I never knew my dad, so the experience of watching my husband become a father has been powerful for me.
Every time he crouches down and invites one of our kids to run and jump into his strong arms, I know exactly how much that means.
When he cranks up one of our favorite love songs for kids on the stereo, grabs our oldest by the hand, and twirls her around the living room.
The times he sits on the floor with our toddler, building with LEGOs or piecing together a puzzle or taking a pretend sip of blueberry tea from a pink plastic teacup.
If you want to know the secret of how to be a good father, that’s what a child needs most of all.
But Here’s the Problem
Some dads think it’s all or nothing. That it’s the big gestures that count.
Taking the whole family on an expensive vacation. Buying your kid a new car when they turn 16. Working 50, 60, 70 hours a week to get that next raise, that next promotion so you can get that bigger house.
But that’s not what matters most to your kids.
Research shows that stuff doesn’t actually make kids happy, but experiences do make kids happy. Not only that, shared experiences with loved ones stick with kids for a lifetime.
How to Be a Good Father: 25 Little Things That Mean a Lot to Your Child
If you want to know the secret of how to be a good father, here are the simple things your kids want from you. And as it turns out, these small moments are actually the biggest moments of all.
But first, a warning: To be a great dad, you certainly don’t have to do everything on this list! This is a guilt-free zone for parents.
With that said, I’m sharing this list because as a mom, I know how easy it is to get wrapped up in the daily routine and miss these simple opportunities for meaningful connection with our kids. I know because I do it myself. And as someone who deeply appreciates what a good father brings to the table, I’m sharing this reminder of what really, truly matters to your kids.
Just for fun, try to find something new-to-you on this list or something you haven’t done for a while, and set a personal goal to do it today.
1. Hang out in the garage.
The next time you head to the garage to fix something or build something, bring your kid along. Explain what you’re trying to accomplish, and let them help. Give your child the gift of your guidance and patience. It may take you longer to get the job done, but you’ll make your kid’s day.
2. Dance with your kids.
It doesn’t matter if you can’t dance. Sway side to side, spin in a circle, jump up and down. Throw on an awesome family dance party playlist and be silly. Not only will you have fun, but listening to music together creates healthy family bonds and shapes positive memories.
3. Stick to a routine.
Something you and your child can do together, every day – or at least every week.
For my husband and our toddler, they make a bowl of oatmeal every morning and sit down together to share it. She calls it her “Daddy Time.”
You could meet your kids for lunch, let your child help you get dressed in the morning (pick out your socks or a belt, put your shoes on for you, and so on), brush your teeth together at night. It doesn’t have to be anything special, but the time and regularity of a shared ritual will be special to your child.
4. Ask questions.
My husband uses this set of adorable family conversation starters every night with our kids, and it’s been one of his secret weapons in learning how to be a good father. Asking these powerful questions helps everyone end the day feeling connected, loved, and happy.
If your child shares a problem, don’t try to fix it or dish out a big helping of fatherly wisdom. I know it’s hard, but just listen while they talk. If you must, you can try to gently nudge them in the direction of a solution. But really, they just want you to listen.
5. Teach the rules.
When you’re watching your favorite sporting event on TV, take the time to explain the rules of the game to your kid. You’ll probably end up with a buddy to watch the next game with.
6. Leave messages.
If you give your child a greeting card, write an extra note from your heart. Whether it’s a paragraph or a sentence, your words will mean the world to your child.
On regular days, surprise your kid with notes in their school lunch box or Post-It notes on their bathroom mirror. You can tell a joke, write down what you admire about them, or just say “I love you.”
7. Read aloud.
Your kid is never too old to be read to. For younger kids, read a bedtime story. For older kids, you can take turns reading out loud from the same book.
If you need ideas for book, check out 10 Children’s Books That Will Make Your Kids Feel Absolutely Loved.
8. Have a coffee date.
Bring your favorite board game or card game to your neighborhood coffee shop, then treat yourselves to a fancy drink while you play – coffee for you, hot chocolate for your child. Here’s a list of our all-time favorite family board games for all ages, many of which we sell in our family-owned shop here.
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“My daughter and I love Sleeping Queens! It teaches them math without them even realizing it – or me, for that matter. I remember my daughter laid down a sequence that was like 1 + 3 + 5 = 9, and I thought ‘How did you know that…?’ Then I realized she just figured it out from doing math in the game. So cool to watch her learn right before my eyes.” – Ann
9. Surprise your kids.
Come home early from work one day, even if it’s just a half hour early. Or take the day or the morning off work to do something fun with your kids, even if it’s just once a year. You can watch one of your favorite dad movies together, play a game, or go out for tacos.
10. Take turns writing.
Get a shared journal for kids and parents and write back and forth to each other. This is my favorite father-daughter journal† or father-son journal because it gives you a magical way to get your kid to open up about what’s going on so you can stay connected. Or if you’d prefer to share a drawing journal, this dad and me art journal works great.
11. Bring your kids to work.
Do it at least once. Show them your desk, where you fill up your coffee, and the conference room where you fight to stay awake during your weekly status meetings. Tell them what you do all day when you’re away from them.
12. Say something powerful.
Remind your child of your unconditional love by saying it out loud on a regular basis. You can say “You are important to me” or “I feel so lucky to be your dad” or just “I love you.” For more ideas, check out How to Make Your Child Feel Absolutely Loved: 75 Positive Words for Kids.
13. Tell stories.
Your child loves to hear simple stories from when you were a kid. Also, tell stories about when they were younger.
14. Go outside.
I know you’re tired when you get home from work, but grab the kids and go outside. A few minutes is all you need. Dinner will wait, I promise. Not sure what to do? You can look for interesting bugs together, play catch, or hop on your bikes for a quick ride around the block.
15. Make dinner.
No matter if you’re the chef of the family or your partner usually does the cooking, pick a night and make dinner with the kids. Involve them in deciding what to make, then involve them in the work of making it. (As an added bonus, they’ll be much more likely to eat a dinner they helped make.)
16. Stop and play.
When you sit down and just play for a few minutes – no smartphones, no multitasking – your child will light up.
17. Tell jokes.
If you don’t know many kid-friendly jokes, these two joke books are our favorites, and they’re both super inexpensive: Laugh-Out-Loud Jokes for Kids and Knock-Knock Jokes for Kids. (If you like those, this author has a ton of joke books for even more ideas!)
As an alternative, you can take turns asking each other funny questions because research shows that when you laugh together, you feel more connected and strengthen your relationship.1Suttie, J. (2017, July 17). How Laughter Brings Us Together. The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley.
And for that, all you need is this list: 120 Funny Questions to Ask Kids for Guaranteed Giggles.
18. Start rough-housing or a pillow fight.
Research shows this kind of play builds emotional intelligence and brings joy for kids – yes, even girls!
19. Show your gratitude.
When your child does something helpful or remembers to do the thing you always have to remind them about, look them in the eye and say “thank you.”
20. Look through photos.
Whether you have a physical photo album or a folder of pictures on your computer, sit down together and look through family photos. Relive fun family vacations, your kids’ first steps, and birthday parties.
21. Play a sport together.
Try something like tennis or basketball, or just play catch.
22. Say yes.
Surprise your child by saying “yes” when you’d usually say “no.” Can I have a piece of chocolate? Yes! Can we play a game? Yes! Can you teach me how to drive? Uhh…yes?
Apologizing to your child doesn’t make you a “weak” parent. Apologizing teaches your child how to be a kind, thoughtful human – and that takes strength.
If you lost your temper and raised your voice, tell your child you’re sorry and that you’ll try to do better next time. If they were trying to tell you something and you weren’t paying attention, apologize and ask them if they’ll tell you again. If you made a promise but couldn’t keep it, tell them your plan for making it up to them.
Your calm honesty will teach your child one of the most basic lessons of life—how to take responsibility for your own behavior.
24. Show up.
Show up to your child’s concerts, ball games, dance recitals, science fairs. Whatever their hobbies or interests are, be there.
It’s nearly impossible to get too many hugs from your dad. Because when a child feels warmth and affection from a parent, that shapes the child’s happiness and well-being for life. Research shows that expressing love to your child results in life-long positive outcomes for the child. That includes higher self-esteem, better parent-child communication, and fewer psychological and behavior problems.2Cox, M. J., & Harter, K. S. M. (2003). Parent-child relationships. In M. H. Bornstein, L. Davidson, C. L. M. Keyes, & K. A. Moore (Eds.), Well-being: Positive development across the life course (pp. 191–204). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
But this is important: Make sure they’re good quality hugs of six seconds or more. Here’s why. If your kids are older and hug-averse, try high-fives instead and work up to hugs.
Bonus: How to Reconnect After a Tough Moment With Your Child
After a negative interaction with your child, you need to reconnect through a positive moment or two so you can close the distance between you and your child. Because if you don’t close that gap and your child feels a lack of connection, that will lead to more unnecessary power struggles and less cooperation from your child when you ask them to do something.
But unfortunately, when your brain is flooded with stress hormones in the moment, it’s incredibly difficult to think of something fun and sweet to do with your child so you can reconnect.
Which is why I created these Family Connection Cards, based on the science of what actually works when you need to reconnect. These cards remove the mental burden of figuring out how to reconnect with your child so you can just focus on nurturing your bond with your child. At any point during your day, you can pick a card to get a quick and simple idea for connecting.
And in just 10 minutes a day, these powerful cards will make your child feel absolutely loved and stop the power struggles caused by disconnection.
For more ideas to help you feel even closer as a family, check out 60 Meaningful Family Bonding Activities to Nurture a Loving Bond.
Before you go, get my FREE cheat sheet: 75 Positive Phrases Every Child Needs to Hear
Do you know of any more everyday examples of how to be a good dad? Share in a comment below!
- 2Cox, M. J., & Harter, K. S. M. (2003). Parent-child relationships. In M. H. Bornstein, L. Davidson, C. L. M. Keyes, & K. A. Moore (Eds.), Well-being: Positive development across the life course (pp. 191–204). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.