For a dad, seeing your baby for the first time is a big eye-opener. They look so tiny and helpless, and you can’t help but wonder what the heck you’re gonna be able to do for them. You don’t have boobs, and you aren’t soft and you don’t smell like milk. But you do your best, volunteering to burp them and rock them, maybe even learning the diapering game and jumping in to help keep the house in order. You play second fiddle to the mom.
Until they hit age two. All of a sudden, you’re cool. You can rough-house and make funny faces, and you have all kinds of interesting (non-baby-safe) things in your bag or pocket. When mom needs a break from the toddler melt-down scene, you can jump right in and take over. And then all is good until they get to that place with you (you know the one I’m talking about). Then what? Well, then you break out the mad dad skills…
Dad Skill #1: Distraction
Diverting a toddler’s attention from a potentially volatile emotional situation is a highly coveted skill in the parenting arena. It’s not just as easy as saying, “Look, over there!” (although that does work sometimes). Kids pick up on your attitude, and if you can even pretend to be jazzed about whatever it is you are pointing out to them, they’re more likely to drop everything for it. If you’ve got time, try starting an activity with them that they don’t usually get to do. If you’re short on time, find a special something of yours that they haven’t ever seen, and offer to show it to them. Kids are naturally curious, so if you can grab their attention with something totally unrelated to the situation, you’ve got it made.
Dad Skill #2: Diplomacy
Kids aren’t the easiest to deal with when they’re upset, but that doesn’t mean that we can mirror that back to them. Usually being short or harsh with them just makes it worse. Remember who the adult is. We can choose how to respond, whereas our kids may not be able to control their emotions in order to communicate with us. If we can get down on their level and let them know we’re listening, we’re miles ahead of the game. Taking a deep breath and responding to a screaming kid is a precious gift to them, and it might be the element that actually breaks the rhythm of screaming enough to go back to skill #1, distraction.
Dad Skill #3: Determination
Teaching our children to stick with a task or activity is important, but how can we pass that on if we aren’t able to stick with them through their tough times? Our ability to remain cool and calm and committed even when the chips are down shows them some important attributes. Life isn’t easy, parenting isn’t easy, and growing up isn’t easy, but we get through the difficult parts by determination and commitment.
I’ve found that these skills will get me through most (if not all) of the ‘terrible’ twos and threes, and they help me to be a better person in my work and personal life as well.
What are your magic dad skills?