We just passed Father’s Day last weekend and sadly, Dads often don’t get their fair share of recognition for how important they are in family life. We spend more on Mother’s Day than on Father’s Day. When someone gets on T.V. it’s usually “Hi Mom!” not even “Hi Mom and Dad”. Even though a growing percentage of fathers are staying home to raise kids full time, we still tend to think of mothers as the primary parent.
As a mom myself, I’m definitely NOT knocking the importance of moms. I’m saying that both parents have a crucial role in kids’ lives and it’s time we looked at all the ways dads matter. We’ve had nearly 25 years of research on the importance of involved fathers and the data are pretty clear. What’s important to note, though, is that it’s really how engaged dads are with the kids that makes the most difference. Living in the same house but not doing much with kids has less positive effect than being a highly engaged and involved dad even when kids live in two households.
Did you know that a father’s involvement is actually more significant in the development of empathy in kids than is mom’s role? Richard Koestner and his research partners found that dads who spent time alone with kids at least twice a week, engaging in routine child care, raised the most compassionate adults and that father’s involvement was the single most important childhood factor in developing empathy. Several other studies also showed the same relationship between father engagement and empathy development in their kids.
Girls with involved fathers and a strong relationship with them during adolescence had less psychological distress as adults. Engaged dads produce kids who have more satisfaction with their lives, who have better ability to tolerate stress and frustration, and who are better able to manage their own impulses and emotions.
In fact, here is a whole list of things that research has shown are related to having an engaged father throughout a child’s life: more resilience, less depression, better problem solving skills, more competent in complex and novel situations, more able to take initiative and direct themselves.
Cognitive and Social Benefits
It’s probably not news that when kids have actively engaged dads in their lives they do better academically and with their friends. Those kids whose dads are nurturing and actively involved in their lives have better verbal skills, higher intellectual functioning and better overall academic achievement. They are more ready when they start school, and they generally have more patience and better coping skills when they encounter frustrations at school.
Involved dads tend to have kids who enjoy school more, participate more in extracurricular activities in their school years, they have better educational achievement and more career success when they are adults.
It makes sense that kids who are doing better emotionally and in school are also doing better with friends. Generally speaking these kids are more well liked. When they get older they tend to have supportive friendships and support systems and they are more likely to have long-term successful marriages. Wow! That’s a whole ton of good things dads can help give their kids by being actively engaged in their lives.
How to be a nurturing Dad
The most basic answer to this is to show up routinely for the big and small things in your child’s life. When children are small, it means providing routine care for them on a regular basis like feeding and bathing them, putting them to bed and reading them stories. The way dads play with kids is different than how moms play and it’s an important part of their development so play with your kids at all ages.
When your kids become more interactive, talk to them and give them your full attention. Show them that what they have to say, again at all ages, matters to you and is important. Often men concede the emotional territory to the moms and that’s a missed opportunity. Having a healthy emotional relationship and interactions helps both kids and dads. Allow kids to see that dads have feelings too and that dads are also interested in kids’ feelings.
Don’t be afraid to give physical affection. Even boys like hugs and affectionate touches from their dads. Often, dads stop being physically affectionate with their daughters when they begin to hit puberty but daughters still need that connection. If you haven’t started being affectionate and your kids are already past elementary school, try slowly adding a supportive shoulder squeeze or a playful tousling of the hair to move toward more affectionate behavior.
Be involved in their schools, help with homework and know their friends! Attend their special events such as sporting events, musical events or plays. Plan some one on one time with each child occasionally and allow the relationship to grow. John Gottman talks about having “love maps” for couples and for parents-children. Quite simply, having a complete love map for your child means KNOWING your child, knowing their stresses and triumphs, knowing their favorites and what they dislike most in a variety of contexts, hearing about their days routinely.
Still not convinced?
Not only is an actively engaged dad more likely to produce happier, more successful kids, but the dads themselves show a lot of great benefits. For those dads who are married to or in a committed relationship with the other of their children, that partner relationship tends to be happier and more stable when the dads are involved with the children. Finally, involved dads have overall better well being, are more satisfied with their lives and live longer!
With so many benefits, what’s not to love about involved, active fathers? Lets show them some love out there!
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