A three-legged stool needs all three legs equally functioning to be sturdy and to succeed in it’s goal of supporting the weight placed on top of it. If one leg is weak or missing, the entire stool topples over. All three legs are equally necessary and important.
In a similar way, great fathering has three core practices or skills that support the goal of raising well-adjusted and deeply loved children who feel good about themselves and are equipped to contribute to the lives of others in meaningful ways. You can become a great dad and shape great kids by learning the Three Essential Fathering Skills all dads can master and all kids need. Child development experts and studies reveal that what children appear to need to know and feel most from their fathers—and what fathers are eminently capable of communicating—can be encapsulated in three core practices or crucial fathering skills I refer to as affirmation, acceptance, and affection: the three A’s of great fathering.
Affirmation refers to verbal and written words of specific praise regarding our children’s character, decision-making, and treatment of others more than their appearance, achievement, or performance. To affirm means to declare something to be true. So when you affirm your children, you declare what is true about them and for them. You declare what is true about their character and their potential. Your words, that is, your verbal or written expression of your high view of them, then become the basis of their self-awareness and identity. Your regular affirmation can actually neutralize the negative messages the media and their peer group may be speaking to them. So affirmation means stating our belief about what is true in and about our children and encouraging what we hope to be true as they grow.
After an overwhelming defeat on the soccer field, my middle son felt dejected and defeated. I met him at mid-filed, knelt to be at eye level with him, put my hands on his slumped shoulders, and affirmed him saying, “Son, you played like a champion today. No matter how badly your team performed, you never gave up. I’m so proud of you. Your team was outmatched today, but you never quit. You were courageous and tenacious. I was the proudest dad on the sidelines.” As I spoke my verbal affirmations, I saw Cal’s head and eyes lift. His shoulders rolled back into place. He seemed to stand a bit taller. Somehow, my words—and my physical embrace—soothed my son’s sorrow, breathed life into his saddened heart, and helped him weather that storm. I felt thankful to be there for that moment and that I knew to take advantage of it.
Our affirmation helps our children believe they are smart, capable, and able to achieve whatever they set their good minds to.
Acceptance speaks to our unconditional and unending embrace of our children no matter what they do, how they fail, what they choose to value or believe or pursue, or with whom they associate. Yes, that includes their choices of friends, boyfriends or girlfriends, and later even their marriage partners. Yes, that means accepting them even if their beliefs or values differ from ours or if they choose different political affiliations or even, perhaps sexual practices—you name it. Unconditional and unending acceptance means accepting our children no matter what, even if we disagree with or disapprove of something they do, say, believe, or practice. It’s a tricky distinction—one many dads fail to make to our own detriment and certainly to our children’s. Our unconditional and unending acceptance communicates to our children that they belong. It helps them know and feel that they are ours, we want them, and we will never, ever turn them away.
Affection applies to both spoken and physical expressions of love, tenderness, warmth, and care. Affection may be demonstrated a bit differently for boys and girls, at times, particularly as they mature. Regardless, a dad’s physical and spoken affection is critical to the healthy development of children, particularly their sexuality—their understanding of themselves as young men and women as they reach puberty. A father’s affection helps children know they are loved and lovable, as well as worthy of good, healthy, fulfilling relationships in the future.
Why are affirmation, acceptance, and affection such powerful experiences between a father and his children—or in some cases, between a father figure and a younger man or woman who never received these from his or her own dad? Because affirmation, acceptance, and affection go to the core of character formation and the establishment of healthy self-esteem. These three crucial fathering skills give to a child a gift that will last their lifetime. These three fathering practices define what it means practically for a dad to love his children. This is how you can express your love powerfully and meaningfully.
Become the best dad you can be for yourself and for your kids. Affirm them today for something you see in them. Tell them you accept and love them no matter what. And show some affection. You’ll feel great, and so will your kids. Great dads shape great kids. Be a great dad today!
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