Communicating With and Engaging Fathers

9 February 2009

Your attitudes

• Have high expectations for fathers. Exude the belief that these men are valuable and capable of succeeding. People (especially young people) will often live up to our high or low expectations. Remember the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy.

• Consciously imagine a positive future for all fathers. Believe that each man has the POTENTIAL to become a successful parent. That potential is there but may need to be developed or brought out.

• Assume that fathers want, need and have the responsibility to become actively involved parents. It is not your job to pressurise or cajole them, but to reinforce that they are important to their children.

• Start where the man is, not where you think he should be or where stereotypes might lead you. Be non-judgmental.

• Be respectful. View each father as an equal human being worthy of respect and dignity. Communicate on an equal level, never from a position of superiority.

• Take stock of your own attitudes. The belief that boys/men are fundamentally irresponsible, or not important to children, would be very counterproductive.

• Be patient – don’t give up. Be willing to hang in there with these men who will have ups and downs. Too often, fathers have been disappointed by the adults who come and go in their lives.

• Demonstrate genuine and ongoing caring for the fathers. You will have to earn their trust, but they will respond to someone who really likes and values them.

• Recognize that fathers and mothers are not the same. Dads have their own specific experiences and needs. Therefore, they want and need specific services that will meet their unique needs. But don’t assume all dads are the same – they are not.

Creating the right setting

• Make the physical environment comfortable for men. The fathers need to see others they can identify with – who look like them or who they can become. Posters, drawings/paintings, magazines, photos on the walls should show positive and realistic images of men, fathers and families.

• Build trust with fathers by creating an atmosphere of openness and honesty. Model these qualities in your interactions with other staff and the fathers. Welcome the dads in and let them know you are thrilled to see them. Maintain confidentiality as an important rule for both staff and participants.

• Encourage the dads to support and influence each other. Foster a sense of “team” and belonging. Teach/model giving and receiving constructive criticism.

Communication techniques

• Be real and down-to-earth. Use accessible language. Share information about yourself, as appropriate, to build trust and to make particular points.

• Be sensitive to who the men want to talk to. Male staff can take opportunities to talk man-to-man. Some participants have not had positive relationships with their fathers or other adult males that they respect, so this may take time to develop.

• Use language and messages that men will respond to. Use focus groups and/or your own experiences to help decide the styles that work best.

• Be dramatic and provocative (if it’s natural for you) when delivering messages about manhood and the importance of fathers.

• Model the communication skills that you are attempting to foster.

• Listen and learn from the men. Share the responsibility and the leadership.

• Talk to the fathers about the way that your and other agencies operate. They often enjoy learning how to “work the system.”

• Be warm and caring, but also firm. Hold the men accountable to themselves, their families, their communities, and you.

• Build in small successes. Monitor each father’s progress and help him see what he is accomplishing.

Effective group facilitation techniques

• Speak in a loud-enough, clear voice with a lot of expression.

• Maintain eye contact with the whole group. Pick up on group members’ nonverbal communication — signs of boredom, confusion, etc.

• Call participants by name and make references to their earlier comments.

• Use humour — but never at a participant’s expense.

• Keep a lively pace. Dead time encourages boredom and side conversations.

• Keep the group on task but not in a controlling way.

• Be yourself. Allow your real personality to emerge within the group.

• Ask open-ended questions (rather than yes/no questions).

• Share appropriate personal stories to demonstrate a point.

• Use “I” language and encourage others to do the same.

• Listen carefully and learn from participants.

• Be a role model (attitudes, knowledge and skills).

• Know your own limitations. You’re running an informal group about parenting and not group counselling. Make referrals, when appropriate.

• Share the leadership. Avoid the urge to maintain control of everything that happens. Communication should be multi-directional.

• Respond appropriately to challenging group dynamics — monopolizers, silent members, hidden agendas, etc.

• Be nonjudgmental and unshockable. You want to know what participants really think. Ask for “real” rather than “right” answers.

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