How To Be A Brilliant Dad

Dr Andy Cope is a happiness expert and bestselling author of The Little Book of Being Brilliant. He shares his thoughts with SLOAN! on how fathers (and grandfathers) can be brilliant dads to their little ones.

It is a sad statistic, but apparently modern fathers have roughly three minutes a day of conversation with their children. If that’s not shameful enough, evidence suggests the valuable three minutes is restricted in scope and colour so whereas mums tend to chat about friends, family and school, dads tend to chat about sport or ‘How was your day?’

Dad then sits in the dominant armchair, guarding the remote, flicking through the channels. It transpires that 35% of daughters say dads meet their emotional needs, as compared to 72% for mums. If this was a school report, dads would find ‘must do better!’ stamped on pretty much every page.

Mums are superheroes

Let me say this as simply as I can: pretty much across the board, mums are superheroes. In the happiest families, it is the dad that also steps up to the plate.

Therefore, although this advice applies to both males and females, I’m aiming it more at dads because they are the ones who need to pull their parenting socks up the most.

Let me introduce you to the little known but oh-so-powerful ‘Matthew Effect’. This is when an initial success in something leads to even greater success. And, conversely, if we are unsuccessful, we’re likely to become even more unsuccessful. It explains why the rich get richer and the poor poorer, but it also applies to parenting.

Let’s take the example of reading – children who start off reading well will get better and better compared to their peers, because they will read even more broadly and quickly. The more words they learn the easier and more enjoyable reading becomes. On the other hand, it’s very hard for poor readers to catch up because, for them, the spiral goes downwards. Thus the gap between those who read well and those who read poorly grows even bigger rather than smaller.

According to the Matthew Effect, success snowballs but so does failure.

The importance of role-modelling

Dads and grandads, I don’t want you to think I’m having a pop at you but the biggest single factor in your son/grandson reading books is if he sees a male role model reading books. That, good sir, is YOU! (if you’re a female reading this article, please find a male and read this page to them)

The Matthew Effect shows up everywhere. Ben Zander talks about the transformation that happens when a young person learns to love music. For most, the early days are a chore. If you’ve ever suffered Three Blind Mice on a recorder, or caterwauling scales on the clarinet, you have my sympathy. The early days of learning a musical instrument are classic Eric Morecambe territory; ‘they’re hitting all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order’.

As a parent you have to hang in there and pretend you’re enjoying it. Even then, some kids will quit.

But some ride through the storm. These kids lean forward and begin to play. They engage, either with the teacher or with the music. They achieve some early breakthroughs, maybe playing a piece that they recognise. As they connect they lift themselves off the piano seat suddenly becoming what Zander calls ‘one-buttock players’. They’re lifted by passion and engagement. And from here on in, they experience giant leaps of learning.

If I’m allowed to stretch Zander’s wonderful analogy beyond music and reading, if you want your children to find their passion (sport, maths, cooking, science, stand-up comedy; it doesn’t matter what) the Matthew Effect says that some early wins are crucial in your child powering ahead.

Why Dads should act their shoe size

The biggest thing you can do to facilitate that is to live it too. So, reading-wise, if the biggest thing a dad can do is to be seen reading, then it extends to all those other activities too. Put yourself out there. If you child is learning the violin, challenge yourself to learn it too. Play together. Paint together. Laugh together.

  • Trampolining… bounce together.
  • Baking… make cakes together.
  • Art… draw together.
  • Stand-up comedy… tell jokes together.
  • Science… dissect frogs together. On reflection, that’s messy. Go to the Science Museum
    together instead.
  • Football… kickabout together
  • Spellings… learn them together
  • Drama… go to the theatre together

My dare is simply this – join them, play, act your shoe size.

Why? Because the rule of parenting is this; your children will not do what you say, but they will do what you do.

About the expert

Dr Andy Cope is a happiness expert and best-selling author of The Little Book of Being Brilliant available now on Amazon.  Find out more about Andy at

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