by Christa Melnyk Hines
Peruse the greeting card section around Father’s Day and you’ll find the shelves bursting with stereotypes about dads. While we may love to poke fun at his expense, we have more reasons to appreciate dear old Dad besides how handy he is with a wrench. Supportive dads and father figures positively influence a child’s development. Here’s how.
Father of three, Brett Clark joined Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) and All Pro Dad programs at his kids’ elementary school, four years ago. He says the programs give him valuable insight into what’s happening in his children’s school and by extension, their lives.
“Growing up, I don’t recall my dad—or any fathers for that matter—attending school with me or knowing what I did every day,” Clark says, whose children are Colton, 12, Carter, 10 and Rowen, 6. “Programs like Watch D.O.G.S. are important for a number of reasons. But most importantly, I believe it is vital for children to see their dad engaged in their education and life.”
Researchers agree. Kids who see both their parents actively involved in their school life, are less likely to get into trouble for behavioral issues, perform better academically, and are more likely to graduate from high school.
Through Watch D.O.G.S., dads, stepdads, grandpas and other father figures manage an assortment of tasks from completing school security checks and greeting kids as they arrive at school to providing homework help.
They also jump in during the lunch hour to help peel open those stubborn half-pint cartons of milk, offer clean-up assistance, and dine with their kids.
“Eating lunch with your son or daughter offers a unique insight into your kids’ friends and what they talk about, what they think is funny and how innocent their minds are,” Clark says.
Some dads even stick around for recess.
“It’s amazing how cool the kids think it is getting someone to push them on the swings, play tag, play basketball or football,” Clark says.
Model healthy relationships.
Emotionally secure, nurturing dads, who help with day-to-day childcare and household chores, don’t just neutralize assumptions about gender roles in the family. Their support enhances a mother’s overall sense of emotional well-being. Her happiness trickles down, helping the entire family feel more well-adjusted and resilient to stress.
“Secure fathers (and mothers) are likely to have secure kids. A sense of security means the person sees him or herself as worthy of being loved,” says psychologist and researcher Omri Gillath, Ph.D., University of Kansas.
Research suggests that children, especially boys, who have a positive relationship with their fathers are more likely to have higher quality romantic relationships as they enter adulthood, Gillath adds.
Both boys and girls, who experience positive relationships with their dads, are also less likely to engage in first-time risky behaviors like substance abuse and premature, unsafe sex.
Teach emotional management.
Boys can learn how to manage emotions like anger from their fathers while girls can gain self-confidence and the expectation that they deserve to be treated with respect.
“It’s important for fathers to be OK expressing and allowing a full range of emotions from both their daughters and sons,” says parent coach Tom Limbert, author of Most Valuable Dad. “By acknowledging and allowing vulnerability, anger, sadness in yourself and in your children, you open up a supportive dialogue that will help children grow to have healthy relationships and emotional well-being.”
Fathers also teach their youngsters socialization skills and self-control through rough-and-tumble play like playful wrestling, tumbling and chasing. This kind of rough-housing, especially with their sons, encourages kids to take risks, learn how to manage back and forth interactions and recognize body language cues like when rough play should end.
Outside of their school life, Clark connects with his children through sports activities like coaching his oldest son’s baseball team, volunteering with community organizations like the March of Dimes and the American Heart Association, and by spending leisure time together.
“We enjoy being outside as a family, whether that is taking bike rides, attending sporting events or enjoying community events,” Clark says.
Researchers at McGill University found that children raised by attentive, actively involved fathers exhibited higher levels of empathy as adults.
“The best things dads can do is to simply be present and offer their attention and interest in their children,” Limbert says. “Obviously it would be helpful to be empathetic and supportive as well, but primarily—without complicating it—it’s all about being present and engaged.”
Did you know?
Fathers who help around the house are more likely to raise daughters who envision a broader range of possible career options for themselves.
Fatherhood is linked to lower blood pressure, lower rates of heart disease and longevity.
Fathers who help with caregiving feel more patient, empathetic and flexible.
What if Dad is absent?
For many families, dads simply aren’t in the picture either due to divorce, death or other reasons. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t raise a well-adjusted child.
According to the 2016 Census Bureau, while the majority of children live in two-parent homes, 23 percent are being raised by single mothers. Single moms can give their children the benefit of a father figure by seeking male role models within their extended family, at school or in the community.
“There are good dads and men in the public eye, too, who you can point to and talk about what makes them admirable and a role model,” Limbert says.