But don't take it from me. Because the science on the subject is clear as day.
Children with good, loving, actively involved fathers have better outcomes in life.
- Have healthier relationships
- Make more money & have more career success
- Have less psychological problems
- And often have higher IQs than their peers
That's not to denigrate single mothers! Or lesbian couples! And it doesn't doom kids who grow up without a father for one reason or another.
But if you're alive and well, you owe it to your kids to be the best possible father you can be.
The question is: How exactly can you be a better dad?
Here are 9 ways you can start being a better dad right now, today:
- Start as soon as possible
- Just be around
- Call, write, text & email more
- Get involved at school
- Turn your health & fitness around
- Play rough
- Break stereotypes
- Work on your marriage/relationship
- Do the dirty work of discipline
Now let's dive into the science and research behind these tips, and what kind of an impact they can really make.
1. Start right now (as in, today)
The more you're involved in your kid's life from an early age, the better.
Seriously, there's no time to waste!
So even though you can't breastfeed or if you're not the world's greatest diaper changer, don't miss out on key chances when your son or daughter is a baby to start forming that deep bond.
The research is pretty clear that the newborn-father bond is really important down the road for your child, with benefits like:
- Faster brain development
- Less depression later in life
- More academic success
- Healthier adult relationships
And that's just for them.
The research also suggests that dads who actively form their own relationship with their newborn baby, including having alone time without their partner around, have less stress and more confidence about their parenting skills.
What you can do today:
Get some alone time with your child or baby.
Take them out of the house and give your partner a much-needed break, and give yourself some quality bonding time.
If it's not feasible to get alone time, consider helping out or taking over a duty you wouldn't normally do like:
- Rocking baby back to sleep in the middle of the night
- Preparing the bottles & feeding
- Changing diapers
- Doing school pick up or drop off
- Helping with homework
Just do anything you can today to get more one-on-one time or even just involvement with your kids, no matter how young or old.
2. Just be around
More than 1 in 4 kids in America grow up without their father in the home.
But what is clear is that there are way too many American dads who are simply not showing up.
We talked above about the benefits for kids when they have an active, engaged father. But the opposite, or what can happen when dad is absent or not engaged, is equally horrible:
- lower self-esteem
- behavioral problems throughout life
- poor academic performance
- more likely to be involved in youth crime
- higher frequency of drug and alcohol abuse
Just showing up at all and doing your best can be a great first step toward preventing a lot of this.
If you're here, you're probably already doing this, so congrats!
You're already ahead of the curve.
What you can do today:
You're really already doing it.
If you're alive and in your child's life enough to be doing research on how you can be a better dad, you're doing better than a lot of men out there.
Keep up the good work.
3. Call, write, text, email, and video chat when you can't be there
It's been pretty extensively studied that men don't communicate as much as women do.
- Talk less in general (12,000 spoke words a day vs 25,000 for women!)
- Have trouble identifying and verbalizing our feelings
- And prefer to communicate practical information (as opposed to talking just to bond)
The truth is, sometimes you just can't be there.
Whether you're traveling for work, or have strict visitation schedules after a contentious divorce, time apart from your children will be inevitable at some point.
Don't let your "manliness" be an excuse to let the relationship and bond you share wither away.
For younger kids, they need to hear your voice and see your face frequently to strengthen their bond with you and practice their recognition of social cues.
For older kids and teenagers, it's important to have regular conversations as they learn to communicate their feelings. Not enough talking with parents can be followed by social isolation and shyness.
So stay in touch, however you can, whenever you can.
It really makes a difference.
What you can do today:
Get used to and comfortable with the idea of talking just to bond.
The easiest thing that most experts recommend is to ask more open-ended questions.
Try it tonight if you have older kids. Ask an open-ended question that isn't logistical in nature:
Ask them about the details of something they're interested in, and actually care about the answer!
4. Get more involved in what's going on at school
Sometimes school can feel like this far-away, nebulous thing.
- Drop your kids off in the morning
- Go about your business
- Pick them up
- Get a quick, cursory update about what happened
- And then move on to other things!
A lot of parents don't have much of an idea what's going on until their kid is in disciplinary or academic trouble.
The research is pretty clear that when dads are involved in homework and school, kids typically do far better in academics.
So start making sure you go to parent-teacher conferences.
Help at the bake sale.
Volunteer at school functions.
Do anything you can to get involved early with your child's education!
Just being present in that area of their life can have a huge positive ripple effect into their adulthood.
What you can do today:
Help with homework tonight!
Remember, it's not your job to do your kids' homework for them. Studies say if you start needing to offer more and more help, it could cause kids to be less autonomous and persistent at tasks.
But you can be:
- motivator (encourage them to do it)
- organizer (help them set up a good, quiet place to study)
- distraction police (enforce the rules and shut off the TV!)
You probably also know your child's learning style better than almost anyone else and can be a good bridge for them into topics they're having trouble with.
The other benefit is that you'll get an early indication of if your kid is struggling and needs extra help, and you can work with the school to make that happen before it becomes a problem.
5. Start taking your health and fitness seriously. Today!
It's really hard to eat right and exercise when you're:
- Raising kids
- Taking care of the house
- And making time for other family and friends
But studies show that dad's physical fitness and activity levels are most indicative of how active his children will be.
But you absolutely SHOULD set a good example when it comes to eating right, staying active, and taking your health seriously.
Plan nutritious dinners for the family, do outside activities together, and live a positive example of overall wellness.
6. Rough 'em up (playfully). It's more important than you think.
There's nothing quite like picking your kid up, throwing them over your shoulder, spinning them around, wrestling, etc.
The laughs that follow (from you and them) are some of the best things in life.
This is a classic dad-move, and if you already do lots of this, keep it up.
If not, now is a good time to start.
Researchers say dads roughhousing with their kids (yes, the girls, too) is obviously fun and great bonding time, but it could also be crucial for development.
Some of the benefits of roughhousing with your kids are:
- Boosts in memory, learning, and language development
- Strengthens emotional intelligence in kids
- Helps develop morals and ethics in children
And plus, it's just seriously fun and strengthens the bond between the two of you like almost nothing else in the world can.
7. Watch out for gender bias in your parenting style
It can be really easy to fall into the traps of how we think we're "supposed" to treat boys and girls.
Because it's not just coming from our brains. It's coming from all around us at all times!
Just be aware of some of the stereotypes and make sure you're consciously giving each of your kids all you have to give.
Want to know how to be a better dad to a son?
Don't forget to talk to him. Really talk, like openly, about emotions. And not just the good ones.
Studies show fathers are far more likely to talk openly with their daughters about vulnerable emotions and topics.
Bonding over baseball and his first beer are great. But make sure you're having those important talks, too.
Want to know how to be a better dad to a daughter?
Don't forget to have some rough-and-tumble playtime with her, too, and encourage achievement.
Tell her you're proud of her.
Fathers have been observed to be less likely, on average, to do these things with their girls.
8. Put your marriage or partnership first as much as possible
This sounds counterintuitive.
You should actually put less energy and focus on your kids? And somehow that's better for them?
In an article exploring "deadbeat dads" in the New York Times, David Brooks writes:
The key weakness is not the father's bond to the child; it's the parents' bond with each other.
He goes on to explain that researchers have uncovered a common pattern:
- Couple gets married
- Couple has a child
- Couple falls out of love for a variety of reasons
- Couple splits up
- New man enters the picture and biological dad is resigned to a role as "occasional best friend"
It's a heartbreaking tale, but a common one even in fathers who desperately want to be there for their kids.
Parents who are happy and fulfilled in their marriage have a tendency to pass that joy on to their kids.
In an article on Psychology Today, it's said that "a parent's happiness allows children to feel happy and to trust that parent to meet their emotional needs."
What you can do today:
Plan a date night.
It sounds simple, but research says that doing something as basic and obvious as going out together even once a month gives parents a better chance of staying together.
Yes, life is hectic and it's hard to get a babysitter.
Don't let that be an excuse to let your relationship with your partner wither away.
Being a better husband will likely make you a better dad.
9. Don't always be their best friend
You have to discipline your kids.
Don't always leave it up to mom to be the bad guy (statistics show that more often than not, mom is the one setting rules, boundaries, and limits around the house).
In an article in the Telegraph, counselor Janey Downshire says:
Discipline from dad helps the child start to find his brake pedal, and also, to be able to ultimately self-police, develop a conscience in the long term and have that moral compass.
How about spanking? The research shows that, although moms are more likely to set and enforce rules, dads are more likely overall to resort to physical punishment like spanking.
Spanking leads to a higher likelihood of issues with depression and anger in children over the long term.
What you can do today:
Let's face it. On any given day, your child will probably do something:
- Or something else
Today is a good day to be the one to step in and correct that behavior.
Not by hitting them!
But by calmly and clearly explaining your expectations and enforcing consequences when those aren't met.
Some good consequences for kids other than spanking include:
- Taking away privileges
- Ignoring them until they adjust their behavior
- Not protecting them from the natural consequences of their actions
BONUS: How to be a better dad after divorce
Sometimes, even after you give it everything you've got, things just don't work out.
But your job as dad doesn't go away even if the relationship fails. In fact, it might become even more important.
How can you be a better dad after going through a divorce?
One tip according to science is to take care of yourself.
You know how we talked about love and fulfillment in marriage flowing out to the kids?
It's the same for single dads. If you're happy and content in your new life as a solo father, that only gives you more positive energy to put into your parenting.
The science agrees. Taking time to rediscover yourself and find happiness is super important. And when the relationship wasn't a good one in the first place, you'll often end up better off as a stronger, happier person.
What you can do today:
Do one thing for yourself that you enjoy, especially something you didn't make enough time for when you were part of a couple.
- Building something
- Playing sports
- Or just playing video games
Take some much-needed you-time. It'll give you the energy and morale boost you need to keep being an amazing dad.
Being a great dad is far from an easy job.
Each and every day comes with new challenges. And they only get harder and harder over the years.
When the rest of life gets in the way (work, stress, marital problems), that only compounds the difficulty.
But the biggest and most important thing you can do to be a better dad is to show up and try.
That's really what it comes down to.
Want to spend more time with your children? Contact the Law Offices of Renee Lazar at 978-844-4095 to schedule a FREE one hour consultation to discuss the procedures to change your parenting plan.