Top Ten Mad Skills Every Father Needs to Develop

For 13 years now, I have been writing about fatherhood, and talking with fathers all around the world about their experiences. So, I think I have learned a thing or two about fatherhood. My own experience as the father of five children helped me solidify my own thoughts about the fatherhood skills needed for a dad to be world-class. But working in the fatherhood world with so many other fathers has taken my thinking to a whole new level.

I have been working on defining the ten principles that fathers need to embrace to become great dads (and I even wrote Power Dads to share my thoughts about these principles with a broader audience). And while principle-based fatherhood is important, it is not enough without working on some important personal and interpersonal skills which can make a difference in parenting.

So, after a lot of thought, I offer my take on the ten mad skills dads need to develop and improve on in order to rise to become the fathers they want to be - and need to be - in today’s ever more difficult world.

Listening actively.

One of the skills I frequently see lacking in parents (and especially fathers) is active listening. Learning to listen actively involves listening with all five senses and being totally engaged in the effort - no distractions. When we listen to words, try to understand body language, and effectively probe to understand feelings and deeper meaning, we can get the real messages from our family members - the ones they need us to get. Reflecting and testing for our understanding of the messages and the feeling behind them can revolutionize our communication.

Speaking your child’s love language.

According to author Gary Chapman, we all receive expressions of love in different “love languages.” Chapman identifies five key love languages.

Quality time
Receiving gifts
Physical touch
Words of affirmation
Acts of service

When we observe carefully how our kids react to situations, you can identify which of the five love languages is a child’s primary way of receiving love. Then, when we communicate in their love language, we can more effectively connect with them and build relationships of trust.

Praising effectively.

While parents certainly need to learn to effectively discipline and correct our children, we also need to learn to praise them effectively and to celebrate their successes. The ability to give sincere and heartfelt praise and to let them know when they have met or exceeded our expectations is a vital skill.

Setting and enforcing boundaries.

When I think about helping children learn to be self-disciplined, I tend to see it most in the ways we establish and enforce boundaries around their behavior. While there are many specific child discipline techniques, the use of techniques is secondary to and support our efforts at drawing effective lines around behavior and then helping them learn to live within them.

Setting clear expectations.

Along with setting boundaries, we need to also be clear about what we expect from our kids. High expectations, as long as they are achievable, are significant motivators and help kids rise to the occasion. When I taught my sons to take care of the grass in our yard, I had to help them know what I would expect from their efforts. Did they just cut the grass, or did they also string trim the edges? Did they just mow in strips, or did I want the strips to be diagonal? Whatever it was, I owed them the respect and courtesy to be clear.

Playing with fun and purpose.

Many dads I know are really good at playing, but many others need a refresher on the importance of play, and of play with a purpose. If all we do on a weekend is chores and to to church, we miss an important opportunity to build memories and stronger personal relationships. Sometimes the purpose of play is simply to relax and have fun, but play can often be combined with teaching. Looking for opportunities to have some fun for the sake of fun is great, and playing with a purpose of teaching something is important too.


Fathers serve an important role as a coach and a mentor for their children. When we take on the coaching role, we are our children’s advocate, we help them develop skills and attitudes that will help them, and we put their success as a high personal priority. The same skills that we saw in sports coaches that motivated us are important for us in mentoring our kids.

Parenting Unitedly.

Mothers and fathers have different parenting styles, and if we aren’t careful, we can become competitive with our kids’ mother rather that complementary. Moms and dads can also be played against each other if we are not unified in our approach and principles.


I had a friend when I was a child whose dad motivated by fear and intimidation. My friend was scared of his dad, but he did behave in ways that kept him out of trouble. A much better approach is that of the dad of another friend whose son would not disappoint his dad for any reason. His love and respect for his father was motivation enough. As we work with our children, finding ways to motivate them effectively, and to help them do the right thing for the right reason is huge.

Teaching life lessons.

I see an awful lot of parents coasting through parenting - getting kids here and there, trying to teach them self-discipline but not really helping them prepare for independence. Helping them learn life lessons in the midst of living life is an important skill that we can develop better. Looking for teaching moments as they happen and then taking advantage of them is a must for effective dads.