by Ken Canfield, Ph.D.

When it comes to working on becoming a better dad, what’s the best approach?

One of the best pieces of advice came from a long-time friend, Paul. One evening, he received a call from an acquaintance who was a young father. This dad had four children and thought he was going to go nuts. He had all kinds of challenges and didn’t know where to begin.

As they talked, the young dad would bring up an issue and Paul would ask a few questions to clarify, then he’d offer a suggestion or two. By the time their conversation was done, they had talked through five or six different issues. Paul felt like he had helped the guy.

A few months later, Paul ran into this same dad and they talked again. The dad knew Paul had some good wisdom, so he asked more questions about being a dad, and Paul gave him more ideas and strategies based on his experiences.

Then Paul had an insight that many of us can learn from. He asked the other dad, “Remember the last time we talked? How many of those other things I suggested before have you started on?” As expected, the young dad’s answer was, “None, yet.”

Here was a dad who was overwhelmed. He asked ten or more questions, received just as many suggestions, didn’t put any of them into practice, and was still overwhelmed.

So, what’s the point—and what did Paul tell him? One step at a time.

We all have ways we need to improve as a dad. And today there’s more advice for dads than ever. Much of it is right on. Take advantage of it. But … work on one thing at a time. As my friend and former pro football player, Dave Simmons, used to put it: “Run one play at a time.”

Sometimes good athletes will spend the off season focusing on improving one area of their game that they know is weak. For a basketball player, maybe it’s the 3-point shot or a cross-over dribble. Maybe it’s simply hitting the weight room to get stronger.

In many ways, it’s like that with fathering.

Back when I was in the thick of fathering challenges, the area I singled out as my greatest area for improvement was consistency. My kids listened to the commitments I would make and hold me to them—word for word. And when I deviated from that commitment even a little bit, it was as though I had reneged on a promise. For example, one day I called home from work and told my son that we’d play catch that evening, and when I got home we did go outside, but we ended up in a neighborhood kickball game instead. I felt like I had fulfilled the promise, but my son was disappointed.

What’s your weak spot? Is it listening? Is it knowing your child? Is it following through on promises, or maintaining your cool when correcting your kids? Do you struggle to point out positive things to your children along with correcting them?

Take Paul’s advice: Pick one fathering challenge, find a way to address it, and make some positive things happen.

Care to share one thing you’re working on as a dad? You might get some good ideas and encouragement from other dads on our Facebook page.

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