8 Habits that help fathers lead by example

Leading by ExampleIn 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

Watch what you sayThe 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

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

Look after Yourself

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 awayHarry Chapin - Cats In The Cradle
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.

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19 Comments

  1. I loved your article. In fact, I love the entire premise of your site. Promoting fathers and helping people become better Dad’s through your articles is a very noble cause indeed.

    I am a woman so I will obviously never be a Father. However, I think that the eight things you mentioned are also things that women need to do to be better mothers. Indeed they are things that any and every family member can and should strive to do to help the family succeed and develop the best relationships possible.

    1. Thank you for your encouraging feedback Mariah, I really appreciate it!

      My hope is that this site will help equip and empower dads as we play such an important role in our children’s development. I agree that while I am talking to dads and talking from a dads point of view, much of the material on this site will be applicable for both fathers and mothers.

      Thanks once again for your comment Mariah.

      All the best,

      John

  2. Maintaining a consistent behavior in your lifestyle could be a huge factor, such as by following a daily schedule, implementing a routine, and then talking rather than yelling. Children always  thrive on consistency and stability, so when they see a permanent healthy parental consistency, they learn to emulate them. They are also many other factors I believe could be a great deal, but thanks to your article you have already received most of them.

    1. Hi Solomon, thank you so much for your reply. I completely agree that providing our kids with stability and showing them kindness in the way we speak to them and parent them helps them to feel safe which is very important

      If you are interested, I wrote about these important factors in a previous blog post which you can read here.

      Thanks again for taking the time to read and comment on this article.

      All the best,

      John

  3. Thank you for sharing the 8 habits as father to set a good example for our children.

    You are right. We must always be aware that our children will follow what we were doing around the house. My husband like cooking. He will clean up the kitchen after has done cooking. My son is doing the same.

    Watching what we say and doing what we say are very important habits to set as example. These habits are easily picked up by children.

    1. Thanks for your comment Christine and for providing the example in your own home of how your husband is leading by example and how that influences your children to do the same. I think there is so much power in our words to both encourage and discourage our children. I couldn’t agree with you more that the language we use, the words that we speak and even the tone that we use can have a profound influence on our kids.

  4. Hi John! I have read whole article and believe this is an another excellent post about 8 important steps to be role model as a father for our kids. I have two kids and they really loves me and try to follow my activities and instruction. Those eight habits undoubtedly lead all children to respect his father. Yes I have some practical experience and same feelings on it. But I also observed that my children’s talking style and behavior is reflected from their mother in the beginning. I think we should consider mother’s habit also. Thanks for sharing this great information with us. 

    1. Hi Mzakapon, thank you for taking the time to read the article and comment, I really appreciate it. You raise an excellent point about the influence mothers have on raising children, they play a vital role. As Mariah mentioned, these habits could apply equally to mothers. For habit #3 that would not need the focus to be on women, but on people in general.

      While I am writing from a dad’s perspective and putting the emphasis on dads, I hope all parents, moms and dads would find these articles helpful.

  5. Being a father is not so easy, getting the kid is fun but training is the tough part.

    I believe the easiest way to train a child is by example.

    Most kids learn by watching, they do what they see you do. So discipline plays a whole lot of role in this part.

    1. Hi Dhayours, thank you so much for sharing. What you say is so true, that discipline is so important. The bigger the responsibility you have, the more disciplined you need to be to carry out that responsibility well. Raising kids is a huge responsibility and definitely challenges us to be more disciplined in many areas of our life, including the way we behave in front of them.

  6. I couldn’t agree more that we as fathers care that our kids turn out to be successful in their lives. And yes, all I want is to be a good role model to my son and daughter. Much as I have tried to achieve a lot as per your guideline, I am not doing very well on habit number 2 I must confess. I probably need to pull my socks on that big time.I am however excelling in some of the habits, especially number 7, working hard. So this post comes in handy to rejuvenate my resolve, and also improve where I need to.Many thanksVictor

    1. Hi Victor, thanks for taking the time to read my article and share something about yourself. I know for myself I could do better on some of these habits, particularly #6. I still find it hard to restrain myself from eating unhealthy food if it is in the house. Christmas has been a particularly difficult time for me on that one. I wrote this article just as much for myself as my readers (which is often the case), to encourage myself to get into better habits.

      All the best,

      John

  7. You nailed it! You covered everything that a Father needs to know and do. Well written .

    1. Thank you Vijayan, I really appreciate you taking the time to comment and for your encouraging feedback.

      Take care,

      John

  8. Hi John,Wonderful article! I really liked the reading!I have two beautiful children, and luckily, my husband is an adorable person:) He has many gifts, he plays music, he cooks well, and draws too. Thanks to this, my children also play music, cook and draw:) You are so right when you say that it’s important to show respect to the wife so that the girl can have a beautiful relationship later. I totally agree with that! The funny thing is that I know some friends that their parents had a very good marriage and the children didn’t. How can you explain this? 

    Thank you for this excellent post!

    1. Thank you Daniella for your encouraging feedback, I am really glad you enjoyed your article.

      It is a good question you asked about how as parents we can be good role models but our children can still end up having difficulties later in life that their parents had not experienced. As parents we can only do so much with the time we have to influence their development. When our children become adults, they are their own people and not clones of their parents. They are free to make their own choices. When my kids are grown up, all we can do is support them and encourage them to move forward when they make mistakes.

      Take care,

      John

  9. What an amazing article! Every single point you made should be shared with every father and mother out there! So spot on!

    1. Thank you so much Nissa for your words of encouragement. I am so glad you liked this article. Please do share this with parents you know. The purpose of my site is to help fathers and their families and it would be great to reach as many people as I can to do that.

      Cheers,

      John.

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