Fathering Challenges

We know that being a dad can get tough sometimes. It’s a big job keeping up with all the issues that can arise.

Below is a collection tips on some tricky fathering challenges you might come up against.

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Bullying

If your child experiences bullying – take it seriously and acknowledge that something that seems small to you might be their biggest concern in life.

Have a conversation about what happened and avoid letting anger or distress show too much. A highly emotional reaction could deter them from talking to you again in the future.

  • Remind your child it’s normal to feel hurt and it’s never OK to be bullied.
    Ask your child what they would like to happen – often all they want to know is how to stop the bullying.
  • Avoid blaming teachers or other staff that might be involved (at a sports club, daycare or hobby group). Work respectfully with the school to see how you can support the staff and your kid(s) to solve the problem.
  • If you feel a teacher, coach or other adult is treating your child in a way that you feel is related to bullying or harassment – contact the school, club or association to discuss this further.
  • Model effective problem solving: stay calm at any meetings.
  • Don’t deal directly with the other child or their parents if you are angry.
  • Be aware of signs of bullying (e.g. refusal to go to school, morning illness, disinterest in school work, being withdrawn, stammering, loss of confidence, crying at night, unexplained bruises).
  • Don’t encourage your child to fight back.
  • Listen carefully to your child, without criticism.
  • Help your kid(s) learn to be assertive and give them strategies to use if they are feeling bullied – like walking away, avoiding violence, seeking new friends or telling a trusted adult.

Technology, phones and other ‘new’ challenges

When to let your kids have a phone is an important decision. You need to consider if it’s about personal safety, whether their friends have them, whether they are responsible, whether they understand the risks involved and are willing to follow the rules you set.

  • When a child asks for a phone, use this as an opportunity to teach value. Rather than simply buying them the phone, ask them to contribute to the cost. They could earn money by doing chores.
  • Another option is to provide an old phone of your own rather than a new one.
  • Discuss and agree to rules around when the phone can be used. E.g. phone not to be in the bedroom at night, hours of use, not to be used at school, use of internet.
  • Agree on rules about taking and sending photos and videos, use of messaging services, and discuss how they might deal with a disrespectful or inappropriate message sent to them – and what the consequence would be if they sent one.

Drugs: being aware

  • Talk with your teenager (even pre-teen, if appropriate) about drugs and their health effects.
  • Help your child to develop strategies to deal with situations such as being offered drugs or pressured to take drugs. Help them prepare a good response or exit strategy.
  • Be aware of new drugs that become available, what they are made of, what impact they have and what symptoms to look for in a user.
  • If you want to ask your child if they are using drugs – try beginning the conversation by asking ‘are you ok?’ – this helps your child feel cared for, rather than being accused.
  • If your child is continually evasive on the topic or you suspect they are taking drugs, seek help. Websites such as the Australian Drug Foundation (www.adf.org.au) provide useful information on common drugs.

Postnatal depression

About 16% of new mothers suffer from postnatal depression.

Look out for changes to feelings, thoughts and behaviour:

  • Low mood and feeling sad, anxious, worried or irritable.
  • Thinking ‘I can’t think clearly, I want to escape, my partner is rejecting me, something bad will happen’.
  • Loss of interest in favourite activities, less energy or motivation, withdrawal from friends, difficulty with routine tasks, arguing more, increased drinking.
  • Not keeping up usual self-care or health habits.

What can you do to help:

  • Support with practical household tasks and caring for your baby.
  • Plan some quality time together as a couple and nurture your relationship with affection.
  • Ask for help from family members and friends; even for the small things.
  • Your partner’s well-being can directly affect your own and vice versa, so it is important to talk about your concerns and/or seek professional help.

About 5% of new fathers suffer from postnatal depression.

Look out for changes to your own feelings, thoughts and behaviours as well and seek support when needed.

If you or someone you know needs immediate support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Homework

Most children start getting homework from the first year of school – practising reading, spelling, writing and arithmetic initially, but evolving into larger, more complex research projects later on.

Encourage your child by establishing a routine where you can sit with them, or nearby, while they work.

  • If you can’t always be around while they’re working, another way to do this is setting a time for you to review their work together once they’ve had a go.
  • Be available to test their spelling, listen to their reading, and guide them if they can’t see the solution to a problem or don’t know where to look for information.
  • Try to avoid simply answering their questions, but rather guide them to find the answer for themselves.
  • Take an interest in what they are learning about – you might learn something too.
  • Create routine for play time and homework time so the children can understand what’s expected of them each week.

Teaching self-regulation

Building your child’s skills in self-regulation helps your child for life. Empower your child in this learning by supporting them to make their own choices.

Try giving them options, and help them choose the most sensible one by verbalising your own thought process.

  • “Shall we have a drink first, or wash our hands first?”
  • “Shall we play on the iPad for 5 more minutes, or shall we go outside now? I think outside would make me feel happy and healthy! What do you think?”

Giving specific choices helps also to set limits – regardless of the child’s answer; they are hearing that they will go outside soon – helping them set their own expectations of what is reasonable and sensible.

When it’s time to leave or finish an activity, help your child ‘get ready’ for the change. Give them notice, e.g. “We need to get out of the pool soon.”

Connecting with your newborn

The most time you spend engaged with your newborn, the better your bond will become. If you’re not sure how to relate, try these practical things which will help their happiness, health and development as well!

  • Babies love, crave and need motion and movement. They love to be held, lightly bounced and jiggled and there is good reason for this. Movement helps infants develop everything from their brains to their sense of balance. When you hold your baby, give them a feeling of security, but not too tight or too loose. Don’t be afraid to hold, sway, bounce or cuddle. Learn what he or she likes and cultivate that motion. Carry your baby in a sling or front carrier on walks or as you go about your daily routine.
  • Talk and sing regularly to your baby, with your eyes looking into theirs and your face up close. They will be watching your face and your mouth and listening to your tone. These are all markers in the development of language. Talk while you’re carrying or changing your baby. For example, ‘Let’s get this nappy changed. That feels better, doesn’t it? Here’s a nice clean nappy. Don’t cry – we’ll be finished soon’. Every word baby hears helps develop their language and learning and strengthens your relationship with them. Reading to your child not only helps language development, it also helps to create a special bond between you and your child that can last. You could try developing a ritual time of reading to your child as your special time together.
  • Change that nappy! Nappy changing time, although sometimes an unpleasant process, is a critical time for connecting with your baby and can be a wonderful opportunity for bonding.
  • The simple sounds of ‘Da-da’, ‘Ma-ma’, ‘Bu-ba’ are some of the first and most common sounds babies can make. They are simple because the two lips are pressed together with a puff of air pushed through them. That is why most first utterances around the globe use these sounds. They are easy to make, so babies can get some quick language control and feedback from their environment in this way. (Plus: the first time your little one says ‘Da-da’ to you will be a peak experience.) To strengthen the connection, when you hear them making the sound, make it back. Eventually the two of you can start your own chorus of sounds.
  • Play helps babies grow! Try to vary play for your child so they can build different skills. Tummy time is great, and toys like rattles help to build physical and hand-eye coordination. Use words, rhymes and stories to build language and memory. Peek-a-boo with Dad can build communication and expression of emotions. Your style of play may be different than your partner’s and that’s okay, your baby will love playing with both of you.

Dealing with an emotionally overwhelmed child

We all know emotions can be overwhelming. You can support your child when they are overwhelmed by teaching them to self-regulate and manage their feelings in a healthy and respectful way.

These tips may help to reduce and un-learn negative behaviours:

  • First, help them identify and ‘name the emotion’, read your child’s behaviour and give a suggestion: “I think you feel angry right now?”
  • When you have identified the emotion, don’t try and get rid of it – teach them how to express and respond to their feelings. “When I get angry I stop and take some deep breaths, let’s try that.”
  • Give your child time to respond to this support, listen to them (solving comes later).
  • Sometimes, all your child needs is time and your attention, give them space to process how they’re feeling.
  • Afterwards, give them gentle feedback – using the experience as a teachable moment, tell them what they did well “You were so resilient/fair/calm.”
  • Help your child learn by naming the emotion again, talk about what they did to deal with the emotion and say how this helped. Reminders can be helpful in later, similar situations if they are angry/sad/nervous again.
  • Remind your child that they are “the boss of their body” and even when they feel overwhelmed or upset, they still need to be respectful of others. e.g. “Be the boss of your body. When you move your feet away from your brother you are being kind and safe.”

The key to discipline

Discipline works best when it’s expected. Create expectations, routines and consistency for your kids so they are able to predict the kind of behaviour that’s acceptable. With boundaries, routine and consistency – they can begin to regulate their own behaviours.

Start developing routines with small and achievable steps. It might take many, many tries for you and your child to become used to the routine, but stick with it.

Children need boundaries and they want boundaries. Like any relationship, the best way to do this is through communication. Let your child know what is going to happen and what you expect from them.

Schools use signals (e.g. a bell) to indicate when they need the children to stop an activity, or change focus. You could make your own sound signal.

  • As an example, when it’s nearly time to leave the park, let your child know they have 5 minutes left and get them involved by allowing them to help you set a timer on your phone or watch. This way, they will know what the alarm means and expect to change their focus when they hear it.
  • The key points of boundary creation and discipline are: set the routine, give them notice, be predictable and be consistent. Make sure you model this – deal with your emotions in the way you would like them to. E.g. “I know, I would love to stay and play longer too, but we have to get going to…”

Remember, it takes time and practice to understand and learn new routines.

Managing bad behaviour

Being clear about how you expect your children to behave in different situations gives them the ability to begin judging what’s appropriate on their own. Clarity here can bolster them up to become increasingly more independent and lessen the amount of retroactive discipline needed.

  • Create expectations using specific language; this doesn’t have to be harsh or even overtly assertive, just clear. Tell them exactly what is acceptable, rather than simple “be good” or “behave.”
  • When clear expectations are set over time, this builds routine and consistency for your kids. With boundaries, routine and consistency – they can begin to regulate their own behaviours because they know what to expect in different settings.
  • The more information you give about your rationale for doing and behaving a certain way, the more they can begin to pre-empt and identify these reasons for themselves.
  • If you find the need to consciously develop new routine; start with small and achievable steps and communicate clearly what is happening.
    Remember – routines take time and practice to understand and learn.
  • Don’t forget to model what you expect of your children by making sure you are always, respectful, rational and self-aware of your own biases and imperfections

Newborns and crying

Remember; crying is your baby’s way of communicating with you. Their cry will trigger the release of hormones that make you feel stressed.

  • Crying is the main way babies have of letting us know when they need help, but it is not always easy to work out why a baby is crying.
  • Babies often cry a lot in the early weeks and some babies cry a lot more than others. Some babies cry for 2 hours or more each day and this can be normal for them.
  • If you are unable to work out why they are crying, just wrap and hold the baby.
  • Many babies will spend increasingly more time crying until they are around 6 to 8 weeks old. Between eight weeks and three months, the crying will often reduce.

Some babies who cry a lot find it hard to settle into a pattern of eating and sleeping, so everyone gets very overtired.

Tips to stop crying:

  • Hold your baby in your arms and place their body on their left side.
  • Burp and bounce.
  • Play a calming sound.
  • Walk your baby in a body carrier or rock them.
  • Avoid overfeeding your baby.
  • Offer a pacifier/dummy.
  • Massage your baby.

When kids lie

  • Don’t punish them too harshly for lying – they might become scared to tell you the truth.
  • If the lie is big, try to understand the reasons behind it before reacting.
  • Express your disappointment but also remind them that you love them no matter what.
  • Always maintain your own integrity and lead by example: Tell the truth and avoid lying to your children, or to anyone else. Your kids will take your example and learn ‘what is ok’ based on your actions.

Fussy eating

  • With fussy eaters, expectation, routine, and positive feedback can go a long way. Where your child resists, replace ‘conflict’ with your model of what you want to see.
  • Another way around this is to get them involved. Try giving them give them two choices you are happy with. “Shall we have carrots, or broccoli tonight?” This way, they are choosing to eat vegetables, not simply being told they must.
  • Feedback is important with diet: Explain to your child why a varied diet is healthy and let them know you are proud when they cooperate. Being generic about your feedback is not clear – “good girl” or “good boy” doesn’t mean much. Try being specific “I’m very proud of you today. You’re learning to be the boss of your healthy body”.

Talking about sexuality

  • When you believe your teenager is at an appropriate age, begin discussion around physical and sexual development. Naturally, they’ll begin to learn themselves, however, if you’re involved in the discussions you can have a positive impact on the changes they’re experiencing and help them to adapt to adulthood.
  • It is important that you provide positive affirmation and acceptance as your teenager is experiencing changes, and carefully remind them that you understand – you experienced changes of your own.
  • Let them know you will be there for them, no matter what.
  • Promote being in control of their sexuality and behaviour.
  • Let them know that when they’re ready to talk they can – and encourage them to do so. This way, they can be guided to make smarter choices when it comes to partners and behaviour. These discussions are also a good opportunity to discuss unwanted attention, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Talking about sex

  • By the time they’re ready for the sex talk, it’s likely they know about the biology of it all from school or elsewhere.
  • Instead of focusing on the biology, start a conversation about how they can make the best decisions.
  • Have a conversation about decision-making; talk about ‘reasons’ to be sexually intimate – what are good reasons, what are not so good reasons, what else needs to be considered (their partner, safety, etc)?
  • Talk about respectful relationships, and what ‘consent’ means.
  • Discuss unhealthy relationships – what are some red flags, how can they recognise pressure or disrespectful treatment.

Talking about periods

Periods, or menstruation, are a normal and natural part of female development.

  • Go with the flow and be ready to talk about it like anything else – with respect, care, and love.
  • Make it clear she can talk to you about it, a gentle way to do this is asking if she needs any supplies when you grocery shop, this shows you’re not ‘scared’ of the topic.
  • Prepare yourself, and her – do your research around what is normal (depending on her age) and have conversations prior to the period arriving.
  • Update your knowledge, try chatting to female friends, partners or relatives about how to best support your daughter.
  • When your daughter gets her period, she might experience a range of physiological changes including sore breasts, pimples and greasy hair and changes to mood or appetite.
  • Many girls (and women) will experience ‘period pains’ or ‘cramps’. In many cases these pains can cause significant discomfort and need to be managed with medication or other remedies.

Boyfriends and girlfriends

  • When your kids starts dating, show interest in their partner, and make the time to get to know them.
  • Encourage them to bring their partner home for you to meet – maybe even invite them for a meal. Be careful not to automatically dismiss anyone as not good enough, or not ‘right’ for your kids.
  • Resist any urge to tease, argue with, or put down your kids in front of their date, even in jest.
  • Make sure you are available when your kids wants to talk about relationships.
  • Hopefully you’ve already talked with your kids about relationships before they starts dating – if not, now is the time – with care and respect.
  • Talk about respectful relationships, and what ‘consent’ means. Discuss unhealthy relationships – what are some red flags, how can they recognise pressure or disrespectful treatment.