- If you want to feel like a dad, sometimes it’s best to stand in the majesty of the moment and consider the potential of the little life in front of you. Tweet This
- When dad creates a solid attachment bond with baby in the early days, the well-being of the whole family increases. Tweet This
- Dr. Justin Coulson with 7 ways new dads can boost their baby’s well-being. Tweet This
Being a first-time dad is a bit like being a first-time driver. You know what all the buttons and pedals do. You know the wheel turns. But the first time you try to do it, you’re probably going to be pretty clumsy. And you’re almost certain to make a handful of mistakes. To get good at it, you need to make a lot of mistakes. Millions, perhaps. And yet it’s the consistent effort applied over time—the practice—that leads to mastery.
Numerous studies show that dad creating a solid attachment bond with baby in the early days increases the well-being of the whole family. The research shows family functioning improves and relationship satisfaction between partners goes up.
Involved dads influence more than just family function and relationship satisfaction. Researchers from the UK investigated dads’ interactions with their three-month-old babies and found that by age two, the little ones with the most engaged and interactive dads were doing better on a range of cognitive tests than the ones whose dads were less ‘there.’ Mental development was enhanced by the presence or absence of an engaged father.
Here are 7 things you can do as a first-time dad to boost your brand-new baby’s well-being—and that of your family.
1. Get Skin-to-Skin
We already know that skin-to-skin contact is great for mom and your new baby. But dads can do it too—even if you’re covered in manly chest hair. That physical contact releases bonding hormones in your baby and in you, and it makes you more positively crazy about your baby.
2. Work on Your Baby Talk
For decades, scientists have known that moms often speak in a more sing-song, high-pitched voice when talking to their babies. You may call it ‘baby talk.’ (We used to call it ‘motherese,’ but these days we’re more inclusive so we call it ‘parentese.’) And for a lot of us guys, it can be a bit off-putting, and not many dads do it. Perhaps don’t start off when you’re in public, but have fun with your baby by trying some baby talk out. Watch their reaction. Talking to the baby in this kind of sing-song voice opens up the engagement and delight your baby feels. And when that kiddo smiles at you, you’ll have to hold yourself back from trying to eat him!
The world is teeming with data that shows that dads are more likely to play with their kids than moms. Of course, moms play. But dads do it more, they do it more naturally, and they tend to do it with more rough and tumble fun. You need to be careful when your infant is new, but as she grows, this rough and tumble fun should become a staple part of your relationship. It helps with bonding, and it creates an understanding of risk, limits, consent and more. And it leads to endless giggles and laughter that you’ll cherish for the rest of your life.
This is the bit where you can integrate all of your best attributes as dads. You can play, sing, talk in funny voices—and channel your very best choo-choo train or airplane to get that food into your child’s mouth! And, yes, you can keep your cool when food ends up on the floor or all over you.
When you spend time with a baby, time stands still, and you get to completely immerse yourself in the moment. Once they’re in that warm water, kicking their legs, splashing, and laughing their heads off while they smile up at you, you’ll be a goner; completely smitten and lost in the moment.
6. Love Your Baby’s Mom
Hopefully your relationship with your little baby’s momma is rock solid. Put her first. Be there for her. Support her. Think about how you can help her. In some strange way, this will build more bonding into your relationship with your baby. But even if your relationship’s not solid, take a step back and realize that this child is half you and half her. Acknowledge the good that’s in her because it has likely passed through to your child. You can’t love the child without loving the part that she has played in your child’s life right now.
7. Be still
Most of the tips in this article encourage you to be actively involved with your new baby in some small way. They demand you do something. This last idea goes entirely the opposite way. Sometimes, when you’re with your baby, do nothing but stare. Soak it all up. Breathe in that brand new baby fragrance. Feel the softness of his hands as he grasps your pinky when you put it in his palm. Take in the perfection of his skin, the tiny lips, and the wide-open, trusting eyes. Engorge your eyes on the little tufts of hair on her head and the stilted, jerky movements she makes as she tries to make sense of her surroundings. Bask in the breathtaking miracle of the tiny wonder you’ve helped create and bring into the world. If you want to feel like a dad, sometimes it’s best to stand in the majesty of the moment and consider the potential of the little life in front of you.
Dr. Justin Coulson is a bestselling author, husband, and father of six. His latest book is Miss-Connection.
Editor's Note: This post is a lightly edited version of an essay that appeared on Dr. Coulson's Happy Families Blog. It is used here with permission. Read the original essay here.