By Dr. Nikki Martyn, program head of Early Childhood Studies, University of Guelph-Humber
The early years are the most dynamic time of life, producing more than a million neural connections each second. For parents or caregivers, this time offers a wonderful opportunity to impact children’s lives, allowing children to see and experience relationships and the world as balanced, secure and loving.
Through a loving connection, children learn what it means to be a good person, to be weak and strong, to be vulnerable, to take safe risks, to make mistakes and repair and self-regulate hurt, anger and other powerful feelings.
These are invaluable lessons that can live within your child and provide a solid foundation from which to build a secure, loving self and relationships.
Fathers offer children diverse experiences and can positively impact their long-term development and well-being. A survey of approximately 2,200 parents in the United States found 90 per cent of fathers identified with the statement that parenting was their greatest joy. Interestingly, 76 per cent said it was also their greatest challenge. The survey was conducted by the U.S. non-profit Zero to Three that works to support early connections between caregivers and babies and toddlers.
Children’s growth and development
From birth, children are learning how to physically engage with the world and move their bodies to make things happen. Through attuned physical and emotionally responsive caregiving, they experience a secure base and develop a sense of the world as safe. They feel seen and heard. This allows children, in turn, to grow up to support the development of meaningful, loving and trusted relationships. For a child, this depends on experiencing a caregivers’ vulnerable loving self, who shows up and is emotionally present with them.
As toddlers and younger children begin to explore the world more independently, they enjoy engaging in rough and tumble play and learn boundaries, how to follow rules and social-emotional skills.
Research has found that fathers involved with their children’s lives tend to ask children more questions, significantly increasing the child’s communication skills and language development.
Fathers often push their children to get through difficult feelings when they want to quit, and in so doing, help them build resilience. They support thinking and problem solving, often modelling and explaining the reasoning or decisions for completing a task. This supports the development of critical thinking and executive function skills.
Whether you are a father, parent or caregiver or are contemplating becoming one, here are some ways to share love and connection with your young child.
Tips for sharing love and connection
- Listen: Children are learning intensively from birth to age three in ways parents may not imagine. Create space and time to watch, wait, wonder and listen to how your child perceives the world. Allow yourself to feel and explore the magic of the world through your child’s eyes. This will provide your child the experience of feeling seen and heard, to know they are important and worthy of love. This will help you form a trusted and secure connection with them.
- Share: Create trust by sharing yourself: who you are, what you love, your history and childhood. Children seek connection from birth, well before they can talk. Communicate and talk with your baby and young child, and they will learn about the world. As humans, sharing our feelings and experiences, and taking the risk of being vulnerable, is important to building meaningful, loving connections. There is strength and beauty in the vulnerable gift of yourself.
- Play: From infancy, children learn through play. It is how they understand, process and make meaning of the world. Play is fun and engaging and it allows for attuned, loving and responsive connection. Engage and play with your child in developmentally appropriate ways.Consider something that interests your child, and also share what you enjoy with them. Sharing play can help build a loving, trusting relationship that will last a lifetime.
- Storytime: Reading and sharing stories (real or imagined) is a wonderful way to connect and share a loving snuggle time. This is important for children to create a love of reading and develop listening, critical thinking and literacy skills and experience a calm relaxing time together, feeling secure and connected. You might also discover brilliant magical moments when your child shares their world with you.
- Adventure and explore: When children are preschoolers and older, imagining a world and building a fort is exciting. This kind of open-ended play using simple objects from around the home develops spatial reasoning and problem solving skills. Pitching a tent or gazing at the moon allows children to see, hear and experience the world from a new perspective. Going on a nature hunt to discover the many facets of the outdoors allows children to understand the world and allows you to share your interests and knowledge with them. For example, finding a snail can be one of the most brilliant events: You could explore how they live and move, observing the snail’s shell. You might discuss fascinating insights about shapes, or patterns in nature. Share in the awe and wonder.
- Model love: Be intentional about how you live your life, what you show your child and how you treat the people you and your child love. Remember, they are watching and learning from you all the time. Be the best dad or caregiver you can be.
Love gets under your child’s skin and lives within them forever. It fills their hearts and teaches them they are always enough — and allows them to confidently sparkle and shoot for the stars. The ripple effect of love is incredible. For this Father’s Day, create a ripple with your child and see what beauty and wonder evolves.