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Surprising thoughts about challenging children

by John Hoffman

The other day I was hanging out with a family who have a very interesting, cute, bright —and challenging — 14-month old. This little girl is definitely one of those kids who I think of as “more.” They are like other kids their age…except more. More easily upset and cries more (and harder to soothe).  More reactive to stress (and takes longer to recover from stress). More busy and more likely to get into things (and spends less time playing quietly on their own). More shy or anxious about new people and situations. More difficult to get to sleep and more likely to wake in the night. In short, these kids demand more of their parents.

As always is the case with “more children” some of the visit was taken up with conversation about what was going on with this child. Having been in these parents’ shoes—one of our boys was a less intense version of this girl—I could sense what the parents were going through. How exhausted they were. How much time and energy they had put into looking for answers and simply coping with the situation. And boy, did I ever wish I had the answer to why their kid was the way she was and what to do about it. I didn’t offer any advice because they didn’t ask for it. What they needed most at that moment was friendship, support and someone to show appreciation for their child’s good qualities.

But if they had have asked for advice, here’s what I might have said.

Whatever else you do to try to manage, shape or influence the problems you see in your child’s behaviour and development, try not to make it worse.

It’s not that hard to make “more” children and the challenges of raising them, worse, even though you’re trying to make it better. I’ve seen it happen a number of times,

One pitfall is that people sometimes focus too much on trying to “fix” what’s “wrong” with the child’s behaviour. That’s understandable. “More” children do more things we don’t want them to do, and fewer things we want them to do. They seem to need more discipline. And the discipline we try doesn’t seem to work. So people often up the intensity – more and harsher consequences, punishments, criticisms and warnings. So the parent-relationship and a lot of the interaction can become negative. At times it feels like a series of battles. That’s not good for parents or kids and it’s not good for the parent-child relationship. And if there is one thing that “more” children really, really need (even more than other kids), it’s positive, supportive relationships with parents, family members, caregivers and teachers.

This is tough one. Because, if you have a “more child” you can be sure that people will line up to tell you you’re not being firm enough or consistent enough, or that a certain technique worked like magic with their child. But the hard reality is, that even the best discipline techniques don’t work with these kids, a lot of the time.

I don’t mean that you should never do discipline. You’ll do it all right. You’ll have to stop your kid from doing things. You’ll have to say No (and follow through). You’ll be watching them very closely. But don’t count on discipline being a dramatic fix for your kid. Improvements in behaviour can happen. Your child can learn. But it will take longer and change will happen slowly and gradually.

Another challenge is that “more children” tend to have more than their fair share of negative interactions with people. The danger is that the child gets treated like a “bad” kid so often they start to see themselves as a “bad” kid. And we really don’t want that.

So, as you’re trying to shape your child’s behaviour, keep them safe, supervise them and deal with their negative emotions, don’t forget to put as much energy as possible into sharing good times and positive interactions with them. (This is true for all kids, even more so for “more kids.”) The parents I saw the other day were clearly doing this, and I could see the positive effect it was having on their challenging daughter.

In the end, what you want to do, along with everything else, is stay positive, and work with the child’s natural development and learning as they grow. That can take longer that it does for other kids.

The other danger is that there is so much focus on the child’s problems that he doesn’t get a chance to learn what his strengths are. Every kid needs to learn their strengths, and, sorry to repeat myself, but these kids need to learn about their positive qualities even more than other kids.

And they do have strengths and positive qualities. In fact, a fair bit of research now shows that challenging, reactive kids can actually turn out well, sometimes even better than “regular” kids, when they get positive parenting and have good relationships with dads, moms and caregivers. Researchers call these kids “orchid children”. They can turn out amazing, like an orchid. It’s a nicer name than “more” children, isn’t it? So let’s go with that.

But back to my bottom line. If you have a potential orchid child who is in a difficult stage, as you search for the strategies that will improve your child’s behaviour, remember this: Above all else, your goals are to not to make it worse, and also be patient and enjoy and nurture your child’s strengths as much as possible. And, of course, remember that more than anything else, they need our love.

Lastly, take care of yourself. Take breaks when you can, and get all the support you can get from family and friends who care about you and aren’t going to judge you. These kids are “more” work and they need us firing on all cylinders as much as possible.

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by Daniel Sherwin (guest post)

In a society built on the foundation of the nuclear family, single parents are at an inherent disadvantage. Though commonplace today, parenting children without a spouse or helpmate is sometimes seen in a negative light. Single fathers are often assumed to be ill-prepared for their children’s emotional needs in the absence of a mother or maternal figure. The fact is that men sometimes do struggle with the nurturing aspect of parenthood, which is often seen as a feminine trait that’s alien to men.

While some men are better at it than others, there is some truth to the assertion that many single fathers must learn to be empathetic and accepting of their children’s emotional needs. Compounding the difficulty is the fact that male emotional detachment may have contributed to marital problems that led to divorce or separation.

According to educational psychologist Dr. John Rich, the challenge fathers face as parents arises from assertions that they are biologically inferior to mothers when it comes to parenting. Or that fathering is not natural in comparison to the deep-seated emotional connections children form with their mothers. Such arguments confuse and problematize a situation that’s already difficult for men, who have to learn not to see single parenthood as a threat to their masculinity. The truth is, men don’t have to learn to be mothers. They just need to overcome the perception that they can’t be effective parents without a woman to take the emotional lead.

Different parents

It’s also true that men are naturally inclined to parent differently than women, though dads are as important to childhood development. Much of the difference can be ascribed to verbal communication, and the fact that men are apt to use verbal approaches that may seem challenging and harsh by comparison to women, who seek to simplify communication. This is where many single fathers have trouble – the need to moderate their choice of words when a child’s emotional needs supersede instinct.

Just listening

Another common charge is that women make better listeners than men. While this is a disputed point, single parents need to cultivate this essential component of parenting. According to a U.S. News & World Report article, “Listening is a monumentally important communication skill that takes hard work, concentration and practice, which is why a lot of people are simply bad at it.”

The Center for Parenting Education teaches that listening itself is a vital means of communicating with children. Simply by listening, a single father conveys that his childrenare worth his attention; that their perspective is valid; and that he trusts their ability to deal with problems. Acceptance and active listening can be difficult for some fathers, particularly where daughters are concerned, but there’s no doubt that good listening skills can make the difference between appearing engaged and concerned and seeming aloof and emotionally detached. For single dads, listening is a challenge that can be learned with counseling and patience.

Personal health

A 2016 study indicated that single dads are considerably more likely to complain of poor health, both physical and mental, than fathers who have a partner. The truth is that a single dad will struggle with parenthood if his mental health has been neglected. “The way we eat, drink, love, and cope with stress, depression, anxiety, and sadness all play a big role in the state our mental health is in. Sometimes, it’s necessary to take a step back and ask yourself if you’re doing the right thing for you, and not the easiest thing,” as DrugRehab.org writes.

All about the kids

Most single fathers do their best to care for their kids emotionally and physically without the influence of a mother or mother figure. It’s important to note that single dads can be excellent parents, caring and involved, given the chance to grow into what can be a very difficult role.

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Fatherhood Matters is what Dad Central uses to stay in touch with you.  This is where we post interesting news, ideas, resources, and some fun stuff about fatherhood.  It is a mix of info for dads and info for those working to support fatherhood.  Enjoy!

  • Dad Joke of the Month
  • National Conference Call for Proposals – extended
  • Fathers with children with disabilities
  • Men in ECE??
  • #mywalter
  • and more!

Dad Joke of the Month

“I am terrified of elevators. I’m going to start taking steps to avoid them.”

Call for Proposals – extended to June 15th.

The National Father Involvement Conference set for next year is still accepting workshop proposals.  You can get all the info in english and RFP francais.

Father’s Speak on Parenting Children with Disabilities

This research reveals some thoughts about how fathers experience parenting children with disabilities.

Fathers and the Bond with Their Newborns

UNICEF captures some great photos of fathers’ first introductions to their newborn babies – from all across the globe.  Check out the smiles, the touches, and the comments from the men.  These are great!

Can We/Should We/ Do We Need for Men in ECE?

Check out this book, Men in Early Childhood Education and Care.  It offers insight and ideas to navigate this issue that gets talked about a lot, but often swept under the carpet.

The Nonresident Fathers

Nonresident fathers contribute to the well-being of their children, beyond financial support.  This research shares ideas and implications for practice in engaging fathers.

#mywalter

Wayne Gretzky asks all of us to consider who the “Walter” is in our lives.  Share your stories and photos using #mywalter.

Dads Directory

We are always looking for programs, activities, and services available for dads to add to our directory.  These don’t need to be for “dads only”, but can be anything a parenting guy may be interested in.

Dad Central Ontario exists to support the invaluable role of fatherhood in the healthy development of children.  If you want more info about who we are and what we do, contact us at info@dadcentral.ca or visit our website – dadcentral.ca.

Online resources: store.dadcentral.ca
FB: facebook.com/dadcentralontario
Tw: @dadcentral_ont

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by John Hoffman

Today’s parents are much more into reasoning with kids than parents of a couple of generations ago. Back then parent-child dialogue was much more about telling kids what they had to do (and not do), and what would happen if they didn’t (or did) do it, than it is now.

In the 1970s parents started to shift away from power-based parenting and towards a more democratic approach. They started trying to reason with kids and explaining why kids had to do things.

Some discipline pundits think today’s Dads and Moms over-explain at times. But I don’t want to debate that point. I think explaining things to kids is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.

What I do want to talk about is how to make explaining work as well as possible. We often think it’s about finding the “just right” words. But what’s more important is making sure you are talking to the right part of your child’s brain.

What do I mean by that?

I’ve got a little analogy that I think will help. It comes from Stuart Shanker, the author of Self-Reg: How to help your child (and you) break the stress cycle and successfully engage in life. I should tell that I am a part-time employee of Dr. Shanker’s organization, The MEHRIT Centre. So I can’t claim to be an unbiased commentator here, but let me explain the analogy and you can decide if it’s useful. I think it is.

Stuart talks about two brain systems that affect our thinking, feelings and behaviour. He calls one the blue brain and the other the red brain. I’ll spare you the complex terms. But just understand that “blue brain” is the part of the brain that helps us with higher-order functions: reasoning, making judgments, getting along with people and controlling impulses. The blue brain also helps us read peoples’ tone of voice, facial expression and body language.

The red brain is a more primal brain system that developed much earlier in human evolution. It was designed to keep us safe and respond to threats. So “red brain” is really reactive. When we overreact, have a meltdown or experience really strong emotions or urges, that’s the red brain taking over. On the other hand, if you’re really engaged in reading or learning, or if you’re having a great conversation with a friend, you are “in blue brain.”

It’s not as if red brain completely shuts down when we’re in blue brain, or visa-versa. They are both operating all the time. But depending on the circumstances, one or the other can dominate, based on your brain’s subconscious judgment of what you need at that moment.

Here’s the thing. The brain is a wondrous thing. But the red brain’s judgment is not always perfect. That’s especially true if you’re a kid—even more so if you’re a kid who is upset or stressed out. In other words, when kids are in “red brain,” which happens a fair bit, that’s not the best time to explain things to them. Your explanation can actually seem like a threat.

The same can be true for adults. I’m sure you can think of times you tried to reason with an upset or stressed out person and they just didn’t seem to be able to listen to reason. That’s because their less reasonable, more reactive red brain had pushed their blue brain into the background.

I once interviewed a Dad who told me a story about an epic meltdown his son had at the county fair. For weeks his boy had been looking forward to riding on the bumper cars with his dad. When the ride attendant told him he was too small to ride, he just lost it.

Now, the back-story is that this little guy was already worn out from a long hot day at his school’s track and field day. He was also a wee bit stressed out from his excited anticipation, and may have had slightly low blood sugar because he hadn’t eaten a proper dinner. Add to that a long wait in the bumper car lineup and his big disappointment and you’ve got a perfect “red brain storm.”

Luckily, the boy’s parents sensed that this was not the time to try to explain why he couldn’t go on the ride. Nor to reassure him that some day he’d be big enough, or that they’d have fun going on other rides. Good call. The explanations wouldn’t have worked, because they would have been talking to the wrong part of their child’s brain. Instead, the parents just stayed with him, offering what support they could. And very importantly, they didn’t do anything to make the red brain storm worse. They didn’t yell or scold their son or say, “Don’t be such a baby!”

Equally important, they managed to keep from going into red brain themselves. Because, red brains talking to red brains… well, it’s just not good, as I’m sure you know from personal experience.

So essentially, what these parents did was comfort the boy as best they could and wait for the “storm” to pass. They kept their tone of voice, facial expression and body language soft and sympathetic.

It’s important to understand that, in a stress response, which is what a meltdown is, there are two parts of the nervous system hard at work. One of them is pumping us up with chemicals that prime us for action and alertness to danger. That’s the fight or flight response. Yet at the same time, another system is shooting us chemicals that help us recover from the stress, so we can come back to normal.

So, by not making it worse, and by offering support and comfort, these parents were working hand in hand with the boy’s stress system to bring him back to blue brain. It took a long time, the dad told me. But gradually the boy’s red brain began to figure out that he actually was safe. So the red brain retreated to the background, which is where we want it to be most of the time. The boy recovered and was able to move on.

So the next time you’re trying to explain something to your child, and it’s just not getting through, or your child just keeps getting more and more upset, don’t try harder to explain. Try to soothe the red brain.

Your explanation, if it’s still important, can wait for later, when the right part of your child’s brain—the blue brain—is able to listen.

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Fatherhood Matters is what Dad Central uses to stay in touch with you.  This is where we post interesting news, ideas, resources, and some fun stuff about fatherhood.  It is a mix of info for dads and info for those working to support fatherhood.  Enjoy!

  • Dad Joke of the Month
  • Dads Find Their “Village”
  • Postpartum Mood Project
  • the “Fatherhood Premium”
  • and more!

Dad Joke of the Month

“I am terrified of elevators. I’m going to start taking steps to avoid them.”

Dads Find Their “Village”.

HuffingtonPost Canada shares some thoughts on the importance of men finding a network of parenting.

Postpartum Mood Disorder Project

This project has been around for a couple years, but it is worth referring to.  It addresses postpartum moods in women and men.

The “Fatherhood Premium”

Is there an impact of being a father on the wage a man receives?  Check out these two reports, here and here.

The Nonresident Fathers

Nonresident fathers contribute to the well-being of their children, beyond financial support.  This research shares ideas and implications for practice in engaging fathers.

Coming Up:

Community Leadership Breakfast, Hamilton, ON.  May 9 – discussion for community leaders to assess and plan for action towards supporting fatherhood.

My Dad Matters Training – community-wide workshop for understanding and engaging fatherhood in the local community:

Chatham, ON – May 31
Hamilton, ON – May 6

Interested in these opportunities or in bringing some training to your area? Contact Brian.

Dads Directory

We are always looking for programs, activities, and services available for dads to add to our directory.  These don’t need to be for “dads only”, but can be anything a parenting guy may be interested in.

Dad Central Ontario exists to support the invaluable role of fatherhood in the healthy development of children.  If you want more info about who we are and what we do, contact us at info@dadcentral.ca or visit our website – dadcentral.ca.

Online resources: store.dadcentral.ca
FB: facebook.com/dadcentralontario
Tw: @dadcentral_ont

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Paternité et petite enfance

3ème Conférence nationale canadienne sur la paternité

(pour anglais)

Du 28 février au 1er mars 2019 à Ottawa

La 3ème Conférence nationale canadienne sur la paternité, organisée par Réseau Papa Canada est prévue du 28 février au 1er mars 2019 à Ottawa.

Nous sommes heureux d’annoncer que Dr Stuart Shanker sera l’un de nos conférenciers d’honneur!

La conférence rassemblera les travailleurs, les cliniciens, les praticiens, les gestionnaires et les chercheurs de tout le Canada pour présenter et partager leur travail avec les pères.

Nous vous invitons à soumettre vos candidatures pour présenter des ateliers de 90 minutes ou des présentations par affiches. Bien que cette conférence soit axée sur la petite enfance, nous sommes également intéressés par des soumissions sur d’autres thématiques et problèmes actuels en rapport avec les pères en tant que parents.

Cette année, la conférence abordera par exemple :

  • L’expérience et le soutien pendant la grossesse
  • Le lien affectif précoce et l’attachement
  • Les problèmes post-partum
  • La santé mentale du père, de sa famille et de son entourage
  • Des façons de soutenir et d’encourager une diversité de rôles d’hommes s’occupant de l’enfant, pour les grands-pères, beaux-pères, pères adoptifs, etc., et d’autres programmes ou services innovants dans le domaine de la paternité et la petite enfance.
  • La recherche pour mieux comprendre les besoins des pères pendant la petite enfance.

La 3ème Conférence nationale canadienne sur la paternité s’adresse à tous ceux qui, dans leur communauté, voudraient engager les pères avec leurs services, programme ou leurs ressources.

Notre but est de vous aider à offrir aux pères les connaissances et le soutien nécessaires au développement d’enfants en santé.

Veuillez consulter le document ci-joint pour apprendre comment soumettre votre application: RFP francais

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My name is Allison Flynn-Bowman and I am a Brock University Masters student in Applied Health Science – Community Health. I designed a research study for my thesis, and I am looking for fathers, from anywhere in Canada to participate.

The basics of my thesis are:
Fathers, whose partners are pregnant or who have had their baby within the past month, can email Allison at dadrocksstudy@gmail.com
I will confirm their due date, or the infant’s birth date over email, and send them an online survey.
Once they complete the survey, Allison with begin sending them text messages – about 3-5 a week.
Once the baby is 3 months, I send another survey, and another one at 6 months. These three surveys take about 30 minutes each, and the fathers can pause the survey (if they need to attend to their infant!)
They would get those messages the entire 6 months. The messages sometimes have suggestions of things that require time to do with their baby, but there is no official time commitment. They never need to meet so they can do these as work for them.
For more information, they can go to https://www.facebook.com/DadRocksNiagara/
All of the intervention is done online/ on their phone, we never need to meet, and fathers can be anywhere in Canada.
My work was also featured in the Brock news, which was picked up by a few local news stations. https://brocku.ca/brock-news/2018/02/brock-seeks-participants-for-study-on-fathers-with-newborns/
Thank you, Allison
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Fatherhood Matters is what Dad Central uses to stay in touch with you.  This is where we post interesting news, ideas, resources, and some fun stuff about fatherhood.  It is a mix of info for dads and info for those working to support fatherhood.  Enjoy!

  • Dad Joke of the Month
  • Women need more sleep than men
  • Dads and daughters – a deeper connection is on the rise
  • Parental alienation cannot be ignored
  • and more!

Dad Joke of the Month:

Our wedding was beautiful, even the cake was in “tiers”.

Guys, moms need more sleep than us.  It’s true

The highlights:
– women need an average of 20 more minutes of sleep than men
– women’s brains are busier, multi-tasking during the day more than men’s are
– many things disturb a woman’s sleep – babies, pregnancy, busy brains, and – yes –  snoring (yours)
– sleeplessness makes our brains age quicker
Check out more about this here.

Call for Proposals: 3rd National Father Involvement Conference

Dad Central has had great success with the past two national conferences in 2015
and 2017.  We are now planning the 3rd conference for Spring 2019 in Ottawa, ON.  The theme will be Side-by-Side: Fatherhood in the Early Years.  We are lining up some great keynote presenters (Dr. Stuart Shanker is on the agenda already).  We are looking for workshop and poster presentations.

You can use this this document for all the information.  It is a fillable PDF.

And share this with others you think may be interested.

Fathers affect the obesity of their children

Research shows that fathers play an important role in their children’s eating and physical activity habits, but a new study has found that dads are rarely included in family-based interventions designed to prevent childhood obesity.

Single Fathers are at greater risk than single mother

Here is another reason to pay close attention to supporting single fathers.  They are at greater risk to many health issues, including mortality.

Being a Male Ally

Important conversation:  A male ally amplifies women’s voices & draws attention to the issues that affect them. With #MeToo how can we do masculinity in ways that create a culture of consent/respect & call other men in when they say/do something harmful? Come explore with us #LdnOnt.

The Dad and Daughter Effect

There is a rise in the dad-daughter connection.  More girls are opening up to their fathers with the things that matter to them.  Read more here.

Parental Alienation: When custody issues become complicated

Though this may not be a popular things to talk about, we need to anyway.  There are too many stories of children being kept from or misled about their moms and dads.  Check out some info on parental alienation here and here.

Dads Directory

We are always looking for programs, activities, and services available for dads to add to our directory.  These don’t need to be for “dads only”, but can be anything a parenting guy may be interested in.

Dad Central Ontario exists to support the invaluable role of fatherhood in the healthy development of children.  If you want more info about who we are and what we do, contact us at info@dadcentral.ca or visit our website – dadcentral.ca.

Online resources: store.dadcentral.ca
FB: facebook.com/dadcentralontario
Tw: @dadcentral_ont

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Fatherhood Matters is what Dad Central uses to stay in touch with you.  This is where we post interesting news, ideas, resources, and some fun stuff about fatherhood.  It is a mix of info for dads and info for those working to support fatherhood.  Enjoy!

  • Dad Joke of the Month
  • 3rd National Father Involvement Conference – Call for Proposals
  • Bullying
  • and more!

Dad Joke of the Month:

Q: Why couldn’t the bicycle stand up by itself?
A: It was too tired

Call for Proposals: 3rd National Father Involvement Conference

Dad Central has had great success with the past two national conferences in 2015
and 2017.  We are now planning the 3rd conference for Spring 2019 in Ottawa, ON.  The theme will be Side-by-Side: Fatherhood in the Early Years.  We are lining up some great keynote presenters (Dr. Stuart Shanker is on the agenda already).  We are looking for workshop and poster presentations.

You can use this this document for all the information.  It is a fillable PDF.

And share this with others you think may be interested.

Bullying: what to do about it?

Bullying is an issue for many children these days.  But do we really understand what we are battling when we address this issue?  Here are some interesting thoughts to consider:
https://goo.gl/jnF6w6
https://goo.gl/1eC2VB
https://goo.gl/C9hgVA

A Dad’s Role: Passing skills and wisdom on

Family life has changed a lot in the past 2-3 decades.  How fathers spend their time with their children has been an area of significant impact.  This article discusses the things dads used to pass on, but may not be doing so much of anymore (for many reasons).  What do you think?

A Father’s Role Benefits New Moms

The care and concern an dad shows to a mom during pregnancy, birth, and once the baby is born is a key part of her health and adapting to her baby.

PERFORMANCE - Father in relationship - Vimeo
Fatherhood as a Newcomer

Coming to a new land as a father brings some important issues.  This research looks at some things fathers can pay attention to as they adapt to a new land and culture.

Dads Directory

We are still looking for programs, activities, and services available for dads to add to our directory.  These don’t need to be for “dads only”, but can be anything a parenting guy may be interested in.

Dad Central Ontario exists to support the invaluable role of fatherhood in the healthy development of children.  If you want more info about who we are and what we do, contact us at info@dadcentral.ca or visit our website – dadcentral.ca.

Online resources: store.dadcentral.ca
FB: facebook.com/dadcentralontario
Tw: @dadcentral_ont

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Side-by-Side: Fatherhood Matters in the Early Years

February 28 to March 1, 2019        Ottawa, ON

The 3rd Canadian National Fatherhood Conference hosted by Dad Central Canada is being planned for February 28 and March 1, 2019 in Ottawa Ontario.

We are pleased to announce that we have already confirmed Dr. Stuart Shanker as one of our keynotes!

The conference will call together workers, clinicians, practitioners, managers, and researchers from across Canada to present and share their work with fathers.

We are inviting submissions for 90 minute workshops and for poster presentations. Even though the focus of this conference is on the early years, we are looking for proposals on other issues facing men as parents, too.

This year’s conference will focus on things like:

  • Prenatal experiences and support
  • Early bonding and attachment
  • Post-partum issues
  • Mental health of the father, the family, and those around him
  • Ways to support and encourage a diversity of male-caregiver roles such as grandfathers, step fathers, foster fathers and more Innovative services or programs for early years fatherhood
  • Research into understanding the needs of early years fatherhood

The 3rd Canadian National Fatherhood Conference is for anyone interested in engaging fathers in their community with services, programs, or resources.

Our goal is to help you provide fathers with the knowledge and support needed around the healthy development of children.

Download the Call for Proposals!

Any questions?  Contact info@dadcentral.ca

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