Training and disciplining kids is tough. It’s even harder when you’re in a complex family situation, and more and more dads are finding themselves in that place.
Our staff recently heard from several dads whose stories illustrate this (and whose names have been changed here).
James is a partial-custody father. His 12-year-old daughter is acting out—taking things from a relative’s house, and generally being irresponsible at school and in other ways. James is trying to address these issues, but finds it hard to make any progress with his daughter since his time with her is limited and her mom takes a softer approach to discipline that he doesn’t agree with.
Kevin works long hours, which really limits his opportunities to spend time with his 6-year-old stepson. The boy sees his biological father mostly on birthdays and holidays, but Kevin says the other father is very lax in his rules and expectations. So, while the other dad gets to be the “fun dad” when he’s around, Kevin is afraid the boy sees him as the “mean dad” since he’s the one who’s handling many of the everyday behavior issues.
And really, most all dads deal with similar questions from time to time: How do I balance the hard side and the soft side of being a father? When does my child need more love as opposed to discipline?
There are no easy answers, but there’s this classic wisdom for parents: “Rules without relationship lead to rebellion.” That might be even more relevant for dads and kids in these complex situations, and it’s a great reminder for all dads, no matter what the family situation.
Kids do need the rules. They benefit from being held accountable to a standard of behavior and learning from their poor choices and disobedience. They need to learn proper respect for authority, and that starts at home.
But it’s easy for dads to forget the relationship side. When a child is misbehaving, we need to start asking ourselves, Does she know she’s loved? And, Have I demonstrated that love and spoken it into her life regularly? Those should be among our top goals with each of our kids.
Dads, we really need to go the extra mile when it comes to building relationships with each of our children.
With that foundation, dads in difficult situations can influence their child more than if they’re just “laying down the law.” After all, the daughter will go to her mom’s house and “the law” will change. So building a strong relationship is another powerful way to influence her character.
There are no quick fixes—and it could take time—but a good place to start is to simply tune into your child’s interests. Find a common hobby or activity you enjoy. Come up with ways to just have fun together.
Those positive interactions will show your child that you genuinely care for her, and you’re not just trying to win a battle or teach a lesson. She’ll grow to trust you more and more, and her behavior will likely change because she’ll have a greater desire to please you. Talking about household rules and expectations won’t involve a major confrontation. It will be much easier to ask, “Would you do something for me?”
She may even start coming to you with big questions and issues, even though she knows others in her life are more likely to give her what she wants. You’re consistent and you keep your promises.
Even more, you’re an involved, creative, positive force in her life. You invest in the relationship. She trusts that you really do have her best interest in mind, and she looks forward to that time with you.
Hang in there, dads. You’re playing a huge and vital role in your children’s lives.
What have you seen in your kids? Are they better behaved after you’ve done something fun together? Share your experiences and ideas either below or on our Facebook page.
Action Points for Dads on the Fathering Journey
- Plan an activity that helps your child discover—or rediscover—the simple joy of childhood. Even in the daily battles of life, don’t let him forget that being a kid should be fun.
- Are you a stepdad? Make sure to work closely with the children’s mother on discipline issues, so you don’t have to be the “bad guy” enforcer.
- As much as you can, work together with other parents in your child’s life, so you’re sending consistent messages about expectations and consequences.
- Does your job severely limit your time with your children? Take a hard look at changes you might make so you can make more consistent investments in their lives.
- Make it your goal to laugh—really laugh hard—with your child or teenager at least a couple times each week.
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