One of the joys of teaching Physical Education is that I get to watch my students grow up. I first meet a student as an enthusiastic first grader, then witness their development into a lanky (and occasionally snarky) teenager who graduates eighth grade ready to take on the world. It’s a remarkable thing to observe — like tuning in to a very slow-paced Animal Planet show — and I’ll get to see this happen with my own child very soon: My wife is set to deliver any day now. While I’m not surprised that the students I get to watch grow up have strong opinions about growing up, in general, I wouldn’t have necessarily guessed they’d have so many parenting tips at the ready. But it turns out, my middle-schoolers are full of advice for new parents.
When my students heard I was going on paternity leave, their reactions were hilarious. “I hear you’re getting a kid,” one boy said, as if I were swinging by the local dealership and picking out the latest model. “That’s awesome.” My coworkers, in an incredibly touching gesture, compiled all the parenting advice from my students into a book. This book is so full of pearls of wisdom, it would be downright selfish to keep them to myself, so I present them to you here. If you just follow these tips, being a dad should be a piece of cake.
How to Be Well-Prepared
“I think you should always have a book ready at night to read to your child. Be very firm.” —Paul, second grade
“In order to be the best dad you must have a book ready for reading at night by 12 p.m. Do not let your child on a screen without supervision until they are 9 years old. If you are giving your child milk, always have it warm because that calms children down.” —Rafa, second grade
“He needs to look after his baby because one time my baby brother climbed up on the kitchen counter and was throwing food.” —Leah, second grade
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“Have a ladder at the bedroom window in case of a fire or break-in.” —Jack, third grade
“Don’t make her pass out from too many push-ups, jumping jacks, etc.” —Stacy, fourth grade
As a PE teacher I can’t make any promises on the last rule.
How to Feed a Child
“Definitely give her fruit. When you are going to a place you should always have a snack ready in case she is hungry.” —Oliver, second grade
“Sometimes my dad asks me what I want for dinner. I’ll tell him something. Even if it takes an hour he’ll make it. I’m sure you’ll do the same thing.” —Stephanie, fifth grade
“A good parent gets you food from restaurants.” —Albert, first grade
“Do not steal her Halloween candy.” —Desi, fourth grade
How to Keep Your Child Alive, Just Generally
“You should take care of your children by helping them get food and taking them to school. Make sure they get enough sleep. Make sure they’re not too hot or too cold.” —Sarah, first grade
“Give your kids shelter, food, and water. Help your kids look for things they’ve lost.” —James, third grade
“Make sure they have clothes and they don’t feel like they’re not a person. Don’t let your kids be bored. Make sure they don’t die and teach them to brush their teeth.” —Nadia, third grade
“Diapers must be changed, even if you don’t want to.” —Matt, sixth grade
How to Keep Your Child Stimulated
“Let her go to as many things with animals as she wants.” —Adele, second grade
“You should get them the toys they want.” —Nigel, third grade
“Give your kids experiences. For example, bring them to places.” —Camila, fourth grade
Oh, the places we will go.
How to Be Kind
“I know that babies sometimes do exercises, so Alex would be a good dad because maybe he can teach it exercises when it’s about two. One time I made a snowman.” —Sadie, first grade
“Make all the food and don’t make your wife do all the stuff. Do most of the stuff for your family and do not make your wife do it. Make sure you let her be happy all the time.” —Liam, second grade (and well aware of the happy wife–happy life balance)
“Although it is very hard, don’t react to screaming. Don’t ignore your kid by looking at your phone. Sugar makes them CRAZY!” —Sasha, fifth grade
“Be sure to have at least five minutes alone with your daughter to have a conversation every day.” —Pia, sixth grade
What my students lack in parenting experience, they make up for through the experience of having parents. What struck me about their advice is that it isn’t necessarily the actions that count, but how they are undertaken. Whether we’re reading books, going places, or escaping from the bedroom window thanks to our thoughtfully placed ladder, the important thing is the humor, patience, and presence we bring to these endeavors.
Though cooking hour-long meals for my daughter every time she asks might be unrealistic, it’s touching to know how much such gestures can matter. As adults it can be easy to get caught up in the idea that children need the best gear and the most educational activities. On the cusp of fatherhood, it’s reassuring to know that at the end of the day, taking the time to have a conversation with your daughter could be the most important thing of all.
Alex Tzelnic is a writer and teacher living in Massachusetts. He frequently writes about the intersections of sports, education, mindfulness, and now, fatherhood. You can follow him on Twitter @atz840.