A short course in parenting – Ten things every parent should know!

Steven, the father of a two year old son, asked me: What do I need to know to be a great parent?

It is impossible to learn much about being a parent without having kids. That’s why you so often hear “great lessons” in parenting from childless people. You know the “If that were my kid I would do ….” kind of advice. Another friend told me he was an excellent parent until he had kids. I’m reminded of what William Osler, the father of modern medicine, said about seeing patients. “To see a patient (To have a child) without reading the books is to sail an uncharted sea, but to read the book without seeing a patient (having a child) is not to go to sea at all.”

With that in mind I sent the following tips for new dads to Steven:tips for new dads

You are right, Steven, to try to learn as much as you can about parenting. As a pediatrician for 40 years and father of 4 kids and grandfather to 12 more, I have a few things that might help you.

1) Be the person you want your son to become, because, like it or not, he will become you!

2) Sit down at a table with your wife and whoever else is in your family and have dinner, breakfast, or lunch with him at least 5 times a week (15-20 is even better), starting as soon as he can sit in a high chair, or, for you Steven, about 2 years ago.

3) Read to him at least 20 minutes 2 times a day. More is better.

4) Put him to bed at the same time every night.

5) Don’t let him watch TV or other screens more than an hour a day, (The AAP says two hours, but I think that’s too much), and NEVER put a TV or computer in his bedroom not even when he’s 15!

6) Don’t worry if he doesn’t like to eat something. Or if he seems not to eat anything. From age 2 he should eat only at meal time. If for some reason a meal is delayed by more than 2 hours, give him a fresh fruit snack. When mealtime comes put the food you and his mom are eating on his plate and say no more. Toddlers and little kids do not eat much, so if he doesn’t eat what’s on his plate don’t comment, nag, beg or in any way pay attention to it. He will eat more at the next meal.

7) If he is not toilet trained you need to get on that. Dads, not moms, should train boys. You both have the same plumbing, stand and show him how to use it. Get him a little stool to stand on and he’ll catch on in a day or two.

8) Tell him what you want him to do or not to do. But tell him only once. Do not count to 3, 10, 100, or 7,000. If he does not act after telling him one time he must face the consequences. Rare is the child who needs spanking. Kids who do, usually have parents who are inadequate. There are many other consequences to misbehavior. Be inventive. When he is older, second grade and up, ask him what he thinks would be appropriate. Don’t be surprised if he is stricter than you might have been!

9) Tell him often how much he pleases you and how much you love him. Demonstrate that love by being a parent — adviser, teacher, confidant, good role model, but not a friend. He needs friends his age, and so do you!

10) Get involved in an organized religion and attend services regularly.

I haven’t seen Steven in many years, but the last time I talked to him he, his wife, and three kids were doing fine.

Parenting is simple until we start to think too much about it and make it difficult. Enjoy the new year, your kids and your life.