Your child’s father is his secret ally in learning and social development. The more time fathers spend with their kids the smarter those kids are, the better behaved they are, the happier and more well-adjusted. Surprised?
At one time in America, fathers were considered completely responsible for their children’s upbringing. But by the early part of the 20th Century, roles had changed. Research on child rearing focused on mothers, who were at home and more easily available to researchers than were fathers. Because researchers ignored fathers, the influence of fathers was considered unimportant.
More recent research stands these earlier findings on their head. Not only is fathers’ influence on children’s lives important, it is often the deciding factor in distinguishing successful children from less successful ones. Dads provide bonus input that kids whose fathers are less engaged miss out on.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services identifies three major areas of influence that fathers provide their kids. First, they support children’s academic achievement by supporting vocabulary development, concept formation, and exploration. Preschoolers whose dads are involved in their care show higher IQs than other kids and are more ready for kindergarten. They also are more patient and less stressed than other children.
In addition, fathers contribute to children’s social and emotional development. Kids with an involved fathers get into less trouble than other kids and have stronger friendships with peers. They are more securely attached as infants and are better able to control impulses as preschool children. School age and adolescent kids with strong relationships to their fathers are less likely to get in trouble at school, are more healthy, and have higher self-esteem.
Finally, fathers who are strongly attached to their children support the children’s mother in ways that improve her effectiveness. Dads, then, make the entire family better and happier. This is a huge bonus, of course. How can we encourage more men to take on a fully engaged role?
First, dads just need to make time. As Ken Canfield, president of the National Center for Fathering has said, “Kids spell ‘love’ T-I-M-E.” This means planning the work day to leave time for children or devoting time to kids on the weekend (or both). But it also means that mothers must give up time to the children’s father, to use as he sees fit.
Second, dads need to be active with their children. Instead of just passively babysitting while Mom is occupied elsewhere, dads should involve children in shared activities, like chores, play, sports, and making things. Fathers’ modeling of interest in reading and support of math and science is important for boys and girls alike. Fathers demonstrate how to resolve conflict and handle adversity in ways that are socially acceptable.
Third, if fathers do not live with the family, mothers and others should make it easy for them to develop a strong relationship with their children. Trying to limit a father’s contact with his children when he is eager to see them hurts the kids and ultimately compromises the success of the entire family. While certainly children of single parents can do well, the success of every child is enhanced by a solid relationship with a dad.
As we seek out ways to provide our children with every advantage in life, we may be overlooking the biggest source of advantage even as it stands right in front of us. The biggest advantage is an involved, supportive dad.
© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.