This series started out
as advice for my
friend Roger who was having a late-in-life first baby (i.e., he was
almost 40). My daughter Stella was born a couple months before
daughter, so I talk more about Stan throughout this. Stella
around when I composed the bulk of these pearls of wisdom.
I've added quite a bit to this after the first few bits I sent Roger
including some things I found in old emails such as discussing
behaviorism with Val.
I have most of this arranged in a very loose chronological order.
Hopefully it will help anyone who happens across this page.
Before the baby arrives
camera. Your phone is not a good camera. It's barely a
camera, actually. You need something fast. "Adorable" only
lasts for a few seconds, which means it's gone in the time it takes to
turn on your phone or cheap
camera. Get a proper SLR camera and learn to shoot faster than a
gunfighter. You also need to start getting good at
archiving. I have a whole system down for getting the files off
the camera, renaming them with the date and labeling each with the
kid's name (which is especially important with babies because you'll
never remember who's in the shot if you have two that look alike as
infants), then making sure they're all backed up (see here). I do the
religiously, and I don't do religion religiously. Your kids are
real though, and you care about them more than anyone else, so back up
of your baby
until you have the baby. It's fine to tell the gender when
you find out (though I would wait until the second ultrasound where
doubly confirmed, just to be sure), but announcing the name is giving
last detail short of baby pictures (and those are pretty terrible the
first few days anyway). Besides, you will have time to change
Stan wasn't named until 26 hours after he
was born, and we knew the gender for months before that. We had a
pretty good list of names, but "Stan" was only #3 on it. When he
was born, we looked at him and realized he didn't look like options #1
and #2 (don't ask me what those names even were; we have
forgotten). He looked like a Stan. The third time the poor
people at hospital records called up to our room asking if we had a
name, we were like, "Uh..." We settled on "Stan" and I called
them back a few minutes later before they went home for the day.
That's how I remember exactly how long it was until he got a name (He
was born at 2:32pm, and they called at 4:30pm the next day).
tell anyone when the baby is born for the first 24 hours.
You're going to be exhausted. I'm only the dad, and I was!
I had been up nearly the entire night (minus maybe a couple hours sleep
on a cold leather couch in the pre-delivery room). I hadn't eaten
anything besides breakfast since supper the night before. Stan
wasn't delivered until 2:32pm after a whole night of labor and
emergency C-section drama, and then there's all that rushing around
getting him cleaned up before you can settle into your room and get a
bite to eat. Dani hadn't had anything at all to eat since the
night before. We just wanted to chill and rest and be with the
I remember some years ago when Julia
Roberts had her first kid, she told the press the baby was due in, say,
April. Then she snuck off to the hospital and delivered her
full-term baby in March, which was when the baby was actually due in
the first place. The paparazzi were covering other celebs and had
their calendars marked for the wrong month. Julia and baby got
Stan came early, so we never told anyone
outside of immediate family that she was getting ready to
deliver. It wasn't until the next day (after we named our Stan)
that we finally sent out the standard birth announcement texts and all
that, and then there was a flood of people coming by to visit.
I've heard horror stories about friends being swamped with visiting
relatives who overstay their welcome when the new mom needs some
privacy to nurse the baby. Both the parents and the baby feel
overwhelmed. No one would put up with a procession of visitors if
they just passed a kidney stone, and we're talking about something a
lot bigger. So why not take a day to relax before
debuting the baby?
brand of baby bottles and stick with them. If you have
more than one brand in the house, you'll spend all your time trying to
assemble matching sets to make a bottle. This isn't fun when
there's the ever-present threat of a screaming, hungry baby at any
moment, and you'll need a bottle in a hurry. (I recommend
Avent. They have fewer parts than almost any other brand we
tried, and they work at least as well as the competition.)
Read... early and often.
There is volumous research extolling the benefits of reading to your
baby, even before birth. I don't know that we started quite that
early (maybe one or two books), but I certainly started buying books as
early as possible. Literally the first purchase I made for Stan
(before we even knew his gender) was a bunch of Dr. Seuss and other
books on eBay. You can pick up bulk lots like 70 books for
$200. If you get classic titles like "The Cat in the Hat" and
"Where the Wild Things Are," you'll more than get your money's worth
out of them by reading them over and over for the next several years
(and then again to the siblings that follow).
Don't buy any stuffed animals. You won't need to.
These things will materialize out of thin air. I've only bought
a very few (a couple puppets: Grover and a turtle, and then there was a
Picachu I won for Stan at Legoland),
yet we have perhaps a hundred or more around the house. Where did
they come from? I couldn't tell you.
0 to 6
Parenting instincts come factory-loaded but
don't come on-line until the baby is in your hands. Don't
worry about it. You will know what to do. The stupidest
people on Earth manage to keep their kids alive (unfortunately).
You can do at least that well on auto-pilot.
I never would have believed I had any
parenting instincts until Stan was born. I thought babies were
interesting, but purely on an intellectual level; I never wanted to
hold one. In fact, we did the math after Stan was born, and I
hadn't held a baby in four years before they handed him to me in the
hospital. My first thought when they said, "Take him over to mom
now" after they cleaned him up was, "Wait. I have to hold this
thing?" It was this realization that he was really mine now to
take care of and not just an abstract concept. Then I had to
figure out what to do with the cameras I was manning in the operating
room so I would have hands free to carry him!
Then I just immediately took to it.
I was changing diapers and feeding him, carrying him around, and it was
no big deal. It just came naturally. My dad tells a similar
story about how my mom was bathing me and then put me in a
diaper. He asked her, "How do you know how to do that?" She
said she was just doing what felt right. If you're an intuitive
type person (Look online to see what your MBTI is; I'm an ENTP), then
you go with your instincts. Pretty quick you'll be able to read
what a cry means or gauge how long until you can put her down for a
nap, and you won't even think about how you know that.
nursery: Don't worry too much about it. Everyone stresses
over putting together a nursery before the baby arrives, and you know
what? The baby will hardly spend any time in there until she's
six months old. I mean, we let Stan sleep with us until then
(although you need to get them out by six months or you will never
get rid of them!). The nursery was just a storage area for
baby-related things we weren't using. We had it painted all
pretty and kept everything neat, but we mostly kept the toys in the
living room. We hardly spent any time in there.
As of this writing, our baby girl will be
here in less than two months, and we haven't even gotten her things out
of the attic yet. We're in the process of renovating the adjacent
room, so everything that was in there is now in the baby's room.
It won't be out of there until we finish painting, then install the
baseboards (including wiring the outlets in them) and maybe even put up
some cabinets. Only then will we have a nursery. No big
deal. It's not like she's going to start telling us she "needs
her space" or anything.
carry a baby: Babies have two parts: A head and everything else.
almost the same size and weight as one another.
Eventually a baby can carry his/her own head. Until then, you
have to carry both parts and keep them from getting separated. Or
if you want to view it another way, you either carry both parts of the
baby, or you don't have a working baby anymore.
handle having a child because children come to you the size you can
handle. They don't start out as teenagers. They
start out as babies. They do nothing for a while, just to see if
you can keep them alive. If you can do that (and almost everyone
can), then they crawl around to see if you can child-proof the lowest
eighteen inches of a room. Then they learn to pull themselves up
to see if you were stupid enough to leave anything within reach of a
toddler. Eventually they learn to go off in a car to test whether
you brought them up with the life skills not to take anyone's life with
a car or make any new lives in the back seat of it.
are slugs until they are three months old. They don't do
anything except lie there and let Anne Geddes dress them up as fruit so
she can make calendars for secretaries. It isn't until babies are
around three months old that they even laugh for the first time.
There's supposedly a Chinese tradition that they consider a baby's
first birthday is the day he laughs for the first time. As it
happens, this is always around three months... which makes sense: 3
months + 9 months in the womb = 1 year = 1st birthday! I remember
how big a deal it was when Stan laughed for the first time. We
got out the camera and kept him laughing until he was out of
breath. Once they can laugh, you know you have a little
human. Before that, they're just slugs.
whatever works. Whenever Stella would start crying, the
one thing that seemed to work was to fly her around the room. I'd
hold her on her back and wave her around like Super Girl. You
find things like that, and you use them whenever you need to without
caring who's watching. And the same goes for what keeps you
sane. When Stan was a little over a year old, I once locked him
in his room (i.e., behind a baby gate)
and slept in my car. I needed some sleep, and I was going to go
crazy if I didn't get any. Stan's room was childproof, naturally,
so I locked the baby gate and got away from the crying for an
hour. If I hadn't, I would have likely gotten in a car wreck from
sleep deprivation on my way to work or found myself in a psychotic
state and hurt him. Saying I locked him in his room sounds bad,
but objectively speaking, it was the most sensible
thing to do at that point. Be objective and do whatever works.
aren't as fragile as you think. They'll survive a fall off
the bed. More parents have this story than you would
imagine. Both our kids have fallen off the bed at least
once. Dani fell asleep with Stella on her stomach only a couple
weeks after we had her. A short while later Stella hit the hard
floor. She survived just fine.
Sometimes you find the only thing that
soothes a kid is to pound on his (or her) back when you burp
them. You can't be gentle or it doesn't have enough of an
effect. Both my kids liked this as babies (albeit slightly
different techniques: Stan liked karate chops; Stella preferred bongo
drumming). If I stopped or attenuated the intensity to what *I*
thought was appropriate, the crying came back. The only thing
that was weird about it was that Dani would say, "Here, pound your
daughter," and that just sounds wrong.
need a diaper bag. Parents (read: moms) pack things like
they're going on a trip to Mars with a diabetic. Babies aren't
that complicated. All you need are diapers, wipes, and a
bottle. I always kept two diapers and a zip-lock bag with some
extra wipes in my glove compartment. The bottle was in the baby's
mouth. Unless you're going somewhere without indoor plumbing,
then you're going to be fine.
schedule! A lot of parents try to rigidly adhere to a
schedule with respect to eating and sleeping, but that ultimately
causes more stress than it will ever reduce. After all, how are
you going to make a kid fall asleep like clockwork when (s)he's in the
middle of a growth spurt? What happens when (s)he wants to eat
more often? What happens when (s)he's been up all night because
all four first-year molars came in at the same time, and then she is
exhausted the whole next day? (Yes, this is a thing. It
happened with Stan. It was the reason why I locked him in his
room that time. That's where the sleep-deprivation came
from.) You think she's still going to take the same
90 minute nap she took last week after having a shitty time this week
with a stomach bug? That's bullshit.
Do what your kid needs. Feed the
baby when (s)he's hungry.
Let the baby sleep when (s)he's tired, not when you are. It's
called needs-based parenting. In other words, you're
making decisions based on what the baby/toddler is indicating (s)he
needs, not what the clock says. Sure, you'll probably need a nap
later. The good news: Babies take naps. Just go to sleep
when the baby passes out. They sleep something like 18 hours a
day. You'll manage.
And don't worry about monitoring
things. Every baby is different and every day they'll have
different needs. Don't get worried if (s)he doesn't eat much one
day or sleeps too much or doesn't poop. That's how kids
are. If they aren't acting sick, they probably aren't sick.
Stan went through a phase when he switched from taking hour-and-a-half
naps to sleeping for five hours at a time for several days. And
babies sometimes don't poop for three days. Enjoy the break.
baby out of bed when (s)he's a toddler. Like I mentioned
above, our limit was
around 6 months. If the kid can sleep through the night, then you
are probably safe to make the transition. The danger is that, the
longer you wait, the harder it will be to get him (or her) out without
a lot of crying. They really don't care as much and are more
adaptable when they're younger. You might have to be firm about
it if the kid gives you a hard time during the transition.
Consider it practice for everything that follows: Don't give in to a
Get used to things breaking. Every day something
breaks. Kids love to get ahold of things and crumple, rip, yank,
etc. I've had ceramic cereal bowls pulled off desktops before
(both filled and empty; the bowl broke in the latter case). As I
write this, today Stan (at age 4) picked at a rotten spot on the wooden
front porch until it was a gaping hole. Toys break constantly,
even if they're well-made. Glasses in all forms will be broken:
eyeglasses, sunglasses, toy glasses. My balls, have been broken
both literally and figuratively. I mean, I've been punched or
kicked in them repeatedly. Note how their feet line up with your
crotch while changing a diaper. Same thing with the height of a
6 to 12
Late-bloomers do just fine.
There's a lot of research that says there is absolutely no correlation
between success later in life and reaching milestones in the early
years. It's not a big deal if (s)he isn't the first in her
preschool class to
walk/talk/whatever. In fact, bigger kids take longer to walk due
less to maturity than the fact that they don't have the strength to
stabilize their weight against gravity (In other words, sometimes being
ahead in one race means falling behind in another), so it's a
trade-off. There are too
many factors at play here for you to worry about developmental
milestones unless there are serious delays.
kid to meet you halfway.
Soon they'll just go ahead and go the distance on their own. Back
Stan was old enough to start pulling himself up at maybe 8 months (just
guessing), I stopped picking him up out of the crib in the morning or
after a nap. I would come in if he was crying, and I would stand
about a foot from the crib. I wouldn't pick him up until he
himself upright and effectively met me at the farthest point he could
go on his own. In later years I extended this approach in every
way possible. For example, if he wanted a drink, I'd tell him to
get a cup, and I'd pour something into it. And so on. But
start at this age.
Take kid classes for yourself.
You know: Swim class, music class, baby gymnastics, etc. That's
true for at least the first two years. Most of those classes are
for you. Go into them knowing you'll get more out of them than
the kid, and you'll have a better sense of whether you're getting your
money's worth. They're an opportunity to meet other parents and
just get out of the house. Sure, the kid benefits from them, but
nowhere near as much as you will.
illegal to want to kill a baby.
Only the actual killing of a baby is illegal. You are free to
entertain thoughts of killing a kid... because you will be pushed to
that point by all the screaming. I never wanted to kill another
being in my life as badly as I wanted to kill Stan on days when he
wouldn't shut up. They say birth is a miracle. I say their
birthday is, if they make it that far. (Note: Moms who have
of killing their baby probably ought to talk to someone about it other
than Tom Cruise. It's post-partum depression. Unless your
is that big a pain in the ass. However, dads get a free pass
we usually want to kill people who annoy us. See various
by Louis CK for further details and additional parenting advice based
on years of field research.) Stan was a perfect baby for the
first 6 months. For the next two years, I wanted to kill him on a
suggestible = Anything
you say is a suggestion. I see this all the time when
parents say something like, "She's going to be upset" or "That had to
hurt." Kids read these as cues from the director. You need
to avoid feeding your kid prompts to behaving in certain ways that are
undesirable. If you indicate that a fall was a bad one, to that
kid it probably will be! I never ask if the kid is okay. I
say, "You're fine," and tell them to get up. If they're genuinely
hurt, they'll let you know.
Develop repetoirs. For
every situation, you need to have tools, not just a "solution."
For example, infant is crying? Here's a list of possible remedies
that I might go through with Stella:
---Stand her up (if she's lying down).
---Burp her (and hard, too; if she's crying then she needs it up quick).
---Your own version of hypnotism. I don't know how to actually
put a kid in a trance, but I used to whisper "sleepy" to my son, and it
was a relaxing suggestion. I had a version of this with Stella
---Change your tone of voice. If you're speaking, then speak
musically. If you're being happy and upbeat, dial it down to a
whisper (see above).
---Blow in her face. This interrupts crying, but only for a
second or two. However, it's an opportunity to get her quiet long
enough to try talking to her, which she couldn't hear over her own
---Mylicon. Because maybe it's gas.
---Ibuprofen. Because maybe it's a tooth coming in.
---Put her down for a nap. And leave her there. Sometimes
they just need to cry it out until they pass out. Stella
went through that phase where crying meant that she just needed to be
left alone to go to sleep, and sometimes that meant crying for 5 to 10
It sounds very militaristic, but I found that when Stan was short on
vocabulary, short, unambiguous commands get the message across much
faster than all the explaining in the world. In fact, you're
wasting your time explaining anything to a kid under two. They
need to just do what you asked. Here are some of the commands I
had with Stan, many of which I used with Stella.
- "Two hands" = Raise both arms for me
to pick him up from a playground swing, grocery cart, etc.
- "Tilt" = Throw his head back so I
could clean out his nose or wipe his face.
- "Parking lot" = Put up one hand for
me to hold (and that he should hold on for deal life).
- "Diaper" = Originally it meant he
should lie down on his back to be changed. Later he would even
diaper and wipes for me.
- "Bend" = During diaper change for
him to throw his legs up for me to wipe him.
- "Go pee" = With potty
training. Point is, I said it the same way every single time.
- "Click-click" noise = This was
something I originally did when he was in the high-chair and I needed
him to turn toward me to get food in his mouth. That food was a
rewarding consequence of turning on command, so it later became a
direction to turn and face me. A few years later I started doing
Stella literally from birth, and she picked up within the first couple
days that I was holding her bottle. That's right; I had her
trained to do this when she was only two days old!
All toys should be one piece.
For example: If it's a boy: Trucks. If it's a girl: Dolls.
It doesn't have to be that gender-stereotyped, but you get what I'm
saying. Stick with what's developmentally appropriate. If a
kid is going to lose essential pieces, then (s)he isn't ready for that
- No puzzles. You will lose
pieces everywhere. You will never be able to find them until you
move, and by then the kid will be in college.
- Blocks are fine, unless it's
something like a Lego "kit" ...because you'll never find all the pieces
to complete it. Building toys are fine, just not things that have
specific pieces without which it's incomplete.
- And no coloring without
supervision. When (s)he's done coloring, put the crayons/markers
out of reach.
- Stickers. Forget it. See
- Action figures. Does they come
with accessories? Can you live with the fact they're going to get
A partial list of things to hide: To
this day, I can't find these things around the house. We used to
have a dozen of each. But somehow children find them when you
- Sharpies. Stan once managed to
cover the floor in Sharpie scribbles in the matter of about five
minutes. Stella did couch cushions and several of her toys as
well as laying claim to a different spot on the floor.
- Scissors. Never mind the kid's
safety, think of your books!
- Media (e.g., cds, dvds, etc.).
These are just hockey pucks to kick around until they're scratched
beyond all playability.
- Stamps and stickers. They'll
cover the floor with these. Door frames. Antique
furniture. It's all fair game. I usually just throw these
away if they get them as party favors or whatever. Conversely, I
never give stamps or stickers as party favors.
Get more baby gates than you need.
caged. They're worse than
that even, like a fundamental force of destruction. Think of your
house like a submarine that's just been torpedoed. Compartments
are flooding, so hurry! Every time you bring a child into that
room, destruction follows. You must seal off areas to contain the
destruction before it can spread! That's what baby gates are for:
Cordoning off areas before the Tasmanian Devil can get to them.
always the bad guy. You can tell the kid "No, you can't
have any donuts until after supper" for several hours, then Mom will
walk in and hand the kid a donut just as you're setting the
table. You're the one who will yell at the kid when (s)he won't
listen. On the other hand, you're the only one the kid will
Quit carrying him and make the kid walk.
took Stan grocery shopping as a
toddler, and I rarely had a problem with him. Contrast with Dani,
who at one point told me she couldn't take him to Wal-mart anymore
because he was always giving her a hard time. I'm like why, don't
you put him in the cart? She said she did but that he complained
the whole time and kept trying to get out. The next time I went
to Wal-mart, I realized what I did differently. I always made
Stan walk with me across the parking lot. Dani always carried
him. When she put him in the cart, he couldn't wait to get out
and do something. But when I took him, he was exhausted by the
I'd gotten him to the front of the store. He couldn't wait to sit
down and have someone push him around the store. That little
difference made a big difference.
independence by allowing it to happen. I think some kids
are independent by nature, but you can certainly encourage it in any
kid. For example, we always put kid food (e.g., fruit snacks,
juice boxes, etc.) down low on the kitchen shelves so that Stan could
get to them when he was hungry. Had Stan been the kind of kid who
was gluttonous, I would have modified that strategy, but he was
reasonable with food, and that made things easy on me as well as
creating an opportunity that encouraged independent action on his part.
work for it. On a related note, whenever Stan asked me for
something like his
juice cup, I wouldn't point to it; I'd just say it's in the room.
I'd give him vague directions so that he would find it for
himself. The result was that he learned to help himself when he
something to eat. We created the aforementioned shelf in the
kitchen so that he
had access to fruit snacks, peanut butter, etc. I still had to
get him more juice (because he was still too clumsy to pour from a
heavy bottle effectively and not strong enough to get the top off the
sippy cups anyway), but he could do a lot of things for himself if he
made the effort, and food was a good way to encourage that.
think they're doing it... and soon they will! When we went
to the park when Stan was smaller/weaker, he used to struggle to climb
up the slick surface of the slides. I wouldn't lift him to help
him up them. Instead I put my hands beneath each foot as he set
it down. He thought he was getting a lot better traction than he
was. As a result, he didn't ask me to pick him up; he just worked
at it as hard as he could.
I still do things like that at the
park. He's to the point where he can do most things, but there
are still some bits that he can't climb without a lot of effort.
He'll try to give up, but I keep telling him "You can do it, you
can do it," over and over. I'm constantly after him to finish the
task, but I won't do it for him. I'll maybe take the weight off
him, and I'll always have an arm under him or along side so that he
can't fall, but I won't give him a free ride.
It paid off. I was at the
aforementioned park in my neighborhood at one point when he was still
pretty small. He was walking and could climb the stairs on the
playground to get up to the top. I was talking to another dad who
was there with his 4 year-old daughter. I really wasn't paying
that much attention to Stan when she said, "That little boy can do
anything!" I looked over where she was pointing, and Stan was all
the way at the top of the really big spiral slide. At that point
he'd been down it before, but only when I brought him up there. I
was like, "Okay, then. Come on," and he came down it. He
was fairly confident about things like that. If he thinks he can
reach it, he'll go for it. If he doesn't, I try to get him as
close as possible before I step in and help him bridge the
difference. There's only so much influence parents have on their
kids' personality, but I'd like to think I instilled some of that in
him beyond whatever was already there.
Get memberships. Look for what's fun and interesting in
your area that involves a lot of walking. For example, we have a
zoo and a science museum that are big and convenient. If you get
a membership, then you can drop in for a couple hours, then go home to
put the kid down for a nap. If you paid full price every visit,
you know you'd feel like you wasted money if you left early. Kids
this age are only good for about an hour or two some days. Bonus:
Most memberships allow you to bring guests either for a discounted rate
or free, so it's good to have a membership if you want to bring friends
or play groups.
These are two of the most important phrases in the English language (or
their eqivalents in any other language). When Stan was barely
these words were required for any elective transaction. If he
cookie, he had to say "Please" before I would even make a move to get
him one. Once it was in my hand, I would hold it out but not
it until I received a "Thank you." Once he said "Thank
you" I would then let go. This was before he could even put
full sentence. In fact, I used this process to chain together
form a sentence. Originally he'd say "Cookie." I'd ask,
"What do you
say?" and he'd give me a "Please." Over time I added words.
what?" Him: "Please can have cookie?" I always thought it
that the words he left out were the shortest ones: "I" and "a" but he
eventually got the whole thing: "Please can I have a cookie?"
Learn to speak in code.
When parents talk, they have to avoid letting the kid in on what
they're saying a lot of the time. For example, Stan will want to
take a bath if either of us are going to bathe or shower, so we say
things like, "Are you going to cleanse?" We change it up every
time and avoid pairing the synonym with the actual meaning so that the
kids never pick up on what we're really saying.
Practice reverse psychology.
how to do this, but it's like seeing a couple
moves ahead in chess. You can't start with the move you want to
do; you have to make the move that sets things up for what you need to
happen. For example, Stan would refuse to answer questions if he
knew I was quizzing him. However, he would freely argue with
me. So instead of asking, "What's this a picture of?", I would
tell him, "Look at this picture of a butterfly." He would look at
it and say, "That's not a butterfly; that's a lion!" I got him to
answer me without asking the question he wouldn't have answered.
Invent a bedtime routine (and stick
with it for as long as it works). The current bedtime
routine (which I've been doing since he was about three) goes as
follows: I read him two storybooks. At the end of the first one I
say, "Okay, goodnight." He protests and says, "One more!"
"Then what?" I ask. "Sleepytime." Sometimes I ask when
"What next?" after the first book, and he says, "One more book then
sleepytime." I read the second book to him, then put it down, and
there's a four item sequence that I always do in order:
"Give me a hug." Stan gives me a hug.
I turn out the light, and he goes to sleep.
2. Me: "Give me a kiss." Stan gives
me a kiss.
3. Me: "I love you." Stan: "I love
you too." (The hardest part was getting him to understand the
concept of "too." Even when he was almost four years-old, he
would still say, "I love you too" before I say "I love you.")
4. Me: "Goodnight." Stan:
When he was younger and wouldn't pay attention to the books, I used to
do a puppet show with all the stuffed animals in the room. They
did variations on what they were good at. Grover told a few bad
jokes. Tigger jumped around going "Boing, boing!" And so
on. When we ran out of animals, it was time to leave and turn off
the light. He usually wouldn't protest because we had done
everything there was to do.
You know what helped a lot?
Earplugs. One of the hardest things to deal with during
Stan's early years was all the screaming. The constant assault
was lessened when I finally discovered earplugs. Get a pair of
soft silicon earplugs. Search for swimmers earplugs in
particular. Those are far better than the foam or putty
variety. I keep pairs of these everywhere through the house and
then some: Next to my bed, on my desk, even in my car. Because
when a child has a meltdown in a confined space, you don't get to
escape from them.
You know what else helped a lot?
Blood pressure medication. I have always had borderline
high blood pressure, but it's even worse during a "fight or flight"
moment that my body perceives as a crisis. A crying child is a
routine event for any parent, but it always sounds like a crisis to
Beta blockers in particular are a class of medication that attenuate
the physiological response to stress. Actrors and musicians
employ them to reduce the feeling of anxiety (i.e., "stage fright")
before a show.
Parents are expected to perform all day long, so these can help quite a
at keeping you level.
hate shoes. I have no recollection of exactly when this
starts*, and as of this writing I'm still waiting for it to end (He's
3.5 years old). I'd put him in the car seat fully shoed when we
left, then arrive and have to spend another couple minutes crouching
beside the car in the rain looking for where he threw them when he
pulled them and, inevitably, his socks while I was driving. I've
finally broken him of peeling them off in the car, but if we're
indoors, that's sufficient reason to shed them, like we're in a very,
very casual Japanese setting, one where you can strip to a diaper
even. I've put his shoes on him, and in the time it takes me to
fill a sippy cup and return to collect him on the way out the door, the
shoes (and, yes, socks too) are off again. *Update: Stella's
doing it now, and I think it started around age 1.5, but I guess it
depends on whether the shoes have velcro or not).
possible, let natural consequences deliver the lesson.
When Stan was around three years old, he was leaning off the edge of
playground equipment. I knew he was going to fall. I could
have yelled at him, but I knew if he fell he wasn't going to be hurt
too badly. So I let him. He leaned too far and tipped over
onto the playground mulch. Didn't hurt anything except his
pride. If I had preemptively admonished him, I would have had to
do it again and again. Instead, I did nothing, and he only fell
once. Sometimes holding back and letting a lesson teach itself is
faster than actively "teaching" the same thing.
box or two of toys out of sight. We have "new" toys hidden
all over the house so that we can pull them out for rewards or special
occasions (xmas, birthdays, etc.). For example:
- Several packages of cowboys and
pirates (playsets and figures) that we got on sale long before Stan was
ready for them. (Hidden under the stairs at the back of the tool
- A bunch of smaller toys such as
plush Adventure Time/Regular Show figures and similar that served as
rewards during potty training. (In plain sight in a box (though
he can't see the contents) on top of the fridge in the kitchen.)
- "Future toys" full of things I've
bought such as Star Wars items (e.g., Vader mask, light saber) that he
was not yet ready for because (at the time) he had not yet seen even
the first Star Wars movie). (Top shelf of his closet.)
overlaps with the above item, depending on how you apply it.
Sometimes you'll see something you want to get him/her, but they just
aren't ready for it yet. If it's a steal and/or one-of-a-kind,
then buy it and hide it in one of the aforementioned boxes.
Otherwise, write it down. You can make a master list to consult
for all the major events: birthdays, xmas, graduation, whatever.
See also the "Birthdays" and "Christmas" sections below.
milk crates. They're
cheap and durable and great for organizing kid stuff. Buy more
than you think you need because you'll probably need them. At the
very least, you can always use them in your garage. I picked up
about 25 of them, and we use all of them for Stan. Incidentally,
mine were all $2.50 a piece from a guy on Craigslist. They were
$10 at the
Container Store. Sure, mine were all black instead
of an assortment of bright colors, but I think mine were sturdier in
addition to being a quarter of the price. We made labels for them
according to general categories of toys*, and that kept the chaos down
to "barely tolerable."
*Note: Our categories include Cars, Hot Wheels Track, Action Figures,
Wood toys, Alphablocks, Letters, Food (plastic kitchen stuff), Wood
blocks, Legos, Hats, Guns,
Stand-alone (toys that don't have more than one part like "Simon"),
Bike helmets, Dress-up, Sports, and Musical toys. Later we
generalized still further and made a whole row of just "Dress-up"
incorporated Hats, Guns, and other weapons, capes, masks, vests, etc.
that he had gotten more into. I also made a couple bigger bins
for outside toys (sporting goods and cars, swimming pool toys, etc.)
and put them on the front porch.
key. The biggest failing I see in parenting is backing
down from the first thing you said. If you said, "No, you can't
do that," then there's no reason to negotiate or modify. Take a
reasonable position from the start and hold it. Don't say, "No,
you can't have any cookies" and then say, "Here, just have one to hold
you until supper" because you're tired of the whining. All that
cookie did was reinforce the whining. The whining will never go
away if you give a kid a cookie every time (s)he whines for one.
to create responsibility. For example, as soon
as Stan was able to sort silverware, we made him put away the forks and
spoons. I pulled out the knives and odd cooking utentils, then
gave him the drawer liner to put them all
into. He whined and complained, but the task was tangibly right
in front of him, and he wasn't allowed to move onto anything else until
he completed it. Over time he realized that complaining and
delaying were simply counter-productive. When given a task, the
fastest route is through it.
something objective as the bad guy. The iPhone is a
perfect choice. Check out the timer function under the standard
clock app. This works great for potty training, transitioning
between tasks such as the end of playtime, etc. Say "five more
minutes," and set the clock. When it goes off, hold up the phone
with the alarm going off. After a certain age, kids recognize
objective boundaries such as this. They'll argue with you, but
they can't argue with the 4th dimension. (Low tech alternative:
The sun. For example, I tell Stan he can do something "when it
gets dark." I don't have to deal with pestering; I just point to
Colored pencils. These were probably the best investment I
made. Screw crayons. They're messy and imprecise.
Colored pencils are more robust: they don't break. They're
basically just pencils, so skills acquired using them to color will
transfer over to basic drawing/writing skills they'll need later.
They're also very nuanced, so you can teach a young child to do mixing
and shading (i.e., pressing lightly = light color vs. harder = darker)
at a very young age. After coloring with Stan for a couple weeks,
his ability to write letters jumped more without practice than with all
the practice combined up to that point.
Let kids get dirty. Let them play in mud. Let them
splash in the rain. They're only kids once, for fuck's
sake. The clothes will wash. If they don't, fuck it.
They were about to outgrow them anyway. I hate parents who think
dirt is a boundary rather than a badge.
Build a bookshelf. I
couldn't find any that met my needs, so I built one with the following
Take lots of pictures. This
goes two-fold. First, yes, take lots of pictures of your
kid(s). Don't let a week go by without some pictures. Keep
a camera within reach or at least put the camera icon somewhere on the
main page of your phone. Second, take a lot of pictures in a
row. Kids are notoriously unpredictable photographic subjects, so
be prepared to shoot three or more shots where you'd normally shoot
just once. These don't have to be in rapid succession like you're
trying to catch a sprinter, but shoot several times before the kid
moves away. Only one of those will be a great shot, sure, but you
can delete the rest and look like you were always prepared to catch
that perfect moment. Everyone takes lots of pictures of the baby,
but then it starts to tapper off. I'm saying it again: Keep
- Low to the ground so it couldn't be
pulled over by a kid climbing on it (i.e., low center of gravity).
- Alternating tall and small shelves
so that it could accommodate everything from board books and Golden
Books to big picture books like The Lorax.
- Bigger than you need. In other
words, build for the future, not just the books you have in the house
right now. Mine runs almost the entire length of the room (i.e.,
12 ft; covers all except the closet door. We were only half-full
when I built it. Now it's beyond full, even with many board books
moved to the
bookshelf in Stella's room. I counted them one day, and it was
nearly 700 books. We have even more than that now.
- Sort the books so that you create
shelves for, say, favorite titles (i.e., ones they will request
regularly), science books, other non-fiction, sections with favorite
authors (e.g., Seuss), chapter books, sections for special subjects
(e.g., we have a shelf packed with Halloween and monster books), and
books" (ones you just bought but haven't gotten to yet.)
Pre-event acclimation. Just to get Stan more comfortable
with a new place or activity, I always take him there once or twice
before any formal event he is scheduled to attend. For example,
if he's going to a classmate's birthday party at a skating rink, I'll
take him skating at that same rink once or twice first. That gets
him over the hump of worrying about being on skates for the first time
in front of his peers. If he's going to Putt Putt with his
friends later, maybe we'll go once by ourselves. Then, when he
goes there socially sometime later, he can concentrate on the social
aspect of the interaction rather than acclimating to the sport or the
venue. Not every kid needs this, but mine did, and I think it
helps the majority of them get a leg up even if it isn't a necessity.
Tips for Holidays and Other Occasions
Organize for holidays and
parties. We have several storage tubs in the attic dedicated each
to specific holidays/events: Easter, birthday parties, etc. It
convenient to be able to pull out a sort of a kit to assemble the
holiday, especially the things that have to get set up the night before
like eggs for the Easter egg hunt.
Get presents in advance. If
you see it on sale, get it. I don't care whether she's too young
still; if you know she'll want one in a year or two, it's that much
less you have to shop around for when he birthday is closer.
Obviously you can't anticipate changing tastes like how one year a
kid's into Star Wars and the next it's Spiderman, but some toys are
independent of preferences or are better than anything a kid might
dream up for their wish list, like a baseball pitching machine,
something Stan never even knew existed before Santa put it under the
Make your invites way in advance. I'm not saying you need
to print them out and deliver them, but at least write up the
text. Even after the parties are over, save a copy of the
invitations somewhere you'll always find them so you can reuse the text
with minor modifications and not have to re-write everything every
year. There's simply too much else you'll be busy with.
Don't open the presents at the party. I know that's a
typical thing, but I always feel like it's a big waste of time.
Let the kids enjoy the party and socialize instead of making them watch
the birthday boy or girl unwrap presents no one will have time to play
with before the party is over. Speaking of which...
Make the presents last! Here's what you do instead: The
birthday kid gets to open only one present a day. Not only does
this make the birthday last a week or two, it also allows the kid to
focus on each present, to spend time reading the instructions, putting
the decals on properly, playing all the levels, putting all the pieces
of the puzzle together, etc. It basically
turns a birthday into Hanukkah!
Have an Easter egg hunt. It's
a tradition. Plan for it. I packed a bunch of eggs and hid
them the night before.
Not just candy. Here are some ideas for things for their
baskets: Hot Wheels cars, Legos, etc. Any toys you can fit in the
eggs or a small basket will do.
Hit the after-holiday sales! This is always a good idea
for getting stocked up early for next year.
Have the Halloween party early!
if you push Halloween back to an earlier
Have activities and conversation pieces. See my list of
Halloween party activities and conversation pieces here.
Hit the after-holiday sales! As always, you'll be ready
with decorations and whatnot. Also, if your kid loves costumes,
this is the best time to stock up on Batman masks and fairy wings.
One present the night before.
It seems like most familes have this tradition already, but think about
which present is best for the occasion. I usually go with the one
present that requires concentration and reading the instructions.
For example, last year I gave Stan a magic trick that required watching
a dvd of the performance of the trick, reading the instructions, and
practicing it. Had I given it to him on Xmas morning, it would
have gotten lost in the shuffle of all the action figures and
everything else that was more about playing.
Elves are magic. One of the things I used to do when Stan
was younger was to set out Rudolph figures on the mantle, one or two
every night leading up to Xmas. First there would just be young
Rudolph, then Hermie the elf, then other characters, and eventually
work up to the gang meeting Bumble, and so on.
Have traditions. Some examples include:
after-holiday sales! Again, decorations are half-off or
less, plus you might pick up presents for the next birthday (or for one
of their friend's party).
Santa. Set them out, then help yourself after the kids
are in bed while you're setting out presents.
food. Set out some oats or a carrot the night before, then
take a few "bites." Leiann used to put out apples in the yard,
then she'd take big bites out of each after the kids went to bed so it
looked like the reindeer had snacked on them.
presents. It's especially fun to have another present
or two in reserve so that you keep the present-opening going even after
the kids think it's all done. I even did this to Dani by hiding a
few things in the cats' stockings.
How do you prepare the kid
for a younger sibling? Here's what you tell them over and
over: Babies do two things: cry a lot and sleep. Sure, babies do
a lot more than that (for example, there's a lot of poop and feedings,
but as far as they're concerned, that's it: crying and sleeping.
Many parents make the mistake of pointing out toddlers and say, "You're
going to have a brother (or sister) soon!" Wrong. They will
expect a playmate when, really, they're just going to have something
that is alternately a 90 decible* malfunctioning fire alarm or,
honestly, a slug.
*Yes, really. A motorcycle is 85
dB. A jet airplane is 95 dB. A crying baby falls somewhere
between the two. See the advice about earplugs (above).
Stuff to teach (and roughly in what
- Body parts - Start with the face:
eyes, nose, mouth, etc. Move on to arms, legs, fingers,
toes. Next shoulders, chest, belly button, etc.
- Colors - Start with red, green, and
blue, then introduce other colors, then move to blends (e.g., grey,
pink, etc.), then more usual ones like turquoise.
- Counting - Go to ten, then keep
adding more. Count everything. Count the steps you go and
down, kittens in books, etc. Stella was counting to three when
she was about 18 month, even though she couldn't say it properly yet
(except "two"). She often attempted counting to ten and even got
short sequences corrent (e.g., 5, 6, 7, 8).
- The alphabet - Just go ahead and
sing the song. They pick up on that fast, then you can drop the
- Shapes - Start with circle, square,
and triangle. Later introduce rectangle, oval, diamond, rhombus
(which is not the same thing as a diamond though most people apparently
don't understand why), pentagon, hexagon, octagon, trapezoid, etc.
Learning to read. This is a
long process. Here are some steps along the way.
- Know the ABCs.
- Identify each letter (just the
capital letters at first)
- Lower case (this is somewhat
optional; they start picking this up if you're pointing out letters in
what they read)
- What do they sound like?
- Word of the day.
The way I introduced the ABCs.
First thing I did was to download a "hollow" font (i.e., not a solid
one) so that 1) I could color it and 2) it wouldn't waste all my
printer ink. I printed out the whole alphabet (one letter per
page) and colored in insides of each letter. I used different
colors, but there was a system to it. For example, R was red, G
was green, and so on. Even L was yellow because that's a salient
sound when you say the word "yellow." I introduced one letter
day or two so that Stan didn't get them jumbled. Once they were
up on the wall in the living room, the colors allowed us to play games
like, "List all the blue letters." From there we were able to
move on to making the sounds of the letters using a similar approach
and games to reinforce it.