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Dad's Bag of Parenting Tricks


By Barbara Aria, Parenting

It could be the testosterone. Or it might be a natural part of coupledom  -- checks and balances, the yin and the yang. Whatever the reason, dads do things differently. Sure, it can be infuriating sometimes (no, let's not put a dash of hot sauce in the baby's food and see if he likes it). But most of us realize that flexibility, more than anything else, is the yellow-brick road to happier children and parents. Which got us thinking: What quirky soothing techniques and coping strategies might stay-at-home fathers have up their flannel sleeves? To find out, we went undercover (fake mustache, utility belt) and brought back the following manly maneuvers.


Master soothers

"One day, during what I call the witching hour, I was trying to calm down my four-month-old daughter with some music on iTunes. When the music visualizer appeared on the computer screen, she instantly began staring at the pulsating patterns and making little cooing noises. It was almost spooky, it was so easy."
 -- Chris Ford, Las Vegas, Nevada

"To help my son wind down at nap time, I would try to fool him into thinking that everyone was going to sleep. I would lie on the floor near him and close my eyes. Sometimes I'd fall asleep myself."
 -- Gary Drevitch, New York City

"Back when my son was one month old and wouldn't sleep, I'd put on the sound track for Les Misè rables and play a song called 'Stars.' Not only did he stop screaming right away, he went into a hypnotic trance! Sixteen months later, whenever he hears the opening note, he stops crying and relaxes. That's his number one song, but rock soothes him, too: Madonna, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi  -- anything with a good beat."
 -- Chris Scofield, Kissimmee, Florida

"My oldest child was the worst napper on the face of the earth. I'd have to walk him up and down for 30 minutes to get him to sleep, and then he'd nap for only 20 minutes  -- if I continued to hold him. Since I never had time for the gym, I decided to kill two birds with one stone: I'd change into workout gear, put him in a lightweight carrier, place a radio on each landing, and climb up and down the stairs while he slept."
 -- Jeff Nygaard, Richmond, Virginia

Barbara Aria is a freelance writer in New York City.


Always be prepared

"For a stay-at-home dad, I don't stay home very much. I have one of those rolling backpacks with lots of quick-draw pockets. It's big enough for bottles and all the usual stuff, plus a first-aid kit, a cold pack, and a three-section folding foam pad, in case we can't find a changing table. If we were stuck in the woods for a week, we'd be set. Plus, the bag's so big, it's great for scooting people out of the way in crowds."
 -- Shannon Frye, Chesapeake, Virginia

"I stock my backpack with toys that make noise and toys that don't make noise. So we're covered wherever we go  -- playing in the park or waiting on line at the bank."
 -- Caleb Cohen, Ann Arbor, Michigan


Friendly persuasion

"My eight-month-old is on the verge of crawling, and I'm trying to help. I get down on the floor and crawl around, making lion and elephant noises, like on the Baby Einstein videos he watches. As soon as he sees me and hears those sounds, he starts moving his legs and arms, trying to crawl."
 -- Adam Imperato, Grand Rapids, Michigan

"My son likes to ride in a trailer that hooks up to my bicycle, but he used to hate wearing a bike helmet. So I started wearing mine around the house. After about two weeks, he picked up his helmet and brought it over so I could put it on him."
 -- Brian Kopp, New Freedom, Pennsylvania

"My job is to keep my kids happy and teach them new stuff, so I make cleaning up fun. My toddler dusts with the Swiffer, then we have vacuum wars between his play vacuum and the real one."
 -- Adam Imperato


Sanity savers

"Given a choice between the playground and cleaning the kitchen, I pick the playground every time. I don't stress about doing housework while I'm with the kids. It can be done at 10 p.m., and dirty dishes don't hurt anyone."
 -- Caleb Cohen

"I decided to start a dad's group, so I made flyers and created a simple website using the Yahoo building tool. Guys have found it just by searching for grand rapids stay-home dads. But I got the biggest response after I called the local newspaper and suggested they do a story on the group; 15 more dads signed up after they read the article."
 -- Adam Imperato

"I started making colored charts on the computer to keep track of the baby's sleep habits, as well as her diaper changes and feedings. After collecting data for four days, I discovered that she took a 38-minute nap every two hours. When you're staying home with a baby and your brain is fuzzy, visualizing these patterns gives you back a little bit of control. You know you can grab a shower, take half an hour for yourself. You can chart with colored pencils, but a computer application crunches the numbers and gives you hard data. You cancheck out mine at TrixieTracker.com."
 -- Ben MacNeill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina


Playtime

"Babies love playing with keys. So I went to Home Depot's key-cutting department and asked if they had any rejects. They gave me a bunch of about 30 brand-new keys  -- all different sizes and shapes. I put them on a humongous keychain that I keep in the car for the baby to play with."
 -- Caleb Cohen

"I let my toddler do a lot physically. That's how kids develop their skills. My rule of thumb is, if he could lose his life, I say no. But if he might just fall and hurt himself a little, I let him try it. He has scrapes up and down his legs, but he's learned balance."
 -- Brian Kopp

"I have a part-time job as a bike mechanic, and I bring my toddler with me. I keep toys at the shop, but she loves to take the wrench and pretend that she's working. If I'm really busy, she'll be running around, remerchandising stuff."
 -- Brandon Lockwood, Seattle, Washington

"When my son was a year old, I would put all the plastic containers in the bottom kitchen drawer and let him take them out and play. My wife would come home and say, 'What a mess!' I think dads are willing to let kids make more of a mess when they have fun."
 -- Peter Baylies, North Andover, Massachusetts
(author of The Stay-at-Home Dad Handbook)
Dad, Parenting Advice

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Dad's Bag of Parenting Tricks
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