Special Dad time: how to make it happen

As a father, you have a big impact on your children’s development. The most significant contribution you make is through your everyday interactions with your kids. Here’s how to get some special dad time into your routine.

Creating high-quality dad time with your children

High-quality interactions with your children happen when you do that little bit more than simply caring for them. But it can be hard to find the time when you’re juggling long work hours, time for yourself and time with your partner.

Here are some simple ways to make ‘dad time’ even more special:

  • Talk to your children. Tell them stories and jokes. Listening to grown-ups talk helps babies and young children learn, even if they can’t understand what you’re saying. It also brings you closer emotionally.
  • Read with your children. Reading aloud with your children is a great way to spend time together. Even better, reading and storytelling helps promote language, literacy and brain development.
  • Explain things. Point out things that are worth noticing or remembering – for example, a digger on a building site, or a cicada shell in the backyard. Explain how they work if your child asks questions.
  • Why talking is important. Moments when your children have your exclusive attention are truly golden. If you stop what you’re doing and give your child your full attention, you’re also giving a great boost to his development and self-esteem.
  • Be a good role model. Your child learns how to interact with others through her interactions with you. Every parent has to say ‘no’ and ‘don’t’ sometimes, but even these can be ‘learning moments’ if you’re clear about the behaviour you want. Praise your child when she cooperates, and model politeness. This gives her a powerful example to follow.
  • Create challenging learning opportunities. If you watch carefully, you’ll work out how to keep a game just within your child’s ability – not too hard, not too easy. For example, you might point to where a puzzle piece could go, rather than letting him flounder, or just doing it for him.
  • Offer choices when you can. For example, instead of saying, ‘Put your t-shirt on’, you could say, ‘Do you want to wear the red t-shirt or the green one?’ A choice is a good alternative to an instruction. It helps build independence and encourage responsibility, and gives your child the feeling she has some control in decision-making.
  • Use your sense of humour when you’re reading or explaining things. Tease playfully. Humour and playfulness can help children’s wellbeing as they grow.

The good news is that you don’t need special training to make these interactions happen. Chances are you’re already doing lots of good things. Not every minute with your children will be high quality, but knowing what great interactions look like will help you create more of them.

Rough-and-tumble play

Rough-and-tumble play can be fun for children and grown-ups, and it can be a dad specialty.

As well as giving children the chance to get some exercise, rough-and-tumble play lets them safely test their physical capabilities and limits. It also helps children learn how to be strong without being aggressive. And when they’re playing rough with their dads, children can learn how to manage emotions like anger and excitement, as well as the desire to win. This type of play also helps your child learn important social lessons, like what’s ‘fair’.

Here are some tips for getting the most out of rough-and-tumble play with your child:

- Time your play wisely. Kids playing with dad can get so excited they need some quiet time before they can go to bed, eat a meal or get dressed. Make time for winding down after rough play.

- Set a few ground rules. For example, when someone says they’ve had enough or gets hurt, it’s time to take a break.

- When the occasional bump or collision happens, calm things down, make sure your child understands it was an accident, and start the game again after the tears are dry.

- Encourage your children to keep trying when they ‘lose’.

- And remember – as the strongest and biggest player, you might have to let yourself be overpowered or caught so another player can ‘win’ at least some of the time!