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suffer poor health. The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health found that the single most protective factor for reducing be- havioral risks such as drug and alcohol abuse, early sexual activity, smoking and depression,is children’s connected- ness to their parents; fathers were noted as being of particular importance. Being known means letting down

the walls and sharing your life story —having the courage to show your flaws, fears and joys. This is not to say that one should overburden a child with inappropriate revelations; rather, it’s about giving your child the gift of knowing who you are and what you feel on a regular basis. What was your relationship like

with your dad? What were you like as a kid? Children need and want genuine insights into who you were (and are) as a person, not just as their dad, so that they can better understand who they are and where they come from. It means letting kids into your experi- ences with winning and losing, being

embarrassed and feeling anxious, over- coming challenges, and giving up. What stories are appropriate to

share with a child? The short answer is, trust your gut. While there are no hard- and-fast rules, here are a few guidelines:

n Let your stories emerge naturally and in context. When your daugh- ter loses a game: “Did I ever tell you about what my dad used to do when I would lose?”

n Take the lead: “When I was in fifth grade, I was concerned about what other people thought of me. Do you ever feel that way?”

n Share stories about your present, too. “Sometimes I have trouble keeping my mouth shut. I was in this meeting the other day...”

n Include feelings, not just facts. By revealing your feelings, you help children understand their own.

n Be mindful of how a story may boomerang. If you decide to tell your teenage son about your own past substance use, prepare a re- sponse in case he uses that infor- mation to justify his own actions.

n When telling stories about your father, keep in mind that your chil- dren have a relationship with their grandfather and do not divide a child’s loyalties. If your father was abusive, seek professional advice before sharing such stories; maybe talk about how you try to do things differently than your father did. Stories are the lifeblood connect- ing the generations.

Excerpt adapted from The Modern

Dad’s Dilemma: How to Stay Connect- ed with Your Kids in a Rapidly Chang- ing World ©2010 by John Badalament. Reprinted with permission from New World Library.

June 2011 37

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