Written by David R. Sprayberry, MD
My last few posts have revolved around the negative effects that absent fathers have on their children. So far, we have talked about how the absence of a father contributes to poverty, substance use and abuse, psychological and behavioral problems, poorer educational performance, and increased participation in criminal activities. Today we turn to the positive things that a present father brings to the lives of his children.
Effects on Infants
Let’s starts with infants. Even in the first few days of life, the effect of a father’s presence can be discerned. Newborns will preferentially turn their heads to the voice of their fathers over the voices of other men. Premature infants whose fathers visit the NICU more often tend to have better weight gain during the hospitalization and perform better on behavioral and social-developmental tests during the first 18 months of life. Infants who demonstrate the most emotional security and attachment have fathers who are affectionate, who spend time with their children, and who have a positive attitude. Keep in mind that these effects are happening long before the child can even walk and talk.
Effects on Mothers
What about mothers? When fathers are involved, their children’s mothers are more likely to start and continue breastfeeding. Mothers with positive relationships with their children’s fathers also demonstrate better parenting skill and fewer emotional difficulties. Mothers who are feeling supported are more likely to encourage the fathers to be involved with the children.
Fathers can help reduce the likelihood of stranger anxiety in their children. Toddlers with present fathers are also less likely to worry and less likely to disrupt the play of other kids. Preschool children of involved fathers have been found to have higher cognitive development. They also exhibit more empathy and have a greater sense of mastery over their environment than their peers with less involved dads.
Children who live with both parents are more likely to finish high school, be economically self-sufficient, and be physically healthy. Fathers have a unique and strong influence on their children’s gender role development and serve as important role models for both boys and girls.
Fathers who set appropriate limits for their children and who provide sufficient autonomy have children with higher academic achievement. Fathers who discipline harshly and/or inconsistently have a negative impact on emotional and academic development.
When dads are involved, kids tend to have improved educational outcomes. Children of fathers who are involved in their children’s education are more likely to achieve better grades, more likely to enjoy school, more likely to participate in extracurricular activities, and are less likely to have repeated a grade.
There are numerous other benefits that result from fathers who are involved. Fathers who spend time alone with their kids and perform routine childcare at least twice a week raise the most compassionate adults. Physical play with fathers promotes intellectual development and social competence.
Fathers are capable of doing incredible good to their kids by staying involved in their lives. Dads, you only have a few years with your kids at home. Make the most of them and be their dad! Perfection is not necessary. Presence and participation are.
Dr. Sprayberry is a practicing pediatrician and believes there is more to medicine than shuffling patients in and out the door. To read more about Dr. Sprayberry’s medical trips to Kenya, visit his blog, Pediatrics Gone to the Dawgs.