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Why Dads Make a Difference

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University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children'sExperts in Children's Health
father smiling up at child sitting on his shoulders

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 the traditional role of providing to embrace becoming involved, nurturing, caring supporters of their children and their partners. 

Studies Show Dad’s Influence

In one study, infants cried less and became drowsy sooner when their fathers were able to do skin-to-skin contact with them in the two hours after birth.

Research points to other contributions of fathers:

  • Fathers help their children develop intellectually and socially through play, while 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.
  • When fathers were more involved with their infants through caring, playing and talking, children had less mental health problems at school age.

Be a Healthy Role Model

Lydia Furman, MD, and Eva Johnson MD, general pediatricians at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, offer 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 your child.
  • Model healthy habits. Exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet and do not smoke (or work to quit smoking).  Get regular check-ups with your own medical provider.  “Actively encourage children to follow a healthy lifestyle. Play physical games for fun with them, offer and eat healthy foods and limit both your and their TV and video-game time,” explain Drs. Furman and Johnson.
  • Support school and learning. “Know who your children’s teachers are and attend parent-teacher conferences whenever you can.”’ “Volunteer for school activities when the call for parents goes out. 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 and mental health difficulties later in life. “Encourage children to share their feelings in words and listen attentively,” Drs. Furman and Johnson suggest.  “Help them set achievable goals and celebrate their accomplishments, share their frustrations and help put all of these inevitable life experiences in perspective.”
  • Join in well child care. Pediatricians welcome fathers! Please come to your child’s appointments. Pediatricians can sometimes use a “nudge” to include you in your child’s medical care, so help us by coming to the appointment, asking questions and sharing concerns.
  • Have fun. Dr. Furman shares, “Play games, go places, read together, tell jokes and share plenty of affection both with hugs and words.  Finally, we all know about ‘quality time,’ but ‘quantity time’ is important, too.”
  • Join up with other dads.  There are numerous community organizations that work to support fathers and help fathers connect with each other. By joining a community of other dads, many dads develop more confidence in their parenting skills and lessen the stress and anxiety than many dad’s feel. Check out justfordads.org or neofathering.net for fatherhood programs in Northeast Ohio.

Whether you are the biological father or the father figure in your child’s life does not make the difference – you are the one who makes the relationship matter.

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