Focus on the Family

Fathers Impact Child Development

When dads are involved with their kids at all ages and stages of childhood, they will help them grow and thrive

Wanted: Present and Involved Fathers

It’s a known fact that fathers impact child development. However, it’s sad but true:  we live in a society that places relatively little value on the role of fathers in the lives of their children. 

A number of factors have helped to create this unfortunate situation, including the so-called sexual revolution, legalized abortion, easy divorce, and the “women’s liberation” movement with its devaluation of marriage and the husband’s place in the home.  Is it any wonder the number of delinquent dads is on the rise?  Too many men don’t know who they are or what they’re supposed to be doing. 

We’re paying a heavy price for this cultural confusion.  Study after study shows that, when dads are involved with their children,  they hold the key to solving a whole host of concerns:  everything from drug abuse to teen pregnancy to adolescent suicide.  That’s because fathers – present and involved fathers – have a unique capacity to impact the development of their children’s personalities, skills, character, and overall outlook on life. 

Erik Erikson's Stages of Development

Developmental psychologist Erik Erikson believed that children gain their sense of personal identity – an awareness of who they are – through interaction with other people.  Dad is one of the most important people in that interactive mix.  Here, as Erikson understood them, are five phases of childhood development along with a few suggestions of what fathers can do to connect with children more effectively at each stage of the game:

Fathers Impact Child Development During the Early Childhood Years

          Trust vs. Mistrust (0-2 years). During the first two years of life a child learns to trust or distrust     others.  Everything depends on the reliability and quality of his caregivers – in most cases, his parents.

When dads are involved with their young children, they can encourage healthy development by::

  • Playing “discover and destroy” with toddlers (always keeping safety in mind). Toddlers love to find new things and experiment with how to use them.  They can do some serious damage in the process, but that’s how they learn.  Allow exploration of disposable things – for example, items that are about to be trashed, mounds of dirt, or finger paints.
  • Teaching toddlers activities, sports, and ‘how-tos.’ Encourage risk taking within healthy limits.

Fathers Impact Child Development During the Elementary School Age Years

       Initiative vs. Guilt (5-8 years). This is the time when kids really begin to assert some power and control over their world through directed play and social interactions.  If they have positive experiences during this period, they come away feeling capable and able to lead others. 

When dads are involved with their 5-12 year olds, they can help them thrive via doing the following:

  • Play and compete with your elementary age child. This will help him or her learn about competition, adventure, and pushing limits to build confidence. Remember, though, to keep the competition at the child’s level. Activities that release restlessness and encourage movement can also help kids maintain self-control at school.
  • Show your child a wide range of emotions through experience and activity. This too can lead to a deeper understanding of self-control.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Industry vs. Inferiority (9-12 years). During this phase, children who receive encouragement and commendation from parents are enabled to develop a sense of pride in their accomplishments.  Fathers impact child development at this stage when they instill a sense of competence and a belief in their child’s ability to handle the tasks life sets before him.   
  • As much as possible, be present at your child’s activities. This will help build trust and communicate that you care about how your child spends his or her time.
  • Provide a foundational framework for financial management through allowances or other strategies that teach kids how to use money. 

Teenagers Thrive When Dads Are Involved With Them

Identity vs. Confusion (13-18 years). This is the period of adolescence, when teens start pushing boundaries, exploring personal freedom, and figuring out who they are and who they want to be.  Increasing independence and control are the fruits of a successful passage of this stage of development. 

Fathers impact child development in teenagers when they:

  • Offer a window into the world of men by exposing their sons to healthy male friends.
  • Initiate discussions about puberty and dating with your sons and  daughters.
  • Show love and respect for your wife. Fathers demonstrate how men should treat women and can provide a healthy view of sex and sexual boundaries.
  • Be present and consistent when making and communicating parenting decisions with your wife. This will help your son or daughter be better prepared for dating, marriage, and parenting in the future.

Dads, Get Involved and Stay Involved

If you’re a dad, start thinking in terms of these five stages.  Ask yourself how you can make your influence felt in your kids’ lives every step of the way.  Get ready in advance for those conversations that are bound to come up as they move through the various phases of the process.  Talk with them early and often about the tough and sensitive aspects of growing up – things like sexuality and self-esteem.  Most of all, let them know that you’re available to hear what they have to say at any time.     

The key is simply to be there for your children.  Remember that when dads are involved with their children, they contribute positively to their development. 

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