• Father’s Day is focused on celebrating the bond between fathers and their children. However, Father’s Day is also a time to understand the science and psychology that creates such a special connection.
  • From changes in brain chemistry to long-term emotional well-being, father-child connections are complex. Becoming a father drastically alters a man’s hormones, helping them to become better nurturers. 
  • Substantial evidence also suggests that fathers play an important role (if not as important) as mothers in early childhood development and the long-term of their children.  
  • Father-child connections can also be improved by using bonding tactics that are male-specific.
  • Get closer with dad by planning a day that’s focused on activities and showing an interest in his interests during conversations.

Father’s Day is all about Dad—showing him just how special he is and how much of an impact he’s made on your life. Whether you connect with him by reminiscing about old family memories or taking the day to create new ones, Father’s Day is the perfect time to reflect on your connection with your dad. So take time this Father’s day to consider the unique connection between father and child. You may find you have more to thank Dad for than you realized!

Father-Child Relationships and Brain Chemistry

Scientists now know that becoming a dad triggers enormous chemical changes in the brain, as fathers adjust to taking on their new roles as caretakers and nurturers. It’s a far cry from the chemical concoction coursing through them in their earlier years, though. The high testosterone levels that helped encourage them to find a partner and compete with other males aren’t as useful when it comes to raising children. 

Fatherhood is associated with a sharp decrease in testosterone, and an increase in oxytocin and vasopressin levels, which help fathers to become emotionally attached to their children. What’s more interesting is that research has indicated that fathers get better at detecting the sound of a baby’s cry the closer the due date of their child gets. And their baby’s smile activates the same circuits in a father’s brain that helps them fall in love.

Psychological Connection Between Fathers and Their Children

There’s significant evidence to suggest that children who grow up with a consistent father figure enjoy greater emotional and physiological well-being later in life—another great reason to celebrate Father’s Day. And although mothers have usually been the focus of parent-child research in the past, more recently, the role of the father is becoming recognized as a significant factor in childhood development. More specifically, fathers have a massive impact on cognitive development, in ways that we might tend to undervalue

Though mothers typically show higher levels of involvement in their children’s lives, fathers play an irreplaceable role as facilitators of resiliency-building. Dads are more likely to engage in roughhousing with kids, encourage them to take risks, and help them process and cope with fear or traumatic experiences. These activities form a bond that is distinctly different from mother-child relationships and helps to foster mental fortitude in adulthood. 

Navigating Father-Child Relationships as Adults: Communicating with Dad

Just like any other relationship, father-child connections take work to maintain. For many, it’s harder to emotionally connect with Dad than it is with Mom—but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. If you’re hoping to spend some quality time with your dad this Father’s Day, focusing on dad-specific ways to improve your connection could be helpful. Some suggestions for bonding with dad this Father’s Day include: 

  • Paying attention to your body language if you meet up in person: Men typically prefer standing or sitting side by side—this harkens back to days when men (and fathers) would stand to watch for predators or warring factions. Whereas many women prefer talking face to face, men tend to feel this sort of body language is confrontational—you may be able to enjoy a deeper conversation with your dad. 
  • Planning a day that’s focused on activities you can do together: Men also tend to connect with others more successfully while engaging in an activity, especially those that are physically involved. Perhaps your father would be interested in a walk through the local park, a bike ride, or a brewery tour—you can base your plans around what he likes—or better, activities that you both enjoy. 
  • During conversations, show an interest in his interests: In conversations, many people (not just your dad) feel more at ease and emotionally invested in the dialogue when someone shows an interest in their passions. Ask your dad about his daily life, his hobbies, or upcoming plans or events that he’s involved in. He’ll remember that you asked, and made him feel valued—and you’ll feel better for having found a way to improve the bond between both of you. 
  • Use “I” statements during an argument or disagreement to diffuse tension: Another tip, used in many relationship counseling techniques, is to use “I” statements to reduce feelings of blame and the anger that can be sparked when arguments take on an accusatory tone. If you and your father start to experience tension, or if your relationship has been strained or rocky, using “I” statements can take away some of the pressure of tense interactions

Father’s Day presents a great opportunity to get closer to dad and to understand more of the incredibly complex relationship we share with our fathers. And hopefully, we remember the importance of this relationship during the other 364 days of the year, too.