Dads Matter: How Working Dads Can Bond With Their Kids at Every Age

Article at a Glance

  • Bonding for working dads is challenging, but not impossible.
  • Bonding is more about quality than quantity.
  • Look for creative ways to bond with children of all ages.

You want to be there for your baby’s first steps, your child’s first day at school, and your teenager’s recital, but often, work gets in the way. Dads often worry that the missed milestones can drive a wedge in their relationship with their kids. But just because a dad misses his kid’s first word, doesn’t mean the two can’t develop a strong bond.

What Bonding Is and What It Isn’t

Bonding is building a relationship with someone based on common interests and experiencing life together. People often confuse this with spending more time with their children. Spending time together helps, but bonding is about quality, not quantity. Watching cartoons for 30 minutes is good, but playing games or talking for those same thirty minutes will help build stronger bonds.

Bonding is also built on trust. It’s difficult to make up for missing a game, recital, or family night because breaking a promise erodes trust. Instead, be realistic with yourself and your family about the events you can attend. Then stick to those obligations.

We like to listen to tunes while we’re cleaning the table and doing dishes as a family. We also like playing card games together because it’s fun for our kids at all ages. 

—Dr. Jonathen Bartholomew

Practical Tips for Strengthening Bonds

Children Under 5

  • Creative Playtime – This not only provides bonding time, play time also helps cognitive skills that will prepare kids for school. Play time can include coloring, painting, building a pillow fort, or creating with Legos.
  • Bedtime Stories – When dad is tired after he gets home from work, sometimes he only has a moment before his child is off to bed. Snuggling up and reading stories to children can be one of the best bonding and educational moments for children in this age group. According to a study from Stanford University, reading stories to children helps “develop word mastery and grammatical understanding.”
  • Playing Outside – This is good for both children and the working dad. The fresh air and physical activity can bring the two together as they explore the world around them.

Middle Childhood

  • Clean-up Games – Mary Poppins may have been on to something when she sang “in every job that must be done, there is an element of fun.” Turn what could be a point of contention into a bonding moment. Dads who come home to a cluttered play room can bond with their kids as they have fun cleaning together. You can race to finish first, sing silly songs while working, or implement a reward system for completion and quality work.
  • Scheduled Playdates – Working dads know the importance of a schedule. Scheduling playdates in advance builds anticipation and excitement for everyone. Here are some playdate ideas: get ice cream, work on a homework project, play dress up. Having dedicated time built into a schedule can also help kids feel important.
  • Family Night – Similar to dedicated playdates, build a family night into the schedule. This not only allows for bonding time with the kids, but it lets children see how dad interacts with mom, which is a critical element in how kids learn to view adult relationships.

Pre-Teens and Teenagers

  • Listen – A great deal of bonding can happen when fathers listen. Teens are going through a lot and sometimes need to vent, just like adults.

But remember, if your kid wants advice, she’ll ask for it. Be an active listener first, then your child will may comfortable seeking advice.

  • Projects – Create a common goal to work toward. The trick here is finding something that you’re both interested in. This could be exercising, working on a car, or creating something together. The project could even be something that lets your teen be empowered to make some decisions or carry out some of the work on their own. Whatever it is, make it fun, educational, and new.
  • Show Genuine Interest – Teens are going to try new things and have different interests. Whatever your teen is into, you can join in and learn as well. This could be learning a new makeup technique, cheering them on at their track meet, or getting deep into superhero lore.

Remember, what matters most about the bonding process isn’t the quantity of time. It’s that you spend quality time with your child and a foundation of trust.

Reviewed on February 15, 2022 by: Jonathen Bartholomew, D.O.
Jonathen Bartholomew, D.O.
Board-certified Pediatrician

As a pediatrician and father of six kids, Dr. Bartholomew has a lot of experience with twins and premature infants. In addition to getting to know his patient families, he enjoys the great outdoors, Dr. Seuss, and BYU football.

Cherry Tree Office
Full Bio

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