Bonding is an important part of creating secure attachments with our children. Since it’s Father’s Day weekend, I wanted to remind any dads out there of all you have to offer your kids and provide you (dad or not) with 5 practical tips to bonding with your child. I recognize that as dads go, there is a wide range of comfortability, feelings of capability, and experience. I hope you know YOU are the best dad for your child! As a dad, you bring different skills, characteristics, and strengths to the table than mom does. Honor that, know you have value to add, and use it to your advantage. You can teach, educate, and care for your child just as well and in equally valuable ways.
For any dads (or parents) out there like my husband who like check-lists or practical examples, here are 5 practical tips to bonding with your little one.
*I want to add a disclaimer before I dive into these tips. They are just that, tips. You may be doing these already, or think they seem pretty simple (sometimes it is that simple), but feel free to use these tips as a starting point. Feel encouraged to be and continue as the best dad for your kiddo, with things you are already doing or simple steps to get started! Take it, make it yours, and feel deeply bonded and connected to your child, that’s all I could hope for.*
Bonding is done through many ways, but typically involves things that engage the senses: taste, smell, sight, touch and hearing. These are the main ways your child experiences the world, especially when they are little. One of the first senses to develop in utero is touch, so that’s where we can start.
Physical touch is how your baby receives early interactions. How they are handled, snuggled and responded to teaches them so much about their world early on. Physical touch can be a simple and quick initial way to bond with your baby, and why skin-to-skin is so important for newborns. I know I am biased, I own a baby massage and yoga business, but it’s founded in research that physical touch impacts our wellbeing and health. With that being said, there’s lots of ways to provide physical touch to your little one – snuggles, massage, holding, head rubs, high fives, pats on the back, back rubs, hugs and more. Find ways that feel comfortable for you to create positive touch with your littles, and feel encouraged that you are already connecting and bonding before they can even tell you so.
Let’s move to another sense- hearing. Activities like reading, talking, and singing have amazing benefits for your child. Reading is shown to be incredibly beneficial for children’s language development as early as newborns. Find some books you like, things that are important to you, or things you want them to learn and read books about those things with your kiddo. They may stare at the pages or flip the pages too fast, but creating space to read together is a great early way to connect and something you can continue for years to come. Another great way to bond is just talking to your baby. Have a conversation with your baby and they may coo back to you in just the right moments. Or maybe hop into a random conversation with your toddler and see what hilarity ensues.
You may have already noticed your child copying so many of the things they’ve seen you (or others) do. Children learn social skills through imitation, and in observing you interact and talk to them they are learning . As a bonus, sing with your kiddo. If this is out of your comfort zone, know your child isn’t judging you on your singing skills(this isn’t a children’s version of the Voice) nor do they know if you are “good” or “bad” at singing. They just love to hear you!! Did you know babies can differentiate their parents’ voices from others in the room? Pretty cool, huh? Sing them your favorite songs, jam out to popular or nostalgic hits. My husband would LOVE it if our daughter started humming Paramore in the backseat, his inner middle school emo kid would hair swoop in joy!
My third tip may be something you are already doing, but own a part of the routine. I’m not sure how you split up child care in your family. Maybe it’s 50/50 or depends on who is home, or maybe specific tasks go to a certain parent. However you divide them up, take on your part in the routine- do it your way and have fun with it. Make it yours, whether it’s jamming to country music in the bath, or playtime means crazy spy shenanigans with nerf guns. The more you have fun, the more your kids will buy into whatever you are selling, plus it makes all the chaos of parenting way more fun when you are enjoying yourself too! You are doing the routine just as well, even if it isn’t necessarily done how your partner would do it. That’s the beauty of you doing it!
Bear with me on this one, it’s going to sound so simple it might almost sound stupid…. Do things with your kids. I’m not trying to insinuate you don’t already spend time with your littles, but as I said earlier, kids learn through observation and imitation. Do things you need to do with your kids, find ways to include them. Maybe your baby can’t help you do the dishes, but baby wearing them while you do it still gives them positive and meaningful experiences. Similarly, your toddler may not be able to help you do tasks well, honestly they will probably make it harder, but give them a task, make it a game and have fun completing it together. Don’t feel like you have to do all the things when the kids are down or you are by yourself.
The act of doing those things together creates bonds and memories, encourages independence, and years later your kids might still complain about the WAY TOO long home depot trips, but that just means you were present and engaged for the memories.
This leads me to my last and favorite tip… invite your kids into your hobbies. As you do things with them, include them in your favorite things. Whether you are into games, reading, sports teams, cooking, fashion, invite them into those hobbies. Let them observe what it looks like to love and enjoy a hobby! You may just make a book worm, future engineer, or baker yet.
This tip in particular is my favorite because I’ve seen my husband do it so well. He’s a proud and practicing lifetime nerd who would love nothing more than to spend an evening playing Dungeons and Dragons or a favorite board game or three. He does an awesome job of being silly with our daughter and inviting her into that. At 2, she definitely does not play board games, but she loves when he uses silly voices and pretends with her. He also loves to bring her along for long jogs with our dog and playfully use her as a dumbbell in his weight training. It’s been a cool way for him to spend time with her and still get those tasks done or just have fun with her, and you can do it too. Obviously your infant may not be able to handle a table saw…. but building things for them, or “watching” sports games together are great ways to start that bonding early.
I hope you can take some of these and be encouraged in what you are already doing, or know just how to connect with your little one moving forward. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that we are all figuring it out and it’s a constant shifting of strategies as a parent. You play a unique and special role in your kids’ lives.