What can dads give a baby that mums can’t?

Our baby psychologist explains how gender can matter in parenting

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Without a doubt, both parents have a huge contribution to make to a baby’s life. But there are differences in how mums and dads relate to their growing child.

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Dads can make a special contribution to a baby’s life in a way that mums usually don’t. Psychologists researching the differences between parents when dealing with their baby have made the following observations and discoveries:

  • Smiling: A baby or toddler tends to smile more when she sees her father, but tends to gaze more at her mum. She associates her dad with fun and games. This may be because he spends less time with her, and so makes an extra effort to play with her when they’re together.
  • Playing: When a dad plays with his baby or toddler, he engages in physically energetic activities and rough-and-tumble play. When a mum plays with her little one, she usually selects activities that are soothing, nurturing and gentle.
  • Coping: Dads often have difficulty getting used to their baby’s characteristics and temperament. In comparison, mums typically adjust quite easily to their little one’s developing personality and need for their attention.
  • Worry: Fathers generally don’t worry about their child as much as mums do. For example, a study revealed that less than 5% of fathers worry about leaving their child at a toddler group, compared with 40% of mums.

Being a dad is a two-way street

Don’t forget that relationships are two-way: your baby is needed by her dad as much as she needs him. It’s lovely for a father to know that he matters so much and has such an important contribution to make to his child’s life. In addition, having a child of this age will keep his feet firmly on the ground – as far as his child is concerned, he’s ‘just dad’. And everyone loves to get a warm welcome from a young child when coming back from work at the end of a hard day!

Try this

Swap babycare tasks with your partner. Encourage him to do something you normally do, such as baby massage, then step back and let him do it his way. Resist the urge to interfere, even if you’re convinced you could do it better yourself. It will give both him and your baby a chance to bond in a different way. 

5 ways you can help develop the dad/baby bond

  • Enjoy your baby and your partner being close. Don’t feel envious – it won’t threaten your relationship with her.
  • Talk positively about your partner. The more positive your view of him, the more likely your baby is to feel the same way.
  • It’s difficult to bond from a distance, so encourage him to be as hands-on as possible.
  • Share roles with each other. Your partner doesn’t always have to be the one who reprimands her, and you don’t always have be the one to read her a bedtime story.
  • Encourage him to be himself. He needn’t be super-funny or super-athletic or anything like that. Your baby loves him for who he is and how he behaves towards her.
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Baby fact

Reading to your baby, from as early as 2 or 3 months old, is likely to significantly boost her speech development, even though she may not understand you. Studies have found that young children whose parents read to them for 10-15 minutes each day usually have more advanced language development.

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