#MenOfMI: Fathers can teach kids a lot about healthy habits

Let’s get a few things straight right off the bat. First: parenting is hard, taxing and occasionally anxiety-inducing work. Anyone who’s experienced up close the difficult ages of 3, 4 and 5 (parents differ on which year is the toughest) knows that raising young children is sometimes little more than crowd control. Second: Though I’m the father of two boys, ages 1 and 4, I’m no expert. Third: My kids? While I love ‘em to pieces, they’re hardly perfect.

That’s not to say that there isn’t an art to parenting or it isn’t important to set positive examples. Fathers can do a lot to promote healthy habits for kids — not just physically, but also psychologically.

A dad’s role

Raising children comes with great responsibilities. I’ve learned that kids look up to their parents and emulate them in surprising ways — like repeating salty language, for example. Dads, just like moms, have their own distinct roles, responsibilities and spheres of influence in their children’s lives.

In my family, my kids know me as the parent they can roughhouse with, who’s game for a little soccer in the backyard or who often needs help in the garden planting seeds or picking strawberries. I also earn points through things like helping build Lego kits, cooking yummy dinner or drawing pictures of astronauts or fire trucks.

In short, showing up as a dad and being involved with your kids counts for a lot.

There have been distinct victories along the way. Thanks to my wife, my 4 year-old has developed the habit of regularly washing his hands, which may partly explain why he’s mostly avoided getting sick. He’s also started to join me when I go for a run, a win I attribute both to his love of shoes (seriously) and the many times we strapped him into our jogging stroller when he was younger.

There have been disappointments as well. Our youngest has become a far more fussy eater than his older brother was at age 1, it’s all my wife and I can do to get our oldest to use the word “please” when he demands something, and the discovery of superheroes and Star Wars has sparked my son’s obsession with the concept of “bad guys.” There are days when both of them behave in ways that make us feel like failures as parents.

Things I’ve learned

But even hardships hold lessons if you look for them. Here are a few parenting tips I’ve picked up along the way:

  • Just as toddlers quickly learn to use persistence as a method to get what they want, it’s important to remain firm as a father. Kids look for any and every opportunity to seize a mile when you cede an inch.
  • Yet it’s important to balance resolve with compassion. One useful phrase I picked up from the excellent Love and Logic parenting program: “I love you too much to argue.”
  • Children learn things through observation, repetition and experience. That makes it extra important to set a good, positive and healthy example. If kids see you as a couch potato who scarfs down potato chips while watching television, they’re likely to follow suit. Don’t be that dad.
  • Take the good when it comes and know that not every battle is winnable. My son may stick out his tongue at the sight of any cooked vegetable, but at least he likes crunchy raw veggies like carrots, cabbage and red peppers. That’s more than a lot of kids can say.
  • Compliment kids when they do something good, like use a big word or act politely around company. Positive reinforcement builds self-esteem. You spend enough time telling them “no” or “stop.”

Fellas, what parenting tips have you learned? I’m all ears.

Photo by alandberning

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