When your son or daughter expresses a need, how do you respond? 

There’s a term that’s pretty common in research about dads: “responsive fathering.” It comes up most often in relation to fathers and their infants or very young children, and there are all kinds of benefits. 

For fathers of infants, sensitivity and responsiveness to their babies’ signals help to form strong father-child attachments, and we know that close attachments are vital to a young child’s sense of security and well-being.

Infants feel secure when a father responds promptly, and they perceive their dad as reliable. In contrast, when fathers are not responsive, according to researcher Michael Lamb, “insecure attachments result, and when they respond rarely, no attachments at all may develop.” 

As children grow, they still have a deep need for their dad’s responsiveness and sensitivity. And if a dad shows little or no responsiveness to his child’s needs for an extended period, that’s when anger, depression, anguish and resentment will flourish.

Maybe a good example of this would be positive leaders in business. When a crisis or disaster happens, they show up and engage personally in finding a solution. If they do their job well, they can help restore hope and turn the tide, empowering people to work together toward a solution. Their impact can be dramatic. 

It’s similar with dads. When a child has a pressing need or concern, we take decisive action, engage with others who can help, and find a way to make things better. Maybe it’s a child’s health concern, a difficulty at school, frustration with a coach or a misunderstanding with a friend. 

With older children, maybe our involvement will be more behind-the-scenes: talking through the matter to help come up with a plan that they can put into motion on their own. Part of responsiveness is being aware of the child and the situation, so it’s more likely that we really are helping. We aren’t ignoring real issues that need our involvement on the one hand, but we also aren’t forcing ourselves into situations that our kids need to handle themselves.

Dads, we can bring renewal into our households and a meaning to our family life when we keep our hearts responsive and humble. 

Also, remember it’s more than just responding; it’s important that we listen first and make sure our kids have fully expressed themselves before we respond. That’s the kind of sensitive leadership that our children need—and it can make a big difference for them and for our families.

How do you feel as a dad when you respond to a child’s need? How does it affect your child? Share your thoughts and connect with other dads on our Facebook page.

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