By Alyssa Strenger, PsyD
Almost three years ago my dad was throwing me around under the stars at our wedding dance like he was a professional swing dancer. My initial shock quickly faded into a giddy trust, and I allowed my dad to toss me in the air without fear or hesitation knowing my Dad would catch me. He did.
Researchers have highlighted the role of fathers as much more than secondary parents or babysitters. Dads are essential for the emotional, social, and physical development of their children, and perfection is not required; just be good-enough. Children of involved fathers have higher levels of confidence and motivation as well as improved thinking skills and social adeptness. These characteristics are nurtured through the secure attachment children have with their fathers, knowing that if he throws them in the air he will catch them. Secure attachment allows children to feel safe when frightened or uncomfortable, feel confident enough to explore their world knowing dad has their back, and learn to accept and tolerate their emotions.1
The good news is that developing a secure attachment is more intuitive than one might think. Dads are just as biologically prepared to care for their infants as mothers. In fact, the bonding hormone oxytocin has also been found to increase in men’s brains after the birth of a child and is linked to more active parenting behaviors.2 So knowing you were made for this, here are four ways to strengthen the father-child bond.
First, remember that spending time with your child is about quality and consistency. Even if you are a dad who works full time, setting aside some quality time every day to be present with your child will have an immeasurable impact. Play with your children, read to them, follow them on adventures, or have Saturday breakfast dates. It does not matter what you do, it just matters that you show up.
Second, have conversations with your child. Take time to ask specific, open-ended questions about the day (e.g., What did you do on your play date with Sam? How’s your volleyball serve coming along? What’s been hard?). Let your child see that you are curious about the little things. Believe it or not, you are more valuable than the screens they are looking at!
Third, show affection to your child. Vocalize your love over and over again, even when all you get in response is a tired, “I knoooooowwww, Dad.” Give the hugs, the kisses, and the hair tussles. Provide descriptive praise and affirmation for the budding person and not just the accomplishments (e.g. You felt nervous to go to the dance but you still went—that was brave. You got your sister’s bottle when I asked you to—that was so helpful!)
Last, allow yourself to be good-enough not perfect. You can’t catch ‘em all, and the adequately prepared child needs an occasional fall—except if you’ve tossed her in the air, then try to catch her. All your child needs for you to be is good-enough.
1Hoffman, K., Cooper, G., & Powell, B. (2017) Raising a Secure Child. The Guilford Press: New York, New York.