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Dads: Nurturing Builds Bonding
by Chynna Laird • Edmonton, AB, Canada

My husband, Steve, is like most other Dads in the world: He goes to work every weekday then comes home to spend mere hours with his children before they have to go to bed.

Spending time with his children is very important to Steve, especially since he misses all the treasured moments I’ve gotten to enjoy such as first steps, first words, or first day of Preschool. This heartache is amplified when a child isn’t able to give their love the way other children can.

Our oldest daughter, Jaimie, was born with Sensory Integration Dysfunction (SID). Essentially, SID (also known as Sensory Processing Disorder, or SPD) is a neurological disorder preventing Jaimie’s brain from properly processing the sensory information taken in from her environment. She’s easily overwhelmed and isn’t able to function appropriately in social settings. The most heartbreaking part for Steve has been that he seems to trigger severe sensory overload in Jaimie, which has prevented them from sharing a solid father/daughter bond.

But Steve has never given up on Jaimie nor turned away from her aversions to him. In fact, he’s found five ways to develop a relationship with Jaimie despite her sensory issues and I think his tactics would be helpful for most other Dads who seek tips in nurturing their own bonding process. Allow me to share them with you:

(1) Inclusion: Even during times where it seems a child may not want to participate, always assure them they’re welcome to. There are times when Jaimie curls up in a ball on the couch and tunes the rest of us out. Steve talks to her anyway to let her know she can join in when she’s ready. Just because she doesn’t respond right away, doesn’t mean she can’t hear him. That means so much.

(2) Find what excites them: Discover that one activity or topic that gets a child going. Get as excited to hear about it as they are to share it with you. Eventually, they’ll ask you to join them in that activity. It never ceases to amaze me how animated and child-like Steve gets when his children share their elation about something. They love it and Steve’s excitement is contagious.

(3) Be a strong presence: Jaimie works through issues during play. We discovered play to be a valuable tool in the bonding process. When Jaimie isn’t able to handle the social contact of playing with others, we’ll comment on what she’s doing or saying during play—from a safe distance—so she knows we’re still there when she’s ready for us. This shows patience and respect for personal boundaries and it means a lot to Jaimie (and to Steve if he’s invited to play too.)

(4) Open your heart: Stereotypically, men are thought of as closed-off emotionally. Although Steve had difficulty sharing his feelings at first, I’ve watched how open he’s allowed his heart to expand for his children. The only way to teach children it’s okay to talk about what’s inside of them is to show them you aren’t afraid to do so.

(5) Never forget “I Love You”: No matter what else is going on, or how strongly they push you away, a child needs to hear how much they’re loved—by both parents. There have been times where Jaimie is in the throws of a sensory overload-induced tantrum where she screams at Steve, “No, not you. I don’t want you. Just Mama.” Steve will still tell her how much he loves her and how much she means to him. It’s crucial that a child hears that because they do hear you and it means a lot—even if/when they can’t say so.

These are just a few of the things other Dads can do to nurture and strengthen their own bond with their children. In Jaimie’s case, she may never feel comfortable enough to give Steve hugs or kisses but, for the first time in five years, she climbs up into Steve’s lap to share brief moments here and there with him. How wonderful is that?

So, in the end, what they say is true: Quality is definitely more important than quantity. And it’s the quality your children will look back on in adulthood with fondness and appreciation.

Chynna Tamara Laird lives with her partner, Steve, and their three children. She’s a freelance writer completing a B.A. in Psychology. Chynna has recently published a children’s picture book called, I’m Not Weird, I Have SID. She also has a personal essay in Chicken Soup For The Soul: Children With Special Needs. Please visit www.lilywolfwords.ca.