Dad: are you ever confused or frustrated as you try to figure out what makes your kids tick?
One of the key fundamentals of fathering is Awareness of our children—simply getting to know them better. As dads, we should make it our mission to gain insight into who they are, what motivates them, what frustrates them, and so on. Then we use that knowledge to meet their needs and build a stronger connection.
It isn’t always easy. Being observant of your kids and taking mental notes—or even written notes—is a great idea. Also, entire books and websites are devoted to child development and would be worth checking out. Then, there’s the never-ending task of staying aware of what’s going on in today’s culture, so you get clues about what kids today are into. Do all of that.
Maybe the best and most rewarding way to keep up with them might seem too obvious or too simple to even consider:
Ask your kids questions.
Think of it this way. How do you get to know someone you just met? Those early conversations would be full of questions:
“So, where did you grow up?”
“What kind of work do you do?”
“How did you meet your spouse?”
Do something similar with your kids—with different questions, of course. Maybe take one out for ice cream or coffee or join her in a project around the house, and ask, “It seems like you’re spending a lot of time with Emma. Is she your best friend now?” “What do you like about her?” “What do you do to have fun together?”
Maybe the next time you ask about your child’s dreams for the future, or what they remember from certain times in the past. Ask about their hobbies and interests, positive and negatives from school, what they’re hearing and thinking about current events, and on and on. If no new topics come to mind, maybe think about it beforehand and plan a few questions for next time.
Try some “What if … ?” questions: Ask, “If you had never met me before, what would you tell me about yourself?” Or, “If I were interviewing you for a job, what would you want me to know?” Pretend you’re a visitor in your home and ask your child to show you around his room and tell you about his favorite possessions, then interview him as though you’re just learning about all those things.
Going deeper …
The point is to know your child better and grow your relationship in the process. Keeping things mostly light and fun is a good idea for many of these conversations. A great side benefit is that you’ll both become more comfortable talking and sharing with each other, and that will sometimes lead naturally to deeper topics: matters of faith, divorce or other family challenges, struggles your child has faced or is dealing with now, values that are important to you, big decisions that are coming for your child, and so on.
Your own vulnerability will likely be important. Maybe try saying, “Let me ask you a question, then you can ask me one.” When you’re willing to be open about your own challenges and mistakes, it’s easier for him to go there too.
These are important conversations to have and they can help your child immensely, but they usually can’t be forced. If you haven’t had much open communication with your child in the past, then start with the goal of just having fun and getting to know your child better. As he recognizes that you’re truly interested in getting to know him, he’ll become more open to sharing. But if he senses that you’re interrogating him or trying to pry into his life, it could lead things in the wrong direction.
Do you have easy, open communication with your kids? What have you learned that could help other dads? Share a few insights at our Facebook page.
As you may know, Awareness if one of the 7 Secrets of Effective Fathers that’s featured in our free online Profile and Master Class. It will help you assess your strengths and weaknesses and form a positive action plan in this and 6 other areas. Get started here.
Action Points & Questions for Reflection and Discussion:
- Thinking about each of your kids, on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your awareness of each one’s personality, needs and challenges?
- How would you rate your ability to communicate openly with each one?
- One big hurdle to being aware of our children is simply the busyness of life. Are you working long hours? Preoccupied with a hobby or other pursuit? Make sure you’re saving time to spend with your kids and get to know them better.
- Always be thinking about different topics to talk about with your kids and/or as a family. There are numerous helpful lists available, like this one.
- Asking questions is just part of the picture. Make sure you’re listening in a way that encourages your child to keep talking. Here are some quick tips.