“Fathers are far more than just ‘second adults’ in the home. Involved fathers bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring.” Dr. David Popenoe
Happy Father’s Day! If you follow my blog you know that I support and conduct research on the importance of fathers. Fathers play a fundamental and profound role in their child’s development. Over the years, our culture has shifted from one where fathers were the breadwinners and mothers were the caretakers to one where fathers want to be more involved in the nurturing and caretaking aspects of childrearing. Still, fathers bring their own twist to caretaking, one that is found to have a positive impact on their child’s thinking, psychological well-being, and social behavior. Let’s look at one of the things that make dads so special, PLAY!
Dads spend a much higher percentage of their time engaged in playful, stimulating, one-on-one activities with their children. How does that impact their development? From the very beginning, play is essential to a child’s cognitive development. According to psychologist Jean Piaget, an infant’s mental development begins by using his/her senses and motor activities to interact with the environment. Lying on their stomach, touching a mobile, and playing with their toes add to their knowledge of the world. As children get older, they add imitation and language to playful interactions. By the time they are teens, they do a variety of activities with their dad. They may wrestle, shoot hoops, ride bikes, go to movies, play ball, go out to dinner together, frequent the ice-cream shop, or go on road trips. Dads pay attention to what their kids like to do and then they DO IT with them!
However, play does much more then make children smarter. Play teaches them how to regulate their feelings and behavior. For example, wrestling with dad is a fun way to develop self-control. Through this type of roughhousing, children learn they can be physical and aggressive without loosing control of their own emotions. Self-control leads to prosocial behavior and positive interactions with adults and peers. Finally, fathers are much more likely to promote independence and achievement. This is often balanced by a mother’s tendency to be nurturing.
I asked a few teens what made their dad special. As you read their response, notice how these teens express the importance of play, independence, and simply spending time together.
To me, my father is more than the normal dad. Not only is he a brave, strong, and heroic dad, but he also has a childish side. He is fun and loves to mess around and hang out with my brother and I. Without my dad, I would never have that extra shoulder to lean on or that friend that I can always trust, no matter what. He has always told me, as his father used to tell him, that he will always be my best friend. He will always keep his promises, support me, and be on my side. Ever since I was very little, my dad has strived for me to do my best, from teaching me to ride my bike and bike up a hill near our house to teaching me how to do my times tables in third grade. He never gives up. He is always pushing me to do my best. So, in the end, my dad is not just a father, but a support, teacher, and most importantly, my best friend.
My Dad is my best friend. My favorite part of our relationship is that every morning, on the drive down the mountain from our house, we talk about life in such a free way that there seems to be no communication barriers between us that the “average American Father-Daughter relationship” is prescribed to have. We trust each other and we have each other backs. The kind of relationship I have with my Dad is the result of a long journey together and can be largely attributed to my parents divorce when I was 13. Sometimes things got really hard and money and living with my Dad was tricky. Through it all we were forced to be vulnerable and open with each other, which is why we can be so comfortable today. I am thankful for all of it. I love my Dad.
When I was little, my dad was like my superhero. Everything he did was amazing! As I got older I learned that he was not perfect, but he was authentic. He has shared his wisdom and his mistakes with me, and through it all I have learned a lot. My dad is a role model, teacher and a friend. He is always there for me. My dad has bailed me out when I made mistakes but it wasn’t free. He showed me that he loved me, but also helped me to make up for what happened and grow past it. My dad is the guy that will learn to play hockey so that he can coach you and see you more often. I think my dad would even pick up ballet if that was what I liked and it meant he could see me more. My dad will always be a big part of my life. I love him very much!
Never underestimate the impact you have on your child’s life!