What a difference a dad makes!

What a difference a dad makes!
A father who is actively involved makes a real difference. He helps his child develop confidence, independent thinking, creativity and so much more.

A father who is actively involved makes a real difference. He helps his child develop confidence, independent thinking, creativity and so much more. When a father is engaged, the entire family reaps the benefits!

When Stephen, father to 3-year-old Cedrick and 2-month old Carla, finishes work, he hurries to daycare to pick up his son. “I want to spend time with my children. I like playing with them, watching them grow, making my daughter laugh, and teaching my son to find solutions rather than get mad.”

Like Stephen, many fathers are becoming more active in their children’s lives and this is a good thing. In fact, research shows that parents complement each other when it comes to child rearing, which is very beneficial for a child’s development.

It may sound like a cliché, but fathers do tend to play more physically. For example, they’ll throw their child up in the air and catch him, tickle him, play horsey and roughhouse with him. “When their father gets home from work, my sons get all excited,” says Roselynn, mother to 4-year-old Zachaël and 2-year-old Éli-Noam. “They jump on him, climb onto his shoulders and want to go play outside. When I get back, they’re happy, but calmer. We cuddle and tell each other about our day.”

A style all his own

Men also tend to encourage children to take initiative, explore and experiment, which is also good. When their toddler faces a challenge, fathers will wait longer before stepping in to help, which often gives the child enough time to find a solution on his own. And fathers use toys and objects in unusual ways more often; for example, a laundry basket may become a sled to glide their child through the living room. “This throws children a little off balance, but it also teaches them to react well to unexpected situations, draw on their creativity, become more self-sufficient and trust themselves,” says Christine Gervais, Coordinator for the Fathers Friendly Initiative within the Families, being conducted in partnership with the Canadian Research Chair in Family Psychosocial Health at Université du Québec en Outaouais.

When a father isn’t in the picture...
Is a child’s development compromised when the father isn’t around? Not necessarily. While it’s true that behavioural problems generally show up in children with an absent father, other factors may come into play, such as poverty or the lack of a support network.
When a child lacks the presence of a father in his life, it’s important that he still have contact with trustworthy men such as a grandfather, uncle or family friend. In situations where a child is being raised by two women, the absence of a father can be compensated by the presence of both parents. Whatever the situation, it’s important that the child have male role models to serve as guides and with whom to bond, says psychologist Caroline Paquet.

There is also evidence that fathers motivate children to improve their language skills. “Since mothers spend more time with their babies in general, they are better equipped to decode baby’s first words,” says Christine Gervais. “They won’t ask their child to repeat what they’re trying to say as often. Fathers, for their part, often don’t understand baby talk as well.” They will ask their child to repeat what they’re saying more and won’t fill in the words for them as much. This forces toddlers to try harder to speak more clearly.

Fathers who can count on the support of their partner in bringing up their child feel more confident and capable.

The behavioural differences between parents encourage learning and improve a child’s ability to adapt, explains Raymond Villeneuve, Director of the Regroupement pour la valorisation de la paternité (Coalition for the recognition of fatherhood). They also contribute to the full development of a child’s intellectual and social skills, which helps the child be better prepared for school, for example. Children with two fully involved parents tend to be better at solving problems, enjoy school more, get better academic results, and make friends more easily.

The benefits of paternal involvement continue into later years. Children who can count on their fathers during adolescence have a lower risk of dropping out of school, developing behavioural problems or suffering from anxiety and depression. In general, these children will be happier and succeed better in life.

Two is better!

Of course, a man’s participation in a child’s upbringing is first and foremost up to him. But it also depends on the mother! “Fathers will assume more responsibility with the child and feel more capable when the child’s mother supports them,” says Diane Dubeau, fatherhood and child development specialist at Université du Québec en Outaouais. “Men will then place more importance on their role as father and be happier for it.”

However, some women find it difficult to make room for the father. Others have a tendency to always tell him what to do and how to do it. “This attitude sends a message to men that they aren’t good and causes some fathers to back off,” says Raymond Villeneuve. But as long as a child is safe, there are many ways of taking care of him that are perfectly fine. It is therefore important that mothers let fathers do things their way and remember that the differences are good for their child’s development.

A father who is involved also benefits mom! Research shows that a mother who can count on the father’s support experiences less stress and is less prone to depression. She’s also happier in her relationship with dad and with motherhood. There’s nothing surprising about that, says Diane Dubeau. “Two is never too many when caring for a child! The tasks and challenges aren’t as heavy when they’re shared.” This also explains why we see less mistreatment, negligence and poverty among children who have two parents in their lives. “With two involved adults, everything doubles: time, money, patience, grandparents… everything!” says Christine Gervais.
Is it ever too late?
Can a father who has been absent in the first years of his child’s life make up for it later? And what if he was there in the beginning, but lost contact afterwards? “It’s never too late to improve things, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy,” says Diane Dubeau, who has conducted studies among fathers in prison. “A relationship can be rebuilt, but the past is never fully erased.”
You need to be patient and go slowly when re-establishing contact. Because your child felt abandoned, he may resist your attempts to get closer. He may test you and be difficult and unpleasant. “Don’t force anything. Try to respect your child’s pace and let him know he can count on you so you don’t disappoint him again,” recommends Raymond Villeneuve. It’s also important to have realistic expectations. The longer a father is absent, the more possible it is that the relationship will never truly be that of a father and his child. This is even truer when there is another father figure in the child’s life, such as the mother’s new partner.
Naître et grandir

Source: Magazine Naître et grandir, September 2015
Research and copywriting: Nathalie Vallerand
Scientific review: Daniel Paquette, Professor, Department of Educational Psychology, Université de Montréal

Photo: Maxim Morin