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First-Time Dads: How to Bond with Daughters

Dads and their daughters have unique bonding needs in order to ensure a healthy relationship. Following this advice can help make that happen.

First-time fathers have no excuse not to bond with their daughters or to be role models. And the best part? It doesn't take much time to do it.

Recommendations from child-father relationship professionals say even with traditional fathers working heavy 60 hour-plus weeks, dads can establish a bond with their daughters in as little as four hours a week.

But D'Arcy Lyness, child & adolescent psychologist and medical expert for KidsHealth.com, says first-time fathers shouldn't fret if they don't meet those goals: "It doesn't have to be a lot of time. It can be a special 10 or 20 minutes."

But father-daughter time should not be much less than that.

"You can't just hold the baby for two minutes and then walk out the door," says Irene Goldenberg, family psychologist and professor emeritus at UCLA's Semel Institute. In addition, first-time fathers should be focused, she says. "If you are pushing your Blackberry while you are attempting to bond, that won't work."

The biggest focus for fathers when it comes to bonding with their daughters? Don't assume their mother's biological connections give them an advantage.

"Sometimes mothers are just overwhelmed by the whole experience," Goldenberg notes. "I've seen fathers step in when mothers couldn't be nurturing. You don't have to breast feed to bond with your baby."

Decades ago many first-time fathers didn't realize they could have any significant bonding with their daughters. But the abundance of father-only educational tools, including increased participation in pre-natal classes, have made for easier involvement.

First-time fathers shouldn't try to re-create those moments that daughters have with their mothers – they should seek out their own special bonding activities, says KidsHealth's D'Arcy Lyness.

"Perhaps the father might play guitar for their young toddler," she says. "Maybe it's the way daddy makes a certain kind of daddy breakfast, or the way he gives her her bath. Perhaps it's the way daddy runs with her in a park."

Here are some other suggestions for first-time fathers to help increase bonding: Give her a sponge bath, get her dressed, take her on walks, sing lullabies, read to her, or play with her. Goldenberg says in particular holding and touching are important for bonding.

First-time fathers might worry about the quality of the time spent with their daughters, as well as when bonding moments don't go smoothly.

But, according to an article written by Gina Kemp, M.A., Jaelline Jaffe, Ph.D., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Sheila Hutman, for Helpguide.org, a West Coast site for mental health issues, "attachment" issues with children need to be flexible.

Not everyone can interpret a child's needs correctly all the time, say the writers, as there are bound to be disagreements. Parents who set limits that cause differences should start to 'repair' as soon the child is ready. All this will strengthen the child's feeling of safety, helping to cement a stronger bond.

Bonding rules and advice for first-time fathers also apply to role modeling: It's not just for mothers.

"Parents role-model all sorts of qualities – being patient, being kind, being polite," says Lyness. "It's the way we talk to each other. It's how we treat each other, how we deal with frustration, with anger. It's the tone of our voices."

Overall, whether bonding or role-modeling, specific activities aren't always important for first-time fathers in their efforts to forge strong attachments with their daughters. But consistency is.

"It isn't a single experience," says Goldenberg. "It should be a pattern of behavior. Also, many men don't take into account that this is an enjoyable experience. You should not be frightened by it. You should relax into it."

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