Just Be Cool
As children we recognize the power that comes with being "the coolest dude in school." As adults and parents being cool is just as important.
In this month’s issue of The ScreamFree Life, you get to meet one of our Fellows in the ScreamFree Institute, Kelvin Teamer. Marriage & Family Therapist, gifted speaker, and father of two adorable toddlers, Kelvin joined ScreamFree in 2010, and now he’s helping to deliver the ScreamFree message to audiences all across the country. (And later this summer, he’s even joining me to reach military families in the Middle East.) I know you’ll enjoy getting to know Kelvin as he brings new content to the ScreamFree mission, beginning with this month’s article, “Just Be Cool.”
--Hal Runkel, founder, The ScreamFree Institute
Have you ever seen the movie Shaft? I have—at least 50 times. It’s a great 1970s flick that portrays the life and times of an NYC private detective named John Shaft (undoubtedly you’ve heard the theme song—“Shut yo’ mouth!”). From the opening sequence of the film you are likely to pick up on the very thing that’s drawn me to this movie over and over again—John Shaft was just plain cool. He was a guy who was completely self-assured, and everyone knew it. From the way he walked across busy New York streets, leather trench coat swaying with every confident step, to his perfectly coiffed afro (not a hair out of place!), Shaft embodied coolness to the nth degree.
Growing up, I wanted to be that cool—and I made it my life’s aim to achieve it. Of course, back then I wanted this power for completely selfish reasons. My mind was set on all of the fruit that would come from being the “coolest dude in the school.” I thought if I could attain the level of coolness only been achieved by men like Shaft, Sinatra, James Bond (Sean Connery…not Roger Moore), Billy Dee Williams, and, of course, Arthur Fonzarelli, then I could rule the world. My repeated mantra was, “At all costs, Kelvin, just be cool.”
Fast forward 15 plus years. These days, I find myself immersed in a world of Pull-Ups, potty-training, and pouting. In this world, dealing with my adorable children behaving downright unadorably, I find myself losing my cool over and over again. I then begin what I call my “Cycle to Nowhere.” The cycle goes like this... I lose it, I regret it, I feel remorse. I then vow to never lose it like that again and yet, somewhere along the way...I lose it again. I’m on the decidedly uncool hamster wheel of scream-filled parenting. John Shaft would be so disappointed in me.
As a Fellow at The ScreamFree Institute, I get to speak with other parents all around this great country, I have come to realize that I am not alone in this uncool hamster wheel. We become these people we don’t like and we take our frustrations out on those we love. This is so uncool.
Ladies and gentlemen, I propose that today we begin a new movement. The type of movement that Shaft, Bond, Lando and Fonzie would all be proud to endorse. It’s a movement that calls us to Just Be Cool. No matter what goes on around us or what situations our kids may lay at our feet, let’s make a pledge to Just Be Cool. Our children deserve a peace-filled home. And that begins with us. It begins with each of us committing to be a cool parent.
Now, when I say that I want to be a cool parent, I'm not talking about the type of parent that tries to keep up with all of the latest fads. Nor the type that wants to hang out all of the time with my kids' friends or keep up with all of their adolescent and teenage business. I’m also not talking about a parent that is so “cool” about whatever their child does that they become overly permissive. No, when I say I want to be a cool parent, I am talking about the type of parent who is able to keep their cool, no matter what. I’m talking about a parent comfortable with himself and what he believes. One that understands that he can't control others or certain situations, but he can control himself. He is focused upon himself, not out of selfish thought, but out of necessity in order to be who he needs to be for his spouse and his kids.
That's my new definition of cool.
The journey to coolness is difficult, yes, but not impossible. Let’s begin by exploring the reasons that we lose our cool in the first place.
So why do we freak out? When I pose that question to parents I get a variety of answers that range from, “We care about them” to “I just don’t want them to go through what I went through.” The most common reason given has to do with the fact that somewhere our children have violated our expectations of them. For instance, our “smart” kid brings home a less-than-stellar grade. When they do this and behave as if they don’t seem to care, they unintentionally light the wick to our Black Cat firecracker, and we go popping off all over the place. After the smoke settles and the fireworks are over, we find ourselves in a state of regret, wishing that the interaction would have gone another way.
It could have, but we lost our cool. What could have happened if we remembered those three words, Just Be Cool? We failed in the moment because we allowed our emotional reactivity to get the best of us.
“Kelvin, are you saying that I should not have expectations of my children?” No, not at all. I believe expectations are necessary when trying to design structure for our children, but the greatest expectation should be upon ourselves, not our kids. Whatever standards we call our kids to, we have to call ourselves even higher. Why? ‘Cause we’re the adults. ‘Cause we’re the leaders in the family. ‘Cause if we want to lead our children into an adulthood where they can make good decisions, even when people around them don’t, we have to first be willing do so ourselves.
Our children will no doubt bring us a stimulus that begs for a reaction. During the school year it may be grades and homework, and in the summer it may be violating curfew or something as simple as just plain being lazy around the house ALL OF THE TIME! Whatever the stimulus, our question to ourselves should be, “How can I just be cool in this moment?”
So how do I become this cool parent? How do I stave off this emotional reactivity? We can become cool if we learn to focus on ourselves. Think about what all the cool cats of history have taught us. They were confident people that knew who they were and what they wanted. It didn’t matter what anyone else did, they just held their cool. A building could be blowing up behind them, but they always (in slow motion) simply walked away (check Andy Samberg’s Cool Guys Don’t Look at Explosions video).
By focusing upon what we really want from ourselves as parents, we are able to move ourselves into a better position to actually achieve what we seek. We often focus so much upon our children and what we want of them that we put too many of our emotional eggs in their baskets. When we turn over our emotions to them, we often get emotionally reactive to them and before you know it, we lose our cool.
Being cool requires a focus on ourselves. By doing so we can create a pause that will help us to slow down the process from stimulus to response. Yes, my child just spilled milk on the floor (stimulus), but how do I want to respond to the situation (response)? Yes, my child is fighting with me about bedtime (stimulus), but what is it that I really want to do about it (response)?
A great way to create this pause is to ask yourself three powerful questions. These questions are to be asked when the stimulus is present. They allow us not only to ask pertinent questions but to explore the emotions behind our feelings.
Three Powerful Questions
- What am I feeling right now? Explore what emotions you are feeling. Are you frustrated, angry, sad, hurt, resentful, envious?
- Why am I feeling this way? Explore the reasons behind your emotions. Remember the question is "Why are you feeling this way?", meaning your answer should only involve yourself. Any answer that begins with "because he/she/they" needs to be re-explored.
- How am I going to respond? Think of how you really want to respond to the situation.
These questions may require that you step away for a minute or two before responding to the stimulus. That's okay. The puddle of milk or the failing grade are not going anywhere before you have a chance to address it...unless you have a child with a great deal of ingenuity (which isn't bad either).
Your child wants you to be the "cool" parent. You want it as well. Just imagine how great your relationships can be if you learn to control the only person in your home that you can control...yourself. Keep looking in the mirror. You will soon begin to like the person staring back at you. You are cool. Cue the Shaft theme music.
Kelvin Teamer is a Fellow of The ScreamFree Institute. Kelvin is a Marriage & Family Therapist, a gifted speaker and the father of two adorable toddlers.