How dads and father figures can boost a child’s mental wellbeing

15/08/2018

It’s an exciting time to be a dad! We’re in the middle of rewriting the job description. No longer are dads satisfied with being the ‘breadwinner’ – dads of today want to be hands on. Many men now see being a dad as their most important job. They want a closer connection with their kids than they had with their own father.

This is great news for kids because they benefit as much from attention, advice, support and love from their dad as they do from their mum. High levels of father involvement are associated with better outcomes for kids – especially for their mental wellbeing.

Positive and warm interactions between a dad and their child help them feel safe, wanted, important and loved – all key ingredients for good mental wellbeing.

Besides investing in the relationship, there are other ways a dad or father figure can help a child’s mental wellbeing:

  1. Help them to manage emotions by putting a name to them and talking it through. Try not to jump in with solutions, but assist them to consider their options for how to deal with situations that are bothering them.
  2. Be attentive but try not to be over involved or smother them. Work towards increasing their independence.
  3. Avoid harsh and critical responses to their behaviour.
  4. Minimise arguments and conflict in the home, particularly between you and your partner. The emotional climate of a house matters.
  5. Encourage good health and lifestyle habits like healthy eating, regular physical activity, good sleep patterns and not too much screen time (unfortunately, this does involve role modelling this yourself!)
  6. Get your kids involved in out-of-home activities. It builds their social network, encourages them to have a go and gives them a sense of achievement, which all build resilience.

It’s also important to pay attention to your own mental health. For all of us, life can be incredibly hard at times. Your ability to parent calmly is affected by the storms of life – money problems, housing problems, work problems, relationship problems, getting sick, grieving the loss of people you loved, feeling lonely, and the list goes on. All of these issues put enormous strain on your parenting.

If you’re struggling, getting some support yourself is one of the best things you can do for your family. Too often dads feel the need to be a rock and soldier on as the pressure builds up in their life. It’s a sign of strength to ask for help when things are getting tough. If you’re in a good headspace, you’re more able to be the kind of dad you want to be.

While many of these tips may seem like common sense, and they are, in practice we know parenting is a lot more complex and challenging than this. It’s best for dads to view parenting as a skill they’ll continue to learn over time, rather than thinking they need to be perfect and being hard on themselves when they make a mistake.

Being a dad is my most important job. That’s why I’m very proud to be involved with YMCA Victoria as an Ambassador for the YMCA Father’s Day Fun Run and to support YMCA Victoria programs that give parents essential back up in the task of raising resilient young people.

Written by YMCA Father’s Day Fun Run ambassador Dr Luke Martin

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