The Father Factor



  • The Father Factor
    Dr. Kyle Pruett

Here is some really good news that might surprise you: kids with involved fathers do better in school than kids who have less connected dads. They not only do better in academics, they are strong social learners as well, feeling more satisfaction with school and friends. This is not to say that the father’s touch is a guarantee. In this era of increased paternal involvement, some voluntary and some not, researchers have been spending more time trying to figure out if more fathering is a blessing or a curse. So far the bottom line is: having a dad in your life, or someone who acts like one and feels like one, is an enduring resource for children.

This works in some interesting ways, starting with babies at six weeks of age, all of whom are born with the ability to relate differently to fathers than to their mothers. They respond differently to their fathers’ approach and touch, and the dads take the bait. Right from the beginning it is clear to researchers that fathers (even when taking the primary responsibility for their children) do not mother, any more than mothers can ever father. Regular dads can comfort, feed, bathe, and nurture competently, given sufficient practice — just as competently as mothers, and the babies love it and thrive. The things that make fathering different from mothering have important and positive effects on kids over the course of their lives.

Fathering vs. Mothering

Think for a moment about what you do differently as fathers and mothers about limit setting, being affectionate, teaching, playing with your kids, or when you are upset or disappointed with them. Before you catalogue a few of the differences, let’s remember that the things you men and women have in common in your behavior with children hugely outnumber the things that are different. A few distinguishing characteristics do seem to matter, however, in positive ways to your kids.

  1. Fathers tend to play with children more physically and less predictably than mothers. You enjoy doing the unexpected, stimulating, sometimes teasing, things to activate your kids as you play. Unlike moms, you tend to use your bodies more in play; like “Dad as jungle gym.” We all note that kids do seem to enjoy this tendency too, although they may not always know when enough is enough. (Dads: keep your eyes open for this one, you and your kids can use a little practice here.)


  1. Dads will hang back a little further and a little longer when kids are exploring something they might not have encountered before or yet mastered. Kids recognize this as a longer tether with mom than when with dad. That can be a mixed blessing, but dads tend to offer support or help a little more slowly than mom. When you tailor this to your child’s temperament, it can be an important stimulus to curiosity and autonomous problem solving.


  1. Dads tend to discipline a bit differently than moms, emphasizing the outside world consequences of acting inappropriately, while moms tend to point out how misbehavior is a source of disappointment in a relationship based on trust. Dad: “you do that at school and you’ll never have any friends.” Mom: “I’m surprised you didn’t even think about how that would affect everyone else.”


While this is not an exhaustive list, it suggests how your kids might be more successful in life when they have regular time with dad. Fathered kids are known to miss less school, stay in school longer, hang in there when frustrated, and tend to have more faith in themselves as problem solvers. One interesting study even suggests that involved fathering has particularly positive results in your daughters’ math competence. And these are just the academic benefits!

Get Involved and Stay Involved

If the paternal presence is this good a deal for your kids, how can busy and over committed men stay close to kids’ lives in meaningful ways? Sure, talking is nice but doing is so much better. Go to teacher conferences. No excuses. Your spouse cannot possibly hear things the way you do. Your questions, while overlapping, are categorically different from hers. Take car pool duty. Those are incredible opportunities for learning and communicating. Get to know your kids’ friends, do the field trips. You will both remember them forever. Take your kids to work with you; they should know your world, too. Above all, get time alone with your kids. It is simply irreplaceable and they won’t want it forever. And the benefits go both ways.

The positive effects don’t just change your kids, they also change you. Spouses of men who are closely connected to kids find them more open, loving, affectionate and emotionally powerful partners. But more on that another day. Never underestimate what your fathering means to your children. Just remember what you liked about being fathered, or how you wish you had been, and then let your kids help you make it happen

Source: Family
Dr. Kyle Pruett