Wonderful DadsDecember 20, 2018
Dads matter – a lot. Despite the media’s tendency to focus parenting conversations around mothers, research shows that having a highly supportive parent helps children, regardless of whether that parent is male or female. And fathers, whether they are co-parents, single dads, dads living apart from their child or separated from the child’s mother, make a unique and important contribution to their child’s healthy development. This week, Zero to Three helped us create some tips on how to be the best dad you can be.
1. Start Before the Birth
The parent-child relationship begins before birth, for both mothers and fathers. In fact, the research shows that when fathers are involved in the pregnancy and at the birth itself, they are more likely to stay involved over the long-term providing caregiving tasks and offering emotional support. And babies want dads there, too! One study found that newborns who were held by their dads skin-to-skin for the first 2 hours after birth cried less than those who weren’t held.
2. Remember – Fatherhood is Different for Everyone
Taking part in daily caregiving and having quality time with your child are great, but might not be a valid option if a dad faces long work hours or lives far away from his kids. Luckily, there is a multitude of ways that dads can positively impact their child’s life. Research shows that the income fathers earn is critical for a child’s development by providing safe and consistent living arrangements, adequate food and medical care, and access to toys and books. Additionally, fathers benefit their child by providing emotional support to the child’s other parent. Research shows that mothers who feel supported by their partners engage in more positive parenting behaviors.
3. Spend Dedicated Quality Time
Regardless of how often you spend quality time with your child, what’s most important is for you to completely present during that time. Put away your phone. Focus on your child and the activity you’re doing together. Pick something fun that you both enjoy – it can be anything from playing outside, reading books, singing songs, or telling stories! Dads who are a steady presence in their child’s lives over time—there to play, talk together, hang out, share bedtime, bath-time and diaper duty, and set limits—see the pay-off across a child’s lifetime. Father involvement correlates with a range of child benefits including improved cognitive, language, and self-regulation skills in school.
4. Work with your Co-Pilot
If you are co-parenting, find ways to complement your co-parent’s strengths and weaknesses. For example, if the child’s other parent is not very affectionate, you can take extra steps to provide hugs and kisses. If you have relationship problems with your child’s other parent, do not talk about them to (or in front of) the child. Children need to feel safe and secure in order to thrive. Having two parents in conflict with each other – even when they know each parent loves them — causes children to feel anxious and fearful.
5. Be Realistic About Your Availability
If you won’t be home in time to put your child to bed, tell them. If you don’t live with the child, give them a realistic picture of how often you’ll see them. Let your child know if and when you can be reached by phone or other means. The important part is that you are available when you say you will be. That way your child knows they can believe and trust you.
For more resources on fatherhood, check out Zero to Three’s blog posts here.