Teaching Money

The kids know that I’m a closet economics geek.  But being an economics geek doesn’t help me since personal finance can be a world away from economics and that’s especially true for kids with minimal experience.  So I grab the opportunities to bring a point about savings and shopping home to them.

Tonight was a case in point.  We’re in a different state attending a family wedding when my wife asked that I somehow find her some decaffeinated Diet Coke.  Because we have a room refrigerator and are here for more than one night, it made more sense to go out for it.  Middle went along with me to a nearby Walmart for a twelve pack and asked why we didn’t just go to the vending machine instead?  This led to a conversation about the cost of a soda from a vending machine versus the per soda cost from a twelve pack.  In the hotel vending machine, a single soda is $1.25 while the cost per can in the twelve pack – not on sale – came to about $.33.

Do the math.  How much more expensive is it?  With twelve cans at that difference, how much would that be?  Most importantly, what else could you do with the money?  In Middle’s case, it’s about several comic books.

Much of being a father – parent, actually – revolves around talking and finding ways to shrink the wider world down to a kid’s viewpoint.  There are days that it seems that all I do is talk, and there are days when I tell the kids that I’ll get back to them once I figure out how to answer the question or discuss the issue.  And then, I have to make sure that I get back to it.

But look for the moments and grab them when you can.  What they learn most about money and finances is going to come from you.

Housework:  PracticalDad Notes on Dusting and Vacuuming

As mundane and mind-numbing as they are, dusting and vacuuming are two of the cornerstones of keeping the house in livable shape.  So wrap your head around the idea that these tasks will be regular parts of the the routine that keeps the household in decent order and diminishes the likelilhood of respiratory problems.

Why Dust and Vacuum At All?

Yeah, the old stereotype is that the housewife did these jobs in order to keep the house spic and span and presentable for the Ladies Book Club.  But she was also doing it to keep the dust levels and animal hair under control.  And let’s face it, if you have kids, you probably have a dog, cat, hamster, mouse, rat or ferret.  The PracticalDad household has the first three and I’m standing pat on the remainder.

What exactly is dust?  It’s not just one particular thing, but a mess of multiple components gathered together.

  • Tiny bits of human skin that is constantly being sloughed off as it dies and is replaced by new skin cells.
  • Tiny bits of hair and follicular materials.
  • The bodies of dust mites and desiccated feces of those same microscopic creatures.
  • Pollen.
  • Mold and fungus spores.

There has been a marked rise in the incidence rate of asthma among children between the ages of five and seventeen, reaching a level of 106 cases per 1000 kids in that age range.  This is spurred by a number of causes.

  • Air pollution.
  • The more enclosed nature of modern homes with central air and less frequently opened windows.
  • Children spending more time inside than before.
  • A greater exposure to vermin in the home.

While children can grow out of this condition as they age, it does create major issues for them and keeping the house clean is a large part of helping protect the kids.

There are also respiratory problems for adults in the form of allergies and a greater prevalence of respiratory illness.

So How Do I Do This?

On one level, it’s simple – you dust and vacuum.  But if you have to do these mind-numbing activities, then you should consider some things to make sure that it’s really worth the time and effort.

  1. Dust first and use a cloth with a dust spray (Endust, for instance) in order to capture the dust particles in the cloth.  By dusting first, you assure that any particles that land on the floor are then caught by the vacuum.
  2. Avoid a featherduster since it only kicks the dust particules into the air, where they’ll then settle back on the furniture.  There’s no sense doing things twice.
  3. A furniture wax should be used to keep the furniture wood moisturized but that should only be done on a more infrequent basis, perhaps once every several months.  Do it too often and the furniture will develop a perceptible wax build-up.
  4. On furniture where the wood is in close proximity to fabric – the arms or legs of chairs for instance – spray the cloth instead of the furniture itself.  The spray then is kept off of the fabric.
  5. While there are innumerable models of vacuum cleaners, make sure that you’re using one that has a HEPA filter to help remove the tiny particles not caught in the vacuum.
  6. Check the bag before vacuuming to make sure that there’s sufficient room for the dirt.  A too-full bag can create a strain on the motor and burn it out.  Full disclosure:  Been there, done that.
  7. Use an extension on the hose to periodically clean along the baseboard, where it meets the carpet.  This is especially important if you have animals that shed.  And what’s the point of having animals if they can’t shed and create more work?
  8. Use the attachments since the manufacturer didn’t include them just to get lost.  The brush attachment can be used on blinds and wood surfaces.  The broad attachment can be used for furniture fabric, drapes and carpeted steps.
  9. Move chairs aside in order to get underneath them and periodically move the sofa as well.
  10. When vacuuming on a hard surface, you might have better luck first sweeping the floor with a broom and then vacuuming up the pile.  The broom allows you to reach into corners and under counters that the vacuum might not be able to reach.

It might seem silly to consider these things, but there have been any number of times that I’ve wanted to bang my head into the wall because of a poor job or goof.  So think of it as saving yourself the job of scrubbing blood off the wall.


Housework:  Which Ones and How Often?

One of the big challenges to being involved with the kids and household is balancing children and housework.  The kids need your attention – they thrive on it – but the house isn’t going to run itself.  And it continues to be a challenge with changes and tweaks as activities multiply, kids grow and more critters enter the house.  It can become a point of contention between you, your mate and the kids as well.

Despite the changes that occur, there are some constants however.

  • Housework doesn’t end.  It simply continues to a new cycle of the same tasks to be done.  If you feel like it’s never done, that’s because it isn’t.
  • With children comes stuff.  It accumulates fast and in no particular order and you’ll have a constant battle of what to keep versus discard.
  • Even when you ask nicely, even including please, a child can respond in an unpleasant fashion.  Until they’re old enough to learn that things don’t just happen, unpleasantries like chores will interfere with the important job of play.
  • Even as chores remain the same, the age of your children will dictate how the frequency of the chore.  Everything happens more often with younger children.

What Chores and How Often?

With the constants out of the way, here’s a basic chore roster of the PracticalDad household.  Remember that it might not work in every household, but it’s a point of departure for building a schedule.


PracticalDad’s Basic Schedule
Making Beds Daily
Changing Bedlinens Weekly
Dusting Weekly
Vacuuming 2X / Week
Clean Tubs/Showers Weekly

2X / Week

Bathroom Sinks 2X / Week
Dishes Daily
Sweep Kitchen Floor Every other day
Clean Kitchen Counters Daily
Mop Kitchen/Bath Floors Weekly
Laundry Daily
Empty Household Trash Every other day 

Remember that this chart assumes that the kids are old enough to be in elementary school.  When they’re young, the frequency of what’s done will increase.


This last is just a starting point and doesn’t cover all of the other aspects of cleaning house.  Other tasks might include cleaning windows and woodwork, animal care, grocery shopping and cleaning the refrigerator.

In the next series of articles, we’ll cover some of the ins and outs of the items on the PracticalDad chore chart.


Being Frank with the Kids

It’s human nature that people who don’t like what they hear will somehow turn it around so that it’s not what you originally meant.  And if it’s human nature that affects adults, you can be sure that it’s operative with the kids.  So I take great pains to be frank with them, almost to the point of bluntness.

Reasons For Frankness

Children suffer from multiple listening ailments:

  • SAST (Short Attention Span Theatre).  They will not focus on what you say as well as most adults.
  • Doanlike’s Syndrome.  If they doan like what they hear, they’ll try to minimize it or manuever around it.
  • Doanget’s Syndrome.  They sometimes just doan get what you’re saying.

And the parents suffer too.

  • SES (Self Esteem Syndrome).  Some are concerned that their child not hear something unpleasant lest that child’s self-esteem be damaged.

Fortunately, children are about as resilient as weeds.

Frankness Is Concrete, Not Rude

Most children are very concrete in their thinking and haven’t yet developed abstract thinking skills; their listening skills are also not up to speed.  For example, I caught one of my children in a major lie and consequently told that child – then in second grade – to write I will not tell a lie, 110 times.  Within a minute, the child was out of the room playing and when I interceded, showed me the paper.  Correctly written – from a kid’s point of view.  The paper simply said I will not tell a lie 110 times.

And after a quiet discussion, the child wrote the correct phrase another 109 times.  And I learned a lesson.

Many people equate frankness with rudeness.  But handled properly with kids, you can be very clear without being rude.  Being frank means that you are as clear as possible with the kid, even asking them to repeat back to you what you said.  Being frank also means that you use language that clearly identifies a behavior or comment with a specific label.  This is where many trip up since they apply the label to the kid and not the action.

For example, L’il Fred sees someone sitting down and thinks it would be cool to watch them land their scrawny butt on the floor.  So L’il Fred removes the chair and Gertrude lands both her butt and her head on the floor – along with a pint of blood.  Some parents will tell Fred that he’s a bad kid for what he did.  Repeated enough times, Fred hears "bad kid" but tunes out the remainder of the phrase until he’s convinced himself that he really is a bad kid. 

A better way to talk to Fred?  You can ask him why did you do that? but honestly, Fred was in the moment and awaiting the sound of a bony butt on the concrete floor.  He was probably even wondering whether it would sound like so many dice landing on a Candyland Board.  After you correct Fred in whatever manner is best for Fred, talk to him but distinguish between him and the action.  Fred, you’re a really smart guy, but that was a dumb/bad thing to do.  Fred will probably be embarrassed and over time, will learn that he is a smart guy capable of making a good decision – or stopping a bad one – with some thought.

Frankness Uses Appropriate Language

Also feel free to be clear and specific with your language.  Don’t be afraid to use labels that have a moral component.  Some actions aren’t only stupid, they are bad and they are wrong.  And if the child doesn’t hear those labels attached to the behavior, they won’t get the moral aspect of their behavior.  If you spend your time using phrases like stupid and dumb, then the child will only learn that their actions serve to reflect on their image and not whether those actions are good or right in and of themselves.

Avoid phrases that equivocate.  Not nice is a particular dislike of mine.  If L’il Fred dropped Gertrude on her bony butt, it was bad.  If L’il Fred used the dinner fork for his salad or farted at the table, it wasn’t nice.  There’s a distinct difference between the two and the kids won’t learn it if they don’t hear it.

Frankness Specifies Outcomes

Being concrete, kids don’t get open-ended and vague threats of consequences in case of misbehavior.  In the moment, I’ve also used vague warnings of impending apocalypse should something occur but I try hard to assure that the child is aware of potential consequences.  I’ve found with mine that the resulting ill-will of discipline is lessened if they had a clue of what was coming.  The seriousness of an action is reflected in the consequences that adults assign to that action and a child who screws up is less likely to feel wronged if they understood the magnitude of the action.

So…the Recap

  • Be plain in your language and don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat what you’ve said back to you.
  • Be sure to verbally distinguish between the child and the action when using descriptive phrases or words.
  • Be sure to use words that convey a moral component to the action.  Regardless of your religious belief, your home is the principal place for the kid to learn basic tenets of morality.
  • Don’t equivocate in the language.  Use clear, strong words that are unmistakeable to a young mind.
  • When you discuss consequences should something occur, be clear, direct and specific as possible.

And since we’re human, we’re going to make mistakes.  I’ve made plenty and will continue to do so.  But don’t let a fear of erring with the kid keep you from communicating clearly.  The more clear that you are, the less likely the mistake.

“…Pick Your Battles”

Take to any parent and you hear that have to pick your battles.  Every child is a unique creation and they’ll start developing their own tastes during the toddler years, which is good since the world can’t take a clone of me.  But that also means that as they grow, they’ll bump into what you find acceptable and will naturally push the envelope.  Which is why parents are big on picking battles.

What exactly does that mean though? 

  • You realize that as members of a new generation with its own tastes and subculture, they’ll take an interest in what has little appeal to you.
  • You realize that there’s going to be some bumping as these interests suddenly appear in your home.
  • You remember that you yourself went through a similar experience and in the interest of family harmony, you have to make peace with some of this.
  • You have to actually pay attention to what’s out there and decide in advance whether you can accept it in the house.
  • You have to be willing to actually examine what they want and then explain why something is unacceptable.
  • You have to be willing to listen to their rationale for why something should be allowed and then willing to move if they actually make sense.

You’re right if the last statement indicates that a particular issue might be revisited multiple times over weeks or months.  But if you do bend in that particular instance, then you need to explicitly acknowledge why you’re doing so or the kid will start thinking that they can wear you down.

What doesn’t it mean?

  • You have to just accept something – in the interest of family harmony – just because the kid is acting like an ass.  And yes, when they enter the teen years, they can do that.
  • You use it as an excuse because you’re too tired after a day or week at work.  If you’ve taken a legitimate stand on a particular behavior or mode of dress, then be ready to stand the ground as the campaign grinds onwards.  It will be unpleasant for everyone, but there are legitimate reasons for certain expectations and the kid is just going to have to adjust.

A PracticalDad Example

Okay, here’s my secret.  My mother sometimes dressed me funny and my own father wouldn’t tell her to knock the hell off.  White patent leather shoes are especially snappy, but not when you’re a seventh-grader required to wear them to school.  I’d done as well if I’d just worn a sign on my back reading go ahead, abuse me.  So I do have some sensitivity to the tween and teen need for fashion acceptance.  That said, my mate and I have had to develop some general parameters within which the kids can work with their clothing.

They know my history and I’ve explicitly told them that I’ll never make them dress in such a manner as to attract ridicule.  But we do insist that:

  • pants must be kept at an appropriate level since low slung pants started as a means of copying prison dress;
  • shirts not have any foul language on them;
  • the kids dress better for certain occasions since dressing well is a sign of respect for the situation at hand;
  • they learn that there are a few kids who’ll poke fun just because they’re idiots and that’s what idiots do, so suck it up;
  • common sense is used so that clothing is appropriate for the weather at hand.

In that last statement, I don’t give a tinker’s dam what the other kids are saying since a  high of 50 degrees isn’t appropriate for flip-flops and shorts.

Whether the kids find you cool is irrelevant here.  But what is relevant to the ongoing tension and debate is that you might actually be turned onto something that is itself cool.

Some Practical Notes on Using Time Outs

Anyone who’s going to deal with kids will find the "time out" useful as a disciplinary tool.  But what exactly is it and what should you remember when you utilize it?

What is a Time Out?

It is literally what it sounds like – a time out and away from a problem activity or behavior.  Kids will frequently get into a cycle or pattern of behavior and this removal from that activity can sometimes be enough to keep that from continuing when the time out is over.  It also serves to reinforce the idea that there are consequences for poor behavior and for a child, not being able to play is a significant consequence. 

Time outs can be used after the child reaches the toddler stage; this would typically be about 18 months of age.  To be honest however, I began using the practice several months earlier with one of my children.  This particular child found it fun to pop me hard in the nose when I reached into the crib for her; when simple corrections – don’t do that, that’s bad – didn’t work, I started to simply put her back in the crib when she popped my nose.  I’d connect this with the verbal correction and leave her in the crib for less than half a minute and repeat it each time I got smacked.  Yes, she cried but soon got the message that beating on Dad wasn’t the best choice. 

They are an effective tool – when used appropriately – for the toddler years and beyond but start to lose their usefulness when the kid reaches about 10 years of age.  At that point, there are other, more effective, means of discipline.

Practical Comments on Time Outs

  • The rule of thumb for a time out’s length is about one minute for each year of age.
  • When you put a very small child in time out, find a spot that is free of any entertaining activities whatever – toys, music, TV, whatever.  A corner or at the foot of the steps are both options.
  • Be prepared to stay nearby to ensure that the child stays there.  Depending upon the kid’s willfulness – or stubbornness if you prefer – you should be prepared to simply lose that time for anything that you were doing at the moment.  If Junior decides to move, make him return; when mine were younger, I would simply tell them to return and if they refused, I’d physically return them.  And yes, I’d tell them clearly that the more they refused, the longer they’d stay in time out.  While some parents believe that it shouldn’t be a contest of wills, the simple reality is that it is.  If you cannot get them to understand that the discipline is going to be enforced, then you’re going to have major issues later.
  • When you start a time out, be sure to clearly say why they’re going into time out.  And be sure to have a brief follow up to assure that they get why they were corrected.  It might be perfectly clear to you, but don’t assume that it’s perfectly clear to them.  Full disclosure:  Been there, done that.
  • Unless you’re comfortable that your child will actually not do anything – and some are dependable for that – then giving a time out in the bedroom is asking for violation of the time out.  Full disclosure:  Been there, done that.
  • If you do leave the immediate vicinity to attend to something else – cooking dinner, for example – then set a timer to remind you that the time out’s over.  Some kids will continue to sit.  Full disclosure:  Been there, done that.
  • If you’re engaged in cooking and hear problem behavior – and yes, that’s possible – that requires a time out, make sure that you use the right name for the child who gets the time out.  Multi-tasking can lead to mistakes so don’t be afraid to apologize the kid who wrongfully got the time out.  This goes back to the need to stay nearby.  Full disclosure:  Been there, done that.

Finally, remember that while the time out is a good tool, it’s not a panacea and should only be one of several in the father’s toolbox.


Keeping Discipline Enforceable

Regardless of what types of discipline you choose, remember that effective discipline is handled immediately, consistently, and is enforceable.

Enforceable?  It seems odd at first since the first inclination of many dads is to just impose the punishment and be done with it. 

But remember that discipline is more than just punishment, it’s also teaching, and this is where enforcement comes into play along with the others.

Enforceable Discipline

Remember that part of discipline is to help teach a kid to distinguish right/wrong, make good choices and also understand the concept of consequences. 

To help the kids understand and grasp consequences, many parents – me included – will give a child a "choice" of outcomes; let’s be frank, it’s usually a threat.  You can either choose to toe the line or you can expect a specific outcome.  Many will phrase it in a negative light – act badly and deal with a bad outcome.  But it can be phrased in a positive light as well – act well and expect a good outcome.  Regardless of the phrasing, it is important that it be sometime that can actually be backed up.  Failing to enforce or deliver the outcome will create even more disciplinary problems since the kid will lose any sense that there is any real consequence. 

Frankly, it helps to spend some time thinking through what consequences are most appropriate for that child.  A father can be utterly torqued with the child – been there, done that – and it’s frequently in that mindset that you have to handle Junior’s issues.  And in the heat of the moment, a father can come up with some totally unsatisfiable consequences and that is the kiss of death to the child having expectations of discipline.

Appropriate Consequences?

What can you consider to help find something appropriate?

  • Do they have favorite toys?
  • Do they have favorite activities?
  • Is there a particular task that they have to do?
  • Is there a special event or activity planned?

All of the above take a negative approach to discipline. 

The flip side is that effective discipline can be positive as well without resorting to bribery.  Close friends of ours are masters of tying activities to desired behaviors – you can play with the neighbor’s kid after your room is picked up to my satisfaction/practiced the piano/taken out the trash.  This however, does entail some thinking about time.  Is there sufficient time for the kid to meet the expectation and then enjoy the consequence?  Kids have no sense of time and playing with little Mikey isn’t an enforceable consequence if your child has met the behavior but doesn’t have the time to enjoy it.  If this happens often enough, the kid’s going to fail since there’s no expectation of consequence.

The Enforceable Rule of Thumb

Bearing these things in mind, I have a rule of thumb about what makes an appropriate enforceable discipline.

  • Is this illegal or going to land me in the news?  No, you can’t threaten to leave them at the airport since that’s abandonment.  And yes, I’ve heard a father threaten to leave his recalcitrant kid at the airport while the rest of the family went to Florida.
  • Is this tailored to the kid or is it going to impact other kids or the rest of the family?  You might want to threaten to cancel a trip to the movies, but will that entail a punishment to the other kids?
  • Does it touch them where it’ll have an impact?
  • Is it too cumbersome to pull off?  You can threaten to remove all of the child’s toys, but where do you put them and how long will it take to do?

 While it seems intuitive, enforceable discipline is still easy to goof in the heat of the moment.  And it’s as important as consistency and immediacy to good discipline.

Handling Discipline Consistently

Handling discipline consistently is probably the most difficult aspect of disciplining children.  Because you need to be consistent in multiple ways:

  • Consistent over time with that particular child;
  • Consistent when having to shift between disciplining one child and another;
  • Consistent in conjunction with the mother so that the kids don’t receive competing messages.

Consistent with that child

At heart, kids are creatures of habit and routine.  They can handle a bit of change, but they’ll do best when they know what they can expect and what’s expected of them.  In addition, not all kids respond to the same forms of discipline – even in the same family – so it’s easier for you if you stick to what you know works.  Having to constantly "reinvent the wheel" for correcting behavior can be self-defeating, especially if you’re having to do so while thoroughly torqued with them.

Consistent among multiple children

This is probably the most difficult aspect of all. 

Even when they’re a bit older, they are egocentric.  So don’t expect any immediate rational conversation or sympathy for the fact that you’re contending with another recalcitrant pre-schooler.  And frankly, kids will start spinning out of control if they perceive that the little miscreant who presently has your attention is getting it because of poor behavior; let’s face it, egocentrism means that they want attention, sometimes in whatever form they can get it.

I’ve found that when there are issues with more than one at a time, my best response is to separate each to their room immediately.  The child is physically safe, has an opportunity to calm down and it gives me a brief opportunity to regain my sanity/composure as I move from one child’s situation to the next.  Unfortunately, I wish that I had understood this when they were younger since some of my worst moments as a father came when having to contend with dueling meltdowns amongst squabbling children. 

Believe me, there is absolutely nothing wrong with briefly isolating them while you work to regain your own self-control so that you can handle each child’s discipline that is best for that particular child.  Some children are highly sensitive and respond well to nothing more than some conversation while others look at conversation as a joke and require more serious measures for effective discipline to occur.  And yes, each of mine respond best to different measures.

Consistency with the Mother

I’m convinced that all of the great generals of history were – at heart – children since they all understand divide and conquer so well.

Being consistent in handling discipline with the kid’s mother doesn’t mean that a father must handle discipline exactly as a mother.  But each of you has to understand that while there are different styles of handling kids in a stressful moment, the measures used should be consistent.  Time outs, counting, loss of privileges – each parent can use whatever works consistently even if one parent is more emotive in the moment than the other.

If two parents aren’t consistent in their approach to discipline, then the natural inclination of the kid will be to shift to that parent who’s "easier" with the child; the end result will be that the one parent is pitted against the other with the heartache that’s going to ensue.

And the cardinal rule of two parents is this:  Never challenge the disciplinary measure taken in the moment by the other parent, excepting abuse.  If you disagree with a disciplinary measure, you can privately intercede with the other, but never overtly break ranks with the other parent.  Both my wife and I have interceded with the other when we thought things were handled poorly, but we’ve tried to never break ranks in front of the kids.

And that’s perhaps one of the hardest things of all.