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Dads and their Babies

With special guest:

  • Dr Dawson Cooke

We will all readily make the assumption that the bond between mothers and their babies is important for the health of the family but what about the dad-baby bond? Our guest today is Dr Dawson Cooke who is able to discuss that relationship based on the findings in his study recently published in Infant Mental Health. Dr Cooke has been working with parents and particularly fathers for the last 15 years both in his practice and as a researcher at Curtin University in WA. In his latest study which involved 451 families he has made some findings that have caught the attention of the media.

Dr Cooke has found that a dad is equally capable of developing a primary attachment with his child as the mother. Furthermore there are a number of advantages to the child if dad does get involved, including more likelihood of greater social and emotional competence, more developed cognitive abilities and positive physical and mental health attributes. A child may form primary attachments to more than one person so if one parent, say the mother, is unavailable for any reason the child will still feel secure because of the attachment to the other parent. This has some particular relevance in the context of raising children with same sex parents where both parents can develop a primary attachment rather than just expecting it from the mother as in a traditional family. The benefit of having strong attachments stays with the child all of its life and can even affect the next generation because children who become parents are heavily influenced in their own child rearing by their experience with parenting gained from their parents.

Dawson notes in his study that the study of fatherhood has changed markedly over recent decades particularly in the investigations of father’s influence on child development. Traditionally men have not placed an emphasis on mentalizing or reflective functioning which means the ability of an individual to recognise their own mental states as well as the mental states of others. As fathers’ roles have changed the men have developed this capacity and it is the children who are benefitting. This is of great importance to the public and to policy makers.

We discuss with Dr Cooke the factors that contribute to a child’s mental health development and this is becoming more and more important when we consider the state of mental health in our community. Depression sometimes seems to be at an epidemic level.

This is an opportunity to hear directly from an expert about child raising - something that has affected us all either as a child or a parent or both.

Dr Dawson Cooke

Dawson Cooke has provided workshops on topics such as: antenatal preparation for fatherhood, being a dad, understanding and guiding children’s behaviour, early brain development, and sleep. Dawson offers psychological services from LifeWorks in Shenton Park and is also a researcher at Curtin University. He has authored and presented research on a range of topics, including: the strengths of fatherhood, postnatal depression (including fathers), parent-child relationships, FIFO parenting, and including fathers in antenatal education.

He deeply values sharing the parenting of his children with his wife Sharon.

Song selection by our guest: My Father’s Eyes by Eric Clapton & My Old Man by Mac DeMarco

Listen Now (mp3)

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