What Do I Really Have to Teach Them?  (Part Two)

30.  Awaiting turn at a buffet.

31.  That Mac/Cheese, Rice and Fries are not an acceptable table combination at said buffet.

32.  How to use a fork, and in combination with a knife.

33.  That dress shoes are just uncomfortable since they’re not worn often.

34.  How to behave in social functions such as weddings and funerals.

35.  That the body in a coffin isn’t going to suddenly jump up or in any way move.

36.  How to properly put on shoes.



Correcting the Kid’s Friends

Perhaps one of the touchiest areas about being a father is when you have to correct the playmates and friends of your child.  Not only are you handling issues of behavior and discipline that keep the household in decent order, but you are cognizant that you might have no idea what the non-family kids are hearing and being taught as well as not wanting to embarrass your own kid.

Situation in point is the repetitive phone calls that arise from kids who are exploring independence via the telephone.  On one occasion, a school friend fell into the habit of repeatedly calling our house, several times each day.  As we sat to a late dinner, the phone rang and we let it go to the answering machine, which elicited no message.  This immediately occurred again and on the third series of rings, I answered it, intent upon wringing an elementary age neck.  Fortunately, my response was much more muted – but instructive – when I spoke.  I found that this kid had indeed called immediately before both times and was intent on speaking with my son.  My following comment was to the effect that if there’s no answer and it goes to a machine, feel free to leave a message.  But it was unaccepable to repeatedly call. 

My concerns that led to the muted response?  First, who’s monitoring the kid that is repeatedly calling?  Is there a phone in the child’s room?  Second, what has the child learned about phone manners – quaint idea that it is – and is it just that the adult has assumed that the kid understands?  That can happen, since it’s easy to assume something as obviously simple as if there’s no answer, leave a message and call back later.  Finally, while blowing a gasket is immediately gratifying, the ultimate effect is counter-productive. 

I generally take the following tack in such situations.

First, unless there’s obvious malice – kicking, purposeful disobedience – accept it as an instructional situation.  State your case in very clear and simple language. 

Second, if at all possible, make sure such comments are in earshot of another adult.  As a stay-home parent, that’s not always practicable, but there are moments when I’ve made sure that my wife could hear the commentary.  The greater clarity, the better.

Third, repeat conversations are accompanied by clearly stated consequences.  Consequences that you would enforce with your own children, excluding corporal punishment.  And then follow through with them.

Fourth, be sure to tell the kid’s parent or guardian when you’ve had to have such a conversation.  In the large majority of cases, they’re glad to know of what’s going on so that they can handle things.  Because kids tend to be drama queens/kings and overstate things, it also precludes the surprise dinnertable announcement that Mr. PracticalDad yelled at me today when the reality is closer to you told Junior that if he kept running and trying to slide on wax floors, you’d make him sit down for a short timeout.

And unfortunately, it’s a sad reality that your comment might be one of the rare times that the child has heard corrective comments.  And in a play environment where the tendency is to "rev up", the need for keeping a rein on things is key.


Projects With The Kid:  A PracticalDad Example

When I enter the local Lowe’s store, I see a sign listing the upcoming DIY programs and some are oriented to the kids.  How to build a tetherball set, a pinewood car or a small birdhouse.  While these are all potentially fun and educational experiences, don’t think that you have to go to some Superstore or buy stuff to have fun with Junior.

Ron is a neighbor who’s conscious of a dollar and able to think outside of the box.  When his son was complaining that he wanted a light sabre like another kid, Ron’s first inclination was from the "oh crap" school.  Here’s a trip to the Toys R Us and more money plunked down for what will last – through interest or damage – for about a week.  His response?

Ron grabbed empty water bottles – think Dasani – and newspapers from the recycling bin.  He then combined them with a roll of duct tape to create a series of realistic light sabres for the boy to use as he battled Darth Maul.  The papers were rolled into tight tubes and inserted and taped to the bottle’s neck, and further reinforced by even more duct tape.

This was a Father’s Three-fer.  First, money saved and the joy of duct tape renewed.  Second, a chance to show Junior that some wishes can be met by creativity and ingenuity.  And third, Dad’s pretty cool for doing that for the boy.

Look for the moments.  They require a little extra thought but are worth the effort many times over.

What Do I Really Have to Teach Them?

So, just what do I have to be responsible for teaching them?  What can’t they figure out on their own?  Try these for size…

1.  How to grasp a spoon and fork.

2.  Where the spoon and fork they hold really goes.

3.  What goes on the spoon and fork.

4.  The "Clark Bar" in the bathtub isn’t for eating.

5.  The bathtub "Clark Bar" isn’t an art supply for the wall.

6.  How to walk.

7.  How to go down the steps.

8.  How to tell Mom that you’ve taught them to go down the steps.

9.  How to say "please" and "thank you".

10.  When to say "please" and "thank you".

11.  When not to repeat what Daddy said about the clothing of the woman who sits two pews over in church.

12.  The clothing in the darkened closet isn’t the Boogey Man.

13.  How – and when – to spit.

14.  Why we don’t repeat the hand signals that people use when driving.

15.  How to dress themselves.

16.  When to wear coats versus short pants.

17.  What clothing matches and what doesn’t.

18.  How to ride a bike and put on a helmet.

19.  What can happen when you don’t wear a helmet.

20.  For sons, how to treat girls and women.

21.  For daughters, how to be properly treated by a man.

22.  The difference between fantasy and reality, i.e. why hitting in a movie isn’t like real life.

23.  How to handle a bully.

24.  How to do long division.

25.  How to set a table.

26.  How to pack a suitcase and know what to pack.

27.  How to wait without poking the neighbor and annoying everyone else.

28.  How to tie your shoes and buckle your belt.

29.  And the list will go on…

 If you have anything else that you’ve had to teach your kids, contact me and let me know.



Lesson #3:  Your Child is a Blank Slate

There are a few things that your child will have to master on his own, like learning how to make a tight seal around Mom’s nipple to better nurse.  Or learning how to hold his head steady when he’s about a month old.  And figuring out how to grasp objects in his tiny hands.

But almost everything else will be learned from you, Mom and others, and you have to be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that he naturally understands how to do the simplest things.  To your child, events and activities are akin to individual photos that they’ve placed on the vellum board inside their head.  One of your primary jobs is to help him learn to connect the photos so that they develop coherency, a context in which to grow and learn to think. 

Children learn in different ways.  And as they grow and develop you’ll have to learn to use those different ways of teaching.  First, just doing the basic things time and again so that they learn as they watch – and they will watch.  Later, helping them and explaining as you demonstrate.  Later still, letting them do something as you stand nearby.  There are no hard and fast rules as to which is best for a particular child or situation, so be patient with him.  And yourself.

One of the adjustments that I had to make was to learn to build additional time into the schedule of daily life.  Time to account for the childhood stuff that comes up – squabbles, bumps and cuts, questions, fears and play.  Several years ago, I built concrete steps and a walkway out front.  Obviously, there was a schedule but I didn’t account for the fact that one of my children wanted to help, and in a very material way.  It is one of my great regrets that in the effort to accomplish the job, I did a poor job of allowing him to contribute and was at times unnecessarily brusque. 

And I’ve had to learn to routinely ask them, especially after a new situation:  What did you notice?  What happened?  Do you understand what occurred?  And even if they say that they do, I ask them to explain what they saw just to make sure.  It’s not uncommon to find that while they can describe what they saw, they don’t understand the meaning.

And finally, understand that they learn simply by watching you.  Which means that if you do a good job of biting your tongue and maintaining your temper, they’ll never notice; but they will notice the times that things slip.  So when your preschooler turns the corner into the next supermarket aisle and exclaims "what the hell is that?" , then you need to be careful when you ask where he learned the language.

 Because unlike an Etch-a-Sketch, there’s no erasing this slate.


IQ:  A PracticalDad Explanation

They say that life is a balancing act and as parents, we’re expected to maintain the balance in many ways.  Work versus home.  Mercy versus discipline.  Savings versus bills – well, not so much.  Keeping the kids during a trip versus leaving them at a McDonald’s Playland.

At what point do I snap?

Travelling with one kid isn’t difficult, but the stress level rises with the number and ages of the kids along for the ride.  The sheer volume of nonsense from the backseat makes the balance more difficult to maintain.

"Look at the Rocky Mountains!"  "Where?"  "I dunno, we’re in Virginia."

"My name Jimmy Bob, my name Jimmy Bob, my name Jimmy Bob, my name Jimmy Bob, my name Jimmy Bob…"

"Get your foot out of my cupholder!"  "I don’t have room for my feet!"  "I don’t care, get your foot out of my cupholder!"  "Yeah, well your butt’s touching mine!"

"Don’t do that, that’s gross!"  "Well don’t look."  Oooh, gross!  Dad, he’s looking at me!  Make him stop!"

And as I sat up front and let the nonsense wash over me like a muddy rain, I realized that the balance between tolerant and ticked is quantifiable and objective.

Tolerance exists where XL > IQ, but as IQ approaches XL, then the upper limits of tolerance give way to ticked.  Mathematically, XL is defined as the eXasperation Level and IQ is defined as the Idiocy Quotient.  For calculation purposes, the calculation of each and components of each are:

 IQ = (d)(t)(Vcs)n where d = distance of trip

                                          t = traffic levels (defined by NHSA definitions)

                                          Vcs = Volume of the confined space

                                          n = number of children involved

Also, XL = (e)(1/Vcs)(h)-n where e = ease of departure, as measured by blood pressure

                                                        Vcs = Volume of confined space

                                                        h = hours slept

                                                        n = number of children

All of these variables will have an impact on the delicate balance on the trip.  Some are uncontrollable, since you can’t start a trip having left a child behind, while others can be controlled.  If you have more than two children, don’t try to take them across the Southeast US in a subcompact, rent a U-Haul.

However, you can make sure that you get sufficient rest and plan ahead so that the departure is easier than it has to be.  This might even entail starting days in advance so that all of the bases are covered.  Setting ground rules and consequences that are fair and easily applied.  Have activities planned for the trip:  games, music time, video time, quiet time.

The difference is that while you can control your variables, your kids can’t control theirs.  Remember that, and you can actually sit back and enjoy some of the nonsense.  So long as they don’t touch and invade one another’s private space.