In this article, I will be covering what I believe are the eight most important habits that help fathers lead by example.
As fathers, we all want our kids to grow up to be good people. We also want to be role models for our kids. We understand that the behaviour we model has a much greater influence than what we say.
The problem is that we are not perfect! We are likely to have some habits or behaviour that we don’t want our kids to emulate.
These eight habits I will be covering in this article will help you to be a great role model for your children.
You may go through this list and identify things you are already doing. This is great… keep up the good work!
There will be other habits you are not doing. Some of these will be easy to change. Others, less so.
So how do you tackle the difficult ones? You break them down into smaller manageable chunks. Don’t try to eat the whole elephant in one go!
How long will this take? Research suggests that on average it takes 66 days to form a habit but it can be as little as 18 days if you set small achievable goals along the way.
I have found this to be true in my own life. If I’m honest, I don’t like exercising. I don’t feel good when I do it. My only motivation is that I want to be healthy. Despite my resistance to exercise, I committed to a morning fitness routine. I would force myself each morning to go through a short set of exercises before I started the day. At first, my routine was a 5 min workout. After the first three weeks of doing this, I found I no longer had to force myself. It became routine and something I did automatically. Then I worked on increasing the duration. I convinced the kids it would be a good idea to walk to school. This meant between my early morning workout and the school walk I was doing 40 minutes of exercise a day. That was twelve months ago and I’m still going strong…pun intended!
So let’s talk habits…
Habits for fathers to lead by example #1 – Watching what we say
The words we speak have a powerful influence over people.
In his book Social Intelligence, Daniel Goleman (PhD Clinical Psychology) explores the science of how our relationships impact our health and well being. Positive words act like superfoods that benefit our overall health. Criticism towards us or being critical to others can act as toxins, impacting everything from our mood to our immune systems.
Take a moment to think about your own childhood. Was there a hurtful comment an adult made that you still remember? It may have been a comment about your appearance (e.g “She’s chubby”) or your competence (e.g “He’ll never amount to anything”). It may have come from a teacher or a thoughtless family member. Most people can recall at least one hurtful comment made during their childhood. These comments are not harmless. The very fact you remember it shows the power of these hurtful words. They often stay with you and sometimes they define you.
As father’s, we need to watch what we say to our kids. Flippant criticisms or sarcastic comments made in jest can deeply wound our children emotionally; especially if said regularly. If our message to them is “you’re annoying” or “you are hopeless” this becomes their story.
Similarly, our words can motivate and encourage our kids. If you tell your child you love them for who they are… it will help them have self-compassion. If you tell them you believe in them, it will help them have self-belief. If you tell them you know they can achieve their goals if they work hard, it will motivate them to try harder.
Obviously, there are times when the lines between praise, honesty and criticism are blurry.
An example of this might be the child who wants to win “American Idol” but can’t sing in tune!
The key here is to find something you can honestly praise. You might say “I really like your ambition and determination. Would you like to start singing lessons to learn to sing like a professional?” If they take you up on the offer, they will no doubt improve. They will eventually come to a natural conclusion about whether or not singing is for them but by tackling it this way, you as their parent, haven’t crushed their hopes and dreams with critical judgement.
Habits for fathers to lead by example #2 – Integrity
I define integrity as “doing what you say you will do”. Walking the walk. Not just talking the talk!
We know that doing what we say we will do is critical to establish trust. And trust is essential for so many things in our lives – our friendships, relationships and work. A boss who cannot trust their employee to do what they say they will do is likely to be advertising the role, sooner rather than later!
We need to have integrity in the workplace, but we also need to have integrity in the home. If you tell your wife you will mow the lawn on the weekend… get up early on Sunday and mow the lawn. If you tell your son you will be at the basketball game, do everything in your power to get to that game.
If your children know they can trust you to do what you say you will do, it will be much easier for you to teach them to be true to their word. It’s hard to expect this of them if they don’t feel they can expect this of you. A family culture of trust and honesty can only be developed when all members, particularly the parents are demonstrating those qualities consistently.
Habits for fathers to lead by example #3 – Showing respect to women
As a father, this is such an important example to set for both our sons and our daughters.
One day your little girl will fall in love. I know for many dads, myself included, that can be a scary prospect!
You want your daughter to be happy. You want her to be treated well. The best way to ensure this happens is to be respectful to her mother. This will lay the foundation for what she expects in relationships. It will influence who she chooses to date and who she declines. Even if you’re separated from her mother, you should still try to treat her and the other women in your world with respect. You can be sure you’re daughter is watching. You are her benchmark.
You want your son to be happy. You want him to grow to be a good man. Research has consistently shown that men are happier and healthier when they are in a relationship. If you want to set him up for successful relationships in future, teach him how to be respectful to women. Model this behaviour to him in the way you treat his mother, his grandmother and the other women in your world.
So let’s endeavour, even in the little things we say and do, to always show respect to women. In doing this, we create more harmony and peace in our homes and set our son’s and daughters up to have healthy relationships in future.
Habits for fathers to lead by example #4 – Helping others
“Do your chores!”
“Unpack the dishwasher!”
“Pack up your toys!”
Do those requests sound familiar? They are standard catchcry’s on any given day in our household.
We all want our kids to be helpful. We want them to lend a hand in the running of our homes. So how do you make that happen? You start by being helpful yourself.
If your wife asks you to dry the dishes. Grab a tea towel without complaining. If your elderly parents ask you to fix their light globes. Fix the globes and a dripping tap while you’re at it. If you see an elderly woman crossing the street with her weekly shopping, offer to carry it for her.
If you model this behaviour, one day it will be your child who offers to help the elderly stranger or picks up the tea towel.
There are times when being helpful is hard. It may mean giving up watching the ballgame or lending a hand at the end of a long day at work when you’re simply not in the mood. It is tempting to put yourself first in those moments. But that’s when we need to lead by example. If we want our kids to be helpful and selfless, we can’t be seen to be making selfish choices in the day-to-day.
Sometimes, it’s hard to know as a Dad when you’re being selfish. You may think you have a “right” to always watch the ball game or to put your feet up at the end of a long day. Keep in mind, your view may not be your family’s view. Seek feedback from your family regularly, particularly your spouse. Ask them “is there anything I do, that you think is selfish?” And better still, ask “how best can I help you?”. They will love you for it.
Habits for fathers to lead by example #5 – Doing housework
Society is changing in Western cultures and the expectations of what men and women do or don’t do around the house have changed. As fathers, we play a key role to promote gender equality in our homes.
Many fathers, in fulltime employment, view that as their main contribution to the household. If they have not experienced life as a stay at home dad, it may be difficult to appreciate how caring for young children is a full-time job in itself.
I never fully appreciated this until I left my paid job and became a stay at home dad while my wife went back to full-time work. One month in, I was exhausted! It was a real eye-opener. There was way more to do than I realised. Cooking, laundry, school drop off, homework, going to the grocery store, paying bills, organising playdates, emailing teachers, taking the kids to the dentist, taking the cat to the vet… I could go on but seriously, the list was never-ending.
So the reality is, if your partner is at home looking after young children, she is working full time. When you get home after a long day at the office you are tired… but so is she. This means in fairness, household chores in the evening and on weekends need to be shared.
Understanding this and applying it to your family life will set a powerful example to your kids. To create a happy family and a happy home, everyone needs to contribute.
Habits for fathers to lead by example #6 – Looking after ourselves
We want our kids to be healthy and to lead a healthy lifestyle. If we are not leading a healthy lifestyle ourselves, it is unlikely our kids will do the same. Looking after ourselves encompasses many things such as healthy eating, regular exercise and looking after our mental health and emotional needs.
Chat to your kids about the healthy choices you make and explain why you are making them. There may be things we do for health that our children are not even aware of. Explain why you get up early to exercise. Explain why you wear sunscreen. Explain why you choose water over a soda at the restaurant. These choices set a pattern for them to follow as they get older. It also reinforces a key message… when you are an adult and making your own decisions in life, health matters.
Habits for fathers to lead by example #7 – Working hard
Whether you are in full-time employment or a stay at home dad, it’s important for your kids to see you working hard. This is a lesson best taught by doing rather than saying. Kids are very quick to point out the hypocrisy if you’re asking them to do their chores while you’re watching the game!
Teaching your kids to apply themselves and work hard, whether it be at school, at home or on the sports field is such an important skill. I often remind my kids “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.” Talent gives you a good head start but hard work makes you finish the race.
Habits for fathers to lead by example #8 – Making time for the people we care about
Like all parents, when my children grow up and leave our family home, I hope we stay close.
In the Harry Chapin song ‘Cat’s In The Cradle’ there are some very poignant lyrics about how it feels when adult children are too busy for their parents.
I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time
You see my new job’s a hassle and the kid’s got the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you”
And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me…
My interpretation of the final two lines is that he recalls being dismissive to his own parents and possibly his children as well. This song challenges me to think about how I choose to spend my time.
So the final thing we can teach our kids is to make the people they care about a priority. Again, the best way to do this is by example. Showing respect to your ageing parents, organising a date night with your partner, having one-on-one time with your son or daughter… these are the things that help a family stay close.
What habits do you think are important for fathers to set a good example? I would love to hear your ideas by leaving a comment below.