I've learned a lot during my six long months as a Reluctant Housedad, not least how to get my children to do what I want them to do.
This was not something I merely stumbled upon, but an achievement based on trial and error, thought and experiment.
My children are my stepdaughter, aged nine, and sons, aged six and three. In other words, their needs, quirks and behaviour are all very different.
But these strategies are a one-size-fits-all approach to successful parenting. By following them I have broken my kids like a cowboy breaks wild ponies. Tough love, that's the way forward, deployed in the same way my wife deploys it on me when I beg her for a night out with my mates i.e: 'Tough, love!'
Strategy 1: CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES
If you want your toddler to go to nursery in colour coordinated T-shirt and trousers but he wants to wear just his underpants, let him. The freezing cold weather, the mocking stares from his peers, the fact that his undies are too big because they're hand-me-downs from his brother will soon dawn on him as the less-enlightened of his decisions and in no time he'll be begging you to dress him in whatever outfit you decide.
Strategy 2: LET THEM EAT CAKE
Or biscuits, or chocolate, or any other rubbish them fancy. Let them eat it until they're sick of the sight of it. And in no time at all (a couple of months), they'll be begging you for steamed broccoli, alfalfa sprouts and mung bean salads. They may become obese in the meantime, but they'll soon burn it off (see Strategy 3).
STRATEGY 3: GET THEM EXERCISING
This doesn't need to involve the latest sports gear, trendy trainers. or expensive after-school clubs. 'Fetch and carry' is the way forward. 'Fetch me the remote control'; 'Carry these shopping bags for me'; 'Fetch me a biscuit - and while you're at it, a cup of tea. Milk, one sugar'; 'Carry the empty cornflake packets and newspapers down to the recycling bin. Go on, be a love.'
Strategy 4: MAKE HOUSEWORK FUN
Fun for you, that is. Tell them the vacuum cleaner is a monster that has to eat all the dusty bunnies; that picking their clothes up off the floor will reveal some hidden treasure; that reading will help them beat their virtual pals at computer games. Get them to clear their toys away against the stopwatch. Get them to race each other: the quickest in-and-out of the bath; the fastest to put their pyjamas on.
Strategy 5: SPONSOR THEIR SILENCE
This is worth saving up for. Put aside all the loose change you usually chuck on the mantelpiece and then offer it as a prize, ideally on a Saturday morning after a heavy Friday night. The first one to speak has to make Mummy and Daddy breakfast (or, ideally, lunch) in bed. (Note: This doesn't work on a three-year-old).
Strategy 6: BAN ELONGATED VOWELS
As in 'Daaaaaaaaaad'. If they don't comply, offer them a substitute, ideally; 'Muuuuuuuuuuuum'. Give them a sweet every time they use the latter instead of the former.
Strategy 7: PUT AN END TO BICKERING
A little outlay is needed for this one, but you have to speculate to accumulate. Padlocks and earplugs can be indispensable. When the bickering starts, send them to separate rooms, then padlock the doors. Insert earplugs and go for a lie down.
Strategy 8: TREAT THEM LIKE GROWN-UPS
Children love this. It makes them feel special, respected. But how? Take them to the pub. Get them to use their Tooth Fairy money to stand their round. Trust – and trust is very important in a parent-child relationship – them not to tell their mother where they've been all afternoon.
Strategy 9: TELL THEM YOU LOVE THEM
But do it sparingly. Kids are saps for praise. It's what makes them tick. But if you do it too often, they become immune to it. If you always follow it with the word 'When' then you can't go wrong e.g. 'I love you...when you do the dishes'; 'I love you...when you let Daddy have a rest for an hour while you're doing your homework'; 'I love you...when you use your initiative and build the bloody Lego fort I bought you for Christmas without asking me to do it for you'; 'I love you...when you put all the peas in your mouth and not on the floor'; 'I love you...when you don't use my laptop as a receptacle for your crisp crumbs and spilled juice'; 'I love you...when you're asleep!'
Strategy 10: USE THE ULTIMATE SANCTION
If all else fails, threaten them with the six words that instil fear into whatever child of whatever age group (well, in our household anyway): Wait. 'Til. Your. Mother. Gets. Home!