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Dads: Build Stronger Relationships With Your Kids

Want to be a better father? Spend time with your children -- and other dads.
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WebMD Magazine - Feature

For Father's Day this year, give yourself a gift: more time with your kids. In fact, make it a daily gift for both you and your children. It's the best way to build loving and meaningful relationships.

"All the research -- and there's a lot of it -- says the same thing: The more time dads spend with their kids, the better it is for the kids and the better it is for the dads," says psychologist Jerrold Lee Shapiro, PhD, a professor at Santa Clara University in California. Here are Shapiro's tips for making your time together count.

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Be with them, not just for them. "Most men live with the 'provide and protect' prime directive," Shapiro says. "Their attention is often focused away from their kids, at least in a direct way." Instead of talking with their children, dads, as protectors, too often slip into problem-solving mode. For example, when they call home, dads often ask, "Are you OK? Do you need money?" and then pass the phone to Mom. Don't do that, Shapiro says. "Listen and talk to them. It's what they want -- and need -- from you."

Work on a project together. Got something that needs fixing? Tell your son or daughter you'd like some help, even if your child's job is as simple as handing you a wrench while you work. That quiet, physical closeness as you accomplish your task as a team can be quite meaningful. "The way that dads spend time with kids, which can be very nurturing, often doesn't involve many words," says Shapiro.

Make friends with fellow dads. Fathers rarely have what Shapiro calls the emotional language for communicating with their young children. Fluency will come with a little help from your guy friends. Does your son or one of the children in his playgroup have a birthday party coming up? Be sure to go and make friends with the fathers there. "That's a great way for dads to get involved," Shapiro says.

Expert Q&A

Q: "I have a 3-year-old son and an infant daughter. What's one big difference in how I will relate to them emotionally as their father?"

A: "As a dad you're not likely to hold back when it's your son. But dads are often less confident when it's a daughter who is upset. If your daughter feels hurt by a friend, for example, that's a social, emotional conundrum that many dads will leave to Mom. Instead, tell her that you know she's upset, that you know what it's like to have your feelings hurt, and that you will help her feel better." Kyle Dean Pruett, MD, clinical professor, Child Study Center, Yale School of Medicine, and co-author of Partnership Parenting.

Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD Magazine." 

Reviewed on April 14, 2014

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