that shouting abuse at a four or five year old is acceptable constructive criticism if they’ve not won. We somehow overcame the temptation to join in as IT WAS ONLY AN OBSTACLE COURSE AT A NURSERY AND RECEPTION SPORTS DAY.

Welly Wanging
The difference in the physical makeup of a four and a half year old girl to boys potentially almost six became apparent in this event. Still, our little one literally gave it some welly, getting good distance on her throw and was rightly pleased. We now know why she was looking for skipping ropes to take down the garden a few days back, as these were used as the distance markers. It probably also explains why all of our wellies have disappeared.

Thankfully the comment made by one parent about cheating was aimed at another child, else more wellies would have mysteriously disappeared.

Penalty Shootout
After watching the older boys belting footballs like they had a traction engine in each boot, we wondered whether our daughter could even kick it as far as the goal, let alone beat the keeper. Relieved that she didn’t do a Cinderella and run away from the ball, she scored with a well placed side footed effort. GOAL!

However, I suspect that a UEFA investigation into the keeper’s performance may follow. Unable to hear clearly, I interpreted one dad’s mutterings as being about the lack of goal decision systems in school sports as his frustrated inner child surfaced again.

With all events out of the way, it was time for the awards ceremony. The children looked as pleased as punch as they received their medals, beaming and waving back at the partially sunburnt mums and dads in the crowd.

On reflection, the morning had been a real eye opener at times. Should parents really be encouraging such competitiveness at such a young age? A quick Google search revealed a huge list of articles for and against this and I understand both arguments.

Yes, a competitive edge can be a good thing, but constant disappointment and perceived failure of those not doing so well could cause esteem issues over time. Understanding that winning well is as important as losing well needs to be an early message too, else there could be other issues later on. It’s a difficult balance.

It seems to me that competition being good or bad depends very much upon the adults involved. For that reason, you’re not going to catch me shouting at my children from the sidelines anytime soon.

With effective coaching (focusing only on positives) and training hard in the garden over the next eleven months, my two could potentially sweep the board at next year’s sports day without the need for a raised voice from this dad.


Fin.

Choosing Your Battles

In which our reluctant hero considers the only two practical options available. Fight or flight.

Being a Dad and being a manager at work are at times spookily similar roles. You constantly have to deal with temper tantrums, toys being thrown out of the cot and general silliness for little or no thanks. And the pay is rubbish.

Fortunately, the minute that you realise that whatever you do you are never going to win, everything gets much easier.

Becoming a Dad and a manager happened at about the same time for me. As if one ill-prepared voyage into the unknown, with only a punctured dinghy for protection, was not enough, I chose two. Idiot.

After paddling against the tide for a couple years, I downed anchor after realising that it wasn’t the winning, but the taking part that was important. Or, put another way, that you need to choose your battles carefully.

There you go. A top Dad tip. You’re welcome. 

Yes, throwing food, not tidying stuff up, and a constant cry of “DON’T WANT TO!” every time you ask for something to be done is annoying, but does it really matter? Is it worth getting upset about, or simply a behavioural issue to deal with at appraisal time?

Although fully aware of the need to choose wisely, I still can’t help going all in at the wrong times.

I once found myself in an hour-long standoff with my then two year old over mess. Quite a lot of mess, but just mess nonetheless.

Picture the scene. A small child, and a childish, tired-and-somewhat-fed-up-about-always-having-to-pick-up-the-mess adult facing each other, dead-eyed like a pair of Wild West gunslingers. Gunslingers separated only by a sizeable spread of Postman Pat toys. In the Wild West. Or the “Dining Room” if you prefer. “Why do I alway have to pick everything up? IT’S NOT FAIR!” Pathetic really.

I ended picking them all up of course in an ending as predictable as that of Titanic (spoiler – the boat sank.) With hindsight, it was a pointless battle to get involved in. And a pointless film to have watched too.

A race to see who could put the most toys away quickest would have been better. As would teamwork, singing or emotional bribery. Or pretty much anything else if I’m honest. Nobody gets upset, Ted Glenn ends up back in the recesses of the darkened toy box (to do whatever Ted Glenn gets up to in the darkness….) and the naughty step is spared a pounding from toddler feet. Jobs a good’un.

Children being children, there can never be any consistency. Our two are different. One is a strong advocate of the grand emotional gesture and occasional full on waterworks. The other is… well… stubborn and will never back down when he’s got something set in his mind. Just like his mother. Probably.

You need creativity in your approach to get to a desired outcome. Trick them into thinking that everything was their idea all along. Give them credit and a pat on the head if they do something nicely. Offer rewards. A Jammy Dodger per task completed perhaps? Even consider being nice if all else fails and you really have to. But above all, avoid a battle if you can.

Trust me, this simple yet effective technique usually ends with a painless win. So much so that I often adopt it at home with the kids too.

Work out what matters and what doesn’t. Take a deep breath and a step back. Nobody actually died when the heads got ripped off all of the daffodils, although they very nearly did. Deep breaths.

If all else fails and military intervention is needed, hit them where it hurts the most. Reassert your authority. Stand up tall. Stick your chest out and get your inner monologue working overtime. “I am a man. I am a man. I AM A MAN!!” Take decisive action. Switch CBeebies off and hide the remote control. Then head home.

That’ll teach them.