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Dad, Your Words Matter

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dads, the words you speak to and about your children are powerful and impact them more than you know. Even if you’re talking about your children when they’re not in the room, what you believe about them shows up in what you say about them, and will shape them more than you could ever imagine. I know this from personal experience, and I share a story about it in my new book, Hero: Being The Strong Father Your Children Need.

The bottom line for you fathers is quite simple: your words, body language, and presence can determine your child’s outlook every day. Your kids might not tell you that but as their pediatrician, that’s what they’ve told me. They take everything you do and say as a reflection on them and how they should feel and react. Their identity is still forming and they are constantly looking to you to tell them who they are. As the great communicator dad, you need to make sure you tell them the right things.

Dad, if you’re reading this and thinking, I’m really no good at communicating. I don’t even know where to start – don’t worry! I have four essentials of great fatherly communication for you. Just think CAAR (I expand on each of these points in my book):

C – Correction

A – Affirmation

A – Attention

R – Respect

Let’s start with Correction. When correcting a child, use the fewest words possible. Your toddler only knows a few words anyway, and as she grows older, she’ll tune out long speeches of correction. All kids do this because if you correct them at length they feel ashamed, hurt, and embarrassed, and in self-defense, they try to stop listening. Using fewer words also keeps your temper in check. Anger has a habit of escalating, so cut yourself off. Stop talking. Leave the room (and don’t slam the door).

When correcting a child, using fewer words helps keep your temper in check.

Next, Affirmation. Dads, you may find it easier to affirm your daughter than your son, but he needs affirmation from you, too. What exactly do I mean by affirmation? Start with vocally communicating how valuable they are to you (and to God). To express affirmation, use what I call “power words.” They help build character. For instance, tell your son that he is (pick one): strong, kind, capable, patient, loving, lovable, valuable, considerate, smart, courageous, persistent, or tenacious. Be sure to invoke yourself and say, “I admire you, respect you, love you, believe in you, care about you, have confidence in you.”

Attention. Your relationship with your children is dependent on the attention you give them – and they want your attention desperately because it makes them feel important and because they have important things they want to share with the most important person in their lives, whether that something is a movie or a personal triumph or simply the joy of playing in the yard or the basement. What kind of attention? Let’s start with the basics:

1. Make eye contact when spending time with your child. Put down your phone and be FULLY engaged.

2. Your kids have so much to say and share with you. This means you should be talking less and listening more. Show them you value their thoughts, imagination, ideas and opinions.

3. Be available. Whenever possible, as soon as your child comes in asking for your help or your time – give it to them. They are just looking to see if they are loved, valued and seen by the person they love and respect most in the world.

Make eye contact when spending time with your child. Put down your phone and be fully engaged.

And lastly, Respect. It can be frustrating when your children give you attitude and don’t give you the respect that they should. I’ve mentioned frequently in my practice that more is caught than taught. You have to model respect for them. Teaching respect doesn’t have to be a battle, and it doesn’t mean you have to act like a drill sergeant. In fact, you shouldn’t, because quiet discipline, speaking in a strong, firm, respectful tone, is the best way to get the same response back. Kids respect strength, and self-control is a great example of strength – one that your kids will want to emulate if they see it in you. Simply put, if you want respect from your kids, show it to them.

If you want respect from your kids, show it to them.

If you choose your words wisely, if you aim to be a respectful, attentive, affectionate, affirming dad who cares enough for his kids to be their calm and rational disciplinarian when necessary, you will be the hero that your kids want you to be in word and deed.

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