From Chris Hayden in Gilmore Girls to Homer Simpson in The Simpsons, we all have come across this image of the lazy, incompetent, and let’s be honest – pretty useless dad on TV. So much that we are left wondering: “do dads even matter?”. The research has been slowly catching up on this, and its answer is a resounding yes. A father’s presence and involvement foster positive child development and well-being.
But before we talk about why dads are important, what does “father involvement” mean? Is it only about the physical presence, or is there more to it?
Father involvement includes three things: accessibility, engagement, and responsibility. So an involved dad is someone who is present, interacts with his children, as well as plans, monitors, or supervises aspects of his family life. Now let’s get started.
A dad’s early involvement is good both for him and the baby. By setting the foundation for a father-child relationship, it makes future interactions more natural and less uncomfortable. After all, the same principle applies to when we talk to people we are not familiar with: the unknown can make us feel awkward. But the overall health and development of the child also benefit from the father’s early involvement. Additionally, dads who get actively involved as soon as the baby is born are more likely to stay involved later on. So when it comes to a dad’s involvement in his child’s life, the rule of thumb is that it’s never too early to begin.
We all want our children to do well in school, have good grades, and a good career later on. But cognitive skills go beyond academic performance. The American Psychological Association defines cognitive skills as:
“the skills involved in performing the tasks associated with perception, learning, memory, understanding, awareness, reasoning, judgment, intuition, and language”.
We use these skills in everyday life. But did you know that when it comes to healthy cognitive development, dads matter? Reading to their children helps with learning new words. As for play – especially physical play – it helps build reasoning and problem-solving skills. That’s because dads tend to challenge their children more than moms, as well as let them lead during a game.
The advantages of physical play don’t stop there! Through play, kids learn to “manage their intense emotions” and to refrain from aggressive behavior. As a result, it helps them interact with others, make friends, and find acceptance from kids their age. Simply said, dad’s involvement improves the child’s social development. Likewise, they are less likely to have behavior issues as teenagers. Boys with involved fathers tend to be less involved in crime, while girls tend to delay sexual activity.
Kids experience strong emotions, and many of them say they often feel stressed or worried. Dads can help them handle stress better and have a healthier emotional development in general. Rough play, for example, can help them manage their emotions because it involves some level of risk. On the other hand, “The lack of risk in the play environment could lead to children who are “risk-averse,” never having learned how to effectively manage everyday situations”.
Last but not least, let’s not forget about physical and overall health. Since play is an important factor of father’s involvement, this results in increased physical activity and better health for the child. But dads can also have a tremendous impact on a child’s health by keeping up with doctor’s visits, cooking nutritious meals, providing health insurance, and more. Children of engaged dads are also less likely to have depression.
All of this indicates that dads matter. When they are involved, children thrive. However, we know that each situation is different and that having an involved dad for your child may not be easy or even possible.
Because we want every family to flourish, we have decided to expand our DadLine program, specifically geared towards dads and dads to be. With a new full-time Program Manager to supervise the program and mentor dads, our hope is that every dad will feel fully prepared and ready to take on this important task: fathering. Contact us for more information!