If you talk with most fathers, they will express a desire to be a great dad. However, for some men, the task proves to be daunting. When their child makes a mistake, some men find themselves getting frustrated and will lash out with verbal or physical aggression. Other men are at a loss to come up with things to do with their child that will allow them to feel moments of closeness that "great fatherhood" seems to include. Playing sports can be one way to connect, but there are often few openings for deeper engagement in the midst of competitive play. For men who are uncomfortable with displays of emotion, because they don’t seem "manly," it can be difficult to think of activities that can create memories of bonding.
Unfortunately, men are also far more reluctant to seek out parenting help, because to do so is an acknowledgement that something is wrong. Asking for help can also be a threat to the self-concept of being a "good dad." Further, the stereotype of professional counseling help is one involving the discussion of feelings, and other "touchy-feely" stuff that can make some men uncomfortable.
According to a recent study in the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, one overlooked avenue of connection is reading.
In this study, fathers were video-recorded while reading with their children. After each session, a guide watched the recording with each father, and helped the fathers to frame those videos so that they could improve the practice of reading as a result of the feedback there were viewing and discussing. Fathers were given some questions to use for focusing their attention: 1) To what degree are you just reading the story, as opposed to using the story to ask your child questions? 2) How often do you observe yourself being critical of your child as you read? 3) How often do you touch your child while you are reading? 4) How often do you provide positive feedback and praise as you talk about the story? 5) How often do you ask your child to predict what is going to happen next, or to visualize what they think they would do if they were in the situation described in the story.
Over the course of a number of reading sessions, fathers were instructed to point out instances in each video when they provided sensitive and/or responsive behavior, and also to point instances when their reaction was either suboptimal or lacking. When a father pointed out something that could be improved, the father was asked to think of ways he could have responded differently. This training seems to have had a very powerful influence on the fathers who participated. They were highly likely to improve their reading practice over time, in response to the feedback and metacognitive thinking they experienced.
If you are father, looking for easy ways to bond with your child, pick out a book, set aside your distractions (turn off your phone!), and sit down with her. Ask her lots of questions. Provide her with lots of praise. And just enjoy the opportunity you have – right now – to carve out memories and pour the foundation for your evolving relationship with your child.
Chacko, A., Fabiano, G. A., Doctoroff, G. L., & Fortson, B. (2018). Engaging fathers in effective parenting for preschool children using shared book reading: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 47(1), 79-93.