How One Dad Turns Problems Into Teachable Moments For His Sons

How One Dad Turns Problems Into Teachable Moments
Photo By Flickr/Stu

By Trevor Mulligan

Editor’s Note: Trevor Mulligan is a co-founder of the LA Dads Group. You can meet him and the rest of the LA Dads Group at our Boot Camp for New Dads workshop on November 5-6 from 3:30-4pm at the LA Baby Show. They will also be hosting the Dad’s Lounge all weekend from 10am-4pm, and we encourage any new or expectant dads (or moms) to stop by and learn more about the LA Dads Group and other resources for new dads in the Los Angeles area.This blog post was originally titled Planting Seeds, and was featured on their website. For more blog post from the LA Dads Group, visit

There are so many times as a parent where I talk to my boys and they just don’t listen.

I know this is common; when they are staring you right in the eyes, but you know they are off on another planet. It gets frustrating. However, there are those rare times when just the opposite happens.

The other night was one of those times. Our whole family was coloring on the floor listening to music. I have a couple of adult coloring books that my boys prefer to their own. My son’s choice that night had “can we all get along” plastered across it. How appropriate!

The first three words are sight words from school.  My wife and I talked to each other like he wasn’t there, hoping he would show off and read every word on the page for us. Then he used the worst four letter word I never wanted to hear him say.

“I can’t do it,” he announced.

We were both shocked and tried to explain how the words on the page were words he knows. As coloring came to an end, my wife took our youngest son to start getting ready for bed. I laid down next to my son and asked him how it was going.

“Good,” he replied, looking me in the eyes. He was here and present.

For a long time now, I have slowly been putting what I call seeds in my boys’ heads, then I look for situations to use examples for my boys to learn from. This was one of them. I watched as he colored in the background of the coloring book page. He drew a line a couple inches from the bottom then started coloring the lower portion in.

“Where did you learn to do that?” I asked.

“I just thought it up!”

“Do you know what you are doing there?”

“Uh, no.”

I proceeded to explain to him how he had taken a large problem, the whole background of the page, and divided it into smaller, more manageable problems. He was beaming, so I continued. It’s like reading, don’t be overwhelmed by all the words, break them down one word at a time, then letter by letter.

I saw the light bulb shining brightly. Then I asked him to look at me and if he could do me one favor. He nodded.

“Don’t ever use the word can’t again.”

I explain what it does to his confidence; he will never know how far he can go with a positive attitude. I explained there are other words, adult words (because I have a terrible mouth, so I am sure he knows quite a few of them by now) and there are words that should just never be thought, let alone said. Using words like can mean that you have already given up.

The best part is, I could tell he heard it.

We had a brief conversation after, packed up, and went to bed. I consider this to be two seeds well-watered. I know I will have to keep an eye out again in the future to do some more watering, but for now, I think these seeds are growing well.

Trevor Mulligan is a 40-something-year-old who quit his job back in 2010 to be at home when his first son was born. He previously worked in advertising, but he’s now a stay-at-home dad of two young boys. He spends his time loving and living the Los Angeles lifestyle with the beaches, swimming, surfing and outdoor adventures all year long. You can find him on his blog, oneSAHD, Twitter, and Instagram. When he is not busy with his kids or the LA Dads group, he is one of the hosts on the SAHDPod podcast.