Resources for professionals
Dad- Oriented Programmes
what do dads want?
what will dads attend?
what if dads still aren't coming
dads/infants programme ideas
dads/toddlers programme ideas
What do Fathers Want?
Provide what fathers need that is related to the age or stage of development of their child. Child transition points are key times to share messages and information with fathers. Fathers are often focussed on their child’s ability or potential to be ready for their next challenge, like learning to crawl, eat solids, walk, or go to school. Workshops or events promoted as being about the child’s transition points may peak a father’s interest.
Men are more likely to attend something if they believe they will come away with some skills. Men are generally more interested in doing things than in simply listening to someone talk. A service or workshop that has an active or physical element to it, like practicing a technique or making something or doing an activity tells a father that he doesn’t have to have done well at school to participate and that he may come away having had some fun. It also puts the focus onto something other than himself. At least initially, men find it easier to communicate through a shared task.
A Task, Purpose or Action
A working bee may get fathers out. Food is an attraction. Gathering gathering around a barbecue not only is an activity but also produces food, which can be how a man justifies participating.
What Will Fathers Attend?
Analysing the childbirth education class model is useful because it is one programme that significant numbers of fathers attend. Factors that set these classes apart from services that attract few (or no) fathers include:
the man is motivated by concern for the well-being of his partner and baby
his partner wants him to attend (possibly insists he does)
his partner attends with him
he isn’t the only male there
classes are held at times when he can make it.
Expanding on these ideas, it can be added that fathers will be more open to attending something that he believes:
will benefit his child or family
is practical and will have tangible results (he’ll learn skills)
looks like it will be interesting (new territory) and/or fun
assumes he is intelligent and capable (and doesn’t need fixing)
Dads’ Sessions as Part of a Parents’ or Mums’ Programme
Many parents’ groups meet in the daytime and are attended primarily by at-home mothers that may include an at-home dad. Such groups provide possibility getting partners along at least occasionally. If the group offers a session that focuses on fathers, with good promotion and plenty of notice and with the encouragement of the facilitator and their partner, some fathers will make the effort to get there. And having even a few men attending the session, a skilled facilitator can call up the topics around fathers values to their children, things that fathers (and mothers) need to know about fathers’ value to children, as well as talking about the couple relationship. If the facilitator includes handouts, the mothers can take the session home to partners who did not attend.
In childbirth education classes, the expecting fathers can be taken aside from their partners in order to hold a gender separate sessions. Men come to childbirth education classes with their partner and will not want to spend too much of the time away from her, but they will find some men-only sessions useful (as mothers can also use some all-women time). Some gender-separate sessions can allow opportunities to talk about things they may talk about if their partner was there.
Gender-separate sessions is not essential. What fathers need to know about fatherhood, their baby and their changing couple relationship, mothers need to know as well. Attending together, makes it easier for the couple to talk to each other about what they’ve heard or participated in.
All parenting groups or services need to devote some time to the topic of fathers and include providing resources for the mothers to take home to their partners. Section 2, What Fathers Need to Know of this document can provide useful content for such Dads’ Sessions.
Great Fathers has been trialling various Dads Sessions for several years. Depending on the age of the babies, we cover:
why being an involved father matters
being a great father starts early
will you be a dad like your dad?
your baby’s brain
crying, why babies cry
talking to, reading to and singing to the baby
breast feeding: the partner’s role
couple relationship changes
mum’s and dad’s mental health
Offering fathers one-off activities or events is more likely to interest them than asking them to join a group, do a programme or attend a course. As mentioned, even calling something a “group” may be enough to put most men off. Fathers generally think their time is very valuable and they will measure the attractiveness of anything a service provider has to offer against the other options they have for spending that time. What the service is offering not only has to sound compelling but also needs to take no more time than the father is willing or able to give. One-off programmes or events are attractive because they don’t carry an expectation of commitment and the father won’t feel he’ll be locked into something that he’s not very sure of to start with. You can offer another one-off later, and then another.
If Fathers Are Still Not Coming
If the fathers don’t come or respond to your invitations, don’t give up and write them off. They are very likely to still out there and are certainly no less important to their children. The challenge is discovering what they respond to. It’s not enough to hold an event or try to start a dads group and then tick the “we have a fathers programme” box or giving up after making an attempt.
Continue to send notices and resources home through their partners, post, email or texts. Be clear that you value them and that they are in the loop because of their children. Don’t assume that because you haven’t connected directly with them that they aren’t interested or that they aren’t taking any notice. They may be looking at what you are sending home that is directed at them. Continue to offer events aimed at or includes fathers. Making the effort will begin to improve the dynamics between services providers and fathers.
Programme Ideas for Dads with Infants
The following are ideas for activities and programmes that may appeal to fathers. All of them have the potential to encourage father and child interaction and promote the child/father relationship. Activities can also act as a means of bringing fathers into the scope of a service provider. If a father has a positive experience with a one-off event or programme, he may consider participating in other services or events. And he may take more notice of information that comes from the organisation.
While parenting groups and programmes primarily attract mothers, the great majority of these women (over 94%) have partners during the first year. Inviting their partner to a session that features (ideally) a male co-facilitator who will present material that focuses on fathers serves several purposes: getting useful information to fathers and establishing your connection with those who attend.
Given sufficient notice (and encouragement from their partner) some of the fathers will make an effort to attend such one-off events, even if it is during working hours. For those who can’t be here, their partner can take the messages or resources from it home to him. Content for Dads’ Sessions is outlined in Section 2, What Fathers Need to Know.
FRED (Fathers Reading Every Day)
This is a programme Great Fathers has adapted from an overseas model that is designed to promote a regular in-home child/father activity. The primary intention of FRED is for fathers to develop a routine of reading with their child that strengthens their bond. FRED has the added benefits of lifting children’s interest in reading and kindling their desire to learn to read themselves when they are old enough. FRED targets fathers of children of all ages with particular emphasis on getting books in the house and can start when children are very young. Great Fathers can provide information and training for organisations interested in running this simple, inexpensive and effective programme.
Infant Massage for Dads
Infant massage is beneficial for babies and – with some instruction – anyone can do it. At an infant massage workshop that fathers are invited to, men can learn how to place the baby and how to stroke with the right pressure. It is also an opportunity for fathers to talk about and ask questions about their baby or parenting issues.
Dads’ Photo Competition
This is a project which promotes positive images of fathers with their children. It entails asking the public for photos of local fathers interacting with their young child. It goes on to create an exhibition of the photos in public locations over a set period of time and asking the public to view and vote for their favourites. It concludes in a public event and the awarding of prizes. This has been run for several years by Violence Free Waitakere who can help guide an agency through putting such an event together.
Dads in Action
Towns and cities have parks, open spaces, walks, rivers, beaches, playgrounds and other intriguing and attractive places where fathers can get outside with their little ones. Finding where these are and going out and exploring them is a good way for fathers to get out with their children and explore the neighbour or focus on nature. A map of the town or neighbourhood can help with planning. Fathers may have their own favourite places they can take others to. This could be a one off event that has follow-on activities, perhaps aligned with the seasons or school holidays to include older siblings.
Dads Making Great Toys
Children don’t need their parents to buy them expensive toys, nor do babies even appreciate or even enjoy purchased toys. Fathers can make safe, colourful toys that young children love out of things all of us have around the house.
Water Babies and Their Dads
If a father feels he can keep his child safe in and around water, his confidence as a father will increase. Taking children swimming is a good out-of-the-house activity that can strengthen their relationship. Public pools may have classes for parents and their babies, or fathers can collectively take the babies to the pool, a paddling pool, a river or the beach.
Programmes for Dads with Toddlers
Dads, Music and Little Ones
Children become musical if they are exposed to music. Singing and/or playing a musical instrument with a young child can begin an interest that lasts the child’s lifetime. Fathers can be musical with their babies/toddlers with very little (if any) training. Giving him information on how good this is for their child, some songs to try may be all it takes to create a father/child fun time.
Safety Around Dogs
Help fathers teach their toddlers about how to behave around the family dog and unfamiliar dogs – promoting safety, awareness and caution as opposed to fear.
Gardening with Tots
This is an opportunity for fathers and children to get their hands in the soil, plant seeds or seedlings, and discover what lives in and around the garden. Dad will have to be patient and process (rather than production) oriented as young children are more likely to experience the garden as a chance to play in the dirt rather than planting a straight row of beans or pot of marigolds! Beware, small children will not differentiate between a vegetable or flower seedling and a weed.
Fishing from the Wharf
One well-organised fishing trip could begin a new activity that both father and child looks forward to, no matter how young the children.
Cooking / Baking with Dad
This could be a workshop to show how a father can prepare food while explaining what he’s doing and giving “jobs” to his child (even if that may be just holding a spoon). If the child is very young, he can be in a sling or a carrier so he can see. The real emphasis is that the father is talking to his child by explains what he is doing and answering questions. A father who works in the kitchen with his child will be a) looking after the baby, b) preparing food and c) giving his child attention.
Workshop for Dads and Mums – We all eat, mostly without too much thought about it. But when we have children, we need to know what are good snacks. How much should your child eat? Is it a worry that your child doesn’t eat much at dinner? Are there foods we should be avoiding? What effect does what parents eat have on their children? These kind of topics can be explored with a nutritionist. Most hospitals have such experts on staff.
Dads and Toddlers Day Out
Violence-Free Communities has run the very successful and well-documented Toddlers’ Day Out that hosts rides and other carnival-like attractions. Community services have stalls to promote themselves to families. This was done in West Auckland for many years and became a massive event, but it could be held on a small scale anywhere.
Fathers’ Day Events
That feature or showcase fathers can take many forms.