Unlike, say, a lawnmower, kids don't come with a manual. You learn on the job. On the meantime, use this cheatsheet... and pray.
1. You have to like charades
Children are sponges. They pick up language without even trying. But when you really need them to use it, they won’t. Where does it hurt? What are you angry about? They can answer you, but why would they when they can also use a pleghmy, guttural, non-verbal, annoyingly repetitive whining? Translate that, dad.
2. Nits are bastards
Nits will be doing blow with cockroaches and herpes after the coming nuclear winter. And once they establish a beachhead in your kid’s hair, it’s war. To stop the incessant itching (oh, the itching), you will drop an obscene amount of money on Nit Out™ and a bunch of other targeted products that are useless against the sticky little effers. Best bet? Tea Tree hair conditioner and a nit brush, combed through repeatedly over three or four nights with warm water in the bath. Good luck, solider. Hope you make it back.
3. Embrace teetotalism
Discover this one on your own. There is nothing worse in this world than parenting with a hangover. NOTHING. Your half-a-bottle-of-red after dinner days are over, sport.
4. Beware of tooth fairy inflation
Twenty cents for a lost tooth when we were nippers. Today, entrepreneurial kids must be tempted to knock their own infant teeth out given some parents hand out 10s and 20s. Insanity. Five buck limit, please.
5. Hand sanitiser works
A children’s playground in the middle of winter. Twenty little terrors running around, their cute little red-tipped noses absolute factories of thick, runny snot, which they proceed to rub all over the equipment. Here comes your little one! Ready to swing his or her way into an horrific cold, or worse, which will eventually infect your entire household and extended family. This is when you understand why there is such a thing as hand sanitiser.
6. Pull-ups are not keep-outs
The evolution from nappies at night to nappy-free “big kid” is different for every child but usually involves a transition period where ‘pull-ups’ are worn. Thinner and more undie-like, pull-ups are not engineered with the same impenetrability as nappies. How do I know this? You never EVER forget cleaning a child’s bedding of runny brown liquid at 3am in the morning.
7. Expand your vocab
Eventually even you’ll tire of hearing yourself say “No!” and “Don’t!” A father needs new ways to prevent disaster. Try, “Are you sure about doing [insert dangerous thing here]?” No dice? Guess you’re back to “No!” and “Don’t!” then.
8. The blood bin
Kids are a Keystone Cops movie brought to life, tripping over, running into stuff and each other. The bad bit: waiting hours in the emergency room for a grumpy triage nurse while holding a compress to your crying child’s head. The good bit? Injured freaks you can people-watch. Yeah, on second thoughts, there are no good bits.
9. Device advice
While we’re busy worrying about the amount of screen time kids have these days, we’re ignoring our own addiction to devices and its effect on our engagement with our children. Distraction by app increasingly means that while we may be ‘present’ with the kids, it’s low quality time. Tech expert Linda Stone coined it “continuous partial attention” and what’s more, kids know it.
10. Bully and bullied
The playground can be brutal. It’s horrible if your child is on the receiving end, but it’s arguably just as bad if they are the bully. Key things to keep in mind: stay calm. Most bullies act out of insecurity or frustration. Develop a coordinated approach between home and school which makes it clear the behaviour is not okay but incorporates empathy – would you like it if someone did that to you?
11. The toy aisle is a trap
The mission is bread, milk, fruit and meat. Ten-minute whirl through the aisles, tops. The day is already behind schedule. But dammit, supermarkets now have toy aisles and if you mistakenly steer your trolley down one, that hit-and-run shopping trip is toast. Then there’s a fight. Then there are tears, embarrassment, possibly child services.
12. Try not to be a dictator
Many men were brought up with fathers who ruled with an iron fist in “my home is my castle” fashion. Those dads are not fondly remembered. And while the last thing you want to be is a pushover, being a tyrant who consistently restricts, forbids and denies is evidence of a lack of imagination and most probably, self-control. Research alternative strategies, Adolf.
13. Hidden veggies are found veggies
Sure, you can try to ‘hide’ veggies in a child’s dinner. Except that children are Sherlock Holmes when it comes to veggies and will find them, then imperiously ignore them. My advice: do your best and never stop trying. If you're worried about your kid getting the nutrients they need, you can always look at supplementing their diet with Blackmores Toddler Milk Drink. It's chock full of essential vitamins and minerals to support your growing (and fussy) toddler.
14. Meet the red-eyed monster
To show them anger and yelling don’t work, anger and yelling won’t work. Stay calm, stay in control (of yourself), and discover by trial and error the best techniques for dealing with the epic hissy fit. Distraction, ignoring, time out . . . it might be a combination of all and more that helps you overcome this most challenging part of being a dad.
15. Bill Slater was right
Last year toymaker Mattel got the Melbourne Storm champion to play Barbies with his daughter for an ad campaign. Sure, the exercise was to flog more dolls but the message Slater also promoted is crucial: free-form play has been found to build cognitive reasoning, resilience and emotional regulation in children. A dad kicking the footy with his son or daughter isn’t too much of a stretch for him... a dad dressed in a bonnet, having a tea party is harder (for him) but no less vital.
16 You should be across epigenetics
This is the burgeoning, and frankly, fascinating field of research into the way DNA is altered by lifestyle choices, the environment and other factors. There’s increasing evidence a man’s lifestyle decisions before conception impact his kids, from drinking increasing the likelihood of sons who abuse alcohol, to stress predisposing the baby to high blood sugar. Bottom line: it’s not just women who need to get their pre-pregnancy health and fitness in order.
17. Some medicine goes up the poop chute
Mothers once mixed powdered aspirin with honey on a spoon to get it into kids when they were sick. These days kids’ medicine is raspberry and orange flavoured… but still the stubborn little buggers won’t take it. Panadol suppositories are a last resort; a saviour, in fact. You’ll need good aim, but sometimes it’s the only way. Warning: your kid will hate you afterwards.
18. You teach when you’re not teaching
“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us,” wrote the great Italian novelist and philosopher Umberto Eco. Alpha males tend to want to direct, to teach, to instruct, and that instinct is on steroids with your own offspring. But often what a child observes, as you go about doing anything from hammering a nail to reading a book or speaking with a friend, is just as important.
19. Get your head right
Postnatal depression is well documented in women but research has also found many men experience depression within the first five years of the arrival of their child. This is the crucial period when attachments are forged. A depressed father can impact his child’s development including their behaviour, language and reading, and lead to depression in the child as well.
20. Don’t attempt perfection
“The guys who fear becoming fathers don’t understand that fathering is not something perfect men do, but something that perfects the man,” wrote American psychiatrist Frank Pittman. “The end product of child raising is not the child but the parent.”
Always read the label. Follow the directions for use.