Parents are their children’s first teachers and therefore have incredibly important roles in their development.
Whether you’re a stay at home parent or work many hours outside the home, the interactions you have with your children are vital as their first and primary teacher.
So often, however, many focus on the role a mother has in their child’s development.
Sure, we know dads have an important role, but much of early childhood development seems to focus on mother-child interactions.
New research from Michigan State University is now showing just how vital a dad’s role is in their child’s development.
Dads, your role matters, and in some areas of development your role can even have a negative impact regardless of the mother’s positive actions or mood.
No pressure right?
Perhaps this is the good type of pressure, however. Sometimes understanding how vital your role is all the motivation needed to make positive choices. If you aren’t aware your role is important, it can be harder to be motivated in certain areas.
How Does Dad’s Mood Affect Child Development According To This Research?
The United States offer a program known as Early Head Start to help some families get their children off to the right start and ready for preschool and elementary school. Early Head Start is available to qualifying families (sometimes based on income, location or a parent or child health/developmental diagnosis).
Researchers at Michigan State surveyed 730 families enrolled in Early Head Start at 17 sites nationwide. They wanted to look at the impact of parental stress and mental health struggles (such as depression), and what impact they can have on a child’s cognitive and social development.
What they found was that a father’s parental stress level could negatively impact a child’s cognitive and language development at 2 and 3 years of age.
This was even with taking into account a mother’s interactions with the child. A father experiencing a lot of parental stress can delay their child’s development. This impact was even greater for boys than girls.
Researchers also found that a father or mother’s mental health had significant effects on their toddler’s behavior. Poorly managed mental health negatively impacted a toddler’s behavior and was linked to behavioral issues.
A father’s mental health, however, impacted a child’s social behavior, as late as 5th grade! A father’s mental health during the toddler years had longer term effects than a mother’s mental health on their child’s self-control, co-operation and other social skills as they got older.
How Can A Dad Have A Positive Impact On Their Children’s Development?
This research shows just how vital a dad’s role is in their children’s development. A clear connection was found between a father’s parental stress levels and mental health, and his children’s development.
Dad’s should make an effort to control parental stress, seek support and if they’re suffering from any mental health problems, seek treatment.
Michigan State University researchers have also said it’s important that early intervention programs (such as Early Head Start) and organizations/support agencies which work with families really need to reach out and include fathers.
If you’re experiencing a lot of stress as a father, it’s important to try and find ways to manage that stress so it doesn’t influence your children. Things to consider:
- Stress will occur – it’s unrealistic to expect no parental stress. Being a parent is a big deal, and with it can come a degree of stress. Sometimes recognizing something as normal is half the battle in coping with it. Knowing that stress is a normal part of parenting can be relieving. In the midst of a lot of stress, it can feel like perhaps you aren’t cut out for parenting. However, ALL parents experience some stress.
- Find a support network – Perhaps you’re close to your dad. If so, take a moment to ask him what helped him as a parent and reach out to him for support. Or maybe you have a grandpa, uncle or another relative you admire as a father figure. Seek out other dads working through the same phase of parenting that you are. If you don’t have any local support, the internet can be a helpful place to find support. BellyBelly recommends the Facebook page, Becoming Dad.
- Be aware of your stress triggers – some people are able to identify what causes them to feel stressed. Sometimes identifying a trigger can help you eliminate or reduce the frequency of having to deal with it. Other time the trigger can’t be eliminated but being aware helps you to be proactive about working through the stressor. If you find a lack of sleep triggers you, perhaps skipping that extra episode of late night TV could benefit your whole household. Maybe a toddler’s unpredictable behaviour is difficult for you to deal with. Take time to learn more about age appropriate expectations and ways you can better interact with your toddler.
- Seek treatment for any mental health concerns – If you know you’re experiencing depression, or you think you might be, reach out to your doctor or a mental health professional. Treating your depression might naturally reduce your stress levels and help you find the motivation to have more positive interactions with your children. Depression isn’t uncommon among parents, both mothers, and fathers, and there’s no reason to feel embarrassed about needing to treat it. If you have a migraine, chances are you’d call your doctor for immediate relief. Depression is no different, lots of treatments are available.
Being a dad is a big role. However, sometimes it’s easy to feel as if a mother’s role is more or most important. While mothers are incredibly important, this research is showing that your role is vital too!