8 Things Every Dad Should Know
Author, licensed clinical social worker associate, and veteran Dar’Ron Anderson has been dedicated to the advancement of fathers and families for over 20 years. Dar’Ron’s vision is to increase the visibility of fathers and have the world recognize them as a high commodity, loyal to the title, and a necessity to the family structure.
As “The Clinical Father Engagement Specialist,” I work with fathers whose lives have been disrupted due to unforeseen circumstances, such as issues with family, parenting, finances, and mental health. Through 1:1 therapeutic coaching, I provide strategies that help fathers cope with their challenges and adjust to new ways of life. While I have counseled more than 1,000 fathers over the last two decades, my most important role is being a dad to my two young children—with a third on the way!
Meaningful parental involvement that strengthens the family structure is the focus of both my professional and personal life. There are many ways to be present and engaged with our kids, and to build skills that will serve them well for a lifetime. Following are eight time-tested and dad-approved lessons:
When I counsel families, I always recommend that children’s reading material be in sight and easily accessible. This was my inspiration for writing Daddy’s Green Book! Literacy is an important factor for success in school and in life. As parents and caregivers, we can give kids a head start by reading together from an early age. Beyond language and literacy development, reading helps fathers and children bond. Plus, it builds kids’ confidence. Place books all around your home: in shared living spaces, on top of the coffee table, in your children’s play area, and on a dedicated bookshelf. Look up from your screen for three seconds: What children’s books do you see around you right now?
There’s no denying that moms (and other caregivers!) do a lot with and for children, and we dads appreciate all of it. It’s also a fact that dads love to play—and kids love to play with daddy, too. My wife plans the play dates in the park, but I’m usually the one doing most of the running, jumping, and chasing. Playing with our children teaches them how to have fun and socialize with others by reinforcing social norms like taking turns and sharing. Play is also a way to make new friends and form lasting relationships. The basic skills kids naturally acquire through play can impact their future professional and personal lives according to early childhood educators and developmental psychologists. Play could be anything: tossing a ball while chatting about a favorite book or cartoon, planning voyages around the home, making blanket forts, playing monster, or going wherever their imagination takes them!
Daddy Makes Mistakes
Let’s face it: We all want to be the perfect dad to our children, but sometimes even dads make mistakes—and that’s OK! There are days we wish we could rewind because of how we spoke, how we disciplined, or the opportunities we missed to spend time with them. Instead of dwelling on the past, strive to do one percent better today. This teaches children to develop realistic expectations for themselves and others, and to practice grace and patience with themselves. Accepting mistakes can also help reduce anxiety-provoking behaviors like perfectionism and self-doubt. Remember, we may not be good fathers every day, but we are GREAT fathers all the time.
Pretend play gives us a glimpse inside our kids’ minds. Engaging in imaginary play with our children invites them to visualize possibilities, like what they want to be when they grow up, which helps kids envision their goals and find their purpose in life. So, go ahead and join them as they transform into a ninja turtle, President of the United States, a military hero, or an international spy, and model how they can be anything they can imagine. What did you want to be when you were a child? Did it manifest or did someone tell you, “Stop playing around and be serious?”
Daddy Gets Scared
As men, society teaches us that we must always be brave without acknowledging the fear that comes before it, but what does that teach our children? We all know fear is part of growing up—whether it’s because of a bully, a scary movie, or a recital. Our children need to know that it’s okay to be scared. In fact, fear provides an opportunity to express our bravery and courage. Don’t be shy to show your children that you get scared sometimes, too, and discuss what you can learn from those moments.
I have met numerous fathers who go to great lengths to ensure their child never sees them cry. They feel crying makes them appear weak. During my therapeutic coaching sessions with fathers, we discuss the Five Protective Factors, one of which is social-emotional competence. This is about recognizing that when we understand and express our emotions, we are better able to regulate them. Crying shows that you are in touch with your feelings—sadness, pain, fear (even happiness)—and it is an opportunity to begin working through those feelings to find comfort. It lets children know they can safely and freely express themselves, too, which, in turn, allows us to help them understand their emotions and develop coping strategies.
My children teach me something new every day. Whether we’re talking about the coolest amphibians, different types of clouds in the sky, a new game they’ve been playing or a book they’re reading, these conversations are a window into how my kids see their world, themselves, and the people around them. And learning is reciprocal! When we show interest and willingness to learn from our children, they may be more willing to learn from us. The truth is, we don’t know everything, and it’s healthy for our children to understand that. What lessons have you learned from your children lately?
I make it a habit to dance with my children. Dancing is a form of self-care. It’s a stress reliever, good exercise, and most importantly, it’s a whole lot of fun! Don’t worry if you have two left feet—kids don’t mind. In fact, it shows them that not everyone is perfect at everything and we can still enjoy ourselves. Moving your body is liberating. So get your boogie on!