By Danny Huerta, PSYD, MSW, LCSW, LSSW
When fathers are attentive to their children, they build relationships that encourage healthy child development.
How Fathers Help Children Grow: Connection
Ever wonder how fathers help children grow?
A few months ago I was getting ready to leave work. Like most days, I called home to let my family know I was on my way. My thirteen-year-old daughter answered the phone. She excitedly said, “Dad, when you get home and walk into the house, I’m already going to be running and you’re going to catch me!” I really couldn’t picture what she meant, but her enthusiasm and excitement compelled me to just say “Yes, that sounds great!”
After I parked the car and walked through the door, sure enough, she was coming at me full speed. I dropped what was in my hands and caught her. She said, “Dad, you did it!” as I held her in my arms.
I wasn’t entirely sure what just happened, but clearly, I provided my daughter with something important at that moment. I know that fathers help their children grow in significant ways when they take the time to connect with them.
How Fathers Help Children Grow: Relationship
What are some other ways that fathers help their children grow?
A lot of dads answer this question in terms of material needs: providing money, safety, security and basic necessities. Certainly, providing the basic necessities of life is essential. But it’s only one part of what our children need.
One vital thing a child needs from their dad is a relationship. Researchers have found that fathers help their children grow via a relationship that aids in social adjustment, raises graduation rates, and improves children’s mental health. Of course, a dad needs to be more than just physically present. He needs to invest his time—and time truly is an investment.
What is the answer to how to provide well as a dad?
How Fathers Help Children Grow: Attention
Where is your attention? Your body and your mind need to be present for there to be a connection. Wrapped up in this idea of attention is the concept of active listening. In fact, many people believe that listening carefully is one of the fundamental ways that fathers help their children grow. I treasure looking into my daughter’s or son’s eyes as I try to be attentive and listen to what is going on inside of them as they share their thoughts.
How Fathers Help Children Grow: Letting Children Know They Are Known
I’ve noticed that when I get too busy I find it hard to really pay attention. In fact, it can disrupt my family’s stability. Alongside providing attention, it is important to understand that fathers help their children grow when they know that they are known.
Being genuinely known by a father can be empowering and energising for children. Hearing sincere words of encouragement and affirmation from a father who really knows them can breathe life into a child’s soul. Showing them that you are “all in” conveys your active presence within their lives.
How Fathers Help Children Grow: Boundaries
If you’ve provided the essentials of life and the foundations of relationships, you’ve figured out how to provide well as a dad. Fathers help their children grow when they provide them with crucial boundaries.
- Your children need you to set parameters to navigate emotions, pressures, temptations, and relationships. For example, you may want to provide healthy guidelines for expressing emotions such as physical exercise or journaling as opposed to yelling or sulking. You may also want to set weekly check-ins when your children can tell you about pressures, temptations and relationship issues so you can provide some wise, loving counsel before they respond in ways they might regret.
- Stick to the parameters you set, expect some conflict over those limits and be assured that healthy boundaries will contribute to a safe, secure and loving relationship between you and your children.
- Children who grow up with good boundaries within the context of a safe, secure relationship, tend to have more respectful, trusting relationships with their parents and others. Good boundaries also provide an environment for normal, healthy growth and development. Boundaries are one of the 7 Traits of Effective Parenting.
How Fathers Help Children Grow: Identity
Once you have provided the basic needs of life, the foundation of relationships, and set essential boundaries and limits, then you are ready to provide your child with a mission, vision, and direction. Each of these things is good in itself, and together they contribute to helping your child define his or her identity. This is one of the most important ways that fathers help their children grow.
How to Provide Well As A Dad: Explore Your Own Identity
Ask yourself these questions:
- Am I successful, and what does it even mean to be a success?
- Does it mean having lots of money?
- Does it mean demanding the respect of others?
- Is it climbing the corporate ladder? Is it having solid relationships?
It can be pretty tough for us dads to answer some of these questions, and we’ve had many more years of life experience than our children who are trying to form a sense of their own identity in their childhood and teen years. To stay focused on how fathers help children grow, we need to provide a mission, vision, and direction, with an emphasis on character.
Be An All-In Dad
Recently, I saw a dad and his young daughter at a restaurant together. The father was fully present, listening and responding while his daughter talked to him. This was an incredible gift not only for the little girl but for the dad as well. It was also a good example of how fathers help their children grow.
© 2019 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Published at focusonthefamily.com.