As we draw close to Father’s Day this year, I’m reminded of just how important they truly are. Throughout history, social scientists have long ignored fathers, focusing instead on mothers as the significant figure in infant development (Fathers, Ross D. Parke). However, as research explores this area, we see just how truly valuable fathers are to our students.
How? Let’s explore some of the research (and there’s A LOT of it):
- Father involvement is positively linked to a child’s overall social competence, social initiative, social maturity, and capacity for relatedness with others (Amato, 1987; Forehand & Nousiainen, 1993; Gottfried et al., 1988; Krampe & Fairweather, 1993; Mischel et al., 1988; Parke, 1996; Snarey, 1993; Stolz, Barber, & Olsen, 2005).
- Children of involved fathers are more likely to have positive peer relations and be popular and well liked. Their peer relations are typified by less negativity, less aggression, less conflict, more reciprocity, more generosity, and more positive friendship qualities (Hooven, Gottman, & Katz, 1995; Lieberman, Doyle, & Markiewicz, 1999; Lindsey, Moffett, Clawson, & Mize, 1994; Macdonald & Parke, 1984; Rutherford & Mussen, 1968; Youngblade and Belsky, 1992).
- Adolescents who are securely attached to their fathers report less conflict in their interactions with peers (Ducharme, Doyle, & Markiewicz, 2002).
- Infants whose fathers are involved in their care are more likely to be securely attached to them, (Cox, Owen, Henderson, & Margand, 1992), be better able to handle strange situations, be more resilient in the face of stressful situations (Kotelchuck, 1976; Parke & Swain, 1975), be more curious and eager to explore the environment, relate more maturely to strangers, react more competently to complex and novel stimuli, and be more trusting in branching out in their explorations (Biller, 1993; Parke & Swain, 1975; Pruett, 1997).
- Father involvement is positively correlated with children’s overall life satisfaction and their experience of less depression (Dubowitz et al., 2001; Field, Lang, Yando, & Bendell, 1995; Formoso, Gonzales, Barrera, & Dumka, 2007; Furstenberg & Harris, 1993; Zimmerman, Salem, & Maton, 1995), less emotional distress (Harris et al., 1998), less expressions of negative emotionality such as fear and guilt (Easterbrooks & Goldberg, 1990), less conduct problems (Formoso et al., 2007), less psychological distress (Flouri, 2005), greater sense of social competence (Dubowitz et al., 2001), higher levels of self-reported happiness (Flouri, 2005), fewer anxiety symptoms, and lower neuroticism (Jorm, Dear, Rogers, & Christensen, 2003).
- Infants of highly involved fathers, as measured by amount of interaction, including higher levels of play and caregiving activities, are more cognitively competent at 6 months and score higher on the Bayley Scales of Infant Development (Pedersen, Rubinstein, & Yarrow, 1979; Pedersen, Anderson, & Kain, 1980). By one year they continue to have higher cognitive functioning (Nugent, 1991), are better problem solvers as toddlers (Easterbrooks & Goldberg, 1984), and have higher IQ’s by age three (Yogman, Kindlan, & Earls, 1995).
- School aged children of involved fathers are also better academic achievers. They are more likely to get A’s (National Center for Education Statistics, 1997; Nord & West, 2001), have better quantitative and verbal skills (Bing, 1963;2Goldstein, 1982; Radin, 1982), have higher grade point averages, get betterachievement test scores, receive superior grades, perform a year above their expected age level on academic tests, obtain higher scores on reading achievement, or learn more and perform better in school (Astone & McLanahan, 1991; Blanchard & Biller, 1971; Cooksey & Fondell, 1996; Feldman & Wentzel, 1990; Gadsen & Ray, 2003; Goldstein, 1982; Gottfried, Gottfried, & Bathurst, 1988; Howard, Lefever, Borkowski, & Whitman, 2006; McBride et al., 2005; McBride, Schoppe-Sullivan, & 2005; National Center for Education Statistics, 1997; Shinn, 1978; Snarey 1993; Wentzel & Feldman, 1993). Children of involved fathers are also more likely to live in cognitively stimulating homes (William, 1997). A father’s academic support was positively related to adolescent boys’ academic motivation to try hard in school, feel their grades were important, and to place a high value on education (Alfaro, Umana-Taylor, & Bamaca, 2006).
What’s more, studies have shown fathers to have a direct impact on language development.
- When compared with mothers, fathers’ talk with toddlers is characterized by more wh- (e.g. “what”, where” etc.) questions, which requires children to assume more communicative responsibility in the interaction. This encouraged toddlers to talk more, use more diverse vocabulary, and produce longer utterances when interacting with their fathers (Rowe, Cocker, & Pan, 2004).
- School aged children of involved fathers have better quantitative and verbal skills (Bing, 1963).
- And this study: Child characteristics, as well as mother education and vocabulary, father education and father vocabulary during the picture-book task were related to more advanced language development at both 15 and 36 months of age. These findings support the growing evidence on the importance of fathers in understanding children’s early communication and language development
This post is not intended to make single moms or anyone raised by a single mom feel bad. In her book, For Better or For Worse, psychologist E. Mavis Hetherington writes about how most children from single parent homes turn out just fine.However, working directly with child language development, we cannot ignore the positive impact fathers make on our students.
Working in the schools, it can sometimes be easy for me to communicate solely with mom. However, as professionals, we need to be making efforts to reach out to our fathers as well.
Here are some ways:
- Include fathers on progress updates, communication, conferences and IEP meetings.
- If parents are divorced, ask the parent with custody if it is alright to include the other parent.
- Give a handout of the language research above and encourage fathers to read and talk with children.
Our children need their dads, which means we need them as well.