Dads are one of the greatest untapped resources in the battle to prevent many of society’s most pervasive challenges, including substance abuse, depression and crime.
Mounting evidence points to good fathering as a significant protective factor in a growing list of problems for which the seeds are planted in childhood.
It has been estimated that if all fathers in Australia spent just five minutes more a day with each of their children, $5 billion could be saved each year across areas including crime, health, education and the workplace.
The trouble is that men whose own fathers were not great parents grow up without the skills to be a good father themselves. So even if they recognise the important role they have to play in their child’s life, often they do not know what to do.
The Fathering Project tries to break that cycle by offering tips and advice.
“These are catastrophic (problems) in our society; we set up the project with the simple goal that in the end . . . every child in the country would have had an opportunity on an ongoing basis of input from a strong and appropriate father-figure, ” founder Bruce Robinson said. “Mostly we are talking about dads but also stepdads, uncles, teachers, sports coaches. The effect on society would be enormous.”
Monique Robinson, associate principal investigator at the Telethon Kids Institute, said traditionally dads were not very involved in their children’s upbringing, leaving a generation of dads without an example to learn from.
“There is a lot more that dads can do and they do struggle because they are not necessarily around as much as the mother is and it can often be a bit difficult for them knowing where their place is but when you do have an involved father there is double opportunity for the child — double the language, double the activities, someone else to take them down to the park, someone else to praise their achievements and other things they do at school, ” she said.
“Research shows that involved, affectionate and positive fathers contribute to secure attachment which is important for later emotional development and relationship building with others.”
The three things all children needed from their dads were unconditional love, to be there for them no matter what and to help them realise they were special, according to Professor Bruce Robinson.
When it came to parenting girls, fathers contributed to a daughter developing self-confidence and understanding how she could expect to be treated by a man.
He warned that the way a father spoke to his daughter carried great weight and could have a lifelong impact.
“Dads can let loose on their daughters out of anger without realising what a crushing thing it is for them, it can be very wounding and once said can’t be taken back, ” he said.
“If Dad shows her no respect as a person, her bar of respect is set very low so she’ll put up with crap if she thinks she doesn’t deserve any better. But when a father treats a girl with huge respect, her bar is set very high and she won’t put up with crap from boys and she’ll dump them, ” Professor Robinson said.
“A loving affectionate relationship with a father has a profound effect on all subsequent relationships.”
Where girls listened, boys learnt from their fathers by watching.
“For boys, they are watching how you treat their mother, how you treat poor people, how you do things. They want to be with you, that’s the thing, ” Professor Robinson said.
Father of five boys Daylan Waetford, a personal trainer from Greenwood, said his dad had been a good role model and he often followed his example in his own parenting by working hard but making his family a priority in his time off.
He said sometimes he felt like the striker in a soccer team making that final winning play after 99 per cent of the hard work had already been done by his wife Bron. Mr Waetford spends much of the time with his children playing sport and being active but recognised one-on-one time was important too.
“Because there are five children, we need to find time to discuss how they are going on their own, ” he said. “Children want to be heard, they want to be understood and they want to be rewarded and that can just mean a hug or a high five.”
TIPS FOR DADS
Bruce Robinson, from UWA’s The Fathering Project, believes every child should experience regular “dad dates” throughout the year.
“It has to be a one-on-one set up — there must be no other kids and definitely not Mum, ” Professor Robinson said. “It’s a powerful message to their children when busy fathers take the time to organise an outing just for them. Kids realise both in a biological and psychological sense that Dad is ‘optional’, and so their radar is always pinging for Dad. It makes them feel so worthwhile.”
- Do not preach or solve their problems — listen to their concerns.
- Teach them strategies in managing peer pressure — help them in making good choices.
- Teach them to drink water between alcoholic drinks.
- Don’t criticise their peers — get to know them.
- Understand that children will always push the boundaries — don’t take the fence away, and be over-protective when warranted.
DOS AND DON’TS FOR DADS
Good fathering contributes to:
- Greater cognitive and social skills
- Higher levels of social responsibility and capacity for empathy
- Better self-control and self-esteem
- Positive relationships with siblings
- Fewer school difficulties, better academic progress and improved job success in adulthood
- Lower risk of involvement in delinquent behaviours, including property, violent or drug-related crime
- Increased participation in physical activity
Poor fathering can lead to:
- Problems with social functioning and relationships as an adult
- Increased mental health disorders, including depression, bipolar and anxiety disorders and phobias
- Higher chance of a child trying alcohol, cigarettes or marijuana
- Risk of bullying behaviour increases
- Increased sexual risk-taking, including teenage pregnancy and fatherhood
Benefits to dads of being a good parent:
- Higher levels of involvement lead to better, more beneficial relationships with their children and teenagers.
- Involved fathers are more likely to feel confident and effective as a parent and find the role more satisfying.
- They are more likely to be satisfied with life and to feel less psychological distress and greater empathy for others.
- Emotional involvement with their children can act as a buffer to work stress.
SOURCE: The Fathering Project
© The West Australian
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