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How Fathers Give Children a Head Start – Dads for Life
How Active Fathering Impacts Child Developmenttree11

Nearly 30 years ago, leading child psychologist Michael E. Lamb reminded us that fathers are the “forgotten contributors to child development.” Since then, much work has been done to explore the ways fathers uniquely contribute to the healthy development of their children. Scholars now know that boys and girls who grow up with an involved father, as well as an involved mother, have stronger cognitive and motor skills, enjoy elevated levels of physical and mental health, become better problem-solvers, and are more confident, curious, and empathetic.

Boys and girls who grow up with an involved father and mother, also show greater moral sensitivity and self-control. As they grow, well-fathered children are substantially less likely to be sexually involved at an early age, have babies out of wedlock, or be involved in criminal or violent behavior. They are much more likely to stay in school, do well there, and go to college.

How Father Involvement Improves Child Well-Being

There is a substantial body of research literature documenting the positive benefits fathers bring to the lives of their children. A review of studies on father involvement and child well-being published since 1980 found that 82 percent of these studies showed “significant associations between positive father involvement and offspring well-being…”

An analysis of over 100 studies on parent-child relationships found that having a loving and nurturing father was as important for a child’s happiness, well-being, and social and academic success as having a loving and nurturing mother. Some studies indicated father-love was a stronger contributor to some important positive child well-being outcomes.

Weinraub, in Fatherhood: the Myth of the Second Class Parent states: “There is no doubt that fathers are important contributors to child development. In particular, fathers significantly affect the development of sex roles, cognitive abilities and achievement motivation.”

A. School Readiness and Behaviour

Children who have an involved father in their lives in the early years, show up for school with more of the qualities needed for learning. They are more patient, curious, and confident. They are better able to remain in their seats, wait patiently for their teacher, and maintain interest in their own work.

Educational psychologist Paul Amato explains that this higher level of self-control in school children with involved fathers was also associated with many other healthy qualities, such as improved general life skills, self-esteem, and higher social skills.

Kyle Pruett, in Fatherneed, reports on another major scientific study that linked positive fatherhood involvement with:

Father involvement has a unique impact on children’s outcomes, including cognitive development, achievement, math and reading scores, as well as behavioral problems. Pruett concludes: “Positive father care is associated with more pro-social and positive moral behavior overall in boys and girls.”

B. Cognitive, Motor, and Verbal Development

Psychologist Ellen Bing was one of the first scholars to explore how fatherhood impacts child well-being. In the early 1960s. She found that children who had fathers who read to them regularly were more likely to do much better in many important cognitive skill categories than children who did not have fathers who read to them.

Interestingly, one of the strongest benefits was a substantial increase in a daughter’s verbal skills. A study nearly ten years later, published in Developmental Psychology, found that both well-fathered preschool boys and girls had increased verbal skills compared with kids with absent or overbearing fathers.

Other researchers’ findings also point to similar conclusion:

C. Security, Confidence, and Attachment

Infants who have involved fathers in their lives for the first 18 to 24 months of life, are more secure and are more likely to explore the world around them with increased enthusiasm and curiosity, than children who did not have close, involved fathers.

Father’s active play and slower response to help the child through frustrating situations promotes problem-solving competencies and independence in the child.

D. Making Wise Life Choices

Research from the University of Pennsylvania found that children who feel a closeness and warmth with their father are twice as likely to enter college, 75 percent less likely to have a child in their teen years, 80 percent less likely to be incarcerated, and half as likely to show various signs of depression.“

A white teenage girl from an advantaged background is five times more likely to become a teen mother if she grows up in a single-mother household than if she grows up in a household with both biological parents.”
E. Development of Empathy

A long-term study started in the 1950s found that the strongest indicator for a child being empathetic later in adulthood was warm father involvement in the early years of the child’s life. In a 26-year-long study, researchers found that the number one factor in developing empathy in children was father involvement. Fathers spending regular time alone with their children translated into children who became compassionate adults.

Kyle Pruett, after reviewing the large body of research on father involvement and child development, concludes “these findings take us beyond a shadow of a doubt” that fathers play an important and irreplaceable role in healthy child development. He adds: “the closer the connection between father and child, the better off they both are now and in the future.”

“The research is absolutely clear… the one human being most capable of curbing the antisocial aggression of a boy is his biological father.” —Shawn Johnston, Forensic Psychologist

The Problem of Fatherlessness

Just as it has documented the many benefits of positive father involvement, the research is clear on father absence and its negative consequences for children.

The United States is the world’s leader in fatherless families.

Fatherless Family Growth Over the Decades
Attitudes Toward Fathers and Fatherlessness

There is no doubt that fathers play a critical role in giving their children a healthy head start in life. Their strong presence and faithful nurturing can ensure that their children will grow up resilient and secure to become well-adjusted persons who can contribute to the community at large.

About the AuthorFocus on the Family Singapore (FOTFS) is a local charity dedicated to helping families thrive. FOTFS aims to support every family with affordable and quality family life.

First published on 28-04-2011.

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