Why dads make a difference

The bond between mother and child is one of the most important connections humans can make. But the bond between father and child is just as vital, and includes his support of the mother and the family unit.

The impact of a father’s presence – or absence – in his children’s lives can have lifelong effects. Fortunately, today’s culture encourages men to go beyond traditional roles and become involved, caring supporters of their children and their partners.

Studies show dad’s influence

In one study, premature babies showed improved weight gain in the hospital if their fathers visited often.

Research points to other contributions of fathers:

  • Fathers help their children develop intellectually and socially through physical play. Mothers are more likely to talk and teach. Although this finding may appear to support stereotypical roles, the sharing of support for the child’s development by both parents is key.
  • Children whose fathers take part in their lives are more likely to have greater educational success and better economic status.
  • Teens who feel close to their dads – even if he does not live with them – are far less likely to smoke.
  • Having a father who exercises is the single biggest factor in whether or not teens are physically active.
  • A healthy, involved father can help ease the impact on children if their mother suffers from depression or other mental health issues, research shows.

Be a healthy role model

Lydia Furman, MD, a pediatrician at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, offers this advice to help fathers deepen their connection with the children in their lives:

  • Work with your child’s mother to share care and parenting. Your respectful relationship with your partner is both a model for your child of how to treat the ones we love, and a collaboration that benefits the child.
  • Model healthy habits. Exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet and do not smoke. “Actively encourage children to follow a healthy lifestyle. Play physical games with them, offer healthy foods and limit both your and their TV and video-game time,” explains Dr. Furman.
  • Support schooling. “Know who your children’s teachers are and attend parent-teacher conferences whenever you can,” says Dr. Furman. “Volunteer for school activities. Talk with your children about what is going on at school. Help with homework, make sure your child has space and time for schoolwork, praise your child’s efforts and help him or her set high but realistic expectations, which promotes self-esteem.”
  • Be a positive parent. Establish clear limits so that children know your expectations and avoid physical punishment, which we now know can lead to aggressive behavior. “Encourage children to share their feelings and listen attentively,” Dr. Furman suggests. “Help them set achievable goals and celebrate their accomplishments, share their frustrations and help put these inevitable life experiences in perspective.”
  • Have fun. Dr. Furman shares, “Play games, go places, read together, tell jokes and share plenty of affection. Finally, we all know about ‘quality time,’ but ‘quantity time’ is important, too.”

Register today for boot camp

Our Boot Camp for New Dads helps new fathers feel confident about bringing their new baby home. Rookies receive a Crash Course for New Dads book and a baby onesie. Breakfast or lunch will be provided. Call 216-844-4000 to register. A community resource for dads is available at Neofathering.net.

Lydia Furman

Pediatrician, UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital
Associate Professor, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

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