Fathers and feelings

Christina Rittenbach
Christina Rittenbach, extension agent, Family and Consumer Sciences division of the North Dakota State University Extension Service in Stutsman County.
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When we think of parental roles, we may think it is the mothers who help children with their feelings and fathers who handle the discipline – right? However, the idea that fathers don’t help children with emotions is not true. Fathers provide an important example of how to handle emotions just as mothers do, and fathers are important in guiding children as they learn about their own feelings.

Have you ever heard of being “heart smart”? It is a term that some people use to describe something called “emotional intelligence,” also known as EQ. Emotional intelligence concerns how someone understands and manages feelings and responds to them in others. Young children know all about feelings and can be moody one minute and giggling the next. Fathers play an important role in helping children learn to identify, understand and manage their feelings.

In one long-term study of nearly 400 individuals, it was found that the single most important childhood factor in developing empathy for others was a father’s involvement. Further, research on fathers and children has shown that children may be more likely to have difficulty in delaying gratification, controlling anger, and showing clear feelings about right and wrong when fathers are not involved in their lives.

Here are a few practical tips for fathers and father figures to use in helping children with their feelings:

  • Be aware of a child’s emotions. Listen with an open heart.
  • Recognize emotional moments with a child as an opportunity for closeness and teaching. Children need their fathers most when they are sad, angry or afraid.
  • Listen with love and pay attention to a child’s genuine feelings. Acknowledge feelings and respond in gentle, positive ways.
  • Help your child recognize and label the emotions he or she is feeling.
  • Set limits with children in how they handle emotions (e.g., anger directed at others), and help them to problem-solve effectively.
  • Set an example for children by expressing emotions, but handle them in ways that are positive and mature.

For more information on the topics of parenting or child development, contact Christina Rittenbach, NDSU Extension agent in Stutsman County, at (701) 252-9030 or

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