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Research Shows the Importance of a Father’s Role

Over the last 20 years, research has consistently shown that fathers have a unique way of engaging with small children. Horsing around is more common with fathers than it is with mothers, especially as infants grow into toddlers and preschoolers. Studies show vigorous bouncing, lifting, tossing, and chasing take over from more gentle play, and this roughhousing leads to better self-control and school readiness as children turn five. The father’s rough-and-tumble play is also connected to better gross-motor skills in the child, regardless of the father’s income or education level.

A vast study, published in the journal Pediatric Research in the summer of 2023 adds weight to the idea that a father’s hands-on involvement underpins a child’s later ability to self-regulate and problem-solve. A research team from Japan sampled 28,040 children. At intervals of six months, from one month of age to their third birthday, each child’s mother was asked to rate the father’s participation in early child-rearing, including feeding, changing diapers, bathing, dressing, playing at home or outdoors, and putting the child to sleep. Japanese fathers are typically less involved in child-rearing than North American fathers. But when the researchers examined the children’s milestones at age three, they discovered that children whose fathers invested more time in their care showed better gross and fine motor skills, problem solving, and social skills than children whose fathers were not as involved.

There was no difference between the language skills of kids with involved versus aloof fathers. The lead researcher concluded that “the risk of developmental delay in children with highly involved fathers was 24% lower.”

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