Four Ways Fathers Can Bond with their Children This Father’s Day

This Father’s Day, UConn researchers remind fathers how important they are to their children’s growth, sharing four ways dads can make a difference.

A message of 'love you Dad' on a blackboard written by a child for Father's Day.

UConn's Kari Adamsons offers suggestions for fathers - backed by research - on how to help their children develop in healthy ways. (Getty Images)

Each June for the past 48 years, families in the U.S. have shown appreciation for fathers, but this year that message takes on a new meaning.

Kari Adamsons, associate professor of human development and family sciences, and a colleague developed a Father’s Day Factsheet to remind fathers how they can connect with their kids to improve their health and development, especially during uncertain times.

“There’s a lot going on families have to deal with, and reminding dads how they can help nurture relationships with their kids is really important,” Adamsons says.

Adamsons and Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, a professor of psychology at Ohio State University, created the factsheet for the Council on Contemporary Families, a non-profit organization that disseminates research and best-practice findings on families, to share some important ways fathers benefit their kids.

The reminders, shared below, include things dads can do to foster communication, psychological development, and mental and physical health in their children. They may seem simple, but Adamsons says she is surprised by how many fathers think they don’t matter as much to their kids’ growth.

“We see gender stereotypes reinforcing the idea that moms are the natural caregivers and dads are not,” says Adamsons, whose research focus is fathering, and the ways in which mothers and fathers negotiate parenting roles across contexts and transitions.

“When it comes to parenting, people assume parenting is an instinct, but parenting is actually a learned skill.”

This year, parents are dealing with uncertainty and shifting priorities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which prompted Adamsons’s work with the Council.

The main goal of their “Fast Facts for Father’s Day: a Father’s Day Reminder” factsheet is to help parents and children learn how they can create and maintain healthier relationships.

Four Ways Dads Make A Difference For Their Children

Dads promote children’s communication skills by asking children questions. Men who take primary or equal responsibility for childcare are just as nurturing and sensitive as women, and great models for children.

  • Things to try: Read together with young children, and engage them in back-and-forth conversation using wh-questions (i.e., Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?). For older kids, form a “book club” where you both read the same book and talk about it together. When on the playground, stand back and allow children to attempt new activities on their own first, without interfering, but provide safety and encouragement from the sidelines. Hug your kids often, and tell your kids that you love them as much as you can!

Dads who laugh with and praise their toddlers have kids who are less distressed in frustrating situations.  And when Dads show their teens love and acceptance, teens have more positive outlooks, confidence, and better grades in school.

Dads help raise healthy children by being present at regular family meals, encouraging healthy eating and physical activity, and modeling healthy behaviors.

  • Things to try: Kids are more likely to eat foods that they helped prepare, so involve your kids in making meals and snacks. Even preschoolers can help prepare food (for example, washing or mixing ingredients, brushing bread or potatoes with oil) and older kids can help with chopping and cooking. Take walks or hikes together, play tag or basketball.

Non-resident fathers who are involved in child-related activities and have good relationships with their children have a positive influence on children’s social and academic outcomes.

  • Things to try: When you can’t see your child in person, check in regularly via phone, video chat, or texts. Ask open-ended questions that invite conversation (“What’s something that made you happy this week?”) rather than yes or no or vague questions. Some activities can be done “together” virtually, for example being on a video chat with your child while both watching a favorite TV show.

What Dads do now not only affects their children, but their grandchildren as well. Dads who are more involved in parenting their kids raise sons who grow up to become more involved fathers and who have better quality relationships with their own children. In addition, Dads who coparent well with Moms have sons who later form supportive relationships with their own parenting partners.

Above all, the best way to show appreciation this Father’s Day, Adamsons says, is “Tell them that you appreciate them and that you love them. No father or child is going to say, ‘Geez, I wish they didn’t tell me that they love me so often.’ Everyone wants to feel valued and appreciated.”