Dads Matter!

We have known for decades that the bodies and brains of mothers are transformed by the dramatic hormonal changes of pregnancy and childbirth.

Now, new research is showing that men are also biologically transformed by the experience of becoming a father. They have a strong hormonal response including increased oxytocin, oestrogen, prolactin and glucocorticoids which creates a natural protectiveness towards the baby and is strengthened the more time they spend holding their new-born.

The sensitive, affectionate and supportive involvement from Dads (following the birth of their child onwards) is connected with a range of positive outcomes in babies and toddlers. This includes cognitive, social and language development, better performance, the challenges and frustrations of school, stronger psychological wellbeing, lower levels of delinquency and less likely to take drugs.  This is relevant for children living with their dad or those living in single parent families. Dads matter to children.

Right from the start, we can see the benefit of an engaged Dad. Toddlers with involved fathers start school with higher levels of academic readiness. They were more patient and handled the stresses and frustrations associated with schooling more readily than children with less involved fathers. Adolescents with positive relationships with their fathers are more likely to do well at school and avoid getting into trouble.

In a world where we have some powerful conversations about modern families (and we try hard not stigmatise the role of mothers and fathers) we sometimes fail to recognise what each parent brings to the child rearing party. The role of the father is different from that of the mother. The most effective parenting by Dads appears to be an active and nurturing style characterised by warmth and love whereby children are given appropriate autonomy and operate within clear and well explained rules.

Dads have different interests, experiences and world views. They engage in play differently. Generally, they are often more comfortable with children taking risks. The frequency of dads singing songs and reading to children is consistently associated with a greater interest in books as they grow up. That’s pretty important for boys who tend to go off reading as they get older. Dads who take note of their children’s interests are powerful catalysts for mathematical enquiry and will provide a strong starting point to support and extend their mathematical thinking and confidence.

Today, talking about difference can be a touchy subject. But different contributions add value to rearing a child and is positive for both boys and girls. Granddads can also bring additional benefits to children and the role of the boys and men in the family such as uncles, big brothers and cousins can enrich their learning opportunities.  It’s all about widening a child’s world and building their cultural and social capital, which is a pretty important platform for their lifelong success.

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