Chances are that if you’re out there looking for advice on how to be a better dad, you’re already a pretty darn good one.
That said, we can all use a little pick-me-up sometimes, and a different perspective on parenting can be priceless when we’re lost for where to go next.
If you’re a dad looking for some advice on connecting to or parenting your kids, here are 12 things we think are spot-on.
12. The little things make kids so happy.
“And make sure they hear about it.
It’s nice to hear something directly from mom or dad, but it made my day as a kid to hear my mom or dad’s friends say they’d heard about something awesome I’d done. My dad told me recently that he used to do it deliberately. He’d tell my aunts and uncles that I got a good grade, or hit a home run, and sort of nudge them to mention it to me. When they did, I was always like, ‘How’d you hear that?!’
They’d say my dad told them, and tell me how big he smiled.”
—Cameron, 33, Pennsylvania
11. Sharing is nice, but it’s also okay to think of yourself sometimes.
“I learned to share, but I also learned not to share.
When I was about 7 or 8, my dad told me that it was nice to share my toys, but it wasn’t necessary. That it would make other people happy, but that it was okay to protect my things. I try to preach that to my kids, too. They’re so naturally generous that I want to make sure they know that it’s okay to keep things for themselves. Especially things they’ve worked for, or earned.
It didn’t make me selfish, just better at creating healthy boundaries.”
—Stephen, 37, Washington, D.C.
10. Teaching respect is hard, but necessary.
“My grandfather never, ever let us disrespect him. Even if we were just playing around.
When I asked him why, he asked me if I loved him. I told him I did, very much. He said, ‘If you disrespect someone you love, what will keep you from doing it to anyone else?’ He was a Marine, so he commanded respect.
And he knew how important it was to being a good person.”
—Jim, 42, New York
9. They’ll do as you do, so do it right.
“As a kid, emotions are scary because they’re so unfamiliar. You know the basics — happy, sad, scared, etc.
But, when you start having more complex emotions, you really struggle to identify them. Being a parent, if you can use words like ‘confused’, ‘aggravated’, and ‘overwhelmed’ in front of your kids to describe your emotions, they’ll become better at doing it themselves. I’m a parent, but I’m also a teacher, so I credit one of my college professors with that nugget.
It’s absolutely true.”
—Ian, 34, Arizona
8. Teach them how to listen, not how to wait to talk.
“I learned this from a movie, actually.
It basically means that the best way to make yourself interesting is to become interested in someone else. Listen to their story. Ask questions. Make them feel important. The best thing I’ve done as a parent is to become actively interested in my kids’ lives. And it’s genuine, too. I want to know what they like, what they don’t like, what they think is funny, what stresses them out…everything. The movie was Loser with that kid from American Pie.
Easily the most random pearl of wisdom I’ve ever collected.”
—Chris, 37, Ohio
7. Remember that they’ve never done anything in this world like clean a room before now!
“Don’t just say, ‘Your room is messy!’ You have to be specific.
Tell your kids about the dirty clothes on the floor, the empty water bottles all over, and the unmade bed. Messy is such a subjective word. What’s messy to you might not be messy to your kids, your spouse, or anyone else. So you have to articulate exactly what is unacceptable, and why. When I was a kid, I didn’t mind doing chores because my mom was so specific. I always knew exactly what had to be done.
She said doing it that way helped keep her sane, too.”
—Adam, 36, New York
6. Never miss a chance.
“Just don’t waste a single chance to tell your kids they love you. Even if it embarrasses them.
And even if it’s a thousand times a day. It’s terrifying and morbid to say, but you never know if you might be speaking to someone for the last time. You just never know. So, no matter what, no matter if we’re or angry, or exhausted from laughing, we always end every conversation with ‘I love you’.
It’s a tradition my mother and father taught me when I was a kid, and it’s a good one.”
—Hayden, 36, Toronto
5. Disagree later, in private.
My mother used to get so upset when she would be disciplining us and my dad would walk in and interrupt.
She taught me that parents have to be a united front. If you don’t agree with something your spouse is saying, that’s okay. But deal with it after he or she has set the rules with the kids. Of course, this doesn’t apply to anything harmful or dangerous toward your child. But a new parenting style, or discipline policy can be discussed in private. My parents told me that they made a point to never let us see them argue. Instead, they’d tell us they had an argument, and then explain how they worked it out.
It impressed the importance of communication on me at an early age.”
—Charles, 35, California
4. Natural consequences are your friend.
“It’s like the difference between telling your kids not to put their hands on a hot stove, and them learning how much it hurts by actually doing it.
My sister is a teacher — and a mother — and she told me this when my son started getting a little older. ‘Natural consequences’ are like breaking your hand if you punch a wall, or burning your mouth if you eat pizza right out of the oven. Obviously, you don’t encourage your kids to do stuff like that just for the sake of learning what hot pizza feels like.
It’s more of a ‘What did you think was going to happen?’ teachable moment.”
—James, 37, New York
3. Pick your battles is a classic for a reason.
“This is another way of saying ‘pick your battles’. You just have to.
My wife taught me this one. It’s sort of her mantra, even beyond raising kids. You’re going to have stress in life. That’s obvious. Some stress is primary — your kid gets sick, you lose your job, and stuff like that. But other stress is usually secondary, and you don’t need to deal with it right away. Sometimes not at all.
If you can choose which situations you actually allow to stress you, you can do a much better job managing being a parent.”
—Joel, 30, North Carolina
2. Remember that you’re on the same team.
“If you punish a child without teaching them a real lesson, you’ve done nothing to help them grow.
A friend of mine told me that when I became a dad. He had a son who was about 10, and he expressed the importance of making discipline and punishment into two separate things. Discipline is the act of exploring what someone did wrong, and punishment is the consequence for that action.
You can’t just ground a kid and expect him or her to grow.”
—Chuck, 29, California
1. A happy marriage makes your kids feel safe and secure.
“My mom and dad were very affectionate. And I remember it fondly.
I remember my dad sneaking kisses here and there, and my mom hugging my dad whenever she got the chance. Even when they weren’t at their best, it was clear that they were so in love. And that always made me feel safe as a kid. Like things would always be okay, thanks to the power of love. I brought it up once, and my dad almost didn’t even realize he did it. He just said, ‘I love your mother so much.
I’m not embarrassed to show it.’”
—Marcus, 36, Texas
Parenting is so hard; it’s nice to know that we’re not alone in our thoughts and struggles!
What’s the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you about fatherhood, or parenting in general? Please share it with us in the comments!