It is often assumed that having a baby and suddenly becoming a father is the most natural thing in the world. But this is an area that many new dads struggle with. Particularly the increasing number of dads sharing, or in some cases, doing the majority of childcare.
Often they face this challenge in isolation. Compare this to their female partners who through antenatal, baby and toddler groups are out there busy networking, sharing their difficulties and learning from each other. Men on the other hand are often not natural group joiners and a sense of pride or fear can keep them separate.
Added to that, men, often coming from a workplace that encourages logic and problem solving skills, can feel completely out of their depth with a baby or toddler that exists much more in the imaginative realm and has very little concept of logic yet.
So how can play and creativity help us be better dads? Here are a few tips for developing a better relationship with toddlers and young children.
Five Creative Ways to Become a More Relaxed Dad
Enter the Child’s World
Don’t expect them to enter yours just yet. You may need to ‘get your hands dirty’ and join that scary world of imaginative play!
Maybe at the moment bedtime goes something like this: You tell your four year old daughter that it is time for bed because it is late and she has a busy day tomorrow. This is all very logical, but probably not making very much sense to her. Even the concept of ‘tomorrow’ can be quite abstract for a child.
So a more imaginative approach might be suggesting that you play “butterfly bedtime”. You can be the daddy butterfly and she can be the baby butterfly. You can flutter your way up the stairs, do butterfly wash and teeth brushing, then have butterfly stories in bed. She will love it, and probably you will as well. You get the idea. Use what is real and important to them.
The Great Outdoors
When the kids are running round the house shouting and jumping on things, remind yourself that they are not actually being naughty. Although this is not great behaviour indoors, if they were out in nature it would be completely fine. So rather than telling them off, try explaining that this is not how we behave indoors, but it is fine for them to do it in the garden.
Better still, take them out to the local woods or fields and join in with them. It is our job to socialise our kids – let them know what is OK behaviour in which context. Socialisation is about letting them know what is expected of them within our society, not punishing them for doing what comes naturally.
The food we cook and eat together can help define and strengthen a family. Kids love learning and getting their hands dirty so cooking is ideal. Homemade pizzas, meatballs, and fish fingers can be great fun to make and, having been involved in the preparation, the kids are much more likely to eat them.
You can find more great kids recipes on the BBC GoodFood Website.
When you get it wrong – say sorry. You are probably occasionally going to loose it with the kids. Be big enough to apologise and explain what was going on for you – you are tired, stressed, angry. kids deserve an explanation and this can make a huge different to them.
All You Need is Love
And finally… Don’t worry about getting it wrong occasionally. You can make a lot of mistakes and still be forgiven by your child if they feel you love them. So tell them you love them. Apologise if you loose your temper, and remember kids pick up on your atmosphere, so if you are sad, don’t tell them you are happy. This mismatch can be confusing and scary for them.
© 2016 Arieh Kronenberg
I work with many fathers of young kids to help them through this transition in a creative and fulfilling way. To find out more contact me.