Children's Voice May/June 2006

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Parenting Pages

The Down to Earth Dad

Men Are Problem Solvers (from Mars)

By Patrick Mitchell

All men are created equal--there's no doubt about that. I marvel, though, at just how profoundly true that popular phrase is, especially if applied literally, and out of context, to mean males specifically.

I conduct parent-involvement trainings for families and Head Start professionals nationwide, and I'm amazed by how similar we men are in two fundamental capacities: how we strive to influence our families (for better or worse), and how we are perceived by women--who, by the way, comprise more than 95% of preschool educators and early care providers.

I'll elaborate by sharing what I believe is an immutable truth about men: All men are problem solvers, but they're not terribly intuitive--without a problem clearly articulated to them, they may seem unmotivated.

Men solve problems. That's what they do. That's all they do, all the time, every day, all day long, and even into the night. But here's the rub: Men can't solve a problem unless they understand the problem fully, completely, and with all ambiguity removed. Hence, sometimes women talking to men--whether at home or in workplace settings--may feel they've clearly defined a problem in need of solving, but they later discover the man didn't connect with the problem.

Consider a man reclined on the sofa at home flipping through channels on the TV. His wife walks into the room and says to him, "I am so tired. I've been with these kids all day. I need to stop doing so much so often." To which the man replies, without looking up, "Well, if you're tired, take a nap."

He just solved her problem, right? Wrong. Her problem was feeling overworked and under-helped at home, and she wanted him to stop watching TV and help her. He seemed unmotivated because he really didn't hear what she was saying, so he didn't clearly understand her problem. Men may be problem solvers, but we're not always tuned into subtle messages.

So, how can educators and moms leverage this Mars-Venus reality to benefit the children they care for? Let's say an early childhood program wants to get men more involved in early childhood activities in the center's program. The problem is a lack of adequate early literacy preparedness before kindergarten. How should she approach the men connected to the children in the program to motivate them to help solve this problem?

She might say something like, "Our center needs more help reading to children." Unfortunately, for most men, this statement is too general. They may not realize they're being asked to help solve the problem, and they'll ultimately walk away. Men require a more direct approach.

Instead, if the director says something more specific, like, "Our center needs men to read to children at lunchtime to solve the problem of children not being ready for kindergarten, and also to show them that men care about reading. Here's our sign-up sheet. What day can you sign up for?" she'll get far better results.

Moms have to do too much of the work to make good things happen in early child care and education settings. It's time to encourage men to step up to the plate and do their share. But men have to be approached strategically--remember, men are problem solvers, but we're not terribly intuitive. For instance, our early childhood director might consider recruiting a dad to call all the other dads. I'm not suggesting that women can't successfully recruit men to their events--they can, and do. But it has been my observation that men respond more favorably over the phone to another man when the goal is recruitment to program events.

In this case, the man doing the calling might say something like, "We're having an ice cream social at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, and we want to take a huge group photo with the dads serving the ice cream and wearing chef hats. Can you help?"

The man doing the calling will get one of two replies: "I'm sorry, but I'm working that night," or "Yes, I'll be there." A direct question, and a simple response, strategically avoiding that frustrating Martian lack of intuitiveness.

So, if you have a problem, and you know men are problem solvers, there's really no reason you can't successfully recruit dads, grandfathers, uncles, and other key men in the lives of children to help you solve those problems. Then you really have no problems at all!

A regular contributor to Children's Voice, Patrick Mitchell publishes a monthly newsletter, The Down to Earth Dad, from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and facilitates the Dads Matter! ProjectTM for early childhood programs, schools, and child- and family-serving organizations. He conducts keynote addresses, workshops, and inservice and preservice trainings. To reserve Patrick Mitchell for speaking engagements, or to implement the Dads Matter! ProjectTM for your families and community partners, call him toll-free at 877/282-DADS, or e-mail him at patrick@downtoearthdad.org. Website: www.DownToEarthDad.org.


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