Every parent has a few tricks up their sleeve — something they’ve picked from a friend or family member or just acquired because of some in-the-moment cleverness. Wherever it comes from, its kept around because it helps them be a better parent. Maybe it’s a simple trick that helps make clean up easier. Or perhaps it’s one that helps them understand their toddler better. Chances are, every mom or dad has their go-to parenting trick.
With that in mind, we recently asked a variety of dads “What’s the parenting trick that helps you be a better dad?” The answers we received ranged from communication tactics and mindset-shifts to simple cleaning tricks and toy hacks. Will all of them be useful for you? Maybe not. But chances are you can glean something from this list that will help.
1. I turn my head to listen.
“I followed the simple advice of Mr. Rogers, who said, ‘The most important thing you can do for your child is to listen to them.’ When they spoke, I’d turn down the radio or TV and swing my head around to them until they had said what they wanted to say, then question or comment to keep the conversation going. I’ve no doubt this was a boost for their abilities in learning to talk, and building self esteem. I did this literally from day one. They have opinions and observations, and there’s always something important for children to say — even if they can’t speak. It got quieter during adolescence but they never wondered if anyone was listening.” – Dave, 70, Texas
2. I let my toddler pick the produce.
“When we go grocery shopping, I always buy fruits and veggies. But, instead of me picking everything, I let my 3-year-old toddler choose what vegetables and fruits to buy. He loves doing it. But, more importantly, I’ve found it to be a great way for him to exercise independence, develop his vocabulary and speaking abilities, and eat healthy. He gets so excited when we sit down to eat the fruits and veggies that he, himself, picked out at the store.” – Srikanth, 34, Tennessee
3. I play to their level.
“I have been an athlete and coach my entire life. In sports there is a phrase, playing to the level of your competition. In essence, if you are playing a lesser opponent there is a tendency for the better team to relax and not play as well as they can. After my third child turned one, I realized because I loved my kids so much I was doing things for them, that they were more than capable of doing for themselves. Basically, I was setting the bar too low for them and holding them back from reaching their full potential. Now I focus on finding ways to get all my children involved with the everyday tasks around the house. As a result, we are tighter as a family unit. For instance, dinner time used to be a little chaotic. Now, because everyone has a role to play there is buy-in and the children take pride in putting the cups or plates on the table so everyone can eat. It was an extremely small shift that has had a tremendous positive impact on overall household morale.” – Max, 33, Ohio
4. I use toy jail
“A friend of mine introduced me to the concept of toy jail. Basically, when my kids haven’t done their chores — specifically cleaning up after playtime — I collect their toys and put them in a plastic bin labelled ‘Toy Jail’. It took a little while for it to sink in but they know now that if they don’t put away their toys, those toys go to toy jail and the only way they can get them out is to do a different chore. It’s made them be more conscious of cleaning up and also more willing to be “helpers”. – Julian, 38, Detroit
5. I squeeze into their shoes
“It can be tough trying to reign in a boisterous toddler, especially when you’re trying to figure out why they’re doing whatever destructive, naughty thing that they’re doing. A while ago someone recommended that I try to ‘think like a toddler’, taking into account how big, mysterious, and scary the world can seem for someone who gets told what to eat, what to wear, and where to play. When you put yourself in your kid’s shoes, it can become glaringly obvious that —more times than not — guidance should come from a place of understanding and kindness, rather than a place of frustration or anger. When you consider that your kid is just trying to cope with an influx of information, experiences, emotions, and rules every waking moment of their day and ask yourself how you’d handle it, suddenly tantrums make a whole lot of sense.” – Lance, 31
6. I ask calibrated questions.
“I’m a dad of two boys, ages 8 and 12. Like all kids, sometimes they’ll argue about who got a bigger scoop of ice cream, whether the Nerf gun shot was deliberate or a misfire, and what we should eat for dinner on Saturday night. It used to be that the arguing could go on for what felt like hours, until I discovered a weird trick from the world of hostage negotiation. Now when they go off on each other, I deploy a tool that FBI hostage negotiators call ‘Calibrated Question.’ I ask my kids, “How is the way you’re handling this conflict helping you both get what you want?” It’s like a fire extinguisher for arguments, and I don’t have to be the bad guy or raise my voice to open the discussion and get things settled.” Jesse, 42, Sweden
7. I give them tough jobs.
“Many parents only allow their kids to do light tasks, or no tasks at all. Not in my case. As early as possible, I taught them how to do difficult tasks by assisting them until I could fully trust them, and then letting them try on their own. Giving them such tasks made them more responsible and accountable, while helping them feel acknowledged, helpful, and valued as people. In addition to helping me as a father, I believe I’m molding them to be great kids in the long run, too.” – Robert, Connecticut
8. I hide the majority of their toys
Not in a mean way. My kids just have so many toys from friends and family that it doesn’t make any sense to have them all away. I also read that developmentally, having an abundance of toys isn’t all that great for kids as it limits their creative play. So, when they receive toys for their birthday or a holiday, I’ll take away a few of their regular toys to keep the number of things they play with around five. If we take a road trip or a flight, I’ll surprise them with a toy they haven’t seen in a while because it’ll occupy them for longer anyway. Every month or so, I will switch out a toy that they’ve been ignoring for another one they haven’t seen in a while. Usually, they’re excited about the ‘new’ toy. – Isaac, 43, New York
9. I always have a lint roller handy
Ever have to deal with the hell that is a bunch of glitter or confetti or small pieces of paper from craft projects on your floors? If you’re a parent you have and you know it sucks. I’m pretty sure one reason my old vacuum crapped out was because it was clogged with glitter. A friend recommended I keep lint rollers around and, while it’s a small thing, it makes cleaning up after crafts so much easier. I’ll lint roll my kids, my floors — everything. It’s great. – Peter, 37, Philadelphia