This past year I had the opportunity to be a stay at home dad with my daughter. When I began, I had no clue what I was doing and found it challenging to find clear, specific tips for dads. Now that I'm back to work, I decided to write a few.
If you think about your standard list of romantic gestures, then dinner, flowers and chocolates may come to mind. When you’re living in a time in which you can’t go to dinner, you’re weary of the person delivering flowers and you feel like have to go to “battle” each time you walk into a store equipped with a mask and gloves, it’s certainly not easy. Last Saturday I waited until the baby was napping and took the time to set up my DJ equipment. I had been secretly pulling out the speakers and equipment out of storage without my wife’s knowledge. I waited for a time in which my wife was working in a separate room, put everything out and got ready to play. When my wife saw the set up and was completely surprised. Later on, I was able to a spin a DJ set with some of our favorite songs. Obviously, since we are parents, I couldn’t play as long as I used to, but it was fun to play a bunch of songs from when we met and think back to some sense of normalcy.
If you are Dad…
Think of all of your innate talents, skills and abilities. Are you creative or good at building things? Maybe you have a lot of tools or you are a writer. Maybe you make a really good dessert of dish. Think of what you are good at and try to plan some sort of surprise during this challenging time. Take your time with it and maybe order or safely pick up supplies if you can (mask, gloves, curbside pick up is recommended).
YES, your partner is going to ask what you’re working on, or what package you just received and you may have to state that it’s a personal project, or for work… (you can apologize for the white lie). But if you pull ofd a surprise at a time in which there’s not really anywhere to go, and you are spending more time with your partner than ever, it will go a long way.
When I was a stay at home dad, I made a rule that every day we would have at least one uninterrupted hour of playtime with books, toys and no screens. During this time, we made games out of boxes, paper towel rolls, and random household items. One day I discovered how much my daughter loved to talk into the open end of a solo cup and hear the vibration of her voice echoed back to her. That birthed a modified “cup stacking” game, in which I would see how high of a tower I could build using stuffed animals, toys and any random objects I could find. Some days my daughter would smile and point at the structures and other days, she would try to knock the towers over just as fast as I built them. Eventually she even tried to stack the cups herself. The point is, I didn’t know how much fun I could have trying to build small towers out of completely random objects. Making up games allowed playtime to be something I looked forward to, even when I was tired and she was cranky.
Seven tips for making playtime fun:
1 – Give the stuffed animals the most ridiculous voices you can think of – It really brings me joy to make a stuffed animal talk like Morgan Freeman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or a terrible Barbara Streisand impression. Make up your own voices and have some silly fun. 2 – Provide commentary like a broadcast sports announcer – While this sounds strange, I challenge you to try this. Take a ball, or create an obstacle course with soft stuffed animals and then comment on your child’s actions as if they’re in the middle of a championship game. Your child will have a unique reaction and it can be fun for you to provide a play-by play analysis of something as mundane as tummy time. 3 – Tell them inside jokes and stories – If you read the data, you’ll know that the more words your child hears by the age of 3, the better they will do in school. Theoretically, it makes sense to talk to them as much as you can, but it can be difficult to just “talk” to a person who can’t hold a conversation. Try telling them about your favorite book, movie, most interesting childhood story, or go into a deep dive about your obscure hobby or the things you are a fan of. You don’t always have to spend your time with the child doing “baby talk”. 4. Get a ball pit and teach yourself to juggle – We all know that space can be limited, but you can turn almost anything (including wicker baskets, or pack and plays) into a ball pit (make sure they are BPA free). Your kid will enjoy the home made ball pit and while you’re watching them play, teach yourself to juggle. Your child will be interested in the movement and it will be something that you’ll either get really good at or have fun trying. Just make sure your child is safely playing and you aren’t completely distracted by the juggling… keep your eyes on the kid 🙂 5. Get a Kazoo, Harmonica, or obscure instrument and try to get good at it – Don’t go out and buy a Stradivarius (yes I googled expensive violins to complete that reference), because your child will use and eventually break whatever instrument you have for playtime. However, if you get a cheap kazoo or harmonica, your child will perk up with interest when you’re playing it and with practice, you might actually get good. It allows you to provide your own custom “soundtrack” to their playtime and it gives you something interesting to do while watching your child. 6. Purchase wireless headphones and listen to music, a podcast, or an audio book during playtime – When I first started staying at home alone with my daughter, I would listen to wired headphones, which she would reach for and pull. Swapping to wireless headphones allowed me to listen to music, podcasts and audio books while holding her and playing with toys. I really recommend that you find a podcast that you can listen to straight through or set up a playlist so you aren’t constantly distracted and checking your phone. I also can’t stress this enough, try your best to talk to your child as much as possible. Even if you are listening to your favorite song, consider singing to your child. If you are learning something new from a podcast, try to summarize it in simple terms for your baby. Even if they can’t truly understand, they still learn from tone, body language and voice. Every word you share has value. 7. Make up your own game – A few months ago, my friend Adam told me that “playtime is the business of children.” By playing, they are learning about the world and creating new connections in their brain. When your child sees that you are having fun interacting with the world, it makes them smarter and more creative. When you’re a new dad, you have a great excuse to be silly, so go out there and make up your own game.
While cargo shorts are certainly not “high fashion”, they allow new dads to hold baby related items in the side pockets when your hands are full. While it’s essential to have a fully stocked diaper bag, sometimes it’s faster to hold a small burp cloth or tissues in your side pocket to deal with spills or runny noses. Just make sure to empty your pockets before you throw the shorts in the wash.
The mom blogs talk about getting scratched and clawed by your baby during feeding. However, if you’re a dad, you may not actually think about the number of times that your baby will scratch your face and neck when you’re holding them.
You have spent your life hearing things like “take it like a man”, or getting bumped and bruised and letting it heal on its own. Well if I could go back to myself as a new dad and make sure I put skin care treatment, or topical ointment on those cuts, I would do it immediately. No matter how often you clip your babies nails, she can still find a way to scratch you. I was scratched by my daughter hundreds and hundreds of times (I used to wear a lot of V-Neck T-shirts while holding her, which was not only a fashion mistake, but a physical mistake that led to several scratches on my neck.) While those cuts healed, you can see the remnants of those marks on my skin because I did not address it and it truly annoys me.
As soon as I addressed the newer cuts with a mix of Neosporin and vitamin E cream, the marks did not stay and my skin healed properly. However, the older cuts have led to a minor discoloration on one spot on my neck, which is not very noticeable, but to be perfectly honest, it’s very annoying to me. This blog is not only about strategies that were successful, but also strategies that came from my mistakes. Take the few seconds to address the multitude of cuts you are likely to get while holding your child and you’ll be golden.
1. Feed the baby during take-off- Not when you first get into your seat, not during taxiing, or when you’re “about to take off”, but when your plane is wheels up. It can be a challenge to push your child’s normal feeding time (within reason,) and they may be cranky or fussy during the change to their routine, but it is often essential that you make them wait on the bottle until take off. One of the main reason babies cry on a flight is the air pressure that causes their ears to hurt. Solution: Ways to reduce pressure include pacifiers and bottles during take-off and landing when the pressure changes are most significant. The sucking motion helps them be calm and it can naturally relieve the pressure in their ears.
2. Try to pick a flight that goes with their sleep or nap time- If you can time it right, your baby will spend a valuable portion of the flight sleeping.
3. Keep them awake in the terminal- If you catch your child nodding off 30 minutes before you board, sing a song, play peek a boo, and pick them up. Traveling with a baby is exhausting, but don’t allow your child to “waste” that precious nap on the ground.
4. Always check your luggage in baggage claim- If you are a travel pro who packs efficiently in a perfectly sized carry-on, remember that traveling with a new human being is a different experience. When you are traveling with the baby, sometimes there is nothing more valuable than a free hand. You normally carry on to “save time”, but you will almost certainly move slow and be delayed as you wait for the stroller to come out of the gate check and find a family restroom to change diapers. By the time you get to the baggage claim, your luggage will likely be ready to come out.
5. Plan for extra time at security- this should go without saying, but you will need extra time for security to screen your food, bottles, stroller and miscellaneous items.
6. Buy a cover for the outside of your stroller- Use a stroller cover to protect from dirt, debris, and the elements. All it took was one rain storm for us to stop us from leaving our gate-checked stroller uncovered.
7. Never check your child’s food/snacks- My wife and I completed our first leg of our flight but were faced with a six-hour weather delay at Newark. We found that Amtrak was still running and would get us home sooner. We negotiated a travel reimbursement that would pay for the cost of our train tickets but found out we would not get our luggage until the next day. The baby formula was in our luggage and we had just enough to get by, but we cut is close and won’t make that mistake again.
8. Use early boarding – My wife and I were so accustomed to our travel routine that we literally forgot that there is early boarding for family traveling with infants. Fun fact: Orlando airport rarely or never allows early boarding for families with children, because of the large number of families.
9. Wipe down the seats and tray tables with baby wipes- Planes move from passenger to passenger and while trash is picked up, the seats are rarely wiped down in between departures. During the flight, your baby’s hands will touch everything so use the baby wipes for a clean area.
10. When the flight lands, double-check the seat pocket and search under the seat- It’s easy to forget, but this tip has saved me from leaving books, toys and other needed materials during the flight.
When people see a baby in the seat next to them, many assume the worst. However, there is no greater feeling than stepping off the plane and hearing the following: “Wow… the baby was really good,” or “I didn’t even realize there was a baby on the plane.” Please use these tips to make the most of your travel experience. Good luck!
During the first year of fatherhood, set up a plan on how you and your partner deal with last-minute can’t miss events that crop up in life or at work. For example, what plan do you have in place if an important client comes into town, and insists on taking the team out to happy hour? Let your partner know as soon as possible, that you might be home late and that they may have to make alternate dinner arrangements. Remember that this can also be for your benefit as you may have to stay at home with the baby while your partner also has a work conflict. It’s always better to add these events proactively, or view the calendar to see what is truly a “can’t-miss” when compared with your family responsibilities. Fights and arguments often arise from conflicting work schedules, but the key to working as a team is to communicate plans so that all parties can adjust accordingly. For those reading, please share your communication strategies and let us know how you plan for last minute change.
Clipping your child’s fast growing and surprisingly sharp nails can be quite a task. Babies often flail their arms and do not sit still long enough for you to do the precise work of clipping 10 fingers and 10 toes as carefully as you can, The traditional advice is to clip your baby’s nails while they are sleeping, but if you are exhausted and the baby falls asleep in your arms, you might not want to risk getting up to search for the nail clipper, which is almost always in the least convenient location. It’s much easier to have a handful of nail clippers around the house for quick access in those moments in which your baby is in a calm state.
Your kids respond to music and sounds and get distracted just like we do. Saying “stop” or “no” is not as effective if you have the TV in the background, nursery rhymes playing off a device, or your child is holding a stuffed animal that talks or makes noise. When your child starts moving independently and you’re trying to shape behavior and teach lessons, try turning the TV or music off before you do. A stern voice in silence beats yelling in noise.
Do you say the word “no” and then pick up your child, give them their favorite toy to distract them? Do you say “no” and then move them to their play area? You might not realize that you are unintentionally giving them rewards and attention for their problem behavior. When they are exhibiting bad habits, try picking them up and taking them to an area with no toys using slow, deliberate steps (so it doesn’t seem like a “fun” game,) or try saying “no” and then sitting with them for a few seconds in silence.
Think about this…
If your child grabs an object, such as your phone and screams when you take it away and your next step is to immediately give it back… what is that telling the child? That is telling them that SCREAM-ING will ensure they get what they want. Praise them for exhibiting positive behavior with words like “You let daddy change you so fast!” Or “You turned the page on the book!” Make sure to smile so the baby can recognize your body language.
Teach your kids with movement. As you pick your child up, tell them “now we’re going up”, or “now we’re moving down.” Say things like “daddy’s closer – now he’s far away,” or “daddy’s here, now daddy’s there”, and make sure to mimic the actions with physical movement. The word “Up” was one of the first words my daughter ever said and I believe it was because she saw the physical action that corresponded with being lifted in the air while also hearing the word. Babies have a variety of ways to determine language and using different methods to demonstrate the meaning of words can help them get an early start on building their vocabulary.