The greatest job I’ve ever had, the one I’ve loved the most, is being a dad. The day my twin daughters were born, from the very first second I held them, I was hooked. There is nothing I love as deeply as my children.
As a father who did not have the best childhood himself, I understand the importance of a stable bond between parent and child. Western culture, particularly in the US, places lots of emphasis on the bond between mother and child. Undoubtedly this is a crucial relationship. But the relationship between father and child is also truly important.
There’s a lot of research that shows that when parents are very involved with their children’s lives, there is less incidence of risky behaviors. There are less behavioral problems. Academic and social development are improved when fathers are involved. Childhood obesity risk is lower with a stronger parental relationship.
Bonding from Birth
My twin daughters were born ten weeks early. They spent about two months in the NICU. For those who’ve been there, you understand what an emotional experience this is. One of my favorite experiences during this time, though, was kangaroo care.
Kangaroo care consists of making skin to skin contact with premature babies. It has a profound effect on their development. My wife and I would stick the girls down inside our shirts and hold them close to our hearts will be set in recliners. This was an amazing experience of bonding both with the girls and with my wife.
As dads, we need to take an active role in caring for our children. From diapering and bathing to feeding to playing with our kids, this time is golden for creating a secure bond. This sets our children up for success.
This is really about spending that quality time in making our babies feel secure. And, while the bond with mothers during this period is important, it’s also important for dads to take a critical role.
Maintaining the Bond Throughout their Life
As children get older and graduate through different stages of development bonding with parents remains relevant. We become emotional home base during times of turmoil. As I’ve already stated, an involved father can mean academic and social success and less risky behavior. Bonding is also essential for mental health.
So how do we create that bond or maintain it throughout their life? Following are some ideas.
Follow your child’s emotional lead.
As much as possible it is important to accept and respect our children’s emotional lead. Even if we can’t understand why they might get upset over little things, it is important to try to appreciate their perspective. Their emotions are as real as yours or mine.
You can help them through acknowledgment. Instead of why are you so upset lead with while I can see this is hard for you. The magic phrase I learned is I want to understand what’s going on, tell me more.
If you think about it, it’s not so hard. How do you, as an adult want to be respected. How would you feel if somebody was discounting your feeling?
Prioritize time with your kids.
This is hard sometimes. We’re all busy. But remember that time management is all about priority. We will spend time on the things that are important to us. If you remind yourself how important your children are finding the time to be with them will happen.
As a dad, I sometimes feel the pressure to make the time I spend with my kids spectacular. I’ve got to take them on a scenic hike, or to a trampoline Park, or we have to do a cooking class together. These things are all great, but I can’t do them every day. What I’ve realized is that the activity almost does not matter at all.
Doing puzzles together, playing games, drawing pictures together, sitting and watching their favorite YouTube videos – these are all things my kids love to do. And again, this is their time, and I follow their lead. What do they want to do?
Touch your kids in a healthy and reaffirming way.
Touch is essential to human interaction. Our internal reward system led by the chemical oxytocin is wired to make us feel good with human contact. And almost nothing builds a bond between people like touch.
There are lots of ways to give your kids good touch. A high five, a pat on the back, a hug, a kiss on the forehead, piggyback rides, cuddling, playful wrestling, pats on the head – just some of the many ways to incorporate touch.
With touch, the rule is to pay attention to what’s okay with your kids. When I was a child, I hated being tickled. However, there were lots of relatives, well-meaning as they were, who would tickle me at any opportunity. It is imperative to help children establish healthy physical boundaries with regard to their bodies. With touch pay attention to their body language and what they say. If something looks like it’s making them uncomfortable, don’t do it or ask them if it bothers them.
Everybody has the human desire for a level of certainty. For children, the world can sometimes be a scary place. Understanding they can rely on their father and mother gives them a home base from which to feel secure.
You must be trustworthy and accountable. If you break your word to your kids, apologize and explain. Understand when they are disappointed.
It’s no secret that kids model much of their behavior on what they observe and their parents. If you lie, cheat, or steal, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll see these actions and your kids as well. Children are also sensitive to hypocrisy. If you tell children never to lie but you lie they may distrust or resent you.
Bonding is about feeling safe, and trust is crucial to feeling safe.
Make your kids feel significant.
Significance is one of the core human desires. We all want to feel special and important in some way. There are lots of ways you can do this as a parent that are healthy and strengthen children’s resilience and self-esteem.
The key here is to recognize children’s efforts over achievements. Tell them when something they do makes you proud or happy. Behaviors that you pay attention to will increase.
You can also share things that are just between you. For example, maybe you have a favorite ice cream spot that you only go to with one of your children. And maybe you have an equally special treat for another.
As much as you can, any involvement in your children’s schooling can be helpful. Volunteering, chaperoning on field trips, joining the PTA will show your kids how important their education is to them. Research shows that parental involvement with their children’s school leads to better educational outcomes.
Ultimately bonding with your kids is about meeting them where they are. It’s not about forcing them into sports or activities that you want them to enjoy. It’s about you becoming part of their world. It’s showing them that their interests and loves are important to you because they are important to you
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