Good Dad Habits
Stephen Griffin - Parent - Teacher - Author

9 Surprisingly Good Dad Habits to Start Right Now10 min read

There's no manual on being a dad... and if there were, we wouldn't read it. So it's smart to line up some good habits from day one.

Have you ever been sitting in the cubicle staring out the window dreaming of that trip you want to take? Of course you haven’t.

Cubicles don’t have windows. But maybe you’ve put Bora Bora as your desktop image. Cool. It’s all well and good to have dreams. The harder thing is to make those dreams happen. Having any goal really come true is hard. Doubly so when parenting.

I’m here to tell you that it’s better to have good Dad habits than it is to have lofty Dad goals.

Intuitively, I think you know this is true. After all, a habit is just making a choice into a system.

“I’m here to tell you that it’s better to have good Dad habits than it is to have lofty Dad goals.”

Which one is going to have more impact on your life?

Making good choices every day, or having some lofty goal? Sure, it might sound good to say “I’m going to quit drinking,” but when does that really happen? Isn’t it easier to make some real progress and make the choice every day to just pass on that beer with breakfast? (Vacations and Lent don’t count).

Making the right choice every time is hard. That’s why its great when you can get that system going. That way, the autopilot way is the right way. I find I succeed more when I don’t have to think about it.

1. Adopt Good Dad Habits to Establish Rules

One of the first things about parenting that my wife and I decided on was that we were always going to be on team “Mommy Daddy” first and foremost. We love our children to death, but they’re manipulative little things.

How many TV shows have the premise where a kid will pit the parents against one another? I think it was the whole plot of the Parent Trap.

Anyway, Team Mommy Daddy. That means that we consistently enforce our household rules.

Being consistent in this regard allows the rest of the habits to follow. If we say something is going to happen, it needs to happen.

Otherwise, the rules we have are merely suggestions and that’s no way to live. Sometimes we find a rule has either outlived its usefulness or maybe didn’t have the outcome that we expected. In those cases, we’ll reevaluate later, but we always make sure to stand by our expectations.

2. Create Great Reading Habits

My nearly five year old has just started reading his first books. His eyes light up like he’s seeing into the world of Biscuit or Hop on Pop. He might as well be there?

We’ve made sure that, no matter what, we do bedtime stories every day with both of our children. From day one we were reading stories, and now as they grow, they’re more into books as well. Not only is it a good time for bonding at the end of the day, but it instills the love of literature (or the Marvel Cinematic Universe) into our kids.

3. Honesty Is the Best Policy

Kids sure can be tricky little bastards. They want to get exactly what they want, and they want to do it with the least amount of work possible. It makes sense from a Darwinian sense, but it sure can cause some problems.

We’ve worked hard to establish honesty as the key bedrock of our household. Sure, it might be easier to lie and say that we don’t know who pushed the toddler down and stole his ball, but it isn’t the habit we’ve gotten into. So even when it means there are consequences we’ve established that honesty is the right choice without thinking. (I’m assuming political ambitions will wean my kids of this habit one day).

4. Tidying Up Is One of The Good Dad Habits to Establish

Where does that plate go when you’re done eating off of it? It’s one of life’s great mysteries. The toddler in the house will tell you it goes on the lowest shelf:

the floor.

But we’re working every day to make the right choice automatic. Plates go in the sink when you’re done, and toys go back where you found them. Mom and Dad have to model that good behavior too.

No more setting random bags anywhere in the kitchen when we get home after work.

Everything has its place, and everything should be in its place by the time we go to bed.

5. Good Communication Skills are Good Dad Habits

I’m not naturally the best at expressing my feelings. Ask me how I’m doing and I’ll likely say “cool.” I don’t even know what that means. When you’re raising little ones it gets much more complicated.

They’re real-life human beings.

They have dreams, ambitions, feelings, and everything that goes along with it. Sure they might not be freaking out about how little they contributed to their IRA last year, but kids have issues to deal with too. It can be hard to model sharing without causing worry.

That way when we get to the really sharp and thorny issues we have established dialogue as a habit.

Clear communication is one of the best dad habits to adopt. My wife and I try to make sure that we communicate how we’re feeling in every situation. When our son pushes his little brother, rather than yell and scream, we try to communicate how that makes us feel worried for our littlest one’s safety.

Then there’s time out. We ask about school every day and try to pry some details out into the open. The goal is that we make sharing how we’re feeling as natural and automatic as can be. That way when we get to the really sharp and thorny issues we have established dialogue as a habit.

6. Eating

Food is such a problematic issue when you’re parenting.

You have to purchase it, it’s expensive, then you have to make it, and serve it. Sometimes you’re not up for all that nonsense and Jack in the Box is your best friend. But food is a great place to establish good dad habits all around.

First, it’s a wonderful time to establish family time.

We’ve made a real effort to get the whole family around the table for dinner. All four of us are there to spend time with one another. We don’t bring electronics to the table or any other distractions other than our engaging personalities (and problems). But it’s not just about family time.

Making sure your kids establish good eating habits is important too. That means that we’re really careful about what we make and serve our kids. My wife insists that organic is better, and I’m more in the Michael Pollan camp that “organic” doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

Either way, we’re making automatic choices that mean good food for the kids. On the kid’s end, we’re working on establishing that what we’re served is what we eat. Obviously, that’s often times a losing battle, but we’re hoping it cuts down on waste and picky eating.

7. Exercise is an Excellent Dad Habit

We’ve tried to establish physical activity as the default in our house. Our oldestson goes to physical therapy for his walking gate. That means that we need to be on top of making sure he does the right stretches and walks the right way every day.

Do you have any idea how complicated it is to get a four-year-old to walk a way that they don’t want to?

At least establishing the illusion of choice is a good dad habit to try and stick to.

Yeah, it’s pretty tough. But that’s why making these activities a fun habit works so well. It’s not “hey son, let’s do our exercises.” It’s “when are we going to do our exercises today?”

There’s still a choice there, but there is never a question of if the exercise is going to happen. That part of the debate has been settled by putting this habit on autopilot.

8. Bridging the Electronic Gap

Little kids can tell when you’re not paying attention. You know how you told them that you have eyes in the back of your head to watch them? You don’t, but they don’t know that.

Kids have something else, a sixth sense, that can just see you’re checking Instagram and not paying attention to the boring ass story they’re telling you. So I know its hard, but turning off the technology when you’re focusing on your kids is the habit to choose.

You get to form some memories of them as little ones, and they get their parent’s undivided attention.

I guarantee the Jenners aren’t doing anything more interesting than what your kid is doing with those blocks. You might even stop them from throwing something at the TV if you’re not on your phone. It’s win-win here folks.

9. Time Away from the Kiddos

This one is hard. Everyone knows that in order to maintain Team Mommy Daddy that what used to be Team Our Marriage needs to have some priority. In an ideal world, you’ll want to make sure that your life without the kids survives too. Taking care of your relationship and really, yourself, is one of the good dad habits that gets overlooked far too often.

In order to do that you want to make the partnership a habit as well. At least twice a month you should get out without the kids. I know that’s easier said than done from personal experience.

Sometimes it seems like every single time you get the opportunity to get a sitter and go to a movie one of the kids will get sick.

Or you’ll get sick.

Or some other emergency will take priority. But remember that everything is a choice. Sure you can put out every little fire that pops up, but if you never get to what’s causing the conflagration in the first place, you’re always going to be doing that.

Make the time to step back as a couple and evaluate what’s going on. Plus, you’ll get to see the new Marvel movie.

Wrapping Up

Basically, what I tell my students about studying and writing applies to forming good parenting habits. You can’t just “want” to write a term paper. You can’t “want” to do research. That’s not enough.

You have to make the choices every day that move you down the academic path.

That 1,500 word term paper might seem really daunting when it only exists as a line item on the syllabus.

It has research you need to do, a lot of thinking, and a lot of writing. Hell, you actually have to learn stuff. But if a student just makes the choice to tackle thirty minutes of the project a day, it gets done early.

If the student will just write 100 words a day, the paper gets done in a couple of weeks as opposed to 2 AM the day that it’s due.

But the choice to do the work and form good study habits has to be an active one just like the formation of any other habit. It’s much easier to sit around the dorm playing video games or snap chatting.

Studying has to be the default habit. Well… that’s what I tell them anyway.

Stephen Griffin - Parent - Teacher - Author

Stephen is the father of two rambunctious boys having adventures in Southern California. When he’s not parenting, he’s teaching history, camping, and sailing. He’s the author of two books. Washington and Napoleon, and The Gilded Tour.

Young father with a toddler boy cooking.

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