As fathers, we would do well to admit up front that none of us has “arrived.” We all have room to improve, and we should all be diligent about figuring out where we need to grow and then actively seeking to be more effective in those areas.
As a research-based organization, the National Center for Fathering is always seeking new information and insights about fathers—what their tendencies are and how they can become more effective. During a past father-daughter event, we had an opportunity to do just that.
In one of the daughter-only sessions, we gathered some qualitative research. The girls, most of whom are in their teens, wrote anonymous responses to this statement concerning their dads: “I wish you would ____________.”
We received a variety of responses, but we were struck by a common theme that emerged—listening. (Dads of younger kids, take heed: You can start good communication habits now that will serve you and your children well once they become teenagers.)
Here are some of the girls’ responses. (Dad, be warned: You may hear your child talking to you.)
- “I wish my dad would try and understand what I’m going through, and be there when I need someone to talk to just as a friend and not as a parent.”
- “I need him to completely hear me out and not assume things … to listen before he speaks.”
- “[I wish he] would take time and not talk but let me tell him one secret that I have hidden for a long time.”
- “Try to see where I’m coming from before blowing up in my face and later wanting my forgiveness.”
- “Listen when I need you to. You don’t have to have the right answers all the time; just be there for me.”
- “Don’t talk; don’t argue; just listen.”
Few fathers really work to develop listening skills, but this is a key area where we all need to excel. Communicating positively with our children is one way we demonstrate our love for them.
What about you? How would each of your children respond if you asked them to fill in the blank: “I wish you would ____________”? Maybe it’s time for a little qualitative research of your own; ask them to fill in the blank. Or, if they’re too young, ask for feedback from their mom, their teachers, or other people who interact with them regularly.
- Practice really focusing on what your child is saying. When you’re sure she’s done talking, restate what she has said in your own words, to make sure you understand.
- Actively give your child nonverbal feedback as you’re listening: a nod, smile, look of surprise, raised eyebrows, etc.
- With young children, get down on their level so they know you’re focused on them and you’re ready to hear them.
- Tell your kids that you want to be the best dad you can be. Confess that you need their help, and ask for their honest feedback.