Out of touch? Dads have trouble accepting kids’ emotional difficulties

Out of touch? Dads have trouble accepting kids’ emotional difficulties

Erik Strand

THE MOTHER OF A 6-YEAR-OLD BOY VISITED a child psychologist to discuss her son’s behavioral problems. But Dad, a professional with an advanced degree, did not attend. The psychologist, Sylvia Rimm, asked why. “He doesn’t believe in psychology” the mother replied.

The father’s absence is an example of what Rimm and other psychologists believe is a widespread problem: Many fathers are reluctant to acknowledge the realities of their kids’ psychological health. Just as men tend to be hesitant to address their own emotional problems, they may have a hard time accepting that their child has difficulties.

“Fathers tend to be less in touch with their own feelings and emotions, and much more into being strong on their own,” says Rimm, director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland. Because men are less likely to see psychologists for their own needs, it’s logical that they would be less likely to think that their children need help. “They believe it’s all a matter of control” says Rimm. “They ought to be able to control their kids, and their kids ought to be able to control themselves. To many fathers, it’s not mental illness; it’s bad behavior.”

In an effort to project a tough-guy image, dads may be more concerned about the stigma associated with mental illness. “They feel it reflects badly on them and on their family,” says Nadine Kaslow, chief psychologist at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

Because fathers may not spend as much time with their kids as mothers do, dads can be less in tune with their children’s mental development and maturity. Don Freedheim, emeritus professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, says although fathers are beginning to participate more in their kids’ lives, they are still not on par with Morn. In his experience, “Mothers can almost all say what their child’s mental age is, within six months or a year, even if it’s their first child. Fathers can’t do that.”

Experts agree that reaching out directly to fathers is the best way to get them more involved. “We need to educate men about mental illness and involvement” says Rimm. “We really have neglected that”

Kaslow emphasizes that socioeconomic status is not an issue. Men of all social classes will respond to outreach. “More educated dads kind of know they’re supposed to come in,” she says. “But if you contact a dad of lower income and say, ‘I really need you here’…. Well, they love their kids just as much. They’ll come.”

COPYRIGHT 2004 Sussex Publishers, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group