Man-Up: 5 Tips For Becoming a More Emotionally-Engaged Father


What’s the point of being an emotionally-engaged father? Isn’t it just a lot of girly stuff? Why can’t I just be provider and disciplinarian while their mother deals with the emotions?

The advantages of being an emotionally-engaged father are numerous. A feeling of deeper connection to your children. Your children feeling more deeply connected to you. Higher levels of compliance due to your children feeling respected, heard and valued. A less stressed partner due to relieving some of her “emotional responsibilities” with the children. These are just a few of the benefits.

As dual-income households have become the norm, fathers have been called into the caretaker role more and more. As women are called to provide some financial support, isn’t it only fair that men should be providing some emotional support for children? By utilizing these tips, men can come a long way in relieving their wives of being the sole provider of emotional support for the kids.

1. Learn about feelings (click here for feelings chart) 

The first step to learning to connect to emotions is learning what the emotions are. By becoming aware of each of the feelings included in this chart, men can come a long way towards improving their emotional intelligence. The basic emotions of happy, sad, angry and scared may be a good place to start. But this chart allows you to expand on these core feelings to more specific descriptions. Consider fictional scenarios where someone may feel each of these feelings.

2. Own/Identify your feelings 
Learn to associate various experiences with each of the emotions listed in the feelings chart. For example, “I felt so annoyed when my son kept kicking the back of my seat in the car,” or “I felt guilty when I was not completely honest with my partner.” You can start by saying these things to yourself or writing them out. Some feelings are culturally regarded as weaknesses in men. Learn to push past these limiting beliefs, even if only to yourself. Realize that there are times as a man that you may feel scared, nervous or sad, despite the fact that culture promotes anger as the only acceptable masculine emotion.

3. Put down everything and learn to be “fully present”
This is challenging and takes commitment. Truly being fully present is a life-long goal on many levels. Children are often some of the best teachers of this skill. If you can sit with a child, resist any unnecessary directing (only things that ensure safety) and simply engage in child-led play, you have become pretty advanced in this skill. Remember, it’s not so much playing Candyland together by the rules, it’s playing it by the child’s own set of perhaps constantly changing rules, and rolling with it, with a positive attitude. Start with 10 minutes and try to work your way up to 30 minutes to one hour. You can also do this with a friend or partner. Try to listen, reflect on what they are saying and refrain from relating things back to your feelings or experiences.

4. Act out experiences with your child
One thing I have been grateful to my wife for in the process of raising our children, is her commitment to practicing this skill when one of our children has a strong emotion. When my son falls down and gets hurt we take time to process what happened, often re-enacting just how he tripped, rolled over and bumped his head. Usually this brings up some laughter but not always. Sometimes he just seems to sit and process the experience. Usually it decreases the length and intensity of the crying. By reflecting the feelings he was experiencing it also assists in educating him about his own emotions.

5. Reflect content then try feelings later
Feelings can be challenging to identify and reflect. Reflecting content may be an easier place to start. Practice listening to someone speak and repeat back what they said using slightly different words. If someone says, “I’m so tired of all the meetings we have at work,” you can reflect, “I hear you, you’re REALLY sick of the meetings.” It may feel awkward and take some practice but learning to reflect is an important step towards emotional engagement. By keeping the focus on the person talking, they feel validated and understood. Taking the time to let them know that you heard them is an important step towards connection.