3 Ways to Better Know Your Children (and Avoid Some Surprises)

As dads, maybe the feelings we want to avoid the most are the disappointment, confusion, and remorse of being surprised by a major issue or challenge in a child’s life …

Someone your 9-year-old son has been chatting with online turns out to be a predator.

Your 16-year-old son tells you that his girlfriend is pregnant.

You discover a stash of crude videos on your 7-year-old’s tablet.

Your teenager goes crazy with the new debit card and racks up big bank fees.

How could a parent not see these things coming? Well, families are busy, sometimes we don’t see our kids as often as we’d like, they get good at hiding things, and sometimes we dads assume things are fine and ignore potential warning signs. We just don’t want to face the reality that there’s an issue. Maybe we think those things just don’t happen to us.

One of the worst feelings as a dad is being caught off guard.

It can happen to the most involved fathers, and in truth, it isn’t completely avoidable. It’s good to accept that there are no guarantees with fathering; there is a lot of mystery involved. And yet, we should all do our very best to love and encourage our kids and equip them for adulthood—and yes, help them avoid major pitfalls.

And we gain a big head start when we pursue awareness of our children. Knowing our children is another of the 7 “secrets” revealed by research, which are also featured in our new self-scoring fathering profile and master class—free to access right here.

When we know what our kids need, both developmentally and their individual gifts and interests, it informs all our other fathering actions. We can adapt our approach to what works with our children—what motivates them, how they learn best, what they enjoy, what they hope to achieve in life.

Knowing our kids helps us bond with them, encourage them, teach them, and so much more.

And of course, there are fewer surprises. As aware fathers, we’re more likely to notice areas where our kids are vulnerable, or maybe not thinking straight or not considering all the ramifications of their actions, and we can act to help protect and guide them.

So how can we dads gain this kind of awareness? There are many great ways, and here are three:

Be curious.

When we show genuine interest and curiosity about our children and their world, they can tell and it makes a difference. We aren’t just trying to snoop into their lives, and we aren’t just going through the motions of what dads should probably do. We’re really interested. We ask lots of questions. We’re fascinated by our kids—whatever their age. They feel loved and accepted, and over time they become more comfortable talking to us about everyday stuff and eventually the bigger decisions of life.

Do some research.

A dad whose child is diagnosed with a challenging health condition will quickly search for any information he can find about that condition. He wants to help his child thrive as much as possible and avoid further pain and difficulty. It should be the same for whatever is happening in our children’s lives, whether they are successes or struggles, interests or pastimes, or simply the specifics of their current situation.

Is your son playing a new computer game or using a certain phone app a lot? Figure out what that’s all about and why it appeals to him. Is your daughter entering middle school next fall? Look into the challenges she may be likely to face and maybe new opportunities there that she may enjoy.

Keep thinking about two aspects of awareness that you can pursue: developmental milestones and changes, and each child’s unique gifts and interests.

Be willing to stretch.

It doesn’t take long in our fatherhood journey to realize that our children are their own people, and often very different from us. Dads who are into sports often have kids who love robotics or music, or both. And when a child’s interests go in a direction that’s unfamiliar to us, it’s our job to dive in, learn all we can, and find a role to play in that area of our child’s life.

Some dads feel out of place visiting their kids’ elementary schools, but more and more dads are volunteering there and schools are seeing great results. Is your daughter trying volleyball this year? Start learning about it and find ways to help her practice. Try that odd restaurant that your son is talking about. Go with your child to the archery range. Show up to dads’ day at the preschool ballet class and be ready to jump in if asked.

When we stretch, we not only learn more about our children, but we affirm them over and over again. It’s like we’re telling them: “You’re interesting to me and precious to me, and it’s worth my time and effort to try new things so we can spend time together and I can be a big part of your life.”

Once again: you can assess your own fathering in this area and 6 others using our free online Profile and Master Class.

What has worked for you? How and when and where are you learning more about your child and his or her world? Leave a comment and join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Action Points & Questions for Reflection and Discussion:

  • What’s the worst “surprise” you could imagine discovering about your child? How would he or she need you to respond in that moment?
  • When have you felt caught off guard as a dad? How has that influenced how you approach fathering and your relationships with your kids?
  • Think about each of your kids’ primary interests. With each child, choose one and come up with a way to be more involved in that part of his or her life.
  • Do you have an infant? Schedule regular times with just the two of you—it might give Mom a break and it’s a great way to learn more about your child.
  • Increase your awareness of your child by talking with his or her mom. Compare notes on what each of you is noticing and discuss any adjustments you can make to encourage or challenge your child.

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There may be no more important work than turning the hearts of fathers to their children, and that’s what this is all about. We’re seeking to repair, rebuild and restore effective fathering for the benefit of children and families everywhere.