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Help Fathers Be Dads


WebMD Feature from "Redbook" Magazine

By Aviva Patz

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Your child needs his father as much as he needs you — here's how to make it easy for them to bond.

Admit it: When it comes to parenting, your guy lets you do most of the heavy lifting — and you like it that way. For eons, that's how most families operated. But in recent decades, the dynamic has shifted: Fathers have almost tripled the hours they spend focused on their kids, from 2.5 per week in 1965 to 7 per week in 2003, according to research from the University of Maryland.

This is great news for you and for kids — when they have a close relationship with their father, they're more likely to form intimate relationships as adults, according to a study from the University of Haifa School of Social Work. "Studies have also shown that kids with involved dads are happier, more confident, and more independent," says Armin Brott, author of Fathering Your School-Age Child. Other studies have shown that kids with active dads even perform better in school and are more likely to attend college. Want to foster more father-child bonding in your family? Check out our age-by-age guide to rituals and activities that are real dad tested — and mom and kid approved.

Baby's First Year

"The newborn period is actually a great time for Dad to get involved because bonding now builds a foundation for more intense bonding later — not to mention that Mom's exhausted and really needs his help," says Brott.

What Dad Can Do

"My husband, Matt, found his niche as bedtime crooner to our daughter, Sammi Rose. He'd make up little tunes right on the spot. In fact, some of her first words were 'Daddy's tar [guitar],' and she'd request concerts from him!" —Lisa Blizzard, 39, Chicago

"I let Daddy do it his way. Even if that means he does things I wouldn't do — like use shampoo on Sam's body (instead of body wash) or sit with Jonah on the couch, watching a baseball game for an hour. I understand that when he does something with the boys that he's truly interested in, it's more meaningful for all of them." —Rebecca Leibowitz, 37, Pittsburgh

"It wasn't long before I lacked the strength for the 'football hold,' where your baby rests along the length of your arm and is instantly soothed. So Jonathan had a job that I couldn't do, which gave him a real connection to Josie and Maxine." —Marjorie Ingall, 39, New York City

Toddler Time

Horseplay is most dads' forte — a great counterpoint to moms' more nurturing style of interaction — and during the toddler years, those physical skills are in high demand. "Through rough and tumble play, kids learn to use their bodies in new ways, which brings new kinds of development and a new spotlight role for the father," says Michael Connor, Ph.D., professor emeritus of psychology at California State University Long Beach.

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