News | Published June 24, 2013

Parenting: Five tips on fatherhood

Father’s Day may have just been celebrated throughout the nation, but it’s important for fathers to understand their children and the particular parenting habits that are best for them.

"Kids are actively trying to make sense of the parenting they receive and the meaning that children take from the parenting may be as important, or more important, than the behavior of the parents,” said Jeff Cookston, psychologist. “I don't think a lot of parents give these ideas about meaning much thought. You may think that you're being a good parent by not being harsh on your kid, for instance, but your child may view that as 'you're not invested in me, you're not trying.'”

Children attach different meanings to their fathers’ behavior, and these meanings can vary depending on the child's gender, ethnicity and the presence of a stepfather in the child's life, according to Cookston and former San Francisco State graduate student Andrea Finlay in a new study published in the Journal of Family Issues. The study included children from California and Arizona.

Here are some tips from Cookston that you can share with all of the fathers you know:

Check in with your child. It’s important to regularly ask your child about your relationship with them. Dads may be surprised by the "filters" their children use to interpret their behavior. Fathers should ask, “Am I more or less than you need me to be?” according to Cookston. Your child should be able to express whether or not you are providing them with the particular care they need.

Show your emotional support. Cookston finds that a father’s emotional support towards your child will impact their behavior. His research has found that fathers who have emotional relationships with their children have kids that are less likely to behave in aggressive and delinquent ways,

Don’t be afraid to change. Your child changes, so you can too. "Parents can change, and kids can accept that,” said Cookston. "Parents need to be constantly adapting their parenting to the development and individual needs of the child."

Be a team player. Parents need to work together as a team, so children see that you both agree on the same decisions.

Aim high as a dad. "We need to raise the bar for fatherhood. If a man is around and is a good provider and doesn't yell at his kids and goes to soccer games, we say that's enough," Cookston said. "But we need to expect more in terms of engagement, involvement and quality interaction."

The study "Attributions of Fathering Behaviors Among Adolescents: The Role of Gender, Ethnicity, Family Structure and Depressive Symptoms" was published March 5, 2013 in the Journal of Family Issues.
San Francisco State University