New online parenting program for Australian dads: 'Comfortable in not being perfect'

Picture: Supplied
Picture: Supplied 

Russell McIntosh knows all too well the challenges kids can throw at parents.

As a stay at home dad to his three kids Toby, nine, Ben, seven and Claudia, four, he has seen the full gamut. 

A strong advocate for more support for dads, he's just taken part in a world first online parenting program for men, run by Movember.

The Family Man program, run for dads of kids aged two to eight, aims to get more men involved in parenting courses by giving them their own free, easy to access platform.

It's something Russell, even as a seasoned dad, found beneficial and provided strategies he would have loved to have known as a new dad. 

"Whilst I'm past the very early parenting days, I thought it still could be relevant and it is, for some of the ways I act around my kids at the moment," he said.

"And while it's very good for new dads, it's never too late to learn and there's things in there seasoned parents could absolutely learn. Some things I already knew, but you just need a reminder of too, because we all get into bad habits, it serves as a reminder of the things we need to focus on." 

Especially when it comes to handling meltdowns, which Russell, from Melbourne, said were particularly challenging. 

"Basically handling the tantrums, all three kids are guilty of different styles, they've all got their breaking points, so handling those and learning that fighting fire with fire is not the way to go," he said.

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"I still fall into that trap occasionally, especially if you're tired or don't have the capacity to handle that tantrum, but then you think 'what's going to bring this to a head quicker?' Me going off the deep end or getting down to their level and saying 'what's the problem?' and more soothing words so the kids think I'm on their side.

"Getting yourself on child's side is a big thing I've learnt, rather than turning it into to a war."

The program is a joint initiative between Movember and the University of Sydney and has been adapted from the successful ParentWorks program designed by Professor Mark Dadds. 

It comes after previous research by Movember found only 20 per cent of those who take part in parenting programs are dads. They also found 42 per cent of dads admitted they felt anxious over whether they were a 'good father'. 

​Being free and only an hour long, it's also removing the time commitment and financial barriers that are believed to stop many dads from seeking help.  

It features three 15 minute modules that centre around a dad facing a parenting challenge - such as the ubiqitious tantrum in public. Dads are then given a choice of ways to respond, with the pros and cons of each response and their likely outcomes explained. 

It's aims to see similar results to that of ParentWorks, which resulted in reductions in child behavioural problems and parental mental health issues among participants. 

Russell agreed the program is likely to appeal to dads, who he believes often don't feel comfortable in admitting they're struggling and who can sometimes be overlooked for mental health struggles by health services. And would be a step towards helping them feel more empowered. 

"More than anything I think it will make dads feel comfortable in not being perfect, because too often you are your own worst critic, as the survey says, 42 per cent say they feel anxious about being a good parent," he said.

"This gives you the grounding because it makes you think about the way you're parenting and helps to reach out. Because I think the main thing for men is feeling they are able to reach out to a friend or their wife, or if it's something deeper to a mental health professional, because it's not wrong to speak up and say you're not feeling yourself."