Research continues to reinforce the notion that children benefit from having playful fathers. One study in Germany several years ago examined specific ways in which fathers and mothers cultivate close attachments with their children during the early years, and which of those early parental practices lead to deeper, long-term attachments during later stages of childhood.
With fathers, sensitivity in play was the best predictor of long-term attachment, even surpassing the security that a mom provides for an infant or toddler. The fathers created that attachment by being sensitive, supporting, and gently challenging during playtime with their toddlers.
The lesson here for dads—especially dads of infants and toddlers—is clear: sensitive play is key for your child’s development. And this should be an easy one, because play often comes naturally for dads. How many times have you been involved in some childcare task or chore with your kids, and you somehow made it into a game or a contest? You aren’t just goofing off; you’re making an important investment in your children’s lives. We all need to be dads who know how to have fun with our kids.
Rich Batten is a graduate of the National Center’s Train-the-Trainer Program who works with fathers in Colorado. He adds these four suggestions to help guide dads as they play with their children:
- Make time for play with your kids. It needs to be a real priority.
- Maintain a positive tone. Give your “disciplinarian dad” character a break.
- Talk as you play. Ask open-ended questions. Get your children involved in thinking and being creative.
- Follow their lead sometimes. The imagination of a child is a wondrous thing. Give a little encouragement, and then just watch and see what magic develops.
Are you a father of an infant or toddler? Take our self-scoring profile to see how you’re doing (PDF).
- Play with your kids this weekend. Get out the Yahtzee or Scrabble; build a Lego tower or a squadron of paper airplanes.
- Be physically active with your kids—from newborn to grown children. Physical involvement leads to playful interaction.
- When playing with your child, put yourself on her level—on your hands and knees or even up in a tree—and do things she enjoys, even if it means playing with dolls or singing silly songs.
- Think of the goofiest thing you did as a kid and make sure your children hear it so often that they groan when you bring it up again.
- If your child wants to do the same thing over and over again, just do it!