Bonding with father

When Methodist Girls' School (MGS) held its first father-and-child bonding session last year, the response was so good it had to double its number of participants to 80 pairs.

The two-hour session at the school saw father-and-daughter pairs organised in teams in a friendly game of laser tag.

At St Stephen's School, programmes to get fathers to have breakfast with their sons or to attend an experiential workshop together are also oversubscribed. More than 160 pairs of fathers and sons have taken part in these activities since they were started in 2011.

Bonding activities for fathers and their children are growing more popular in schools.

Mr Danny Teo, programme executive at Centre for Fathering, says more schools are signing up for its seven-hour experiential workshop, which involves each father-and- child pair setting up a barbecue pit together, among other things. About 40 schools have taken part since the programme was started in 2004.

Two years ago, the non-profit organisation also started Breakfast with Dad in schools. More than 20 schools have taken part so far.

Mr Jim Lim, founder of relationship consultancy Real Academy, says he has also received more requests from schools - from none in 2012 to six last year - to tailor its two family bonding activities, such as kiteflying, specifically for fathers and children only.

Madam Lily Tan, the Family- Matters@School coordinator at St Stephen's School, says both father and mother play an important role in a child's healthy development.

But studies suggest that when fathers are actively involved in their children's lives, children are more likely to have higher self-esteem and connect better with their peers as they grow older. They are less likely to get into trouble.

Despite an increasing number of fathers who are more enthused about taking part in bonding activities with their children, there is still room for improvement, says Madam Krishnavijaya Suppiah, the Family Matters@School coordinator at Jing Shan Primary School.

About 80 per cent of those who turn up for family events at her school are mothers, she says.

"Fathers are either busy at work or some still subscribe to the thinking that mothers should attend to every affair of the child," she adds.

She often encourages mothers to urge their husbands to join in. And when fathers do turn up for family events, she would create opportunities for father and child to interact.

Children really appreciate these one-on-one time with their fathers, she has observed. "When you get children coming forward to thank you for organising the event and allowing them to spend those few hours with their fathers, you know it matters to them."

One child who values the time with his father is Elijah Poh, a Primary 4 pupil at Jing Shan Primary School.

Even though he attended a seven-hour workshop two years ago with his father, a 40-year-old assistant director of corporate communications, he could still remember details of what happened.

"It was great teaming up with my father in the games. I remember being blindfolded and how he guided me so well I could find him easily," says the 10-year-old boy.

Mr Lim from Real Academy observes that fathers are keen for the bonding that takes place at his events, which often come with a parenting talk, to go beyond a one-off affair.

Says Mr Lim: "They would ask if I could organise another event or give them a longer talk on how to be better parents."

The growing popularity of such father- and-son bonding activities could partly be traced to the funding that is now available for them under the Ministry of Social and Family Development's FamilyMatters@ School for Fathers, previously known as Fathers@Schools, which was started in 2009.

Mr Ching Wei Hong, council chairman at the non-profit Families for Life, says that an advantage of organising such activities in schools is that parents can be notified of them directly and more quickly through school letters or word of mouth.

Parents have also been asking for more of such activities.

At MGS and Nanyang Girls' High School, such activities were initiated by the parents' support groups.

Mrs Sharon Tay, 47, chairman of MGS ParentLink and a mother of two, says:

"Fathers are an important role model in their daughters' lives and it is all the more meaningful when daughters get to bond with their dads on a special day set aside for them."

Mr Davin Boo, 45, chairman of Nanyang Girls' parent support group and a father of two, adds that fathers tend to have less time for their children because they are more focused on their work.

He says: "With these activities, we hope to get them to spend more quality time with their children."

Nanyang Girls' High School has been organising activities for fathers and daughters since 2012. They include a cooking session at school, obstacle courses at Bedok Reservoir and a kayaking session at Pulau Ubin. So far, more than 150 pairs have taken part.

Fathers and daughters team up during these sessions and, in the process, discover things about each other.

For instance, Mr Kevin Yee, 42, an IT director in the telecommunications industry, who took part in the first two activities last year with his daughter Shan Ning, 14, found that she was tougher than he thought.

While tackling the obstacle course together, she took the most difficult one instead of easier ones that he had expected her to choose.

And Shan Ning found that her dad, whose study desk was often cluttered at home, was more systematic and organised than she thought.

She says: "He took charge and managed to get us through the obstacle course. I had never seen this leadership side of him."

Father and daughter said that they grew closer after those sessions.

Such bonding sessions also allow fathers to spend one-on-one time with their children, which can be hard to come by if they have more than one child, says Mr Nicholas Michael Pinto, 38, a teacher.

He has taken part in bonding sessions at St Stephen's School with each of his three sons since they were in Primary 1. They are now aged 13, 11 and nine.

Mr Pinto says: "With one-on-one time, you can have a deeper conversation with your kid and they often open up more to you."

Tips for fathers to better bond with their children:

Set aside time for each other. Have a ritual once a week to share some thanksgiving items together. For instance, the father can be thankful that his boss complimented him or the child is thankful that he completed his schoolwork on time.

Fathers can also share childhood stories with their children before they sleep.

Spend time to do something meaningful together. For instance, once a fortnight or every month, fathers can go to the supermarket with their children and buy items that they can give to the needy.

Make room for attentive "listening space". This activity cannot be arranged but when it happens, it is the best opportunity for fathers to show attentive listening and understanding.

For instance, when your child feels hurt or is disappointed by an event that has happened earlier that day, such as being "scolded" by his teachers or encountering friendship problems, fathers need to show that they understand how their child feels and give him time to ventilate.

Source: Mr Arthur Ling, member of the Family Life Education expert panel and deputy director of Fei Yue Community Service

This article was first published on Jan 25, 2015.
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