As a mother of seven, I’ve developed my own unique way of raising kids. It didn’t come to me overnight, and I certainly didn’t learn it from a guru or pick it up from a book. Sixteen years of raising babies, kissing boo-boos, and wiping booties taught me how to do this. And I’m pretty damned great at it (if I do say so myself)!
And although I’ve talked about and have written about my methods of raising kids in the past, I’ve never thought to study the science of parenting until recently.
The Objective of Fatherhood and Parenting
I’ve been known to make jokes about the point of parenting being trying not to kill your kid. While you laugh out loud at that, remember how true it really is.
From infancy, our sole job (for a few years, at least) is to keep our newest creation alive. Then, as they grow it becomes our job to keep them from killing themselves by keeping them away from the stove, the knives in the dishwasher, and furniture corners. If we’re successful, they’ll pretty much do the rest without a whole lot of intervention from you.
If you did your job correctly, you’ll end up with a compassionate, caring, and responsible adult capable of navigating around furniture without having bumps and bruises to show for it later.
Here are four simple things science says you can do to turn your chubby toddlers into thoughtful, caring adults.
1. Chores Build Responsibility, Even In Toddlers
No matter how cute their fat cheeks and button noses are, as a father, you have to get past their deceiving inability to follow directions. Trust me, they know more than they’ll let on. Toddlers are smart, wicked smart! They’ll pretend not to know the meaning of the word no until they’re five! Why? Call it convenience or laziness or both. But, and I’m telling you the truth here, give your children something to do, a job or chore, as soon as they can walk.
If you have older minions, they too must have chores they do regularly. And you have to be the supervisor of said chores. I know that’s hard when you only get to hang out with them on a schedule, but trust me when I say that a child with responsibilities gets used to having to tend to them.
In my house, my toddler picks up his toys at bedtime and throws away his rolled up, dirty diapers in the trash. My sixteen-year-old has a regular job she goes to on the weekends. My younger teens tend to the garbage and dishes. While my younger ones vacuum, clean their bathroom, and manage the laundry. It’s not perfect and requires supervision on my part, but we get it all done.
I’m not wrong either. In 2015, the University of Minnesota conducted a study on this subject. It turns out that kids three to four years old who participated in household chores were more self-sufficient as adults and were more likely to achieve success in their careers.
Give your kids something to do. It’ll only benefit them in the long-term.
2. When It Comes to Time You Spend With Them, Think Quality Over Quantity
You probably expected this one. And you should!
Men tend to think about time being some sort of universal currency. In a way it is. But would you rather your paycheck be cut in American Dollars or Japanese Yen?
The amount of time you spend with your brood is nowhere near as important as what you do with it. Nor does it require you to spend any of your American Dollars.
Kids remember who showed up more than they recall the specific activity. It all hinges on stories that begin with, “My dad came to my school play last week,” and not, “My dad always gets us court side tickets to the Spurs’ games.”
Plan your activities around what comes easy, financially and otherwise. You want them to enjoy their time with you, and you want to enjoy it too. Hear me now, kids are the most intuitive beings on the planet. They’ll know right away if you’re over-extending yourself.
The Journal of Marriage and Family put out some solid evidence claiming you don’t need to be there for everything they do. Their study determined that the amount of time you spend with them bears little to no impact on behavioral issues.
Instead, make sure you are engaged and do your best to create positive memories by reading to them, write to them and ask that they do the same, or play around outside with them.
3. Always Praise Their Efforts
Here’s one I’ve learned only recently.
It used to be that I would go on and on about my kids’ Honor Roll or overall class rankings. To me, it’s the prize that matters. It’s what I aim for as an entrepreneur and what gives me direction. The same applies to kids, right?
While it’s important to teach your kids to have goals, and to give them strategies to meet them, you need to understand that their brains don’t think like ours. Where we might think that getting better at math is an attainable goal, kids think that you praising their good grades means they should work on solving easier problems rather than challenge themselves.
Life is full of challenges – at all ages. You want them to be equipped to face the big and bad as adults. In fact, in 2013, researchers at Stanford University came up with a solution after conduction a study looking into this issue.
Lead researcher, Carol Dweck said in the report, “When children are taught the value of concentrating, strategizing and working hard when dealing with academic challenges, this encourages them to sustain their motivation, performance and self-esteem.”
Praise the amount of time, work, and effort your child puts into learning or mastering something new. Don’t focus on the end result.
4. Be Honest About Your Feelings of Disappointment When They Disobey You or Fail to Hold Up Their End of the Bargain
To rock single fatherhood, remember that fostering compassion and kindness in your kids is something you’ll do better if you vocalize your feelings of disappointment when they fail to meet your expectations. Anger isn’t an effective feeling for getting this done. Anger only breeds anger. It doesn’t solve or achieve anything. Instead, work with your kids to show them why you’re disappointed and how they can do better in the future.
Kids have a very shallow and simple way of interpreting adults’ feelings. To them, we grownups are either happy or mad. The intricacies and complexities behind our feelings aren’t known to them until they’ve reached adulthood. While the reasoning behind this happens is important, it’s not something we need to focus on right now.
Never shame your child or yell at them when they misbehave. Talk about what he or she did wrong and express a genuine desire that they do better moving forward. This, according to a study by the Department of Psychology at Ohio State University, is the best way to instill good morals and a sense of self in children.
The cliche is accurate, your kid is different from anyone else’s child. Their situation and how you teach them to handle their new single-parent household will determine who they become as adults. While you don’t want to raise a bunch of whiny and incompetent adults, you do want them to care about the people in their lives, pay their bills on time, and pull over to help a stranded lady change her flat tire.
Often, dads tend to forget that their kids came into their world, and not the other way around. They joined you in your life and are riding the same crazy roller coaster you are. While you want to be sympathetic to their plight as individuals, don’t coddle them. No good comes from being an overbearing, helicopter dad. Also, you won’t get anywhere by being the distant guy your kids see twice a year.
The solution lies somewhere in the middle. Give them chores as soon as they’re walking and teach them the right ways to get them done. Quality time is everything, so remember to make the absolute most of your visits by engaging your kids in activities by actively participating in them. Don’t forget to praise their efforts before their talents. And share your feelings of disappointment with them when they misbehave or fail to hold of their end of the bargain.
I know it my unconventional thinking might seem odd to you, but this is just what I’ve learned from 16 years of doing parenting. While they might not be perfect little angels, but my minions are responsible, caring people who work hard and have strong values.
Try out one of these or all four and let me know how it works out!