The Importance of Fathers: Developmental Perspective

During my parenting class last semester, my professor dedicated a whole week to the role of fatherhood. I found it absolutely fascinating, and I hope you will too.

Father's roles--well, parental roles in general--have changed quite a bit over the past couple centuries. However, there is a constant theme among parents throughout all generations: mothers and fathers interact with their children in different ways. Mothers seem to specialize in nurturing while fathers specialize in play. Although these roles are not exclusive (e.g. mothers play with their children and fathers are nurturing), I'm going to focus on fathers and their role in play.
Despite what you may think, play is extremely important in a child's development. How does play benefit children? Researchers have found that fathers (and play) contribute to child development in the following ways:

  1. Cognitive Ability and Academics
    • A number of studies have shown that fathers who are involved and are playful with their infants have children with higher IQs and better linguistic capabilities. Researchers hypothesize that fathers challenge children with more advanced language while mothers adapt their speech to the child's level (children need both types of speech for optimum speech development).
    • The U.S. Department of Education study found that highly involved biological fathers had children who were 43 percent more likely than other children to earn mostly A grades. Source
    • Fathers often push achievement while mothers stress nurturing.
    • Children with playful fathers have better intellectual capabilities (problem solving, thinking, etc.)
    • Despite what fathers may think, their infants do recognize them; In an experiment consisting of an infant, the infant's father, and a random man, researchers found that when the father and the random man spoke the infant would turn it's head toward it's father, recognizing both his face and voice.
  2. Psychological Well-being and Social Behavior
    • Fathers who are sensitive and responsive to their infant's needs form a secure attachment with their baby. Numerous studies show that infants who form secure attachments with their parents have better social skills and relationships later in life.
    • If you've ever watched a father interact with his child you've noticed that most is spent in stimulating play. 

    • From these playful interactions, children learn how to regulate their emotions. For example, when a child and dad are rough-housing the father can teach the child how to control their aggressive impulses and other emotions such as frustration, anger, and disappointment.
    • Boys who play with their fathers tend to have less behavioral issues and girls tend to have higher self-esteem.
    • Children also gain the majority of their social skills from their fathers. Learning how to play fair with others is a major part of social and psychological development. 
    • Overall, children who have healthy relationships with their fathers are less likely to develop stress, anxiety, externalizing behaviors, internalizing behaviors, depression, sexual stereotypes, addictions, and eating disorders--wow, that's a lot!
  3. Father and Mother Relationship
    • When a father provides emotional support for his wife, he is reducing stress, anxiety, and even depression. This makes it easier for her to provide higher-quality nurturing and emotional availability for their children. The home is a happier place when the mother and father are under less stress.
    • Also, a father is responsible for an incomprehensible amount of emotional and economical stability when he provides a steady income for the family. A father can also indirectly affect his children's well-being by making it possible for his wife to have more time at home nurturing the children.
Here's a quote to sum it up: 

"Children with highly involved fathers were characterized by increased cognitive competence, increased empathy, fewer sex-stereotyped beliefs, and a more internal locus of control." Source

How can fathers be more involved and create positive relationships with their children? Here are a few ideas:
  • Instead of the mother and children going on outings during the day when the father is at work, reserve special activities for the weekends, or during the evenings when father can participate. The children will begin to understand the importance of family unity when special activities require full attendance of family members.
  • Schedule daddy-daughter dates, or father-son outings.
  • Dads, take time to bond with your infant. When infants are young it may be hard to find ways to form a relationship, but babies are very sensitive to touch and sound. Infant massage, rocking, singing (or reading books if singing isn't your thing), or even feeding a bottle. This is a crucial time for forming relationships, don't miss out!
  • If your wife needs help with chores, ask your children to help you complete it. This has quite a few benefits: happy wife, talking/bonding with child, and child might learn a new skill.
  • Father presides over, and directs, family home evening, counsel, and prayer.
Here's another reward for making it through my novel-of-a-post.

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