By the time a baby hits the three-month milestone, most families have settled into a comfortable routine. Most babies by this point are sleeping for longer during the night (5-6 hours), which gives both parents a much-needed break. If you’re lucky, your baby may even be sleeping through the night! (If you are one of these people, we envy you!)
As some things become easier, though, others become harder. From six months on, babies start to develop their own opinions, and they aren’t afraid to express them – usually in the form of a temper tantrum! And unlike newborns, who tend to fall asleep at the drop of a hat, it may take more cajoling to get an older baby to nap. Calming techniques which worked on baby from 0-3 months may no longer work. And as babies become more mobile, they require a more watchful eye.
Some dads may step up naturally and start interacting with their babies more at this stage, but other dads may be uncertain or too shell-shocked from the 0-3 month phase to know how to proceed. To explore the post-newborn phase, we teamed up with Anthony Kim, author of A Man’s Guide to Newborn Babies and blogger at A Dad’s Guide (ADadsGuide.org), to provide a guide on how Dads can bond with their babies after the newborn (0-3 month) phase is over.
As with any stage, the challenges that come up as babies grow older are counterbalanced with benefits, one of them being more and deeper opportunities to develop the parent-child bond. “The best thing about getting past the newborn stage is richer interaction between parents and their baby,” Anthony says. “As babies get older, communication ceases to be one-way and their communication abilities grow by leaps and bounds.”
Here are 9 tips on how Dads can form excellent bonds with their little ones once they get past the newborn stage.
- Reading time with Dad. We previously advised dads to start reading to their babies from day one: it’s not only helpful for brain and language development, but it also is a great bonding experience for dad and baby. As your baby gets older, continue reading to him/her. “Reading to your baby teaches language cadences and stimulates the imagination,” Anthony says. “As your baby gets older, they will pick up the connections between pictures and words, steadily building their vocabulary.” Around three months, babies will start responding to the illustrations by widening their eyes, shaking their arms and legs, and expressing interest/excitement. Around one year of age, babies will start pointing to pictures in the books and asking you to recite what each illustration is!
- Dads and their children benefit from spending at least one day a week having adventures together. Both Anthony and Mitya Gimon, our Rad Dad-in-Residence, were in agreement on this. When Dads go out as a family, any attention they receive usually goes to the baby. However, when dads go out alone with their babies, they are perceived as fathers. Being recognized as a father is important for dads, Gimon says. And it doesn’t have to be a huge outing – Anthony suggests that simply going to the park, the local pet store, or a walk down Main Street are great options. After all, your little one’s world is pretty small to begin with, so just stepping out the door is an adventure! Furthermore, Anthony adds, going for a mini-adventure with your baby is a great bonding experience for both dad and baby!
- Introduce the baby to your interests. The period between 3-12 months – that is, the period before the baby starts to develop strong opinions and expressing them – is an ideal time to introduce the baby to your interests. Take them to the museum to look at art, to the forest for hiking, to the beach to play in the sand and see the ocean, to restaurants to show them different foods and smells – any experience that you enjoy and want to share with your child. Even if baby can’t do much at this age aside from observe, each new experience helps develop your baby’s brain. Plus, it’s good for everyone in the family to get out of the house!
- Around baby’s first birthday, dads can introduce baby to things that he/she may like. By one year of age, your baby will start developing preferences and won’t be afraid to express them – usually in the form of a temper tantrum! Most babies start walking between 10 and 16 months, which is a perfect time to take baby to the playground, for example. It’s also around this time when they start appreciating events geared towards children: sing-a-longs, fairs, parades, apple/strawberry/blueberry picking, and interactive children’s museums, to name a few.
- As baby is weaned from breast milk, dads can prepare baby’s food and/or feed the baby. In the beginning, many dads whose partners are breastfeeding may feel useless as baby is receiving all of his/her nutrition from breast milk. (New dads, please know that this is not true! There are many ways you can be involved with breastfeeding and with your newborn baby in general.) The process of weaning (which usually starts between 4-6 months) is a perfect opportunity for Dads to become more involved in providing sustenance to baby. If you’re a dad who likes to cook, this is the time to experiment with purees! If you need a little guidance, we recommend the book 201 Organic Baby Purees by Tamika L. Gardner. Sosi Safe is also a great online resource for baby and toddler recipes. Dads who don’t enjoy cooking can still participate by spoonfeeding cereal and purees (either handmade or store-bought) to baby. It will help you and your baby feel closer to each other, and you may also feel a sense of pride in bringing nourishment to your child!
- Play games. This is the age when you can really start having fun with your baby! It’s also a great way for Dads to continue to strengthen their bond with their children. Games and toys that we recommend for the 6 month (and older stage) include:
- Peekaboo! Babies love peekaboo, and all this game requires are your hands (or a blanket) and your time! Change it up a little by “peeking” out from a different side. And watch for the moment when Baby will start to play with you (usually between 8 and 9 months) – this is an amazing development and opens the doors for even richer interaction!
- Clapping games. At 6 months, your baby is probably a while away from clapping herself, but babies love noise and music. Try a round of “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands” and see how he responds!
- Building blocks. Again, at 6 months, Baby most likely won’t be stacking blocks, but she will love knocking them down! This is another great way for Dad and baby to spend some time together and have fun at the same time.
- Musical instruments, such as a xylophone or mini-piano. Although the instructions on the toy xylophone say that it is for babies 18 months and older, that doesn’t mean that Mom and Dad (who are definitely older than 18 months!) can’t start using it earlier! A 6 month old baby may not have the coordination to use the xylophone, but it doesn’t mean they won’t enjoy listening to their parents bang away on it! The same goes for mini-pianos. And by the time Baby reaches 18 months, we guarantee that they will enjoy playing on both!
- Bubbles. Grab a bottle of bubble liquid (or make it yourself) and blow bubbles in your baby’s direction. They will love it!
- Bath toys. Once baby can sit up, she will enjoy playing with her toys during bathtime. Play with her! The rubber ducky is a reliable favorite, but squirt toys from Munchkin and water pipes from Boon Toys are also a hit in our house!
- Use anything and everything to entertain them. One of the most wonderful things about babies 3 months and older is how easily they are entertained. Sit with them for a minute or two in front of the dryer as it’s drying clothes (if you have a front-load dryer with a transparent door) – they’ll be fascinated! Wiggle your toes in front of baby – they won’t be able to stop laughing! Stick out your tongue and make funny faces, and you’ll be rewarded with a huge grin! Use your imagination and it’s likely your baby will love it!
- Continue doing everything we suggested in our newborn post that is still applicable. Even after your partner has recovered from giving birth, continue giving regular baths to baby. Bottle-feed baby as long as he hasn’t rejected the bottle. Keep reading to baby, as we mentioned earlier. Continued involvement past the newborn stage will strengthen your bond with the baby and will be much appreciated by your partner.
- Meet the challenge of keeping the marriage strong as baby gets older. Although not directly related to father-child bonding, Anthony also recommends striving for a peaceful, loving marriage by dividing childcare and household responsibilities, and having regular date nights as baby gets older. All of these contribute to a happier and healthier family, and a better overall environment for the baby to grow up in.
All in all, as babies grow older, there are more and richer opportunities for Dads to be involved and strengthen their relationship with their children. Our suggestions are simply the tip of the iceberg, merely to get you started. Have any suggestions? Let us know in the comments!