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A Father's Prime Directive

Recently I was asked an interesting question. What advice would I give myself as a young dad?

I had to think for a minute. My first thought was that I still pretty agree with the core fatherhood ideas I had 30 years ago. Get involved in caregiving as soon and as much as possible. Do your best to understand and support partner’s experience of parenting. And (if you partner is a woman) understand that she is, in a very real sense, part of your relationship with your child at first. Then I thought of something else.

Try to see comforting and soothing as the core of your job as a dad.

Many of today’s dads spend time comforting babies and toddlers. But my observation is that moms still do the lion’s share. One reason is that mothers seem to see comforting as a core part of their responsibility. They tend to get good at it more quickly and get more experience than fathers. So in a Mom-Dad couple, it becomes expedient to let the one who is most adept at comforting to do the lion’s share.

In contrast, men tend to see playing, teaching and, maybe discipline, as core fathering tasks. That’s good stuff, but I’d like to see comforting push it’s way deeper into the fatherhood mentality. Because comforting is absolutely a core parenting skill. Reliable soothing primes a child’s stress response system in the right way: to expect comfort (social engagement) and seek it out when stressed. What’s more, the repeated experience of being a comforter also changes a man. For one thing, it enhances his ability to understand and support, not just his kids, but also his partner, friends and co-workers.

The world needs all the skilled comforters we can get. And while a fair number of men are pretty good at it these days, we need them all to be good at it.

So, dads, keep playing, teaching and helping kids to learn how to behave. Just remember that being able to comfort and soothe comes first in the hierarchy of kids’ needs. What’s more, if you get good at comforting your kids you’ll be a better playmate, teacher, and partner, not to mention better at navigating behaviour issues. That’s a win for your family and a win for you.

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Comforting is vital for children's emotional development. We need to get past the men's role, women's role narrative. to comfort your child as a man is to demonstrate care, security and love toward that child.

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John Hoffman
John Hoffman
Nov 05, 2020

Wow! I see that I somehow missed contributing to some interesting discussion here. I wanted to respond to Connie's question about hugs. I absolutely agree that the best kind of comfort is not necessarily a hug. I think there are lots of ways to comfort kids without hugging them. In fact, I think that, sometimes, engaging in play with a child can be comforting. It depends on the child, the context, and also -- regarding Dads with their own children -- it also depends on how comfortable each guy is with various types of physical contact. But, it's true that a hug has kind of become a go-to symbol for comforting. But it's not the only way by any means.


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Role of men is less mentioned in education. Parents should be a co-worker to supporting children development.

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Aviva Dunsiger
Aviva Dunsiger
Apr 11, 2020

I think that you’re onto something here, Connie! Hugs may work for some people, or work at some times, but maybe not all. When you do feel like this, what calms you instead? This reminds me that in our classroom experience/reality, we need to consider different options that might work best for different kids.


Aviva

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John, I love your comment, "the world needs all the skilled comforters we can get"

I am reading The Gardener and the Carpenter, by Alison Gopnik a great read on child/parent relationships and how children learn. The point in the book I'm at right now really emphasizes your points above - Alison says, " Fundamental relationships of trust are more important than teaching strategies."

We have learned this through Self-Reg for sure. Alison has lots of interesting research to back this up.

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