I have many happy childhood memories of my dad playing the guitar and singing, instigating competitive croquet tournaments (which he usually won), and teaching my siblings and I how to use tools then creating a “workshop” in the garage so we could experiment with wood scraps.
Other childhood memories were stressful then but hold a special place in my heart now—like when my dad convinced me to go on an amusement park ride and I ended up crying in terror every time the ride dipped and my stomach dropped. I buried my face in my dad’s chest while he held me tight and reassured me it would be over soon (while laughing and enjoying the ride).
Whether those memories are filled with joy or fear, I recall how my dad’s words and presence made me feel safe, secure, loved, and cared for. I hope every child has a dad, stepdad, uncle, papá, foster dad or other father figure who makes them feel this way, too.
My partner and I just adopted two siblings—a 5-year-old boy and an 8-month-old girl. We’ve always wanted to be dads but we’re total newbies. Neither of us had good role models as kids. We want things to be different with our kids, but we don’t know what we’re doing. Got any tips?
Congratulations on becoming dads! Fathers and father figures play a critical role in children’s well-being, but it still takes time, practice, and patience to be the kind of dad you want to be. Here are some tips from the Triple P – Positive Parenting Program:
Spend quality time with your children every day. Find moments throughout the day to give them your undivided attention and affection. Turn everyday tasks like changing diapers, eating meals, and getting dressed into quality time by giving a hug, smiling or talking with them. Brief and frequent quality time lets your children know you love and care for them and are available when they need you. This is the foundation for positive relationships throughout life.
Do engaging activities together. This is quality time and encourages learning, curiosity, creativity and skill-building. Read books, play games, go on walks, make meals together—these are things you can do with your children at any age that will become the basis of their happy childhood memories. Do activities that your children are interested in and follow their lead. And yes, this could mean playing endless games of peek-a-boo or reading the same book a million times.
Work as a team with your partner. Talk with your partner about the family rules and expectations that matter to both of you, including how you will handle discipline. This helps make sure you’re on the same page as a team before challenges occur. Make time for you and your partner to talk and connect. It’s easy to get consumed by daily responsibilities and forget to take care of the relationship, but parenting is easier and more enjoyable when you’re a strong team.
Be the role model you wish you’d had. Your children 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. Teach and model the behaviors you want your children to learn—including how to express emotions, give affection, listen, cooperate, and take care of your mental health—and they’re more likely to learn those skills, too.
Final Thoughts: Being a loving, nurturing, supportive father or father figure supports children’s self-esteem, emotional resilience, social skills, and school readiness, and increases their chances of success in school and other activities throughout life. And dads who are actively involved in their children’s lives also report increased happiness and fulfillment. That’s a win-win!
Nicole Young is the mother of two children, ages 19 and 23, who also manages Santa Cruz County’s Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, made available by First 5 Santa Cruz County and the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency and Human Services Department. To learn more, visit triplep.first5scc.org or contact First 5 at 465.2217 or [email protected]. Her opinions are her own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian.