Good fathering is good for men’s health and vice versa: healthy men make great dads who are present mentally, as well as physically. Such positive paternal presence also tends to help families thrive, mums included.
So, when a baby arrives, it makes sense to support every effort dad makes to get to know his new little person. This article is aimed at any man involved in the life of a baby, be they dads, stepdads, granddads, uncles or other friends and family. In fact, anyone who wants to help a baby communicate and connect could use the tips below. I’ve developed them in my clinical work with parents and babies, based on my training and experience, both at work and at home as a dad myself!
Dads talking to babies – frequently asked questions
Why? Because long before they get the lyrics, babies get melody. They are wired to respond to your voice, and I think they’re wired to know the tune of a good story, so tell them one.
When? Pretty much anytime they can hear you, starting if you can with womb-time. Too busy? Talk about what you’re doing. Too tired? Tell your baby why you’re tired. Too stressed? Tell your baby how you are feeling, and why. Keep it G-rated (no naughty words), but keep it real; your baby and you both are likely to relax if you can put into words what is going on, especially if you can bring it back to them as the reason for it all. “It’s all about you, baby.”
How? With your normal voice, but bevel off the edges. You may naturally find a bit of extra melody in there, but if imitating someone else’s baby talk isn’t doing it for you two, work out your own style by watching your baby’s face. It’ll be a bit like tuning an old transistor radio: you’ll know when the signal is at its best by the way your baby’s face and body and voice respond.
What? Almost anything G-rated, but best if it’s a story. There is something very special about human storytelling that has given us something to talk about for as long as there’s been an us. Stories make sense of our lives, hand on all we learned the hard way, and connect people. I think babies know when they’re hearing an important adult telling a good story. The melody settles their bodies. It’s like evolution telling them, ‘You’re part of this. An adult has you in mind. You won’t be forgotten or left behind.’
Reading is good too!
Use other people’s stories to give both your brains an enjoyable break. You can start reading to your kid in the womb, and pretty much any time after that too. Find kids books you like – libraries and their websites have great selections – and away you go. There’s great evidence that reading to your baby every day is good for them, you, and your relationship.
Speaking of relationships, a dad who tells stories or reads to his baby is likely to be highly appreciated by the baby’s mum. So it’s win-win, really.
And if you’re really stuck, you can read your baby this article. It might put them to sleep, but I’m guessing that’d be okay too!
Dr Matthew Roberts is a perinatal psychiatrist specialising in clinical work and advocacy for mental health in men, women and children around pregnancy and early family life.
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