The relationship between fathers and their children continues to prove impactful at various levels. Research studies support fathers' significant contributions, especially when engaging in diverse forms of play. For instance, there is a visible, physical difference in the way fathers play with their children (e.g., rough and tumble wrestling and a plethora of motor actions) compared to mothers. However, how many fathers are either told to tone it down or are praised for their positive contributions? No doubt their unique engagement enhances their child's development. While it is essential to understand the benefits of father-child play time, it is equally important for fathers or father figures to be acknowledged and encouraged. As "Father's Day" approaches, we would like to highlight a few points regarding their typical contributions.
1. Increase Intellect-
Dads vary in personality as well as interests. However, no matter their attributes, engaging their children in activities that require patience and problem-solving often boosts emotional intelligence. Frequent activities include age-appropriate puzzles, the construction of toy models, Legos, Duplos, or others that use assorted items at varying levels of difficulty. It is about modeling the father's patience during the assembly process while engaging in conversation and experiencing the need for emotional regulation when the pieces fall apart, do not fit during the first try, or come out picture-perfect.
2. Physical or recreational activities-
Considering the child's age and physical capabilities, fathers will engage with their children at varying rates of physical activity. Typically, it comes in the form of tumbling, swinging, a game of chase, and/or wrestling. However, it is not limited to these activities and may include the beginning stages of sports as in the dyad model. For instance, throwing a ball in preparation for Little League baseball or kicking a ball to one another as done in soccer. Many fathers may be unaware of the benefits of supporting gross and fine-motor actions while supporting muscle coordination. Fathers have the opportunity to teach their children the limits and boundaries of play while modeling good sportsmanship.
3. Video games and TV-
While there is no denying that the world has increased digital entertainment in the form of video games or movies, social interactions have likewise blossomed. Particularly during the pandemic, children were continuing their education and therapy appointments via Zoom. For safety and continued social engagement, children were learning how to "facetime" or participate in chat rooms while playing video games; for the older kids, there was texting. While parents vary in their choice of digital entertainment, many fathers will opt for video games with their children or choose to watch a movie. What matters is the appropriateness of the video game or movie and the personal dialogue that occurs in the process. Of course, we are not recommending extended dialogue during a movie; however, questions and comments are beneficial. Fathers have the opportunity to display appropriate comments while playing video games that their children can use with their peers. In addition, fathers can offer a different perspective of the plot and/or ask their children questions to help enhance their language skills (e.g., about the plot, their favorite characters, or what may happen next, etc.).
In summary, we affirm the value of learning new ways for fathers and/or father figures to enhance their children's development. While we encourage daily forms of interaction (e.g., direct or indirect), the quality of time spent rather than the number of hours has the most significant impact. In the end, it is the child's perception of the place they hold in this parent's life that counts. For fathers who live apart from their children, writing letters, making phone calls, and using Facetime convey the message that their child is continually thought of during the day and week and throughout the month. As we know, being together is ideal, but being engaged matters most, and fathers have wonderful qualities to offer.
Robinson, E. L., St. George, J., & Freeman, E. E. (2021). A Systematic Review of Father-Child Play Interactions and the Impacts on Child Development. Children (Basel, Switzerland), 8(5), 389. https://doi.org/10.3390/children8050389