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How to Be a Great Dad: Ages 3 to 5

Kids these ages need to walk, run, jump, throw, catch, and kick. Encourage your child by putting on some music and dancing with him, or use pillows to make an obstacle course in your living room. Go for walks and trips to the playground, where he can climb, balance, swing, hang, and slide. Here are more tips for making it through the preschool years.

Raise a Junior Shakespeare

Your kids will ignore your advice for most of their lives, but right now, they're at their most attentive. Indeed, in families with two working parents, fathers have greater impact than mothers on their children's language development between the ages of 2 and 3, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. The researchers advise dads to use a diverse vocabulary when speaking, but that doesn't mean you should start reciting Herodotus. Instead, provide creative and dramatic play-by-play, which describes both the activities you are doing and the surroundings, giving your child an aural context for what he or she is seeing.

Cement Your Authority

Admitting mistakes not only feels good — it is good. "The way to gain true, lasting authority with your child is by being truthful and emotionally honest­ not by hiding your screwups," says Marc A. Zimmerman, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Michi­gan. If you yell at your son and later wish you hadn't, say so. If you forget your daughter's kindergarten play and feel bad about it, tell her. Your emotional honesty is a bridge to your child. Cross it often.

Quell a Tantrum

Don't try reasoning, bribes, or threats. If your child is having a meltdown in a grocery store, he has no capacity to hear you. Your best bet is to scoop him up and let him purge outside, says psychologist Lawrence Cohen, Ph.D., author of Playful Parenting. Cohen also advises taking preventive measures: Schedule 30 minutes of playtime before running errands-it gives him quality time with you and will tire him out. Lock eyes before leaving for the store. If your connection is strong, he won't feel the need to erupt in the cookie aisle.

Raise Their EQ

Emotional quotient (EQ), the social intelligence marker that corporate headhunters value so highly, can be nurtured in your children, says David Perlmutter, M.D., author of Raise a Smarter Child by Kindergarten. Here's how.

Name feelings. Kids have a hard time giving names to their feelings (for example, fear, anger, jealousy). By helping them identify their feelings, you're helping them gain control of them and recognize them in others.
Endorse emotions. It's almost intuitive to soothe our kids by denying their feelings ("There's nothing to be scared of"). Instead, validate their feelings ("I can see that you're scared — what are you afraid of?").

Praise without Spoiling

Rampant, unearned praise is not only ineffective but also detrimental-your kid can become addicted to praise and measure her self-worth accordingly. The key is to follow this three-part script, says Larry Koenig, Ph.D., author of Smart Discipline: Fast, Lasting Solutions for Your Child's Self-Esteem and Your Peace of Mind. Point out exactly what your child did to earn your praise ("I see you're helping your little brother put his toys away"), label the action with a positive characteristic ("That shows me you really care about your brother"), and express your approval ("I like that about you").

Show the Love

Studies show that kids who receive physical contact and one-on-one attention grow up to be more secure, says Kyle Pruett, M.D., professor of child psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine. To make it happen, schedule a weekly slot in your calendar, and surprise your kid with "spontaneous" playtime. There should be no distractions; shut off the iPad, the TV, and, heck, even your phone. Submit. Follow your child's lead, and show him you're interested in what he wants to do. Pruett also advises dads to establish whatever physical-intimacy rituals they're comfortable with, whether it's European-style cheek kisses or personalized handshakes.

Fuel His Competitive Streak

Boys as young as 4 years old start to compete with their fathers, whether it's sprinting to the car or wrestling on the sofa. Nurture that spirit. Let him win a lot, and slowly ramp it up so that he has to work harder for the victory. "It's a way for a kid to develop a sense of being strong, and it lets him test his muscles," says Justin Richardson, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at Columbia University. He'll start to walk more confidently and be less of an easy mark for bullies. This might also bridge a philosophical difference with your wife: You're not teaching fighting, but you're satisfying your need to help him stand up for himself.

Win Over a Picky Eater

Be persistent. It takes longer than previously thought — 8 to 15 exposures­ for a kid to accept a new food, says a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. So if your tot tries something and spits it out, don't push. Kids don't like to eat new foods for a reason: They taste things more strongly than you do. It is evolution's way of keeping them away from poisons, which are often bitter. It's natural that things like brussels sprouts will turn them off, though studies show that kids will tolerate foods their mothers ate while pregnant. Most kids outgrow picky eating by age 5. These suggestions will help.

Introduce new vegetables. Start with purees, and later offer cut-up, well-cooked portions, which are more palatable. Play the "vegetable game" with your kids at the supermarket by letting them pick a new vegetable each trip. This way they'll be interested in trying new things.

Put them to work. A 5-year-old can crack eggs, mix and fold batter, and even peel vegetables — often until they are whittled down to the size of a toothpick. To build up his palate, encourage him to taste the food he makes.One word to the wise: Cooking with kids is just asking for a Valdez-like spill. Keep a mop — and some soothing words — ready just in case.

Avoid Sibling Rivalry

Prepare your toddler so he doesn't feel as if his role has been snatched without warning. Show your toddler pictures of himself as a baby. Tell him that he didn't do much when he was first born, but that he grew up to be a fun big kid. Once the baby arrives, spend time alone with your toddler. Point out the benefits of being a big boy: He gets to go on hikes with Dad while the baby stays home and naps. Eventually, he'll come around.

Present a United Front

Researchers at Seattle's Relationship Research Institute, a couples counseling center, have found that about two-thirds of couples experience a sharp decline in relationship quality when they first become parents. Researchers isolated "fundamental differences in parenting" and used this as a predictor of divorce with 80% accuracy.

"Couples disagreeing on parenting styles is a very serious issue," says Toru Sato, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Shippensburg University, in Pennsylva­nia. "We don't want to send inconsistent messages to children who are growing up in a world that is already confusing enough." Follow these guidelines if you and your wife have differing views.

Know thyself. Some parents have "emotion dismissing" attitudes (best summed up as "Just suck it up, kid"), while others have an "emotion coaching" philosophy ("Let's talk about your feelings"). Both parents should try to identify where they fall on the spectrum and-if they have wildly different approaches-discuss how to reconcile their differences, says John Gottman, Ph.D., founder of the Relationship Research Institute and coauthor of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work and Baby Makes Three. "Unless parents talk about this and arrive at a way of honoring both attitudes-toward their own emotions and their kid's — they won't get anywhere," he says.

Negotiate behind the scenes. Even the best of us have insecurities, and it's not uncommon for those issues to sneak into the parent-child relationship. And that can lead to conflict between the two partners."If you don't like your spouse's decision, first ask yourself why it bothers you," says Sato. "Then express that, and then listen. Half of the disagreement is resolved when we feel that our feelings are being respected by the other person."

Don't play good cop, bad cop. "Putting one parent in charge of discipline isn't fair to that parent," says Elizabeth Tingley, Ph.D., a professor of child development at Bank Street College of Education, in Manhattan. For example, the phrase "Just wait until your father gets home!" not only reinforces the male stereotype of the father as "the enforcer" but also breaks a cardinal rule of parenting: Accept equal responsibility for the disciplining of your kids. Take these steps to correct your family's penal system.

  1. Discuss gender-specific parenting stereotypes with your wife.
  2. Agree on which values are important and which behaviors you want to cultivate in your children.
  3. Always present a united front. See yourselves as parents who are equal partners operat­ing together. With luck, your kids won't use the daddy threat on their own kids.

Take a time-out. Not your kids-you. There will be times when you are outraged by your wife's approach and the kids are in the room. Don't question her in front of them; just go with the decision, and come back to it later, says Sato. "This will show that you respect your wife as a parent. Take a time-out, and discuss the issue after you've both cooled off," he says,

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