Dr. Gina Madrigrano offers straightforward and grounded advice to help dads in the most challenging and rewarding task they’ll ever have.
Dads, you carry a heavy burden of responsibility on your shoulders. Your parenting practices have a tremendous impact on your children’s self-esteem and their coping and problem-solving abilities. In my therapeutic practice, most fathers I’ve spoken to want the same thing. They tell me: “I want my children to become successful, confident, and make the right choices.” While it’s a lofty goal, it’s not too much to ask. So how do we reach it?
Parenting might be the most challenging task you will ever have, but it will also be the most rewarding. If you can consciously incorporate these practices into your daily life, your children will be well prepared.
- Self-esteem. It is the foundation upon which happiness and success in all areas of our lives are built. To foster self-esteem in our children, yours must be strong. After all, you can’t teach what you don’t know. Remember to love your children (and yourself) unconditionally and allow them to fail so they can get back up. When they fail, don’t judge them. Don’t manipulate, control, criticize, or shame them. At the same time, stop telling them they can be anything they want. Praise is good but like all good things, its power is blunted when overused.
- Uniqueness. Teach your children not to worry so much about what people think of them. Don’t compare them to anyone, not even their siblings. We are all unique, and kids need to learn to embrace the totality of who they are. Being different is okay. As JFK said: “Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.”
- Shame. It is a weak form of discipline. Avoid it at all costs. It teaches kids to hate themselves and resent you in the process. Shame does not teach children about guilt or to feel sorry about their misbehaviors. It teaches them to have contempt for who they are. Words of wisdom by Carl Jung: “Shame is a soul eating emotion.”
- Parental Agenda. Allow your kids to live out their dreams and aspirations. See your children for who they are and not for who you want them to be. Do not push your personal agenda on them. Dr. Shefali Tsabary explains: “Our children didn’t come into the world to be our puppets. They came here to struggle, fumble, thrive, and enjoy–a journey for which they need our encouragement.”
- Don’t Overprotect. Overprotecting your children not only hurts their self-esteem, but it also fosters anxiety, insecurity, and poor coping skills. Kids need to experience a range of negative emotions, failure, and adversity. It is the only way to learn. These experiences are necessary. You are there to teach, support, and catch your children when they fall. Be validating and supportive when they experience difficult emotions. “As parents, we have a tendency to overprotect; it’s okay to try and show them all positives, but we cannot forget that the real world has teeth.” So true Johnnie Dent Jr.!
- Discipline. Parenting should be 90% teaching and 10% discipline. Constant correcting is like having your boss breathing down your throat. It corrodes the parent-child relationship. Patience, repetition, empathy, and validation are what they need. It takes practice to learn all the human skills required to survive in this world. You have been here a while and might have lost sight of how scary and overwhelming this world can be. Don’t punish or timeout their emotional outbursts or send them to their rooms. It will only teach them to hide their feelings and shut you out when they are teens. Bill Ayers nailed it when he said: “Your kids require you most of all to love them for who they are, not to spend your whole time trying to correct them.”
- Money. Convey the value of money to your children from the time that they are little. Teach them financial literacy. Don’t buy too many toys. Teach them to practice gratitude and daily acts of kindness. Talk with them about saving, planning for the future, spending wisely, avoiding debt. Will Rogers offered this wisdom: “Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people that they don’t like.”
- Screens. Kids as young as six are exposed to pornography and to violence even earlier. Monitor not only what they watch on screens but how much they watch. Talk to them about Internet safety. Encourage them to unplug with physical activities, play, hobbies, arts, music, and involvement with real people. Remember Andrew Malcolm’s words: “The car trip can draw the family together, as it was in the days before television when parents and children talked to each other.”
- Chores. If you involve your children in doing chores, or helping out, from the time that they are two, you are instilling good habits. Chores not only foster self-esteem, but they also teach life skills, responsibilities, organizational skills, cooperation, and discipline. The benefit of starting young is that you won’t have to fight with them to help you when they are teenagers.
- Role Model. Embody and stand by your values, and be the person you want your children to become. There is no better lesson than leading by example. Make sure your words and actions are in sync. As James Baldwin reminds us: “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”
Dads, you will make mistakes. The goal is not to be a perfect father but to be conscious of your good and bad moves, and to course correct when needed. Your children will be better for it, despite your mistakes.
Photo: Flickr/ Jonathan Cohen