A father’s involvement in parenting can positively impact his children for their entire lives, but knowing how to be involved–especially in the early years–can be hard.
Nonetheless, fathers are important. In fact, The Fatherhood Project cites that children who have a bond with their dads are:
- Twice as likely to enroll in college or find a stable job after high school
- 75 percent less likely to parent children in their teens
- 80 percent less likely to spend time in jail
- Half as likely to experience symptoms of depression
LinnieLou spoke with both a child development expert as well as an experienced dad to get their take on the importance of fatherhood and how to stay involved.
Keep reading to learn more.
An Expert’s Take
Caitlin Lantz is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Champaign, IL.
As an attachment-based therapist, she often works with parents and said fathers are critical to a child’s development–especially in the early years.
“Fathers play a major role across all areas of development,” she said. “Overall, across studies, we find that an involved father gives a child an advantage socially, emotionally, and academically.”
Caitlin noted that children with involved fathers are more likely to:
- Have higher self-esteem
- Be emotionally secure, confident, and curious/exploratory
- Are better able to handle stress and regulate emotions
Additionally, Caitlin said children with involved dads are less likely to have behavior problems or engage in violence, delinquency, and drugs.
She said that studies also indicate a father’s engagement decreases the rate of depression and other mental illnesses in young women.
“An involved father essentially provides more resiliency in life,” Caitlin said.
A Father’s Perspective
Cameron Palmer knew early on that he wanted to be a good dad and had very clear expectations for himself.
The Atlanta-based animal cruelty investigator is the father of a two-year-old boy; his wife is six months pregnant with their second child–also a boy.
“I knew I wanted to be present. Not just ‘there’ but an active part in [my son’s] life,” Cameron said. “I also knew what I did not want to be. I wanted to veer away from the ‘tough, stern, cold father stigma. I thought it would be important to show my children genuine love above all else.”
When his son was a newborn, Cameron said he felt useless, but found ways to be helpful.
“I can’t remember a time in my life feeling more useless than I was when we had the newborn,” Cameron said. “But I filled in any of the gaps that I could. The housework, washing the baby’s clothes and cloth diapers, and so on. Any small task that meant mom could get a break or nap, I gladly handled.”
And, when he learned he had a knack for soothing his son, he took on that responsibility whole-heartedly.
“When I ultimately discovered that [my son] loved being soothed from hearing my humming, I would hum entire symphonies while he laid on my chest,” Cameron said. “I’m an awful singer by the way, but whatever gets the job done.”
A Dad’s Guide to Staying Involved From Pregnancy to Toddlerhood
Caitlin offered numerous ways for dads to spend time with their babies. Take a look at her suggestions below.
- Attend prenatal doctor’s appointments with mom
- Help set up the baby’s nursery
- Attend birthing, breastfeeding, and newborn classes with mom
- Check-in with mom and offer support when needed
- Talk to mom’s belly (babies can hear the father’s voice in the womb)
“The more likely a father is involved during pregnancy, the more likely they will be involved during the child’s entire life,” Caitlin said.
The Newborn Phase
- Talk to your newborn
- Change diapers
- Take on bottle-feeding or support mom in breastfeeding
- Practice skin-to-skin contact with your newborn
- Play with your newborn on a playmat and help him/her practice tummy time
- Wear your newborn in a baby carrier
6 Months to 1 Year
Caitlin said to continue with the suggestions above in addition to:
- Increased playtime with games such as peek-a-boo
- Talk through activities such as diaper changes. For example, try saying, “I’m changing your diaper now.”
- Help introduce your baby to solid foods
- Help keep your baby safe as he/she learns to explore his/her surroundings
- Read books to your baby
Caitlin also said “serve and return” is crucial in a child’s early brain development, so spend time responding to baby’s gestures and coos with a return gesture, smile, or word.
In addition to more play, Caitlin suggested to:
- Teach your toddler how to do things such as cook, ride a bike, etc.
- Have one-on-one “dates” with your child
- Read books to your toddler
- Help with potty training
- Run errands, such as grocery shopping, with your toddler
An involved dad can play a vital role in a child’s development, and studies show children who have a strong bond with their fathers have higher self-esteem; they are more emotionally secure, confident and curious; and are better able to handle stress and regulate emotions.
There are many ways for a father to stay connected with his child from pregnancy to toddlerhood, including:
- Attending childbirth classes and doctor’s appointments
- Practicing skin-to-skin contact with your newborn
- Playing with and reading books to your baby
- Teaching your toddler new skills, such as how to cook or how to ride a bike
Cameron offered this advice to dads who are uncertain about how to connect with their kids.
“Uncertainty is normal. Like with any transition in life–whether it’s school, a new job, or marriage–there is an uneasiness that comes with the unknown,” he said. “But in a way that’s how you know you’re doing the right thing. Your body and mind are literally reacting to the notion of ‘not wanting to mess this up.’ Use that to drive you forward.”
For more information and resources about fatherhood, visit www.fatherhood.gov.