I woke up in the middle of the night last week after a wickedly bad dream. I don’t remember much. But, one thing I do remember is one of my sons said; “Dad, you are now irrelevant.”
Perhaps my sub-conscious was telling me something. My two sons are pretty much on their own, finishing up college, working in new careers and basically doing great. My daughter is 17, and the only thing that seems relevant about me is my wallet. While I’m sure all of my kids value me as a father, the older I get the more I wonder about how relevant I will be in their lives.
Staying relevant as a parent depends on how old the kids are. I relate differently with them now than when they were younger. I started off as a provider, dictator and piggy bank. With the exception of my daughter (who still considers me a dictator and piggy bank), my sons now think of me as a consultant, friend (at least I hope so) and loan officer. As we grew older I had to adjust my mindset, behavior and communication style to ensure I retained influence and relevancy in their lives.
I’m sharing this because I see a nexus between being a relevant parent and a relevant communicator in crisis. Crisis response and the tools used today are much different than the old Civil Defense and FIRESCOPE days. Yet, globally both ICS and EM “parent” organizations show signs of being stuck in the past -inflexible, controlling and unwilling to embrace change. Yet, our “kids” – the citizens we serve – have become much more connected, sophisticated and much needier in seeking attention and information.
I no longer talk down to my kids, intimidate or order them to do something. I now engage more, figuring out their interests and activities, tailoring my conversation and requests accordingly. The goal is getting them to understand the need and feel compelled to take the action I suggest. That means making some kind of emotional connection. Should we be using this approach in our citizen interactions during crisis? Ummmm….let me think a nanosecond….YES!
I’m not talking about instilling fear. That worked pretty well when my kids were little. But, like my kids our citizens wise up quickly if the fear card is overplayed.
As a crisis “parent” If you want to become irrelevant quickly, make sure you do one or more of the following;
- Talk down to your kids.
- Ignore their questions, refusing to answer or engage.
- Withhold information because you don’t think your kids need to know.
- Have a “just shut up and do what I say” approach.
- Think that you are not accountable to your kids.
- Ignore the power of the tools kids use to communicate.
- Think you are smarter than they are.
- Believe that you control their piggy bank.
- Yell, scream or try to intimidate.
- Tell them “it’s for their own good”.
- Make stuff up so they will do what you want.
- Tell a little lie.
If you want to increase your odds of being viewed as a relevant crisis “parent”, consider doing the following;
- Listen to what the kids say, and value the input.
- Ask their opinion.
- Build positive relationships NOW.
- Remember, you are still the parent. Demonstrate compassionate leadership.
- Talk at their level.
- Keep the communication lines open. Don’t alienate.
- Stay positive and calm.
- Use the tools they use to talk to each other.
- Look and act strong (even if you are scared to death).
Notice I mentioned nothing about corporal punishment. I have to admit, I judiciously wielded a big wooden spoon when the boys were young. Only used it a couple of times, and after that all I had to do was wave it around and things got resolved in a hurry. There is no stick big enough to threaten the “cloud of kids” we serve, so don’t even think about punishment. The only person who will get spanked is you.