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Fatherly Advice: Podcasts Helps Parents Leave Stress at Work

Leave stress at work by using your commute, teach your girl to be sassy and figure out if your baby is actually happy.

“Fatherly Advice” is a weekly parenting advice column by the experts at Fatherly. Need hard-won insights and scientific facts to resolve a parenting dilemma or family dispute? Email advice@fatherly.com. Need justifications for parenting decisions you’ve already made? Ask someone else. We’re far too busy for that nonsense.

 

Fatherly,

My little girl just started Kindergarten and she’s getting a little bit pushed around by an older kid. We’re already addressing the issue with the school, but is there a way I could teach her self defense so she could beat the crap out of this bully?

David
Streetsboro, New Jersey

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I hear you, David. Beating the crap out of a bully always sounds like it would be super satisfying — a little bit of justice in this heartless world. The problem is that it’s not a good idea, particularly when schools have zero tolerance policies around physical altercations. Does that mean your girl can’t take steps to defend herself? Not at all. In fact, she should. But if you want your girl to go all Ronda Rousey, you should be looking more at the attitude and grappling skills than the heavy hits.

Where does this knowledge come from? I happen to be neighbors with an instructor and black belt in Jiu-Jitsu. His name is Jason and he owns a local dojo and is often invited to the local schools to teach an anti-bullying system, which does include self-defense but leans heavily on conflict avoidance.

I spoke with Jason the other day about this and he pointed out that one very effective way of avoiding physical confrontation is learning to trash talk. After all, bullies don’t like to get humiliated. The strategy doesn’t work for everyone — some kids aren’t quick-witted by nature — but can be deployed effectively if a parent is willing to teach a kid one or two bad words. It’s not a witty riposte, but a firmly delivered “Shut the fuck up” can get the job done. That’s clearly overkill for kindergarten, but you get the idea.

If things do get physical, the best thing for your daughter to do is get close to the kid and wrap him up in her arms. This will keep your daughter fairly safe and represents a nonviolent approach that will allow her to retake control. It will also freak the bully out. And that’s the point. Take away the power and the whole thing will resolve itself at speed.

 

Hi Fatherly,

My first baby is about a month old. He’s cute and all, but he just seems really serious. I know that’s a ridiculous thing to think about a baby, but it still makes me wonder if there’s any way to tell if a baby is really happy?

Deshawn
Sacramento, California

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Saying a baby looks seems serious isn’t ridiculous at all. Being a baby is serious work. They’ve got all those synapses to grow. They’ve got hands and fingers that are literally doing their own thing. They have diapers to fill to keep you busy. But I get your point. You want to know if your baby is happy while doing all this serious work.

The first thing I’ll ask you is: do you have access to brain imaging equipment, like an MRI? If so, you’re in luck! Strap that baby in, find someone to interpret their brain activity and you’re good to go. Because frankly, this is really the only way to figure out the emotional state of babies. And by emotional state, I mean the level of dissatisfaction they have with what’s going on. Researchers haven’t really gotten any further than recognizing levels of distress in the brain. Infants, it turns out, don’t have the most sophisticated range of emotions.

However, I do have another question that might help you figure this out, Deshawn. How happy are you? The reason I ask is that babies are super keyed into their parent’s emotions. They essentially filter the world through their parents. This makes sense on an evolutionary level. If you can’t understand the dangers of the world, it’s best to look for clues in the big person who’s holding you. If you’re content, the fact is that your kid is probably pretty content too.

But there is an even more simple way to know if your baby is happy. It’s like the simplest flowchart in the world. Look at your baby. Are they crying? If not, they’re happy. It’s as simple as that. Babies don’t really have complicated emotions. They are either in distress or they are not. If the baby is eyeing you pensively from across the room, you’re all good. That’s not what every happy baby looks like, but it’s what your happy baby looks like.

 

Hey Fatherly,

I work a pretty stressful job as a trauma nurse and I find it super difficult to leave that stress behind when I come home. I know it’s affecting the way my wife and kids see me and the way I see them. Do you have any tips that might help me keep from bringing the stress home?

Mike
Boston, Massachusetts

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I know exactly where you’re coming from, Mike. I once worked a stressful corporate gig and my office was just 10 minutes from home. I could never shake off the day before I walked in the door, so every evening I’d greet my kids with a scowl on my face. Not ideal. Luckily, I’ve since discovered ways to deal with that stress (I’m not going to get into it here, but getting a new job is certainly on that list).

One of the best ways to come home less stressed is to use your commute to decompress. Whether you’re walking, driving, or taking a train you can give your brain a mini vacation by listening to a podcast. Why does this work? It gets your mind off the work stuff and requires very little effort. Listening to a podcast is a passive thing and thus restorative. It’s particular helpful for introverts and people who are tired at the end of the day because they have fraught interactions with others — I suspect you fall into that latter category.

If your commute isn’t long enough, or you have a propensity for road rage, then you might do better to create some kind of “leaving work” ritual that allows you to symbolically disconnect as you head out the door. This might mean going to the hospital cafeteria for a piece of fruit and a beverage after your shift. Or you could go into the chapel for some quiet time to reflect. You may even want to take a quick walk around the building before starting your commute home.

When you do get home. Just put down your phone and be present. Remember, coming home isn’t something you have to do. It’s something that you get to do. So give your wife a hug and grab those kids for a quick wrestle. This physical contact will help ground you at home.

Finally, stress management is also helped by addressing the usual suspect of stress. So make sure you get enough sleep when you’re home. Make sure you’re eating right and getting exercise, and above all, make sure when you take vacations you are completely disconnected from work.