Being a dad doesn’t come with an instruction manual, but experts say getting parenting advice from your kids is a good way to write your own.
Jeff Cookston, a professor of psychology at San Francisco State University (SFSU), said that dads need to ask for feedback on their parenting so their children can better understand their intentions.
For example, parents may believe they are doing a good job by not being too harsh on their kids, but the children may view it as their parents' lack of investment.
“There's a need for fathers to sometimes say to their kids, 'How am I doing? Am I the dad you need me to be?'” Cookston said in a news release. “Kids are actively trying to make sense of the parenting they receive and the meaning that children take from the parenting may be as important, or more important, than the behavior of the parents.”
Cookston and former SFSU graduate student Andrea Finlay published a study in the Journal of Family Issues investigating how adolescents view their fathers’ parenting styles.
The study of children in California and Arizona found that girls tend to believe their father's enduring aspects are responsible for his good deeds, while boys are more likely to believe that dads do nice things depending on the situation.
Through Cookston’s research into how children of different genders and ethnicities respond to parenting, he’s found that the father-child relationship can have a significant impact on the child’s future, especially his or her mental health and behaviors.
Based on his research, Cookston offers the following tips for dads:
- Check in with your kid: Children will often see and hear what they want to, so dads should take some time to talk about their relationship. “Fathers should ask, 'am I more or less than you need me to be?',” Cookston said, “and children—particularly adolescents—should be able to say, 'I need you to change course.'”
- Offer emotional support: Dads are usually better with discipline and role modeling, but Cookston said it’s important that dads use some emotional appeal. Those who do typically have less aggressive and misbehaving kids, he said.
- Be fluid with your style: Just because you weren’t a warm and accepting father yesterday doesn’t mean you can’t be one today. “Parents can change, and kids can accept that,” Cookston said. “Parents need to be constantly adapting their parenting to the development and individual needs of the child.”
- Work as a team: Parents are more likely to hear good things about family relationships from their children if the children see their parents agreeing on parenting decisions. “Parents play unique, additive roles in their children's lives," Cookston said.
- Make like the Air Force and aim high: “We need to raise the bar for fatherhood. If a man is around and is a good provider and doesn't yell at his kids and goes to soccer games, we say that's enough,” Cookston said. “But we need to expect more in terms of engagement, involvement, and quality interaction.”