How to Be a Better Dad

The I-CANs of Fatherhood

Many of today’s fathers want to know how to be a better dad. Does that describe you?

Although there is plenty of advice available, you probably don’t want to be overwhelmed with information; you just want simple tips to help you do your best and be the father your children need. So here’s our answer to the question, for all you dads who want an easy-to-remember fathering plan. We call it the I-CANs.

Dad, you can learn and grow in your fathering, and those four letters – I-C-A-N – stand for four key fundamentals of fathering, according to our research involving thousands of dads. (And we hope it sticks in your mind whenever you get confused or discouraged. Just remember: I CAN be a better father.)

First, Involvement means spending time with your kids—playing, working on homework, going somewhere in the car, or just hanging out. For some dads, much of their involvement will involve talking on the phone. Involvement can be just the two of you or the whole family, although regular one-on-one time with a child is important. Involvement means being there for the major events and the small moments of daily living: when there’s a shoe to tie or a diaper to change, for the dance recitals and the big games, or just playing Candyland, hide-and-seek or even XBox.

C is for Consistency. How regular and predictable are you in your moods, habits, and behavior? Consistent dads stick it out even in the face of hardship, and they follow through on commitments to their children even when it means making personal sacrifices. They set clear expectations and hold their children accountable in positive ways. Kids need to know what to expect—especially when it comes to the one man who provides the anchor through all the ups and downs and uncertainties of life. And yet, these dads are also flexible and willing to make adjustments when they see the need to do so.

Awareness is the third dimension of effective fathering, and this is about actively seeking to know your children and their world, which is much different from our world. It’s knowing what to expect from children at a certain age and knowing what sets your children apart from their peers. Get to know them: What are their gifts, fears, frustrations, and dreams? Who or what influences them? What motivates them? What embarrasses them? (The list goes on.) This awareness equips you to act with confidence when you sense potential pitfalls in your child’s path.

N represents Nurturance, which is expressing love to your child. Some dads aren’t comfortable in the realm of emotions because their fathers weren’t great at showing them love; those dads just focus on other areas of their kids’ lives. But verbal and physical affirmation from a nurturing father is powerful to your children. It helps them feel secure and confident as they explore the world. So give lots of hugs and pats on the back, and be proactive about encouraging them verbally every day.

For more about each of the I-CANs, see the article categories linked above or these featured articles:

Making Involvement a Priority

What Consistency Looks Like in a Dad: 5 Keys

Knowing Your Child: Awareness Can Revitalize Your Fathering

Nurturing Becomes the Man

More articles on one or more of the I-CANs are archived below …

Want even more? There are chapters on each of the I-CANS in Dr. Ken Canfield’s book, The Heart of a Father.  

Recent articles on The I-CANs – How to Be a Better Dad

A New Commitment to Encouragement

Chris told me a story that provides a great example and a new word we can all use to help us remember the importance of encouraging our kids.

The BEST Christmas Present from Dad: Put It in Writing

One of the greatest presents you can give your daughter is to affirm her through writing. – Dr. Michelle Watson Canfield

6 Positive Dad-Responses to Crises & Difficulties

How we respond to difficulties or crisis situations will create a reference point that our children will remember and carry forward into the future.

Sign on for a Lifetime Commitment

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Why Isolation Can Be Good for Fathers and Families

Why Isolation Can Be Good for Fathers and Families

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Teaching Kids to Be Responsible

Teaching Kids to Be Responsible

Disciplining kids when they already feel bad for their actions is tricky. Here are two tips for teaching kids to be responsible when they’ve messed up.

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