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02 December 2003

Stay in touch with your kids

Kids. You breed them; they go off to school. You see them over weekends until they reach puberty, then they stop talking to you and their friends become the centre of their world. But you can stay in touch if you want to.

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Kids. You breed them; they go off to school. You see them over weekends until they reach puberty, then they stop talking to you and their friends become the centre of their world. But you can stay in touch if you want to.

Blame it on capitalism. Not so long ago, captains of industry (invariably male) would be referred to like this. “Joe Bloggs is married to Helen and she has three children.” Men were required to be out there, carving a place in business while their kids remembered them from the smiley photo on the mantelpiece.

Somewhere someone realised that children actually do best when there are two parents involved. Make that two involved, committed parents. It’s not always possible, but it’s what works best.

To be a good father you need to remember some truths about children. Some have been around for a while – some are new in the sense that they’ve surprised people who believed they knew about how children think.

Teach children to talk about their feelings. Even small ones can be persuaded to articulate their emotions without becoming little fonts of psychobabble. Then, when they’re older, they’ll find it easier to maintain those links.

Find rituals that comfort them. The day your son turns 13, he may suddenly decide he no longer likes going fly-fishing with you. But if you’ve monitored his interest in the time-honoured habit, he may find solace in it at a time when many kids feel alienated.

Beware of whose expectations you want fulfilled. If you missed getting your Springbok colours in archery by a whisker, who’s dream are you fulfilling when you push your offspring to excel? As long as he finds something that he enjoys and which helps his overall development if doesn’t really matter if it’s ballroom dancing or badminton.

Accept that kids have complex relationships. Very little is understood about the hurly-burly of the playground. Kids can be cruel and bullying is a reality. But before barging into the principal’s office, ask questions and see if the child can work it out on his own. Of course if there’s evidence of physical or mental abuse, it must be acted upon.

Know when to under-react. A boy who’s stressed about his forthcoming school concert may start wetting his bed years after being potty-trained. Most men have the so-called Type A personality that demands getting to the core of the problem. The worst possible reaction would be to march into his room and demand an explanation or to tell him to pull himself together. You might be better off playing down the feelings you have and letting the source of the anxiety pass.

Show you can help by investing time. There are practical ways that you can help them be more confident physically, as well as developing self-control. Signing your kids up to karate class is one thing. Joining the class with them is another. It’ll show them you see spending time with them as important.

(William Smook)

 
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