Crossing The Recreation Path On Reality TV

I was blunt, but felt he needed to hear the truth since his wife was scared to talk to him about how he treated her and the kids. He wasn’t pleased with what I said. Yet, in the last scene of the show, he admitted, “I know I need to change, or my kids will hate me, and my wife will leave me.”

Best of all, a year after the show, he’s allowing his son to take drama classes, and is being more positive towards his daughter!

Lesson learned:

At times a blunt approach is needed after traditional reprimands fail. For instance, when an employee is habitually late, gentle reminders such as, “Gee, Terry, it would be nice if you came to the staff meeting on time,” need to be replaced with direct statements and facts.

I once had the awkward job of telling an employee that her habit of putting her finger in her nose, and then in her mouth, was socially unacceptable. She replied, “Why hasn’t anyone ever told me that before?” In the case of my reality-TV family, the mom later told me, “I can’t believe you told him those things. He’s such a bully that even his friends don’t stand up to him.”

3. People need opportunities to “sample” activities.

For many people, it’s no problem to sign up for a 12-week fitness class or six weeks of dance lessons. But in the case of my “new” family, any new experience was threatening. I gave them opportunities to “sample” games and activities that didn’t require a long-term commitment. (OK, I insisted they try some activities!) I brought out a parachute and had them play some games with friends. Ten minutes of activities resulted in, “Hey! That was fun!”

Another day, I brought out my crafts, and we made kaleidoscopes. At first the dad simply sat and cussed, but after a few minutes he actually got involved and decorated his kaleidoscope while the kids kept asking for more projects. Thank goodness I had packed my suitcase with all types of craft kits and supplies.

After the dad and I went on a short hike, he said, “I never thought I’d say this, but I think I’ll bring my wife on this hike.”

Lesson learned:

Perhaps recreation programs can be designed as “samples,” where people can try a class or activity before signing up for a longer commitment. One department offered a chance to paddle a kayak in a small pond before signing up for a four-week class. People overcame their hesitancy to take other classes after actually trying out the kayak.

4. A positive attitude can change lives.

On almost every episode of “Trading Spouses,” the camera zooms in on the two moms crying and saying, “I can’t take this pressure. I miss my family. I can’t stand this lifestyle, etc.” In my case, the producers saw I was having too much fun to become upset and cry. They even asked my husband, “What situation would make Silvana break down and cry?” (He rolled his eyes and wished them luck.)

The producers put me in what they thought were stressful situations. They took me to play golf, which I had never done. There was no stress there because I just organized golf-cart races with the kids.

Later the producers took me to the local jail to handle paperwork in releasing prisoners. Yes, I was sitting next to prisoners … but I was also with a cameraman, a sound guy and two armed guards.

When my TV-show daughter spilled a glass of water at a restaurant, she cringed, knowing her dad would yell. Before he had a chance to say anything, I simply said, “Look, some water spilled. Watch what you can do.” I went to a waiter, asked for a rag, and within two minutes, the water was wiped up. It sounds so simple, but for this family, a spilled glass of water usually resulted in harsh words and tears from the kids.

I tried to show that a positive attitude reduces stress. When the son wanted to be involved with drama but felt intimidated by his dad, I took him to a drama class. With positive encouragement from the teacher, the son gained enough confidence in his theatrical skills that he is now starring in school plays and even college productions.

Lesson learned:

As recreation professionals, we all know the importance of being positive, yet it’s easy to forget how life-changing a few kind words or even an enthusiastic high-five can be. For children (and adults) with low self-esteem, just being around a positive leader or coach can give them the confidence to move forward in life.

5. Certain uniforms command respect.

OK, this is a silly lesson, but it sure was fun. A few weeks ago, my husband and I were part of another reality show, “Extreme Makeover: Home Improvement.” Soles4Souls, the charity we work for, donated hundreds of shoes to the family who received a new house. This meant we were on-site all week, and were able to help with construction and even some deconstruction.

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