The average married father spends about seven hours a week caring for his kids, according to research from the University of Maryland. That’s a sliver of time that can quickly disappear into work emails or Game of Thrones. So the last thing you need is a guilt-inducing list of to-dos that’ll make your son or daughter varsity-ready by age 6. The secret to being a great dad isn’t finding more time; it’s making better use of the time you do have. Not one of these 14 ideas will take longer than an hour to pull off. But each one will help you raise a winner – with time to spare.
1/Horse Around – Back-garden wrestling matches help kids control hyperactivity. Roughhousing also gives you a chance to teach very young children that biting, kicking and other forms of physical violence aren’t okay.
2/Own Your Lack ‘Coolness’ – Your kids can spot a fake a mile away. Steadiness and authenticity will earn their admiration over time.
3/…and Your Dorky Side Bust – Out the photos of your mullet and pornstache. Being comfortable with your imperfections telegraphs confidence. When your son or daughter dishes it out, laugh it off and give it back. Good-natured badgering is fine as long as your kids still respect you.
4/Read to Them. Like You Mean It – You may be bored by your 297th reading of The Hungry Caterpillar, but your kids aren’t – and they’ll be better off if you suck it up and get into the story, suggests research from Boston University. Reading in an engaging voice appears to make a difference in promoting kids’ literacy and language development.
5/Don’t Move Bedtime – Tucking in the kids at inconsistent times can hurt their cognitive development. In a British study, researchers tracked nearly 10 000 children and found a link between irregular bedtimes at age 3 and lower scores in maths, reading and spatial development at age 7.
6/Make Sure They Can Swim – The shallow end of life is brief; it gets deep really fast. No wonder an Australian study found that children who learned to swim at a young age were more physically and mentally advanced than their peers.
7/Keep Lots of Books Around – The mere presence of books crammed on a shelf – whether or not they’re actually read – can translate to an intellectual boost, one study confirms. Having 500 or more books in the home is as great an advantage for a kid as having university- educated parents, and twice that of having a dad who’s a professional rather than an unskilled labourer.
8/Play Hooky with Them – Save a few “sick” days for spontaneous fun, Dr Pruett says. Unplugging is critical, and you both need to connect with something deeper than Wi-Fi. Homework can be made up, and coworkers can chill for a day.
9/Break the Occasional Rule – Important distinction: a rule, not a law. Let them occasionally eat dessert for breakfast or stay up to watch extra innings. Be consistent and fair, says Dr Pruett, but also show some flexibility and have a bit of naughty fun.
10/Befriend Their Friends – Ask your kids’ friends about their holiday plans, and who they plan on asking to the Matric dance. Listen closely to the intel they share; it will help you understand what your own children are up to when you’re not watching their every move.
11/Let ’Em Get Dirty – Laugh if they jump into a river with their shoes on. Applaud their mud angels. Children – boys and girls alike – love dirt. Let them do something that will require some serious hosing afterward (or better yet, join in). They’ll remember it as one of their greatest days ever.
12/Praise Effort, Not Ability – By emphasising the value of hustle over innate talent, you can help your children dream up strategies for improvement, and they might even end up preferring tasks that are more challenging, research shows. The next time your son or daughter does well on a school project, say “I’m proud of how hard you worked,” instead of “You’re such a clever kid – I knew you’d get an A.”
13/Teach ’Em the Three Laws to Live By – Being a kid is hard enough; they shouldn’t feel like they live in a police state. There are only three rules they need to thrive in a civilised society: (1) Don’t stand in front of a TV when an adult is watching the game, (2) get a second opinion before tweeting anything, and (3) never, ever, ever root against the home team.
14/Walk in Kindness – Never scream in your own house unless there’s a fire. Don’t even hint at violence, and never kick the family pet, especially the goldfish. Repeat aloud: “Every dog is a good dog,” and mean it because it’s true.