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The Parenting Role of Fathers

Even though his second son was born by cesarean section, Rick was allowed to be present at the delivery, watching in awe as his child emerged into the world. He later spent some time alone with the new baby while his wife was in the recovery room. When he lost his job, Tim took full-time care of his baby daughter for several months while his wife returned to work. Both men bonded with their children in a way that mothers take for granted, and both were moved by the experience. A 1993 national survey conducted by Parents magazine found that 84 percent of men spend more time with their children than their fathers did. What's more 72 percent said they'd spend even more time if their jobs would let them. Men gain something from quality time with their young children, and recent studies have indicated that children benefit even more. A study by J. Kevin Nugent, Ph.D. at Harvard Medical School found that children whose fathers were involved with them during their first year performed better on developmental tests of motor skills, pattern identification, word recognition and problem solving at age one. Other studies indicate that these children are better adjusted and do better at school and in social relationships. Mothers, in most cases, appreciate having another pair of arms to handle child care duties; good fathering also tends to strengthen marital bonds and ensures a calm emotional atmosphere for the entire family. Early Years Crucial Children are most open to influence during the first months of life, luxuriating in every bit of love, attention and comfort they can coax out. Babies need constant interaction in order to develop a sense of security, comfort and some degree of control over the world around them. Contingent responsiveness is the term child development specialists use for the process by which infants learn that their actions produce certain reliable responses from others. During this period, researchers have found that fathers have a different way of relating to babies. They hold children differently and are more likely to play physical games and talk to the child in adult tones. In comparison, mothers tend to use physical objects such as toys for play and are likely to use a soothing, singsong speech for verbal exchanges. The differences, of course, are not absolute. Most specialists believe it's the roles that are important, not who plays which part. Studies of children at 12 and 18 months of age show that at times of stress they turn first to the primary caretaker, in most cases the mother. For interactive behaviors such as smiling, they often turn to the other parent. Learning from Play During the second and third years, parental differences continue. Whereas the mother may be more protective, the father pours on the stimulation with activities like wrestling, tag, and scary fantasy games. The mother is a source of security, warmth and self-confidence while the father pushes the child to face a world that is full of fear as well as delight. In their games, the child has to interpret Dad's facial expressions and his body language. Is he really going to gobble off my toes? Or is he just teasing? As a result, children learn how to communicate and how to manage their emotions. Studies show that children who have good interactions with their father during the first three years of life are better able later to control frustration, explore new activities and persist in problem solving. A study by Jay Belsky of Pennsylvania State University and Brenda Volling, Ph.D. of the University of Michigan, suggests that lessons children learn from play with their fathers put them in good stead when it comes to avoiding fights and managing disputes with their siblings and with people outside the family. During adolescence, children tend to drift away from their fathers. Traditionally, Dad is the sternest parent, but even when discipline is not an issue, teens choose Mom for discussions requiring sensitivity. However, Israeli researchers found most adolescents saw their fathers as more supportive of their fledgling autonomy. Influence on Daughters Crucial The affectionate bond a father establishes with his daughter is an important influence on her self-concept and how she will relate to men in later life. High achieving women generally have fathers who expect achievement from them when they are young. Although a son may compete with his father, he also wants his father's approval. Traditionally, men have considered themselves role models for "masculine" preferences for sports and power tools. Researchers, however, found no correlation. What sons chose to emulate were traits such as warmth, closeness and emotional involvement. Fathers who change diapers and cook meals earn their sons' respect, not scorn. As adults, these sons are more likely to reject gender stereotypes and approve of career-oriented wives. A long-term study initiated by Robert Sears found that young men best able to resolve conflicts through compromise were those reared by parents who shared child-raising duties. One recent study in which two thirds of fathers rated themselves as either highly or significantly involved with their children found that the entire family benefited. These men were more likely to achieve marital stability, happiness and career advancement.

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Last modified: Tuesday, April 15, 2014

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