There were bumps and bruises. There was trial and (much) error. There were growing pains, dizzying highs, and far too much Top 40 music. But I recently reached a benchmark when my daughter, following my son, hit double digits. I used the occasion to reset some parenting goals and take stock of what I'd imparted thus far. I view these life skills as my body of work as a dad (though moms can obviously teach them as well). Feel free to adopt them as your own.
Childhood has its share of potentially awkward moments. Help your kid lay them to rest by having an age-appropriate riddle at the ready. "What did zero say to eight? Nice belt." "What starts with an 'e,' ends in an 'e,' and has a letter in it? Envelope." "What's the difference between mashed potatoes and pea soup? Anyone can mash potatoes." Find more at prongo.com/jokes. Once your child picks out a few favorites, have her practice her delivery until she knows each one cold.
Sure, it's a cliché, but it's true: Teach your child to do it once and he'll never forget how. Some experts suggest removing the pedals first to work on balance. But here's the method that's worked for me twice: Position your child on the two-wheeler on a flat surface (not grass), and run behind him while gripping the back of the seat. He'll feel your support and see nothing but open road ahead, enabling him to focus on stability and steering. With each successive attempt, reduce the amount of pressure you apply. Soon you can let go, and he'll be off on his own.
We spend lots of time helping little kids speak but tend to shortchange the idea of paying attention to others. Explain that listening is easy because you can do it without moving a muscle. Establish this rule: When he's in a conversation, have him ask himself, "Has the other person learned more about me than I've learned about him?" If the answer is "yes," he should use his mouth less and his ears more.
Finding Polaris (aka the North Star) helped civilizations from the Egyptians to the Vikings orient themselves. For kids, it opens the door to discovering other constellations -- and maybe even astrophysics.
You can sign your child up for tae kwon do lessons, but the key to warding off most tormentors is depriving them of what they're truly looking for: a reaction. Show your kid how to portray positive, forceful, yet quiet body language. To a bully, lack of attention is akin to lack of oxygen. Also coach your child to call him out if necessary. Simply saying "You're being a bully" may be enough to stop an intimidator in his tracks.
We've all heard the quote, "We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give." Since these words are lost on a 5-year-old, look for ways to convey the idea. Have your child volunteer at an animal shelter, give away used toys, or donate lemonade-stand proceeds to the cause of his choice. Let him accept nothing in return beyond a "Thank you." Instead, he can suggest that the beneficiary do a good deed for someone else.
You should despise the phrase "throw like a girl," not only because it's sexist and unkind, but also because tossing a ball the right way is a matter of technique. While some kids -- regardless of sex -- are naturals and others aren't, it's crucial to teach the motion early either way so that it becomes second nature to your daughter (or son).
These two words, totaling seven measly letters, are often difficult for anyone -- especially a child -- to utter. With practice and much reinforcement, this apology blueprint worked for our family:
Start little kids off with War, which is easy to play (flip the top card from each of your piles, and the higher number wins). But by second grade they're ready to learn the basics of blackjack. Explain that the object is for your cards to add up to as close to 21 as possible without going over. Face cards count for 10 and aces can be either 1 or 11. (If you've ever been in a casino, though, you know there's plenty of nuance.) The fun disguises this game's other virtues. Your child can play it with Grandpa as readily as with her buddies. It's also a surprising means of improving her math skills, teaching her the laws of probability, and instilling this ever-true lesson: The deck is always stacked in favor of the dealer.
Technology can evolve as fast as it wants. No matter. Paper airplanes remain pure magic. They're a great way to introduce kids to geometry, symmetry, and spatial relations. Beyond this, transforming a sheet of paper into a soaring object with a few strategic folds shows it's possible to creatively reimagine our world.
There are far too many poor sports out there. Make sure your child doesn't become one of them. Coach him to shake hands, praise the victor, avoid excuses, and never, ever blame his teammates. Losing with dignity means that, ultimately, he wins as well.
Your little man will learn how to treat the women in his life by watching how you act toward his mother. But these extra steps are well worth it.
Copyright © 2014 Meredith Corporation.
Originally published in the June 2014 issue of Parents Magazine.