The Great Dad Challenge

The Great dad challenge on The Great Dads Project with Keith ZafrenWhenever I speak to dads, I always invite men who are willing to accept a specific challenge I call The Great Dad Challenge™. This challenge is for dads to spend time each day for the next fifteen days with their children, individually, and to affirm them while demonstrating acceptance and showing some affection. For those who express their desire to embrace the challenge by standing and responding with a verbal commitment, I provide a black silicon wristband that has written on it in all capital, white letters THE GREAT DAD CHALLENGE.

I wear mine all the time. I ask dads who accept this challenge to wear their wristband for the duration of time they’re living out their commitment to the challenge. Then if they want to keep it on afterward as a reminder, as I do, that’s their choice.

Phase 1 of The Great Dad Challenge™ is called “The High Five.” Dads accept the challenge to spend five minutes each day with each child for the next five days. For dads who have more than three children, it’s fine to focus on three kids at a time. For instance, if a man has five children, focus on three kids for fifteen days, then the other two for fifteen days.

Your task for five minutes is only to listen to whatever your kids want to talk about, without critique or evaluation but with active engagement. Near the end of the five minutes, share a verbal affirmation of your child (each day, for five days), including some form of physical affection while expressing acceptance.

Use a phrase such as (“I think you’re terrific, and I’m so glad you’re mine. I’ll love you forever, no matter what.”), or you can create your own. If you miss a day, remove the wristband and transfer it to the other wrist, then start The High Five over. That’s right, five more days of listening and affirming with affection and acceptance. If you miss a day again, then start over again. The goal for The High Five is five days in a row without missing a day.

Once successful, that is, once you spend five minutes each day with each child for five consecutive days, affectionately affirming and accepting, take your kids out to celebrate in some way. It can be any size celebration that schedule and finances allow, but do something to mark the accomplishment and the growing relationships.

After this first celebration, you move to phase 2 of the challenge, “The Hang Ten.” For the next ten days, spend ten minutes each day with each of your children doing the same thing: listening actively without critique or evaluation, then affirming with affection and acceptance. The same rule about consecutive days is in play. If you miss a day, transfer your wristband to the other wrist and start The Hang Ten over. After successfully completing this second phase of the challenge, go out for a great celebration.

My boys are the ones who added the celebration aspect to the challenge. When I first created this challenge, I told them why I was wearing my GREAT DAD CHALLENGE wristband. They said, “That’s pretty cool, Dad, but you need to tell the dads to take their kids out to celebrate when they get it right.” They were absolutely right. Go ahead and celebrate.

If you already are a part of some sort of small support group, I encourage you to share in your group before you begin your Great Dad Challenge experience what you’re about to do and why. Then share along the way for encouragement, support, and accountability.

I ask dads, at the end of fifteen days, to report back to their small groups what happened, celebrate with them after the challenge is completed successfully, and post their results to The Great Dads Project site (Community of Dads Forum). You’ll find encouraging stories there from other dads about how The Great Dad Challenge™ worked for them and their children.

Real-Life Stories: The Great Dad Challenge

Here are six real-life examples from dads who attended one of my live seminars, accepted The Great Dad Challenge™, and later wrote to me sharing their experiences. These stories were so moving and inspiring, I asked these dads if I could share their stories publicly. With their permission, here are some regular dads just like us who accepted the challenge and experienced remarkable results—results you and I can achieve as well.

Martin:

I’ve kept to the challenge most days and I’m finding it to be a lot of fun. It has challenged me to think about what my kids are interested in and to ask them questions about what they like to get them talking. I’ve also benefitted by taking a step back to assess what each of their strengths and talents are. I try to speak into these areas as I affirm them each night. It’s been really good to bond with my kids, especially with Joey (age 5) because I tend to be the hardest on him. I’ve found myself to be more patient with him lately.

Also, the Challenge wristband prompted a discussion with a guy from work today who is a father as well. Gave us each a chance to talk about how important it is to spend time with our kids and not to work so much. Thanks for all the great advice.

Adam:

I realized how often I don’t give my children (seven, five, and three years old) quality interaction. I’m traveling this week, so it’s a good opportunity to send written affirmations via email.

The most remarkable thing happened the other night while I was having a heart-to-heart talk with my seven-year-old son before leaving on my trip abroad. He was upset to the point of tears, which is uncharacteristic of him. So I laid down next to him on the bed and shared what was in my heart.

I told him how it ached inside when I was a boy and could not be with my father. How now my heart aches when I’m not with him. I told him I loved him very much along with affirmations. He was fine after that, but the most visible change came in the morning when he was peppy and relaxed around me (like you feel when you’re fully accepted by someone). This was pleasing to see for I had forgotten how his desire to please me has caused him stress, perhaps for several months. Makes me sad and regretful I caused him stress. The good news is that children are resilient and I caught this now – thanks to your seminar (so thank you).

My five-year-old girl is just eating up the affirmations. I think my three-year-old daughter gets it but she seems too young to give visible clues, except perhaps a calmness that comes over her.

So, you’re making a difference!!!  Keep up the great work, Keith.

Tony:

I have three kids, a girl 20, a son 17 and a son 8.  I started affirming my boys right after the seminar but had a hard time catching up with my daughter. I went to lunch with her last week and sat and listened to her as closely as I could and tried to not interrupt. I remembered part of one of the sayings that you had at the back of the packet.

“As long as I have a penny, you’ll never be broke.

As long as I have food, you’ll never go hungry.

As long as I have a roof over my head, you’ll never be homeless.”

When I spoke this to her, we both cried and I felt a bond that I never felt with my parents begin to grow with my daughter!

Thank you.

Steve:

My experience is that now my children expect me to spend five minutes with them every night and want my affirmation. My eight-year-old daughter said one night, as I was praying over her, “What about my five minutes, Dad?” I have prayed over my children for as long as I can remember at night after tucking them in bed and then I turn the lights out and leave the room. But on this night, she noticed that I skipped the affirmation time including five minutes of talking to and listening to my children. Even my teenagers enjoy the times talking with me now.

On another occasion, I was talking with the same eight-year-old daughter, listening to her tell me about a birthday party she had been to, when her sister who is ten interrupted to share something since she had been to the same party. When I finished talking with my eight-year-old, she was upset because, as she put it, her sister “stole some of her 5 minutes” and she wanted “all of her 5 minutes,” so she deserved some more time with me.

Now my wife is even asking me, “What about my 5 minutes?”

This is great. By taking time to listen, I’m learning about what my children are doing, what they fear and struggle with, and what is important to them.

I recently had a situation where two of my kids were really mad at each other and fighting over some very trivial stuff (in my opinion). I remembered to listen and found out they both had deep hurt and resentment toward each other because of something that they did to each other many years ago. Instead of yelling at them and punishing them for fighting, as I would have done previously, because I took time to listen and understand, I was able to walk them through forgiving each other. It was amazing.

Now my kids are bugging me about “The Celebration” because we have completed the 5 minutes for 5 days. They are really enjoying this and I am too.

Thanks, Keith, for sharing your heart with us. Keep spreading the good news to others.

Travis:

I have two boys, very energetic boys like their father, ages 4 and almost 2. My oldest, Rylan, is so compassionate and thoughtful while also commanding a lot of hands on attention. While we normally get a good amount of time together, what I noticed after your seminar was that “together” was normally with his little brother, Sidney, and/or mom.

Once we started the 5 minutes for 5 days, then graduated to the 10 minutes for 10 days alone, one-on-one (and we’re still going strong), I realized quickly that while we had time “together” leading up to this “challenge,” it was NOT focused time for Rylan to express himself however he wanted or in whatever activity he wanted.

This realization has really opened up my eyes to see my oldest son as being very particular in what he wants to do. I’m learning that he likes a lot of different things. Some days it’s motorcycles, Hot Wheels, and Monster Trucks; the next day it’s puzzles, basketball, and the matching game. He is wonderful and really enjoys the I-have-dad-all-to-myself time. He always wants his time alone to be first; we are working on that one.

My younger boy, Sidney, is a little too young to verbalize his feelings and wants but very much understands when I ask him what he wants to do. Some nights it’s books: Smash Crash!; Brown Bear, Brown Bear; Tubby Time; etc. At 22 months, he is a voracious reader of (or looker at) books and that is all we do some nights. It is alone, quiet time and he eats it up! Then there are his silly play nights where he wants to ride me like a horse, bonk me over the head, and make me fall, then pick me up to do it all over again! He laughs and laughs at this. “Again, again, again,” he says.

What I have noticed the most in Sidney is that he is wanting, needing, and seeking Daddy more than he ever has and I love it because I have struggled with bonding with him—way more than with my oldest, Rylan. His new desire to bond has shown itself in the past couple of nights when he has not wanted to be put to bed by my wife (though she is amazing with our boys—absolutely amazing!) and has calmed down for me and snuggled in to read more (and he is NOT a snuggle type!). And then he has rolled over onto my chest to fall asleep! This has never happened since he was born. I LOVE IT!

I finally feel the bonding with Sidney that I had with Rylan at a very early age. This almost brings me to tears writing about it; I have truly been longing for this kind of bond with Sidney and have been frustrated at times that it just hasn’t been there. Now, because of the challenge to spend one-on-one time with each of my boys, it’s happening.

So thank you for your seminar and sharing your heart with all the men who were there.

Phil:

It has been a tremendous experience to affirm my kids. I have even found myself affirming my wife. On one occasion, I affirmed my mom and sister too. I’m amazed how much this simple technique has helped my confidence to be a better dad. I’m also amazed how God is giving me the words and bringing up memories to affirm my kids.

I have had to work hard at speaking affirmations to my children because it is unnatural for me to do so. I have been trained instead to base conversations and connection with my kids primarily on their performance such as “you did a great job at . . .” or “keep up the good work” rather than “I just love to see you smile and hear your laughter . . .” or “I just love you for being you.” This has been a huge eye opener for me. I did not realize how much I was doing this.

Now I am seeing so much more beauty and wonder in each of my kids. I’m trying to stop the performance trap that I have been caught in for so long.

When I can, I have been kissing my sixteen-year-old son on the forehead good night. It was awkward at first, but I wanted to let him know in this way that I love him. I was afraid that he would reject me but he smiles and I know that he is receiving my father love. It’s awesome.

I can tell my eleven-year-old daughter I love her. I have grown closer because I am affirming her with written notes and talking with her at bedtime.

I’m still waiting to see changes in and develop a better connection with my thirteen-year-old son. He is the hardest one to reach right now but I will not give up. He is such an awesome kid!

One last thing, I have been blessed by affirming others. This has been a wonderful surprise. I think that God was waiting for me to get to this point. Thank you, Keith, for helping me get here. I am experiencing God’s love—his affection and affirmation—in a powerful way. I didn’t know how much I needed it.

The Great Dad Challenge is not just for these men, it’s for you, and for your children. Your taking action on this challenge will dramatically increase your fulfillment as a father and improve your relationships with your children.

Take the challenge today. Order a wristband and proudly wear it with us who have challenged ourselves to love our kids this way. Then send in your own story to encourage other dads. Please visit the Contact Us page to submit your story!

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2 thoughts on “The Great Dad Challenge

    • Thank you, Vicky. Please pass the word to all the dads you know, and all the women you know who have partners who are dads.

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