Learning How to Dad: Parenting Tips for New Fathers

Most of the knowledge and resources found in the world of parenting are focused on mothers and motherhood. And we all know moms need help — bringing a child into the world and raising it well are heavy responsibilities that need a lot of support. But that doesn’t mean we should forget about dads. If a father is involved in the raising of his children and makes sure he is present in the home, everyone wins

Don’t worry, dads. Just like with motherhood, parenting is a learned skill. You shouldn’t feel like you have to walk into the delivery room and have everything figured out. Here are a few tips for dad on how to continue growing as a father, whether you’ve just had your first baby or are halfway to a dozen. 

Tips for Infants & Toddlers

Parents learn A LOT when they bring their first baby home. Sadly, dads often feel like their lack of experience means that they are bad fathers. Don’t believe it! Moms are learning everything from scratch, too, and inexperience does not mean uselessness. 

Here are 10 tips for dads of newborns and toddlers that are helpful regardless of how much experience they have (or how ready they feel).

  • Help with Feeding: Whether it’s breastfeeding support, preparing bottles, or feeding solids, dads can take on food duty from the start. Work with your wife to understand what she needs, especially if she’s figuring out breastfeeding. As the baby grows, make decisions with your partner on when to feed the baby more and what kinds of food to offer them. Once they start solids, star as Chef Dad by helping choose or make their meals. 
  • Take on Diaper Duty: Dirty diapers are a two-person job! Learn how to change one and what to do when there’s a dreaded blow-out
  • Bathtime Hero: Give mom a break by taking on bathtime. How long baths take and how much assistance you should offer your baby will change as they age, but the time spent one-on-one with your kid will never get old. 
  • Bedtime Routine: Even when they are teeny-tiny, bedtime routines are important to help let your little one’s brain and body know, “It’s time to go to sleep.” If mom is the only one involved, then your child may only associate her with going to sleep. Helping put your child down for naps and nighttime sleeping will give you incredible bonding time and avoid making mom the only person who can put them down.
  • Help with Dressing: Dad and Mom may never agree on the style, but that doesn’t mean Dad can’t help pick out clothes for daily wear or for going to daycare. 
  • Playtime: Regardless of how old they are, children need play! Read up on what kinds of play children need at what age, and enjoy being with your child and having fun. 
  • Pitch in with Household Chores: This tip is focused on your partner, not your child. Share household responsibilities, such as cleaning, cooking, and laundry. Regardless of who takes point on caring for children during the day, dividing up household chores in a way that everyone can agree on is important to your unity as caregivers. 
  • Assist with Doctor’s Visits: Don’t default to mom as the parent who takes kids to the doctor. Dads are just as capable of addressing their child’s health needs as mom. Going together or taking turns is a great way for both parents to stay involved in the health of their children. Dads should talk to their partners before walking out the door to make sure there aren’t specific questions they need to ask the doctor on their spouse’s behalf. 
  • Childcare Arrangements: Some of the most draining things about parenting revolve around daily tasks and making a schedule. Dads can take turns with childcare duties, whether that’s watching the children themselves or getting them to and from daycare or preschool, to give their partners a break and opportunities for self-care.
  • Offer Emotional Support: There are some things regarding parenting that a dad simply can’t do. But providing love, encouragement, and emotional support their spouse and children are not on that list. 

Tips for Preschoolers & Older

Being a “new” dad doesn’t mean new to having kids. As your children grow, the way you parent will change. Here are parenting tips for dads who aren’t new to kids but may be new to having a preschooler or kindergartener. 

  • Be Intentional About Quality Time: Quality time is important no matter the age, but it can feel harder to find as your children grow and become more independent. Spend time with them where they are the focus, prioritize your presence, and remember that “time with dad” can be as simple as reading a book or playing a game.
  • Focus on Positive Discipline: Dads can easily fall into the role of “the enforcer of discipline.” Remember that discipline often does not equate to punishment. Discipline with love, model good behavior, and use natural consequences as a way to teach.
  • Continue to Be a Role Model: Be your child’s role model. Three of the most important ways you can do that is by treating their mother with respect, letting them hear you apologize, and being vulnerable about your fears and emotions.
  • Be Involved: Involved dads give their kids an enormous leg-up in life. In fact, the absence of a father in a home contributes to violent crime just as much as the absence of income.
  • Nurture Their Independence: Let them make decisions, let them be themselves, encourage flexible thinking, and teach them independence.
  • Learn About Their Interests: Once kids enter their preschool years, they’ll begin to have interests of their own. Whether it’s a movie, TV show, game, or book, something will catch their interest that you know nothing about as a dad. Just like you would with a buddy who was into something new, ask questions and learn the basics of what your child finds interesting. You may be surprised at how excited they get that you want to know. 
  • Keep Sharing Responsibilities: As your children grow, don’t view tasks as “always mom” duties or “always dad” duties. If there are things you and your wife are permanently in charge of, make sure your kids know it’s because it was a decision the two of you made and not inherited strictly because of your gender.
  • Emotional Awareness: As you continue to practice empathy, acknowledge your emotions in front of your kids, and forgive yourself when you make mistakes, your children will apply what they see you doing in their own lives. 
  • Keep the Balance When It Comes to Struggle: One of the hardest things many dads face is when to intervene during a time of struggle or pain and when to let their child handle the situation themselves. Traditionally, dads tend to be the first to say, “Tough it out, you’ll be fine,” in instances of physical pain. But when it comes to a child learning something (especially in instances where they slow things down), dads may find themselves doing the task for their child to speed things up or show them “the right way to do it.” In both instances, practice finding a balance. Don’t intervene too early when your child is learning a skill, but don’t remove your calming presence completely when they are uncomfortable physically. 
  • Create Memories: The demands of life and work can quietly rob parents of opportunities to create memories with their children. Instead, try and find the time to make memories — regardless of how small they may feel at the time — with your family. Prioritize experiences: eat together, read books, watch movies, go on special snack runs, or take lots of pictures. 

So whether you have been a dad for 10 minutes or 10 years, or have one child or 11, fatherhood is an ever-evolving process. You’ll learn new things, reframe old ideas, and make changes based on mistakes for as long as you’re alive. And as long as you keep loving your family and commit to being better than the day before, you have nothing to worry about.