06 Nov Building a bond with your child
By Johan Verster – Husband, pastor and father of 4 young children
One of my best friends has just gone to meet his new adoptive son. With the boy being 9 months old, my friend is fully conscious of the fact that he has to make every effort to build a bond with his adoptive son. The reality is that many of us who are fortunate enough to have biological children often take for granted the importance of intentionally fostering a relationship with our children. We make the mistake of thinking that ‘relationship’ is something that happens automatically and we forget that, as with all other relationships, a healthy and vibrant connection with our children is something to be worked at. Now this might sound depressing to you – here is yet another responsibility to add to your already too-long list of “to-do’s”! The good news however is that parenting is one of those sacred duties that also brings much pleasure. The stronger the bond between you and your child, the healthier and happier both you and your child will be, both in present but also in the long-run.
Here are a few practical ways in which you can build a bond between you and your child:
- It is often difficult for dads to feel a connection with the baby that is still in the mother’s womb. During the 9 months of pregnancy the mom is of course acutely aware of the baby’s presence, but for the dad the whole experience seems a little bit surreal. One of the ways to overcome this is to regularly speak to your baby. Now this might feel a bit weird to you at first, but it will not only score you major points with ‘the missus’, but will also be foundational to your future relationship with the little one. Studies show that babies in utero not only hear the voice of their parents, but also begin to recognize and respond to the parents’ voices. And so, set aside regular times to (gently!) rub your wife’s tummy, as you speak to your baby in a clear, calm and affectionate way. You might be hopeless at holding a tune, but swallow your pride and sing to your child! Sing something simple, short and soothing like a lullaby. Something that the little-one can become familiar with and recognize both pre and post the birth. When it comes to babies, familiarity breeds contentment.
- Another way that you can strengthen the bond with your baby is to be “hands-on” during the pregnancy stage. The more you plan and help prepare for the arrival of the little one, the clearer you will become about your role as a father and the more it will create a sense of responsibility within you. And so, help your partner with getting the baby’s room ready. Go with her to the baby-stores and expos. Attend childbirth classes and support your partner wholeheartedly during labour. Being a “hands-on” dad in these early days will not only be a huge blessing to your wife, but will grow your affection for your child.
- Straight after the little one has been born and has had its first drink from your wife, you as the dad can do some skin-to-skin with your baby. Unbutton your shirt and rest your baby on your chest, with its tummy against yours and head just below your neck. Your baby should be breathing comfortably and have his back covered with a warm blanket. And now just chill with your baby. Look at him, talk to him and listen to the sounds he makes. This first bit of contact time together will help you two get off to a good start, you can even gently sing him the familiar song. Just a heads-up, babies don’t do well with tickling, fiddling and poking. The contact you have should be calm, firm pressure without being too hard. This skin-to-skin time is almost like a first date, but you can do it as often as the two of you like in the weeks to come.
- If your involvement during the pregnancy and birthing stage was important for your bond with your child, so much more during infancy. And so, be a real man and change nappies! Burp your baby. Cuddle and kiss him as often as you get a chance. Help with bath times and with settling your baby after feeds. And help settle him at sleep times until he is as comfortable falling asleep with you as with his mom. In the first few months there won’t be much more happening than sleeping and eating and short awake periods of dirtying nappies and most likely some crying time, but as your baby grows and tolerates longer periods of “conversation interaction” you can start chatting to your boy or girl. Tell him about your day, tell him how much you love him. He will be learning sounds and conversation skills from you so the faster you are comfortable with it the more he will learn. You’ll be surprised how quickly he will start to chat back to you even if it’s just sounds.
- As your child enters early childhood and becomes fully conversant, there are few things as beneficial to strengthen the bond with him as doing “daddy-dates”. In our household, I try and take each of my children once a term on a date. My daughters call these “princess-dates” and my sons prefer to call it “pirate-dates”. There is nothing fancy about these outings (we simply go out for a quick tea, or a milkshake or an ice-cream), but my kids treasure these times together because they know that they will get my undivided attention. The aim with these dates is to have playful, but also intimate conversations where I can remind them of how much I love them and of how proud I am of them. I believe strongly that the more “dates” we do as fathers with our children, the less they will feel the need to go on “dates” (with others!) when they hit their teenage years but are not ready to navigate the complexity of these relationships.
- Another crucial place where a father’s bond with his children can be cemented is at the dinner table. Food has a profound ability to create fellowship, stimulate conversation and foster relationships. And so, switch off the TV and put your cellphone aside and use suppertime as a daily opportunity to have meaningful and molding conversations with your children. Ask your children how their day has been – what they’ve done, what they’ve learned, what they enjoyed, what they’ve feared, and so on. Tell them about your day and use every opportunity to nurture and shape them into the kind of people you want them to become. And once supper is finished and the kids eventually go to bed, have one final interaction with them. Tell them a story, or at the very least give them one last hug and a kiss as you remind them of how much you love them.
The bottom-line is this: a strong and healthy bond with your child doesn’t happen automatically. It is one of the most important responsibilities in life and it cannot be outsourced to others. It can set your children up for healthier relationships with others in the future and allows them to spend their emotional and physical energy on developing well rather than trying to calm anxiety and uncertainty. You’ll be surprised how much satisfaction you will get out of nurturing these relationships.