Polvagal in Fatherhood

Here are examples of fatherhood contexts experienced through the lens of each polyvagal nervous system state:


  • Bedtime Storytime: In this context, a father may find himself feeling emotionally distant or disconnected from his children. He might struggle to engage in meaningful interactions, opting instead to go through the motions of reading a bedtime story without genuine emotional connection.
  • Watching TV Together: While watching TV with his children, a father in a shutdown state may feel overwhelmed by a sense of numbness or apathy. He might sit quietly without much interaction or engagement, unable to connect emotionally with his children or participate actively in the shared activity.
  • Attending a School Play: When attending his child’s school play, a father experiencing the shutdown state may feel disengaged and detached from the experience. He might sit passively in the audience, feeling emotionally distant from the performance and his child’s excitement or achievements.


  • Helping with Homework: In the freeze state, a father may find himself feeling immobilized and overwhelmed when helping his child with homework. He might struggle to provide assistance or guidance, feeling paralyzed by a sense of inadequacy or inability to meet his child’s needs.
  • Family Mealtime: During family mealtime, a father in the freeze state may withdraw emotionally and physically, avoiding conversation and interaction with his family members. He might sit quietly at the table, feeling disconnected and distant from the familial bond and unable to engage in meaningful communication.
  • Playing at the Park: When playing at the park with his children, a father experiencing the freeze state may feel emotionally distant and disconnected from the joyful energy of the activity. He might stand on the sidelines, feeling frozen and unable to actively participate or engage with his children in play.


  • Disciplining a Child: In a fight/flight state, a father may react impulsively and with heightened emotion when disciplining his child. He might raise his voice or resort to punitive measures, feeling a sense of urgency and intensity in his response to the perceived threat of misbehavior.
  • Driving to School: When driving his children to school, a father in a fight/flight state may feel anxious and stressed, rushing to get them to school on time. He might exhibit signs of physical arousal, such as increased heart rate and shallow breathing, as he navigates traffic and external pressures.
  • Watching a Sports Game: While watching a sports game with his children, a father experiencing the fight/flight state may become overly invested in the outcome, displaying signs of competitiveness and aggression. He might shout or express frustration during the game, feeling a heightened sense of arousal and urgency.


  • Reading a Book Together: In the safety state, a father may feel deeply connected and engaged when reading a book with his children. He might encourage conversation and interaction, fostering a sense of warmth and intimacy as they share the experience together.
  • Cooking Together: When cooking together as a family, a father in the safety state may experience a sense of joy and camaraderie. He might laugh and engage in playful banter with his children, creating a nurturing and supportive environment in which they can bond and learn together.
  • Playing a Board Game: While playing a board game with his children, a father experiencing the safety state may feel relaxed and present in the moment. He might engage in friendly competition and cooperation, fostering feelings of safety and connection as they enjoy each other’s company.