Expert Opinion

The father-child connection and the importance of 9 minutes

Being a dad, and how it is viewed by society, has really shifted over the past few decades. Where fathers were previously seen as the ‘second caregiver’ and the parenting relationship pressure fell solely on mothers, we are now seeing far more dads with active involvement in the lives of their kids. Certainly, since the COVID pandemic hit in 2020, this shift has continued – so perhaps this is something we can thank COVID for?

The research tells us how fathers engage with their children (the quality of their reciprocal relationship) holds more weight than how much time they spend together (quantity). Any parent or caregiver who connects meaningfully with their children will be contributing to their child’s healthy development. And in fact, it’s reported that children who form deep emotional attachments to both parents (in families where this is possible), have less behavioural and emotional difficulties.

So, we know that all parents are important – regardless of gender or role. But one of the challenges experienced by the dads I speak to in my clinic is having the confidence to engage with their kids on a deeper level. Dads will also speak of being worried they’ll ‘do it wrong’; when trying to engage with their kids, or they simply are not sure how to do it. This is when I recommend the ‘9-minute’ idea to them (which one of my incredible graduate psychologists, Alexander Almendingen at my practice taught me!).

The idea is about connecting calmly with your child in three bursts of 3 minutes across the day – in the morning, when reunited after childcare or school (or when the dad gets home etc.), and before they go to bed. Here’s how it works:

  1. Morning – spend three minutes with your child where you’re not rushing. Physical contact is important, so a hug and an ‘I love you’ is a great start. You can also ask your child what they’re looking forward to today or what they plan to play with their friends.
  2. Afternoon/when you are reunited after being apart for the day – set aside three minutes to engage face to face with each other. You can review your day by asking each other what the best/worst/funniest parts of your day were. Or you might just have a cuddle on the couch and engage in some child-led conversation.
  3. Bedtime – before your kiddo goes to sleep, utilise three minutes to connect and to share some encouragement, to help build them up and feel great about themselves. You might tell them how proud you are that they packed up their toys/spoke in front of the class/shared with their sibling etc. Yes, as parents we are often exhausted by this time of the day and our tendency is to rush through bedtime, but it is a lovely time to connect with your child and share some special moments.

Sometimes it’s scary to take a risk and connect deeply with your child, and this can be due to lack of practice and know-how. I encourage all parents to try connecting with their children for these 9 important minutes and see the positive relationship changes over time.

About the author

Amanda Abel is a paediatric psychologist, mum, and founder of Northern Centre for Child Development (NCCD) and Hawthorn Centre for Child Development (HCCD) – multidisciplinary paediatric practices in Melbourne. Working directly and indirectly with hundreds of clients each year, Amanda’s mission is for every child to achieve their best outcomes by equipping families and educators with the tools they need to help kids thrive.
Amanda draws on her own experiences of being a parent along with her extensive training and well-honed skill set to get families thriving. Having worked with families for almost two decades, as a psychologist for the past 11 years in a variety of settings, and a valued board member of the Autism Behavioural Intervention Association, Amanda loves building the confidence of the adults in the lives of children so that they can connect meaningfully, help them reach their full potential, and live a life that reflects their values.
Often appearing on Channel 7 and 9 News and regularly featuring in print media, Amanda is on a mission to make the world better for kids through her clinical work, consulting to some of the biggest global toy manufacturers and educating the digital media industry about making the internet safer for kids.
Photo by Tatiana Syrikova