by Jennifer M. Koontz
If your child is in the baby stage, the most important thing to remember is this: babies cry sometimes. You cannot always prevent it. So, rather than being intimidated by it, go through a mental checklist: Is the baby hungry, tired, hot, cold, or in need of a diaper change? If you’ve tried to fix the above issues and the crying continues, try a change of scenery (and bring the baby with you). If possible, walk outside, several laps around the house, or up and down the street. If you’re not sure how to work the stroller, don’t use it. You will eventually succeed in calming your baby. And, in doing so, you will feel an incredible sense of pride in yourself and your “dad instinct.”
You guys just might have some kind of kid-calming mechanism implanted in you. You’re warm, you’re calm, you talk in a low-pitched voice, and you can sit for hours, snuggling and watching baseball. Revel in the fact that you have a talent that not all moms have – the snuggling factor. Kids often seek mom out for emergencies (no matter how trivial), but if you are open to it, they will seek you out for snuggling, for comfort, for security. You lucky dog, you.
Find out what disciplinary actions have been taken while you were away. What’s the back story? It is imperative that you and mom work together to raise your child. You need to know what has happened when you are not present, both the good and the bad, so that any transfer of responsibility is seamless.
Dads tend not to understand how important they are. You may not have had quite as much experience with children as mom has, but your words of comfort, support, love, and pride will stay with your child forever. Choose your words carefully, for they carry with them the self-esteem that your child will draw upon as she grows. Don’t underestimate the power of your words. What you say does matter.
You work a lot, so when you are with your kids, play. Stay vigilant, be safe, choose age appropriate activities, but gosh darn it, play. It is the best way to bond with children, because it equalizes you, at least for the time that you are playing. Children “let their guard down” a little when they play, and you may learn how your child is feeling about things as you play. Dads tend to be pretty good listeners, so as you play, if you notice your child beginning to open up, just listen. You don’t have to give advice. In fact, it’s probably better if you don’t. Every now and then, say, “Do you feel like you need any help with that situation?” and take it from there. Playing opens the door to having fun, but it also shows your child that you are just happy and willing to be there with and for him.
No matter what the box is, turn it off for a while. If it’s your cell phone, your iPad, your Blackberry, your laptop, your TV, your gaming system, or anything else technological, turn it off. Spend some time with your child doing something that you’ve never tried before. If you get the old eye roll, ignore it. Some children never want to try new things, so it’s up to you to encourage them. Children love to build things, and be honest, so do you. Get some blocks, some Legos, or even just some rocks and sticks. Build something with your child and show him or her that the world is more than just high-tech. Slow the world down sometimes and show your child another way to live. You might even find that you enjoy it.
Dads often don’t get a chance to spend as much time with their kids as moms do. So, their time is precious. What you can do to become a great dad is to do something different. For example, establish a tradition. Don’t spend much money, don’t go for junk food, but think of a way that you can give meaning and quality to the time that you have with your kids. You have the opportunity to be special to your child, so by all means, step up and give it a try.
Dads are often portrayed as the ones who hand out the money and then slip into oblivion. As a dad, you will be asked for money. It starts with, “Can I have a quarter, Dad?” and will continue for many years after that. But simply being the money distributor does nothing to teach your child. If your child asks for money, ask a few questions. Don’t say, “no,” but don’t say “yes” right away, either. Inquire as to the nature of the intended use for the money. Take a moment to talk over the consequences of choices being made. At home, talk about how money can be earned by doing particular chores. Pay promptly when the chores are completed satisfactorily – and be sure to take the time to check how well your child completed the task.
She needs your support. Create a system together and stick by it, no matter what. Your child needs you to be firm, calm, and unwavering. Your child wants to respect you. Strive to be a dad worthy of respect.
Don’t pretend to be a superhero. All parents make mistakes. Explain briefly to your child the mistake you made in your parenting, then explain how the situation will be corrected. Say, “Everyone makes mistakes, and I made one. I’m sorry. I have learned from it, and I’ll do my very best to not make that mistake again.” Your child isn’t keeping a tally of your mistakes. If anything, she is keeping track of the times you were there for her, to give her a hug, a pep talk, or a tissue to dry her tears.
Fathers sell themselves short when they shy away from parenting. All parents need practice to parent well. Give yourself a chance to practice, and if you do it wrong, your child will let you know. Now, go get ‘em, Dad.
Jennifer M. Koontz is a mother and teacher who has taught all ages.. She is the author of When Your Centerpiece is Made of Play-Doh and the Dog Has Eaten Your Crayons: A Mother’s Perspective on Parenting. For more information, please visit, www.facebook.com/jmkoontzforparents.