The Unique & Special Role of Dads

“Fathers are far more than just ‘second adults’ in the home. Involved fathers bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring.” Dr. David Popenoe

Happy Father’s Day! If you follow my blog you know that I support and conduct research on the importance of fathers. Fathers play a fundamental and profound role in their child’s development. Over the years, our culture has shifted from one where fathers were the breadwinners and mothers were the caretakers to one where fathers want to be more involved in the nurturing and caretaking aspects of childrearing.  Still, fathers bring their own twist to caretaking, one that is found to have a positive impact on their child’s thinking, psychological well-being, and social behavior. Let’s look at one of the things that make dads so special, PLAY!

Dads spend a much higher percentage of their time engaged in playful, stimulating, one-on-one activities with their children.  How does that impact their development? From the very beginning, play is essential to a child’s cognitive development. According to psychologist Jean Piaget, an infant’s mental development begins by using his/her senses and motor activities to interact with the environment.  Lying on their stomach, touching a mobile, and playing with their toes add to their knowledge of the world. As children get older, they add imitation and language to playful interactions. By the time they are teens, they do a variety of activities with their dad.  They may wrestle, shoot hoops, ride bikes, go to movies, play ball, go out to dinner together, frequent the ice-cream shop, or go on road trips. Dads pay attention to what their kids like to do and then they DO IT with them!

dad&teen

However, play does much more then make children smarter. Play teaches them how to regulate their feelings and behavior.  For example, wrestling with dad is a fun way to develop self-control.  Through this type of roughhousing, children learn they can be physical and aggressive without loosing control of their own emotions. Self-control leads to prosocial behavior and positive interactions with adults and peers. Finally, fathers are much more likely to promote independence and achievement.  This is often balanced by a mother’s tendency to be nurturing.

I asked a few teens what made their dad special. As you read their response, notice how these teens express the importance of play, independence, and simply spending time together.

To me, my father is more than the normal dad. Not only is he a brave, strong, and heroic dad, but he also has a childish side.  He is fun and loves to mess around and hang out with my brother and I. Without my dad, I would never have that extra shoulder to lean on or that friend that I can always trust, no matter what. He has always told me, as his father used to tell him, that he will always be my best friend. He will always keep his promises, support me, and be on my side. Ever since I was very little, my dad has strived for me to do my best, from teaching me to ride my bike and bike up a hill near our house to teaching me how to do my times tables in third grade. He never gives up. He is always pushing me to do my best. So, in the end, my dad is not just a father, but a support, teacher, and most importantly, my best friend.

My Dad is my best friend. My favorite part of our relationship is that every morning, on the drive down the mountain from our house, we talk about life in such a free way that there seems to be no communication barriers between us that the “average American Father-Daughter relationship” is prescribed to have. We trust each other and we have each other backs. The kind of relationship I have with my Dad is the result of a long journey together and can be largely attributed to my parents divorce when I was 13. Sometimes things got really hard and money and living with my Dad was tricky. Through it all we were forced to be vulnerable and open with each other, which is why we can be so comfortable today. I am thankful for all of it. I love my Dad.

When I was little, my dad was like my superhero. Everything he did was amazing! As I got older I learned that he was not perfect, but he was authentic.  He has shared his wisdom and his mistakes with me, and through it all I have learned a lot. My dad is a role model, teacher and a friend. He is always there for me. My dad has bailed me out when I made mistakes but it wasn’t free. He showed me that he loved me, but also helped me to make up for what happened and grow past it. My dad is the guy that will learn to play hockey so that he can coach you and see you more often.  I think my dad would even pick up ballet if that was what I liked and it meant he could see me more. My dad will always be a big part of my life. I love him very much!

Never underestimate the impact you have on your child’s life!

Happy Parenting,

Shelly

Advertisements

The Search for Identity: Who Am I? What Am I Committed To? What Am I Afraid Of?

Identity development is one of the most fundamental tasks teens face. It is during this time that they are most likely to try on different aspects of their personality as they work to figure out who they are and who they want to become.  Your teen will grow and develop. Some characteristics will stay the same, some will change, and some will change and then go back to the way they were before.  As challenging and emotional as it can be, this is a good time to be sensitive to how difficult it was to be in a constant state of evaluating “Who am I?”

Your identity is a complex set of attributes that contribute to how you describe yourself and what makes you unique. Before you try to understand your teen, think about how you might answer the following questions:

  1. How would you describe yourself?
  2. What are three things that you are committed to?
  3. What are you afraid of and why?

Now, think of the world of a teenager. How would your teen describe him/herself? Putting some thought into this can give you new insight into your teen’s identity. Children typically describe themselves using specific adjectives. Seven year old Johnny may say, “I am kind and funny” and nine year old Suzie may say, “I am talkative and nice.” This changes in the teen years. Fifteen year old Johnny can see that he is kind sometimes, and unkind other times. He can tell you that he is funny when he hangs out with his guy friends and quiet around girls.  Similarly, 17 year old Suzie can tell you that she is talkative around people she knows and quiet in new situations. She can articulate that she is generally nice, but can be mean when she is tired.  How teens describe themselves is an aspect of their identity and one that becomes more and more sophisticated as their brains develops.

What three things were you committed to? What do you think your teen is committed to? This is important to consider because our identity is also built on the things we do.   A  teen that is committed to daily swim practice defines herself as an athlete,  a teen that looks for a job at 16 sees himself as hardworking, and a teen that volunteers at the humane society describes herself as an animal lover.  If you think about what your teen commits to, you can link it to certain characteristics that make  up their his/her personality.  Adults can relate to this. What is the first thing you tell someone that you just met?  Do you say where you work, tell them about your children, or mention your favorite activities? Like teens, these are parts of you that you are committed to and enjoy sharing with other people.

All teens have fears. They may be afraid of looking bad, saying or doing the wrong thing in a social situation, or doing poorly on an exam.  The impact of these fears can be compounded by their inability to distinguish their thoughts from the thoughts of others.  For example: If a teen thinks her hair looks bad then she also thinks that everyone else thinks her hair looks bad. All this thinking about what other people are thinking can be really exhausting!  Fears impact identity development by inhibiting a teen from trying new things and making new commitments that build competencies and esteem.

Here are some things to think about as you help your teenager go through this transition:

  • Pay attention to how teens describe themselves.  Tell stories that are rich with characteristics you have observed. Your teen may choose to add these to how he/her description.
  • Engage teens in conversations about the things they like to do. Help your teen explore new areas.
  • Remember that independence bread confidence. Find safe opportunities for your teen to express his/her independence and develop new competencies.
  • Make a big deal out of their accomplishments. Verbalize the things you see working for your teen in different situations.
  • Recognize that experimentation is normal. A big part of your role is to pay attention and reel your teen in with clear about boundaries, expectations and consequences.

Happy Parenting!

Shelly

Motivating Teens: The Role of Independence

The need to feel as though our behavior is truly chosen, not imposed upon us, may be its strongest during adolescents.  During this time between childhood and adulthood, teens are striving for independence at the same time that they still need guidance from their parents.  As children move into adolescence, they are motivated by a strong desire to be seen as more mature, capable of making decisions, and worthy of being treated as though they are getting older.  Just the other day a 12 year old girl said to me, “I really don’t like Paul [a 20-something year old in her martial arts class] because he treats me like I am a little kid.  I know that I am not grown up, Continue reading “Motivating Teens: The Role of Independence”