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How To Be A Better Father
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How To Be A Better Father

How To Be A Better Father

Want to Be the Best Dad Ever? Follow These Core Principles

Let’s get one thing out of the way with: Being a father is not easy.

If it were, you probably wouldn’t be reading this article — you’d be out playing with your kids, skipping through fields of sunlit grass together, free as birds, without a care.

But you’re not. You’re here — because being a dad is tough, and you, like any sensible father or father-to-be, are a little bit nervous about it.

Maybe you’re scared that you’ll screw your kid up psychologically, or you’ll shake them as a baby, or you won’t be able to afford the right clothes and toys for them and they’ll get made fun of at school, or you’ll be too strict and they’ll come to resent you later in life. Who knows! That’s just a fraction of all the stuff dads have to think about. And let’s not even get into when you have two or more kids.

Because each and every child is unique, and because, say, diaper-changing advice doesn’t really help out dads with 12-year-old kids, this article will aim to shoot for broad-concept fatherhood stuff. So if you’re looking for very granular parenting advice, you’ve come to the wrong place. Think of this like the pillars of being a good dad, instead.

(And remember, however old you or your children are, it’s never too late to start applying these lessons.)

1. Talk to Your Kids

This might seem obvious — and if you’re the father of a child in the “Why?” phase, you might hate this advice — but it’s so, so important to talk to your kids. This is true for a few reasons, and it’s easy to screw it up. No one expects you to pay incredibly close attention to every single word that comes out of your children’s mouths for the entirety of their lives, but you should make talking to them an important aspect of your parenting.


For starters, this could help save your kid’s life! Rarely will it be so life-and-death, but a toddler babbling about a knife or a teenager mumbling about depression are both situations that could potentially lead to serious outcomes if left unaddressed. A good dad who listens to his kids will be able to hear warning signs — and perhaps even more importantly, if you’ve been making listening to your kids a priority, you’ll be that much more keenly aware when they stop talking, which is often just as bad a sign.

RELATED: The Top 10 Things No One Warns You About About Being A Father

Be Kind

An easy mistake to make is to confuse a child who’s not yet fully articulate with someone you don’t need to invest in, conversationally. Your child might not be able to hold an intellectual discussion — or any kind of discussion — but they can and will sense it if you’re not holding up your end of things. Curt responses, non-responses and angry responses will all register with your kid, and too many of them could turn them off talking to you altogether. Show them you’re invested in what they have to say and they’ll respond to your energy.

Make It Regular

Another way to show them you’re invested, beyond your in-the-moment attention and generosity of attention is to make your conversations with them a regular thing. Children are constantly evolving beings, and being a parent means you get to interact with someone whose mental capacity, interests and personality could have shifted entirely within a few months. Don’t be one of those dads wondering where the time went later on in life: Prioritize talking to your children on a regular basis now so you can get to know them now — before they’ve grown into the next version of themselves.

Ask Them Questions

Once they’ve reached school age and are spending most of their waking lives outside the home, you won’t have as much access to what their day-to-day lives are like. Be curious about their lives. Don’t act like a drill sergeant; some days they won’t have much to recount, but try to create conversational spaces for them to share with you the things they’re learning, the feelings they’re feeling, the places they’re going, the people they’re meeting. And don’t be afraid to match some of what they share with stories of your own. You might not have the same way of looking at the world, but finding commonalities between you and your child can go a long way toward making them feel loved and understood.

Follow Up

One of the best ways to clearly establish that you’re paying attention to someone is to retain what they’ve said and bring it up at a later date. Whether your kid’s telling you about an imaginary friend or a music genre that was just invented last month, do your best to remember what they’re saying. Being able to refer to the things your kids tell you later on will show them in a big way that what they’re saying to you is registering, and that’ll make them feel respected and understood in a way that you simply can’t if you need to ask them about stuff constantly. Pro tip: If you find yourself struggling to retain stuff, it wouldn’t hurt to invest some time into recording some key details that you can check in on later.

2. Show Your Kids That You Care

One of the stereotypes of bad dads is that they make their kids feel unloved, one way or another. There are a ton of different ways to show someone you care about them, and if your child is still pretty young, there might not be a particularly good way of knowing which one(s) will resonate most with them. But you can do your best to cover your bases until they’re old enough to tell you which ones are most important to them.

Use the “L” Word

Tell your children you love them. This might feel weird, and it might not be something you heard from your dad, but make a point to establish this tradition as early on as you can and to keep it up as time goes by — even if (hell, especially if) they reach a point where they respond with, “Ewww, Dad!” or “Yeah, whatever, loser.” Telling your children you love them sincerely and regularly will communicate to them 1) that you care about them in a deeply special way and 2) that you’re not afraid to say it. Lots of people grow up feeling their father’s love for them, but there’s a reason we say “I love you” to the people we care about most — to confirm it. Don’t leave your kids guessing about your feelings.

Spend Time With Them

This is a tricky one, because dads are often the de facto breadwinners, and the fear of being a failure as a provider can easily override the fear of not being there often enough. But you really cannot replace time spent together, and the memories you make with your kids will mean more to you than any money you earn at work. However crazy your schedule is, make quality time with your kids something that you find a way to fit in — and engage in regularly.

Give Them Gifts

Gift-giving is another way to show affection that will be easier for some dads than others, but not all gifts are expensive, and not all gifts are store-bought. It could be as simple as buying a snack for the two of you to share on the way home after you pick your kid up from something, or toy that comes in a box roughly the size of a fridge — or it could be something you made yourself. Whatever form your gifts come in, don’t restrict them to just Christmas and birthdays — give your child a little something here and there, whether planned or spontaneously — and they’ll feel cherished and special.  

RELATED: The Best Toys For Kids (That Dad Will Want To Play With, Too)

Expend Effort on the Relationship

This is something that might get covered by either time spent together or gifts given, but it won’t always, and frankly, it’s worth mentioning on its own. One thing that really communicates caring is effort. If you have a lot of money, buying gifts won’t feel hard; if you have a lot of free time, spending it with your kid won’t feel hard. Effort means putting in work on your kid’s upbringing, and not just doing the easy and fun parts. Be there for your kids when they’re crying. Help them fix their mistakes. Have the awkward conversations with them. Skip out on things you want to do or feel like you have to do sometimes if your kid needs you to be there for them. Get up early to take them to the games, skip out on work early to see them in their school play. Whatever you do, make sure your fatherhood isn’t one where you just coast by and let other people do the heavy lifting.

3. Prepare Them for Life

This is an aspect of fatherhood that gets a lot of airtime in pop culture, and that’s why it’s last in this article. Unfortunately, many dads seem like they skipped right to this while only giving the other stuff a light skim. But a person who’s been raised feeling like they matter and their father really cares about them will probably be a lot better off than a child who’s been rigorously prepared for the harshness of life (and knows how to change a tire) but doesn’t have a foundation of love and support under it all.

RELATED: Every Guy Should Read This Article About Having 'The Talk' With Your Kids

Set a Good Example

The infamous “do as I say, not as I do” quote that parents love to use is a cop-out, and everyone knows it. If you’re asking your kids to live by certain rules, they should be rules you yourself can and do live by. Moreover, kids will pick up on how you act and carry yourself in the world. If there are aspects of your life you’re not proud of, now might be a good time to start working on them. Nobody’s perfect, but your kids will think you are until they’re of a certain age. If you’re teaching them to be polite and respectful and honest, show them that those are virtues you live by as well by treating them and the other people in your life right.

Own Your Mistakes

When you fall short of the example you’re trying to set, it’s important that you don’t try to sweep it under the rug. Not only is that a bad example to set, but it tacitly implies that there are two sets of rules in life — a taxing, exacting set for them and a relaxed, informal set for you. That stings, and it’ll cause them to resent you. It might be embarrassing, but when you screw up, own it — like you would if you had to apologize to an adult. If you overreact and scream at them, apologize for it, and explain why you got so angry. They might not be able to communicate how they feel as clearly, but they’ll respect your honesty, and they’ll learn the right approach to handling their own mistakes when they make them.

Tell Them 'No'

This one sort of runs counter to all the lovey-dovey “be nice” advice earlier, but it’s deeply important to set boundaries for your kids. Spend time with them, tell them you love them, care about what they say and do, give them gifts — but set limits, and enforce them. Selfish, egotistical adults are just people who grew out of children who were never made to consider the needs of others. When your kids hurt people, cross boundaries or otherwise screw up, teach them that there are consequences and not to repeat their mistakes. That isn’t to say you should try to hurt or scare them, but work with them to find punishments and lessons that’ll help them consider what they did, why it was wrong, and how not to do it again.

Invest in Their Passions

One of the ways we become the adults we’re growing into is by deciding what we want to focus our attention on. It’s a huge and complicated world out there, and you can’t possibly pursue every hobby, but feeling supported in your interests is a big part of getting good at something. When your kids start getting passionate about things, support them! Even (especially) if they’re not necessarily things you’re good at. Don’t be the dad who’s constantly pushing his kids into something they don’t care about — find out what your kids are good at and support them in that, whether it’s a dumb card game, a niche artistic passion or something you find personally annoying. The kid who’s really good at arguing today could be a future debate champion; the kid whose confidence has been boosted by supportive parenting is all the more likely to succeed at a new passion than one who’s used to hearing “No” or “You’ll look dumb” or “There’s no money in that.”

Be in Their Corner

It’s a difficult world out there, and one of the things that makes parenting scary is sending your kid out into a world that’s hellbent on ridiculing anyone who’s a little bit different. A tried-and-true parenting method for dealing with that is trying to sand down your kid’s quirky edges at home so the rest of the population doesn’t get a chance to. That’s why we get fathers telling their kids to “Man up!” rather than comforting them or discouraging them from trying anything that might get made fun of at school. But rather than doing the bullies’ jobs for them, consider your role as the coach in your kid’s corner. It’s true that it can be scary confronting a world that at times seems full of cruelty and violence, but if your kid comes home crying, remember that the one to blame is the person who hurt them — not you or your kid. If they understand that the teasing or bullying isn’t their fault — and that you have their back no matter what — it’ll be that much easier to weather the storm.

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