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Rich Batten
Colorado Department of Human Services
303.866.3808
Maggie Spain
The Bawmann Group
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December 18, 2007

A New Year Means a New Connection for Fathers and their Children

Denver—December 27, 2007—At the start of a new year, fathers can look back, reflect and learn from their strengths, weaknesses, good times and periods of struggle. Each new year brings new opportunities for improvement. Like most fathers across the nation, Colorado dads are making it a priority in 2008 to spend more time connecting with their children. This holiday season, it is important that all dads agree to not let resolutions be something made only to break.

Dads can set specific and measurable goals to improve their relationships with their children that are easy to achieve. Instead of simply resolving to spend more time with their children, fathers should try to establish more concrete goals, such as devoting every Sunday to “play day” or eating dinner as family four nights a week.

Spending quality time with your children can be as simple as playing with your child and giving them individualized time and attention. Fathers can connect with their children emotionally by listening to them talk about their day or asking questions about school and friends.

According to John Gottman, noted psychologist, researcher and author, the following are five tips for connecting with your children emotionally:

  1. Be emotionally aware. Become aware of your child's emotions. Stay in tune with how your child is feeling. While children may let you know right away they are feeling something strong, it may take some effort to determine what the emotion really is. Are they angry? Or could it be they are afraid, frustrated or lonely?
  2. See episodes of emotional flare-ups as teaching opportunities to get closer to your child. Most parents want to protect children from pain and fix their problems. But that isn't how life works. The times when your child is upset are a chance to help them decide how to better deal with the problem rather than make the problem go away.
  3. Label feelings. Help your child find words to label their emotions. Children have strong emotions but may not understand what they are feeling. Parents can help children figure out what is wrong by labeling emotions for them. For example, "You look pretty frustrated. What's wrong?"
  4. Listen with empathy. Try to listen and validate your child’s feelings. When we are angry or frightened, we usually want someone to understand how we feel. As parents we cannot always fix the problem, but we can let children know we undertsand what they are feeling, i.e. – “I understand it makes you mad when Jason teases you.”
  5. Set limits for appropriate behavior. Emotional coaching is a useful part of discipline. Usually, children need to calm down before a problem can be solved. Setting limits like, "It is not ok to hit even when you are mad" or, “We do not say mean things to hurt others feelings" help children learn more appropriate ways of behaving. Help children focus on fixing the problem after they have calmed down.

“As fathers, this resolution is a lifestyle change and we need to realize that being emotionally available is a key factor in developing and maintaining any healthy relationship,” said Rich Batten, fatherhood specialist with the Colorado Department of Human Services. “How well we connect with our children has a direct impact on how well they will be able to connect with other people in the future. If we want the best for our children in the future, we must be willing to provide them with our best in the present.”

In October 2006, the Colorado Department of Human Services, Colorado Works Division was awarded a $10 million federal grant over five years to strengthen father/child relationships and improve parenting. Colorado is one of two locations nationwide, including Washington, D.C., to receive this federal community access grant. The Responsible Fatherhood Initiative distributes more than $1.1 million in community awards to state, community and faith based organizations to assist in providing direct services to fathers and families. Awards of up to $50,000 are distributed per program per fiscal year. For more information, please visit www.coloradodads.com.