Bonding between a child and a parent is a deep connection that allows the child to feel safe, loved, and content. Bonding also strengthens the parent’s view of their interaction with their baby and seems to make tough parenting moments a bit easier. One of the most wonderful bonds I witness in my office on a daily basis is that between fathers and their children.
Much is made about bonding in the first few weeks between an exhausted new mom and her newborn, but this connection is important for fathers too. And while fathers can’t breastfeed, there are other ways dads can bond. Similarly, as newborns turn to infants then to toddlers, fathers can choose to strengthen their bonds as their child grows.
For example, newborn infants respond to sound and smell and learn to love and trust those who routinely hold and speak gently to them. Fathers can bond by holding, rocking, walking, and talking with their new babies. They can read aloud to them if talking seems silly. They can also participate in the bathing, changing, and bedtime rituals.
In infancy, fathers can continue this pattern of closeness with physical closeness by holding, rocking, and soothing but can also begin to play. Babies love to babble and to play with their dads. I also encourage fathers to begin the bedtime book routine with their infants. Spend time down on the floor with your infant interacting and watching each other.
Toddlers crave physical play, and fathers are often the perfect people to give them that gentle roughhousing they sometimes want. Simply playing a game where you run about the house or yard, scooping up the child when you “catch” them can be enthralling for little ones. Dads can begin to play interactively using simple toys such as small balls. They can also take toddlers along on short simple errands.
Once breastfeeding is complete, I encourage dads to feed their children. Simply sitting with them while they eat and engaging in this activity can make children feel connected to you. Eating with your child also role models good habits when the food is simple and nutritious.
For busy working dads, time may be in short supply. In these situations I remind you that quality time can be amazing for children. Carving out 15 to 30 minutes a day where you are entirely engaged with that child can be so meaningful and will be something even the youngest child looks forward to. My advice is to be consistent as children love predictability. Early morning or bedtimes can be magical for children and fathers.
My single most important piece of advice is this. Your child wants to feel they are your number one priority. Put away your phone when dedicating special time to your child. The most amazing dads I witness in my clinic are those that can make their child feel like they are the most important person in the room.