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Faces of Fatherhood: A Father’s Changing Role (Part I)

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When my first child was born, I was ‘blur like sotong’, like many other fathers. I was often confused between my role as a father and my role as a husband. In my journey to understand the different duties of each role, I stumbled many times. But today, speaking as a parent coach and counsellor at Fei Yue Community Services, I realised that all those “stumbles” were lessons for me to learn and grow as a father.

Research has shown that fathers who are keenly involved in their children’s lives, leave a positive impact on their children’s cognitive, emotion and social development. Children who grow up with a strong fatherly presence are less likely to pick up delinquent behaviour.

It is important to understand that your role will evolve over time, as your child grows and his/her needs changes. Here is a quick list of the changing roles played by fathers at different periods of their child’s maturation.

Infancy stage – Father as a Super Helper.

The infancy stage is between from birth to 18 months old. According to Erik Erikson, in this stage, the child will shape their views of the world (think – trust vs mistrust, predictability vs fear) as well as their overall personality (think – security or anxiety). How we attend to our children’s emotional and physical needs for food, hygiene, comfort and attention, are important daily routines that create trust and predictability between the parent-child.

The new generation of fathers no longer snub their noses at looking after baby. In fact, many do take paternity leave to look after mother and child during confinement, including bathing, diaper changing, feeding, and burping the baby. Besides physically caring for baby, what is key is that baby becomes so familiar with your voice, touch, smell and knows you as papa. Fathers can also play an important caregiving role by doing the heavy lifting at home – cleaning, laundering clothes, chauffeuring, grocery shopping, managing the diaper stock, and many other chores to share the toil of parenting.

Toddler stage – Father as Superman and Play Mate.

In stage 2 of a child’s psychosocial development which occurs from 2-3 years old, the key milestone is in learning to assert their independence. Children want to have more control for things they do or choose. In this stage, fathers need to create a safe place for them to learn about independence. Creating a safe and nurturing environment is one of the key principles of positive parenting. Fathers can look out for the safety of the family, ensure that the home environment is well-maintained, and respond to emergencies. Being a warm, loving and nurturing father, ready to protect your family, makes you your child’s first hero.

Research has found that the first 1000 days have profound effects on a child’s development and growth. And play is the tool through which toddlers learn and explore the world. By playing with your child, fathers can help to promote a child’s language, physical, cognitive and social-emotional competencies.

A suggested activity you could do at home, is to use the existing toys or furniture at home to create an obstacle course for them. The child will need to clear the obstacles by climbing over a small stool, crawl beneath a chair, and ran a ‘S’ course created from his toys. There are 6 important pointers you could consider when implementing the activity.

1.Set a few rules, determine the rewards and consequences prior to the activity. (Examples of rules: Be attentive to instruction, enter quiet corner if misbehave, etc.)

2. Give clear instructions by breaking it into smaller steps to teach your child how to clear the obstacles.

3. Guide or demonstrate to your child for the first few rounds to ensure they are doing it correctly.

4. Observe them and adjust the obstacles according to their capability, if necessary.

5. Gradually allow them to try it on their own, be caution that safety is not compromised.

6. Praise them and celebrate with them if they clear the obstacles. Encourage them to try again if they could not do it.

This activity not only strengthens the child’s motor skills when they physically conquer the obstacles. Communication between the father and child will enhance their cognitive development. There are moments that the child may throw tantrums when they find it difficult to clear the obstacles. Be patient and calmly apply the consequence, which was first agreed on. Place them to a quiet corner to allow them to regulate their emotion. You may need to stay with them to co-regulate the first few times. When they have quiet down, bring them back and encourage them to try again. The method will develop their social-emotional competency.

Read Part II on A Father’s Changing Role in July’s newsletter.

Written By: Jazon Ho, Parent Coach and Counsellor, Fei Yue Community Services