There are no perfect fathers, just perfect moments. Get your basics right and put some thought into how you can be there for your children, every day. And become a great dad.
There is no fixed recipe or magic formula for becoming a great dad. It’s all about getting a few simple things right, every day. Ram Raja, Director, Shri Harini Media Ltd., and father of two grown children, shares 10 tips on what it takes to be a wonderful dad. Our expert, Arundathi Swamy, Counsellor and Head of Parent Engagement Programmes at ParentCircle, also shares her views on the topic.
1. Inculcate values
Ram: All parents want to raise kids with values like honesty, empathy and caring for the environment. To help them grow into good human beings, we need to inculcate strong values in our children.
Expert take: It’s important to instil values in children because they will serve as a guide for their behaviour in various situations. There’s a popular saying that values are not taught but caught. This means that children learn values by observing how parents practise values. So, teach your child values by being a role model for her.
2. Teach emotion management
Ram: It’s good to have strong emotions. But, the key is to be aware of these emotions and know how to manage them to lead a less stressful life. If your child is faced with an adverse event, he needs to breathe deep and calm himself down. Then he should figure out what happened and why. Once he understands the reason behind the issue, he will be less agitated and able to better manage his emotions.
Expert take: Teaching children how to express and manage their emotions is important to build their emotional strength and resilience. This is especially important for boys because they are taught to be tough, and being tough means not showing emotions such as sadness, despair, or loneliness. So, it’s very important for you as a dad to show your child that you are comfortable talking about your own feelings, even if they make you appear ‘weak’.
3. Instil discipline
Ram: We don’t live alone in this world. Discipline is something that makes it easy for us to interact with others and work together. If there is a set method for doing things everyone knows what to expect. This makes it better for society as a whole and, reduces overall stress and anxiety. It’s good when kids understand that to fit into society one needs to do things in a disciplined manner.
Expert take: Discipline can help children self-regulate and be mindful of others; it serves as a guide for collective interactions. Make every ‘disciplining’ moment a ‘teaching’ moment. Talk to your child about the appropriate behaviour for each situation. Set boundaries for behaviour and let your child know what is expected of her. This will make her feel safe and secure.
4. Foster a love of learning
Ram: Schools should not be there just to teach academic subjects; they should equip children with the tools to prepare them for the world of tomorrow. It’s important to give children the space to be curious and learn. Learning is not just about going to school; it is a life-long process that teaches children how to lead a decent and good life.
Expert take: Children are natural learners. With each new, positive experience, their brains grow and expand. Allow your child to explore and learn naturally. Encourage curiosity by answering his questions as best as you can without overloading him with too much information. Connect your child’s learning with real life experiences; encourage reading and imagination. Allow him to explore within safe limits, and to make mistakes using these as learning opportunities.
5. Encourage sibling bonding
Ram: We tell our children to support each other; we teach them to share; we encourage them to reach common ground through reasoning with each other. Since they grow up in the same environment, it's easier for them to better relate to each other. Siblings can be the people your child can really rely on anytime.
Expert take: Siblings tend to bond very naturally, since they spend so much time together in the same environment. Having healthy relationships among siblings is a stepping stone to building healthy relations with peers. You can help your child strengthen her bond with a sibling encouraging them to do activities together and to listen to each other. If there are conflicts, guide her to resolve these conflicts by herself.
6. Involve children in family decisions
Ram: When they are younger you try to make decisions with them on the fun things they want to do. As they get older, it gets easier to reason with them and get them involved in more important decisions.
Expert take: Children as young as one are attempting to do things on their own. Even very young children have the opportunity to make decisions when you give them simple choices. For example, you can ask your child ‘do you want to eat an apple or a pear?’, or ‘What game shall we play?’ This will give your child ownership over whatever he is doing and boost his self-esteem. Moreover, you get fresh perspectives and different ideas when you involve your child in decision-making.
7. Connect with your adolescent
Ram: We can always connect with adolescents by trying to know who they are as individuals, by asking them questions about their interests, listening to what they say and understanding their point of view.
Expert take: During adolescence, children experience a host of physical and emotional issues to which they don’t have the answers. Guiding your child through this difficult period is important for her to grow into a well-rounded individual. You can help your adolescent by giving her the freedom to discover and create her own identity. But, at the same time let her know that you are always there for her.
8. Nurture an independent mind
Ram: I think being independent-minded and having your own views is very important. Children shouldn’t have to blindly follow what their parents and grandparents did or agree with their views. We encourage our children to think for themselves by allowing them to speak their mind and make their own decisions.
Expert take: It’s important for children to be independent-minded. They will not be easily swayed by negative peer pressures and able to make their own decisions. You can help your child by trusting him and giving him the space to be responsible for what he does. Present your child with hypothetical scenarios and have lively debates. Be open to your child’s ideas and avoid unpleasant arguments.
9. Support your child’s endeavours
Ram: To be quite candid, we didn’t steer our children in any particular direction at all. They are doing what they wanted to. My son always wanted to study engineering, which is what he is pursuing. My daughter is much more empathetic. She is currently in college and is formulating the direction she wants to pursue.
Expert take: Let your child lead the way when it comes to planning and deciding what she wants to study or take up as a career. Be there to support and guide her, but do not force your agenda or thoughts on her. Highlight your child’s strengths, in case she is unable to judge for herself. Introduce your child to the world of work through conversations and don't forget to be a good listener.
10. Be there for your child
Ram: I attended every parent teacher meeting when I was in town. I go to my children’s games and performances. I think being physically present helps, because your children see you taking the time to be there for them. Right from the time when my kids were young, and even now, whenever they call me, I answer the phone regardless of how important a meeting I’m in. They know they can reach me anytime.
Expert take: Being there for your child enriches your relationship with him. There is no fixed recipe for this. Listen to your child, feel his feelings and share in his joys and sorrows. Find common areas of interest and pick a few activities to do together. Remember, the activity is not as important as the communication that goes on during the activity.