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The Top 5 Biggest Blunders that Dad's Can Make

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When I was about five years old, according to family lore, I almost died in a sledding mishap.

My father was bringing me home from daycare on a Minnesota winter evening, and when we came to the top of a snowy hill I asked if I could ride my sled down. He said yes, and I was off. What neither of us had realized was that the afternoon sun had melted the top layer of snow, and by sundown the water had refrozen into a layer of ice.

I sped down the slope and when I got to the bottom, I kept going, heading right for the street, zipping right underneath a parked car. Fortunately my layers of thick winter clothes kept me perfectly safe, but my dad later said that watching me speed towards the cars was one of the scariest moments in his life.

He had committed one of the classic Dad Blunders.

1. Never Stop Looking for Trouble

Before letting your kid get speed downhill on a sled, for example, think about where he's going, who or what he might he hit on the way, and most importantly, where will he will stop. With kids, you always have to anticipate the immediate future, so you can fend off disasters big and small. Don't put the juice where it's likely to get knocked over. Don't leave a fragile knick-knack on the coffee table. Don't let her climb on the windowsill unless you are certain that the window is securely shut. Things go wrong all the time; your job, Dad, is to constantly look for potential mishaps and head off trouble before it occurs.

2. Don't Ignore What Your Kids are Telling You

Peter Steinbach, an Orinda, CA, father of two, remembers the night his daughter Ella, then about 18 months old, started to cry as soon as he put her in the bathtub. They had been out at a lake that afternoon, and Steinbach hadn't realized that Ella had gotten a sunburn. "She started screaming when she got in the hot water," Steinbach said. "I thought she was just being cranky, but it turns out she was in a lot of pain." Your kids are smart, and most of the time they know more about what's going on with themselves than you do, so listen up. If he is carsick, he will probably give you some warning before puking all over the backseat. If she's mad, she'll tell you before she starts knocking over chairs. And if her sunburn hurts when it hits hot water, she'll definitely let you know. Just pay attention!

3. Be Prepared

So what do you do if your kid is carsick? Give him a clean shirt, of course. What do you mean you don't have a spare shirt? It's your job to carry a change of clothes. Also snacks, band-aids, spare diapers, and anything else that you might need. Accidents happen all the time, even to dads who are skilled at spotting potential problems (see Blunder No. 1). But having the gear you need to take care of any situation can keep a minor mishap from becoming a major dilemma. And if you do find yourself unprepared, don't be afraid to throw some money at the problem - buy a new shirt if it comes to that.

4. Don't Forget that Children are not Short Adults

Berkeley, CA, dad Reed Malcolm learned that lesson when he tried to trim his six-month-old daughter's fingernails and accidentally clipped off a chunk of skin. "She just started screaming, and there was blood, and then her mom came running in," he said. "I felt really awful. It's really hard to cut a baby's nails, because they're so small." Babies aren't just small, they are also less developed than grown-ups, and far more fragile. Their ears are more sensitive to loud sounds, their skin burns more easily, and their fingernails can be a challenge. So don't take care of them the same way you take care of yourself. Just remember: They aren't supposed to be logical; they're babies. Don't expect them to act like adults.

As for me, I'm guilty of the worst dad blunder of all. I remember it like it was yesterday. My wife was napping, and I was keeping an eye on our daughter, just a few weeks old, who was napping on the sofa. Only I wasn't really paying attention. I was watching TV. Until I heard a loud thump and then a piercing scream, when my daughter rolled off the sofa and hit her head on the hardwood floor. Which leads me to:

5. Don't Look Away

Very young babies can't crawl. They can't sit up, and they can't roll over. But it doesn't take much for them to fall off the sofa. It's also easy for kids to eat glue, break dishes, cut the sleeves off your favorite sweater, or scrawl all over the sofa with a bright pink highlighter if nobody is paying attention. That last one also happened to me, with a different kid a decade later. You'd think I would have learned my lesson, but apparently not. As kids get older, the potential dangers shift; a two-year old probably won't crack his head rolling off a sofa, but don't ever leave him near an open window. Your job doesn't change. Don't take your eye off the ball, ever. 

This information is not a substitute for personal medical, psychiatric or psychological advice.

 
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