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The Robust Role of Dads

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.

by Sarah MacLaughlin, Senior Writer, Parenting Resources, ZERO TO THREE and Rebecca Parlakian, Senior Director of Programs, ZERO TO THREE

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 and here’s why: 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.

Becoming “Daddy”

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. We’re not talking about saving for college (although that’s a good idea, too). But dads who are a steady presence in their child’s lives over time—there to play; talk together; hang out; share bedtime, bath-time, and diaper duty; and set limits—see the pay-off across a child’s lifetime. Father involvement correlates with a range of child benefits including improved cognitive, language, and self-regulation skills in school. And children who feel a closeness to their father are: twice as likely as those who do not to enter college or find stable employment after high school, 75% less likely to have a teen birth, and 80% less likely to spend time in jail.
  • Discipline yourself. Dads in the Tuning In survey report they are using discipline methods that are not as harsh as 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 and 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.

Daddies Matter

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.

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