'Fathering' helps both kids and dads grow

Posted2/1/2018 10:50 AM

Wondering how to give your kids that edge that will help them grow and develop to their fullest potential? A study reported in Psychology Today gives an important hint.

Kyle Pruett, a child psychologist at Yale University, studied infants whose fathers took a major role in child care. He discovered that these children scored significantly above other children their age on standard tests of development. And these weren't just short term gains.

Two years later, these children continued to show an advanced rate of growth and development.

The only factors the children had in common were their age and the expanded role of their fathers in taking care of them. Pruett concluded that such "fathering" can play a big part in a child's early development.

It often isn't easy for Dad to jump in and change a diaper or rock a toddler to sleep. And it can seem a little embarrassing, at first, to get down on the floor and play with blocks.

Most of us didn't see our own fathers performing those jobs, nor do many of our male friends take a large share of child rearing responsibilities. As one construction worker in Pruett's study commented, "If my high school buddies knew I was raising my daughter, they'd roll over dead from laughing."

But if we fathers have the courage to go against the grain (and more and more of us do), not only does it seem to pay off for our kids, I think it pays off for us as well.

The key for the children seems to be the extra attention and stimulation they get when both parents are involved. More and more we are realizing that a child's sense of worth as a person and the confidence he or she needs to achieve are given foundation in these first few years.

With two parents giving those "you are lovable and capable" messages, kids get a significantly greater amount of affirmation. Pruett's results suggest that such affirmation encourages even small children to excel.

A second advantage to children is seeing their fathers break out of those stifling "traditional" male roles. Men are capable of a lot more than we give ourselves credit for. We can be sensitive, caring, giving individuals if we give ourselves half a chance. Being an equal part of a parenting team gives us that chance.

As we share in taking care of our children, whatever their ages, we also can demonstrate to them our openness, flexibility and independence. These will be important traits for them to learn if they are to be successful in their own lives.

But that's not just an advantage to them. We profit from such new experiences ourselves. We men need to grow and develop as individuals as well. Too often men are stuck being "male" in ways that cheat us of the love and affection we need in our lives.

By allowing ourselves to be sensitive, caring, giving people with our families, we receive in return the emotional support we need just as much as they do.

All in all, the involvement of fathers with their children from infancy on can pay big dividends to both parent and child. And as Pruett concludes, "instead of having one and a quarter or one and a half parents, they have two real parents." That can be a double dose of "lovable and capable" messages. And those are the most important messages in anyone's life.

• Dr. Ken Potts is on the staff of Samaritan Counseling Center in Naperville and Downers Grove. He is the author of "Mix Don't Blend, A Guide to Dating, Engagement and Remarriage With Children."

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