There’s a powerful fathering insight that some of us need to hear and take to heart, and it comes from our online search analytics. Over the past few months, quite a few people have come to using search terms like:

  • “how to make your dad not mad at you”
  • “why is my father always angry”
  • “what to do if your dad is mad at you”
  • “my dad gets angry over nothing”

Is it a sobering thought for you that many kids are searching for answers about why their dads are so often angry or difficult to be around? Or maybe … could one of your children be wondering about the same questions?

One of our mantras at NCF is: “There are no perfect fathers.” We all sometimes fall short. And when we feel like we’re doing okay, one look from a teenager will confirm that we’re not quite on top of things. (And let’s not forget, there are no perfect kids either.)

Still, in our quiet moments, don’t we all want to be forces of encouragement and support for our children instead of confusing them or making them think we’re always annoyed or disappointed by them?

This isn’t a new problem for dads. Even in the Bible there are similar admonitions: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children ….” “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.”

What are some common ways dads frustrate or discourage their kids?

  • We might continue harping on a child long after we’ve made a point.
  • Or make comments that may not be cruel on the surface, but are sarcastic or mildly degrading.
  • We might allow pent-up frustrations about other things to come out as anger toward a child.
  • We may show more interest in our own agenda than in what a child is thinking or feeling.
  • Maybe we focus only on correction at a time when they need encouragement.
  • Or we may have high expectations that they can’t live up to.
  • We may demand behavior from them that we aren’t modeling ourselves.
  • We may refuse to apologize when it’s clear that we’re wrong.

All of us can probably recognize ourselves in some of these behaviors. (If you don’t, maybe ask your wife for her input.)

But really, this isn’t about beating up dads or exposing the ways we’re expressing inappropriate anger toward our kids.

How can we avoid being that “mad dad” in our children’s eyes?

Since this probably invovles changing habits and patterns of behavior, it won’t likely be quick or easy. But here are some steps to consider:

Remember your priorities.

Often, frustration and anger are the result of misplaced or forgotten priorities. Your relationship with your child is likely more important to you than a silly argument or minor irritation, but it’s easy for the silly and minor things to blow up and do damage. Remind yourself every day—or several times a day—how much your children mean to you, and decide that their priority in your life will show up in your words and actions.

Be a listener.

A know-it-all dad frustrates his child. Show your child that you want to understand her viewpoint completely before sharing your ideas. That honors her and builds her confidence in you.

Stay calm.

Even the most cool-headed father occasionally blows his stack. Be prepared with a better response for the next heated conversation. Maybe you step back, say a prayer, and remind yourself how much you love your child before saying anything. Another great idea is to get your wife’s perspective on how well you’re able to stay calm with the kids.

Seek first to understand.

Similar to a father who doesn’t listen, it’s frustrating for a child when his dad makes hasty judgments or gives advice before fully understanding the situation. He may think he’s solving the problem, but the child will probably just go to someone else for answers. Learn the art of asking questions—and then, of course, listening carefully to the answer.

Communicate without attacking.

It may help to make “I” statements instead of “you” statements. For example, instead of saying, “You’re lying to me,” you might try, “I’m confused because the facts don’t line up.”

It’s a process, dad, but one that’s worth committing whatever time and effort is needed to retire the “mad dad” and move toward something better with your kids. 

What have you done to improve in this area? Share your ideas with other dads on our Facebook page.

Questions for Reflection & Discussion:

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