Research about the role of fathers in the well-being of their children has fascinated me since graduate school. Thankfully, an increasing amount of research is available tying the conversation and interaction of dads and children to important life skills like learning and child safety.
The latest study comes out of Australia. Over 3200 children were studied interacting almost 7000 times with their fathers. Some interactions were more important than others, offering good news to educators and families alike.
The researchers didn’t offer conclusions about sleep time, school time or even shared time with mom. The focus was on father interaction and its impact on children ages 4-8.
Dads offer mom a breather when they participate in child care and take their place in providing a great home environment. Moms who receive co-parenting support from fathers are able to focus on other skills including a career. Their well-being is well documented already. Giving mom a breather wasn’t a significant benefit to the child’s educational future.
Unstructured time like watching television didn’t provide much help to the child’s educational future either. Researchers noted the lack of conversation during such times as barriers to development. If bonding occurs during time watching television, brain development apparently does not.
Three activities were noted as making the real difference in the interaction quality of dads and kids: reading, playing games and helping with homework. Significant gains in cognitive tests were noted when fathers utilized these educational interactions. Increasing these activities by less than an hour per day bumped the cognitive gains even more.
The key to engaging the brain of a child is conversation. Reading engages the mind and bonds the relationship. Playing games increases a variety of skills and helps children with the structure of life and the importance of rules. Obviously helping with homework helps children do better in school and reinforces the learning already begun during the school day.
Dad is the key to these increases in educational development. Being involved was even more important than his educational level. That means no matter how much or how little schooling dad has, involving himself in his child’s books, games and homework makes all the difference needed. Interacting with a child is more important than how much schooling dad had in the past.
Children are still being separated from their fathers at an alarming rate. Culture continues to encourage the idea that one parent can do it all. Studies like this give further incentive to keeping our relationships strong between parents so that children can benefit from both while they are developing and growing. Father interaction is only one of many benefits that all children should receive.
Take your place, dad. Read often, play fair and help with the homework. Your children will be smarter because of your efforts.