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3 Reasons Dads Are Important

dads important

My husband Philip and I were talking recently about fatherhood, not only because we just celebrated Fathers Day, but because we are on a long family road trip and I am witnessing the strength of my husband’s fatherliness every day in close quarters for many hours at a time! Philip easily outlined three specific ways dads benefit their kids and this led to fascinating discussions that I want to share with you!

1. Dads Are Not Moms Without Breasts

While our culture is barreling at breakneck speed toward neutralizing the significance of what it means to be a man and a women, copious research confirms the unique benefits that fathers bring to their kids lives. Dads are not auxiliary parents or just like a mom but with a deeper voice.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics “studies have found that older kids with involved fathers tend to have fewer depression symptoms and behavioral problems, and lower rates of teen pregnancy. When it comes to young children, fathers can have effects on language development and mental health, according to the academy. Research has shown that dads are more likely to use new words when they talk to their babies and preschoolers, for example.”

Here’s how the Witherspoon Institute puts it in their report “Marriage and the Public Good: 10 Principles“:

Fathers excel when it comes to providing discipline, ensuring safety, and challenging their children to embrace life’s opportunities and confront life’s difficulties. The greater physical size and strength of most fathers, along with the pitch and inflection of their voice and the directive character of their speaking, give them an advantage when it comes to discipline, an advantage that is particularly evident with boys, who are more likely to comply with their fathers’ than their mothers’ discipline.

Likewise, fathers are more likely than mothers to encourage their children to tackle difficult tasks, endure hardship without yielding, and seek out novel experiences. These paternal strengths also have deep biological underpinnings: Fathers typically have higher levels of testosterone—a hormone associated with dominance and assertiveness—than do mothers. Although the link between nature, nurture, and sex-specific parenting talents is undoubtedly complex, one cannot ignore the overwhelming evidence of sex differences in parenting —differences that marriage builds on to the advantage of children.

Dads also play differently with their kids than moms. They tend to rough house and wrestle more, and this is very good for kids! Roughhousing stimulates neuron growth within parts of the brain that are responsible for memory, learning, language, and logic. Roughhousing also helps kids learn their limits and how to self-regulate; basically because they’re learning how to play without hurting somebody. Here’s a whole book on the developmental benefits of roughhousing.

2. Two Parents Are Almost Always Better Than One

Aside from the obvious differences between men and women, just having two parents around instead of one benefits kids in many ways.

According to this report, children raised in intact married families are more likely to attend college, are physically and emotionally healthier, are less likely to be physically or sexually abused, less likely to use drugs or alcohol and to commit delinquent behaviors, have a decreased risk of divorcing when they get married, are less likely to become pregnant/impregnate someone as a teenager, and are less likely to be raised in poverty.

Professor Paul Amato from Pennsylvania State University examined several studies that considered the outcomes for children living two-parent v. one-parent households. He found that children who grow up in households with two continuously married parents are less likely to experience a wide range of problems, and that children from single parent families have “more behavioral problems, more emotional problems, and lower levels of school engagement (that is, caring about school and doing homework).”

My husband made an intriguing point: when a child has two parents, he will have two models to draw from when making choices that shape his personality. When a child has only parent, the child has only one model in their minds for how to do things or how to respond to challenges. While teachers and extended family certainly play an important role in this maturing process, parents influence their child’s perceptions and  personality more than any other person. With two parents to experience life with, the child may sub-consciously choose the personality and character traits that the child finds most important and useful. I think this dynamic is very complex and nuanced, but there is certainly some truth to it. Our oldest child, who will be 18 in September, clearly exhibits character traits from both his parents. Aidan is very spiritual and philosophical like me, but when in a crisis or when in engaged with somebody who is combative, he is very calm and rational like my husband. Of course, kids pick up bad personality traits from their parents, too, and sometimes a parent’s wounded personality can seriously affect his or her children on many levels. Nonetheless, I do think my husband is right: two parents give kids more to draw from when figuring out what to do in life and how to react to situations.

3. Dads Help Moms Become Their Best (or at least better) Selves

I am imagining how this road trip of ours would have gone without Philip along. It would have been much shorter and I would certainly be a lot more tired! Having him around really helps me be a better mom not just while we are traveling, but every, single day. Because of him, I’m a more calm, focused, and confident mom. When he travels on business, I find by about the third day I’m fatigued and a little cranky. I know we send women to the battle field and into the board room. No doubt, women can be fierce. They are very capable leaders, soldiers, and business owners. But thank goodness I don’t have to be everything to my children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Children need 100 percent from their parents, but we are human and limited. My 100 percent fades pretty quickly. The gifts Philip brings to our family are inseparable from his masculinity. Because he’s confident in his role as a father and husband, I’m freed to explore and enjoy my role as a mom and wife. And that is really great for my kids.

Helping Kids Cope with “Failure”

children failure

Every child faces the disappointment of not doing as well as they hoped on a test or not placing in a competition. Some kids bounce back from these “failures” and even seem to learn something from them, while other kids become so down on themselves that they want to give up. How can help our own kids build resilience in the face of life’s little setbacks?

Coping with Failure and Stress by Ray Williams. This article looks at the research on which coping strategies are the most effective for dealing with failure. What’s NOT effective: venting, self-distraction, self-blame, and denial. (I found this interesting as I tend to vent! I’ll remember that next time I experience a failure.) What is MOST effective: reframing our failures, laughing about them, and accepting the failure rather than denying it.  So, we can help our kids reframe their failures by pointing out to them what they did accomplish and what they learned. We can help them not take things too seriously, and, by all means, we can avoid the pitfall of pretending that our child’s failure was somebody else’s fault.

Keeping Failure in Perspective on Aha Parenting. In this list of ways to build your child’s self-esteem, #3 is “empower your child by helping her keep her failures in perspective.” As in the above article, this blogger recommends “reframing”: help your child see that “any given setback is temporary AND she has some control over whether things will work out next time. . . Then, give your child as much support as necessary so that she can be successful — which is very different than doing it for her. Seeing that their actions have a big impact on their success helps kids try harder next time, instead of giving up on themselves.” I agree: rigging our child’s world so that she never experiences failure is so very tempting! But it will backfire in the long run. I think perspective is important because frequently kids lack perspective on what their failure means. Getting a mediocre grade on a test does not mean their lives are over. Getting 4th place in a gymnastics competition doesn’t mean they are a bad gymnast. And let’s not forget: tests and gymnastics are not as important as the quality of our child’s character and the depth of her faith. We can remind her of that.

Failure IS an Option by Aviva Patz. Failure can actually benefit kids! “Learning to deal with setbacks helps them develop key characteristics they’ll need to succeed, such as coping skills, emotional resilience, creative thinking, and the ability to collaborate.” The author recommends that parents 1) be a guide, not a savior (help him problem solve) 2) don’t over-praise your child and 3) encourage your child to try new things – not just things they’re good at.

Helping Kids Overcome a Fear of Failure by Vicky Zakrzewski is an article written for teachers, but it’s also useful information for parents. When it comes to failure, kids fall into four categories.

  • Success-oriented kids “love learning for the sake of learning and see failure as a way to improve their ability rather than a slight on their value as a human being.” This a very healthy response to failure.
  • Over-strivers are closet achievers. They “avoid failure by succeeding—but only with herculean effort motivated solely by the fear that even one failure will confirm their greatest fear: that they’re not perfect.” These kids tend to underplay the effort they’re putting into things. They tell their friends they didn’t study for a test or they never practice their instrument even though they prepare and practice a great deal – more than could be reasonably expected.
  • Failure-avoiders don’t try to succeed at all. They refuse to participate, make excuses or lie about not doing their homework, or they take on clearly impossible tasks that they will never finish. Deep down they fear they are incapable of doing well so they save face by not doing anything.
  • Failure-accepters believe deeply that they are unskilled, dumb, or incompetent. Any failure confirms their belief. Even when they do well, they will tend to attribute their success to somebody else.

Kids in the last two categories will tend to focus on areas they are very good at and avoid anything that is difficult, while success-oriented kids are willing to try things outside their comfort zone.  Parents in the last two categories tend to punish their kids for failure while the parents of success-oriented kids tend to praise success but don’t punish failure.

As Catholic parents, let’s remember, too, the grace of failure. When I look back on my own failures, I can see the hand of God at work. Failures help us look at ourselves honestly and help us accept our human limitations. Even when I’ve followed the will of God, I have sometimes failed. This might make me wonder why God would want me to try something if I was going to be hurt in the process. I’ve learned that God calls us to try, not necessarily succeed. But when we have been motivated by love for God and neighbor, we will always learn something from failure – about ourselves, the world, and our relationships.

Intentional Links: The Anxious Child

the anxious child

An increasing number of children and teens are being diagnosed with anxiety issues. What is the reason for this trend and what can do we do to protect our kids from it?

How Big a Problem Is Anxiety by Robert Leahy over at Psychology Today.  “The average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950’s. We are getting more anxious every decade.” Note the possible reasons he offers for this increase in anxiety: a decrease in “social connectedness — we tend to move more, change jobs, participate less in civic organizations, and we are less likely to participate in religious communities. People are far less likely to get married, more likely to delay getting married, and more likely to live alone. All of these factors can contribute to worry, uncertainty, anxiety and depression.”

Normal Anxiety on WorryWiseKids.org.  This website is a great source of information and tips. This article link explains clearly what normal anxiety looks like at each developmental stage of childhood. It points out that anxiety is actually a necessary part of growing up. Kids just need our support in confronting the source of the anxiety and learning to make sense of it. The article then distinguishes symptoms of problem anxiety: if your child is constantly “keyed up,” experiences physical suffering because of her anxiety (headaches, upset stomach, insomnia), or avoids stressful situations, then she may be experiencing a toxic level of anxiety.

Are We Modeling Anxiety?  “Children learn how to act and react significantly based on the “models” in their world (parents, teachers, peers, siblings, etc). Research has shown that some parents of anxious children, especially if they are anxious themselves, have an anxious interpretation of the world, or view it as frightening. When parents hold this view of the world as threatening, they likely will suggest that their children avoid situations rather than approach them. . . Many parents want to protect their child from anxiety, but then kids don’t have opportunities to learn new skills or practice them.”

Understanding Anxious AttachmentOne of the greatest sources of protection against chronic anxiety that we can give to our child is a secure attachment to us. The scientific literature shows a clear correlation between a weak parent-child attachment and increased anxiety. In particular, children who develop an anxious attachment style to their primary caregiver will tend to experience heightened social anxiety (fear of negative evaluation,  people pleasing, distress in new social situations). 

Tips for Parenting with Unconditional Love (Intentional Links)

toddler

Loving our children unconditionally is a lot easier when our day is going smoothly, our child is happy, and our head is set firmly on our shoulders. But what about bad days? How do we love our child unconditionally then?

5 Secrets to Love Your Child Unconditionally from Dr. Laura Markham. “Unconditional love isn’t just what we feel. It’s what the object of our love feels: love without strings attached. That means our child doesn’t have to be, or do, anything in particular to earn our love. We love her exactly as she is. A tall order, since most of us have a little list of things we want ‘fixed’ in our child.” She makes several great points, including: 1) often our child’s weaknesses are just the underside of his strengths, 2) a child’s misbehavior is an SOS; we are more likely to feel compassion for her when we try to see things from her perspective, and 3) you can accept a child’s anger without endorsing the way he handles his anger.

Unconditional Love Is a Muscle from Aha Parenting. 6 practical tips for treating others with compassion even when it’s very hard, including putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. I would prayer as the 7th and most important tip!

Unconditional Parental Love from The Catholic Spirit. This article is concerned about the problem of parents rejecting imperfect children by aborting them, but the points he makes are very powerful and relevant for every parent. Because every child is imperfect, and those imperfections force us to confront our own assumptions about what we “deserve”. “For many [parents], it has become merely quaint to think of each child as a unique gift of God; children are more like planned acquisitions in our culture, acquisitions which should fit into our expectations about how our lives should go, about the ease and enjoyments that should characterize our lifestyle.”

Candlemas 101 (Intentional Links)

Decorated candles made by Kim's children for Candlemas 2015

Decorated candles made by Kim’s children for Candlemas 2015

On February 2, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (or the Feast of the Purification of Mary or, popularly, Candlemas because this is the day Catholics traditionally had their candles blessed). If you don’t know much about this feast day and you’re looking for practical ways to observe it in your home,  here are some links to get you started:

Basic Background

No (or Little) Fuss Candlemas Ideas by me over on my little family blog, First Heralds. A basic explanation of the feast day with some simple ideas I use in my own home on Candlemas.

Three Things to Remember about Candlemas by Marge Fenelon. Theological insights about Candlemas.

The Churching of Women. Well this is fascinating. Did you know there is a Church tradition, inspired by Mary’s purification, of allowing women to remain home with their infants for 40 days after birth? When you return to Mass, you are making a pilgrimage of thanksgiving for a healthy baby and then you receive a blessing. (This is done for health reasons and not because women are considered impure by the Church.)

Celebration Ideas

Prayers for Candlemas. Use at the dinner table, at bedtime, beside the fireplace, or before a special Candlemas tea party?

Easy Candles: If I could pick three symbols of Candlemas, they would be the dove (for the doves Mary and Joseph would have brought to the Temple), water (purification), and candles (as Jesus entered the temple, Simeon identified him as the Light to the Gentiles).  In addition to the candle making ideas I present in my blog post linked above, I like this simple votive candle holder. The  holder is baby food jar covered with tissue paper. The linked post is for a 4th of July theme, but use any colored tissue paper. Use Modge Podge to add a little cross or image of Mary and you have a Candlemas craft. Even the smallest hands can manage to make something special.

Marcia’s candle: Marcia Mattern (one of our staff writers at Catholic Attachment Parenting Corner) created a special Candlemas candle by handwriting a portion of Simeon’s announcement (“A light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory to your people Israel”) onto a band of paper, decorating it, then wrapping the band around a pillar candle.

Free Printable Paper Puppets. So cute! Let your kids act out the Presentation as you are reading Luke 2:22-38 to them.

Amazing tea party ideas by Jessica over at Shower of Roses.  How does she think of this stuff?  Her food is very symbolic of the Feast and beautifully presented. I think I might try her edible candles this year! Using even one or two ideas for your table would be special.

Intentional Links: How Do Kids Develop Self-Esteem?

self-esteem

What is self-esteem?  This article is a good introduction to the concept of self-esteem. Self-esteem is “a person’s overall sense of self-worth or personal value.” I like the definition in this article for high self-esteem: It’s a positive but realistic view of the self. Ideally when our child reaches adulthood, he will be aware of his limitations but also feel good about himself.

Too much self-esteem . . . ? Narcissism is real psychological disorder. I love how Dr. Laura Markham explains it clearly here, but cautions parents against an adolescent diagnosis of true narcissism. Basically all teens are a little narcissistic!

What contributes to low self-esteem: A good overview of common contribution factors to low self-esteem. In a nutshell: overly critical caregivers, uninvolved/preoccupied caregivers, parents fighting, bullying when parents aren’t helpful, parents not helping with academic challenges, when parents don’t help, belief systems that make you feel guilty or like you’re sinning all the time, unrealistic images in the media.

12 Ways to Raise a Confident Child by Dr. Sears. A GREAT list of reminders! I also love Dr. Sears’ book The Successful Child.  The book redefines success.

Image credit: tcj2020 (freedigitalphotos.com)

Intentional Links: 12 Days of Christmas for Your Family!

raphael mary and jospehDid you know Christmas doesn’t end on December 25? We’re just getting started! For Catholics, the Christmas Season lasts for 40 whole days until Candlemas on February 2!  Before then, we have The Solemnity of Mary on January 1st (the Octave – 8th day- of Christmas) and the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6 (exactly 12 days after Christmas, though in many countries the celebration is moved to the nearest Sunday – this year this would be January 3).

Here are some links to keep your family in the Christmas spirit for the 12 Days of Christmas!

Solemnity of Mary

An explanation of the solemnity from EWTN.

Prayers for the Solemnity of Mary  from Churchyear.net. Use to enrich your family prayer time.

Fleur-de-Lis Brownies from Catholic Cuisine. Easy and lovely way to make your Solemnity special!

Free solemnity coloring page from Faith-Filled Freebies

Feast of the Epiphany

Living Epiphany.  I wrote this article a few years ago, sharing how we observe Epiphany in our home. Basic explanation with story and tea party ideas.

Paper Bag Crown from artbarblog. This could be a super easy Epiphany crown – you probably have everything on hand already!

Star sun catcher to remind us of the journey of the Magi.

Altar display: I love the way this mom arranged her table with the spices and flowering bulb. This would be a great addition to the family altar.

Intentional Links: I Remember When . . . Sharing Your Family History with Your Kids

fireplaceDo your kids love to hear you talk about your childhood? Do they ask you to repeat the tale of the moment you met your spouse? Here are a few links that explain why!

What Kids Learn from Family Stories:  Great points about why kids benefit from well-told detailed family stories: children actually learn to tell their own story, they understand other people’s thoughts and emotions better, and teenagers who know a lot about their family history have a “more robust identity.” Links to research.

What Kids Should Know about Their Family History: Consider this list of things every kid should know about their family history. Do your kids know where you and your spouse met? Where you were married? Any illnesses or injuries when you were little?

Moms and Personal Story Telling:  Compared to dad, this study finds that mom tells better, more emotional stories about her life and this helps kids develop their own emotional skills.

Traditions: A Pleasant Tie that Binds: This is an essay over on CAPC written by a mom who is very serious about recording family history for future generations. She focuses here on explaining to kids why we have the traditions we have in our families! With Thanksgiving next week, this might be a great time to share with your children where some family recipes came from or why we do certain things every year.

Intentional Links: infant crying and fussing: what parents need to know

crying babyI’m renaming my recurring links posts “intentional links” rather than “Wednesday links” so I can bless you with great links on any ol’ day. 🙂

In this edition: infant crying and fussing. Here I’m selecting links that help us understand unexplained crying (rather than cry-it-out sleep methods).

The Frenzied Cry: How to Calm Your Baby. A couple of interesting suggestions for reducing colicky crying when the usual stuff doesn’t work: eliminating foremilk in breastfeeding and adding pro-biotics to baby’s diet even when breastfed.

Infant Crying, Fussing, and Colic: A Thinking Parents Guide from Gwen Dewar has a great deal of insight about why babies cry and what you can do to calm them. She says babies are soothed by feeding (Shaw et al 2007), skin-to-skin contact (Gray et al 2000), and gentle touches that are combined with other forms of communication, like talk or eye contact (White-Traut et al 2009). Fascinating: in a study of 3 groups that included London parents, Copenhagen parents, and a group that practiced “proximal care” — holding baby 80 percent of the time, responding quickly to baby’s cries, and feeding frequently, “the London parents had the least amount of physical contact with their babies—50% less compared with the parents practicing proximal care. These parents also had the babies who cried the most.”

Simple Ways to Calm a Crying Baby by Darcia Narvaez.  This piece focuses on babies who fuss and cry a lot at night. Dr. Narvaez’s key points: 1) A parent’s presence helps to calm babies who awaken in an upset state, 2)  Calming infants helps infants learn to calm themselves.  She offers a list of methods for calming baby back to sleep including recreating the womb, relying on familiar sounds, and skin-to-skin contact.

Why Infant Carrying Soothes a Baby When Nothing Else Will from Dr. Greg.  Do you have a baby who fusses unless you are carrying him?  “It turns out that carrying an infant triggers a three-way mechanism in the brain that suppresses involuntary muscle movements & struggling while also dramatically reducing the infant’s heart rate.  These changes happen almost immediately.  In fact, this process is such an automatic response to being carried that it could almost be considered a previously undiscovered reflex.”

Image credit: Phaen Din (freedigitalphotos.com)

Wednesday Links: Bullying (What Every Parent Should Know)

bullying

Bullying 101

What is bullying? Here stopbullying.gov defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” This page also explains different types of bullying.

How to Bully-Proof Your Child. Why are some kids bullied while others aren’t?  In this article, I offer 3 tips for bully-proofing your child.

Is It Bullying or Ordinary Meanness? by Eileen Kennedy-Moore over at Psychology Today. What counts and doesn’t count as bullying and why it matters.

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying basics. Ah, yes, there’s a whole new mean in town. Cyberbullying “includes mean text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles.” Cyberbullying is becoming a huge problem especially among teenagers. This page gives parents basic information about how and why it happens and what they can do about it.

CDC “electronic aggression” tipsheet. A helpful pdf from the CDC explaining types of electronic aggression and what parents can do to prevent it or deal with it.

Sibling Bullying

5 Signs of Sibling Bullying.  Most siblings squabble, but generally this is pretty harmless when their is a tone of warmth in the relationship after these squabbles. Some behavior, though, rises to bullying and can lead to serious emotional harm to the weaker sibling. Here are 5 signs that sibling fighting might really be a bullying problem and 5 tips for addressing it.

Sibling Bullying Linked to Later Depression.  We don’t want to admit that one of our children might be bullying another, but it happens. In this study published by Pediatrics, children who were bullied by a sibling were far more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression in adulthood.  “Social learning and how to behave with peers starts at home, and when siblings are bullied it can have serious long-term consequences as we found in our study. It is important that parents set clear rules about what is allowed in conflicts and they should intervene consistently when their children maltreat each other repeatedly.”