Kids and Sleep:  Infancy Through Elementary School

One of the great lessons that I had to learn as a new father was that my life was no longer my own, and that pertained to all of its facets.  This especially included sleep, which became far more dear than I ever realized it could.  So what can you expect from the typical child as she moves through life’s pipeline?

While no child is alike, their bodies have similar needs and the following chart summarizes what the typical child/teen needs in terms of hours of daily sleep.


Hourly Sleep Needs by Age
Child’s Age Daily Naps Night-time Sleep/Hours Total Daily Sleep/Hours
1 week – 4 weeks Intermittent Intermittent 15 – 16
2 – 4 months 2 @ 2 Hrs/Ea 2 @ 6 15 – 16
4 months – 1 year 2 @ 2 Hrs/Ea 10 – 12 14 – 16
1 year – 2 years 1 @ 2 Hrs/Ea 10 – 12 12 – 14
2 years – 3 years 1 @ 1 Hr/Ea 10 – 12 11 – 13
3 years – 6 years 0 10 – 12 10 – 12
6 years – 12 years 0 8 – 9 8 – 9
13 years – 18 years 0 9 + 9 +

 Data: and

Bear in mind that the first several months will appear chaotic as the child will sleep intermittently and wake regularly through the night for feeding.  It’s your job – both Mom and Dad – through these months to help your infant adapt to a regular schedule that includes sleeping through the night without feeding and obtaining sufficient and routine naps.  But the upshot for many is that during that first year, the night-time feedings will disappear and the child will begin to nap regularly – you might not believe it while in the midst of the chaos, but it will happen.

After about three years of age, the naps will disappear and your child will still need significantly more sleep than you but this will diminish as well. 

Still, nightly bedtimes and routines matter.  They help the child’s body learn to prepare for sleep and your child will usually look forward to the wind-down from the day.  My youngest is still in elementary school and one of the best parts of that pre-teen age is that the bedtimes are earlier, which permits me some of my own quiet time after a full day of work and the normalized chaos that comes from children.

That changes however, when the kids reach the teen years.  Then the needs change, as well as the surrounding environment.

Keeping Up With The Kids’ Electronics

I’ve always spent considerable time trying to keep tabs on the media environment that’s surrounding the kids.  I can try to limit the television and computer time, but there are still other screens and devices to focus their attention and I generally take the random sampling approach.  That’s simple when the media in question is in a public area, such as the television and the family computer.

But how do I not appear heavy-handed when approaching the personal devices, such as the iPod and the mp3 player?  Some of the lyrics are short-term harmless but long-term corrosive to the ‘tween/teen attitude and psyche.

  • Make your own mp3 or iPod available for sharing with the kids.  Hey, you wanna hear some real music, try this!  Then swap devices and take a little cruise.  It has been effective in giving me a glimpse of what they’re listening to and whether I should be concerned.  I was truly surprised to find that Eldest had a selection of Etta James pieces from the 1950s on her iPod.
  • Pay attention to what you see them playing on Youtube or the various websites, then take some moments to visit some of the other offerings by that group.  The upshot is that you do have to act on it if seems extreme.  In one instance here, Killer Clown Posse has been banned, inasmuch as I can do so.  The discussion with one of the teens pertained to the question of how cool something could be when the video acts out sniper attacks on innocents.  I was frank in evoking the Columbine massacre as well as the more recent Amish School Nickel Mines shooting and the teen in question has acknowledged the point.
  • Visit the websites for favorite stations and view the playlists for most requested songs.  Then check a sample against the on-line lyrics from sites such as and read them.  There are opportunities – if you’re willing to make them – to discuss the songs with the kids and if things are bad enough, then you have to be willing to force the issue.  It’s unpleasant to confront a teen about burning highly objectionable discs but the reality is that it has to happen. 
  • Use technology to turn the private media into public media.  A friend recently told me that there are devices that be used to hook the mp3 or iPod up to the car radio and I’ll investigate that this weekend.  I believe that the kids do want to hear things on the air versus having to wear earbuds and I’m willing to invest in such technology. 

When the average kid is spending hours each day saturated by the electronic media, then something unpleasant – photo, lyric or otherwise – is going to leech through to the kids.  But casting a wide net into the electronic sea at least gives you an insight into the waters in which they swim.

And whether you also need to jump in as well.

PracticalDad:  Accountability, Discipline and Teens

Kids grow, age and change and we expect that.  One of the great challenges of being a parent is adapting while still being consistent within the adaptation, just like a parent trying to be flexible within the daily schedule while still maintaining a sense of structure.  It’s no different for discipline  than it is for anything else and in fact, it’s probably more difficult for discipline since the heart of discipline is teaching the child and that child is going to push more and more of your buttons as she ages.

When the kids are smaller, you’re around them more and the environments are much more controlled.  You can keep an eye on them and their activities and things are much more of a known quantity.  You have a decent sense of the risks, hazards and temptations.  They’ll still come up with new twists that catch you off-guard but if you think like a kid, you start to anticipate what can happen.

Temptations and situations develop when they enter a larger environment.  More kids from other families – each family with its own values and priorities – and new surroundings mean that the parents must stretch their attention span; what new challenges can arise and what should the response be when they do?

But discipline becomes a real challenge when the kids reach the point that they’re more aware and think that they’re smarter than "the ‘rents".  Rules will be questioned – sometimes rightfully – and the opportunity is now there to pursue actions and behaviors that are potentially self-destructive.  Now discipline can almost reach the point of being akin to a military campaign.  You have to observe and question, demand details and parse through commentary that appears straightforward to the addled teen brain but is actually short of real information.  You then have to work to channel them to the options that are in their best interests and that can involve maintaining a considerable and extended period of pressure to assure their compliance.  It can be unpleasant and lead to discord within the household; the child is unhappy having to comply with a semi-senile old coot and you’re unhappy too.  It’s unpleasant being considered "the bad guy" and equally unpleasant enforcing accountability, especially if it means that something in which the child excels is being withheld to assure compliance.

Over the long term, it’s easy to become discouraged and doubt yourself.  Expect mistakes, by both you and the child, and correct them accordingly.  But remember that you’re the parent and have a much larger knowledge base as well as the responsibility to help this kid reach a productive adulthood.  And then gear up for a potentially protracted campaign.

Praise and Positive Reinforcement as Discipline

Discipline is too often equated with punishment since most fathers only remember to apply it when something has gone wrong.  But the purpose of discipline is about teaching the child right from wrong and that’s also something that can be done in a positive way as well.  It’s important to remember that positive reinforcement can be an important disciplinary tool with your child.

One of my greatest tasks as a father is teaching my child about the world, what it means and ultimately how to survive in it.  If Junior begins to think that I only notice her when things are going wrong, then the result will be defensiveness whenever I open my mouth and the necessary lesson isn’t going to be learned.  And frankly, it naturally gets tougher as the kids age and begin to think that they know more than they do.

So what do I try to remember about positive reinforcement and praise?

  • Remember first and foremost that kids want your attention and time more than stuff.
  • Praise is a more general term and is a feedback that you can provide in non-specific circumstances.  For instance, if I’m chatting with one of the kids and tell her that she’s really smart – and Eldest actually is – then that’s providing feedback for a generalized trait regardless of any specific instance.
  • Positive reinforcement is more specific and refers to a particular instance or series of instances.  Telling Eldest that she’s smart is praise, telling her that she really earned her A through persistence and a smart study plan is positive reinforcement.  My attention to the situation reinforces the behaviors and habits that led to the good result.
  • When I provide either, but especially positive reinforcement, I try to have one or more concrete examples to bolster the commentary.  If I don’t, then Junior’s going to view it as overpraise and will both get a swelled ego and begin to ignore the commentary that actually accompanies it.
  • I try to tailor the reinforcement to Junior’s age level and experience.  If Junior’s three years of age, then positive reinforcement on good table manners is important.  When she’s fifteen, then good table manners are simply an expectation of standard behavior and usually not to be commented on.  That said, I have on occasion issued a blanket compliment to the three kids when we’re in a restaurant and we’ve witnessed a behavioral trainwreck at an adjoining table.
  • Positive reinforcement is especially important when it’s a new circumstance with which Junior’s had no experience.  It’s also important on those occasions to talk to her in advance and give her some understanding of what’s going to happen so she’s not blindsided; the reinforcement at the end brings the experience home and lets her know how she did and that you even noticed.

 These aren’t magic in and of themselves, but they are valuable additions to the fatherhood toolbox.  And a good and well-used toolbox is filled with implements that are regularly used.


PracticalDad:  Should Schools Pay for Grades?

I recently wrote about whether we should pay our children for good grades and our consensus was that the kids would have to do without the money.  But now Time Magazine weighs in with the research put forward by Dr. Roland Fryer of Harvard about the effects of financially rewarding – paying – schoolkids for good grades.  And after reading the article and understanding that there are good points, I still have to disagree and not solely for intellectual reasons.

The trials in question were run in four urban areas – DC, New York City, Chicago and Dallas – and to his credit, appear to be well-designed studies.  Each group in each of the target cities are inner-city students and the reality, politically correct or not, is that most are mostly underprivileged from homes that are not intact.  Each city was also tested based upon different criteria so that the results could be compared against one another as well as against the control groups.  The results were that in two cities, Dallas and DC, the results were positive with reading comprehension scores rising significantly in Dallas and multiple factors being positively affected in DC.  The results in NYC and Chicago were either mixed or to no effect.

There is one key element in the article that bears some exploration.  A common retort of critics – me included – is that kids should be taught that learning is important in and of itself and should be taught that it’s so.  But here’s the paragraph in question:

"We tend to assume that kids (and adults) know how to achieve success.  If they don’t get there, it’s for lack of effort – or talent.  Sometimes that’s true.  But a lot of the time, people are just flying blind.  John List, an economist at the University of Chicago, has noticed the disconnect in his own educational experiments.  He explains the problem to me in this way:  "I could ask you to solve a third-order linear partial differential equation," he says.  "A what?"  I ask.  "A third-order linear partial differential equation," he says.  "I could offer you a million dollars to solve it.  And you can’t do it."  …For some kids, doing better on a geometry test is like solving a third-order linear partial differential equation, no matter the incentive."

The simple reality is that in most inner cities, the welfare society created a situation in which multiple succeeding generations were raised without a real regard for the value of education and then didn’t pass it along to their own children.  One of my laws of fatherhood is the understanding that your child is a blank slate and is going to have to be taught everything; to expect them to simply figure things out is unrealistic.  The simple skills that create a successful learning environment – reading, math drills, checking homework, accountability – are absent and without these in the homes, the kids don’t have the tools necessary to pull themselves along.  Unless there’s an additional incentive that prompts them to the extra effort necessary to overcome the circumstances.

I have two other concerns about the question.  The practical question is one of sheer resources.  If this is to work, then the financial resources have to be in place to cover the costs and the fiscal reality is that the money just isn’t available to pay kids for decent grades.  Some can argue that the available money should be put towards the underprivileged kids since they don’t have the family structure and opportunities in place like those who are in suburban or rural areas.  But this leads to the other concern, which is the corrosive social message that’s sent by the government to the families who do work with their children and push for education and good grades.  Your kids won’t get the money that goes to the underprivileged kids from homes whose families don’t value what you do.  That might seem extreme and childish, but consider the catastrophic law of unintended consequences that struck after the Great Society programs of the 1960s.  Within thirty-five years, the number of fatherless inner-city children rose dramatically and the two-parent model within the inner city was literally destroyed.  Over the next several decades, how many other parents will simply say to hell with it as did so many from the Great Society years?

Which was in large part what led to this predicament.

And let me be honest.  It frustrates me, as I’m sure that it does many other parents, that those parents who don’t place the value upon education are seemingly rewarded at our expense.  So I’m in favor of further exploring the research and perhaps some other reward mechanism can be found that can be universally applied without bankrupting us further.

But otherwise, remember the Great Society debacle and just forget the whole thing.

Inside Your Wife’s Head:  Defragging the Hard Drive

She’s not as playful as before the kids’ arrival.  Perhaps she’s more curt and distracted and it seems harder to engage in the same conversations that you had when it was just the two of you.  You look at her and wonder, what’s going on inside her head?  If you want to understand, think of her brain as the dependable family PC.  The game processing speed is diminishing as more practical work packages are added to the hard drive to handle the increasing family demands.

Dads today are doing more with kids than previous generations.  A 2008 study found that today’s fathers are managing twice the housework and triple the childcare as our grandfathers.  But that doubling still only takes it to 30% of the housework.  Working and managing family obligations are filling the maternal hard drive.

You can separate these obligations into two categories – relationships and operations management.  Running these two areas means that she’s had to further develop multi-tasking subroutines.

It’s the women who usually take care of the relationship aspects of the family.  What’s happening with the kids?  Who are their friends and  how are they developing socially?  The mothers arrange the playdates and are more sensitive to the kids’ issues.  There’s also maintaining extended family relationships as well, arranging gatherings, passing important news and remembering important dates.  We are also sandwiched between two generations who are on opposing ends of the self-care Bell Curve.  Kids absolutely require time and attention.  Grandparents can still be very competent but the physical and mental cracks begin to appear as they age.  Unlike the Chinese, who prize their sons for eldercare, the care of aging American parents normally falls to the daughters; your wife is probably more aware of her father’s prostate than you are of your own.

Managing the household operations occupy a significant portion of the drive.  Kids prosper when they have a routine and general schedule in their daily lives.  But the reality is that kids leave confusion in their wake; they sicken, forget things, get cranky and demanding.  So the mothers, as primary caregivers, are trying to reconcile flexibility with maintaining some kind of daily routine.

It can be maddening and even infuriating when others who aren’t aware of the competing demands question why more wasn’t accomplished in the course of a day.  The kids’ chronic interruptions also mean that she’s being constantly diverted from the original task and getting back on track requires additional time and mental effort.

There’s a cycle to maintaining even a relatively clean house – cleaning, cooking and laundry – and these require additional subroutines that add more multi-tasking layers.  Toss a load of laundry in the washer and return to the kitchen to load  the dishwasher.

While these run, cut up food for the crockpot and then help Junior find the prized possession that he’s mislaid for the twelfth time.  Then it’s back to shift laundry to the dryer and onwards to something else that needs to be done.  Weave that into the mix of work and childcare and you have a woman who’s maintaining a high level of efficiency at the expense of game speed.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that distance automatically equals a lack of love.  It’s likely that she still loves you and wants those moments to play the games.  But the games are best enjoyed when more of the computing processes and subroutines are removed from her hard drive.  Just remember that the family family needs these subroutines to survive, so they have to move to a different hard drive.

PracticalDad:  When You Believe You’re Failing

Being a father is a full-time endeavor, one that never ceases and always changes as the kids grow.  There will be occasions when you simply don’t do well and feel real guilt about how you acted or responded to a situation.  Nobody talks about those moments and they do stay with you.  While making notes for Tackling Major Projects With Kids Around, I had to consider what I believe to be my worst moment and greatest regret as a father.

The front yard of our old house was very plain and sloped considerably in two different directions.  The only path from the sidewalk to the front porch consisted of some broken, partially covered flagstones that had been thrown in the grass by the previous owner and it was apparent that the whole front needed work.  My wife wanted a concrete walkway, with steps, that ran from porch to sidewalk in a way that best utilized the yard’s topography.  Because I spent several summers in college pouring concrete for a construction company, I took on the project myself.  I reacquainted myself with the work involved, took the necessary measurements and laid out the plans accordingly.  What I didn’t do was account for the fact that I was a stay-at-home father with three children and a hard-working spouse.  I was an idiot.

Let me tell you a little something about concrete.  It responds badly to hot weather.  You can add all of the water you want in the mixer and as soon as it’s poured, it will be as though there’s a giant invisible straw sucking out the moisture and making it impossible with which to work.  That means that the most difficult time is in the height of summer, which is about when my own project was ready to pour.

My idiocy was compounded by failing to start early enough to beat that stretch and it meant that I drove myself to get the job done, even bringing in a teenager to help with the heavy digging and pouring.  But that need to see the job done meant that I was a bastard when it came to letting the kids help and my eldest son – then a third grader – desperately wanted to help his father.


I was curt with his questions and impatient with his efforts when he tried to help.  I never verbally berated him but my looks and demeanor were clear when I thought that he was in the way and I now recall how his face looked when I brusquely ordered him to move and then complained about what had to happen to get this project moving.  The project was successfully completed but I was a true bastard in doing it.

Both my sister and I were at our father’s side when he died from lung cancer.  In the hours before his death, he was conscious and coherent while he leaned against us and labored to breathe before his body finally succumbed to the effort.  He managed to speak and I was dumbfounded when he apologized to us for his failings as a father.  His comment was, I’m sorry that I was a royal horse’s ass sometimes.  Both of us loved him dearly and considered him to be an excellent father.  Yet in his last moments, he could only reflect on those occasions when he had fallen short.

None of us are perfect.  We’re going to have some bad instances but that shouldn’t define us as failures.  What makes us failures are not acknowledging our mistakes and learning from them, and ultimately, walking away from our responsibilities as fathers.

I learned from my father’s example yet again.  But instead of waiting for my deathbed, I apologized to my now-older son last night.


Tackling Major Projects With Kids Around

Fatherhood is a juggling act with one ball consisting of job responsibilities, another consisting of household duties and the third consisting of spending time with the kids.  But sometimes one ball has to be substantially larger than the others and you have to take greater care to assure that the children’s ball isn’t the one being dropped.  There’s not always much that can be done with the job, but there are things that you can do to keep the kids in the loop when you’re contending with the household projects.

What should you remember about kids and household projects?

  • Children have no sense of time and schedule, so plan your work and be realistic about what you can accomplish.  Expect questions and constant interruptions, even if your mate is there to help keep things under control while you work.  The speed with which you might have accomplished a particular project or task is lessened with kids around.
  • Children have no sense of risk or danger and you have to be aware for them.  Are power tools unplugged when you walk away?  Should you actually remove the drill bit lest the kid plug in the drill?  This not only tacks on additional time but also means that you might not be concentrating entirely on the project at hand.  If you really do need to pay close attention to the task – or if the hazards are potentially fatal – then arrange for the kids to be gone while you work.  Setting studs to a concrete floor with a nail gun?  Then consider removing the second-grader from the house.
  • If your kid wants to help, what are your expectations and can he meet those expectations?  There are no absolute correct responses in this judgment call and if necessary, check with your mate to see if they make sense.  Smaller kids usually don’t have the attention span, let alone skill level, to seriously participate but they will check in and out and if there’s something that they can do to help, then they do have a sense of accomplishment.  Even if you’ve done 98% of the work.
  • Be prepared to talk alot more than if you were working with another adult.  Safety is crucial and you’re going to have to talk as you explain what you’re doing, or how the girl should handle some equipment, or where the boy should stand while a task is being accomplished.  Bear in mind that even teens will tune out as they think about other things – mostly involving sex – and you’re going to have to repeat yourself.  
  • Remember that you’re under a microscope and they’ll learn from you do as well as what you say.  Cut yourself?  Do the requisite first aid, even if you would have previously ignored it before the kids came along.  Teens usually lack good judgment and if Dad ignores first aid, then he’ll probably do the same when it’s actually critical that the wound be cleaned and treated. 
  • If the kids are older, talk about the plans with them and especially talk about the safety concerns of working with particular tools.  One of the last things to develop with the adolescent brain is risk assessment and if they actually hear you talking through hazards and safety, they’ll at least hear that things can go wrong. 
  • Understand that you’re going to have to repeat yourself, or did I mention that already?
  • Even if a kid takes on a project as their own, expect to have to stay involved so that the project is finished.  Attention spans wander and they can lose interest if someone isn’t there to keep them on task.  In this household, Eldest took on the project of reclaiming a 9′ X 15′ fish pond late last summer.  The project was 85% finished before Autumn – with school and activities – forced a suspension and although I’ve mentioned it several times in the past two weeks, the reality is that I’ll have to help put things back on track for the project’s completion.  It isn’t that she can’t do it or doesn’t care, but larger and longer projects require some planning and maturity that most teens haven’t mastered yet.

 It’s stressful enough having a major project hanging over your head, but some forethought can help keep the balls airborne.  And the kids will actually get something out of it.

Children and Milk

When you have a child, you think back on how things might, or might not be, different.  And when it comes to giving your child milk, it’s something that is both the same and different.  How can that be?

How is it the same?  Things haven’t changed in the years since you were a child in that children under the age of one year should not be given cow’s milk, or soy milk for that matter.  Babies, those under one year of age, require the nutrients that are found in breast milk or formula, if the child isn’t nursing.  Not only that, but the child’s stomach and intestines aren’t sufficiently developed to handle the digestion of these products and it can lead to significant distress for the infant.  The rule of thumb is that a child should be able to drink and digest regular milk after reaching the first birthday.  Remember  however, that you have to still take care and monitor how your child does with the new food to assure that there’s no allergy.

And how is it different?  First, there are now alternatives to regular cow’s milk, specifically soymilk and almond milk.  Neither soy nor almond milks have lactose, which is a sugar in cow’s milk that can cause real intestinal distress for a child, let alone an adult.  Each of these alternatives has its own nutritional profile and some might decide that it’s better than cow’s milk.  The flip side is that soy and almond milks don’t have the calcium content of regular milk and calcium is important for a growing child.

If you do decide to feed your child regular milk, the second difference is the question of whole milk versus lowfat or skim milk.  Most are unaware that toddlers do need the extra fat content of whole milk until two or three years of age in order to assist with additional development of the body and brain; this need diminishes after that time and it can be replaced with a lower fat content milk.  The reality is that many children receive a high fat diet and the whole milk fat content then only adds calories from fat with no added benefit to the older toddler.

If you take anything away from this, it’s the simple notion that your infant doesn’t get regular milk.  Because it’s a mistake that you don’t want to make.