by Sam J. Jones
Fathers find it difficult to show emotions to their children and spouses. That’s what I have noticed after more than a decade of training fathers through the National Center for Fathering “Quenching the Father-Thirst: Developing a Dad” curriculum.
Some of these men did not have fathers in their lives who displayed positive emotions or behaviors, such as touching (hugs or pats on the back) or giving encouraging words. Many of these dads also learned how to mask or hide their emotions since their own fathers showed little or no emotions. Growing up, they learned to endure hardships like a good soldier. However, suppressing one’s emotions may cause some serious problems later in life if a person doesn’t learn how to release them in a healthy way.
Additionally, there are some positive emotions which many fathers have not allowed themselves to experience, or they have experienced them only on a superficial level. Usually these men have trouble receiving and giving positive emotions in intimate as well as social relationships.
We know that fathers are very important role models for their children, and this is very true when it comes to emotions. Too often, children are learning from their fathers how to hide or suppress their emotions, and the cycle just continues.
But I also know that fathers can help their children handle emotions in positive ways. And our children really need that. In a variety of settings, our children will be called upon to think, react, and put in place some emotional-related behavior, such as restraining anger or perhaps appropriately showing anger. Emotional responses may be required at church, sports, social gatherings, within family, or school. Our children are not only learning who they are (forming an identity), but must also deal with peer pressure, fights, teasing, bullying, cheating, lying, dating, sex, and many other issues.
Thus, fathers and father figures must role model healthy emotions in everyday situations in the home, as well as help children to understand, share, identify and display all kinds of emotions in a healthy way.
That’s one reason why this training curriculum is successful with dads: it helps them recognize the range of their own emotions. It also links the emotions with corresponding terms and experiences, so they can better understand, manage and express their emotions. When this happens, they are much more likely to help their children do the same.
So, I would ask every father to make this commitment to his children (and spouse, if married): learn how to manage your emotions. This is surely easier said than done, but it is worth the effort. It will mean identifying and understanding what causes you to have the negative or positive emotions, and sharing these things with your children (and spouse).
Then, you need to do something about it. One great step to help you deal with negative emotions—as well as increase the expression of positive emotions—is to start taking good care of yourself. Here are 8 positive steps you can take:
- Start exercising daily—same time and same place, if possible. Start slow and build.
- Examine your spiritual life, and implement ways you can lead your family spiritually.
- Recognize what makes you angry and learn how to calm yourself down. For example, you might take a time out, where you get out of the negative environment (and possibly the negative people). Even a 10-minute break will make a difference.
- Take 5-10 slow, deep breaths to help you get more oxygen in your lungs and your brain. This will help you think more clearly and will slow down a negative or overly positive reaction.
- Think first and don’t react until you are calm.
- If you cannot control your anger and negative behavior, get help. I suggest talking with a spiritual person, like your pastor or someone else you know who is real in his spiritual life.
- When you are wrong, accept it and ask for forgiveness. And even if you think you were partially right, own up to your share and be quick to extend forgiveness.
- Realize that you are not the only one who is going through some changes or hardships.
Bottom line, dads, children need to feel they are loved by their fathers. We can replace the negative emotions with a very strong positive one. Here are six “principles of love” to keep in mind and practice every day with your children, from the Quenching the Father-Thirst curriculum:
- Love encourages and builds up children.
- Love comforts hurting children.
- Love expresses approval and values children.
- Love unconditionally accepts children.
- Love shows respect for children.
- Love speaks “I love you” and shows itself in appropriate hugs and kisses.
When fathers learn how to manage negative emotions, they will naturally model it before their family and will begin to see the benefits: love instead of hate, peace instead of anger, letting go of hurts instead of holding on to them, and so on. What a fantastic gift to give our children!
Just Demonstrate Healthy Emotions. Just Be DAD.
Sam Jones is CEO of Crown Federal Financial Services and a Master Trainer for the National Center for Fathering, having trained more than 125 men across the country to facilitate the Quenching the Father-Thirst program. Sam is also a world-class fencer and has competed in several veteran worlds fencing championships. Sam and his wife Francine have two adult children and live in Baton Rouge, LA.