Something entirely unexpected happened in my role as co-host of ParentsCanada Talk Radio: I became a much better dad. I’m more patient and collaborative, better at anticipating mental health issues and report card meltdowns. We’re in the late stages of the pandemic, yet my crew at home is happier and healthier than ever.
Editor Katie Dupuis and I just wrapped the final of our 73 episodes with a tally of all the ways the radio show helped us to be better parents (listen here), but if you’d rather read than listen, here’s a handy summary of our finale.
1. Get a radio show.
The shortest route to being a better parent? Talk to experts every week to learn insights, get to the bottom of different trends and (on more than one occasion) figure out what makes you tick as a parent. (Yes, we know this one is a bit far-fetched.)
2. Modelling is your best tool.
Our guest experts mentioned this on just about every single episode. Your kids look at you as a science experiment. They’re studying your every move and integrating what they see and hear into their daily routines. If you want to affect their behaviours, pay attention to your own.
3. “Hammer or hammock?”
If you see a challenge or opportunity with your kids, you can ask yourself, “Do I need to solve this problem (hammer) or show empathy to let them vent and talk it out (hammock)?” We started using this from the moment we first heard it, and wouldn’t you know it, our kids started talking to us more.
4. When in doubt, trust your gut.
Whether you know it or not, you have the experience and insight to make the right call when it comes to your own kids. While you can’t be perfect 100% of the time, you’ll find success more often than not.
5. Be prepared, but know that the universe will laugh at your plans.
I was so excited about a March break trip to Montreal with my daughter last year. I’d planned it out, bought the tickets and researched the restaurants. Then COVID hit and things were…readjusted. Plans big and small help in just about every situation. Just also know that sometimes things go awry.
6. Comparison hurts.
Comparing your kid to another kid is a recipe for misery, and it starts from the time they’re newborns. This has a habit of creating anxiety in both you and your children. What you want to see is personal progression—are your kids getting better and learning more in comparison with their previous selves, versus better than anyone else?
7. Failure is important—seriously.
As parents, we love to “say” failure is a key part of learning and growing. Then the opportunity for non-catastrophic failure comes along and we swoop in to remove disappointment. It’s okay to let them stumble on that assignment or strike out at the plate. What they learn from their own moments is far more than what you’d say during a lecture after you’ve saved the day.
8. You matter, too.
We sacrifice a lot for our kids, and there are times that we forget that our personal needs/mental health/sleep schedule/bank account are important for us, too. Remember that you are a whole person even without your little ones, and that you are in charge of taking care of yourself.
9. It’s easier (and harder) than you expected.
Your friends tell you that babies don’t sleep, but then yours does. Your all-star mathlete heads off to university and fails. You never can tell what’s going to work until you’re actually in the moment.
10. Be aware.
Know your kids, what they’re going through, how they react and what they need. Opening up your eyes and ears to truly see your kids as people is a major advantage when it comes to holding lifelong conversations of value.
11. Rituals are essential.
Whether you’re binging a show together or planning the annual big family Hallow’een party, having things to look forward to injects joy into our days. Our nightly routine of making dinner together has helped my entire crew to get through the pandemic a little easier.
12. Study smarter.
We spend a lot of time coaching to the curriculum as parents, but are our kids actually learning the skills to be effective lifelong learners? There are so many strategies (like the Cornell note-taking method) that help kids to study less and learn more.
13. Connect more.
This probably should have been #2 on our list. Spending time with your kids is investing time in your kids—time that will pay off as they get older. Talking more when they’re young shows them that there’s always an open door and an ear ready to listen, no matter how old they get.
14. Screen time/vaping/whatever is the output. If it’s a problem, look for another issue.
If you’re worried about an abundance of anything we parents fret about (screen time, bad influences, teenage drinking), don’t just look at the “act.” There’s more happening here. Look at confidence, emotional health, self regulation, big changes and just about anything else that could be creating a negative effect.
15. Social media has a time and place and should come with instructions.
Dismissing computer and phone time as “all bad, all the time” is missing the point. After all, you spend time on your devices for entertainment, work, learning and more. Create appropriate boundaries and opportunities—and don’t use screen time as a reward. It sends the wrong message.
16. Listen up.
Good listening is a skill we want to celebrate and share with our kids. It’s amazing what they’ll tell you when you turn your ears on.
17. Mental health is even more important than you think.
Studies show that stress and anxiety are at all-time highs for our kids. Help your brood learn how to effectively deal with those challenges as they become full-blown adults. Those skills will become as important as any other skillset they learn, including academics.
18. It’s ok to show weakness.
If you don’t know, tell them you don’t know. If you need to cry, then cry. Remember, your kids are studying you, and your ability to be vulnerable and human means they can be, too.
19. Learn from each other.
I got the chance to co-host with some awesome moms throughout the show—mostly with superstar Katie Dupuis. They gave me a different perspective on how to effectively manage and nurture my own family, and for that, I’m eternally grateful.