When my kids were younger, my husband worked from home and had a very flexible schedule. On Fridays, the kids stayed home for “Fun-day Friday” with daddy instead of going to their usual child care provider or preschool. Once they started going to school, each child had their own week of “Camp Daddy” during the summer doing activities that they chose. Sometimes Camp Daddy involved going to the beach, having a picnic at the municipal airport, or the occasional trip to the Boardwalk. One year, Camp Daddy involved making an elaborate paper mache animal. I still don’t know what it was supposed to be, but my daughter and husband were beyond proud of their creation. My husband treasures those memories, especially now that our kids are older and spend more time away from home than with us. Someday, I hope my kids truly appreciate that gift of time with their dad.
Dear Child Parent Institute,
When I was growing up, my dad was really strict and didn’t show much affection. He was hardly around because he worked two jobs. We didn’t have a close relationship and I resented how hard he was on me. Now that I have sons, I hear myself saying some of the same things to them, and I worry that I’m turning into my dad. I want to have a better relationship with my sons than I had with my dad. Do you have any tips for me?
The fact that you’re asking this question means that you’re on the right path. Dads and father figures play an important role in children’s healthy development. Studies show that children with an involved father or father figure in their lives are more likely to be confident, emotionally secure, able to get along with peers, and less likely to get in trouble at home, school, or in the community. So, the bottom line is, dads and father figures are important! Here are some tips to try in your family:
Remember that little moments matter. Many parents fear that spending quality time with children requires a lot of time or money and end up convincing themselves “it can wait.” In reality, the small moments add up and create a lasting impact. Think about the kinds of memories you want your children to have of you when they get older. Are you playing games, laughing, reading, hugging, telling jokes, or just being silly? Imagine the memories you want to create, then do those things together for small chunks of time frequently throughout the day. This forms the foundation of a good relationship that lasts a lifetime.
Eat meals together. Meals provide a chance to be together as a family and spend time talking and paying attention to each other. This gives younger children a sense of security and belonging in the family and lets teens know their parents still care about what’s going on in their lives. Studies have also shown that eating meals together improves children’s eating habits and school performance. What’s not to like about that?
Give affection in different ways. Giving affection is one way to show your children that you notice and value them. This can feel unnatural or even impossible for some parents, especially if their own parents didn’t show a lot of affection. Or, some children are sensitive to touch and find physical affection unpleasant. If either of these is true for you, try giving small amounts of affection in ways that feel comfortable to you and your children. Use loving words, a light pat on the back or a smile to show you care.
Set a good example. You are your children’s lifelong teacher. They are constantly learning by watching and listening to the way you communicate with others, handle emotions, and solve problems – even when it seems like they’re not paying attention to you. Model the behaviors you want your children to learn – like expressing emotions, giving affection, listening and cooperating with others – and they are more likely to learn those skills, too.
Final Thoughts: Being a parent is hard work, but that hard work will pay off. Remember that small acts of love and kindness make a big difference, and your presence is the best gift you can give your children.
This article is created by Nicole Young, the mother of two children, ages 14 and 17, who also manages Santa Cruz County's Triple P - Positive Parenting Program. Scientifically proven, Triple P is available locally through the Child Parent Institute. Our classes are listed at calparents.org.
Child Parent Institute