I know Iʼm generalising here – and hats off to all the dads who have got a handle on whatʼs needed with raising a toddler. Hereʼs a young dad doing the best he can, but at times heʼs not meeting the toddlerʼs needs. Mums often sense this and feel frustrated:
ʻDo I let them go off together and sort it out – but what about my baby?ʼ
Very often Dads have had very little preparation for taking on Parenthood. So how would he know whatʼs needed? Hereʼs a few suggestions that can pave the way to more involved and happier fathering.
1. Involve Dad from the beginning. As one Dad said, concerning the care of their baby, ʻI felt as useless as an ashtray on a motorbike.ʼ Why would you want to be involved if your efforts were being blown away in the wind!
2. Appreciate his help. Getting the practical stuff done can take a lot of pressure off you. But heʼs not going to do it YOUR way. Give appreciation not criticism if you want his support.
3. Give him insights / tips without inferring that heʼs ʻwrongʼ. Avoid language like ʻThe right way to do this is…ʼ Because when you say that, itʼs giving the message, ʻYouʼre doing it WRONG.ʼ None of us like to be wrong – and specially not if youʼre male. Youʼre more likely to get support from Dad by using ʻhelpfulʼ language: ʻWhat I find helpful is …ʼ Also avoid ʻshouldʼ. Males hate being told what to do. Rephrase as ʻcouldʼ (Thereʼs a choice there – and he can decide). e.g. Rather than ʻYou should give him toys to play with.ʼ Try saying ʻYou could try giving him toys to play with.ʼ
4. Discuss with him that he has a vital role in creating calm family. Sometimes being an ‘out-to-work mum’ or ʻMum-on-Duty-24/7ʼ can feel overwhelming. You get stressed and thatʼs contagious to babies and young children. The stressed child cries more and is more likely to be ill, so you become more stressed, so the little one becomes more stressed, and downward it spirals. Dad need to know itʼs a scientific fact that one of the most helpful things he can do for his young child is to be a calming factor in Mumʼs life. If youʼre calm, itʼll be easier to calm the child. P.S. Discuss this when YOU are calm!
5. Share key neuroscience facts that help us know whatʼs needed for young children to thrive. Dad likes provable facts – not ʻfluffyʼ talk. ʻOh poor little miteʼ isnʼt likely to impress Dad. But when he has some biological insight, heʼll have facts that will be key to him in how to parent in way that meets your childʼs needs.
FACT: The young childʼs brain is still under construction. So he does not reason like an adult. When he throws the phone because heʼs upset the toddler canʼt understand that it costs a lot of money and needs to be treated carefully. Mobile phones are not toys. Thatʼs why toddlerʼs toys are built of pretty much indestructible materials. The toddler is not trying ʻto get the best of you’ or ʻget his own backʼ. Thatʼs adult thinking that the young child isnʼt yet capable of. The toddler is trying to let you know his needs arenʼt being met.
Rather ask: ʻWhat might this behaviour be trying to tell me?ʼ
Because his brain is still in formation he canʼt self soothe.
When the toddlerʼs upset he needs to feel a parentʼs body calmly holding him. He needs to hear his name spoken repeatedly and calmly. He needs words of reassurance.
When young children get the loving reassurance they need, they build strong, healthy brains that will be able to cope with stressful situations in adult life.
6. Dads are not Mums. He wonʼt do it your way. Mums tend to do the ʻcuddle and reassureʼ. Dads often naturally do theʼ rough and tumbleʼ and this is a healthy and necessary part of the toddlerʼs brain stimulation. Sometimes the excitement will go too far and end in tears. If youʼve already shared the ʻbrain factsʼ, trust him to figure out whatʼs needed.
Dad can be the strongest ally you have in child raising.
What are you doing to encourage your allyʼs support?
P.S. Even if youʼre separated – I invite you to think about what parts of this article can guide you to successful co-parenting.
copyright © Val Mullally 2012 http://www.koemba.com