When we think of parent-child bonding, we often picture a mom cradling her newborn baby close to her chest. However, that is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to parent-child bonding. Bonding is imperative to healthy relationships between parent and child, this includes dad as well and goes well beyond infancy.

Why Is Bonding So Important?

Bonding between parent and child starts at infancy and often comes in the form of skin-to-skin contact (SSC) immediately after birth. Research from the American Academy of Pediatrics promotes skin-to-skin contact because it “stabilizes the newborn’s body temperature and can help prevent hypothermia. SSC also helps stabilize blood glucose concentrations, decreases crying, and provides cardiorespiratory stability, especially in late preterm newborns. SSC has been shown in numerous studies as a method to decrease pain in newborns being held by mothers and fathers.”

Further research also suggests that bonding with one’s baby can help the infant grow into a happy and socially adjusted individual. The University of Iowa conducted a study on parental-child bonding and found that these close relationships benefit babies in the long-run.  According to the study, babies who have strong parental bonds tend to be “less troubled, aggressive or less likely to experience other emotional and behavioral problems when they reach school age.” While strong bonds have positive outcomes in a child’s life, weak bonds between parents and children may result in the child experiencing anxiety, depression and detachment issues in adulthood, according to a study done by The American College of Pediatrics.

The opposite was found in those that had strong bonds with their parents in adulthood. When these bonds are built, so is trust. Trust accompanies strong and healthy relationships. The Palo Alto Medical Foundation notes that trust also makes it easier to share information in relationships because the one sharing the information is less fearful of being judged. When a parent and child have a healthy and strong bond, it is likely that the child will be more inclined to share both positive and difficult news with their parent(s).

Child-Father bonding

Bonding with one’s child is not strictly maternal–dads are encouraged to bond with their children at birth and at all stages in their life. The Association of Women’s Health and Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) notes a study that says, “fathers reported that they didn’t start to experience fatherhood until birth…Most fathers enter parenthood expecting an immediate emotional bond with their newborns, but report that bond takes time. In fact, some fathers still did not feel bonded to their infants as late as 6 weeks to 2 months after birth.” This can then lead to paternal postpartum depression.

It is evident that bonding is important to the wellbeing of both fathers and their infants and toddlers. AWHONN mentions that when a father and child form a strong connection it “reduces cognitive delay, promotes weight gain in preterm infants, and improves breastfeeding rates.”

Furthermore, differences in fatherhood involvement with bonding styles also contribute to their child’s well-being. LIVESCIENCE.com spoke with W. Brad Wilcox, co-editor of the book, “Gender and Parenthood: Biological and Social Scientific Perspectives,”who brought to light that fathers play with their children differently and tend to be more physical. Fathers will wrestle or engage in athletic activities with their children. Through this type of contact and bonding it can “help teach kids to control their bodies and emotions.” Fathers are more likely to encourage their kids to embrace risk, both on the playground and in life. This influences the ambitions of children over the long run, can help them step out of their comfort zone more easily and can even create learning opportunities from the risks that they take.

Bonding Activities For Parent And Child

It is now known why parent-child bonding is vitally important, but how does a parent continue to bond with their child once they start to squirm, run away, and think that kisses and hugs from mom and dad are gross? Bonding can go beyond tough. The following are activities that parents can implement to foster a strong child-parent relationship well into early childhood, tween and teenage years.

Bonding with Toddlers:

  1. Read! We know that reading is important to grow a child’s intellect but it can also strengthen the relationship between child and parent. Parenting.com encourages parents to get animated when reading to their toddler and to even re-read the books that your toddler chooses…even if it is for the 100th time.
  2. Create traditions that they can remember for years to come. “Toddlers are going through big developmental changes,” Parenting.com writes, “so anything predictable will make them feel secure — especially if they can share that moment with you.” Why not take your infant or child to the park every Friday, make baked goods on the first weekend of each month, or even have something as simple as crazy sock day once a week?
  3. Partake in their imaginary adventures. This will show them that you are supporting their creativity and can let loose. Depending on your child’s personality, they will get a kick out of being able to boss mom/dad around if they are the one in charge of the whole adventure. The rules may not make sense but you and your child will have something special to reminisce about.

Bonding with Young Children:

  1. It’s never too early to teach your child a life skill or a hobby. Chances are they will be willing to learn because they will be getting to spend time with you. As they practice and improve their skills, they will be able to look back and recall that someone close to them taught them all that they needed to know. Some creative teaching opportunities are gardening, dancing and photography.
  2. Once in a while, let your child pick out their own outfit. You can give them some guidelines but let them know that they can be creative and have fun with the task. Sure, you may get a few stares when you’re running your errands with them, but your child will be elated. Plus, those creative outfits make for great photos.
  3. Be patient, attentive and help them identify their emotions. When parents see that something is bothering their child they will ask them, “What’s wrong?” only to get a response of, “I don’t know.” Sometimes children really can’t tell a grown-up what’s wrong because they don’t know how to describe how they are feeling. Talking about emotions can boost a child’s emotional intelligence and can lead them to working out their problems on their own. This practice also lets them know that the topic doesn’t scare you and can reassure them that they can turn to their parent(s) or caregiver when something is emotionally difficult.

Bonding with Tweens:

  1. Joke with them. Joking let’s your child know that their parent is not always uptight and shows affection in a different way. It can also help your child’s sense of humor grow. Creating inside jokes that no one else understands is always fun.
  2. Take a trip to the same destination each year. It could be a day trip or an actual vacation but the tradition is a great way to bond with your tween. When you reach your destination let them choose an activity that the family can partake in. Remember to take a lot of pictures to commemorate all your time spent together.
  3. Be engaged and ask them about their current interests. Their obsession with dinosaurs could just be a phase, but being genuinely curious about their interests will let them know that you care. More likely than not, they will be excited to explain the ins-and-outs of their favorite trend. Once you learn about their interest, check in regularly with your young expert for updates to continue to show them that you care.

Bonding with Teenagers:

  1. Get to know your teen’s friends. The friends may not reciprocate the interest but showing your teen that you’re giving their friends a chance is a big deal to them. They may be more inclined to discuss the hardships that come with teen friendships since you are familiar with who they will be talking about.
  2. Tackle a big project together. Maybe you want to repaint the living room or maybe it’s time to clean out the attic and have a garage sale. Let your teen know that you are going to need their help to get the project done in a timely manner. When the project is finished, you will all feel accomplished knowing that teamwork is what got the job done.
  3. Continue to celebrate your accomplishments with one another. Everyone deserves to be celebrated so let your teen know that you are proud of them and they will likely return the favor.

There are a plethora of benefits to parent and child bonding activities but it is important to remember that it does not need to be a constant activity nor does it need to be a major production. Telling your child “I love you,” can be enough to strengthen the connection that has already been established. With all of this information and ideas, you can now gradually start implementing them into your life and watch your relationship with your child develop into something beautiful.