How to Foster a Father/Child Relationship

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There is nothing more precious than the adoring look your child gives you. As a father, your role is to nurture, encourage and foster the development of your child. However, when the connection doesn’t seem to be as close as you would like, there are ways you can rebuild that trust by offering your son or daughter what he or she needs – YOU.

The Aftermath of a Missing Bond

Unfortunately, children who do not have a close bond with their fathers feel unsafe, ungrounded and inadequate, says Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, New York-based licensed family and marriage therapist. “They grow up making bad decisions and have low self concept,” he says. “They spend their lives trying to win the validation and approval of male figures, substitutes for the father they never had, rather than growing into secure, self realized human beings.”

When a child has a father figure who is present but not actively involved in his or her life, it affects emotional and social development and growth. You can make your child feel safe, grounded and adequate by finding ways to bond and build the relationship, though.

The Bond of a Father and a Child

Many people assume that the bond between a father and child is automatic when the child is born and the father first holds his new bundle of joy. That’s not always the case, though. In fact, the first 12 months revolve around a baby primarily bonding with mom, says Dr. Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building a Better Bond with Your Child. Dad often takes a backseat to mom during this important developmental stage.

However, as a baby begins to crawl and explore the world around him or her, a separation from mom naturally happens and dad becomes a welcome sight. A father’s influence is crucial during this stage, says Christina Steinorth, California-based psychotherapist and author of Cue Cards for Life: Gentle Reminders for Better Relationships.

“When fathers are involved with their children as infants, children seem to be more emotionally secure and therefore more comfortable in exploring their surroundings,” says Steinorth. In addition, studies have shown that boys with strong attachments to their fathers develop better language skills, have higher IQs and display higher levels of frustration tolerance.

According to Hokemeyer, the best way a father can bond with a child is to simply spend time with him or her. “The key here is not to feel pressured to ‘do’ anything, but rather to just be with the child,” says Hokemeyer. “Parents, and in particular, fathers, feel the need to constantly be engaging in some activity with their child. It’s perfectly normal and instinctual, as a father’s role in life is to guide and protect his child, but this can lead to the child feeling pressured and inadequate.”

Hokemeyer suggests allowing the child to lead. “Follow them in their play and ask them to teach you something they feel a sense of mastery over,” he suggests.

Taking an interest in your child’s hobbies and passions is a strong start. If your son enjoys sporting events, relax together and watch a game on TV. If your daughter is passionate about dance, ask her to show you some moves or perform a number as you relax at home. Even discussing your child’s interests allows the opportunity for you two to bond.

Show Your Commitment and Love

Children need to feel secure, and showing your commitment and love is the best way to make them feel safe and nurtured. “Support the child on his or her journey of discovery,” says Hokemeyer.

When fathers dismiss a child’s interests or relinquish support for a child’s passions, children often view this as a lack of commitment to the father-child relationship.

“Fathers often play out their fears and insecurities about life and the world on their children. They need to step back when they feel afraid, anxious or disapproving of how their child’s interests, passions and curiosities are manifesting,” says Hokemeyer. “When they act from this place, the meta message they communicate to their child is ‘you’re unlovable as you are and not good enough.’”

Instead, show an interest in your child’s likes and dislikes, ask questions about his or her activities and engage them in conversations with an open mind to reassure them that you love them, even if you don’t agree with or share their beliefs or passions. These behaviors and actions will show your child your commitment to the relationship and your willingness to be involved in his or her life.

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