Studies have shown time and again that fathers play a crucial role during early childhood. Socially, emotionally, behaviorally and cognitively – young children with a positive male influence in their lives are at a distinct advantage.
The Changing Role of Fathers Through The Years
Dad’s role in the family has changed significantly over recent decades – once looked upon to primarily support their family financially, this began to change as gender roles shifted and women returned to the workplace. No longer necessarily the sole breadwinner, many dads began to become more actively involved in their young child’s (and older kiddos) lives. Similar to how women’s roles began to change in the 1960s, dads have gone through a major adjustment – not only has it become a necessity as mothers may simply not spend as many hours in the home, but also, society has changed it’s view of how dads can and should be involved.
Dad vs. Mom – A Distinct Difference in Parenting Styles
Interestingly enough, having a dad around is particularly important during the early childhood years as dads naturally provide a distinct and unique piece to the parenting puzzle. Studies have shown that dads are different than moms in how they play, interact, discipline, and care for their children.
Young children with an active dad in the picture (and as an important side note, dad does not necessarily need to be married to Mom or living in the same house) often experience a parent who is more physical in nature. When dads play they also tend to enjoy more of a give-and-take interaction with their kids than moms do. Additionally, dads frequently encourage early childhood learners to practice problem-solving and turn taking and, more so than moms, typically encourage risk taking and exploration. Moms, however, tend to be more directive in nature, offering more suggestions about how and what to do during pretend play, for example.
When it comes to basic caretaking, dads have a much more “get-it-done” type attitude. When brushing teeth, getting dressed, or taking a bath, Moms are more likely to chit-chat, making the experience a time for learning and/or play. Dads, on the hand, tend to see the task as a job to complete in a timely and efficient manner.
These distinct differences in parenting styles understandably create different –and equally important – relationships within a family, providing young children with varied and important skills.
Benefits to a Father’s Involvement
During early childhood, a father’s role provides many unique benefits. Starting as early as infancy, children view their father as another safe person and are often calmed by their presence. Dads tend to promote things such as exploration and a child’s willingness to think outside of the box and/or try new things. A father’s role can, and often has, the same amount of influence as a mother’s in shaping a young child’s personality.
Boys, for example, are also less likely to experience behavioral issues and are better equipped to develop their emotional side when their dad takes on an active role. Girls are more likely to grow into confident and independent young women and are put at a lower risk for mental health difficulties down the road when they have a dad who is involved.
Finally, children who are able to witness both parents interacting and working together (again, while married or not), tend to learn more about supportive relationships and are more likely to be trusting in their relationships with others. Watching two parents (or a mother and male role model) interact provides kids with the opportunity to watch how adults problem-solve, work together, accept differing opinions and compromise.
As society continues to change how we think about the role of fathers, dads appear to be embracing the challenge – in recent years, there is an increased number of stay-at-home dads. While this is sometimes done out of necessity as women’s roles in the workplace likewise continue to evolve, moms and dads also appear to be recognizing the important impact dads have on their children’s lives. And, happily, by playing a larger role in their kid’s lives and within the family as a whole, everyone is winning!