Father’s Day is Sunday, and we want to wish dads everywhere a happy day! We know parents play a critical role as their children’s first teachers and that a child's earliest experiences have a deep, lasting effect on brain development and social-emotional growth. But did you know numerous studies point to the long-term benefits children receive when their fathers are actively engaged in their care? Research shows that involved fathers relate to their children in ways that produce specific developmental benefits.
Unfortunately, there are many reasons why fathers may be separated from their children. The good news is that positive male figures can serve as role models and mentors, and contribute to a child’s healthy development. And if absent fathers can find ways to stay involved in their children’s lives, all the better. We know one dad stationed in Iraq who videotaped himself reading books for his kids and arranged for a live video connection so he could participate in Parent Reading Day with his son’s class. We think his kids are very fortunate!
Two organizations have produced summaries of research showing the benefits of engaged fathers. We’ve identified key areas in which involved dads—measured by the amount of interaction with their children, including activities like changing diapers, holding, bathing, feeding, reading books, singing songs and playing—impact their children’s happiness, well-being, and social and academic success.
- Fathers tend to use more “wh”- questions and make more requests for clarification, which encourages conversation and builds vocabulary (Rowe, Cocker, & Pan, 2004).
- Dads are more likely to speak in ways that challenge their child’s developing language abilities and teach them about social communication exchanges (Lamb, 2010).
- Babies, particularly sons, with involved fathers show early language behavior (Bronte-Tinkew, Carrano, Horowitz, & Kinukawa, 2008), and a father’s language input when a child is 2-years-old contributes to language development later in the child’s life (Pancsofar & Vernon-Feagens, 2006).
- Infants with highly involved dads score higher on cognitive tests at 6 months and one year, are better problem solvers as toddlers and have higher IQs by age 3 (Pedersen, Rubinstein, & Yarrow, 1979; Pedersen, Anderson, & Kain, 1980; Nugent, 1991; Easterbrooks & Goldberg, 1984; Yogman, Kindlan, & Earls, 1995).
- A father’s presence also increases the mother’s cognitive stimulation of their toddlers, and long-term cognitive gains, particularly in math and reading, were seen in elementary school (Cook, Roggman, & Boyce, 2012).
Problem Solving & Motor Development
- Kids with involved fathers have superior problem-solving and adaptive skills (Biller, 1993) and are more playful, resourceful, skillful and attentive when presented with a problem (Mischel et al., 1988).
- 6-month-olds whose fathers are involved with their care score higher on tests of motor development (Gestwicki, 2010).
- Dads tend to play more one-on-one, rough-and-tumble games with their kids, which promotes large motor development and allows children to take risks and test what their bodies can do (Pruett, 2000; Parke & Tinsley, 1987; Rosenberg & Wilcox, 2006).
Security, Well-Being & Stress Tolerance
- Infants whose fathers are involved in their care are more likely to be securely attached to them (Cox, Owen, Henderson, & Margand, 1992), handle unfamiliar situations better and be more resilient in stressful situations (Kotelchuck, 1976, Parke & Swain, 1975).
- Children of involved fathers have higher self-esteem (Deutsch, Servic, & Payne, 2001).
- Children of involved fathers are more likely to have greater tolerance for stress and frustration (Mischel, Shoda, & Peake, 1988).
Exploration & Creativity
- Fathers tend to do more than mothers to promote a child’s independence and exploration of their world (Rosenberg & Wilcox, 2006).
- Babies with secure attachments to fathers are more curious and eager to explore their environment, react more competently to new things and are more trusting in branching out in their explorations (Biller, 1993; Parke & Swain, 1975; Pruett, 1997).
- Dads are more likely to find new and unexpected ways to play with familiar toys, which expands a child’s creative horizons (Ladd, 2000).
- Father involvement is positively correlated with children’s overall social competence, initiative, maturity and capacity to relate to others. This impact is seen in kids as early as age 3 (Amato, 1987; Forehand & Nousiainen, 1993; Gottfried et al., 1988; Krampe & Fairweather, 1993; Mischel et al., 1988; Parke, 1996; Snarey, 1993; Stolz, Barber, & Olsen, 2005; Kato et al., 2002).
- Children with engaged dads show less negativity, aggression and conflict with peers and more reciprocity, generosity and positive friendships (Hooven, Gottman, & Katz, 1995; Lieberman, Doyle, & Markiewicz, 1999. They also have fewer negative emotional reactions while playing with peers and solve conflicts by themselves rather than seek an adult’s assistance (Suess, Grossman, & Sroufe, 1992).
- Children with involved fathers have fewer behavioral problems (Amato & Rivera, 1999; Howard et al., 2006).
- Dads’ active play style helps children learn to regulate their emotions when engaging in impulsive physical contact (Rosenberg & Wilcox, 2006).
- Quality father-child time increases self-esteem, confidence, social competence and life skills (Amato, 1994).