With Father's Day approaching, a San Francisco State University psychologist has some advice for dads to help boost their kids’ well-being.
The five fatherhood tips, detailed in the Journal of Family Issues by SF State psychologist Jeff Cookston, include asking their kids for "feedback" on their parenting style — particularly from teens and older children.
"There's a need for fathers to sometimes say to their kids, 'How am I doing? Am I the dad you need me to be?' " said Cookston, whose tips based on his own research into father-child relationships. "Kids are actively trying to make sense of the parenting they receive. And the meaning that children take from the parenting may be as important, or more important, than the behavior of the parents.
"I don't think a lot of parents give these ideas about meaning much thought. You may think that you're being a good parent by not being harsh on your kid, for instance, but your child may view that as 'you're not invested in me, you're not trying.' "
Cookston has conducted extensive research on parenting and fatherhood, with a focus on how children respond to parenting and how children perceive and construct their relationships with their fathers. His research shows the relationship between father and child can have a significant impact on the child's tendencies toward depression and behavior problems.
Cookson offers the following tips gleaned from his studies:
Check in with your kid. It’s important for fathers to regularly ask about the relationship with their children. "Fathers should ask, 'Am I more or less than you need me to be?' " Cookston said. And children — particularly adolescents — should be able to say, 'I need you to change course.' "
Be supportive. Dads provide everything from discipline to role modeling, but Cookston said children of fathers who emphasize their emotional relationships with their kids are less likely to behave in aggressive and delinquent ways.
Change course, if necessary. If you weren't always a warm, accepting father, it's not too late to become one, according to Cookston. "Parents can change, and kids can accept that. Parents need to be constantly adapting their parenting to the development and individual needs of the child."
Be a team player. Cookston's research on divorced families has shown it's important for parents to work together as a team. Children are more likely to talk to parents if they see that they agree on parenting decisions, he noted, and "parents play unique, additive roles in their children's lives."
Aim high. "We need to raise the bar for fatherhood. If a man is around and is a good provider and doesn't yell at his kids and goes to soccer games, we say that's enough," Cookston said. "But we need to expect more in terms of engagement, involvement and quality interaction."
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