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Importance of Dads in Children’s Lives

Dear Elizabeth,
My wife and I have a 2-year-old little girl who means the world to us. I work a lot, but I’m looking for new ways to get more involved in her daily activities. Any advice?
Don Winn
Elizabeth's Tips
Elizabeth Sanchez
Elizabeth Sanchez
  • Kids with engaged fathers do better socially, emotionally & academically
  • Mothers need to encourage & reinforce father’s participation
  • Mother’s should let fathers try things their own way
Expert Advice
Bryan Nelson
Bryan Nelson
Early childhood educator
Spending time with your child makes a difference in their lives. It’s the simple things. When I was a young boy, my father would take all five of us kids -- including my sisters -- and before he would go off to work in the military, he’d give all of us a shaving cream lesson. While he was shaving, he’d give us shaving cream and we’d take the stick end of our toothbrushes and pretend to shave along with him. You remember those small experiences as a child growing up. So, it’s the small things that you can do in your daily activities that mean so much to a child.

There are so many significant gains children get by having a father actively involved. We know from our research that children are more likely to finish high school when they have fathers who are involved in their lives. Those children are also more likely to be happy and self-confident. There are other benefits too. For example, girls are less likely to become pregnant, boys are more likely to finish high school, and both boys and girls are more likely to do well in school and be on the academic honor roll. There are things that we do as fathers and grandfathers that make a big difference in the child’s life.

Reading is one of the most significant things a father or grandfather can do with a child. Children gain so much from the experience of reading -- the words, the vocabulary, and the interaction. Even when small children chew on the side of a book, that makes them have a positive association with reading, and that makes a big difference. The gains children get cognitively are profound when it comes to spending this time together.

Be Supportive of One Another
I think we see women as being the gatekeeper in many ways. The mom is closely involved with the child by either breastfeeding or giving birth. That’s such a key time of a child’s life. But I think the father can be supportive of the mom during that time. We find that even before the child’s coming to the world, before the pregnancy, that the men are starting to spend time with the wife thinking about what’s going on.

All the research we see shows that if a father is positively involved with the child, it makes a big difference. We’re reaching a point where we actually need to realize that men are involved and we should expect that. We don’t say to fathers, "Oh, will you help us?" Or you don’t say, "You’re baby-sitting." It’s their child. So I think we need to shift our thinking, and I think it actually is shifting now. We see a big change in our society about that.
Child Care Provider Comments
Ron Song
Ron Song
Father of one son
I think the role of the father is really important. For me, it was about what we could do together to define our roles so that Spencer from infancy could attach himself to each of us instead of just mom. My wife was in charge of “input” (feeding) and I was in charge of output (potty & diapers). I feel that this gave us equal contact and it gives our son an opportunity to hang out with his Dad and get comfortable.

My wife let me try things my own way. We would give each other feedback as to what we felt worked and what we felt didn’t work, but I always had a say in the decision. We always woke up together in the middle of night when Spencer would cry. We did this together and felt that this was an important bonding moment for the three of us. We all got the same amount of sleep.
Dan Martin
Dan Martin
Father of a 3 ½-year-old
I know that a father’s influence is very important. My dad was a workaholic and I rarely saw him. I didn’t want that for her, whether I was married or not. Now, I have a great time with her, have to plan activities, which are nice because we get to go out and do things rather than just spend time at home together. Now it’s more quality than quantity. We go to the beach, park and zoo. I try to be as active with her as possible. Sometimes at home we will do arts and crafts together -- making things out of paper, such as holiday cards. She loves to dance, we will put on some music and we’ll dance together.
Ron Garton
Ron Garton
Grandfather of a 4–year-old
My step-grandson is four years old now and has some special needs. My role has been to support my wife 100% and still have fun with him. We have some special things that we do together. He has his normal routine that he does with my wife, who he calls “Mommy.” He calls me “Papa.” We just have a lot of fun together, whether it’s just going to the hardware store and playing with all the tools or playing around the house, chasing each other. It’s a lot of fun. I think it also provides a lot of help for my wife to give her a little break now and then.

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Importance of Dads in Children’s Lives
Topic: Social & Emotional Development
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