How to Be the Best Father When Your Child Is Struggling
When your child is struggling with something in their life, it can take its toll on the entire family. As a father trying to be the best parent you can be, you might not know exactly how to respond.
Fathers are becoming increasingly involved in all aspects of parenting these days, meaning that they’re also taking on more responsibility for dealing with their children’s emotions and behaviours. It can be a daunting task for any father — whether you’re a full-time worker, a single dad, a stay-at-home dad, a co-parent, or your child’s primary caregiver.
Although fatherhood can be a very rewarding experience, it can also be very difficult. Here are a few ways you can help and support your child through whatever challenges they may be facing.
Embrace Emotional Bonding
Children need to feel safe to be emotionally vulnerable. Mothers are typically known to be the most emotionally supportive parent, but research shows that children who have strong emotional relationships with their fathers are less likely to engage in aggressive or delinquent behaviour (especially among adolescents).
Emotional bonding might seem easy when it involves positive emotions, but it’s important to bond with your child over negative emotions as well. Try not to dismiss or minimize your child’s negative feelings if it’s inconvenient or makes you feel uncomfortable. Instead, acknowledge your child’s feelings, name them, and then help them brainstorm some ideas on how to solve the problem. By doing so, you teach them how to properly manage their emotions and set them up to cope better on their own.
Take Care of Your Own Mental Health
Many people carry around varying levels of emotional baggage from their past experiences, which can sometimes impact their parenting styles. This isn’t always the case, but it does happen. For instance, your child might do something that triggers a bad memory from your own childhood, along with suppressed feelings. If you’re not aware of this, you might react impulsively by emotionally withdrawing or getting angry with them.
No parent is perfect, but it’s important to address any unresolved issues that may be impacting your everyday life so you can connect better with your child. A mental health professional can help you work through some of these issues in a safe and healthy way.
Respect Your Child’s Independence
Children start developing their sense of independence around ages 4 to 6 years old, typically seen by their refusal to do as they’re told. It’s easy to interpret this as disobedience, but losing your patience (and perhaps your temper) with your child can be a recipe for an exhausting power struggle.
When your child tests your limits, resist the urge to resort to more forceful tactics. Instead, explore some ways in which you can both work together to reach your desired outcome. For example, if your child refuses to put away their toys in time for dinner, take a minute to collect yourself and then tell them that you’ll help them put them away — perhaps by making a game out of it. Taking action right away can help prevent a power struggle while calmly making it clear that “no” is not a choice.
Let Them Learn From Failure
Fathers are naturally very protective of their children, and it can be hard to watch them struggle with problems that you could easily solve for them. But trying to be a hero all the time for your child doesn’t just prevent them from learning valuable life lessons — it also reinforces their dependence on you.
If your child fails a test at school because they didn’t study, don’t insist on contacting their teacher for a make-up test just because you want to see them get good grades. Experiencing failure is often an essential component of success, and it requires you to take a step back so your child can learn from the consequences on their own.
Be Open to Adapting Your Parenting Style
As your child grows up, your challenge is to grow with them as their father. There may be times when you think that you’re being the father they need you to be, but your child may not feel the same way. You can never be sure unless you get feedback directly from them.
Don’t assume you know what they’re thinking or feeling. Ask them what they like about your parenting style, what they don’t like, what they’d like to see more of, or what they think you could do to be a better parent. Your child should feel safe to respond honestly, and you should be willing to listen with an open mind. You can then follow-up with them after a week or so of putting some of the ideas you came up with into practice.
Practice What You Preach
Last but not least, know that children are programmed to watch and learn from their parents’ behaviours and then imitate them. So if you’re a smoker who tells your child that smoking is bad, they’re still more likely to become a smoker in their teen years compared to children with non-smoking parents. Telling them to do what you want them isn’t enough — you have to model the appropriate behaviours that you want to see in your child.
Being a great role model for your child requires forethought, self-control, and effort. Start by reflecting on your own attitudes and behaviours and ask yourself if they align with what you want to teach your child. You won’t be a perfect role model all the time, but you’ll make a huge difference in your child’s life (as well as your own) by committing to doing your best as often as you can.
Being the Best Father Means Knowing When to Get Extra Support
There’s a lot of pressure on fathers these days to aim higher in terms of how involved they are in their child’s lives. Going beyond the role of provider and protector can be challenging for fathers who perhaps didn’t grow up with fathers who were as available or involved in their own childhood. The challenges can feel even more immense when your child is struggling with something.
If you think that you could use some parenting advice as a father living in the 21st century, our team of mental health professionals is here to help. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us and share what’s on your mind, or book an appointment to schedule your first consultation.