The attachment of the child: What about dads?

The attachment of the child: What about dads?

June 20, 2021 Off By Lory Zephyr


Ah, dads! They are officially celebrated only once a year, but in reality they are to be celebrated every day like moms. On this Father’s Day, we of course wanted to tell you a little more about the child to father attachment! To tell you about it, we have decided to present a study by Professor Jean-François Bureau (University of Ottawa) and his colleagues, who have developed an in-depth expertise on the attachment of the child to the father. 

Information about the study: Bureau, J. f. Martin, J., Yurkowski, K., Schmiedel, S., Quan, J., Moss, E., Deneault, A. Has. & Pallanca, D. (2017).Correlates of child-father and child-mother attachment in the preschool years. Attachment & human development, 19(2), 130–150.

What researchers are interested in:

The interaction time between fathers and their children increased by 94% between 1965 and 2000¹, which is no small thing! Although many fathers are not necessarily the main attachment figures of their children and spend on average less time with them, they contribute to the development of their emotional security. In particular, it seems that the involvement of fathers in the education of their children is more present around 2-3 years of age and well established around 4-5 years of age. In addition, the benefits of the presence of fathers in the development of children can be observed in several respects, including their motor skills, exploration, communication, relational autonomy and even in the face of separation anxiety. 

An important element of attachment quality to the father is paternal motivation to invest in the relationship with the child. Thus, while it is established that parental sensitivity and the time spent with the child contribute to the child’s quality of attachment, the attitude of the father in particular with regard to his involvement towards his child and his family seems to be just as much important. In other words, while the demands of society lead mothers to bear the duty of child involvement , expectations for fathers would be as high. From this perspective, if a father chooses to prioritize this role, it would be a positive factor contributing to his child’s attachment security. Parental stress, child temperament, marital satisfaction related stressors, flexibility in parenting roles and the time devoted to work are also reported in the literature as having an influence on the child’s attachment to his father. 

Other writings specify the strong association between attachment to father and child social adaptation. Indeed, children who have developed a secure attachment show better social skills, healthy self-regulation skills and fewer behavioral problems. 

It is with this in mind that Bureau and his team have focused on better understanding the factors associated with child attachment to father, and in comparison to the child attachment to mother. 

What the study finds:

The study’s findings show that fathers and mothers are equally competent figures when interacting with their preschoolers in a playful and exciting play setting. 

The authors also report that, contrary to popular belief, battle games are not enough for fathers and children to develop a quality relationship. What seems important is that in any context of games, fathers are sensitive to their child’s signals (e.g. stop when the child no longer seems to find the game fun); this is what is observed in fathers whose child has developed a secure attachment to them. 

The study also points out that the more stressed fathers are, the more likely their child will show an insecure attachment. This result underlines the importance of addressing contextual and psychosocial factors affecting fathers in order to promote child emotional security. 

With respect to social adjustment, the authors show that attachment insecurity to the father is associated with the presence of child behavioural problems (conduct), regardless of the type of attachment to the mother. The authors propose that during playful interactions , fathers can help their children modulate their aggressiveness and have healthy role models in play or battle games. In the absence of a secure attachment to the father, aggressive behaviours outside the play context may be perceived as more as acceptable by children. 

What to remember as parents:

  • Let’s celebrate fathers!: Their parenting style is an important asset for child development
  • Promote the diversity of parental models: Whether we are talking about paternal models or simply models of other different, significant figures, children build their own model from their exposure to the diversity of people around them. 
  • Sensitivity as a goal! : Parental sensitivity – the parent’s ability to recognize, interpret and respond appropriately to their child’s signals – whether manifested by the mother or father is equally important to the child’s attachment security, regardless of the context of the interaction. 

Le LEDEF takes this opportunity to wish a happy Father’s Day to all the different paternal models who make the difference in the lives of children!

¹ Pleck, J.H. (2010). Paternal involvement: Revised conceptualization and theoretical linkages with child outcomes. In M. E. Lamb (Ed.), The role of the father in child development (5th ed., pp. 58–93).Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.