In the month of December one question should take up residence in the soul of every father – What gifts do I have that my child needs?
This isn’t a religious question, although it can be. And while gift giving is most often a material question, it by no means needs to be. It is a question for every man who has fathered a child. It is a question for every man who has fulfilled the role of father regardless of biology. It is a question for every day, but for most of us it is relegated to the holiday tickler file. I’m convinced that there is at least one gift that every father can give that every child needs . . . the gift of an emotionally available relationship.
I can almost hear you now . . . “Oh man, Rich you’re sounding like their mother! I’m not sure I’m able to be, what did you say? Emotionally available? I know sometimes I’m emotional – read angry – and I want to be available to my kids but emotionally available? I’m not sure what that is, if I can do it, or even if I want to do it.
Fortunately emotional availability is a quality of relationship rather than a personality trait. Regardless of your temperament, childhood experiences, relationship history or gender . . . you have the potential to nurture the quality of communication and connection with your child. In fact, emotional availability isn’t necessarily something you have or don’t have, it is more of a continuum of connection that takes shape and evolves through time. Why focus on this aspect of your relationship? Because research repeatedly demonstrates that emotional connection is the most important element in a parent/child relationship.
Many dads assume, by virtue of their relationship, provision for the family and words, that their children know they are loved. Don’t get me wrong, these things are important. But more important, is the relational connection that helps to ensure that your expressions of love are getting through. That is why, during this season of gift giving, I am searching for ways to become more emotionally available to my children. Because the last thing I want to do is give my child a gift that remains untouched, unopened and forgotten.
Based on over sixteen years of personal research and the rich history of attachment studies, Zeynep Biringen, Ph.D., associate professor at Colorado State University and a licensed child psychologist, has documented the following effects of good emotional availability on a child’s future:
- Infants and children who have emotionally available relationships with their parents are more likely to develop a trusting and secure attachment to their parents characterized by an age-appropriate balance between autonomy and the need for connection.
- Children who have emotionally available relationships with their parents are less aggressive and less likely to be the targets of aggression from other children.
- Children from emotionally available homes have better peer relationships.
- Children who have emotionally available relationships with their parents are more attentive in school and suffer less from the effects of learning problems.
- Children from emotionally available homes seem to relate better with their teachers.
How you develop an emotional connection with your child will depend to a large extent on the age of your child and the time you have with them. The following ideas are just a start that should prove applicable regardless of your child’s age.
- Play with your child – spend time on their level doing things they want to do.
- Observe your child – make a point to observe and acknowledge your child’s emotions.
- Talk about your relationship with the child’s mother or a trusted friend – sometimes others can readily see what we are blind to.
- Seek to appropriately manage your anger – this doesn’t mean you should never allow them to see your anger. It does mean you are taking the appropriate steps to express your anger under rational control to achieve positive results.
Looking for specific ways to connect with your child during the holiday season? Here are just a few ideas:
- Use markers and crayons to draw pictures. Then hang them up on display for all to see.
- Make holiday cards for family and friends.
- Make holiday ornaments or festive decorations.
- Create a holiday gingerbread house.
- Build a snowman, have a snowball fight or go sledding on a snowy day.
- Play tag or catch together.
- Bake holiday cookies.
- Make hot chocolate.
- Play a board or card game.
- Put together a holiday puzzle.
- Make popcorn and watch a seasonal movie.
- Fathers can volunteer in the classroom, helping with holiday parties or crafts.
- Volunteer together with local charities, hospitals or nursing homes.
- Volunteer together at a soup kitchen or shelter.
- Clean out old clothes and toys that are no longer needed and donate them to Goodwill or the Salvation Army.
For more information about activities you can participate in with your children click here.