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Fathers Play an Important Role in Child Development

The state of Tennessee thanks fathers, grandfathers, adoptive and foster dads, and other male role models for taking an active role in the lives of children.

Fathers who are actively involved in their children’s lives contribute to their emotional health, overall wellness, social development and self-respect, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dedicated and responsible fathering during infancy and early childhood also contributes to emotional security, as well as improved math and verbal skills.

Before Birth

Fathers can get involved during pregnancy by going to healthcare visits and helping their pregnant partners, even if they are not married. Research has found that mothers are 1.5 times more likely to receive prenatal care in their first trimester if the father is involved, and there is a reduced risk of premature births and infant mortality.

With the increase in both births from unmarried couples and fathers who live apart from mothers, it’s important to note that other forms of positive father involvement—like having a supportive relationship with the mother—can lead to kids who are self-confident and do better in school.

Infancy

Babies can attach and bond with fathers just as they can with moms. Dads can play an important role in supporting a mother’s breastfeeding, and many hospitals offer programs and resources for expectant fathers. At any time, you can call the Tennessee Breastfeeding Hotline toll-free with questions at 1-855-4BF-MOMS (1-855-423-6667) and speak to certified lactation counselors. This service is available in any language.

Fathers who respond to their babies’ cries, hold and hug them a lot, and participate in their basic care (e.g., feeding, changing diapers) tend to have a positive effect on their children’s self-confidence and behavior. Studies show that when fathers are more involved in infancy, their kids are less likely to show symptoms of mental health problems at age 9.

Fathers and male role models are more likely than mothers to be a baby’s play partner. Fathers’ play tends to be more active and energetic than mothers’ play with infants. This may help children to explore and be independent.

Early Childhood

Young children with fathers who praise them when they behave well or accomplish something, hug and kiss them often, and comfort them when they are sad or scared are more likely to do well in school compared to children who have uninvolved fathers.

Studies suggest that loving, encouraging fathers who respond calmly when their children misbehave or get upset raise boys who are less aggressive and girls who are less negative with their friends. Studies also show that when fathers are involved with their daughters at a young age, they are at less risk for early puberty, early sexual experiences and teen pregnancy.

Father involvement in early childhood also leads to positive child development, including advanced language development. While mothers tend to use words children already know, fathers are more likely to introduce new words.

Adolescence

Teenagers who receive praise from their fathers or male role models are more likely to do well in school and have good attendance, regardless of economic status. Many recent national studies show that father involvement in adolescence lessens the risk for mental health problems or risk behaviors. They also show that involved fathers raise boys with less behavioral problems and girls with less psychological problems.

Tips for Father Involvement

Attend doctor’s appointments.This comforts your child by showing Dad is there and supportive in different places and experiences. If your work schedule won’t allow you to make every appointment, it’s still important to reach out to your child’s doctor with questions you may have about your child’s behavior and development.

Ask for help. If this is your first child, consider spending time with and learning from other dads. Ask your doctor for resources. Take classes on changing diapers, how to wrap a baby snugly in a blanket and other important skills dads need. The Parent Helpline is a 24/7, toll-free number for supportive listening, information and referrals for families experiencing problems, or if parents just need to talk to someone. It is 1-800-356-6767 (1-800-CHILDREN).

Have fun. Find a favorite activity you and your child can do together. You’ll both look forward to this special bonding time.

Watch this video for fun ideas to strengthen bonds:


Additional Resources

Learn more benefits of involved fathers, and get fun activities dads and kids can do together.

What is mental health?

For more information about the importance of a father’s role in the lives of their children, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Fatherhood website.

Fatherhood.gov offers parenting tips and activity suggestions provided by fathers themselves.

Even when fathers don’t share a home with their children, their active involvement can have a lasting and positive impact.