5 Not So Obvious Ways To Be A Good Dad

5 Not So Obvious Ways To Be A Good Dad - Header Image

Key Points

  • The role of the father in a child's life has only recently started to be explored, and it is becoming apparent that children can benefit in numerous ways by enjoying a positive relationship with their father.
  • Rough play between a father and child can have important physical and social benefits for the child while strengthening the relationship between the pair.
  • By changing your mindset and concentrating on what you want your child to do rather than what you don't want them to do, you can learn to speak positively to your children rather than nagging.
  • It's never too late and your child is never too old to enjoy creative storytelling and shared book experiences.

Fatherhood is a social construct - one that has changed throughout history. In the 17th and 18th centuries fathers played a very active role in their children's upbringing, as any problems with a child were blamed directly on the father.

Industrialisation in the 19th century saw fathers move from a childrearing role to that of the family breadwinner and created the more familiar dynamic of the mother staying home to care for the children while the father worked long hours away from the home.

Today, with more women continuing to work after having children and the rise of non-traditional families, fathers have once again started to play an important role in the lives of their children.

No longer concerned with being blamed for their children's regressions or being saddled with the sole role of providing for a growing family, fathers are now empowered to form a gentler, more loving, and more mutually beneficial relationship with their children.

Father pushing son on his skateboard

Coupled with this new role of fathers in the family is a spate of new research linking a child's self-esteem and overall wellbeing with their relationship with their father. Such research - almost unheard of prior to the 1970s - is shining a new light on what it means to be a father and how to be a good dad.

Play Rough To Make Them Smarter

Have you ever wrestled with a friend or sibling, had a tickle fight, or a pillow war? If so, then you just engaged in rough and tumble play .

Father and son playing a bit rough

If you're like most people, your parents weren't thrilled with rough play and probably told you to "cut it out," "be gentle", or "watch out because someone will get hurt." While children tend to love roughhousing, for most parents, rough play inevitably leads to someone crying and is an activity best avoided.

However, recent studies have shown physical play is so much more than a fun and enjoyable pastime for children. Various studies continue to show numerous benefits of rough play. In one study it was found that children's self-esteem and self-confidence were directly and positively impacted by improving gross motor skills, including those involved in rough play.

Another study showed a positive link between rough play and social cognitive development in children.

But perhaps most important is the study that specifically focused on the links between rough play and positive developments in a child's relationship with their father , and the child's development overall.

Generally, it is concluded that R&T serves as a positive function in children's social cognitive development.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the study found that children who engaged in rough play with their fathers enjoyed a strong, trusting relationship with their dads while enjoying improved physical fitness, self-confidence, and social skills.

So while it's important to spend time talking to and getting to know your children – as we’ll discuss in the coming sections – it is equally as important to enjoy some good old-fashioned rough-and-tumble in a respectful and mutually enjoyable way.

Use Positive Language

Do you often feel like you sound like a broken record when you talk to your children? Do you find yourself saying, "No", "Be quiet", and "Stop running" over and over again?

Father and daughter using funny props

Not only does this type of nagging tend to have very little effect, as children develop their selective listening skills and block out the phrases they hear most often, but recent studies have shown that negative language (language that focuses on what a child shouldn't be doing) can be harmful to a child's development.

One particular study looked at the effects of negative and positive language and concluded that parents must be mindful of every word they use when communicating with their children, otherwise they risk the health of the next generation.

The more parents apply positive language in mindful parenting, the more children will be assimilated with constructive personalities.

But how can it be possible to filter every word you say, especially since much of your relationship with your child occurs on autopilot?

The trick is to not focus on your individual words but to focus on your mindset: the overall message you're trying to impart to your child.

In essence, rather than focusing on what you don't want your child to do, flip your mindset, and focus your attention on what you do want your child to do.

Instead of insisting that your child "be quiet," do you want them to use a quieter tone of voice while you're on the phone? Communicate this instead , and not only will you be demonstrating a respectful means of communication, but you will also be helping your child make appropriate decisions by helping them understand why you're asking them to lower their voice.

If your child knows that you're on the phone and that you need to concentrate on your conversation, it gives them the opportunity to direct themselves on the best course of action to take.

Father on phone ignoring daughter

This point was the focus of another study that looked at the ongoing relationship between children and their parents when parents showed respect for the child's autonomy (their ability to make appropriate decisions for themselves) compared to those parents who closely directed their children's words, thoughts, and behaviours.

As it turns out, how to be a good dad can be as simple as changing the way you word your communications to your children so that you're focusing on shared problem-solving in a positive way rather than persistently nagging.

Ask Engaging And Creative Questions

Somewhere in your child's development, they go from an inquisitive toddler and pre-schooler who never stops talking and asking questions, to a quiet pre-teen and adolescent who struggles to give more than a couple of words or a grunt to every question.

If the most you can get from your child is that school was "good" and that they're feeling "fine", it's time to start getting creative with the way you ask questions.

Father and son engaged in an activity

Tailor your questions to the age and developmental level of your children. Toddlers and pre-schoolers will love questions about what their soft toys would say if they could talk, what they would do if they could do anything they like for an entire day, and what they would include in their perfect playground design.

Older children can be engaged with questions about how they would spend the money if they won the lottery, recent experiences that made them feel brave, scared, or loved, and what they like most about their friends.

Ideally, these types of creative and engaging questions will start when your child is very young, otherwise, you may be met with a suspiciously raised eyebrow from your adolescent when you start asking them about their ideal holiday or the perfect pet.

Find Ways To Boost Self Confidence

Did you know that there are studies that have proven that children – especially females – derive a large proportion of their sense of self-confidence and self-esteem from their relationship with their father?

Father and daughter dressed for ballet

One particular study showed that, while mothers are adept at teaching extroverted children to be socially wary, it is fathers who play the biggest role in instilling social confidence to anxious or shy children .

Another study looked at children with lower levels of support from their mother, and showed the enormous impact positive support from their father can have on social and academic outcomes.

Be The Best Storyteller

We all know the importance of reading bedtime stories and sharing books with babies, toddlers, and very young children. Studies continue to show that the biggest predictor of a child's future independent reading abilities is their parents’ ongoing practice of reading aloud to their children.

Father telling stories to daughter

However, despite the benefits of reading to children , it can seem strange offering to read a bedtime story to a child who is perfectly capable of reading by themselves.

One of the simplest answers to the question of how to be a good dad is to hone your storytelling skills and continue to engage your children in stories and shared experiences even after they are fully capable of reading by themselves.

One way of achieving this is to never break the tradition of sharing a bedtime story every night. No matter how late it is, no matter how tired everyone is, and even if your child has been misbehaving during the day, a bedtime story should be a non-negotiable part of every day .

While you may only have time for a few pages on some nights, other nights you'll be able to enjoy a longer reading session together. As your child gets older, you can start enjoying longer novels and more advanced story topics.

Another way of ensuring that books and stories remain a part of your relationship with your child as they grow older is to ensure that you always have a story ready to tell or a book ready to read at any opportunity.

Get into the habit of remembering interesting stories – whether it be something you read online, heard on the radio, were told by a friend or co-worker, or something that happened to you when you were younger – so you can retell the story to your child when you're spending time together.

A traffic jam or unexpected delay in a waiting room can turn into a perfect opportunity to develop a relationship as you demonstrate your storytelling skills.

Less than 100 years ago, a "good dad" was one who worked long hours and brought home a sizable paycheque to support his family.

Today, men wondering how to be a good dad are presented with evidence that their children's well-being and emotional resilience - during childhood and long into adulthood - are directly impacted by the quality of their relationship with their father.

By taking the time to get to know their children and purposefully putting the above tips into play, today's men can play an important role in shaping their children's futures.