Q. My wife and I have two boys ages 9 and 6 and we are expecting another child. During this time of COVID-19, I’m working from home. Of course, I’m spending more time with my boys and my wife. I want to be a great dad and role model for our boys. Do you have any tips?
A. It’s a challenge and a blessing to have more time with your children. It’s certainly good for them. Research has shown that boys who have more time with their fathers tend to be less aggressive and more likely to stay out of trouble. Girls also express less socially unacceptable behavior when they have a positive and strong relationship with Dad.
Spending time with a child tells him that he is important. Children tend to feel valued and develop self-worth when they feel worthy of your attention. Spending time with your children also allows you to assess their talents and interests. Based on my many years working with fathers, here are tips from some of the best:
Patience: A good father has the patience to listen and learn from his child. If a child has a problem, Dad might ask, “What do you think would help?” Giving kids a chance to problem-solve gives them confidence. Patient dads can advise on more ways than one — and in more than one way — to find a way to help a child understand. When a father is there to patiently lend support and guidance, this builds emotional trust.
Guidance: Good dads help their kids by being able to teach them life lessons. When a child makes mistakes or bad choices, a good dad steps in to help teach consequences without being punitive or judgmental. A dad in tune with his child can help her make better decisions. Dads who can say “I’m sorry” when he makes a mistake is also modeling a valuable life lesson.
Involvement: Some of the best dads I know have been very involved in leadership and skills-building organizations like Boy Scouts, sports teams, STEM groups, or just one-on-one supporting a child’s interests and talents. Coaching a team, attending recitals, finding professional mentors, traveling to interesting locations — involved dads keep kids excited about their potential.
Respect: Kids learn a lot about how to treat others by what father models at home. A good dad respects his partner and does not argue in front of the children. He corrects the kids if they are speaking or acting disrespectfully toward their mother. This sends a message that the parents are working together. Also, a good father can show affection to his partner, as well as the children. Children feel more secure when they see that Dad loves his partner as well as his children. It’s also important that divorced fathers show respect for the children’s mother.
Emotional Intelligence: Fathers who are striving to be better do not compete with their partners to be the best or favorite parent. They do not try to earn their children’s affection or love by giving them material gifts or bribing them to spend time with them. They work on themselves and prioritize personal development. Good fathers model important emotional skills like self-regulation, self-awareness, curiosity, optimism, resilience, empathy, compassion, and more.
Equity: Research shows that in households in which both parents work outside the home, mothers still do the majority of housework, child-rearing, and planning of family obligations and activities. And moms are exhausted. A husband’s relationship with his partner will likely improve when he shares in the household responsibilities. The children will learn that being part of a family means each person contributes to the greater good.
You could strive to be a “good enough” father, but I applaud you for wanting to be a great one. Happy Father’s Day!
Betty Richardson, PhD, RN, CS, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist.