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

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Goodness of Fit: Giving Up Being Right Doesn’t Make You Wrong

Sam bursts through the door after school, throws his book bag on the ground, and heads toward his room.  Mom is in the kitchen making a cup of tea when she hears Sam get home.  She hollers, “Hey kid….how was school? What is your plan for tonight?” Sam says, “I don’t know” while heading up the stairs.  Clearly Sam was upset about something.  Mom wonders…what should I do? Do I try to talk to him, wait for him to come to me, or just let it go for now.  As she stirs the honey in her tea,  her thoughts drift to how her day had gone. She had actually had a pretty rough day herself.  In fact, things at work had been going down hill for about a month. She feels emotionally exhausted, but knows that she needs to reach out to her son.

Mom begins to walk upstairs. How many different ways could this conversation go and why? Both are coming to the conversation with their own personality, thoughts, feelings, and experiences.   For years, psychologists have tried to understand what contributes to effective parenting and strong parent-child relationships.  And for years, researchers have said that this is cultivated by things like knowing what’s going on in your teens life: with whom are they spending time, what are they doing, where are they going, when will they be home, and how they’re doing.  Another component is finding the right balance of being responsiveness to them and having a structured and predictable environment.   This sounds easy enough, right?  The Goodness of Fit Model suggests that the  teen’s temperament, the parent’s temperament, and the demands and expectations of the environment are important contributors to how easy it really is. 

The Goodness of Fit Model Model suggests that a teen’s development is not based on a specific personality trait, but rather on the the way in which  their temperament, other people’s temperament, and their environment interact.  A person’s temperament is their natural style of interacting with people, places and things, whereas the environment is inclusive of all the different contexts in which people interact with one another.  These contexts include things like family, school, work, and peer groups.  A good fit is established by finding, or creating, a match in these areas: 1) the parent and the child’s temperament, (2) the parent and his/her environment, and (3) the teen and his/her environment. When this happens, parent-teen relationships are healthier and teens are happier with themselves and the world around them.  Teens have a higher self-esteem when they feel like they can successfully navigate their relationships and activities.  As you would expect, a poor match can have the opposite impact.

You have more options for how you respond to situations when you enter into them with an understanding of both you and your teen’s perspective. Giving up being right doesn’t mean you have to be wrong.  It may be that you and your teen simply approach things differently. When you are present to who your teen is and why they react the way they do,  you can avoid some of the recurring battles in your household.   Doing this goes a long way in  building trust between you and your teen, while making parenting more enjoyable!

The Goodness of Fit Model looks at two component: The behavior fit and the emotional fit.  The behavioral fit refers to the fit between the person and the environment, while the emotional fit refers to the fit between individuals.  Using the  example above, let’s look at behavioral fit.  Maybe Sam likes to keep to himself, but he shares a bedroom with his teenage brother. This can leave Sam frustrated when he wants space and his room is occupied by his brother.  When you think about emotional fit, consider whether your teen has a compatible or incompatible temperament in relation to some the people in his/her life….including yourself!  Looking at our example again, maybe the mom is really introverted and is internally processing her bad day at work, while Sam wants to talk about what he is feeling.  It is normal for it to be more challenging for you to understand a teen who has a very different temperament than you. You may even find yourself having less patience to deal with certain things because of your teen’s temperament.

Whether your temperament clashes or is compatible with your teen, you can have a big impact on the interactions you have with one another, and your level of satisfaction!  Start by recognizing the similarities and differences, and consider when you can  make adjustments in your parenting to better meet the needs of your teen.  You can also help your teen learn how to interact with people who  approach situations in different ways than themselves. Below are some additional strategies for understanding and managing “fit”:

  • Have discussions that acknowledge, but do not judge the other person’s way of interacting in the world. This will increase trust and understanding in your relationship.
  • Approach your teen with empathy and work through differences in a way that acknowledges both reactions. Giving up being right, doesn’t mean you have to be wrong.
  • Teach teens to recognize the “other” person’s perspective. This is also important because it is during this time that teens tend to be heavily focused on themselves.
  • Help your teen recognize and engage in environments that fit their personal temperament.
  • Anticipate what your teen may need in order to handle a person or an environment that is not a good fit. For example, prepare a shy teen for overcrowded events. Teens do better when they know what to expect.
  • Have realistic expectations of teens. Try to avoid putting them in situations that are counter to their temperament. This can make them feel bad about themselves and can ultimately decrease their self-esteem.
  • Acknowledge teens who have a challenging temperament. By doing this, you can recognize that teen behavior is not always a result of “bad” parenting. You alone are not fully responsible for the way your teen is or is not.
  • Engage your teen in activities that match their temperament. It can be helpful to put active teens in sports, emotionally expressive teens in music, funny teens in drama, and academic teens in math or chess club.
  • Find chores that match their temperament.  Consider having active teens mow the lawn, less active kids fold the laundry, and  emotionally expressive teens walk the dogs.

When teens learn to put themselves in situations that “fit” their temperament, they are able to feel successful in their interactions with others and the world around them!

Happy Parenting,