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The Robust Role of Dads
You know the type—the sitcom dad who can’t change a diaper. Who can’t manage when his wife is gone. Who forgets his child’s birthday…or name. Today’s dads have some big problems with these stereotypes.
In fact, 90% of surveyed dads say that parenting is their greatest joy and 86% say they work hard at becoming a more effective parent, according to Tuning In, ZERO TO THREE’s parenting survey.
Dads are more involved in their children’s lives than ever before, and there is a growing body of research on fathers and their influence on children’s development. Here are some of the key takeaways:
- Pregame prep is a must. The parent-child relationship begins before birth. In fact, the research shows that when fathers are involved in the pregnancy and at the birth itself, they are more likely to stay involved over the long-term. And babies want dads there, too! One study found that newborns who were held by their dads skin-to-skin for the first 2 hours after birth cried less than those who weren’t held.
- Keep working on your co-parent relationship. Research studies have found that men who reported good relationships with their partners were also more involved with their children. So much changes when baby makes three, but making time for just the two of you is important for the whole family.
- Go ahead and play. Dads are more likely to engage in rough-and-tumble play which, in addition to being a lot of fun, helps children regulate their feelings and behavior. Roughhousing also helps children learn good boundaries and healthy risk-taking.
- Check in with your co-pilot. Many dads in the Tuning In survey (40%) felt that their co-parent limited their ability to be as involved as they wanted to be in their child’s life. Talking together with a co-parent about your roles and level of involvement is an important part of becoming a family. Some couples can do this on their own, while short-term counseling can also be a great tool to define roles and responsibilities, and to highlight things each partner can let go—as in, the baby’s outfit doesn’t have to match.
- Keep making steady deposits.
- Discipline yourself. Dads in the Tuning In survey report they are using less harsh discipline methods than their parents used with them, but still want to learn new, more effective ways of setting limits with little ones. In fact, 70% of surveyed dads told us that if they knew more positive parenting strategies, they would use them. Discipline is a tough issue for any parent. To be prepared for the toddler years, take some time to learn about early development get a sense of what to expect from your young child at different ages. Talk with your co-parent about how you want to approach limit-setting and discipline with your own child. Letting go of harsh methods that don’t work frees you up to be a dad who is respected, not feared.
The latest research confirms what babies and toddlers have always known: Daddies matter. Being there for your child helps you build the kind of strong, loving relationship that is the gift of a lifetime for your little one.
Dads who are a steady presence in their child’s lives—there to play, talk together, hang out, love and set limits—see the payoff across a child’s lifetime.
About Baby Steps
This article was featured in Baby Steps, a ZERO TO THREE newsletter for parents and caregivers. Each issue offers science-based information on a topic of interest to parents and caregivers of young children—from sleep to challenging behaviors, and everything in between.