Thursday, July 23, 2009

This One's for Brit

Recently, Brit said some very nice things about my children.

Naturally, that makes me an expert in parenting.

Real soon now, Brit and his SWIPIAW are going to become parents.

This confluence of events makes now the perfect time for completely unsolicited advice. After all, if you can't trust a male blogger for insight into the parenting arts, who can you trust?

So, in no particular order, here are my parenting tips:
  • Read Dogs for Dummies. Okay, probably not the leash training chapter, and certainly not the housebreaking bits. However, what works with a dog also works with kids from about 9 months through 5 years: reward behavior you want to see more of. Punishment has its place, but positive reinforcement works better at eliciting correct behavior than negative reinforcement does in discouraging bad behavior. Most importantly, though, is the underlying theme of the book: making continuously clear who is in charge.

  • Dads are not Moms. I know this is heresy (I think the NOW thought police with their pastel truncheons have already arrived on my doorstep), but: There are certain things moms just cannot do. For example, our daughter used to be a very, very picky eater. Finally, in response to a food fit, I said "Fine. Starve. Your choice." Moms cannot, will not, pull this sort of thing off -- something about the nurturing instinct. Sometimes, though, it just needs doing.

  • Use The Voice Brit, Use the Voice. When I wanted to kids to either start, or stop, doing something, I'd ask politely and quietly once, twice, often three times, very occasionally five. Somewhere between two and five, though, I would instantly switch to the room filling Wrath From on High Voice. Startled the heck right out of them. Moms cannot do this without sounding shrieky: it just doesn't work. See Dads are not Moms, above. I haven't had to use The Voice for a good half-dozen years.

  • Do as you say. Sounds glaringly obvious; too often honored in the breach. If you want your children to be polite to, say, food servers, you have to be unfailingly polite yourself.

  • Praise in public, discpline in private.

  • "Which part of NO are you unable to take on board?" Best. Parenting. Phrase. Ever.

  • Better to negotiate with terrorists than children.

  • Parents best be singing from the same sheet of child raising music. That stops the little terrorists from playing one parent off against the other.

  • Learn the Heimlich maneuver.

  • Until a child learns to swim, water any deeper than is required to dampen the soles of your feet is the enemy.

  • Get a puppy. Okay, not right away. This is best done at about age twelve. Your daughter(s) and/or son(s) will fall in love with it. Then toss in the sexual morality discussions. To a daughter: "You love this puppy, would you kill it?" Horrified look. "Well, what if you get pregnant?" To a son: "You love this puppy. Would you abandon it?" Horrified look. "Well, what if you get a girl pregnant?"

  • A son is to a paper airplane as a daughter is to the Space Shuttle.

FWIW, neither my wife or I have hit, or even threatened hitting, our kids.

Now it is time for the hive-mind to kick in.


Blogger Brit said...

"Learn the Heimlich manoeuvre" - heh heh, now there's a practical one.

Thanks Skipper, great stuff.

I'm practising The Voice, but you have a big advantage over me there in that you already sound like the guy who does the movie trailer voice-overs, whereas I have a weedy English chirp.

I suppose we dads take our cue from our own dads. Mine did manage to strike a good balance between being fun but also able to switch on the Fear of God when necessary. I'm hoping it will come naturally...

July 24, 2009 2:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kudos, Skipper, that is all very solid advice, although I'd love to hear Mrs. Skipper's take on your quixotic analogies to dogs. In fairness to Brit though, shouldn't you have warned him that when you say but positive reinforcement works better at eliciting correct behavior than negative reinforcement does in discouraging bad behavior, you have a rather long timeline in mind? Say about 21 years?

Also, Brit, you must ignore all modern parenting advice and never, never try to have a serious discussion about sex with your children. It will be torture for you and embarass them no end. The worst moment of your life will be when you are halfway through and you both realize wordlessly at the same instant that they know far more than you. Mrs Brit can tell a daughter all about how icky boys are and your son can learn it on the street like you did. Builds character.

July 24, 2009 4:36 AM  
Blogger Gaw said...

I suspect this sort of list continues to grow. Mine, for instance, gained a new entry yesterday.

My eldest son (3) got an oval bead stuck up one of his nostrils. It's shape and size meant it couldn't be tweezered out.

Solution? Stand above child. Close one nostril with a finger and then blow with sudden force into the mouth. Bead shot out. Of the nostril. (My concern was was that it might try to exit via an ear.)

July 24, 2009 4:47 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Learn the Heimlich manoeuvre.

I had to use it once. Good thing I retain what I read. That, and I had stayed at a Holiday Inn Express the night before.

I suppose we dads take our cue from our own dads.

I grew up without a dad, hence the reliance on a book about dogs.

Brit, you must ignore all modern parenting advice and never, never try to have a serious discussion about sex with your children. It will be torture for you and embarrass them no end.

That is my take. I don't discuss sex itself, but rather its potential consequences.

My wife is a nurse. Whenever they have had one of those Questions, she gives them the answer. No equivocation, no euphemisms.

My son, while interested in girls, isn't yet captivated. I tell him that he is living his last few months of freedom.

July 24, 2009 4:54 AM  
Blogger monix said...

Dads are not Moms but, reading this post and the comments, it looks like we sing from the same hymn sheet. A great lot of sound advice and wisdom there.

July 24, 2009 5:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gaw, that is what I call stepping up to the paternal plate. And those silly feminists say they don't need us anymore!!

July 24, 2009 6:26 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

My children have been stunningly easy so far so I haven't got any advice.

I can only hope that yours are as easy and enjoyable as mine.

July 24, 2009 7:28 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

When they get to age 11 or 12, read out loud to them one of Jan Harold Brunvand's books. Mine liked 'The Choking Doberman.'

July 24, 2009 1:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After Bret almost shut down this fun and promising thread with his Disney-like one-upmanship about "Look Ma, no hands" parenting success , I must say I've never been so grateful for Harry's completely inscrutable determination to keep it going.

July 24, 2009 4:16 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Brunvand wrote several books about urban legends.

I wanted them to grow up skeptical and not believe everything they heard.

It worked.

Over 40 years, I've written dozens of stories about 'if it's too good to be true, it probably isn't,' without making any discernible impact on the overall Gullibility Quotient. I thought I'd try another way with my kids.

I read 4 other books out loud to them, also: The Bible; Anabasis; George Abell and Barry Singer's 'Science and the Paranormal'; and Daniel Pinkwater's 'The Last Guru.'

Of course, we read lots of books for fun when they were young, but by the time they didn't want Daddy to read to them any more, I made sure they heard what was in these 5.

July 25, 2009 11:37 AM  
Blogger erp said...

I wanted them to grow up skeptical and not believe everything they heard.

Did it work?

July 25, 2009 12:42 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Yes. The least skeptical of the three is the one who managed go evade the full course.

July 26, 2009 11:39 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


I can only hope that yours are as easy and enjoyable as mine.

I have a couple Stepford kids.


There is one piece of advice I forgot to add: Don't go overboard on the extracurricular activities.

BTW, any more than one is overboard.

I hear plenty of people complaining about being busy to distraction carting their kids all over heck and gone. Sports, mostly. Apparently, it is some kind of honor being on a "traveling" team. I can't imagine why, because it sounds like spending most of life in minivan hell.

My daughter plays flute, my son is in Boy Scouts. Unless I am traveling (I'm gone 10-12 nights a month) we always eat dinner together.

Sometimes those dinners include some pretty free-wheeling discussions that the critters just won't get any other way.

Kind of like Harry's reading certain books.

Also, FWIW, except for the occasional wedding, my kids have never set foot in a church. Doesn't seem to have impaired their ability to treat others well, though.

July 27, 2009 8:16 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

I think traveling teams are fine for kids who are very in to a particular activity. Some kids achieve focus early in life, and some don't. For all the kids I have known who had focus, it was obviously so. Therefore, I would never suggest something like a traveling team to my own children -- if they're sufficiently interested to make it worth while, they'll be sufficiently interested to ask me about it.

July 27, 2009 12:37 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

My kids also got no religious education, and their only exposure was to the AOG (Assembly of God, not
Angry Old Guy) pests in the high school drama group.

That's why 'The Last Guru' was on my reading list. My wife was worried that, not having experience of preachers, they would be bamboozled by some smooth cultist. Pinkwater's book is about exactly that, in a low-key way. (He is, by the way, perhaps the greatest living American novelist, but because he writes for children, nobody realizes it.)

When it came to activities, my younger kids were completely, 24/7 involved in theatricals, so the notion of a second activity never arose.

July 27, 2009 12:48 PM  
Blogger Gaw said...

Peter, now you mention it, the women present did have an unusual look in their eyes. Perhaps they were picturing me with furs and club!

July 28, 2009 12:22 PM  

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