As emerging research touts the benefit of a strong father-child relationship, busy fathers are seeking guidance on the best way to accomplish this goal. Answers to questions such as: ‘What activities are best for bonding with my child, and when should those activities take place?’ are high on a father’s wish list as Father’s day approaches.
A new study from the University of Georgia provides guidance for this important task. Researchers determined that both the type of involvement — caregiving versus play — and the timing — workday versus non-workday — have an impact on the quality of the early father-child relationship.
Geoffrey Brown, an assistant professor in the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences, discovered that fathers who choose to spend time with their children on non-workdays are developing a stronger relationship with them, and play activities seem particularly important.
Moreover, many would consider the finding even more significant as researchers discovered the preference even after taking into account the quality of fathers’ parenting.
The study appears in the Journal of Family Psychology.
“Fathers who make the choice to devote their time on non-workdays to engaging with their children directly seem to be developing the best relationships,” said Brown.
“And on those non-workdays, pursuing activities that are child centered, or fun for the child, seems to be the best predictor of a good father-child relationship.”
However, fathers who spend lots of time helping out with child care-related tasks on workdays are developing the best relationships with their children. And men who engage in high levels of play with their children on workdays actually have a slightly less secure attachment relationship with them.
“It’s a complicated story, but I think this reflects differences in these contexts of family interaction time on workdays versus non-workdays,” Brown said.
“The most important thing on a workday, from the perspective of building a good relationship with your children, seems to be helping to take care of them.”
In early childhood, the most common way to conceptualize the parent-child relationship is the attachment relationship, according to Brown. Children form an emotional bond with their caregivers, and it serves a purpose by keeping them safe, providing comfort and security, and modeling how relationships should work.
Decades of research have focused on mother-child attachment security, but there’s much less research on the father-child relationship and how a secure attachment relationship is formed.
For this study, Brown and his colleagues worked with 80 father-child pairs when the children were about 3 years old. The team conducted interviews and observed father-child interaction in the home, shooting video that was evaluated off site and assigned a score indicating attachment security.
“We’re trying to understand the connection between work life and family life and how fathers construct their role. It’s clear that there are different contexts of family time,” Brown said.
“Relying too much on play during workdays, when your child/partner needs you to help out with caregiving, could be problematic. But play seems more important when there’s more time and less pressure.
“Ultimately, fathers who engage in a variety of parenting behaviors and adjust their parenting to suit the demands and circumstances of each individual day are probably most likely to develop secure relationships with their children.”
Source: University of Georgia