A new study found that fathers make an important contribution to their infants’ emotional development and coping behaviors. In the May issue of The Journal of Infancy, Dr. Marissa Diener reports that babies who have a secure relationship with their father use more coping tactics to entertain themselves during times of separation from parents than other infants who were not securely attached to their father. Diener studied one hundred 12-month-olds, testing their reactions to having the mother and father leave the child alone with a stranger for a brief time, then the parents returned. During the separation, babies who had secure relationships with their fathers were easier to calm down, made fewer sad faces, and tended to use more coping tactics (like playing with objects) than those who did not.
Historically, studies have demonstrated a connection between an infant’s emotional development and his relationship with his mother. Diener states, “There may be something unique to fathers that provides children with different opportunities to regulate their emotions.”
To Think About …
Dr. Martin Greenberg suggests several qualities in new dads that promote caring and attachment during those early years of their child’s development. 1) They are acutely aware of their child’s beauty, individuality and personality. 2) They are captivated with touching the baby: holding her, touching her skin and playing with her. 3) They tune in to the details of their infant’s appearance and the ways he is unique. 4) They feel a strong attraction and exhilaration toward their child. Like the magnetic pull on a compass, a father seeks out his child when he comes home. 5) They feel an increase in their self-esteem. There is a sense that dads of young children are prouder and more mature than they were before.
I think all dads–no matter how old their children are–would benefit from a dose of new father exuberance now and then. Over time, it’s easy to fall into negative routines when we’re relating to our kids, and sometimes we need shots of joy, energy and levity to revive our relationships. Your kids may think you’ve lost touch with reality, but go ahead anyway. I think you’ll see surprising results.
ACTION POINTS for Committed Fathers
- If you’re a new dad, take advantage of opportunities to bond with your baby. There’s no magic formula–just be there and be involved in every way you can. Get close and talk in gentle tones; help with daily childcare tasks; spend lots of time holding, smiling, and talking to him.
- Regardless of your kids’ ages, look over Greenberg’s five descriptions for dads of infants and ask yourself if you’re still expressing attachment behavior to each of your children.
- Celebrate with another family who is having a child. Get your child involved in buying a baby gift or sending a card to a family with a newborn.
- Give your children a “history” lesson by recounting the events and feelings present during their birth or entrance into the family.
- Read more insights for dads of infants on our “Fathering Tips” page at www.fathers.com.