We Want Your Feedback!

Please give us feedback on one of our weekly question and answer articles. We value your time so the evaluation will only take 3 minutes or less, we promise!

Take the Survey »

How big of a role do I, as their dad, play in my children’s lives?

By Christina Pay, USU Extension Assistant Professor

Dad and daughter


Why Dads Matter

Dads play a major role in the development of their children from birth through adulthood. In the past, research focused on mothers as being the primary influence on children and father involvement has only been seriously studied during the past 30 years. However, due to this research, we now know that dads do matter when it comes to parenting. According to one report, “Even from birth, children who have an involved father are more likely to be emotionally secure, be confident to explore their surroundings, and, as they grow older, have better social connections.” (Rosenberg & Wilcox, 2006, p. 12). Compared to children without the influence of a father in their lives, children with involved fathers have an advantage, both socially and academically. So, what can a dad actually do to matter in their child’s life?  According to the experts a good father-child relationship includes “involvement, respect and influence, and affection”. (Staff, 2006, p. 1)  

  • Involvement.  In any relationship formed, we wish to feel that the other person in the relationship is interested in us and wants to be with us.  Involvement is the foundation of the father-child relationship.  Dads can begin this process even before their child is born by being involved with the mother’s pregnancy and in helping to prepare for the birth. When the baby is born, a Dad can continue to be involved by holding, caring for, playing with, and talking to his infant. As the child grows, dads can give each child as much exclusive attention as possible. This includes uninterrupted time that does not allow for distractions so they have time to talk, play, learn and work together.  Dads can share their work environment, their interests, and teach new skills, while also being interested and respectful of the interests and activities of their children.  Children with involved, caring fathers benefit emotionally and socially. They learn how to regulate their feelings and behavior and have better educational outcomes.
  • Respect and Influence.   We all have the need to feel that what we say is important. We want to be heard, validated, and included in discussions and decisions.  This is true for children as well as adults. While dads provide guidance, they can also be respectful and empathetic while enforcing clear and reasonable limits.   Respect can be maintained when dads give firm but gentle guidance. Children can also benefit when they are gradually allowed to make decisions for themselves.   Research informs us that children raised by respectful and influential dads have a decreased likelihood of engaging in adolescent risk behaviors and are less likely to develop adolescent depressive symptoms.
  • Affection.  Affection comes from acceptance and respect in a trusting relationship.  Dads can be both tough and tender depending upon the situation.  While tenderness and showing affection can be difficult for some dads, there are a variety of ways to do so comfortably.  Some dads feel comfortable talking with their children, others let their actions do the talking.  Some like hugging while others would rather do an act of loving service for their child.  Physical actions are important, but words are also important, and children need to hear them.  Words enrich what we do and make actions more easily understood.  Children need to hear their dad say, “I love you”, to help them appreciate that his actions come from a place of affection.   Each dad has his own style of affection which demonstrates love, care and concern for his children.  Children with affectionate, involved fathers are more likely to grow up being tolerant, empathetic and understanding, as well as exhibit positive internal moral judgement, moral values and conformity to rules. (Allen & Daily, 2007)

Dads do matter. An involved, respectful, influential, and affectionate father plays a crucial role in shaping the life of his child.  By doing so, he provides them with confidence, an academic advantage and positive social and emotional health.