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At-Home Dad Network


Three years ago I quit my job, moved to a new house in a new state, and set about being a stay-at-home-dad. As one of several children and an uncle many times over, I was confident that I had the skills to make it happen. In hindsight, my family experience was helpful but so was my experience as a trainer. I've just finished finding my daughter a pre-school, and now I'm preparing to go back to work. In the process, I've discovered or rediscovered a few things about learning that I'd like to share.

Learning is a process, not an event

Knowledge transfer is an event. Learning is the integration and application of that knowledge. Take learning to ride a tricycle, for example. We were all thrilled when Grandma and Grandpa gave my daughter a tricycle. Having seen other children ride, she jumped on with no hesitation. I explained the different parts, encouraged her to pedal, and let her go. She pushed herself along. I coached her on pedaling and steering, pointed out how older children were riding, put her feet on the pedals while I pushed so she could feel it. She still pushed herself along, bruising her shins in the process. Then one day, she asked to go for a walk. She changed her mind and asked to ride her “bike” instead. I put the trike on the sidewalk. She got on, and off she went. Five blocks later she was still pedaling and steering like she'd been at it for weeks.

Story telling is a powerful tool

“Tell me a story, Daddy.” How many times do I hear this every day? Too many. About six months ago, we started making up stories while riding in the car or before bed or whenever the mood strikes. Early on, I improvised with reworked fairy tales, e.g., my daughter and Cinderella go to the prince's ball together. But now she demands specific plot lines and adds characters to suit her needs. I've found that she uses the stories to create multiple scenarios to learn how to deal with situations.

For example, recently she loaned one of her favorite dolls to her cousin for the night. This was great sharing at 3 p.m., but by 5 p.m. when she was almost home she missed her doll something fierce. So she asked for stories, one after another. “Tell me about Baby Doll staying with me.” “Tell me about me going with Baby Doll to my cousin's house.” “Tell me about Baby Doll coming home early.” Clearly she was searching for a way to make this okay. Thankfully, one of the stories worked. She soon settled down and started planning the welcome home party.

Patience! The learner is in control

I got spoiled in the first year. As my daughter's primary caregiver, I controlled a lot of her world. I knew what was new to her and could predict her response to many things. I controlled her learning to the degree that I limited what she was exposed to. But alas, that power quickly disappears. Nothing demonstrates the independence of the learner quite as much as potty training, though learning to ride a tricycle works here, too.

“Patience!” all my parenting coaches warned me. My own experience as a trainer told me: The learner has to want to learn. But they didn't tell me who needed the patience more: my daughter or me? I've had to learn to give up control, and she's had to learn to take it. I'll spare you the potty details. But I will say that the more I reinforce that she's in control, the better she does.

Learning is emotional

With children, emotions come first and are thus the greatest barriers and enablers of learning. There is just no way that I can explain anything to a screaming, frustrated child—try as I might. And thus, through trial and error, I learned the real power of a “time-out.” It gives both of us time to decompress, gain control, and get perspective. We've both learned to take them and give them. “Daddy, do you need some quiet time?” is a question that is gaining currency.

Role modeling is powerful learning

I didn't get playgroups at the beginning. Neither did most of the other stay-at-home dads I've met. But nonetheless we went, my daughter and I. If you listened to the adult conversation, the purpose of the event was to give the adults a few moments of sanity, adult companionship, and a taste of what the English language can sound like. But if you watched the children, it was amazing to see how much was being learned. Not only were the children learning how to play with different toys by watching each other, they were learning by observing and listening to the adults. A parent might scold a child for pushing a friend, for example. Soon, you'd see the reprimanded child and others imitate the scolding to keep others in check.

Indeed, in discussing how our daughter was imitating us, my wife and I discovered how much of her company's corporate culture was based on role modeling. No one was teaching courses on how to behave at the company, but it seemed that in every department the same behaviors took place. We talked about it for a while and determined that everyone was emulating the CEO. That raised the question: Can you give a CEO a time out?

Russell Morris is a writer looking to rejoin the workforce in Western Connecticut. If you know a place where his talents could be put to use, let him know. Telecommuting and contract writing assignments are welcome. Reach him at




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