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About GreatDad Writers

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Secrets to Alone Time

Once your child is born, it doesn't take long for you to realize that the concept of free time is now a thing of the past.

Unfortunately, you need that time to help keep yourself sane. After all, a dad who is present – but totally burnt out – isn't going to be very helpful.

Here are some tips to carve out the time that you need.

Make Sure Spouses Get Equal Time
First, make sure both you and your spouse have equal opportunities for alone time. Even if your wife stays home with the kids during the day, that doesn't necessarily mean she has any time to relax to herself.

It's important for both partners to have an equal chance to recharge their mental batteries. So if she wants to unwind with a relaxing bubble bath, play with the kids and don't disturb her. While it's not okay to say it, ensuring she has the time she needs means she can't guilt trip you – intended or not – when you want to take a break from fatherhood for a couple of hours.

Schedule it
If you're having trouble finding time for yourself, that's probably because you haven't really planned it. So if you want to go see a movie, or even go for a long walk one day, put it on the calendar and don't take it off.

The simple act of making an "event" makes it tougher to ignore. Plus, if you have plans for a specific time, you have something to look forward to when your kid pulls your hair for the umpteenth time this week.

Get creative
There are more creative ways to find some alone time as well. For example, many gyms – and even some supermarkets – have on-site daycare facilities where you can leave your child for a bit. So what if you don't need to work out – Or only needed to pick up a gallon of milk? Your kids won't mind if you take an extra 10 minutes to relax with a cup of coffee down the street.

Really desperate? When was the last time you played hide and seek with your kids? I'll bet they're really good at hiding… aren't they?

Get Alone Time… Together
Once kids come into the equation, time together as a couple is also tough. So get relatives to come over – or hire a babysitter – and go out and enjoy an adult conversations.

If evenings are tough, plan a date "day". Both of you can take a vacation day, and once the kids are off to school, go back to bed. Once you're refreshed, go out for a nice brunch, and then relax until the kids come home again. It's a simple, low-stress way to take a break.

The common denominator here is that you need to take the time to take care of yourself. Otherwise, you're going to end up being a less effective parent in the end. 

Do you have any other secrets to finding time to yourself? Share them here.

Kid a Picky Eater? Try These Ideas

No one can accuse me of being a picky eater. I like everything.

My sister, however, has always been the opposite. At first she didn't like vegetables, and made my parents make chicken tenders for her every night. When she became a teenager, she changed gears entirely and became a vegetarian.

While she's back to eating bacon and chicken again, I've seen enough tantrums about picky eating to last a lifetime. If you've got a kid who is a picky eater, here's a few fatherhood ideas to keep in mind.

Don't force food when they're not hungry – One of the main reasons kids may not be all that interested in eating is that they're actually not hungry at that point in time – which is fine. Don't force them to eat "right then" if they don't want to. Just ask them to sit at the table with everyone else, and they can heat their dinner back up when they're ready to eat.

Try new foods more than once – Kids may not like new foods the first time. So don't be afraid to try them more than once. Kids actually have more taste buds than adults, so strong flavors may be even more intense.

Tune out table distractions – Would you rather eat something you aren't excited about, or spend that time watching television? Your kids' answers are probably going to be very similar. So unless it's Super Bowl Sunday, try turning off the television during dinner, and keep the phones away. Remember, if you want your kids to do it, Dad needs to lead by example. So when you're at the table, don't check your emails or texts. Either wait 10 minutes, or walk away from the table before you pull out your iPhone.

Get creative – If you're having trouble incorporating certain foods into your kids' diets, try getting creative with its presentation. For instance, put veggies inside pasta sauce, rather than on the side. You can also try to balance out bitter flavors by adding some sourness – like putting lemon juice on broccoli.

Hand over control – Want to avoid the "I don't want to eat that" debate? Put your kids in charge sometimes. Whether it's helping create the dinner menu for next week, or even having a make-your-own taco night, giving them choices can help make things run a lot smoother.

Make food fun – When catering to kids, keeping things fun can also help encourage your kids to eat more veggies. (After all, why do you think companies make dinosaur chicken nuggets?) There's actually proof to back it up too. Researchers at Cornell found that simply by calling carrots "X-ray Vision Carrots" at a school, children ate twice as many of them.

The key to overcoming picky eating is persistence. Avoid making individual meals regularly – letting your child turn you into everyone's personal chef is a bad road to start down. Once you begin to cave, you're setting a precedent and encouraging the picky eating to continue.

Mother’s Day Surprises From You AND the Kids

Mother's Day is coming… Did you lose track of it too?

If you haven't thought about what you are going to get for the lady in your life, you probably should- otherwise you'll be buying a half-dead bouquet of flowers from the gas station and hunting for a  greeting card that doesn't congratulate the reader on their recent graduation.

If your kids are old enough to help, you should think about coming up with a gift idea that involves them. Why? Because on the cuteness scale, nothing tops your kids doing something nice for Mom. Here's a few ideas how you can team up to make this a Mother's Day to remember.

Check out Pinterest for Crafts – If you are looking for a craft-y gift from you and the kids, do yourself a favor and search on Pinterest. Trust me – there are millions of different ideas for all different levels of skill. Want to make an apron with all your handprints on it? Done. How about a handmade picture frame with a photo of all of you? Easy. Log on with your kids around and see what ideas they like.

Put a twist on traditional flowers – Flowers by themselves aren't a bad thing (I know my wife loves them), but they don't need to be relegated to a fallback plan. To make flowers a more unique gift, take your kids out shopping and buy some soil and flowers for planting. Let the kids pick the ones they like unless Mom has specific preferences (if you don't know this by now, figure it out). You should also try to go with perennials. They'll bloom every year, and when they do, they'll keep reminding her of her special day.

Go away and take the kids – Want to know what a lot of mothers would like? Time to themselves. So one way to make their day would be to get the kids and go away for at least 4-5 hours. That will give Mom some time to relax, take a deep breath, and enjoy herself away from all the stress of responsible parenting.

Make it a group affair – Do your wife's friends also have significant others who procrastinate for Mother's Day? Why not tag team the situation? Pick a nice restaurant and make lunch or dinner reservations for a full-on ladies outing. Give the restaurant a credit card to hold onto, and let the girls have a nice meal to themselves. At the same time, all the Dads can team up to handle babysitting duties.

Regardless of what you end up choosing as a Mother's Day gift, make it something personal, memorable and thoughtful.

What do you think? What are the best (and worst) Mother's Day gifts you've given?

How To Find a Good School

As soon as my baby girl started to smile, my mind started racing ahead toward college funds. School is important, and being in a good district was a big family planning decision when my wife and I moved where we did two years ago.

Choosing a school is so much more than test scores (although you should review those too!). Because my wife works in education, she knows what to look for . For those who don't happen to have a teacher in the house, here's a quick list of factors to consider.

Review test scores – Testing is only part of a school's performance. But you should still make sure you pay attention to how a school finishes compared to others in standardized testing. The Department of Education, and other sites such as GreatSchools, can help discerning parents see which areas are performing well, and which are not.

Check local sources – If you're looking to move into an area with a strong school district, be sure to take advantage of all the local resources you can find. First, ask your real estate agent for their recommendations. Agents get this question a lot, so they should have some familiarity.

Look up the local paper for news items about schools. Check old issues from August or September, and you'll likely find lots of stories about school budgets, and even about local elections regarding tax overrides. You can also check out websites, message boards, and Facebook pages for information on the local parent teacher association and other groups. These pages will help give more personal details about the issues facing the school.

Evaluate Public vs Private – Don't just assume that a private school is going to be better than a public school. Ask for their test data, and go on a tour of the facility. You also need to ask questions about their disciplinary policies, what activities are offered, and other things that go beyond the normal curriculum. If what you see doesn't stack up, then you don't need to spend the extra money on tuition.

Focus on technology – Many new testing protocols are intended to be taken online, so when you look at the facilities, pay special attention to the technology in place in classrooms and computer labs. Think about how much technology has changed during the past few years. If classroom computers still look like they did when YOU were in school, then there are some serious issues.

I could go on about every little detail you could check out about a school, but in the end, focus on whether you feel comfortable at the school as a father. If you're comfortable there, then odds are your child will too.

Dealing with Lying: Stopping it Early

Let's face it. Kids are going to lie to you from time to time.

They lie about cleaning their room. They lie about who started a fight. They lie about eating their vegetables when you can clearly see them on the floor.

Personally, my younger self blamed everything that went wrong on an Alligator in red sneakers. My childhood mind apparently thought that a more specific description would make the mischievous alligator wandering around the house more believable.

Obliviously, a couple little fibs isn't going to put your kid on the fast-track to America's Most Wanted. But as as a father I'll need to draw the line somewhere. Here's a quick guide to addressing the issue.

Age matters – When kids are 2 or 3 years old, they don't really have much of a concept of what's real and what isn't. So while you need to reinforce the idea that telling the truth is important, it's not realistic to expect them to be 100% truthful all the time. It's when they get older than you can start introducing punishments. It's not fun, but it's part of fatherhood.

Leave imaginary friends alone – Like my reptilian compatriot, imaginary friends are totally normal, and even healthy from a mental development standpoint. These make-believe beings allow kids to express their creativity in a healthy way. Eventually, they'll grow out of them. Just be patient. Just don't let the the imaginary friend take the fall for any lies your child may have.

Separate punishments for lying and misdeeds – Another thing to remember is that since kids often lie to hide the fact that they did something wrong, you need to be able to differentiate them. If they break something but tell the truth, give them credit for being honest and keep the punishment related to their actions. If they do something wrong, and then lie, then make sure to address both issues.

Read between the lies – Lies often hint at a larger issue. If they feel overwhelmed by their homework, they may simply tell you they don't have any homework only to have you head into parent-teacher conferences only to find a big surprise. If you feel like this may be happening, make sure to address the underlying issue, not just punish them for the symptom.

Lead by example – You also need to be a good role model for your kids when it comes to telling the truth. If they see you lying about their age to get them free admission to the movies, or telling other half-truths, they're going to remember it.

If you've tried to address the issue, and your older child continues to lie habitually then talk about it with other family members. They may have new insights into methods or strategies that might be effective as well. If it's still a serious issue, try bringing it up with your pediatrician. The medical perspective may offer unique insights in finding some solutions.