• Create an open line of communication to talk about mental health and emotions in the home.
  • Focus on embracing positivity.
  • Look toward the future and learning from the past.

As our society begins embracing mental health more proactively, we must also begin discussing mental health in the home more regularly. As we do so, acceptance and compassion will emerge from our homes and blossom out into our world. But it takes strong leaders in the home to make those discussions happen. Fortunately, many of today’s dads are ready to make a difference for their kids and communities. I recently interviewed four entrepreneur dads with multi-billion-dollar companies who know how to lead and get things done. 

Donna Tetreault: How do you create a sense of belonging in your family?

Jason Harris: I think of belonging to a family as being part of a clan or tribe, and a clear way to create a sense of belonging is to develop traditions and customs that are unique to your tribe. A great deal of my bond with my two boys revolves around traditions where we learn and explore together. 

Another simple thing that I have done since my children have been very young is that, when I put them to bed every night, I whisper in their ear, “You are loved, I am proud of you, and I know you will do great things.” I think this repetition gives them support and creates confidence. 

Donna Tetreault: How do you talk about mental health with your children?

Eric Ryan: Compared to me when I was growing up, it’s incredible how comfortable and fluent our kids are in discussing their emotional health. They have actually helped me be as comfortable talking about mental health as about physical health. As a family, we talk a lot about preventative skills to keep ourselves mentally fit, which then makes the conversation easier when one of our kids is feeling anxious or stressed.     

Alex Faherty: Our kids are 6 and 4, so they are just getting to an age where they are realizing they have emotions, and we really want to support them in understanding those feelings and getting comfortable with sharing them with us and talking about why they feel a specific way. For example, if they seem to be in a bad mood, we’ll ask them why, or whether something happened at school today. Asking, instead of just telling them to cheer up, gets them to open up and share.

Donna Tetreault: How do you work with your partner to support each other’s mental health and well-being?

Charles Bonello: With three kids under 3, life gets away from you, so we try to make sure we’re working together to give each other space and alone time and give ourselves permission to do things like relax. If you let it get to you, you could do laundry 26 hours a day!

Donna Tetreault: How do you talk about emotions and feelings in your home?

Charles Bonello: With our 3-year-old, we often talk about our feelings and how to honor them without letting them control us. That means building in ways to name and disarm our feelings and “press pause” so that being overwhelmed doesn’t turn into meltdowns. It doesn’t always work, but it helps give us tools to handle difficult emotions.

Jason Harris: I let my kids know that our home is a safe space to talk freely about their emotions. And I follow a few ideas that I reinforce over and over: Focus on things within your control. There will be many things that are out of your control, and you can’t spend your energy worrying about them. Be yourself above all else. Know who you are and what your values are and be consistent. Don’t let your mind bully you. Try to control your thoughts and actions and practice being optimistic. It really can be a learned habit.

Eric Ryan: One of the hardest challenges as a parent is walking the balance of empathizing with and validating what my kids are feeling while also trying to instill grit and resilience. I have found that approaching parenting with the “growth” vs “fixed” mindset helps to strike this balance by rewarding the work rather than the end result. It has really helped my kids feel less academic pressure when I always reward the hard work and effort that went into their schoolwork regardless of the end result. I remind them that they might not remember what they learned on that test, but they will remember how hard they worked, and that will serve them for a lifetime.     

Donna Tetreault: What is one thing you wish for your children that as a society we are failing at?

Charles Bonello: The burden that childcare places on working parents in our society is untenable, with a lack of support emotionally, logistically, and culturally. As a father of three—including two daughters—I’m pained to see that female participation in the workforce is at the lowest it’s been since the 1980s. But I’m optimistic that the corporate sector will step up and prioritize the needs of working parents, with benefits like affordable, accessible childcare; flexibility in the workplace; and mental health support. My wish for my children is that they will truly believe you can both be a parent and work, and I’m going to do everything in my power to help get us there. 

Jason Harris: I think as a society we don’t instill values of volunteering and using our skills to help others. That has been a bit lost as we have become more focused on ourselves and our own needs and pleasures. We forget that we are part of a much larger community, and if we can chip away at making the world a little bit better of a place, we can make big changes. 

Alex Faherty: Protecting them from the dangers of technology—I see the ways teenagers and even younger kids have their lives controlled by social media, and it’s scary as a parent.

Donna Tetreault: What are you most concerned about regarding your kids and coming out of the pandemic? 

Eric Ryan: Our biggest challenge has been helping them make up for lost time academically. They essentially skipped a grade, so kids have had to manage a much bigger learning curve, creating more stress and anxiety. But I have also been trying to make sure we hold on to the gifts that COVID gave us that I don’t want to lose. I have tried to teach my kids to never waste a crisis, because it’s an opportunity for growth and reflection.    

Alex Faherty: One of our biggest priorities is getting them out in the world and around other kids. We’ve recently decided to move out of NYC and to a small town where they can more easily spend time with family and friends, play sports, play outside, etc.

Donna Tetreault: What advice have you taken from your own father and used in your family?  

Jason Harris: My father has a bit of blind optimism. He just goes through life expecting things will work out. I am not sure if I subscribe to that methodology completely, but it did teach me to have a positive attitude and not let toxic thoughts become my reality.

Eric Ryan: It’s not what he said but what he modeled. Calmness. Wow, was that man calm in the chaos of three energetic boys! I think I saw my dad upset at us maybe twice. We try to channel his calmness in the face of the daily chaos of three kids and a busy work schedule, usually with mediocre success. 

Donna Tetreault: How do you see the role of fathers evolving in this generation?

Alex Faherty: We need to be more involved in the emotional development of our kids and have a more intimate relationship with them. My dad was born in 1939, and his generation had a much different approach to fatherhood. He worked during the week and then would play sports with us on the weekends, but we never formed a really close and intimate bond, which I’m hoping I can do with my kids.

Charles Bonello: Generational change takes work–and that includes changing cultural perceptions around men and caregiving. It’s part of why our Father’s Day campaign at Vivvi, #dadsdoingdropoff, is focused on normalizing images of dads doing everyday caregiving activities, like school drop-off, mealtimes, and laundry. Each of these things on its own is not revolutionary, but by celebrating dads who share the load, we can hopefully encourage more of them to take part in caregiving and lessen the burden on working moms.

What we model for our children does impact them, and we can change our world for the better. Lead with love and compassion, build emotional security by talking about mental health and emotions, and focus on positivity. We know from science that a positive mindset can be grown and provide a more fulfilled trajectory in life. Thanks to these impressive dads for setting an example. Happy Father’s Day!


  • Donna Tetreault

    Parenting Journalist, Author and Educator, Thrive Global Contributor

    Donna Tetreault is a national TV parenting journalist, author, educator and podcast host. Her award-winning, best-selling picture book, Dear Me, Letters to Myself For All of My Emotions proactively teaches children positive mental health strategies. She is also the author of the newly released parenting book, The C.A.S.T.L.E. Method: Building a Family Foundation on Compassion, Acceptance, Security, Trust, Love and Expectations plus Education.