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Father’s Day is coming! In honor of Dad’s special day, we’re delving into the research that illustrates the unique power dads have to impact their children’s lives. This impact affects children in many beneficial ways, including their development, their self-esteem, and the success of their future relationships. 

Historically as well as today in certain cultures, the mother of a family has been the primary parent in charge of raising the children as well as managing the daily affairs of the household. By contrast, the father of the family has been the main financial provider, and if he interacted with the children it was either for discipline or for the occasional family outing.

A father's positive influence can impact generations.

Nowadays, it is more common to see fathers fully involved in the upbringing of their children. Although dads are still highly likely to be working outside the home full- or part-time, many fathers prioritize involvement in raising their children, including participating in household work, helping with a child’s education, making time for play, and taking responsibility for growth and learning. This is an encouraging trend, because when fathers are actively involved in their children’s lives, families are happier and society is healthier and more productive. Here are some of the reasons why:

Child Development

“My favorite part of being involved in my daughter’s life is witnessing her development and evolution over the years. I love seeing her have fun and that she takes me into account when she tells stories and, above all, that she looks for me to support her in certain activities.”Bernardo

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While both moms and dads play important roles in the physical, social, emotional, and mental development of their children, the ways in which they do this are distinct and equally important. For example, research has found that the way dads play with their children is uniquely beneficial to their growth. In particular, rough and tumble play—a physical play style between fathers and children that can include chasing, wrestling, tumbling, throwing in the air, etc.—has been shown to help children increase their physical awareness, emotional regulation, prosocial behaviors (kindness, sharing, etc.), and even their memory

Dads also can positively impact their child’s growth and development through reading to them. Research supports the fact that when dads read with their children, it positively impacts the child’s language development, problem solving skills, and school readiness. 

Self-Concept and Self-Esteem

“My father was a listener. He would listen to me prattle for an entire road trip, chiming in occasionally to ask a question or share a story of his own. Whether intentional or not, his listening taught me that I had good ideas to share and was worthy of being listened to. It has allowed me to feel confident in sharing my thoughts and feelings in workplace settings, social situations, and relationships, and to expect respect in return.”Alivia

Because of traditional gender roles, research has primarily focused on the mother-child bond when studying attachment and its impact on young children. In more recent years, however, studies have revealed that father-child attachment is also uniquely impactful and important for healthy growth and development. Studies have shown that boys and girls who grow up with a secure emotional attachment to their father have higher self-esteem and self worth. 

In other words, when dads respond to their children in consistent, loving, and nurturing ways, it reinforces the fact that the child is worthy of love, and that they matter. These ideas about the self are impactful not only in childhood, but can affect a person throughout their life, influencing their future relationships.

Relationship Models

“What has stayed with me most about my father at various stages of my childhood and adolescence is that my dad always tried to help elderly ladies and gentlemen, either by opening the door for them, or lending them an arm to help them cross the street.”Emilio

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In addition to influencing a child’s future relationships through attachment, a dad’s relationship with his kids impacts attitudes towards gender roles, teamwork, cooperation, and expectations for what constitutes a healthy relationship. Children who are raised in households where the father is more involved in parenting and housework are more likely to have egalitarian attitudes in their own relationships. This can be particularly impactful for girls, who are more likely to dream bigger about their own careers (an indicator of feeling empowered and supported) when their father does household chores. 

Furthermore, a girl’s father provides a blueprint for how she can expect to be treated by men throughout her life. Having a positive relationship with her father where there is safety, respect, and love makes it more likely that a young woman will seek out future relationships where those qualities are present. For boys, having a dad who is involved in the home empowers them to follow in their father’s footsteps and to be supportive and present in their own relationships with others. It teaches them what it means to be a “real man”—someone who shows up for others, and treats everyone (including himself) with kindness and respect.

Tips for Connecting with Kids when Time Is Short

“Dad worked long hours and was away from home a lot. But when he was here, he always made an effort to spend time playing with us kids. He’d wrestle with us for 10 or 15 minutes, even after working all day in the hot sun. Because of that, I never doubted that my dad loved me.”Phoebe

We understand that balancing work and home life can be difficult, and that there are a million factors impacting how much time dads are able to dedicate to child-rearing. If you want to get more involved in your kid’s lives, but don’t live with them or feel like you lack time, here are some tips to help you strengthen that parent-child relationship:

  1. Work on your relationship with your partner/co-parent: One of the greatest predictors of a father’s involvement in his child’s life is the quality of his relationship with that child’s mother. Having a healthy relationship with your co-parent, regardless of whether or not you are a romantic couple, can help ensure that your relationship with your kids is a priority. Be intentional about maintaining a positive relationship with your child’s mother, and make sincere efforts to communicate, cooperate, and work together in raising your child with love. 
  2. Stay in touch: If you don’t see your children daily, stay present with phone calls, video chats, and messages to them. Consistency is key for relationships, and will help your child build trust in you. 
  3. Remember Quality over Quantity: Try to communicate with your children even for a few minutes a day. When you return from work, put away your phone and other distractions. Spend those precious minutes with your kids asking them how their day went. That time together, however brief, will make a difference in your relationship and in both your lives. 
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No matter where you are in your fatherhood journey, know that every attempt you make to communicate or be close to your children counts for something. It’s never too late to seek those connections that are built little-by-little and step-by-step. If you want some help, check out our free parenting workshops for dads. And if you’re already a parent involved in your kids’ lives, that’s great news. It is something your children will never forget, and that will positively shape their lives forever. Your unique influence makes a difference!