The Medical Minute: Pro tips for new dads ― and a brush-up for old pros
Father’s Day is a great time to bask in all the love and appreciation that your kids will hopefully lavish on you. But for new dads or dads looking for a mid-season turnaround, it’s never too late to take stock of your skill set.
“Whether your child is a toddler or a teenager, you are their role model,” said Dr. Raman Baweja, child psychiatrist at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. “Teach them what is important in life by demonstrating honesty, responsibility, respect, caring for others and humility.”
What you teach when depends on your child’s age and stage of development, of course, but the themes remain the same – knowing right from wrong, treating others kindly, learning to share and giving your best effort, he said.
“The cornerstone of the best parent-child relationship is quality family time,” Baweja said.
Bonding can take place anytime – on the way to or from school activities as much as intentionally sitting down at the dinner table together, minus everyone’s screens.
“Ask more than how their day was – ask how they are feeling about their friends or about school. Ask if there is anything going on that they want to talk about,” he said. Sometimes it’s easier for kids to open up on the fly than sitting across the table for an intentional talk time.
Accept the fact that spending time with your kids might find you doing things you wouldn’t choose to do. By going to a father-daughter dance even if you don’t like dancing or learning how to play fantasy football even if you are technologically challenged, you show your child you care about what matters to them, and you build an atmosphere of trust, Baweja said.
Be a good listener
That, in turn, leads to better communication – another essential parental tool.
“Being a parent with whom your child feels they can be honest can have a positive impact on their wellbeing and on your relationship long term,” Baweja said. “Be supportive to your child without any judgement, or you will shut down future communication. Make sure to tell them that you love them, you’re glad they shared and you’re there for them no matter what.”
Assurances like these can prove very important in the future when sensitive issues, such as gender identity or experimentation with substances, may come up, he said.
Be the parent
In addition to the warm and fuzzies of the relationship, parents must establish boundaries, Baweja said.
Often our culture sets up dads in this role, which may or may not be true in your family, but in any case, it’s important for parents to set limits, make rules and be consistent with discipline, he said.
In addition, assign age-appropriate chores and hold your kids accountable to complete them. This helps kids to take responsibility and understand the importance of team work, he said.
“Remember to reward your kids intermittently when they do something good or complete something,” he said. “Complimenting them, even for a small accomplishment, can boost their self-esteem.”
There’s a delicate balance between flexing your parental muscles too much and allowing your children to make their own decisions, Baweja said. He suggests letting them first make small decisions while working up to larger decisions, such as what college to attend or job to pursue.
“A very controlling environment is not good for open communication or autonomy,” he said. “We do want them to grow up someday and not always be dependent on us.”
When your kids make a poor decision, as they surely will, don’t be judgmental or condemning. Instead, talk with them honestly, and use it as a learning experience for the next time, he said.
Parents also should be flexible in how they parent one child versus another because every child is different. What works well for one may not work at all for another, he cautioned.
Your role modeling can impact the kind of family your adult child will have, Baweja said.
“Fathers who treat their daughters with love and attention are modeling behaviors they will one day look for in their own relationship,” he said. “Also, how you treat your wife is a model of what a good marriage looks like – or doesn’t look like – for your son or daughter.”
Sounds like a lot of responsibility, right? Don’t worry, Baweja said. It’s OK if you mess up – it’s how you clean up that counts.
“We’re all human. Sometimes, we will lose our temper and scream,” he said. “Take a break in the heat of the moment, but then come back together and say something like, ‘I said three times not to do that, but you didn’t listen. Help me understand how we can work together, because I don’t like yelling at you either.’ Talk it out.”
As any dad knows, parenting is a fulltime, lifelong job, Baweja said. This Father’s Day, choose to focus on the things you and your kids have done right and all the memories you have made, with an eye toward making even more.
The Medical Minute is a weekly health news feature produced by Penn State Health. Articles feature the expertise of faculty, physicians and staff, and are designed to offer timely, relevant health information of interest to a broad audience.
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