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Parenting tips: Smooth summer sailing for dads

Dr. Neil Bernstein shares 5 tips for fathers to stay connected and involved with their kids this summer.
/ Source: TODAY

Okay, so you don’t get to see your kids as often as you like.  But you’re determined to make that special summer time go well. It’s a challenge all right, but with proper preparation and the right attitude, you can navigate the waters. Here’s five essential points to make your experience and theirs go well:

1. Try to see the summer time through your children’s eyes
You may be perfectly comfortable with the extended summer visitation arrangement but your children may not be.  Over the years, I’ve had many kids tell me that they don’t want to be away from their friends or even their mother.  Perhaps your son or daughter is uncomfortable with your girlfriend or new wife—or maybe they have trouble with your blended family.  And yes, some children complain that they feel ignored when they’re visiting their dad.  If they’re excited and looking forward to it, you’ve probably done your homework.  But if some work is needed, read on.

2. Be an involved dad all year roundWhether you live three miles or three thousand miles away, make sure that you know what’s going on in their life.  Call them or e-mail regularly.  Talk about their schoolwork, their friends, their successes and their disappointments.  Spend time with them as often as you can, talk with their mother about what’s going on in their lives, and try to work together to make the experience a comfortable one.  Be sure that you and your children know each other.  If you don’t there’s work to be done. 

A father plays with his child Thursday, April 26, 2007 at Gymboree Play & Music in Valrico, Fla. A Gymboree Play & Music survey released today reveals that 89% of mothers want dads to be more involved in their child's development.(Gymboree Play & Music/Handout)Steve Nessius / HANDOUT

4. Don’t confuse nice vacations with intimate relationships         Lose the vacation mentality.  Your kids are coming to live with you for a few weeks or more.  That makes you the chief cook and bottle washer.  So prepare for the occasion.  No last minute stuff, please.  Do your grocery shopping in advance, think through what you’ll be doing, and let them in on the planning.  More importantly, don’t settle for just “keeping them busy”.  Make sure that there are plenty of opportunities to spend alone time with your children.  Talk to them, love them, be there for them.  And don’t hesitate to empathize with their difficulty going back and forth between their parents’ homes.  Many children express these concerns to me, and believe me they’re relieved to hear their parents talk about them. 

5.  Make sure your kids have a comfortable place in your home It sounds simple enough, but I’ve heard kids complain that they feel like an afterthought.  So try to give them their own space and personalize their room to whatever extent possible.  It’s perfectly reasonable to expect that they entertain themselves at times, but make sure that you’re available when they need you.  Electronic gadgetry can be a good thing, but it’s no substitute for good parenting.  You’ll probably find that you have less privacy when they’re around—so what else is new?  Have meals together whenever possible, and get to know them again.  And yes, it’s okay to invite their friends over sometimes, whether it’s a sleepover, or a weekend away.  After all, that’s what they do during the school year.

If you’ve done your homework, your family time together should run smoothly.  Sure, there will be bumps in the road every now and then, but good communication is the key to effective problem solving.  Work on it all year and reap the benefits.  Your summer get together provides an excellent opportunity for strengthening the bonds with your kids.  So dad, make sure that you’re all there—in body and in spirit.  It’s the greatest gift you can give your children—yourself!

Neil Bernstein, Ph.D. Child Psychologist, is the author of "How to Keep Your Teenager Out of Trouble and What to Do If You Can't."