Dads have a special and important role in their children’s lives. We’ve compiled over 90 tips and ideas to help Dads show up, and be the Dads their children need them to be.
Children are really lucky if they have a Dad who is involved in their lives, a Dad who knows their friends by name, and is interested in how they spend their day. It really helps if children know they are loved and cared for by both parents. This goes a long way to helping children reach their potential.
In days gone by, often Fathers were responsible for discipline and setting rules and Mums did much of the caring and nurturing. Those days are long gone, thank goodness, and a Dad’s role in the family is much more holistic now, but with more responsibility too.
There are lots of different kinds of Dads. You may be in a two-parent family, in a stepfamily, be a full-time single Dad, or have your children with you for some of the time. While parenting is done by either parent, children have unique experiences with the male remodels in their life.
No pressure Dads!
Being a Dad – 93 Ideas, Tips & Other Things
So what does it mean to be a Dad?
Sometimes Fathers feel unsure about what is expected of them. This is partly because men are expected to be much more hands on than their Fathers were. But also because there is no ‘guide’ or ‘manual’ to parenting.
You may have an idea of what kind of Dad you want to be, or don’t want to be, based on memories of your own childhood. But there is no right way and no recipe for being a Dad. What is important is to think about what is going to work for you and your child. One way to do this is to ask good questions, like:
What sort of Dad would I look like, if I helped my child reach their full potential in this life?”
That may depend on a number of things you also need to ask yourself:
- What do you expect to do as a Dad?
- What does your child’s mother, or other parent or caregiver expect you to do?
- If your partner is not your child’s other parent, what do they expect?
- What is the living arrangement? whether you are living with your children all of the time, or some of the time, or whether they live with their mother and visit you, etc.
- How will you and your partner balance work and family responsibilities?
- What does ‘good’ look like for you, and what ‘good’ things do you want to do for your children?
- What was your Father like for you (the good, the bad and the ugly)?
- What sorts of things do you see other Fathers do that resonate with you?
- And most importantly, what do your children want and need from you?
The most important gift you can give to your children is your love. This means getting to know them and being involved in their lives, so they also get to know you. It means spending time with your children and making the most of the time you spend with them, by showing up and being present.
Some things that all Dads can do
Some things children say they want from their Fathers:
- ‘Do things together.’
- ‘Sit and talk.’
- ‘Play games together.’
- ‘Don’t work so much.’
Here’s some things you can do as a Dad to achieve this:
- Talk about feelings so that your children learn that it’s okay for men to talk about feelings. Talk about when you feel sad and happy and angry. Having emotions is being human, it’s all about how we react to an emotion, and how we work through emotions. These are things you want to remodel to your kids.
- If you have a daughter, spend quality, special time with your daughter. Schedule in Daddy-Daughter dates for quality time. You are the first man that your daughter will really know. It’s important for young girls to see men being respectful and the world needs more gentlemen. No matter what your daughter’s future sexual preference is, it’s important for her to learn what good men look like, and how she should expect to be treated by all men in her life in the future.
- If you have a son, show your son how you would like them to be when they are men. Again, no matter your son’s future sexual preferences, they need to see what positive relationships look like. They need to know what ‘good’ men do, and how they behave, and how they hold themselves. To learn this boys need to spend time with you and with other men.
- And for both sons and daughters, remember that they learn much more from what you do than from what you say. So remodel the sort of person you want them to be.
- Show that you enjoy your children’s company – get involved, read, play, have fun, do things together. Find out what you kids like, and encourage that activity, and join in where you can.
- Take your children to work with you sometimes, if you can. It’s a great experience for them. Let them get to know how you spend your days when they are not with you. It’s important for kids to understand what work is, and why we do it. And kids have no real context for what ‘work’ is. So help make it real, by showing them where and what you do.
- Hug your kids, and tell them you love them. Special times with you often become powerful memories.
Comfort them when they’re hurt, or down. Children, even tiny babies, get a special feeling of security from being hugged by their Dads. And from this, children learn that they are safe and that they’re special. And that’s a great start to life.
- Read to your children from birth. This helps to create a strong bond between you. Reading books can simply be looking at pictures, or enjoying being together. Bedtime is a great time for stories. And once in a while, try telling your own story. Kids love to hear about the things you did before they were born.
- Play with your children. This supports their normal development. Fathers often enjoy active play and children can learn a lot from this. They learn that you can be strong and have fun while being gentle. Both boys and girls enjoy physical play, so rock out the cricket bats, or even a game of bullrush on the lawn.
- Help your children with their sport or hobbies by going to their games and maybe even coaching or helping out with their dance routines or music. Show you’re interested in their interests.
- Share your own interests and hobbies too, by involving them in what you do. They may not totally enjoy the activity, but the bonding time with Dad is priceless.
- Be an important part of your child’s life. Go to the kindy Christmas recital, the school parent nights, to the doctors, and shopping for new shoes or lunchboxes. It’s the little things that add up.
- Encourage your children to explore the world and find out about new things to do and try. Encourage them to be their own person in this life.
- Teach your children about rules and laws. Show them values through what you do. Sticking to what you believe is right communicates commitment, and supports a sense of security for your children. Be fair and kind, this helps your children to learn fairness and kindness. But stand for something, and show your kids why it matters to make a difference.
- Encourage your children to stick at a problem even if it is hard. Praise, praise, praise when you see them try, and praise them some more when they succeed. You can’t over-praise a child, period.
- Expect your children to do their best and be proud of them when they do. Showing pride in their efforts whether they succeed or not is important to their sense of value.
- Don’t push your children into doing things you wanted to do and missed out on. They need to live their own lives. Support your children’s interests, even though they may be different to your own.
- Show your love in different ways. Telling children you love them is powerful but doing things together can communicate love too. Leave a note in their lunchbox, tell them why they’re important to you, take them on a totally unexpected adventure or activity. Build memories.
Here’s some simple suggestions for things you can do to show you love and care for your kids:
- take your children fishing, surfing, bowling (any activity that you consider fun).
- help them with their homework, this is good, quality time and really shows you care for them.
- go for a walk in a park, or play in a park, or shoot some hoops, just some time to hang together.
- cheer at a football or netball match, or music recital, or show, etc. nothing makes a kid prouder.
The way you approach being a Dad is what matters most for your children. We call this your ‘intention’, or your ‘mindset’.
Though you may have limited time with your kids, if you make the time you have count with intention, your children will know that you care about them, and that you will be there when they need you.
Dads with partners who are the child’s biological Mum
In a family where your partner is also your child’s Mum, the emphasis is on a close, loving tight family unit. Your child will be looking to you to learn what loving relationships look like.
As roles in the family change, and evolve, you may be the at-home parent when your children are younger, or you may share this role. Or, with more flexible working these days, the work-life blend may see you just being around more.
What you can do
- Make regular time to be together as a couple without the children. Work on your relationship, so you can remodel what a healthy relationship looks like.
- Discuss your feelings right from the start. When you have your first baby it may bring some changes to your relationship with your partner. She may feel tired and sometimes overwhelmed by coping with body changes and with new roles and responsibilities. You may feel left out or even jealous. Focusing on your relationship with your baby will help you to adjust to changes and to make your transition to fatherhood smoother. Set a pattern of working things outtogether for the sake of your new family.
- Talk to your partner about the pressures you feel such as finances, your sense of responsibility for the family and your feelings about the baby. This can help prevent the build up of stress. Listening to your partner’s feelings about this as well can bring you closer as understanding grows.
- Always try to sort out any relationship problems away from the children.
- Treat your children’s mother (and all women) with respect and care. This shows your daughters the value of being a woman, and shows your sons how to treat and value women.
- If you don’t agree with the way their mother handles something discuss it with her in private. If you still can’t agree, remember children can learn to cope with parents being different. What they can’t cope with is parents putting each other down.
Talk about what you each expect of each other in relation to caring for the children. Work out how you will share things like:
- getting up at night
- bathing and feeding
- arranging a babysitter when you go out
- taking the children to school and activities
- managing behaviour and discipline
- arranging some free time for each of you
- taking time off work when the children are sick. Find out what your work offers in parenting leave for fathers.
Dads with partners who aren’t the child’s biological Mum
This category includes Dads with partners who are also Dads, families with a surrogate child, Dads with new partners and a variety of family types.
In families where the child doesn’t live with their biological Mum, you’ll need to talk to your child about how they were conceived, and what makes your family special. It’s just as important to show your child what healthy relationships look like, and it’s important to teach your child that ‘love’ is what makes a family. If the biological Mum is in the picture, then your child will have a third great role model to learn from. If they’re not, then be prepared that your child may want to know them at some in the future.
What you can do
- Make regular time to be together as a couple without the children. Work on your relationship, so you can remodel what a healthy relationship looks like.
- If the biological Mum wants to be in your child’s life, consider writing up a co-parenting agreement at the outset. This sets out the wishes of all parties, and gives you all a chance to communicate your needs, and have your say in the child’s life and wellbeing. It also sets out what to do if there’s any dispute down the track.
- If it’s possible, and if it works for you, let your children have some time on their own with their biological mother without you and your partner around. This could be a great influence in your child’s life. Again, a written agreement around this, at the outset, will be very beneficial.
- You can teach your child how all families are different, yet special in their own unique way. And when you’re loved by your parents, it doesn’t matter what the family makeup is.
- Talk with your partner about problems and work out together how you will deal with them before they arise.
- If you’re in a gay relationship, you’ll need to explain this to your kids, and in different ways as they get older. It can be like coming out all over again. But you also have the amazing benefit of explaining what makes different relationships so special, with healthy, working examples of your own family!
Dads in stepfamilies and blended families
Being a stepfather can be difficult, especially if the children are older when you join the family. You may also have your own children who will still want your time.
Children who have had time alone with their Mother often feel sad or cross about having someone else take some of her time. Some children don’t want anyone else to replace their own Dad’s place in the family. This can be really tricky for step-Dads.
What you can do
- Spend time getting to know your partner’s children.
- Give the children lots of time, and lots of space. You can’t take their Dad’s place, and you shouldn’t try to, but you can still build a close relationship with them.
- Be a friend but don’t crowd them.
- Plan household rules together with your partner and include the children. The rules you decide on may be very different from what the children are used to. Discuss this openly as a family.
- Be wary about disciplining the children even if their Mother asks you to. It’s usually better if parents discipline their own children, especially at first.
- Talk with your partner about potential problems before they arise, and work out together how you will deal with them.
- Let the children still have some time on their own with their Mother without you around. If their biological Dad is still in the picture, make sure they get quality time with their Dad too.
- Offer to do some things with the children yourself. Choose things they enjoy.
- Make sure that you have some special time if you have your own children, too. It can be tricky making a place in your life for everyone, but it’s important to them that you’re involved in their lives.
- Children in stepfamilies often come and go between houses. You need to be flexible to allow for this, and be understanding of their feelings as well as the behaviours that they might show before and after visits.
- Encourage lots of open communication. Remodel talking openly and discussing things openly. Allow everyone the time to talk and to listen to each other’s needs. If your step-children are struggling to communicate how they feel, give them space, but keep encouraging them to open up. Open communication is key to successful blended families.
There are lots of different ways to be a single Dad. You might be a Dad with sole care of your children, a single Dad who sees their children some of the time, or a Dad who hardly sees their children. You might be a single Dad through divorce or through death. You may have become a single Dad by choice, or have gone through a breakup and the choice was made for you.
No matter how you came to be a single Dad, loving your children shouldn’t change. And you can still model what it looks like to be a great Dad.
What you can do
- Make sure that your children feel safe and secure with you by caring for them well.
- Try not to let hurt or anger about your children’s Mother negatively affect your relationship with your children. Really work on this, your children need to know that it’s not their fault you’re own your own.
- Avoid negative exchanges with your ex-partner at handover time, or when you have been on the phone to your children. Parents fighting is one of the most damaging things that can happen for children and really distresses them. If you can’t work out something positive with your ex-partner, get some independent help for the sake of the children.
- If you’re not the main caregiver, keep in touch with your children even if it’s painful to have to keep saying goodbye after you see them. Your children need your love and care even though goodbyes are hard.
- Sometimes you might feel it would be easier for your children if you did not see them. Children need a caring Dad and even if the comings and goings are difficult, your children will feel the value of your efforts. In fact, you have the opportunity to model resilience, and how to keep going when life gets tough.
- Pay child-support. It’s a vital contribution to the welfare of your children.
- Be positive (or don’t say anything if you can’t be!) when you talk to your kids about their Mother. Children want to feel connected and loyal to both parents. Never use your children as leverage!
- If the relationship does turn toxic, try not to weigh the children down with this. They are not old enough to worry about what you need emotionally. Talking to a friend or a professional about your concerns is a better way of dealing with your feelings and worries. This is one way to protect your children from emotional harm.
- When your children are with you let them share your life, your memories and your dreams. Let them see you cook (it doesn’t have to be fancy) and take care of them. They will learn a lot about how to be a Dad, and what great men look like, by seeing what you do.
- Children will get more out of just being with you than expensive presents and always going on exciting outings (although they may ask).
- Be prepared to be flexible and to give and take when it comes to making arrangements about your children. As they grow and develop, their needs change and fixed arrangements don’t always work so well.
- If you’re not the main caregiver, keep in touch with your children, often. Phone, write and remember birthdays and special occasions. Contact them when there are important school events such as exams, or going for a job. Try to be in their lives in any way your can, as often as you can.
- It’s more than OK to have different rules and ways of doing things at your house. Children learn to understand that households work differently. Being consistent and caring when they’re with you promotes confidence and a sense of security.
- As children get older, let them choose to stay with their Mum instead of staying with you. They need to know that it’s OK by you. But also make sure the Mum’s home situation is safe.
- All children have worries at some stage. Be open and make it easy for your children to talk to you. Encourage them to share their worries as well as their successes. Encourage open communication at every turn.
- Parents have the right to separate from their partner but they still have the responsibility to be a parent. Children have the right to be cared for by both parents, even if you are not together.
Some final thoughts on what it means to be a Dad
- Children are lucky if they have two parents who give them love and security – this can, and should, happen even if the parents aren’t together.
- Two caring parents can do things differently with their children. There is no one right way or wrong way, but only different ways. Work out what works for everyone involved. But don’t expect it to just happen. Parenting takes work and consistency, and a LOT of patience!
- How you act when you’re with your children teaches them how to act as they grow and develop. Remodel the very best version of you that you can be.
- Share your ideas about parenting with your children’s Mother, if possible. Listen to her ideas. And create something that works and you can both stick to and be consistent.
- Part of a Dad’s job is showing your kids how to grow up, and to be loving and caring, and able to get on well with others, and live a great life. Think about this. Ask yourself what this could look like.
- Girls and boys both need time with their Fathers, together, and separately.
- Show your children that men can be gentle in a tough world. Life isn’t easy, by showing kindness is. Be a man that shows up, but also treads gently on this world.
- Fathers have an important role in teaching their children that it’s all right for men to talk about their feelings, and to cry or to seek help. We’re emotional beings. Teach your children how to work through their own ‘big’ emotions, by wearing yours on your sleeve.
- When Dads are involved in daily care of their babies it builds a strong, secure bond that is really important to a child’s development. Hug your child, often and with intent.
- As they get older children need to know that you like them, even if they choose to do very different things than you. Be involved, be interested and try to see the world through their eyes.
- Even if you don’t see your children a lot, you can still build happy memories in the time you have with them. Make time for your children, and spend that time with intention.
- Children need love. They need to see it and feel it, and be secure in it. Never be afraid to show your love. Afterall, love makes the world go round!
For hundreds more tips and positive parenting ideas, check out our Parenting advice section.