Cry, poop, eat, sleep, repeat…
Pretty much all your newborn does, right? Often it seems, there’s no real opportunity for meaningful social interactions.
Well, research shows that parental bonds with a newborn do shape their personality and behaviour. In fact, new research shows dads’ interactions with newborns have a big impact.
A study from Oxford University found toddlers with poor paternal bonds in infancy were more likely to exhibit behavioral problems as toddlers.
Don’t Want Your Baby To Act Like A Jerk? Dads, Here’s What You Need To Do
Simply put, less interaction with dad as an infant could make a toddler act like a jerk.
Dads, if you want to prevent your child from acting like a jerk, you need to interact with them while they’re babies.
Is Dad’s Interaction With Baby Really That Important?
In a nutshell? Absolutely.
In the early days, weeks, months…sometimes even years…it may seem like baby wants her mama, and mama has everything baby needs. But research contradicts this. Babies DO benefit from time with dad, especially male babies.
This study found that babies who didn’t have a close bond with dad were more likely to exhibit behavioural problems and disorders as they got older. Even if dad was around baby often, if he wasn’t intentionally interacting with baby, it didn’t have the same positive effect as meaningful social interaction.
You might be thinking this study is silly because a toddler acting like a jerk? That sounds like par for the course…
Well, toddlers certainly do keep us on our toes. However, there’s a big difference between typical terrible 2’s and 3’s and true behavioural problems or disorders.
It can certainly feel like a toddler is out to get you, but the reality is toddlers are simply testing and exploring. They don’t typically have malicious intent and thus they aren’t really exhibiting jerk-like behaviour.
Jerk definitely isn’t an accurate term when describing a toddler, with or without behaviour issues, and it’s not the one used in the study. However, it makes you think of specific types of behaviour. The type of behaviours you don’t want a child, or anyone for that matter, to exhibit.
It’s not used here to make light of behavioural disorders, which aren’t always the result of parental nurture. It simply brings to mind preventable behaviours you hope your child won’t exhibit.
Why Is This Study Important?
We know that early childhood has a huge impact on a person’s growth, development and their future. Having a behavioural disorder can lead to social difficulties and peer rejection, academic trouble, delinquency, and impact long-term physical and mental health.
While many early childhood studies exist, the majority focus on mother-baby interaction. In seeing the results of this and similar studies, we’re now realising we’ve been missing a huge component in childhood development. Dad’s interactions matter, they matter a lot.
Be sure to check out how Dad’s Mood Plays A Key Role In Child Development to read more about the importance of father child interactions.
What Does The Research Really Mean?
“Well, my dad always worked. I rarely saw him and I’m perfectly fine. This study is ridiculous.”
“My Uncle John was always with his kids and I never met a more poorly behaved toddler than my cousin Sam.”
First and foremost, studies show risks, not guarantees. Secondly, a correlation doesn’t always mean causation. Basically, this study found babies whose dads interacted with them less were more likely to develop behavioural problems (more likely, not guaranteed).
In fact, even the researchers involved recognise this is a correlation. You don’t need to start panicking if you haven’t been singing the Itsy-Bitsy Spider daily with your two week old. However, it is important to interact with your baby often.
Dr Ramchandani explained:
“We found that children whose fathers were more engaged in the interactions had better outcomes, with fewer subsequent behavioural problems. At the other end of the scale, children tended to have greater behavioural problems when their fathers were more remote and lost in their own thoughts or when their fathers interacted less with them.”
Researchers also recognise that sometimes a correlation is a symptom of a larger problem. In this case, it’s possible that a poorer paternal bond is a symptom of overall problems in family relationships.
If there are social issues which cause a father to interact less with his child, it’s possible those issues themselves contribute to behavioural problems. Perhaps less interaction also means less supervision and care which can contribute to behaviour.
How Do I Actually Bond With A Newborn?
Sure, it’s important to interact with your newborn, but what does that actually look like? I mean, we already established they seem to only cry, poop, eat and sleep.
Well, there’s a lot you can do. No, you can’t spend hours at the park tossing a baseball or going to the father-daughter dance at school, but there’s still plenty you can do.
The best interactions are simple. Bonding happens during everyday tasks and not only big events. Here are a few ideas for interacting with your baby:
- Talk to your baby about what you’re doing (e.g. “Let’s change your diaper… Now we’ll get wrapped up…here we go back to mama to eat.”)
- Create a bedtime routine you can be a part of. Bathe baby, give her a massage and read to her. You can even read your favorite book to her and she’ll be happy!
- Practice babywearing – great for bonding and it’s practical
- Sing to and even have conversations with your baby. They won’t answer back quite yet, but it’s excellent for bonding and for encouraging verbal skills
- Practice skin-to-skin – it’s not just for mamas!
There are many ways to interact with a newborn, and it’s okay if it takes time to figure out your relationship with baby. But while you’re figuring things out, just be sure to have a lot of intentional interaction.