When many of us ponder our fathers and the roles they played in our early life, we often think of them as providers, as disciplinarians and perhaps as wise men.
Yet according to recent studies on fatherhood, the relationship people have with their father extends far beyond the stereotypical man who provides financial support, sets rules of conduct and doles out lofty advice. Research shows that fathers in fact offer many other kinds of social and emotional support that's critical to the quality of bonds children form later in life.
For example, a research group from Rider University found that girls with good communication and a high level of trust with their fathers also had significantly better communication and trust with their boyfriends. And two researchers from Central Michigan University discovered that college students who gave their father a high rating for quality of parenting, quality of relationship, being a good role model and being available to them as children and teens were more likely to have higher self-esteem and share their parent's values than their peers with poorly rated dads.
Father's Day is a good time to be reminded that there's a young person in your life who needs and wants your influence. Here are four ways to be more influential in your child's life and strengthen your bond, without costing you a dime.
Make a special date -- just the two of you.
Ask your son or daughter out to dinner. Or better yet, tell them you've set aside a special time for the two of you, and ask your child to select the activity. If you give them the responsibility of making the decision, it's often best. Playing video games is a good thing to do together, but not for your special time. It's preferable to leave the house so that you have an experience together that's fresh and out of the ordinary.
Schedule a few moments of togetherness every day.
If you live with your child, the easiest way to converge at least once a day is to have dinner together. If dinner is too difficult because of your work or their after-school activity schedules, make it breakfast. The idea is to spend at least five to 10 minutes every day "checking in" with them. Start a tradition of discussing the best/funniest/strangest/most interesting thing that happened that day. Reading a story before bed together or driving them to school are other easy ways to make regular father-child time. If you live apart, you can call or Skype them before bed. I knew one father who called his son every night and told him stories about growing up in Ghana. Even though they lived in different states, father and son remained very close.
Make sure they feel valued and noticed.
Guess what? Kids don't care so much about what you do with them. They just want to feel loved, noticed and valued. I've had female clients complain that they go to countless Little League games and band concerts to support their kids, with little thanks. But when Dad's on the bleachers or in the audience, their kids are beside themselves with excitement. As a psychologist and a mother, I've observed that children especially crave affective affirmation from their fathers. "Affective affirmation" is defined as small gestures, words or actions that convey the message that you support, value, notice and care about the other person. Some simple ways to do this: Send them a "hello" text in the middle of the day. Tuck a note into their lunchbox. Hug them. Or sit down and watch "their" TV show. Small gestures are as good as big ones.
Model healthy relationship behaviors.
Your child learns about relationships from watching you and incorporating your behaviors. Most of the time, what you do in response to stressful personal situations or how you treat others is more important than what you say. Do you fight fairly? Are you a good listener? Do you have an open mind, or are you instantly judgmental? Are you able to talk about your feelings in a way that isn't explosive or hurtful? The way you behave and communicate with others has a profound influence on adult children's relationship styles.
Here's hoping that you can enjoy your children to the max while they're young, and that you'll continue to be one of the most positive influences in your child's life.