February 27, 2016

Advice for how distant dads can get back into their child’s life

With Father’s Day approaching, 24 million children in America (that’s one out of every three) currently live in homes where their biological father is not part of their life. Unfortunately, these kids are more likely to face financial challenges, use drugs, drop out of school or engage in criminal behavior. *

Having both biological parents active in a child’s life is very important to that child’s long-term development, health and well-being. Dual-parenting has proven to have a positive effect on both a child’s social development and academic achievement.

While getting back into a child’s life after a parent has been distant or estranged can be very difficult, following is advice for fathers who are working to repair their relationship with their child.

Establish answers to lingering questions

The absence of some men may be due to not being completely certain about the paternity of the child. These questions are actually more common than you might think. In fact, a recent survey found that one in five Americans said that they, or a close friend or family member, have questioned paternity.

Addressing paternity questions is important not only for the child, but also for the man and woman involved. Test kits like the Identigene DNA Paternity Test are available at drug stores and supercenters, and offer 100 percent accurate and confidential results within a matter of days.  

Meet with mom

Once paternity is established, the father should set a time to meet with the child’s mother. During this meeting it’s important to maintain civility and talk about why the father wants to now become a part of the child’s life. This meeting should serve as a time to break any tension that might be lingering from a past relationship, and is also an opportunity for both parents to set some ground rules in regards to the new relationship with the child.

Start slow

It’s important to start slow when first establishing a relationship with the child. If the father and child have never met before, it might make sense for them to first speak over the phone first (if the child is old enough), in order to become familiar with each other’s voices.

When meeting in person, the pair should meet in a place where the child feels the most comfortable, such as his or her home or a nearby park. It’s a good idea for the mother to attend in order to put the child’s mind at ease, and to start off talking about simple subjects, such as his or her favorite colors, animals, foods, television shows, school subjects, etc. 

Be consistent

Consistency is perhaps the most important. The father needs to follow through with the relationship this time. Dads should plan to meet with their child at least once a week in order to build trust and a good rapport.  As time passes, the goal should be to increase the father’s presence in the child’s life, perhaps attending more school or sporting events, or sharing holidays.

There’s no question that rebuilding this critical relationship between father and child can be tricky. However, with a little patience and persistence, establishing a healthy father/child relationship can have such a positive effect on all those involved. For more information and advice on this topic, visit as Fatherhood Matters, Inc. or Fathers Incorporated.

* Statistics are provided by United States Census Bureau, National Principals Association Report on the State of High Schools, “Fatherless Children”, and the US Center for Disease Control
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Janet Taylor, MD

Dr. Janet Taylor is a Community Psychiatrist in New York City, the Bronx and Queens. The practice of Community Mental Health is extremely rewarding to Dr. Taylor, because "being on the frontline with individuals and their families battling the emotional and economic impact of Mental Illness is where I can make a difference". She attended the University of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky for Undergraduate and Medical School. An internship in Internal Medicine at the Miriam Hospital-Brown University followed. Her psychiatric residency was completed at New York Medical College -Westchester Medical Center. She received a Master’s of Public Health in Health Promotion/Disease Prevention from Columbia University. She was a recipient of the 2008 Woman in Medicine Award (National Medical Association- Council of Women’s Concerns).

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