Father’s Day tips for helping your children thrive

A good dad can change lives

This weekend we are celebrating dads. I am a father of four children, and I can tell you firsthand that being a father will change your life … and wreck all your plans.

Joking – sort of.

Seriously though, I love being a father. It is my favourite role as a man. But fathering, in some circles, is taking an absolute hammering.

Recently, a University of Technology Sydney (UTS) professor reviewed:

  • 650 newspapers
  • 330 hours of TV
  • 100 magazines

He found men were overwhelming portrayed in a negative light. Across all mediums, they were demonised, trivialised and marginalised.

Commercials and TV shows perpetuate ‘stupid man syndrome’. These days, masculinity as a whole has been disparaged and labelled as toxic or misogynistic.

Most men are good men, but they have been derided by a culture that does not value their importance.

Images of fathers throughout the last 50 years range from the incompetent Al Bundy in Married with Children to Homer Simpson, to Everybody loves Raymond or Alan in Two and a Half Men.

More recently, there is Phil Dunphy from Modern Family and even the hapless Daddy Pig in Peppa Pig. Overwhelmingly, these fathers are characterised as immature and irresponsible.

We do now have Bandit in the Australian show Bluey to set a great example of how awesome Dads can be, but mostly representations of modern fatherhood in the media are confirming to emerging generations that fathers are useless.

These programs fail to accurately represent the modern male experience. They don’t reflect the important contribution that fathers make to their families.

It seems capricious that on one hand, we are telling men to step up and be involved, while simultaneously running them down in the media.

Fathers, even in today’s modern inclusive world, are rarely portrayed in a positive light in the media. When they are, they are parodied as either a competent man but uninvolved father, or as an involved father but incompetent man.

Most men are good men, but they have been derided by a culture that does not value their importance.

But I can tell you firsthand that a good father can change lives. And many do.

If you’re a dad, here are five ways to engage with your children and help them thrive.

  1. Teach them to be strong

Ephesians 6:10 “Finally be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.”

This applies not just physically but also emotionally.

Emotional strength is undeniably held together by hope. I believe hope is the most powerful driver of human achievement.

Hope is a function of struggle. People with the highest hopefulness have the knowledge that they can move through adversity. When we take adversity from our children, we diminish their capacity for hope.

Do you create an aftermath or an afterglow?

Studies have shown it takes seven minutes for a father’s mood to start infecting their family. As a parent, are you displaying hope at home, particularly during this time of uncertainty like we are currently experiencing?

Do you create an aftermath or an afterglow? Fathers who leave an afterglow are those who have mastered the art of emotional intelligence and self-regulation. Their strength is derived from an inner place of vitality and power.

Life is about change and challenge, risk and growth. Our children can’t be fully alive and learn what they need to learn as growing humans without the benefit of risk. Risk gives children critical skills including risk assessment, dexterity, resilience and social savvy.

You can’t give your children what you don’t have. You can’t raise strong, resilient, confident, happy and hopeful children if you don’t reflect the attributes yourself, no matter how much importance you place on it.

So, the question is not, am I parenting the right way?’ It is, ‘Are you the adult you want your children to grow up to be’? 

  1. Cultivate their problem-solving skills

Proverbs 3:5 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”

I actually tell my kids to not always come to me with their problems. If it is an issue beyond their current capacity, then of course let’s sit, talk and find a way through. But they don’t need to run to me every time they have a squabble with their siblings. I don’t need to solve every issue for them.

Knowing when to help and when to hold back is a skill every parent needs to develop. Our goal is to get them to launch and to help them build the capacity to live both an independent and collaborative existence.

Let them figure it out for themselves and teach them how to hear God’s voice through his Word.

Coach your kids in the art of problem-solving and constantly cultivate this skill.

The people who get paid the most are not those with the highest score at the end of the school year but those who are adept at solving problems.

  1. Nourish their curiosity

Proverbs 16:16 “How much better to get wisdom than gold, to get insight rather than silver!”

One thing for certain is that all children are curious. But sadly, their natural curiosity diminishes with age as they are taught to retreat to the safety of routine and soft fall playgrounds.

But there are obstacles that sometimes need to be faced. Life is full of unknowns and littered with the unfamiliar and in this space, some children can become anxious.

How a child handles the conflict between feelings of curiosity and feelings of anxiety will determine how they feel about themselves and what they do with their lives. Will they explore or escape? Do they strive towards dreams and aspirations or work hard to avoid failing and making mistakes?

With the right mindset, novelty and intrigue can be found everywhere.

Don’t get caught up in fear-based parenting.

50 dangerous things you should let your kid do is a fabulous book by Gever Tully and Julie Spiegler. Tully’s philosophy is learning through tinkering. It’s a provocative title but it’s really about safety.

The authors talk about how we have gone overboard with safety messages. There are warnings on coffee cups that the contents might be hot, and any item sharper than a golf ball is too sharp for anyone younger than ten.

When you eliminate everything sharp, then when a child does come in contact with anything remotely pointy, they hurt themselves. This is because they have never been taught how to handle anything dangerous.

Below are a few of 50 recommendations from Gever Tully’s book:

  • Lick a 9-volt battery
  • Play in a hailstorm
  • Stick your hand out the window
  • Drive a nail
  • Put strange stuff in the microwave
  • Climb a tree
  • Find a beehive
  • Play with fire
  • Sleep in the wild
  • Deconstruct an appliance

I can almost hear you saying, “Oh they shouldn’t do that and that and that!” as you read that list.

But we should be training our children to interact with the world around them. We want them to be creative, confident and in control of their environment.

If you can’t do something afraid, you won’t do anything at all.

My go-to ‘catchphrase’ with my children when they are scared to participate in an activity for the first time, whether it is jumping off a diving board, riding a roll-coaster or riding down a steep hill is: “First time scary; second time a little bit scary; third time fun.”

Don’t get caught up in fear-based parenting but rather live with faith and hope in the strength and resilience of your child. If they never learn to fail, they will never learn to get back up again.

Young people are tired of being afraid. They want to be brave. They want someone to believe in them. There is plenty of research to back up the fact that children get confidence from their dads, so encourage them to step outside of their comfort zone and give them the opportunity to be brave.

Avoid comments like:

  • She is too little for that
  • He might get hurt
  • I can’t stand to see her fail
  • Get down from there, you will break your neck
  • You will poke somebody’s eye out

Don’t put fear in your kids, for “God did not give us a spirit of fear but of love power and a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).

Let them deal with stuff and teach them how to take refuge in God’s presence.

The best way to give your kids courage is by leading the way. Let them see you jump, and even if you fall, let them see you get up and try again.

Help them face their fears.

  1. Teach them joy

Nehemiah 8:10 “The joy of the Lord is my strength.”

Childhood is not preparing for life, it is life. Never postpone your happiness.

If you are in a plane, and the guy next to you has stolen your armrest and he has bad breath, don’t spend the whole flight angry and irritated and let the moment steal your joy. Choose to keep your peace. That’s emotional intelligence.

Don’t let your environment dictate to you how you will feel. You are not a product of your environment. You are a product of the choices you make in that environment.

We say we will be happy when:

  • The kids grow up
  • When they are all out of their car seats
  • When we are pram free
  • When they are all at school
  • When they leave the home
  • When we retire
  • When we are lying on a hammock in the Maldives

No! Get happy now.

Why? Because, these are the moments, these everyday moments are what life is made up of. Find the divine in the everyday moments.

For me, when I have to go to the shops to run an errand, I say, “Who wants to come with me?” It might cost me a cupcake, but it’s worth it. I try to include my kids in the everyday routine.

Spending regular time with your children is the best way to make them happy. Ask them open-ended questions about themselves, the world and how they see it, and actively listen to their response.

Make sure your kids have multiple streams of influence such as school, church, cultural influences, music, cousins and sporting clubs. So, if something goes funky in one area they can find joy in another.

Make them laugh by telling funny jokes. Be playful by saying, “Tip, you’re in!” as you run for the nearest exit.

What I’ve noticed about men as they age is they either get crankier or kinder, harder or softer. Decide to err towards the latter examples.

Show them who you are and let them in on your interests.

  1. Show them who you are:

Ephesians 2:10 “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.”

You are your child’s first and best representation of a man.

Not everything should be about your children. It is just as important to show them who you are and let them in on your interests. Let them know you are human and have a life too.

If you play poker with your friends, bring your kids along and teach them how to play. I have the football grand final on every year at my place – 20 male friends come around and it’s riotous. My children love to see their dad interact with his peers and they enjoy hearing the friendly banter.

If you love history, cars, boats or fishing, include your kids.

They may not enjoy or like your hobbies or interests, but that is not the point. The point is getting to know each other and bonding with your children and creating moments where that can take place.

Enjoy this and every Father’s Day! May your children bring you joy in this moment and forevermore.

Glen Gerreyn is director and co-founder of The Hopefull Institute, which delivers wellbeing training to school and tertiary students, teachers and parents. Gerreyn has also authored five books and created the ‘Men of Honour’ character development course.