A child’s mind is like a fresh new blank sheet of paper ready for developmental inputs from his or her surroundings. During the first three years of rapid cognitive, social, linguistic, motor and emotional development can be noted. It is during these crucial years that your child latches on to the learnings he or she receives from his or her caregivers and the persons who he or she spends a significant amount of their daily life with. These learnings are seen to often form the foundation for all basic learnings that your child incorporates into his or her adult life. As parents, it is very important to maintain the equivalent influence of the mother as well as the father in your child’s developmental learnings to try and achieve a well-rounded adult.
We all know the importance of a mother in the early and subsequent development of children. In the earlier decades, the presence of the father was mostly as the bread earner and distant decision maker. With the changing socio-economic trends, fathers have become much more than simply “second adults” at home. According to the noted sociologist, Dr. David Popenoe, fathers have a direct impact on the well-being of their children including cognitive ability, educational achievement, social behavior and psychological well-being.
So let us see the top four reasons why a father’s positive presence and involvement is important for the early development of your children. An involved father is one who is sensitive, warm, close, friendly, supportive, intimate, nurturing, affectionate, encouraging, comforting, and accepting.
Importance of early childhood development
Developing Quality of Relationship with His or Her Mother: One of the most important roles that a father plays in the early development of a child’s life is the development of his or her relationship with the mother. A father who has a good relationship with the mother is more likely to be more involved in the child’s development, spending more time with them and helping to build psychologically and emotionally healthier individuals. One of the most important outcomes of a positive father-mother relationship for your child is the behavior it models for him or her. Fathers treating the mother of their children with respect and dealing with conflicts and problems in the relationship in an adult and appropriate manner is more likely to raise their sons and daughters empathy and to treat both men and women with equal respect. Boys with fathers who treat the mothers with respect and do not resort to violence are more likely to develop into more balanced individuals who are less likely to resort to violence towards women in their relationships whereas girls with involved and respectful fathers develop positive expectations of how they want their partners to treat them and are less likey to get involved in violent and unhealthy relationships. On the contrary the presence of a father who is openly hostile to his child’s mother or is “stone-walling” her gives rise to anxious, withdrawn or violent and antisocial children.
Impact on Early Educational Achievement: Children with caring and involved fathers are seen to excel academically also. They have better educational outcomes when the fathers are involved, nurturing and playful with their infants. Toddlers with involved fathers are shown to display higher IQ levels, as well as the greater cognitive ability and linguistic skills. Toddlers who have involved fathers have a higher level of academic readiness and are excited to start school. They display greater resilience to the stress and frustrations associated with the starting of schooling than children with “Absentee Fathers”. Many studies have confirmed that a father’s involvement has powerful impacts on the child’s cognitive development. Even infants as young as 5 months old who have involved fathers show higher scores on measures of cognitive development. One of the reasons for this maybe because fathers tend to talk to their children which promote the children to communicate more or clearly thereby improving their vocabulary and speaking and communication skills.
Providing a balanced Home Environment: Homes, where both parents are not equally involved in the caregiving to the children as well as taking care of the external factors, are generally not balanced and the children develop anxiety and guilt. They take on unnecessary stress and it often results in poor health and increased number of trips to the doctor and even hospitalization and chronic illnesses in extreme cases. Homes where the father is equally involved report lesser accidents, fewer hospital admissions and a greater sense of overall well-being.
Encouraging Healthy Risk Taking: While mothers have the tendency to be the more cautious ones focussing more on the child’s safety and well-being dads are seen to be more likely to encourage risk taking and independent and creative thinking in their children from an early age. This benefits the children well into adulthood as they grow up to be less cautious and open to taking risks and facing challenges. Research has also shown that fathers are more likely to encourage their children to talk to strangers, take on challenges and think independently making them more open individuals. Dads also encourage creative thinking which helps in developing innovative problem solving and positive imagination in toddlers.
The role of the mother and father are not one greater than the other but supplementary to each other. It is the active involvement of both the father and the mother and the understanding between them that helps to build the strong early developmental foundation in children. As a dad, you can have a great impact on your child’s life with both your presence as well as your absence. Even though the trend is to think that single mothers are more than capable of successfully raising healthy children on their own it is not fair to completely overlook the role of a father in their early development. Despite the trend in popular culture towards greater acceptance of single motherhood, study after study empirically demonstrates that dads play an extremely important role in a child’s well-being and success.