Paternal involvement promotes children’s development. See how.
When dads are involved with their child, the child’s development flourishes and the whole family benefits. Learn about the benefits of paternal involvement and tips for creating a strong bond with your toddler.
What is paternal and parental involvement?
Paternal involvement, like parental involvement, is defined as the father’s or parent’s continued involvement in and concern for the physical, psychological, and social development and well-being of their child. Such involvement is possible for the father or parent whether biological, adoptive, separated, or in-law.
There are many ways to get involved as a parent with your child. The following are the main facets of parental involvement:
- Take care of your toddler by actively participating in care and tasks related to their well-being.
- Maintain interaction with your child, i.e. remain accessible and available and spend time with them.
- Show your love and affection through gestures and in words.
- Participate in education and activities related to your child’s development.
- Provide financial support and the materials needed for your child.
- Think about your child and talk about them when not in their presence.
- Establish a collaborative relationship with the other parent for the child’s well-being.
- Get involved in the community for the child’s well-being.
Not all of these dimensions need to be present for a father or parent to be involved. For example, some fathers are more affectionate or play more often with their toddlers than others. Every parent carries out their role in their own way. These facets demonstrate, however, that there are many ways to participate in your child’s life and to ensure their well-being.
Benefits of paternal involvement
In recent years, several studies have been conducted with dads to show that their involvement brings many benefits to both the child and the family.
The following are the main benefits of paternal involvement:
- Promotes the child’s physical health. When the father is involved from pregnancy, the expecting mother benefits from better prenatal and postnatal care. Early involvement by the father-to-be also encourages pregnant women to adopt better lifestyle habits during pregnancy, such as quitting alcohol or cigarettes.
- Promotes breastfeeding. Studies have shown that the father’s presence and support encourage the mother to breastfeed and to do it for a longer period.
- Promotes attachment. When the father responds quickly and consistently to his child’s signs of distress or discomfort, he helps create a strong bond with his child. For example, when a dad picks up, plays with, or rocks his baby when they start crying.
- Produces a positive effect on the child’s cognitive development. Studies with children aged 2 to 5 show that the cognitive development of those whose father is present and involved is above average. For example, when they start going to school, children with an involved father demonstrate better problem-solving skills.
- Promotes the child’s language development. Fathers tend to challenge children more when talking to them, often using more complex words. Moreover, they do not always understand their toddlers the first time, which forces the children to improve their pronunciation and use accurate vocabulary.
- Develops the child’s autonomy and adaptability. When playing with their child, fathers tend to challenge them more and encourage rough-and-tumble play. Some of them sometimes use toys in an unconventional way. Moreover, fathers generally provide less assistance to their toddler to accomplish a task. These behaviours foster the child’s autonomy and ability to adapt, as well as improve their tolerance to stress and frustration. Physical games also teach children to better control their movements and emotions.
- Makes the child take more risks. Fathers encourage their children to take more initiative, to venture, and to confront obstacles in the face of new situations. Such risk taking allows toddlers to test their limits, learn about their abilities, and develop self-confidence. It also fosters their openness to the world.
- Improves mental health. Children with an involved father exhibit fewer signs of depression, anxiety, psychological distress, and negative emotions.
- Promotes good social skills. Children with an involved father are more likely to have positive relationships with their brothers and sisters as well as with other children and adults. They are also better protected against bullying.
- Preserves the mother’s psychological well-being. Mothers who have their partner’s support exhibit fewer symptoms of stress and depression. They report higher levels of satisfaction with their couple’s life. Mothers with a supportive spouse who encourages them also tend to be more patient with, sensitive to, and available to their child.
- Helps improve the sharing of household tasks. Fathers who take care of their children tend to be more involved in domestic tasks.
- Enhances the father’s personal and professional life. Involved fathers generally feel more confident and effective in their parenting role. They are also more satisfied in their relationship with their spouse. Studies suggest that involved fathers have better success at work. In addition, happy moments experienced in paternity can reduce the effect of the difficulties encountered at work.
Tips for becoming a present and involved dad
The best way to adapt to and be involved with a child is to play an active role during pregnancy and birth. Here are some tips on how you can get involved in your role as a father and foster the relationship with your child:
- Get involved in pregnancy monitoring. For example, you can accompany the mother to medical appointments (e.g., pregnancy monitoring, ultrasound). Feel free to participate in appointments by asking questions.
- Talk with your spouse about your perception of each parent’s involvement (caring for the baby, feeding, your involvement if the mother is breastfeeding, household tasks, etc.). Also discuss the values and education you intend to convey to your child.
- Accompany your spouse to prenatal classes. This is a good way to prepare yourself and be aware of what to expect for childbirth and the baby’s arrival.
- Learn about childbirth, baby care, child development, and education. In addition to books, you can visit websites. There are also several blogs where dads share experiences.
- Use your paternity leave to get to know your baby. Your presence enables you to build a relationship right from birth. This will allow you to get to know your baby and their characteristics. It is also an opportunity for the child to become familiar with you. Parental leave can also extend your presence at home as it can be shared between both parents.
- Take the time to get to know and observe your baby. What captures your baby’s attention, interests them, and makes them respond? The more you know your child, the easier it is to build a relationship.
The more success fathers have with their child, such as comforting them or putting them to sleep, the more competent they feel and want to take care of their toddler.
- Take care of your baby from the outset, even if you are not really comfortable with the idea. Try to decode their crying and find your way of comforting them. Meet their needs by changing their diapers, rocking them, talking to them, and singing them songs. These comforting gestures develop your sense of parenting skills and establish a warm relationship with your toddler.
- Find activities that you enjoy doing with your baby, if possible, without your spouse. For example, go for a walk with the stroller or baby carrier, practise skin to skin contact, or give them a massage or bath. This allows you to develop a special relationship with your child.
- Talk to your partner and your social circle about your concerns or the difficulties you are experiencing. Listen attentively, as the support and guidance from your loved ones can help you gain confidence and feel comfortable in your role.
To learn more about the questions that future fathers often ask, you can refer to our fact sheet Concerns of new fathers. If you want to hear dads talk about their experience of fatherhood, check out our podcast Histoires de pères (French only).
Research has recognized that children from homosexual families develop in the same way as children from heterosexual families. There are no significant differences in child development in terms of sexual, emotional, social, or cognitive development. However, some gay fathers believe they must be perfect. Some are also afraid that any difficulty they encounter with their children will be blamed on their homosexuality. It is important to keep in mind that there is no perfect parent. You must try to do your best while allowing yourself to make mistakes. Parents are in the best position to take care of their child, to the best of their abilities.
Source: Guide PAPPa, Regroupement pour la valorisation de la paternité.
How can the mother help the father become involved?
Allowing the other parent to participate in the care and activities with the baby is essential. Involvement by both parents is important for the child’s development.
Since they want what is best for their child, some mothers tend to dictate their ways of doing things. However, it must be acknowledged that unless the baby’s safety is compromised, there are several ways to care for a baby. If the father feels his actions are still being negatively judged, he may withdraw or remain in a state of conflict with the mother.
Conversely, when a mother values the father’s skills, he tends to be more present and involved with his child.
As a mother, you can:
Make sure to give the father space;
Leave your child alone with their dad on a regular basis;
Accept that your spouse acts differently with your child;
Support and encourage your partner to take part in caring for the child by highlighting their successes.
Taking part in breastfeeding
should not be seen as an obstacle to the relationship between father and child. Even though fathers do not feed their babies, they contribute to their comfort. Cradling, caressing, comforting, and talking to your child are all ways to create a strong bond with them.
Several gestures that fathers use to participate in breastfeeding sessions also help the mother while deepening their relationship with their child. For example, a father can do the following:
Bring the baby gently to their mother.
Help the mother get set up and find the right feeding position with the baby.
Make sure the mother is comfortable (e.g., bring her a glass of water, a snack, a pillow).
- Burp the child.
Change their diaper.
Care for the baby after breastfeeding by finding their own way of putting the baby to sleep, calming them down, or entertaining them.
Perform household tasks while the mother is breastfeeding.
Reassure the mother, provide her support, and help her find solutions when she has difficulty breastfeeding.
All of the advice mentioned above can be applied (skin to skin, walking or using the stroller, bathing, etc.), whether the baby is being breastfed or not.
Being parents: Teamwork
It is important for couples to form a good parenting team when a child is born. Caring for a child requires a lot of work. Helping each other is therefore essential. Moreover, it is better for parents to act consistently and to agree on the child’s education from the outset.
When parents have a good collaborative relationship, they have less stress and higher conjugal happiness. Good parent collaboration also encourages paternal involvement. Additionally, good understanding between the parents reduces the risk of a child developing behavioural problems.
The following are some tips to facilitate teamwork between parents:
Make your child’s needs the focus of your decisions.
Trust yourself and the other parent.
Talk to each other. Say whatever you need to say, but also listen to what the other parent has to say.
Remember that raising children is not an exact science, and that every parent makes mistakes.
For more tips on collaboration between parents, see our fact sheets La communication entre partenaires (in French), Parenting is a team effort, and Parents séparés: l’importance de communiquer (in French).
When the father is absent…
Is a child’s development compromised in the absence of a father? Not necessarily, no more so than in the absence of a mother. While it is true that children who lack a father figure are more likely to develop behavioural problems in general, other factors may be at issue, such as poverty or a lack of a support network.
When a child does not have a dad in their life, it is desirable that they have stable contact with a trustworthy father figure, such as a grandfather, uncle, or family friend, who can act as a role model.
A father who is absent in his child’s early years of life can make up for his absence later. However, it takes a lot of patience and kindness to reconnect. This can give rise to conflicting emotions in the child. For example, they may resist or refuse attempts to get closer or display difficult behaviours. The father must respect the child’s pace and be very reliable to regain their confidence.
Things to keep in mind
It is important that both parents be involved with their child to promote their well-being and development.
Paternal involvement helps in particular to develop the child’s language and autonomy and to foster their ability to adapt.
Investing time to do activities with your child and to care for them is a good way to become an involved dad.
Scientific review: Carl Lacharité, psychologist and researcher, Centre d’études interdisciplinaires sur le développement de l’enfant et de la famille
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: May 2022
Photos: Gettyimages/DGLimages, eclipse_images, and YakobchukOlena
Useful links and resources
Note: Hyperlinks to other sites are not updated on a continuous basis. Thus, some links may not work. In such case, use the search tools to find specific information.
LGBT+ FAMILY COALITION. https://familleslgbt.org/en/
COOPÈRE ROSEMONT. coopere.ca
DE MONTIGNY, F. et al. Devenir et être père. Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2021, 276 pp.
ENCYCLOPEDIA ON EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT. Father – Paternity. child-encyclopedia.com
FÉDÉRATION QUÉBÉCOISE DES ORGANISMES COMMUNAUTAIRES FAMILLE. fqocf.org
FATHERS FRIENDLY INITIATIVE WITHIN THE FAMILIES. iap.uqo.ca/en
INSTITUT NATIONAL DE SANTÉ PUBLIQUE DU QUÉBEC. Paternité. inspq.qc.ca
PAQUETTE, Daniel. La relation père-enfant et l’ouverture au monde, Enfance, 56 (2), January 2004, pp. 205-225. cairn.info
PAQUETTE, Daniel and Marc BIGRAS. “The Risky situation: A procedure for assessing the father–child activation relationship,” Early Child Development and Care, 180 (1-2), January 2010, pp. 33-50.
PATERNITÉ LAURENTIDES. paternitelaurentides.ca
PREMIÈRE RESSOURCE, AIDE AUX PARENTS. premiereressource.com
REGROUPEMENT POUR LA VALORISATION DE LA PATERNITÉ. A Guide to Father-Inclusive Practices, 2020, 126 pp. www.rvpaternite.org
RÉSEAU DES CENTRES DE RESSOURCES PÉRINATALES DU QUÉBEC. rcrpq.com
RÉSEAU MAISONS OXYGÈNE. maisonsoxygene.ca
TABLE RÉGIONALE DES ORGANISMES COMMUNAUTAIRES FAMILLE DE LANAUDIÈRE. Coffre à outils à l’usage des pères : de la grossesse à 2 ans.trocfl.org