Advice for fathers
The NSPCC believes that fathers are important to children, and that children are happiest when they know both of their parents. Dads can offer children a different, but equally important, experience in which to grow and develop. Some dads worry about their relationships with their children because they have less time together. However, it is not the amount of time spent, but the quality of the relationship that really counts.
Below are ten tips on how fathers can tune-in to their children and get the best out of the time they have together.
Children, in general, are enthusiastic communicators. Even without language they want to connect and share their experiences with you.
- Babies cry to alert parents to their needs. Parents who respond quickly to their baby’s cries increase the baby’s sense of security and these babies grow into calmer children.
- Listening includes picking up non-verbal messages such as pointing, imitation of noises, actions and expressions.
- Older children, especially teenagers, can struggle with words, but still need to communicate. Letting teenagers know you are interested, and listening without judging or correcting them, may help them to relax and talk more freely.
Your reaction leads the way
Children don’t set out to be naughty, but they sometimes pick up the wrong messages from parents. They like attention and will repeat behaviour in order to be noticed.
- If you only notice children when they annoy you, they will keep on annoying you. Give children your attention when they are behaving well, praise them before they have to attract your attention by misbehaving.
- It is tempting to laugh at mischief or tell other people what pranks your child has been up to. This leads the child to think you approve of their behaviour. Think about how you are reacting. If you don’t want repeated misbehaviour you may need to give other signals such as turning away.
- Telling a child not to do something may put ideas into their head. If you are told not to think of elephants what springs to mind? Sometimes giving a positive alternative will act as a distraction, rather than just saying “don’t!”
Be clear about boundaries
It is important to set reasonable boundaries for your child and to stick to them: children feel happier when they know where the limits are.
- Very small children use routines to understand time and other people’s expectations. You might consider these routines to be restrictive, but they help your children feel safe and to predict what will happen next. Wherever possible, follow their established daily routine. Your children will be calmer and more cooperative for you and your time together will be more fun.
- Older children need to know what boundaries have been set. Explain the limits clearly, the reason why these are important to you, and what the consequences will be if the child oversteps the boundaries. Keep the explanation reasonable and simple then stick to the plan.
- Teenagers need to know what the limits are and why you have set them so they can learn about managing risk. They too need to understand the consequences of breaking boundaries. You may also want to talk about how to cope with unexpected events and discuss back-up plans or alternative strategies. These will help address your concerns about risks while increasing their sense of independence and understanding about personal safety.
When you are correcting children’s behaviour it is important not to be intimidating. Shouting may seem to work in the short-term, but frightened children find it hard to remember messages.
- Be calm and clear in your requests, using "please" and "thank you" if you want your child to use these too. Young children are easily over-excited and tired children misbehave. You can manage this by being calm and less active. Try offering food and drink and a quiet activity, such as reading a book together.
- Avoid criticising your child, as in “You’re a bad child.” Focus on the behaviour. For example, “Hitting is bad, please stop that now.”
- With teenagers, tell them how you feel rather than acting how you feel. For example, “When you do that I get so angry I feel like shouting”. Staying calm may allow a discussion rather than an argument.
Get down to their level
There are two key barriers to connecting with children. Our size can be intimidating and our adult way of looking at life can stop us tuning in to their world.
- By kneeling down and addressing children at their eye-level you can reduce their fear and create a bond.
- Listen to what they have to say, then explain your point of view in a calm voice. Make sure they understand what you are saying to them by asking them some simple questions and gently correcting mistakes.
- Show an interest in teenage activities, their music, TV programmes, their friendships and sports. If you have listened to them, they are more likely to listen to you.
Try to provide plenty of opportunities for physical exercise. Being active will improve your children’s appetite, sleep patterns and behaviour. Fathers can provide excitement and challenges that stimulate and further children’s development.
- Even small babies benefit from fresh air and a change of scenery that an outing in the buggy can provide.
- Young children have lots of energy and need opportunities to run around and do energetic things, such as playing with a ball, cycling and skipping.
- Older children will enjoy sports and physical activities. You can join in or cheer from the sidelines.
Praising good behaviour encourages children to repeat it, so praise good behaviour and ignore minor bad behaviour.
- Smiling is a baby’s way of returning your positive attention. Your smile is equally rewarding to them.
- Give lots of praise when your child does something to please you. Tell them what they have done and that it pleased you. For example, “Well done, you have done a good job of tidying up.”
- With teenagers, praise effort. Success comes from persisting with things and often involves hard work. They may need lots of praise in order to succeed.
Don't smack your child
Smacking may seem like it works in the short-term, but ultimately you are teaching your child that hitting others resolves conflict. Sometimes, parents feel they need to smack harder and harder in order to get a result: this is a dangerous spiral. Like shouting, smacking rarely promotes learning, and it increases children’s aggression.
Work at co-parenting
Mothers and fathers bring different approaches to parenting and you won’t always do things the same way. Sharing parenting, whether you are in a relationship or separated, is important for your child. Children need to hear their parents support and respect each other. You may both have different approaches and tolerances around children, but it is unhelpful for a child to hear their parents criticise or contradict each other.
- When mum is in charge, give her your support and follow her lead.
- Praise her decisions and her initiatives so that your child feels confident that they are being parented well.
- Any disagreements should be discussed away from children.
Parenting is tough. Don't be afraid to seek help when you need it. You could try speaking to your family or friends, and there are some organisations that may be able to help:
NSPCC: Advice and support for adults concerned about a child.
Family Lives: Help and support in all aspects of family life.
National Childminding Association: Support for childminders and nannies.
Parenting NI: Support for parents in Northern Ireland.
ParentLine Scotland: Support for parents in Scotland.
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