5 Ways a Father Can Bond with His Special Needs Child
The bond between a father and his child is extremely important and impacts his child’s social-emotional, cognitive, language and motor development. However, it may not always be easy for a father to find the close connection he desires with his child, especially in comparison to the natural maternal bond that begins in utero. Fathering a child with special needs can add another element to the already challenging (yet very rewarding) task of being a parent.
Whether you are a single father, co-parenting, or raising your child with your spouse, it is important to recognize the essential role you play as a positive and nurturing male role model in your child’s life. If your child has special needs, she will need your support and advocacy even more. Here are five tips for maintaining your bond with your special needs child, right from the start:
1. Recognize and Accept Grief
It may be typical for parents of children with special needs to experience grief. Every parent imagines the types of activities he will engage in with his child and, ultimately, the type of life his child will have with his help and guidance.
When reality does not match the ideal and a parent realizes that, in fact, his child may need significant care or have indefinite challenges in life, it is not uncommon to feel a sense of loss. Recognizing these feelings and accepting them as a normal part of adjustment is the first step in strengthening your bond with your special needs child. Acknowledge that, as one of the most important people in your child’s life, you are capable of giving her the support and love she needs to have a fulfilling life.
2. Physical Bonding
Since newborns bond through touch and smell, it is common for a baby to be placed on her mother’s chest immediately after birth for what is known as “skin to skin” contact. This type of contact also occurs during breast-feeding. As a father, you can engage in this bonding practice too. Shortly after birth and for weeks after, cradle your baby (just wearing a diaper) on your bare chest. This practice may help stabilize a baby’s body temperature and help you develop feelings of closeness and protectiveness.
3. Help with Little Tasks
As a baby of any ability grows and develops, she learns and connects primarily through her senses. Helping with tasks like night-time feedings, diaper changing or bathtime may seem minimal, but can provide the perfect opportunity to bond with your baby.
Coming to your baby’s aid in the middle of the night and feeding or gently rocking her provides quality one-on-one time and helps give her the feeling of comfort in your presence. Diaper changing or bathtime gives her the opportunity to lie on her back and look into your eyes. During this time, you can connect with your child by talking or singing to her, tickling her feet or rubbing lotion on her legs.
4. Reserve “Daddy” Time
Starting at infancy, designate special time or activities reserved for just you and your child. When she’s a baby, this time can be shared while reading books before bed or tummy time after a nap. As your child grows older, find an activity that the two of you enjoy, like going to the zoo or storytime at the library.
Whatever you choose to do with your time, make sure it allows for plenty of interaction with your child to help her understand that she is important to you. Nurturing this special relationship will help you grow together and build lasting memories, regardless of your child’s abilities.
5. Positive Praise
Above all, the most important thing you can do for your child with special needs is show her love. At a very young age, you can help her learn and believe that she is capable. Even though she may not meet milestones at the same time as her typically developing peers, celebrate her achievements and encourage her to try more challenging tasks.
It is important for you to let her grow at her own pace and respect her for who she is. Be a constant cheerleader and your child will know that she is loved and supported, no matter what.
Emerson, Jayne. “How to Help Babies Learn Through Their Senses.” PenfieldBuildingBlocks.org. Penfield Children’s Center, 27 October 2013. Web. 21 May 2014. http://penfieldbuildingblocks.org/2013/10/sensory-learning-for-babies/.
Hirsch, Larissa. “Bonding with your Baby.” KidsHealth.org. Nemours, January 2012. Web. 21 May 2014. http://kidshealth.org/parent/pregnancy_newborn/communicating/bonding.html.
Scheunemann, Jessica. “The Father-Child Relationship.” PenfieldBuildingBlocks.org. Penfield Children’s Center, 25 September 2013. Web. 21 May 2014.