We are definitely living in uncertain times. What may or may not happen down the road is frightening, to say the least. However, what lessens our fear is the emotional connection we have with others, and this especially true for children and their parents.
Most fathers would probably agree that understanding their own feelings, never mind the feelings of their children, is a challenge. Granted, emotions and bonding are rather nebulous concepts and especially to men who have served or are serving. In contrast, most women seem to form attachments with their newborns and, later, their children somewhat effortlessly. Whether this is hereditary, learned, or some combination of the two, who knows? What is known is that men typically do not find interacting with newborns and toddlers particularly interesting.
In fact, it isn’t until children are around 7+ years old that dads start to really interact with them. Deployments and work related travel further impede this emotional connection between fathers and their children.
Still, some fathers may ask: Why are we even talking about this topic?! Well, a healthy parent-child connection or bond essentially creates a blueprint for subsequent social, emotional, and psychological development in children.
In other words, this bond creates security and confidence in your child as well as dictates how their future relationships will unfold.
In fact, a secure bond between a parent and child enables the child to trust others as well as form healthy and loving relationships. In contrast, a weak or problematic connection with one or both parents, typically results in all sorts of mental health and relational issues down the road.
In fact, many adults who are currently struggling with anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and/or chemical abuse/dependency often feel emotionally disconnected from others. Suffice to say, creating and then maintaining an emotional connection with your child is hugely important.
Despite having a late start, there are all sorts of things fathers can do to create a strong bond with their children. Most of these interventions require minimal time and effort. For example, start with putting down your phone, laptop, and to-do list. Search for your child and then sit down with him or her. Solely focus on what he or she is doing and nothing more. That is, be emotionally as well as physically present. Observe, and then ask an occasional and thoughtful open-ended question. Patiently wait for an answer. Boom, it’s started! Really?! Yes, and even though these steps may not seem like much, they’re truly the beginning of a lifelong dialogue as well as connection.
Like a seedling, this emerging emotional connection with your child will require a certain level of care or interaction to grow. So, find something to do and that appeals to both of you. Do it over and over again. Don’t over think it. It could be something as simple as you and your son or daughter regularly reading a book together, going for a walk through the neighborhood, going out for an ice cream (once the ban has been lifted!), working in the garden, building something together, etc. What you’re shooting for is regular, predictable, and unhurried time together with your child. Note that a once or twice a year shared family vacation won’t cut it. Vacations are not a replacement for frequent and predictable fatherchild interactions.
Suffice to say, almost nothing changes as a function of time. Therefore, if you truly want to be connected to your children and you also want them to be prepared for the future, do something now to strengthen your emotional connection with them. You’ll both be thankful that you did.
For additional non-emergent questions, feel free to contact me at, “Ask the Child Shrink”. Dr. James Shrink is a child clinical psychologist with more than 30+ years experience. He specializes in evaluating & treating boys and teenage boys.