By Dana Carroll for Springfield News Leader
The role of dads is often overlooked when examining children’s healthy development. We give a courtesy nod to dads, but spend our energy and effort on engaging moms in parental involvement.
Fathers, and male role models in general, are critical to a child’s development beginning with a father’s affectionate treatment of their infant and how that contributes positively to high levels of secure attachment. When fathers acknowledge their child’s emotions and help them address them appropriately, children score higher on tests of emotional intelligence. An emotionally supportive dad asks, “Why are you frustrated?” and follows up with a sympathetic and affirming response like, “I know how you feel. How could we do it differently?” It isn’t a rescuing response, but an encouraging response that says “I’m here to help.”
Father involvement and nurturing are positively associated with children’s intellectual development, social competence and ability to empathize. Additionally, a study by psychologists, Flouri and Buchanan, found that fathers’ involvement in their children’s lives before age 7 may protect against emotional and behavioral problems in the teen years. It also suggests a father’s continued positive involvement being critical to the teen’s emotional health in adulthood.
In general, mothers may use parenting techniques of gentleness and security, while fathers may encourage independence and confidence-building. Both sets of skills are important to a children’s approach toward the world around them. Also, a father’s interactions with his child tend to be more rough and tumble in nature, providing a positive venue for large motor development, and helps them manage aggressive impulses and regulate their emotions during physical contact.
The mounds of research point to having both parents engaged in a child’s life. It is too easy for us to minimize the role of one parent or the other. A report came out recently that describes fathers’ aspirations to take on engaged and supportive roles in the raising of their children. However, when faced with the financial challenges of providing for his children, he feels forced to step into a more passive day-to-day role. It is not lack of desire, but presumed necessity that minimizes his role. That is where our society and caring employers must step in. We should institute family-friendly policies and practices that allow families to balance work and home. A parent should not feel pressure to choose between being available to his family and being a good employee. More time at the job should not trump a parent’s responsibility to his kids. It isn’t what’s best for the business, and it certainly isn’t what’s best for parents and their kids.
Dana Carroll is Springfield’s child advocate. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.