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Intellect

New study for Father's Day: shared activities key to father-child connection

BYU and NDSU research explores how dads connect with their children

The most significant way for fathers to connect with their children is through participating in shared activities, according to a new study from researchers at Brigham Young University and North Dakota State University.

The study is published in the current issue of Fathering, a journal of theory, research and practice about men as fathers. Of particular mention were activities that involved recreation, learning or working together.

"How fathers connect with their children is both important and interesting," said David Dollahite, co-author, and professor of family life at BYU. "This research provides a window to look at some of the specific ways in which fathers connect with their children."

After conducting in-depth interviews with fathers concerning their relationships and the dynamics of how they connected with their children, five central themes emerged:

  • Personal involvement in shared activities

  • Expression of support and care to ill or anxious children

  • Interaction with children at birth or adoption

  • Shared exchanges of time and affection

  • Participation in spiritual activities with children The most significant pattern that emerged was the personal connection created by fathers participating in shared activities with their children. The activities discussed most frequently by fathers were:

  • Recreational activities (camping, hunting, picnics, playing ball)

  • Play or learning activities (hide-and-seek, checkers, word games)

  • Work activities or attending important events together "Men feel close to their children when they are doing things together that are fun, engaging or focused on learning," said Sean Brotherson, lead author and assistant professor and extension family science specialist at NDSU.

    Connecting with a child was expressed in situations ranging from playful wrestling to teaching a child to hammer in a nail.

    "The key was doing something together, not just talking, and this seemed to make possible periods of companionship, such as sitting around a fire together, and moments of shared enjoyment, such as catching a fish or reading a book together," Brotherson said.

    Participants in the study shared many experiences that had a strong impact on their relationships with their children.

    One participating father said, "I mostly think of the little times, such as when he wanted to play soccer and we went over and played soccer a while. Afterwards he just kept talking about all the things that he learned playing soccer. He really talked about it for a long time, and it really made me think, 'Boy, that must have been a neat experience for him.' To me that is nurturing, spending time and doing things so that it is a meaningful experience for him."

    According to Brotherson, these connecting moments shared by fathers seem to exist as windows of time in which the distractions of a hurried schedule or busy lifestyle are blocked out and they can focus on feeling close to their children. "This is all the more important when families today are faced with too little time for each other and they end up feeling overscheduled and under connected," he said.

    The research contains several father narratives related to each of the five central themes.

    "The other findings from this study, whether reflecting a father's spiritual activities with children or shared moments of laughter, all point toward the tremendous value of building positive connections as a father," said Alan Hawkins, co-author and BYU professor of marriage, family, and human development. The voices of these fathers share a message of positive possibilities for healthy experiences of connection between fathers and their children."

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