Why Dads Make a Difference

*This article originally appeared in St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital’s magazine, Starting Out Healthy.

Fathers play a different role than mothers, but it’s just as important.

The bond between mother and child is one of the most important connections humans can make. But the bond between father and child is just as vital.

The impact of a father’s presence — or absence — in his children’s lives can have lifelong effects. Fortunately, today’s culture encourages men to go beyond traditional roles and become involved, caring supporters of their children.

Studies Show Dad’s Influence
A father’s presence can enhance his child’s life from birth. In one study, premature babies showed improved weight gain in the hospital if their fathers visited often. The infants also did better on developmental tests during their first 18 months. Research points to other unique contributions of fathers:

  • Fathers help their children develop intellectually and socially through physical play. Mothers are more likely to talk and teach.
  • Children whose fathers take part in their lives are more likely to have higher college entrance exam scores, greater educational success and better economic status.
  • Teens who feel close to their fathers — even if the fathers don’t live with them — are far less likely to smoke.
  • Having a father who exercises is the single biggest factor in whether or not teens are physically active, according to another study.
  • A healthy, involved father can help ease the impact on children if their mother suffers from depression or other mental health issues, research shows.

Be a Healthy Role Model
Experts offer this advice to help men deepen their connection with the children in their lives:

  • Model healthy habits. Exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet and don’t smoke. Actively encourage children to follow a healthy lifestyle. Play physical games with them, offer healthy foods, and limit TV and video-game time.
  • Support children’s schooling. Know who your children’s teachers are and attend parent-teacher conferences. Volunteer for school activities. Talk with your children about what’s going on at school.
  • Be a positive parent. Establish clear limits so that children know your expectations. Encourage children to share their feelings, and listen attentively. Help them set achievable goals, and celebrate their accomplishments.
  • Have fun. Play games, go places, read together, tell jokes and share plenty of affection.