Why a child needs an involved father and how to become one

Why fathers don’t give their kids enough time

In The Emotional Intelligence of the Child, psychologist John Gottman explains that the role of the father has changed dramatically over the past few generations.

Previously, the man was the breadwinner of the family, and women took care of the household and children. Now, when most mothers work and also bring money to the family, fathers can devote more time to children and take on responsibilities for upbringing.

At the same time, many do not. For example, one study calculated that in a union where both spouses make a career, fathers spend about two-thirds less time with their children than mothers, and devote only about 10% of their time to them.

In the book, Gottman offered several explanations for this state of affairs:

  1. Exhausting work and the desire to build a career that requires a large investment of time and effort. After a tense, stressful day, a person does not have the resources to communicate with children.
  2. Lack of experience. It is difficult for a man to act differently if his own father was at work more often than at home, criticized, rarely praised, did not show love and any other emotions.
  3. Distorted perception of education. Work seems to be important, and raising children is something secondary. Something that can be done along with household chores or without looking up from watching TV. This approach makes it difficult to see the child as a person, and not just another task that needs to be completed quickly.

Moreover, it is not enough to bring money or live with children in the same apartment, so that this can be called upbringing. Real presence in a child’s life includes :

  • Involvement. Direct communication of the father with the child, whether it is caring for him or joint activities.
  • Availability. The ability of children to interact with their father physically and psychologically.
  • A responsibility. Caring for the child, his physical and mental well-being.

These factors determine how children grow up – happy and confident or anxious, withdrawn and depressed.

How parenting affects child development

Fathers influence a child in a completely different way than mothers. Moreover, this is noticeable from an early age.

In his book, John Gottman says that five-month-old and one-year-old children who communicate a lot with their fathers feel more confident around unfamiliar adults, cry less often and are more willing to go into their arms.

There is an opinion that this influence can be at least partially explained by the style of interaction. Games with fathers tend to be more dynamic and fun. Men prefer physical contact to verbal, often throw up children, tickle them and bounce with them, come up with unusual games. Mothers, on the other hand, are more likely to stick to more traditional activities like reading, patting, and the like.

Many psychologists believe that the noisy and “rough” games of fathers help children explore their emotions, experience thrills, even get a little scared, but then have fun.

The acquired skills have a good effect on communication with peers. The child learns to create his own games and react to others not too restrained, but without losing self-control, to read the signals of the people around him and to maintain his emotions at a level suitable for a fun game.

One long-term study found that five-year-olds whose fathers were close by and involved in parenting became more empathetic and empathetic adults than those who grew up with only their mother.

In another , it was determined that people who received more warmth from a parent in childhood built healthier social bonds at the age of 40 – they were more likely to be happily married and have children.

Boys with an involved and active father tend to be the most popular among their peers and perform well in school. And girls have better self-esteem, are less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, and are generally more satisfied with life.

Thus, the further life of the child largely depends on the upbringing of the father.

How to be a good father

Gottman notes that it is not just “anyone” that is important for children, but an involved, sympathetic and understanding father. One that can show emotions, calm the child and support him. On the other hand, critical, humiliating, or emotionally cold fathers inflict deep psychological trauma .

Avoid authoritarianism, criticism and humiliation

In one study involving children 3-4 years old, they found that the behavior of a parent directly affects whether a child will be popular with peers.

Those children whose fathers preferred active games had the greatest success with friends. But only if the parents maintained a positive tone of interaction, gave the child some freedom and sometimes allowed to determine the course of the game. But the children of active, but authoritarian fathers, on the contrary, were the least popular among their peers.

It is important that the father avoids criticism and humiliation, does not detract from the dignity of the child and does not impose his point of view on him.

In Gottman’s own study, children whose fathers valued their feelings and praised their accomplishments had better peer relationships and higher academic achievement. On the other hand, children with cold, authoritarian, humiliating, and intrusive parents had the greatest problems with grades and social contacts.

If you’re new to this style of parenting, try the scaffolding technique—use every child’s success as further proof of their ability to handle any problem.

Simple phrases of approval like “Well done” or “I knew you could do it” will turn every small victory into a foundation for building self-esteem. Your praise will give children confidence, encourage them to continue learning, and challenge them.

On the other hand, avoid criticism and humiliation, even if it seems to you that in this way you can motivate the child to be better. Don’t try to fix the problem if he can handle it himself. Even if it seems to you that the child does everything wrong.

In this way, you will make it clear that he is not able to do some work, which means that it is not worth trying. The hope that despite criticism and condemnation from your side, he will stubbornly take it, try his best and still do the right thing, is incredibly small.

Participate in childcare from pregnancy

You can go to the preparation for the birth of a baby, learn to be a good helper for your wife. If possible, take a little vacation in the first weeks after the birth of the child and spend more time with him.

Take your newborn in your arms, change diapers, bathe, rock the baby and take care of him. This will help to study your child, establish contact with him and continue it at a later age.

New mothers usually know no more about newborns than fathers, and therefore both parents will learn how to handle the new family member.

Satisfy your child’s daily needs

If you have taken care of a baby, then it is very likely that you will continue this when he grows up. Be a part of your child’s daily life. Feed him, dress him, bathe him, read bedtime stories, teach him the simplest things.

It is clear that work can prevent you from spending a lot of time with your child. But what matters is not the amount of time that you will be side by side, but the quality of your interaction.

In one study , they found that the highest academic performance in the third grade was observed among those boys whose fathers not only were, but were also involved in their upbringing .

That is, they did not sit in front of the TV with the requirement not to interfere and be quieter, but communicated, played and were available to children physically and psychologically.

Redefine your priorities

When fathers stay at home with small children, it seems to them that there is a lot to do in spite of their presence. If that doesn’t work, the kids get irritated.

Gottman argues that the key to successful fatherhood is to see parenting as a job that will take at least 20 years to complete.

Joint coloring of pictures, board and role-playing games, intimate conversations about feelings and thoughts, fears and dreams – all this allows you to lay the foundation for a strong relationship.

Later, when the child spends a lot of time away from home, he will still talk about his problems and share his feelings . At least if you listen.

Show interest

To stay in your child’s life, show interest in it. Find out about his friends, meet their parents, invite them to visit.

Participate in their conversations, learn about interests, listen to their concerns. By forming friendly and warm relationships full of trust, you can pass on your values to your child and protect him from many of the mistakes and problems that await in adolescence and early adulthood.

It is up to you to decide whether to meet your children halfway or shrug them off.

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