In the week that Father’s Day was celebrated across the UK, Cumbernauld Family Hub takes a closer look at the importance of father-child bonding and explores ways in which dads can effectively connect with their children from early years through to adolescence.
With a lot written about and particular services moulded towards mother-child bonding in the 21st century, it can sometimes be underestimated how vital a father’s role is in their child’s development.
Fathers often face different challenges to those experienced by mothers. These can include difficulties in finding their role and identity as a dad in the early days, balancing working life with fatherhood, installing the right level of discipline and ‘tough love’ and adjusting to added responsibilities. Sometimes, these things can cause barriers to father-child bonding.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE EARLY YEARS IN FATHER-CHILD BONDING
Whether they deserve it or not, dads can often be tarred with the brush of failing to be ‘hands-on’ with their new son or daughter, at least in comparison with the child’s mother. Some fathers might even subscribe to traditionalist views that bonding time is the mother’s responsibility and that they have a different role to play in the family’s unity and wellbeing.
However, evidence suggests that the sooner a father starts bonding with his baby, the brighter the future is for the whole family.
Dads who play with their kids from day one not only boost their child’s physical and mental development significantly more than those who don’t ‘join in’, but hands-on fathers also suffer from less stress.
Fathers can benefit significantly from investing time to bond with their babies. By becoming more familiar with them from an early stage, their likes and dislikes, the father’s confidence with the baby increases.
Whilst some still align with time-established parenting roles, modern fathers seemingly have no qualms these days about holding the baby. Many of them have seen role-model dads such as David Beckham, Prince William and Will Smith carrying their babies or taking time out with their kids and now follow suit.
Interestingly, recent studies indicated that fathers also develop a stronger interpersonal relationship with their children if they regularly put their baby in a papoose-style carrier and take them out to explore the world. Research has even found that men experience a surge in ‘bonding’ hormones around the time their children are born.
It has been found that during the mother’s pregnancy, the father experiences a shift in their levels of stress hormone, cortisol, as well as prolactin, a hormone linked to parenting behaviour. This is backed up by scientific data which also shows a rise in oxytocin, a chemical that can dilute a man’s alpha-male attitude and engender a more nurturing nature.
However, those hormone levels have in time been found to return to pre-pregnancy levels in men. And so, once the initial elation of becoming a father is over, many dads can tend to take a back seat in parenting.
But many experts have advocated that by maintaining a hands-on involvement with their children through the toddling years, fathers can strike up a relationship that will help them and their children combat issues later in life such as depression. Mary McNeil, Development Manager of Cornerstone House Centre’s Cumbernauld Family Hub project, commented:
“Some of the endorsed research that Cumbernauld Family Hub has looked into about the importance of the relationship between father and child is fascinating and very significant indeed.
“One of the most interesting findings has been that fathers play a hugely important role in the mental health of their children much later in life.
“Dads have a unique style of interacting with their children. Indeed, men who report having had a good relationship with their father during childhood were found to be better at dealing with stress.
“It has been shown that fathers tend to use different vocabulary with their children, often using complicated words where mothers tend to adjust their language down. This helps to broaden the child’s vocabulary.
“Also, babies who have benefited from paternal interactions from an early age often get on better with their peers.
“Generally, it is believed that children who enjoy a healthy and active relationship with their father are more likely to be academically successful, stay in school longer, avoid the use drugs and alcohol and are less likely to get involved with crime.
“They may also be better equipped socially and psychologically than infants who receive very little attention from their fathers.”
So why don’t more dads bond with their babies? Some may be inclined to take an ‘it’s cute but what does it do?’ attitude to their children when they’re at such an early stage in their development. For other men, work pressures or time constraints mean they just don’t get the same opportunities to interact with their new son or daughter.
By being attentive to the small details and nuances, fathers can get a lot of satisfaction and benefit from communicating with and caring for their baby. Time spent with the baby in the early weeks and months provides a positive foundation for a developing relationship as the child grows, making fatherhood more rewarding and enjoyable.
THE SCHOOL YEARS AND BONDING IN NEW WAYS
The challenges of father-child bonding evolve as the child gets older and the two-way communicative relationship develops. Children who have a strong bond with their father during the school years tend to be emotionally secure, confident in exploring their surroundings, have better social connections and are less likely to get into trouble.
It is at this stage that the involvement of the father in the child’s mental health and wellbeing can be seen more readily. In particular, a father’s engagement with their children, their accessibility to their children and their assumption of responsibility for their children are all extremely important.
A warm father-child relationship has been positively associated with improved child cognitive outcomes, during both primary and second school years. Sensitive parenting – a style where the father is empathetic to the needs of the child but is neither too intrusive nor too distant – is also an approach which is known to nurture positive and healthy child development.
The simplest and often most effective way for dads to bond with their child as they get older is to spend time together, undertake activities, share experiences and create happy memories.
Of course, this is made more difficult at present as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The recent lockdown in the UK has not been an easy time for families, with many fathers juggling working from home, childcare and home schooling the kids.
But despite the challenges of the past few months, fathers and children can still find ways to come together and make the most of the prolonged time spent together. Examples of creative ways in which a father can bond with his son or daughter while at home include exercising in the garden, cooking and baking, playing board games, doing arts and crafts together, and connecting through digital means.
For dads of older children and teenagers, maintaining and building a relationship can be a whole new ball game. Issues to contend include a swirling mix of hormones and desire to challenge authority, and it can leave you feeling vulnerable as a parent.
Sometimes as a father you will feel stressed and emotional yourself. Don’t be afraid of letting your son or daughter know how you feel. Each time you do, you’re showing them that it’s okay not to be perfect and it’s okay not to have all the answers.
In most circumstances, a good father always keeps believing in his children, no matter how good or bad their relationship might seem at the time. It can be normal for teenagers to drift away from and even reject their parents. But it’s also normal for them to come back and develop a meaningful relationship that will last the rest of your lives.
Fathers and their children living in Cumbernauld can benefit from a range of free provisions and services facilitated by Cumbernauld Family Hub, including creative play activities, practical health promotion, educational opportunities and family support resources.
Family Hub activities are planned to be informal, practical and interrelated, making the learning fun and interactive. Notably, services are tailored to benefit families experiencing difficulties as a result of factors such as poverty, housing problems, relationship issues, lack of educational attainment and unemployment.