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10 Summer Parenting Tips from a Dad Who Learned the Hard Way

10 summer parenting tips from dad and author Dan Bucatinsky of Does This Baby Make Me Look StraightBy Dan Bucatinsky
Author of Does This Baby Make Me Look Straight?

From smart snacks to emergency stain removal and bedtime negotiations, summer with the kids can be more exhausting than relaxing. Here are some steps you can take to stand your ground as a firm parent, while keeping summer activities fun for everyone involved—after all, if you aren’t having fun, it’s most likely that no one else is!

1. Put the “You” in Fun. Sure, it’s great to do things the kids love. But who the heck wants to thread some slimy earthworm onto a hook and sit for hours on a bug-infested pond waiting for the tug of a fish? Pass. I learned the hard way that if I don’t find stuff I enjoy along with my kids, I lose my patience faster and nobody has fun. Make the stuff they like to do, fun for you.

Playgrounds can be insufferable for parents. If you don’t feel like chasing them or pushing a swing, set out a blanket with a book or iPad and call that Home Base. The kids have to go on a treasure hunt for 10 objects found in nature and bring them back to Home Base.

You can also turn your activities into fun for them: “Hey kids! Daddy needs to shop for shoes! Let’s bring your scooters and helmets and build an obstacle course in the alley behind the store!” OK, maybe not the best example, but you get the idea.

2. How Much Minutes? When I travel with my kids I figured out that it really helps to break the trip into smaller segments of activities. So one part of the trip is “Music Hour.” The next might be “Snack Time.” Then definitely work in “Quiet Time” (that one can be extended if it seems to lead to snoring), and then you add a “Play Time” hour which can be coloring activities, iPhone games, and/or workbooks. (I also like to throw five crayons in a Ziploc bag with paper squares and get the kids to make “color cards,” “word cards,” or the letters of the alphabet.) And when all else fails, movies on the iPad usually burns through a few hours really well!

VIDEO: Dan Bucatinsky discusses his new book

3. In Case of an Emergency: I try not to leave the house without a change of underwear in a Ziploc bag. You never know when “something” might happen. And have one for the KIDS’ underwear, too! Stick it in your bag, the glove-compartment of your car, or your back pocket. And while you’ve got it—may as well stick band-aids in there as well. And maybe a sunscreen stick. OK, and a box of raisins.

4. Do as I Do, Not as I Say. I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve been finding that not all lessons are learned by jabbering at my kids–but rather by behaving in the manner in which I’d like them to behave. Want them to read more? It’s great for them to see YOU reading. Want them to put a napkin on their laps at mealtimes? Do it first! And want them to say “I love you”? I noticed, big surprise, they say it a lot more when I say it to them.

5. The “A” Word. Both my kids were part of an adoption plan as part of an “open adoption.” Open adoptions are a wonderful opportunity for a birth mom to decide where her baby will be placed. It’s good to work with a family services agency that will advocate for the birth mother as well as the couple. We found this made everyone feel a lot more comfortable during a process that can be tense and emotional at times. Also. how we speak about adoption is so important. It’s good to use the phrase “making an adoption plan” rather than phrases like “giving up” or “giving away” a baby.

6. And I Don’t Mean Maybe. I only had to face the defiant blank stare of my kids for the fifth or sixth (hundredth) time to figure out that if I didn’t follow through on my threats–they’d never take me seriously. Seriously! Why should they put all the Magna-Tiles away if they know they’ll still get to watch the rest of Toy Story 3 if they do nothing. There’s an added downside. Not doing as you say is only a step away from not meaning what you say. So if “no dessert” doesn’t mean no dessert, how does “I’m proud of you” mean I’m truly proud of you?

7. Snack Sneak. I discovered this amazing way to sneak a whole lot of nutrition in a treat my kids love. I make pancakes from a mix (I use Pamela’s Gluten Free because I have celiac disease and this lets me sneak a few for myself). I doctor up the batter with yogurt and a banana or applesauce. Then I make a whole stack of mini-pancakes and either add chicken and carrots to the batter to make them into meal-cakes, or I just use them for mini sandwiches with cheese, ham, or turkey—or even PB&J!

8. When, Where, and for How Long? I noticed how much my 7 and 4-year-olds love knowing WHEN everything in their day is going to happen. They also like being a part of the decisions about when they do things, so I started making schedules for everything. We sit down with a piece of paper or one of those mini dry-erase boards and we figure out the schedule for even a small part of the day. It’s particularly good for the dinner-to-bedtime period. I let the kids decide the order of things and how it’s going to play out. It can be pretty detailed (and hilarious): 6:30 dinner. 6:55 dessert. 7:00 homework. 7:20 free-play. 7:30 bath. 7:45 teeth. 7:50 stories. 8:00 bed. 8:05 pillow fight. 8:10 back to bed. 8:15 call Daddy to get us a glass of water.

9. Two words: Wet Wipes!
The greatest invention ever made is wet wipes. I put them everywhere, from my office desk to my car, my briefcase, the kids backpack, lunch bags, bathrooms, back pocket, in between sofa cushions… you name it. Of course they clean kids’ sticky hands and faces, but I’ve learned from watching film and TV crews that they can take stains out of clothes, props, and furniture, too.

10. Turn the Other Cheek—Unless It’s Bloody. I always used to jump right in to separate an argument with my kids or make them say “I’m sorry” to each other. But that just stunts their ability to deal with conflict. I learned it’s better for them to work it out. It’s amazing how they learn from the experience all about conflict resolution. That is, unless someone gets hurt or something gets broken–like your favorite retro record player that took six months to replace. But I’m not bitter.

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